How the Soviet Air Force Lives

Oct. 1, 1959

The pattern of daily life in the Soviet Air Force varies very greatly. It depends on the service and unit concerned. Numerically, the largest part of the air force are the flying units, therefore their daily routine is the most characteristic and also the most interesting.

Air force units scattered throughout the Soviet Union are usually strictly isolated. The air units are very often stationed together with those of other branches of the services in “little military towns” (voennui gorodok), which are usually situated in a suburb or right outside a town, sometimes in barracks formerly used by the Tsarist army. During the second world war many of these barracks were destroyed or damaged, but after the war, in spite of the severe shortage o housing and the slowness of civilian rebuilding, a special military building organization was set up and given top priority, and a labor force of slave laborers and German prisoners of war was made available to it, so that by now these military quarters are restored and rebuilt in their original form.

As a typical example of quarters used by an air garrison those in Voronezh could be described. The air garrison in this town is one of the oldest established in Russia. In the postwar years a bomber division was stationed here. The main part of the quarters consisted of several four-storied buildings; one of them, with a striking high tower, is an officers’ club and restaurant. In this group of buildings the divisional headquarters and two regiments are located. Across the nearby airfield there are two more buildings in the pre-Revolutionary Tsarist style, housing the third regiment of the division. In neighboring buildings, bordering on the territory of infantry units of the Voronezh garrison, there is an air-technical regiment is part of the usual structure pattern of the air force, in which each regiment has an air-technical battalion attached to it, each division a regiment each corps a division, and each army a corps. These technical units carry out various servicing and supply duties such as the maintenance of airfields, catering, medical service, fueling, munitioning, signals, transport, and repair wok of various kinds.

The day usually begins at six a.m. in summer and seven a.m. in winter in peacetime. A bugle is sounded, and the duty officer, with the bugler, walks through the quarters. The aircrews hurry from their quarters. The nature of their day’s duties has been laid down on the previous evening, so they are dressed accordingly and they know exactly where to go. Most of the crews are officers with a few non-commissioned officers on voluntary extended service, which brings them various privileges and raises their position almost to the level of the officers.

Almost all of the crews live in the divisional quarters, though they are not obliged to; the practice of living outside is not encouraged by their superiors. In any case the exigencies of Soviet life solve this problem more or less automatically, since in Voronezh, as in many other Russian towns almost entirely destroyed during the war, finding decent living accommodations is practically impossible.

The officers and men usually begin their day in Russian fashion with a cup of tea taken at home. After the bugle has sounded, each unit has a short period for exercises, and then the working day starts, usually with a spell of indoor work, starting regularly with half an hour of political information, read by the political officer of the unit.

After that, there may be training in subjects like map reading, or a study of the internal regulations and orders of the air force. Breakfast starts at eight a.m. Flying personnel have their own dining room, one for each regiment. If the man is married, his family is entitled to army rations, though not of the same kind as his. Officers are obliged to contribute to their food out of their pay, but the amount is modest.

All flying personnel received food ration number five. This is the best food ration of the Soviet armed forces and can e compared only with that given to submarine crews.

This ration includes a pound (400 grammes) of meat per day and roughly three ounces of butter, besides other fats. Bred is a stable food in Russia, and this ration gives unlimited quantities of white and rye bread.

Though this ration is meant only for the flying personnel, it is often enjoyed by senior political officers and personnel of counterintelligence attached to air units.

Nonflying personnel of air regiments are entitled to food ration number six, known as the “technical” one. This ration is not much different from number five, except for a smaller quantity of meat and butter. There are other food rations in the air force: number nine, in training schools, which includes extra fruit and vegetables; number eleven, for hospitals; and number twelve for air force sanatoriums and rest homes. These last two include extra quantities of milk products and eggs.

Air-technical units have the number two food ration, like the other Soviet military ground services. The food in this ration is coarser, and contains more bread and cereals, and the meat ration is only 120 grammes a day.

Breakfast for flying personnel usually consists of one hot dish, meat with potatoes, rice or vegetables, tea or coffee, and bread and butter. After breakfast, the main work of the day begins. Crews engage in various kinds of drill and training, with the main emphasis on actual flying. Squadrons usually carry out their own flying training separately. Squadrons are divided into the smallest unit of the Soviet Air Force, the zveno of three planes. There are days arranged on which flying exercises are carried out on a regimental or even divisional scale. Flights go on until dinnertime at one or two o’clock. Dinner is the main meal of the day. It consists of three courses for the flying personnel, a thick soup or borscht, meat with vegetables or rice, and fruit or pie. Two hours are set aside for dinner and a rest period.

Then training and studies are resumed, mostly of a technical character, such as the study of new forms of equipment, detailed analysis of previous flights, work on the aircraft armory and also the personal small arms (for officers). With this the regular working day concludes, but official activities are by no means at an end; various lectures, Party and Komsomol meetings, and the “Circles for Political Study” begin. It is unusual for the personnel of an air regiment, on a normal working day, to have time for themselves before eight or nine ‘o’clock in the evening, even though they may have been officially off duty since six.

Supper usually takes place between eight and nine, and resembles breakfast: one hot dish, tea or coffee, and plenty of bread and butter.

Certain days every week are set aside for “Officers’ Seminars” and officers’ pistol practice on the range. Attendance is compulsory. Officers’ seminars are conducted by high-ranking officers, usually a general, and are devoted to a thorough analysis and study of the latest developments in the Soviet air Force of a strategical and tactical character.

Pistol practice, too, is regarded as very important. The experience of the war and the postwar period showed that most officers neglected their personal arms completely. In some cases they hardly knew how to use them and seemed to think of them merely as an adornment. For this reason the regular weekly practice is always carried out in the presence of the commanding officer of the regiment or one of his deputies. Strict inspections are also carried out, and the arms must be maintained in perfect condition.

