|Main Directorate of Counter-Intelligence "SMERSH"|
|Главное управление контрразведки СМЕРШ
|Military counter-intelligence overview|
|Formed||14 April 1943|
|Preceding agencies||Directorate of Special Departments within NKVD USSR
III Main Directorate within MGB USSR
|Dissolved||4 May 1946|
|Jurisdiction||Soviet Union and newly liberated territories (World War II)|
|Headquarters||Lubyanka (4th and 6th floors) Moscow, Soviet Union|
|Motto||Death to Spies!|
|Parent department||State Defense Committee|
SMERSH (Russian: СМЕРШ, acronym of Russian: Специальные Методы Разоблaчения Шпионов (Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov; Special Methods of Spy Detection), but also anecdotically referred to as SMERt' SHpionam; "Death to spies") was an umbrella name for three independent counter-intelligence agencies in the Red Army formed in late 1942 or even earlier, but officially founded on 14 April 1943. The name SMERSH was coined by Joseph Stalin. The pretext for its creation was to subvert the attempts by German forces to infiltrate the Red Army.
Official statute of SMERSH listed following tasks to be solved by this organization:
- Counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, preventing any other activity of foreign intelligence in the Red Army;
- fighting "anti-Soviet elements" in the Red Army;
- protection of front line against penetration by spies and "anti-Soviet elements";
- investigating traitors, deserters and self-harm in the Red Army;
- checking military and civil personnel returning from captivity.
The organisation was officially in existence until 4 May 1946, when its duties were transferred back to the NKGB. The head of the agency throughout its existence was Viktor Abakumov, who rose to become Minister of State Security in the postwar years.
Reorganisation of the State Police agency (World War II)
On 3 February 1941, the Special Sections (osoby otdel) of the NKVD (responsible for Military counterintelligence of the Soviet Army) became part of the Soviet Armed Forces (particularly Red Army and Red Fleet). At the same time the Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB) was split from the NKVD into separate commissariat named the People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB), with the Counter-Intelligence (KI) sections assigned to it.
On 14 April 1943, the State Defense Committee (GKO), chaired by Stalin, ordered another split of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs Main Directorate for State Security (GUGB/NKVD) into three organisations:
- People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) which ran the secret police responsible for political repression;
- People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB) which acted as a secret police, intelligence, and counter-intelligence force throughout World War II;
- State Directorate of Counter-Intelligence (GUKR-NKO), also called SMERSH.
In addition to GUKR-NKO SMERSH directorate, two additional independent SMERSH units were established:
- SMERSH division of Soviet Navy, subordinate to People's Commissar Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov.
- SMERSH department of NKVD, subordinate to Lavrentiy Beria.
Of all three GUKR-NKO SMERSH got most extensive coverage in films and literature and respectively is best known.
On 19 April 1943, staff was appointed to SMERSH. The KI was again transferred to the People's Commissariats of Defence (NKO) and the Navy (NKF), becoming SMERSH within NKO. The full name of the head entity was Главное управление контрразведки СМЕРШ Народного комиссариата обороны СССР, or USSR People's Commissariat of Defence Chief Counterintelligence Directorate "SMERSH". Popular misconception that head of the organization Viktor Abakumov, was a subordinate of Lavrenty Beria is incorrect. Abakumov was a direct subordinate of Stalin, Beria has own department of SMERSH and all 3 SMERSH organizations belonged to different branches of Soviet structure (NKO, Navy and NKVD respectively).
There are many possible reasons for this division. As the requirements of the war expanded and the Soviet armies began their conquest of previously occupied German territory, the complexities of counter-espionage, counter-insurgency, and occupation were sufficiently large to encourage Stalin to consolidate all of SMERSH under his direct control. Not only did the breakup streamline the Soviet Union’s internal and external intelligence operations, but it allowed the GKO and Joseph Stalin greater control over each of these organisations. Intelligence officers became responsible for their effectiveness as they could not blame their failure on the regular military officers in the GUGB/NKVD’s chain of command. Further, Stalin was able to check the growing ambition of Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria, the head of the GUGB/NKVD. The GKO utilized this sudden name change in order to create confusion within the Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization.
The GUKR-NKO received the nickname SMERSH in a Special Department meeting with Stalin in which Stalin rejected the nickname “Death to German Spies” or “Smert’ nemetskim shpionam” retorting: “Why . . . should we only be speaking of German spies? Aren’t other intelligence services working against our country? Let’s call it ‘Smert’ Shpionam’ (Death to Spies).” 
