Soviet Sappers Clear a Minefield

Three Soviet soldiers use VIM-203 mine detectors in a deforested area. This is probably a staged propaganda photo, as the photographer is ahead of the soldiers; therefore standing in the minefield itself. Based on the earlier VIM-2, the VIM-203 was developed during the Winter War with Finland when the Soviet mine detectors couldn't penetrate snow-covered fields. The VIM-203 could operate for 35 hours continuously and could penetrate snow and ground to a depth of 60 centimeters (23.6 inches). These soldiers are possibly part of the Siberian forces diverted to the Moscow front after Soviet spy Richard Sorge reported the Japanese had no plans to attack Manchuria. They were better equipped for winter warfare then most Soviet units. However, through 1943 Soviet formations were critically short of "sappers," the combat engineers. Most Soviet troops used only a bamboo or wood pole or a bayonet for mine clearing. The Shtraf (Russian pronunciation of the German word "Straf," meaning penal) Battalions, Soviet soldiers who had been denounced or convicted of a crime, were driven across minefields by Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del ("People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs" or NKVD) guards, who were highly paid for their work. Casualty rates among the Shtraf battalions were very high - sometimes 100%. Survivors were simply collected for the next assault. Major General Ivan Ratov, the head of the Soviet Military Mission to Great Britain, was offered British mine detectors as part of Lend-Lease. "In the Soviet Union we use people," he replied, refusing the offer. Date and location estimated.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Date Photographed: 
Thursday, January 1, 1942
Soviet Union