80 years ago, a decree of the State Defense Committee was signed “On universal compulsory military training for citizens of the USSR.” This document restored in the Soviet Union the system of military training of future conscripts that existed during the Civil War, but eliminated after its completion. According to historians, thanks to universal training, already trained fighters who had an idea of the use of weapons and military discipline were called up to the Red Army. In addition, entire divisions of the people’s militia were formed from the training of Soviet citizens.
On September 17, 1941, a decree of the State Defense Committee was signed “On universal compulsory military training for citizens of the USSR.” With this document, the system of mass military training of future conscripts, liquidated after the end of the Civil War, was restored in the Soviet Union. According to experts, military general education (general education – RT) became an important component of the Victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War.
Creation of military general education
The first decree “On compulsory training in the art of war” was adopted by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR on April 22, 1918. It envisaged the creation of a system of military training of the combat reserves of the Red Army. All citizens between the ages of 18 and 40 who completed the course of compulsory military training were registered as liable for military service. Men in the general education system were divided into three main categories: school (under the age of 16), preparatory (16-18 years old) and conscription (18-40 years old). Women volunteered for military training.
The organization of general education in the field was entrusted to the military commissariats. The entire system was in charge of the Central Department of General Education under the Main Directorate of Military Educational Institutions, which was later reorganized into the Main Directorate of General Military Training and the formation of red reserve units.
During the years of the Civil War, about 5 million people went through military general education. In 1919-1920, more than half of the Red Army was staffed with cadres trained in the general education system.
“As part of the general education activities, large-scale events were held that played an important role in the formation of the Red Army. Competent personnel were involved in the work in this system. By the way, the writer Nikolai Ostrovsky, the author of the famous novel “How the Steel Was Tempered,” was for some time an employee of the military general education, – Dmitry Surzhik, associate professor of GAUGN, told RT in an interview with RT.
In 1923, the system of general military education in the USSR was eliminated. According to experts, it was replaced by various voluntary organizations involved in certain types of military training. In 1927, they were merged into the Society for the Promotion of Defense, Aviation and Chemical Construction (Osoaviakhim).
According to experts, in the associations of Osoaviakhim, Soviet youth mastered certain specialties that could be useful in military service, but did not undergo comprehensive training for real hostilities.
Vsevobuch soldiers during a demonstration in Moscow on Red Square on May 25, 1919. From the State Archive of Film, Photo, and Sound Documents / RIA Novosti
“Someone learned to jump with a parachute, someone went in for sports, but there was no talk of centralized general training under the supervision of the People’s Commissariat of Defense,” Yuri Nikiforov, associate professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University, noted in a conversation with RT.
The question of training personnel for the Red Army became acute on the eve of the Great Patriotic War. According to historians, a significant part of the conscripts were either not trained at all in military affairs, or had only a superficial idea about it. In the first months of the war, the situation became even more complicated.
“The USSR was rapidly increasing the number of its armed forces, but their quality suffered at the same time. Even the commanders often did not have the necessary experience in conducting combat operations in the changed conditions of the war, which now had a motorized character, ”Dmitry Surzhik emphasized.
Members of Osoaviakhim
According to the scientific director of the Russian Military Historical Society, Mikhail Myagkov, due to the significant losses that the Red Army suffered at the initial stage of the war, the armed forces have an urgent need for a huge number of new trained personnel. The answer to this challenge was the restoration of the system of military general education.
On September 17, 1941, a decree of the State Defense Committee was signed “On universal compulsory military training for citizens of the USSR”, according to which every citizen of the Soviet Union, capable of carrying weapons, had to undergo military training. Compulsory general education was for men aged 16-50 years. It was organized in factories, factories, collective farms and institutions without interruption from work. First of all, pre-conscripts born in 1923-1924 and those liable for military service under the age of 45 were subject to training.