The GKO officially created SMERSH to ensure the Soviet Union’s security from internal political threats and foreign espionage, although it carried out a wide variety of other tasks between 1943 and 1946 as well. SMERSH’s counterintelligence operations included seeking and destroying counter revolutionaries, finding and interrogating enemy agents, hunting Soviet agents who had not returned by the appointed date, and evaluating the usefulness of captured enemy documents. SMERSH also took an active role in the affairs of the Red Army by ensuring the good quality of Red Army facilities, improving discipline, eliminating poor leaders, and preventing desertion, self-inflicted wounds, panic, sabotage and poor discipline. Other SMERSH activities included: exposing collaborators in areas recently captured by the Red Army; exposing and punishing economic crimes such as black market activity; protecting secret material and headquarters from enemy agents and saboteurs; and determining the “patriotism” of those captured, encircled, and those who had returned from foreign countries. SMERSH operatives also controlled partisan operations behind German lines and evaluated the partisans’ loyalty to the Soviet Union. SMERSH would then arrest and neutralise anti-Soviet partisans, saboteurs, spies, conspirators, mutineers, deserters, and people designated as traitors and criminal elements at the combat front. As the requirements of the war expanded and the Soviet armies began their conquest of previously occupied German territory, the complexities of counter-espionage, counter-insurgency, and occupation were sufficiently large to encourage Stalin to consolidate all of SMERSH under his direct control.
The strategic directorate focused on counter-espionage wet operations and counter-insurgency pacification operations that answered directly to Stalin. In March 1946 SMERSH Chief Directorate was resubordinated to the People's Commissariat of Military Forces (Наркомат Вооруженных Сил, NKVS). The NKVS was later reorganized into the Ministry of Military Forces (МVS) soon thereafter, and SMERSH was officially discontinued 4 May 1946.
SMERSH activities included "filtering" the soldiers and forced labourers recovered from captivity.
SMERSH was also actively involved in the capture of Soviet citizens who had been active in anti-communist armed groups fighting on the side of Nazi Germany such as the Russian Liberation Army, the Cossack Corps of Pyotr Krasnov, and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (see also forced repatriation).
As the war concluded, SMERSH was given the assignment of finding Adolf Hitler and, if possible, capturing him alive or recovering his body. Red Army officers and SMERSH agents found Hitler's partially burned corpse near the Führerbunker after his suicide and conducted an investigation to confirm the events of his death and identify the remains which (along with those of Eva Braun) were reportedly secretly buried at SMERSH headquarters in Magdeburg until April 1970, when they were exhumed, completely cremated, and dumped in the Elbe river.
At the end of the Second World War, American forces examining captured German intelligence sources determined that SMERSH was composed of six directorates, six departments, and three other branches. Directorates conducted operations involving agents on the “frontline” of the intelligence war whereas departments received and interpreted the information coming in from agents and enemy intercepts. SMERSH also ran three other groups; the Komendatura, which guarded and managed SMERSH installations and prisoners; the Troika, which acted as a military court and could administer punishment without defense from the accused; and the Administrative Bureau and Secretariat, which acted as the personal staff of the SMERSH commander.
Below is the organization of SMERSH based on German Intelligence:
Stephan, Stalin’s Secret War, 212.
This Chart shows another way SMERSH may have been organized:
Org.References – Lubianka 2. Iz istorii otiecziestwiennoj kontrrazwiedki, W.A. Sobolewa Moskwa 1999
In its counter-espionage and counter-intelligence roles, SMERSH appears to have been extremely successful throughout World War II. SMERSH actions resulted in numerous captures, desertions, and defections of German intelligence officers and agents, some of whom SMERSH turned into double agents. Indeed, the Germans began to consider missions where their losses were less than ninety percent “satisfactory.” According to German sources, the Soviets rendered approximately 39,500 German agents useless by the end of the war.
SMERSH utilized a number of different counterintelligence tactics: informants, security troops, radio games, and the passing of disinformation, ensuring both the reliability of the military and the civilian population. SMERSH set up a system of informants by sending a SMERSH officer to each battalion composed of between 1,000 and 1,500 men. Each SMERSH officer would enlist a number of “residents” who recruited their own “reserve resident” and between six and eight informants. Informants reported those sympathetic to the Germans, desertion, unpatriotic attitudes, and low morale and were authorized to take “immediate corrective action” if the need arose. SMERSH recruited between 1,540,000 and 3,400,000 informants, or about twelve percent of the entire Red Army. However, SMERSH coerced up to half of all of its informants to work for them.
