Soviet officers and soldiers displayed great heroism during the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, and virtually every man and woman regardless of rank was decorated for bravery. Recommendations continuously arrived in Moscow from the front. In the midst of bloody battles, when critical situations arose time and again, a number of award recommendations were either lost on the front or later in archives. The Russian state has not yet fulfilled its sacred duty to its war heroes. In all, 1.5 million wartime awards still have to be presented. In the run-up to the 60th anniversary of Victory Day, President Putin has launched an unprecedented campaign to locate war heroes and present them (or their descendants) with these awards that became lost in time or circumstances.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently said that his department would do everything possible to locate war veterans who had not received their orders and medals. To date, he said 90,000 wartime awards had been presented. "But unfortunately," Mr. Ivanov said, "we have to award our veterans posthumously increasingly often." The country is to learn the name of the last hero to receive his or her award on March 1, 2005.
What were the main Soviet war awards?
1. The title of HERO OF THE SOVIET UNION was the top award. According to its Statute, this title was bestowed on servicemen for personal or collective services to the Soviet state and society that involved heroic feats. Every Hero of the Soviet Union received the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star medal as marks of special distinction. The national Mint produced 13,700 Gold Stars during the award's existence. However, many of them were never received.
2. The ORDER OF VICTORY was the highest Soviet military award. The Order was presented to top military leaders and commanders for their successful frontline operations that drastically changed the military situation. The Order is the largest, most beautiful and valuable order of the Soviet period. It is a platinum star with 72mm rays adorned with a ruby and 170 diamonds (total mass, 16 carats). Only 20 Orders of Victory were presented to 16 people during the Soviet period. Marshal Georgy Zhukov was the first to receive the Order of Victory, the second was Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky, and the third was Josef Stalin. The three received the awards in 1944 for their contribution to liberating Ukrainian regions on the western bank of the Dnieper River. Stalin, Zhukov and Vasilevsky received Orders of Victory once more at the end of the war. Ten military leaders, including marshals Konstantin Rokossovsky, Rodion Malinovsky, Fyodor Tolbukhin, Leonid Govorov, Semyon Timoshenko and Kirill Meretskov, as well as General of the Army and General Staff chief Alexei Antonov, were awarded.
Five foreigners also received the Order of Victory: Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia), Michal Rola-Zymierski (Poland), Dwight Eisenhower (USA), Bernard Montgomery (Great Britain) and King Mihai I of Romania.
3. The ORDER OF LENIN. According to its Statute, the Order of Lenin was presented for particularly outstanding achievements in the field of the revolutionary movement, for labor achievements, for the defense of the socialist homeland, for strengthening friendship between nations, for strengthening peace, and other feats.
4. THE ORDER OF THE RED BANNER was the top Soviet wartime award until the advent of the ORDER OF VICTORY in 1943. The Order of the Red Banner remained an elite award throughout the war. It was presented for particularly outstanding heroic and high-risk military exploits, for bravery, courage and valor displayed during the successful fulfillment of special assignments. This was the only Soviet order to have the number of times it had been awarded to an individual engraved on obverse of the medal. Moreover, the Order was affixed to weapons, i.e., gilded-handle shashkas (Cossack sabers) and Mauser automatic pistols presented to high-ranking military leaders.
An Air Force captain, A. Artyomov, was the first to receive the Order of the Red Banner during the Great Patriotic War. Junior officers and soldiers could not receive this award. Nonetheless, some unique cases of awarding the Order of the Red Banner should be mentioned. School student Igor Kravchuk, 12, who saved two regimental banners, became the youngest Soviet citizen to receive this award. Kerch teenager Volodya Dubinin was given the Order of the Red Banner posthumously at the age of 13. Sea cadet Igor Pakhomov, 14, had two Orders of the Red Banner. Some foreigners, including Pierre Pouyade, a commander of the Normandie-Niemen air-force regiment, and regimental pilot Marquis Roland de la Poype, were awarded the Order of the Red Banner. In all, 238,000 Orders of the Red Banner were presented during the war.
