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The Whatzis.

Yesterday's whatzis was of a different variety than usual.  And I chose to do it as a lead in to the Memorial Day holiday, even if the subject isn't about Americans.  To paraphrase Sting - Russians love their soldiers, too.

Given the subject matter, I admit Boq and I had some concerns you guys might go as silly as you sometimes do - I had a plan for that, which wasn't needful in the event.

PucKviruS got it correct:  "They are Soviet Red Army identity capsules, Each capsule contains a slip of paper with the name of its bearer, like modern day dog tags."

That in turn led MCart to steal a touch of my thunder, by providing a link to and their photo spread on Russia's commemoration of victory in the Great Patriotic War, which is WWII to us.

All the pictures are good ones - but the ones relevant to the Whatzis, the identity capsules, start at picture 30, and continue for several images.

The Russians probably have more unidentified remains from the entire Soviet era than our total number of lost during our wars, whether those losses were self-inflicted or were the result of WWI and II.

The United States has an organization commanded by a flag officer whose sole purpose is to find any living un-repatriated POWs, and to gather, identify, and return to the family the remains of the missing. JPAC - the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command.  JPAC focuses on Korea and Vietnam, with occasional forays as needed into the Pacific, Europe and North Africa.

The Russians have a similar unit   [See update in the extended entry - the Armorer] (and perhaps more, I don't know),  )which due to the geography of their wars, spends most of it's time in the territory of the former Soviet Union.  The Demyansk unit.

The Castle has a long-time reader, Bill-groupie, and native born Russian who emigrated to the US who comments as Sainted67. I asked her to watch the video and give us a precis of what was going on:

The video made me cry - they opened up that capsule, very carefully unwrapped the enclosed piece of paper and were able to decipher the full name, the d/o/b, the name of the next of kin and some info about the region the soldier was drafted from. One of the guys comments that his granddad had identical name. Then they looked through the database of KIA and MIA and found this private as MIA in March 1942 together with his brother who was also MIA in March 1942. The title of the video is "Not MIA anymore" and it was shot to show the regular work by a specialized search unit "Demiyansk"

I am not sure it was a vulcanized capsule, from what I remember reading and hearing from the veterans, it was just a regular round with the bullet removed... there might be those vulcanized capsules but definitely not for the people who were drafted in 1941-1942, they just did not have time to come up with that, they were sending people to the front with the minimum training during those years... the rounds are black from all the years in the ground...

I don't have the music the Russians play for their military funerals.  Instead, I found a march, music from the Great Patriotic War, titled "Sacred War."  Don't let the title fool you.

We fool ourselves if we allow ourselves to think that the success of the campaigns in Western Europe didn't hinge on the efforts of the Red Army in the east - for whom the consequences of failure, and cost of success, were far greater in their immediacy than the same being said for the US.  Just as their eventual success was made easier, and perhaps possible, by our efforts in the West.  It took all of us to do it.

Now is the time at Castle Argghhh! when we dance - in honor of the fallen of the Great Patriotic War, known or unknown.  Found or unfound.  While our opponent in the Cold War - they were our brothers in arms in the hottest war of the last century.

Going into Memorial Day, at Castle Argghhh!, we remember.
Update: I misunderstood Olga when she referred to "specialized search unit Demiyansk" me being military all my life, and the guys in the video being in uniform - I went down the "must be the Russian Army" route.  As Olga explains in the comments, and I've put up here - I was wrong:
There has never been/are not Soviet/Russian military units digging up the casualties from the Great Patriotic War. All this work has been done by the volunteer groups (mostly civilians) who go on their own dime and time and painstakingly go through the battlefields looking for remains and identity capsules and try to bring some kind of closure to the families more than 60 years later... They actually do that for the Germans, too, when they find those...
Bless the volunteers then! 


Sir. Yes, Sir. Thank you for the whatsis, the great post, and your service, as well as the service of  ANYONE who stands up and walks away from all that he loves and holds dear, to engage in potential lethal warfare to PROTECT those he holds dear.

Bugger. Something in my eye.
I'd like to add a coda, and give recognition to a Russian Blogger who both authored and posted the video above.  He goes by the name of Drugogo, who's source page is:

I do not know who you are, Drugogo; but you are doing God's work.  Thanks my brother.

We can only wonder what might have happened without Stalin's purges in the 1930's.
Back just after the earth cooled, I had to do a report for my ANCOES course regarding the Red Army's role in the GPW. There's room to argue that it was the Red Army which defeated the Nazis and that the other allies provided something of a diversion. It's been more than 30 years, so I don't recall the details, but the bottom line was they really didn't NEED us.

" ... but the bottom line was they really didn't NEED us."

