I remember reading about how the Wehrmacht and the SS soldiers never got along, and I was wondering if it was the same way in the Soviet Union, with the regular Red Army not liking the NKVD?

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    There was no analogue of SS in USSR, the better German comparison for NKVD would be Gestapo. Also, claims of German military officers to hate SS should be taken with a grain of salt: After WWII they had all the reasons to distance themselves from the Nazi regime as much as possible. Commented May 12, 2020 at 3:14
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    @MoisheKohan : "German military officers to hate SS should be taken with a grain of salt" - that doesn't make those claims automatically false, though.
    – vsz
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 9:45
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    My grandfather was a Soviet army officer. He participated in World War II and, as far as I remember, told me that NKVD was a very bad organization. Commented May 12, 2020 at 9:47
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    @MoisheKohan the NKVD before 1943 was not only the political police, like Gestapo, it was also: police, intelligence, espionage, border guards and 'national guard' (the Internal Troops). Since SS was sort of a guards corps, the corresponding "department" of the NKVD can be compared to it
    – d.k
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 11:56
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    Wehrmacht and SS were often in competition for influence and military equipment. (Many parts of the Nazi state were at odds with each other.) But „hated by the regular army“? Certainly not.
    – lejonet
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 14:30

6 Answers 6


There were 3 power centers in the USSR: Party, Secret Police (VChK, GPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB, KGB), and Army. All were very different.

  • Party: no "muscle" (except for the KPK), but officially infallible and supreme in media
  • Secret Police: best informed (both internal and foreign affairs), can eliminate any individual, but relegated to secondary status by Khruschev (regained high status in the hands of Andropov)
  • Army: most muscle, but no power to conduct any internal operations. Traditionally feared by both the Party and KGB, so each installed separate watchmen there.

This brings us to the answer: each military commander was burdened with a party commissar (called zampolit - political deputy - at other times) and also (at higher levels) with an osobist. These were viewed as parasites by the cadre military officers: while wearing the same uniform and ostensibly being their "colleagues", they did not share the work, and, in fact, were often a burden to the officers: the commissars wasting time on propaganda events and osobists harassing officers with stupid investigations. E.g., officers' memoirs are rife with stories (redacted during communist years) about officers not getting enough sleep because osobists wanted an in-depth investigation of every MIA for being a potential turncoat.

For more information, please see The Technology of Power by Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov - old but gold.

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    @RodrigodeAzevedo: English versions of obscure Russian pages are often missing (or at best much shorter, and, yes, less reliable, although often more objective and less apologetic). In this case I merely forgot to check for their presence. I fixed the links now, thanks!
    – sds
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 0:22
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    This analysis of power bases in the Soviet Union is radically outdated and prearchival. Consider Sheila Fitzpatricks work on lower party discipline upwards to climb in the 1930s, experts and capitalists prior to 1930, or the Soviet Working class prior to 1942. Commented May 12, 2020 at 0:45
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    they did not share the workwasting time on propaganda events — this is a bit naive. Had you served in the Soviet Army or any of its successors you would have known that the "cadre military officers" not only "do their work" but also steal (from depots etc) and drink instead of doing the work. During the war they also used to defect leaving their units headless and easily scattered and destroyed. Those "osobists" were an obstacle to those "activities" too. It's a rather naive approach to believe memoirs without a grain of salt
    – d.k
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 11:54
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    @user907860: indeed, and sometimes commissars inspired soldiers too. However, the prevailing images in the Soviet Army were a talkative zampolit, sneaking osobist, drunk officer and thieving praporschik.
    – sds
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 13:47

If the question is about NKVD troops, then the answer is "no". The NKVD troops were not hated or otherwise frowned upon.

At the time of WWII NKVD (domestic commissariat) was a very wide ministry, not just the "secret police" as you can sometimes read on modern Internet. NKVD included all the police, the firefighters, the border guards and so on. When deployed in the battlefield they were just another kind of troops and nothing else.