Vsevobuch during the Great Patriotic War
The management of the general education system during the Great Patriotic War was entrusted to the Main Directorate of General Military Training under the USSR People’s Commissariat of Defense. On the ground, military training of future conscripts was carried out by military enlistment offices, which were subordinate to the heads of military training centers created at enterprises, organizations and collective farms.
On October 1, 1941, about 2.5 million future conscripts began training. Trained in the framework of general education, Soviet citizens en masse joined the people’s militia. In Moscow, in a short time, 15 divisions of the people’s militia were formed, in Leningrad – ten divisions and 14 separate artillery and machine-gun battalions.
The standard training program for a future conscript was designed for 110 teaching hours and five months of classes. It included fire, tactical and drill training, hand-to-hand combat, sapper, familiarization with the regulations. The largest course in terms of volume was fire training. Those who underwent military training had to learn how to use small arms and grenades, run across, crawl and dig in on the battlefield, use the terrain and fight against enemy armored vehicles.
“The value of the general education program was that it was tailored to prepare a person for a specific war, for military operations,” said Yuri Nikiforov.
According to experts, it was not always possible to ensure full completion of the program. In the front-line areas, the training period was reduced to one month. During the fighting on the outskirts of Leningrad, the military general education program in the city was reduced to 42 hours.
General military training of the militia in the Sokolniki park. Moscow, 1941 / © Anatoly Garanin
In addition to military disciplines, the Russian language was studied in the framework of general education, if necessary. A special textbook was even prepared. From the beginning of the war until the summer of 1943, 486 thousand people studied the Russian language through general education.
An acute shortage of combat training weapons became a big problem for general education at the initial stage of the war. For example, in the Klyuchevsky District of the Altai Territory, 1,078 people had to be trained for service in the Red Army, using only five rifles. The production of training weapons and the equipment of training camps were established by the workers of industrial enterprises in the field.
Vsevobuch soldiers are walking along the streets of Moscow, near the Avtomobilist stadium. USSR, Moscow / RIA Novosti / © Ivan Shagin
Since 1942, within the framework of military general education, mass training of snipers, machine gunners, machine gunners, tank destroyers, mortars and anti-tank rifle shooters began. And since 1943, during training within the framework of general education, emphasis was placed on training future conscripts in offensive actions.
“The system of universal training was a powerful help for the preparation of a trained replenishment for the Red Army,” stressed Yuri Nikiforov.
As the occupied territories were liberated from the Nazis, a network of military training centers was deployed there. According to experts, contrary to historical myths, they tried to carefully prepare conscripts from the liberated regions and republics for participation in hostilities even before they began serving in the Red Army. Experienced employees of general education provided methodological assistance to new colleagues. For example, the Moscow city military registration and enlistment office took patronage over the military training centers in Kiev.
The Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 Leningrad blockade. Reserves are sent to the front / RIA Novosti / © Anatoly Garanin
“General education has played a huge role in our country. And if you manage to form, arm and send new formations to the front, then this happens only because people come to the army, they already know something, “said Alexander Shcherbakov, First Secretary of the Moscow Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks during the war.
During the years of the Great Patriotic War, almost 6.5 million shooters and over 1.5 million specialist fighters underwent training under general education programs. The total number of graduates of the Vsevobuch and Osoaviakhim departments is estimated by historians at about 18 million people.
Organization of general military training / © voenkom.ric.mil.ru
“Vsevobuch played a crucial role during the Great Patriotic War. Young people went to the front en masse with some training, ”Mikhail Myagkov said.
According to experts, thanks in large part to the carefully developed system of training future conscripts, the professionalism of the Red Army’s actions has grown rapidly.
“They began to fight not by numbers, but by skill. The training of military personnel, including general education, is an important component of our victory in the Great Patriotic War, ”summed up Yuri Nikiforov.
Svyatoslav Knyazev, Maxim Lobanov
Cover photo: General military training (vsevobuch) of residents on the square near the Alexandrinsky Theater, October 1941 / RIA Novosti / © Anatoly Garanin