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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Russia unveils Stalin spy service

Camera owned by Soviet spy Richard Sorge
The exhibition features wartime spying equipment
The Soviet wartime counter-intelligence service, Smersh - subject of numerous spy stories - exerts a chilling lure even today.

A special exhibition in Moscow marks the 60th anniversary of Smersh's founding.

The security organ, set up during World War ll, was one of the most powerful and dreaded tools of the Soviet wartime regime.

Its name, taken from the Russian Smert Shpionam, or Death to Spies, was said to have been coined by Stalin himself.

Directly subordinated to the Soviet leader, it was used to infiltrate the Nazi secret services and to enforce order and loyalty on the war front.

Spy gear

Pen containing a shooting device
Some items would not look out of place in a James Bond film
According to a spokesman for Moscow's Central Museum of the Armed Forces, many of the items at the newly-opened exhibition are on public display for the very first time.

The exhibition includes a camera belonging to Soviet "super spy" Richard Sorge, a German pen containing a shooting device, a military cap worn by Hitler and an air meter found in the Nazi leader's underground bunker.

One display is devoted to the history of "funkspiel", or radio games with the German counter-intelligence, which helped Smersh track down saboteurs.

Memories of war

The exhibition's opening ceremony was attended by retired military heads and broadcast by Russian television.

Military cap worn by Hitler
The display features a number of Nazi trophies
Former counter-intelligence chief of the Moscow military district, Leonid Ivanov, recalled how he had taken part in a special operation in Berlin aimed at establishing that Hitler was dead.

"I held Hitler's military jacket, pens and files in my hands," he said, adding: "None of us felt tempted to take anything."


Smersh was ruthless in its methods. Units operating behind the fronts were charged with shooting down Red Army troops retreating in the face of German attacks.

To be captured by the enemy was officially regarded as treason and those who escaped risked being shot or shipped off to labour camps.

The military counter-intelligence also oversaw the deportation of entire ethnic groups within the Soviet Union. Many died en route or perished later in the camps.

Smersh was gradually absorbed into what was to become the KGB, and many of its operations still remain shrouded in secrecy.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Wartime spy files revealed
09 May 02  |  UK
Stalin's spy stamps stir fears
30 Apr 02  |  Europe


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