In order to secure the Red Army’s rear, SMERSH evacuated civilians and set up checkpoints so as to assert physical control. Next, agents sought and arrested “suspicious persons” who might be German agents. Finally, SMERSH interrogated those arrested.
To confuse German intelligence with disinformation, SMERSH utilized radio playbacks and played over 183 radio games over the course of the war. Operation “Opyt’” serves as a good example of the effectiveness of these radio games. Between May and June 1943, SMERSH used three German agents to spread disinformation about the Kursk counteroffensive by suggesting the Red Army had begun to dig in rather than prepare for an attack, thus contributing to the success of the Red Army’s surprise attack. Before Operation Bagration, the largest Allied operation of the Second World War, SMERSH caught and “doubled” a number of German agents who tricked the German military into underestimating the number of Soviet troops by 1.2 million men.
SMERSH played a major role in creating and controlling partisan operations behind German lines. After capturing German-held territory and reuniting with the Red Army, SMERSH interviewed partisans in order to determine the partisans’ loyalty to the regime.
- Service record for Victor Abakumov, Head of SMERSH GUKR (in Russian) Retrieved 2012-07-21
- Service record for Nicholas Selivanovsky, Deputy Head of SMERSH GUKR (in Russian) Retrieved 2012-07-21
- The Soviet Army – SMERSH at SpetsNaz Psychology
- Anton Antonov-Ovseenko Beria, Moscow, ACT, 1999, ISBN 978-5-237-03178-2, pages 316–330 (Russian edition)
- Michael Parrish (1996). The lesser terror: Soviet state security, 1939–1953. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 114–120. ISBN 0-275-95113-8. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- NKVD/KGB Activities and its Cooperation with other Secret Services, International conference November 19–21, 2008, Prague
- "CI in World War II", Counterintelligence Reader, Volume 2 Chapter 1
- «СМЕРШ»: ИСТОРИЧЕСКИЕ ОЧЕРКИ И АРХИВНЫЕ ДОКУМЕНТЫ. М.: Издательство Главархива Москвы; ОАО «Московские учебники и Картолитография», 2003.
- Robert Stephan, "Smersh: Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence During the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 22, no. 4 (1987): 588–89.
- Robert Stephan, "Smersh: Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence During the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 22, no. 4 (1987): 590.
- Michael Parrish, The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939–1953 (Westport: Praeger, 1996), 114
- Robert Stephan. "Smersh: Soviet military Counter-Intelligence During the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 22, no. 4 (1987): 597–98.
- Fischer, Benjamin. "Hitler, Stalin, and "Operation Myth"". Retrieved 27 May 2013. N.B. This is one of many sources corroborating this interpretation of the fate of Hitler's remains: 'The remains, now a "jellied mass" according to a KGB report, were pulverized, soaked in gasoline, and then completely burned up. The ashes were mixed with coal particles and then taken 11 kilometers north of Magdeburg, where they were dumped into the Bideriz [sic], a tributary of the Elbe river.' (Editor's note: "tributary of the Elbe R." could be the Biederitzer See, near the village of Biederitz or the Ehle R. which runs north of Biederitz and flows into the Elbe-Umflutkanal.)
- Robert Stephan, "Smersh: Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence During the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 22, no. 4 (1987): 592–93.
- Robert Stephan, Stalin’s Secret War, 210
- Robert Stephan, Stalin’s Secret War, 63
- Jonathan Jordan. "Operation Bagration: Soviet Offensive of 1944". HistoryNet.com. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
- Robert Stephan, "Smersh: Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence During the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 22, no. 4 (1987): 602.
- Jordan, Jonathan. "Operation Bagration: Soviet Offensive of 1944." HistoryNet.com. www.historynet.com/operation-bagration-soviet-offensive-of-1944.htm (accessed May 14, 2011).
- Parrish, Michael. The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939–1953. Westport: Praeger, 1996.
- Stephan, Robert. "Smersh: Soviet Military Counter-Intelligence During the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 22, no. 4 (1987): 585–613.
- Stephan, Robert. Stalin's Secret War: Soviet Counterintelligence Against the Nazis, 1941–1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004.
- Russia unveils Stalin's spy service BBC report on an exhibition in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of SMERSH's founding.
- Track down Soviet war criminals, Ukrainian group urges, By Nathan Wilson