I agree with the argument that the Soviets suffered more casualties and may have assumed the greater role in the defeat of the Nazis. But I think this statement glosses over all the materiel support we provided to the Soviets in the Lend-Lease Program, which they DID need until they succeed in moving their industrial capacity eastward and cranked up their weapons production, and I think it minimizes the role that the other Allies played in defeating the Nazis in North Africa and Italy, as well as in other parts of Western Europe.
Great story. Thanks. For me not difference Soviet, Russian, Ukrainian, American, Australian Soldier or not. We are all were soldiers and fights for our countries. We are all love our countries, our family, our children, books, music etc. We all want to live in peace. Yes, our country loss more then 30 millions people in the Great Patriotic War (WW II). And we always will remember with honor our soldiers and workers. And we always will remember help from our Allies in this war. In our country always very good remember our Allies. Time, which you name as "Cold war", in our country good talked about Lend Lease and American, English,Australian, French soldiers. My grandfather meets with American soldiers on the Elba river in 1945. And he good talked about your soldiers. It's stupid politicians made us as enemy. But we must be Friends always. About units wich search falled warriors. Very bad that we haven't special units for it. Now it did volunters.Also we have some difference with your country in it. In your country soldiers who was MIA or POW they are heroes. In our country (when we had Soviet Union) they were crimes. In your country wounded warriors have medals and previlegies, in our country we haven't any.Now you have Memoriel Day and I want to remember my dead Friends from your country who fighted for your country. And all your warriors too.
Not entirely sure I agree with that report Mike. There are an awful lot of unknowables, such as, could Germany have defeated Russia if it hadn't suffered such a devastating bombing campaign at the hands of the US and UK? Near the end of the war, Germany was short on working rail lines, to say nothing of locomotives that hadn't been shot up by P-38's running wild at low altitudes, and working factories to produce war material.  Part of the MAXIMUM EFFORT campaign saw allied bombers making their run across Germany, to kill people and break things, and go on to land on Russian airfields for refueling, so they could make it back for another load of bombs and fuel.

As an aside, the ideological differences between The West, and postwar Soviet Russia were truly a tragedy. We could have been great friends. One anecdote that I picked up from (Will post book name later tonight when I get home) recounted an incident that came out of that bombing campaign. While some allied bombers were refueling on a Russian airfield, the battered but still functioning Luftwaffe found the airfield and begain strafing it. In the ensuing fires near the fuel and ammunition dumps, Russian troops would not allow the American airmen to risk themselves fighting the fires, went in, and did the job themselves. Their airfield, their job, and that was that.

It's always bothered me, how much time has been lost, all these years, when we could have been great friends. We're not so different after all. You can see it in the pictures John linked above. If you look in the comments, you can find pictures that focus more on the people gathered to participate in the observance.
I should note here that Afghanvet177 is a retired Russian soldier - who was my enemy in 80's, but is my brother-in-arms now.

And we both have more in common with each other than either of us have with the politicians who occupy the positions of power in our respective nations.

I hope one day to get to Russia and the Ukraine.  For a military historian, a treasure trove. 

The Russian soldiers fought with great courage, tenacity and long endurance. They fought for their homeland.  They were our ideological enemy before the war, and after. I suspect we'll have to actually fight them someday, either face to face, or again through a series of proxies. Their proclivity to fall back into whatever cult of personality/strongman type rule will, eventually, pull them back into an expansionist totalitarianism. The recent moves by Russia sure do tend to point to them wanting to become a serious problem for everyone else, again.

About that WW2 and the Russians needing no help. Not even close. Yes, they took massive casualties and tied up much of the German ground forces but the Germans weren't the only players on that side of the war.

Our campaign in the Pacific and, to some degree, our low grade campaign in China, helped much to motivated the Japanese to maintain their, under the table, non aggression pact with the USSR. That allowed the Soviets to send forces from the east to help fight the Germans. Quite a lot of forces from the east, actually.

Also, the need for the Germans to prepare defenses in France and such places tied up resources, logistics and personnel that would have, otherwise, gone to fight the Russians.

And, the UK and US battles in North Africa ensured that the Germans never had the option to bypass the Urals and strike the new Soviet industrial 'heartland' from the mid east.

I saw those pics and was very moved, especially the old Soviet sailor, toasting his brothers in arms.  I am so glad those men will not be forgotten.  Any background on how the capsules were acquired?  This is a great story, and not just because of Memorial Day.  We should say 'Thank you' too.  So...belatedly, and with gratitude, Thank you.
Its my recollection that the Red Army engaged about 75% of the Reich's military power.  The remaining 25% damn near kicked our collective western Allied asses. 

The victory in WWII/The Great Patriotic War was a team effort.  Without U.S. assistance the Russian Front fighting may have ended in stalmate and a seperate peace allowing Fritz to turn much more than 25% of his attention on us.

I force my U.S. History students to watch "Enemy at the Gates" to get a taste of what our gallant Soviet allies sacrificed to allow us to indulge in I-Pods and HDTV.

I will toast the fallen heroes of the Great Patriotic War and pray that their government never again betrays their sacrifice.
There has never been/are not Soviet/Russian military units digging up the casualties from the Great Patriotic War.  All this work has been done by the volunteer groups (mostly civilians)  who go on their own dime and time and painstakingly go through the battlefields looking for remains and identity capsules and try to bring some kind of closure to the families more than 60 years later... They actually do that for the Germans, too, when they find those...
I misunderstood what you said in your note, Olga.  I'll fix the post.

Cricket - I would assume, given the photographs, the capsules were with the bodies in the mass grave.  The reason you have two dog tags is so that one can be taken for accountability, the other is left with the body.
Olga, that is neat.  Is there a database of the names available in English?  John...I honestly didn't know that.  Like Boq said, they are doing God's work.
I understood that the German veteran groups pay the Russians to find German remains and that money funds to efforts by volunteers to keep digging. There was a very good documentary on this a year ago, but can’t remember the name. Apparently they expect to be at it for the next 50 plus years.
My Uncle did the convoy runs to Muransk in a Corvette. He mentioned that despite risking their lives, the Soviet’s in port gave them the cold shoulder, always puzzled him. Likely as they were being closely watched by the NKVD.
As for what would have happened in WWII, the USSR supplied much of the blood spilled, but without the key supplies sent to them, they would have had to sign some sort of peace treaty. Had Stalin not gutted his officer corp and prepared properly for the war coming, much less Russian blood would have been spilled. The Soviet Union lacked many things, but courage was never in short supply. I am glad those lost soldiers are found, may they rest easy.