Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
SMERSH (short for SMERt' SHpionam (СМЕРть Шпионам), or "Death to Spies") was the name of counterintelligence departments in the Soviet Union formed during the Great Patriotic War, to secure the rear of the active Red Army, on the front to arrest "traitors, deserters, spies, and criminal elements".
The organization was created on April 19, 1943 from the Directorate of Special Departments of NKVD. The full name of the head entity was Главное управление контрразведки СМЕРШ Народного комиссариата обороны СССР, or USSR People's Commissariat of Defense Chief Counterintelligence Directorate "SMERSH". It was headed by Viktor Abakumov, who reported directly to Stalin. At the same time SMERSH directorate within the People's Commissariat of Soviet Navy and SMERSH department of NKVD were created.
In March 1946 SMERSH Chief Directorate was resubordinated to People's Commissariat of Military Forces (Наркомат Вооруженных Сил, НКВС; the latter was reorganized into the Ministry of Military Forces (МВС) soon thereafter), and discontinued in May, 1946.
The main opponent of SMERSH in its counterintelligence activity was Abwehr, the German military foreign information and counterintelligence department, active during both World War I and World War II.
Smersh activities also included "filtering" the soldiers recovered from captivity. It was also used extensively to "filter" the population of the gained territories, including Eastern Europe.
Smersh was also used to punish those within the NKVD itself; it was allowed to investigate whomever it wished in the NKVD structure; department and directorate heads were not immune from it, and if it found even the slight bit of evidence that they were somehow involved in whatever plot it was that week, they would be arrested, and tortured by Smersh, forced to sign fake confessions, put on a show trial, and either sent to the camps or shot. Smersh would also often be sent out to find and kill defectors, double agents, etc.
Smersh was also used to maintain military discipline in the Red Army by means of zagradotryads(заградотряды), or barrier forces, that were supposed to shoot down the Soviet troops in the cases of retreat.
Smersh was also used by INO (the NKVD's later KGB FCD, First Chief Directorate, responsible for foreign intelligence operations outside of the USSR) to hunt down "enemies of the people" outside of Soviet territory.
As the war concluded, Smersh was given the assignment of finding Adolf Hitler and, if possible, capturing him alive or recovering his body. Red Army officers and Smersh agents found Hitler's partially burned corpse near the Führerbunker after his suicide and conducted an investigation to confirm the events of his death and identify the remains which (along with those of Eva Braun) were reportedly secretly buried at SMERSH headquarters in Magdeburg until April 1970, when they were exhumed and dispersed.
SMERSH in fiction
Smersh as a separate entity was discontinued in 1946. Although it existed only three years, works of fiction have extended its activities into later decades. The most notable example is Ian Fleming's SMERSH, a nemesis of James Bond. However, in most of the film adaptations the independent criminal organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was substituted to avoid the connotation of fomenting hate for the Soviet Union and contributing to a destablization of relations with that nation. SMERSH is mentioned in the early Bond film From Russia with Love, but doesn't play an active role in the plot.
- Russia unveils Stalin's spy service BBC report on an exhibition in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of SMERSH's founding.
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