5. ORDERS OF ALEXANDER SUVOROV AND MIKHAIL KUTUZOV, ORDERS OF ADMIRAL NAKHIMOV AND ADMIRAL USHAKOV were presented to high-ranking military commanders and admirals for their outstanding troop-control successes, for conceiving and conducting outstanding military operations and naval battles that inflicted serious losses on the enemy (with insignificant Soviet losses). The ORDER OF ALEXANDER NEVSKY was presented to commanders (regardless of their rank) for personal bravery. The ORDER OF BOGDAN KHMELNITSKY was presented to Red Army officers and soldiers, as well as guerillas who fought behind the enemy lines, for daring exploits, bravery and ability to fight the enemy.
6. THE ORDER OF THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR was one of the most popular Soviet war awards. In all, 345,000 officers and soldiers received the Order of the Great Patriotic War, First Class. More than 500,000 people were awarded the Order of the Great Patriotic War, Second Class. This Order's Statute consists of several pages, listing seemingly "routine" feats, such as personally destroying enemy planes in mid-air, suppressing enemy pillboxes, destroying tanks, building a bridge across a river under enemy fire, seizing a "good" prisoner for interrogation, conducting a successful landing, sinking enemy ships, etc.
7. Two million WWII participants received the ORDER OF THE RED STAR. This was mostly an officers' award, which was also given to junior officers -- platoon and company commanders who could receive the Order of the Red Star and the Order of the Great Patriotic War. The Order of the Red Star was one of the first Soviet awards. The five-point Red Star, which symbolized the Soviet Army, was initially worn on soldiers' field-service (garrison) caps, eventually turning into the Order of the Red Star that was affixed to tunics. This Order featured a soldier pointing his rifle at the enemy against a ruby-enamel background. The first Order of the Red Star was presented to an army commander, Vasily Blukher, in 1929 for his successful efforts to stop a military conflict along the East China Railroad. The Order's Statute called for awarding it to commanders, who skillfully supervised military operations during the Great Patriotic War. It was also awarded for bravery, courage and for successfully fulfilling the high command's special assignments.
8. The ORDER OF GLORY, FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD CLASS was mostly presented to soldiers for their glorious feats of courage, bravery and valor. The holders of all three Orders of Glory rank among this country's most honored citizens. The tsarist Russian army had a similar award, the St. George Cross. The designers of the Order of Glory copied the black-and-orange colors of the St. George Cross moire ribbon used to affix it. The Cross itself was replaced with a star. The Order of Glory, First Class featured a gold star. The Order of Glory, Second Class and the Order of Glory, Third Class both featured a silver star.
The Order of Glory was instituted in November 1943. A soldier had to perform three unique feats to receive all three Stars. For example, he could save a unit banner, or continue to fight the enemy inside a burning tank, or bring down an enemy plane. He could storm into an enemy pillbox, risking his life to save a commander, etc. Such heroic exploits were not a mere coincidence. Therefore, those in possession of all three Orders of Glory could be called genuine heroes.
Medals for awarding officers and soldiers who had distinguished themselves during heroic defensive battles were instituted in late December 1942. They included the medals For the Defense of Leningrad, For the Defense of Odessa, For the Defense of Sevastopol, and For the Defense of Stalingrad. The medals For the Defense of Moscow, For the Defense of the Caucasus and For the Defense of the Soviet Arctic were instituted some time later. A two-class medal To the Guerilla of the Great Patriotic War was instituted in February 1943. This medal, which is now a collector's item, is one of the rarest and most treasured wartime awards.
Other medals were instituted as the Soviet Army proceeded to liberate Europe. One can mention medals For the Capture of Konigsberg, For the Capture of Budapest, For the Capture of Vienna, For the Liberation of Belgrade, For the Liberation of Warsaw, For the Capture of Berlin and For the Liberation of Prague. The medals For the Defeat of Nazi Germany in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War and For the Defeat of Japan were instituted at the end of the war, thereby highlighting Soviet victories in the west and in the east.