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PostDid the Soviets Use "Barrier Troops" in Spain? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 06/24/19 4:49 am)
In response to the comments of David Pike and Boris Volodarsky regarding the use of Soviet "barrier" troops and the general participation of Soviet troops in the Spanish Civil War, I have done some digging through several sources freely available.
Apparently there is no evidence of Soviet troops used in the "barrier" function in Spain. There were indeed Spanish comisarios políticos, equivalent to Russian political commissars--военный комиссар--in the Republican communist regiments. They had the tasks of ideological education and discipline. In this regard there are testimonial accounts and documentary evidence of these comisarios being particularly severe as troop "barriers." Many times they shot their own troops if they dared to retreat in combat. It is said that communist troops were highly disciplined. The 5th Regiment was legendary in this regard, but many times the commissar had to act in this particularly mean and nasty way.
Now to the question of Soviet combat troops in the Spanish war. According to sources, the number of Russians in the war was in between 2000 to 3000; they were military consultants, security advisers (spies), translators, instructors but also in some cases, combatants.
Russia sent more than 600 airplanes, 350 tanks, armored cars, machine guns, rifles and ammunition and other war supplies. They also sent 772 pilots, 351 tank drivers and operators, besides a good number of volunteers in the International Brigades. During the war 99 pilots died in combat, as well as 53 tank operators, and an uncertain number of Brigade members.
Many of the Russian combatants were highly decorated when they got back to the USSR, but also many others were also executed by the Stalinist purges. Only a few remained in Spain after the war.
The role of Soviet spies in the war has been obscure and remains largely secret, but particularly notorious were their several failed attempts to kill Franco. See the famous Orlov Case.
Of course the Russian aid was paid for by the Republican government with the full gold reserves of the Bank of Spain, though the aid was incomparable with German and Italian aid to the rebels.
JE comments: What type of personality do you need to become a comisario político? Total intransigence? Absolute cruelty? General jackass-ism? It's not the kind of work I'd be cut out for.
Boris Volodarsky (literally) wrote the book on Orlov. And voilà! Boris is next in the WAIS queue, with a comment on the 2000 or so Soviet adviser/combatants in Spain.