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  • @Tomas By: Did you leave out a question mark after "Really" (from context it seems like it)? Or in other words, do you approve of this answer or not? Can you elaborate? Commented May 12, 2020 at 22:33
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    @PeterMortensen what do you think
    – Tomas By
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 22:38
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    I've got to disagree. NKVD was involved in mass murders of army commanders just before WWII, when they executed majority of generals and other officers. NKVD was attached to every army unit and was routinely executing its own soldiers; IIRC USSR executed 10x as many as Nazis and Nazis 5x as many as other Allies. Apart from that, NKVD service at the front was manning machine guns behind Red Army position to maw down its own retreating troops; the numbers killed like that weren't even tallied. Of course they were hated by the army.
    – Michael
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 4:07

The NKVD was regarded as being "in the way" by the regular military, as related by e.g. Vasili Chuikov in The Battle For Stalingrad. Chuikov conceded that the NKVD had some usefulness in motivating the troops (he encouraged his men to join the Communist Party). But their military usefulness was limited; or at least the Communist Party was coming to this conclusion, by the summer of 1942.

For instance, when Chuikov arrived in Stalingrad, the NKVD was patrolling the streets for "deserters," but also exposing themselves to German air, artillery, and rifle fire. Chuikov called in the NKVD commander with a new set of orders. When he balked, Chuikov threatened to call a commisar named Khruschev for "clarification". So the NKVD chief followed Chuikov's instructions to make out a list of strong, fortifiable buildings that could accommodate 50-100 men each. When Chuikov "signed off" on the list, the NKVD men were pulled off the streets and placed into the buildings, which slowed down their rate of attrition, and bought time for the defense of the city. Unlike the Russians, the Germans did not subordinate the SS to the regular Army in this way.

Before this "regime change" in favor of the Army, the NKVD was hated and feared by the regular Army because it had arrested Marshal Tukhachevsky (and others), who were tortured and killed by orders of Stalin in the late 1930s, while other Marshals, such as Rokossovsky, were imprisoned until they were needed after the Winter War with Finland in 1939-40, and the German invasion in 1941.


It's a complicated question which does not admit a yes/no answer. Even saying "there was a spectrum in attitudes" would be a simplifications. The right answer, I think, is a two-dimensional mosaic. I will not attempt to give a comprehensive answer, just make a number of observations:

  1. The analogy between NKVD and SS is not a very good one. A better (still, not very good) analogy would be between Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in Germany and NKVD in USSR. The RSHA was headed by Himmler and included both SS and Gestapo.

Similarly, for about 6 years (if I remember correctly, 1937-1943) NKVD included both "regular" troops (stationed at the frontier before the war and fighting at the front, subordinate to the regular army during WWII, as well as troops in GULAG, заградотряды near the front lines - these would be parallel to the SS), as well as political/criminal security services, counter-intelligence, etc. - the latter would be parallel to Gestapo/ Kriminalpolizei in Germany.

One thing missing in this analogy is the "elite status" enjoyed by SS in Nazi Germany (SS was the military arm of NSDAP, the Nazi party). In contrast, the NKVD troops fighting at the front during the WWII were treated just as the regular army.

  1. Much of what we know about the SS-Wermacht mutual attitudes comes from the memoirs written after the 2nd World War: By the decision of the Nuremberg Trials, SS was (and is) a criminal organization, so it would be unthinkable for a German general to write something along the lines of "SS troops fought with distinction and valor..." The writers of these memoirs had all the reason to distance themselves from the Nazi regime and from SS in particular.

  2. In contrast, most memoirs written by the leading Soviet generals/marshals, were written during Brezhnev's time and subject to censorship and self-censorship. It is very hard to tell from these memoirs, what the leaders of the Soviet military actually thought about NKVD. The dominant theme of war stories written in Brezhnev's years is something along the line of "Heroic struggle of all Soviet people (except for few traitors) agains German aggression," so finding negative references to NKVD troops/agents is next to impossible.

