26 Comments

  1. I’m fairly certain that there was no recruiting for the Red Army as such during this particular chapter of Soviet history. Unless you consider what was offered as an alternative to enlistment (i.e., deluxe accommodations at Camp Stalin in Siberia) as an enticement to join. Which was probably a comparatively successful recruitment program, now that I think of it…

    • Actually, they were letting people out of the Gulag to fight.

      Suvorov, in his book “Ice Breaker”, claims that large numbers of Gulag inmates were released into the army immediately prior to the German invasion.

      His thesis is that Hitler and Stalin were in a race to see who could invade the other first and that Hitler won.

      Suvorov claims that these Gulag inmates were released into newly established Red Army formations, intended for his preemptive strike against Hitler. Supposedly, there were so many of them, inducted so quickly, that they were issued ersatz black uniforms instead of the standard Red Army issue, of which there were insufficient supplies.

      Needless to say, this is a controversial claim, and other books, “Stumbling Colossus” in particular, claim that what Suvorov puts down to conspiracy can as easily be ascribed to Stalin’s ineptitude and the chaos sewn by the purge of the military.

      • As far as Stalin’s ineptitude, as well as the problems engendered within the ranks of the professional military by his absurd paranoia-driven purges go, I certainly agree.

        On the other hand, Suvorov does have a good point, even if it is not entirely all-encompassing — a large number of Gulag inmates condemned for “crimes against the State” were quickly released and “rehabilitated” or “re-instated” into the military’s hierarchy as needed at one level or the other when the situation became too urgent for existing political preferences to prevail. Stalin was very good at exploiting the deeply-rooted and inherent Russian loyalty to the Rodina or Motherland in his call to arms against the German invaders, so much so that his erstwhile enemies would set aside their justifiable hatred for him — at least for the time being — in defence of Mother Russia. Other well-known authors and observers have noted this same trait more than once, eg., William Shirer and Ralph Peters.

  2. Hmm, Ian, where have you last seen SOVIET soldiers in German helmets and overcoats, with Luger holster worn at left hip? And shown ARMED in photos from German Bundesarchiv? This guy humping the DS-39 is a Jerry in fact, this is a photo from a photo report showing Wehrmacht soldiers using captured Soviet machinegun in winter 1941/42. Anyway, they probably didn’t fared better with it than the Soviets themselves, and they fared abysmal enough to revert the Maxim 1910 back to production in 1944, only to be replaced by the SG-43, at long last a successful gas-operated machine gun.

      • Interesting photo, Ian. Thanks for posting.
        I won’t dispute any of the facts mentioned above – by Leszek – but the gas mask bag looks definitely Russian, down to the strap style (it is the bag distributed with the SchM41M and the earlier BN gas masks).

        • Is it possible that both you and Leszek are actually historically correct, i.e., the gas mask bag is Soviet issue but being used as an ancillary item by a German soldier? After all, history is rife with cases of soldiers utilizing captured enemy equipment as and when they saw fit.

          Also, the helmet the soldier in the photograph is wearing appears to be of the distinctive German “coal-scuttle” pattern.

          • Or maybe he’s a Finn. They used the DS-39s that they captured, wore German helmets and used captured Soviet gear, etc.

            Plus the boots look more like Finnish boots than they do German or Soviet.

          • Very good point, Martin. I had originally intended to add a comment about the soldier’s boots not appearing to be standard Wehrmacht issue as they did fit the accepted “jackboot” pattern, but I ended up deleting the observation because my computer, for whatever reason, would not allow me to magnify this particular photograph to confirm the observation.

            Either way, good call!

  3. This picture is from here:
    http://www.herder-institut.de/bildkatalog/index/pic?searchfield_parameter=151456&tree%5BSammlungen%5D=19&with_picture=0&id=414a38df097bcba4731e70b2794e648c

    Inventarnummer: 151456
    Titel: [Einzelbild aus Serie:] Stellungen und Schützengräben der Grenzschutzeinheiten am Ufer des Peipsi / Peipussee in Varnja / Waranja und Umgebung im Frühling 1944
    Titel (org): Piirikaitse üksuste positioone ja kaevikuid Peipsi rannikul Varnjas ja selle ümbruses kevadel 1944
    Sammlung: Hintzer
    Zeit: bis 1944/45
    Ausfertigung: Negativ / FN

  4. I was going to make a reference to Duck Soup, but I changed my mind and have a question to ask. What were the principal failings of the DS machine gun that drove it from service?

    • From what I read it was too violent on extraction. Cartridge had sometime separated in process of it. True causes behind (such as excessive piston or gas port sizing, position of gas port, primary vs. secondary mass relation, etc.) are hard to find if not impossible. Degtaryev had many projects at the same time on hand and it might have been rushed into production too early.

      Also one interesting detail is that it operated with two rates of fire: basic at around 550RPM, the elevated at around 1,100RPM.

        • No Earl, unfortunately I did not get to that part.
          But I’d suspect it was done by changing gas orifice. MG42 was doing it by changing bolt mass.

          They also mention that the problem stated was due to lack of primary extraction. This is somehow shadowy subject. Conventionally, we know primary extraction as used on bolt action rifles. It has does not have much use on automatic weapons. Yes, there is some delay due to camming, but this is all relative to time. And besides, recently discussed DShK has the same type of locking by braces, yet it is known for relative reliability. So, try to sort it out!

          From my somehow limited knowledge I can tell that to optimize a system takes time and effort. Some are easier, mostly due to concept which allows flexibility, some are not.

          • Thanks for the reply — it is much appreciated. I know it is only conjecture on my part at this point due to the lack of hard information but, as you indicated, it may be that the DS-39’s problems stemmed from the design not having sufficient leeway for optimization due to small but significant mechanical constraints.

            All the same, it is an interesting weapon which may bear further investigation.

  5. I can’t magnify the picture either. I find pictures of Finn gas mask bags, they used at least 2 different ones. And the bag on the near side in the picture looks very much like one they used.

    Given that the Finns issued Lugers, used captured DS-39s, the possible Finnish gas mask bag, what looks like Finnish summer boots, and German helmet – at this point I’d bet(if I was gambling man) that he’s Finn.

  6. @ Benedict :

    Thanks for the great links to the Herder-Institut archives. I took a little time to look through Karl Hintzer’s work and some of the photographs he took are quite evocative. I am glad that both he and his work survived the war to add to the historical record.

    For anyone who may be interested in finding out more, the Herder-Institut at the University of Leipzig was founded in April 1950 and is one of Germany’s main centers for historical and cultural research on East Central Europe, and also serves as a public forum. One can access different areas connected with the institute by typing in “Herder-Institut” in the Google ( or equivalent ) Search Box and then choosing any one of several different links that will appear on the Search Page. Their historical, cultural, academic and scientific spectrum encompasses Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Foreign students and researchers are welcome and a scholarship programme is available to applicants who qualify.

  7. It looks like that man has 50lbs of machine-gun hanging on his back from one hand! How the heck was that a practical way to hold it? Even given that he’s fixing his hat/scarf/muffler in the picture.

    I just don’t understand how that’s balanced enough to work, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

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