Naval Infantry, Russian

The history of the Russian Naval Infantry (Morskaya Pekhota) predates that of its much larger cousin, the United States Marine Corps by around seventy years when Peter the Great transferred two regiments of ordinary infantry to the Navy in around 1705. The Naval Infantry has fought well in many wars including the Great Northern War (1700 - 21), Seven Years War (1756 - 63), the Crimean War (1853 - 6), campaigns against the Turks and the Russo-Japanese War (1904 - 5) as well as the two World Wars. While the Naval Infantry conducted several important operations during the Second World War they were disbanded in 1947, as marines were synonymous with empires, trade and therefore imperialist capitalism. They were resurrected in the early 1960s as the Soviets had suffered a humiliating climb down during the Cuban Missile crisis, had conducted studies into the usefulness of amphibious operations during the Second World war and the Soviet Navy had begun to be expanded towards being a true 'blue-water' navy by Admiral Gorshkov. The growth of the Naval Infantry proceeded a pace with the development of amphibious landing and assault craft (such as the MP series and the 'Polnocny' class) and the expansion of the service from 3,000 personnel to 8,000. As time went on, the Naval Infantry continued to grow in size and new equipment was acquired such as the 'Alligator' and 'Ropucha' class landing ships, T-72 main battle tanks, BMD airborne fighting vehicle, SA-8 'Gecko' surface-to-air missile system and a family of hovercraft such as the 'Gus', 'Lebed', 'Uterok' and 'Aist' classes where the naval infantry have been ahead of the US Marine Corps in adopting hovercraft for amphibious operations. The regiments were gradually expanded into brigades and the units in the Pacific (the Naval Infantry was split between the Northern, Baltic, Pacific and Black Sea fleets) were formed into a division, which signified their elite status as brigades were not a common formation in the Soviet Armed Forces. Naval Infantry are of a higher calibre than normal motor rifle troops and are given more rigorous training and special courses. As with other marine formations the character of the Naval Infantry is generally elitist and they wear the distinctive blue and white stripped shirts also worn by paratroopers. The task of the Naval Infantry would really be tactical in nature with them acting as a spearhead force to capture a beachhead in advance of a larger formation, but they are unlikely to be used against a heavily defended coastline as they are not equipped for that sort of mission (unlike the US Marines). They would work alongside the Naval Spetsnaz which are the naval special forces, equivilant to the British SBS or US Navy's SEALs. Such a 'sea-landing operation' (morskaya desantnaya operatsiia) could also be used in support of a ground offensive or the operations of the fleet. In the late 1980s the Naval Infantry assumed more of a defensive, lower-profile role in line with Gorbachev's new thinking. The end of the Cold War has meant that the Naval Infantry have once again become Russian, and have to cope with the budget restrictions as do the rest of the armed forces, although their elite status (along with the Airborne troops, Air Assault Brigades and Spetsnaz) does shield in some ways from the ravages that afflict their compatriots. They are now controlled through a joint command with the Coastal Missile and Artillery troops and have a strength of around 27,000. The listed formations include one division (55th in the Far East), three independent brigades (63rd Guards at Pechenga / Petsamo, 175th at Serebrinanski and 336th Guards at Kaliningrad), one independent regiment (formerly the 810 Independent Brigade on the Black Sea, which was split between Ukraine and Russia) and a number of smaller detachments. Under the Soviets, the Naval Infantry was often used abroad to 'fly the flag' with visits to friendly countries, but the Naval Infantry has been used more recently in the 'Near Abroad' in conflicts such as the ones in Georgia and Chechnya which has led to problems. Their use as elite infantry is down in many ways to the poor condition of much of the equipment that makes the Naval infantry what it is, due to problems with spare parts and servicing. The long history and proven performance of the Naval Infantry should ensure its future among the cash starved Russian Armed Forces. The only problems are the lack of funds for the maintenance of the amphibious fleet and adequate operational training. Also, there is a lack of training in counter-terrorist operations (unlike Western special forces) but given the changing world in which we live, the hijack of a Turkish ferry by Chechen rebels and the increasing problems with organised crime, this situation could change.

SEE ALSO: Naval Infantry, Russian (Longer Article)

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (28 January 2001), Naval Infantry, Russian,

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