For instance, here is what one gets from reading memoirs of Marshal Zhukov "Воспоминания и размышления." The memoirs were subject to heavy censorship when they first appeared (Brezhnev's time). Since 1990s, one has an unedited version of his memoirs. In the memoirs Zhukov mentions regular NKVD troops of new occasions just as a regular fighting force, praising them for their service when appropriate. The only time he mentions NKVD otherwise is in the context of the Great Terror of 1930s, when Zhukov himself came close to been arrested by NKVD. (Tellingly, Zhukov thanks the Communist Party for "seeing the truth" in allegations against him.)

  1. My second reference is Admiral Kuznetsov (he was the head of the Soviet Navy from 1939 till 1955, except for the period of 1947-51), specifically, his memoirs "Крутые Повороты."

Николай Кузнецов, "Крутые повороты: Из записок адмирала." Молодая гвардия. 1995

The book written but not published during Brezhnev's time (both Zhukov and Kuznetsov died in 1974).

While remaining a loyal communist, Kuznetsov is much more open in his memoirs and each time NKVD is mentioned, it is either as a part of a list of Soviet ministries (Komissariats) or with clear hostility. Still, from the memoirs, it is clear that in 1930s Kuznetsov wanted to believe that NKVD arrested/executed only those who were guilty of something. His hostility appears to be towards particular people in NKVD, not the institution itself. At the same time, while mentioning Soviet Navy Infantry during WWII, Kuznetsov never mentions NKVD troops. Maybe he had nothing to say about them or nothing good to say about them, its impossible to tell.

The difference between Zhukov and Kuznetsov is that while both (in 1946/47) were demoted (lost their positions as heads of respectively Army and Navy), Kuznetsov (unlike Zhukov) was put on trial in 1948 (The "Trial of four admirals"). However, unlike the other three admirals, Kuznetsov was not sent to jail.

To add one more reference point to this list: The memoirs of General Gorbatov (first published in 1965):

Горбатов А.В. Годы и войны. - М.: Воениздат, 1989.

Unlike Zhukov and Kuznetsov, Gorbatov was arrested in 1938 and sent to Gulag. He was released from Gulag in March 1941 and restored to his military rank. (Gorbatov was a lucky one: He was strong enough to withstand the beating and refused to sign a forced confession after the arrest.) Unsurprisingly, Gorbatov refers to his chief interrogator as "изверг" (a "monster" is the closest English translation I can find).

In Gorbatov's case (and case of other members of Soviet military who were arrested and tortured by NKVD), the word "hate" is simply not powerful enough to describe their feelings towards the political security branch of NKVD. In his book, Gorbatov writes about WWII, but never mentions NKVD regular troops. As in Kuznetsov's case, one can only conjecture why.

  1. One of the books on my bookshelf is

Richard Overy "The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia." 2006

As the title suggests, his main goal is to compare and contrast the two dictatorships.

Regarding relations between SS and Wehrmacht in 1930s he writes (page 474):

Relations between the armed forces and the SS were poor in the mid-1930s. There were regular brawls and insults traded between soldiers and SS men. Himmler made no secret of his distrust of senior officers, or of his ultimate ambition to create a model force of SS units to supplant the army as the chief defender of the nation. The deliberate cultivation of the SS as the party and national elite, military in every aspect, was the most direct threat posed by the party to the armed forces, because of the exceptional powers enjoyed by the security apparatus and Himmler's close relationship with Hitler.

Two things to note in view of this paragraph:

a. As far as I know, no high-ranking German military officers were arrested/executed until July of 1944.

b. Based on what I know about USSR in 1930s, brawls between RKKA and NKVD servicemen would have been unthinkable in that period.

  1. Some of the NKVD archives are now open, but at the moment I do not have access to any relevant books/papers written on the basis of such archival studies. Such publications would be definitely a welcome addition and help to clarify what we know about the Soviet society under Stalin's rule. In particular, NKVD (as its predecessors and successors) was tasked with collecting information (from numerous informers) about popular attitudes to the regime in general and NKVD in particular. It is unclear to me what is the right methodology in dealing with such archival materials: Treating forced confessions, etc. as true evidence of guilt is the last thing a sane historian would do. (Sadly, some academics such as Grover Furr are doing exactly this.)

  2. Last but not least: In both Germany in USSR, NKVD, Gestapo and SS, even when attached to the regular army, operated (to some extent) outside the regular chain of command. For instance, an "особист" (an NKVD officer) attached to a regular military unit was reporting to his NKVD superiors (in particular, informing about political reliability of troops). Very few things surprise me, but I would be very surprised to find any military officer (any time, any country) who does not dislike such a violation of the chain of command.

To summarize: Different members of the Soviet military had different attitudes towards different parts of NKVD, hence, a 2-dimensional mosaic. The feelings ranged from (one extreme) praising NKVD (regular) military troops that fought with distinction during the war to (the other extreme) something beyond what can be described by the word "hate."

  • Off-topic, but speaking of German Intelligence and the USSR, are you acquainted with the German Military Intelligence's writings on the character of Russian women? Reads like a treatise on insects :-D Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 10:53

Probably even more so

Average member of Wehrmacht (from common soldiers to lower officer ranks) didn't have much contact with SS. First of all, Wehrmacht always had single chain of command and there was never equivalent of political commissar, although political indoctrination increased towards the end of the war. Wehrmacht also had their own system of military tribunals which often sentenced soldiers to death penalty (mostly for desertion, towards end of the war) but again this has nothing to do with SS. Military police (Feldgendarmerie) was also part of Wehrmacht. If certain unit of Waffen SS was serving along common Wehrmacht troops, its members didn't have any special authority or privilege over them. Only late in the war, with organization of Feldjägerkorps, which sometimes did include members of Waffen SS, member of Wehrmacht could be judged and executed on the spot for desertion by members of SS. Note that civilians back home were under jurisdiction of Gestapo, which was part of SS, and persecuted any political dissent. With overall situation deteriorating, this could include any kind of complaints (for example of food shortage). Some of dissatisfaction with Gestapo (and National-Socialist party and state in general) certainly spilled over to Wehrmacht.

Soviet communists on the other hand were always afraid of potential rebellion in Red Army that could oust them from power (it was after all, way they did rise to power). There were no 20 July plot in Red Army, but there were massive purges, especially after Tukhachevsky Affair. Political commissars under various names and with various powers were always there, but more important questions is military police. Red Army didn't have classical military police, instead there was Commandant's Service responsible for discipline inside of garrison. But those responsible for capturing deserters, and preventing unauthorized retreats, as a rule would be NKVD Internal Troops which formally were not part of Red Army organization (although often subordinated to Red Army ) . Red Army members, even officers, could be arrested by NKVD, one famous case was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn . While military courts were formally part of Red Army (although invariably filled with party cadre), but as we can see from case of Solzhenitsyn, members of Red Army could be tried by NKVD courts also. Situation at home for Red Army soldiers should not even be mentioned - NKVD arrested and killed far more Soviet civilians then Gestapo German (excluding Jews) . Therefore, as we can, average Red Army soldier had far more reasons to be afraid and hate NKVD then average Wehrmacht solider had to hate SS.


Yes,The NKVD was hated and feared by the regular Army because it had arrested Marshal Tukhachevsky (and others), who were tortured and killed by orders of Stalin in the late 1930s, while other Marshals, such as Rokossovsky, were imprisoned until they were needed after the Winter War with Finland in 1939-40, and the German invasion in 1941.During World War II, NKVD Internal Troops units were used for rear area security, including preventing the retreat of Soviet Union army divisions. they also conduked prisoner massacres

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    Hi Reuben Wilson and welcome to History SE. Adding sources / links to your answer would improve it make it more likely that you will get upvotes. Commented May 18, 2020 at 2:08

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