The daily routine of nonflying personnel is kept to roughly the same hours as that of the aircrews. Technical units have a daily routine similar to that of the infantry, with maintenance of airfields, technical work, and mounting guard taking the place of ordinary infantry drill and exercises.

Normal air force routine is often interrupted by inspections and large-scale tactical training. Inspections are usually carried out by representatives of the Defense Ministry or of the High Command of the air force. Commanding officers are usually warned beforehand of the coming inspection. Preparations are made for several days before the inspection, and on the actual day normal routine is suspended, and training and practice are carried on under the direction of the inspecting officer.

Air force units take part in spring and autumn maneuvers. It is not uncommon during these maneuvers for large air units to be moved a thousand or more miles from their base. Normal routine is suspended and replaced by as near as possible wartime conditions.

However, officers and men of the air force regard the great annual parades on May 1 and November 7 and Aviation Day (usually about June 29) as their principal curse. Units selected to take part in the display over the Red Square are considered the most unfortunate of all because of the abnormal precision introduced into these parades by Stalin and still carried on. The selected units may be stationed at any distance from Moscow. Several weeks before the parade they are transferred to what is known as the meeting base, a hundred or two hindered miles from Moscow. On the day of the parade the various units have to rendezvous in the air with split-second timing, and they have to arrive over the Red Square exactly simultaneously with the arrival of the first tank of the ground forces into the square. Deviations of even half a second are frowned on. This highly dramatic moment of the parade was a source of great pleasure to Stalin, who never failed to draw the attention of foreign observers to the fine effect produced by the neck-and-neck arrival of the first tank on the ground and the first aircraft in the air, but it was no pleasure to the air force generals in attendance, who spent the minutes beforehand looking frantically at their watches and those afterward almost hysterical with relief.

In normal circumstances personnel are on duty five and a half days a week, since they are free from midday on Saturday. In their free time officers are permitted to wear civilian clothes, but they seldom do so, for three good reasons: a suit at 2,500-3,000 rubles is rather too expensive even for the comparatively well paid officer; the air force officer is one of the aristocrats of Soviet society, and he is conscious of his standing and likes others to know about it (this is especially true of young, unmarried officers, for they know that they rate particularly high with the girls); and the uniform is smart and of very good quality.

Several different outfits are issued to air force personnel. Everyday or working dress consists of dark blue breeches or long trousers, with a narrow sky blue stripe, a khaki or dark blue tunic, steel gray or light khaki shirt, and a black tie. For evening a white shirt is worn. The parade uniform includes a tunic with round collar with gold embroidery, white gloves, and white belt. The caps, somewhat on the German pattern, do not bear “scrambled eggs” as in Britain, but “cabbage.”

It is not uncommon for young officers to introduce extras. Among these are extraordinarily baggy breeches, soft leather boots put on in the so-called harmonica fashion, with many wrinkles, cap very much on the side of the head, and pistol, instead of on the right side, worn right at the back. The Soviet military police are engaged in a constant hopeless struggle against these innovations.

The air force is well equipped with special dress for flying duties or ground technical work. These is an adequate range of winter clothing, from short leather jackets with imitation fur linings to long lined overcoats, dark blue or steel gray, and hats with ear flaps of imitation caracul, real caracul for ranks from colonel upward.

The officer pays for his everyday uniform, not for special dress. In relation to ordinary prices, what he pays is ludicrously little and would hardly buy him a shirt in a civilian shop.

In all garrisons there are special shops maintained by Voentorg (military trade), under the Ministry of Defense. Here there are clothing, food, and many other goods on sale, including even toys for children, at reduced prices, and often including articles that are unobtainable outside. Families of air force officers and men are permitted to shop here.

There are very definite distinctions between ranks, though these distinctions are not very noticeable among junior officers up to the rank of major, including noncommissioned officers on flying-officers’ duties. The scale of pay rises slowly, by 200 to 400 rubles a month with each rank. But the lieutenant colonel receives not only a substantial increase in pay but also many other privileges, not so much because of his rank but because of his position, since he is likely to be at least deputy to the commanding officer of the regiment. He will have large and comfortable quarters, unrestricted use of a car, and, unofficially, all the best that the unit can provide: the best food at the canteen and the shop, and the best and most difficult to come by goods at the shop, for him and his family. His driver and batman will be personal servants to his family.

The general will have more extensive privileges. A general commanding a division or corps will automatically share in the comforts enjoyed by local Party and government officials in the area. He will be able to make use of the shops for high officials, which are completely closed to the rest of the population, where everything, including foreign-made goods, can be bought at greatly reduced prices. Besides the car or two provided by the service, he might well have his own, and might also provide one for his children. He and his family would have one of the best homes in the town, not necessarily at the base. Marshals of Aviation lead the life of the highest Party officials, the most favored authors and scientists, ballerinas, and film stars.

This includes villas by the Black Sea, small fleets of cars country houses, hunting lodges, large staffs of indoor and outdoor servants, and diamond-decked wives and mistresses. Their actual pay is not so fantastically high, the highest is from 10,000 to 12,000 rubles a month, but they have so many other privileges, such as buying at very greatly reduced prices in the special shops, servants’ wages and maintenance of cars provided by the state, and food from special farms exclusively for the use of the privileged. The building and maintenance of their houses and villas cost them nothing, for they are done by the military building administration free of charge. Obviously the differences between their lives and that of the average air force officer with 900 to 1,200 rubles a month (not to mention the private in the army with eight to twelve rubles a month) put them in another world.

Promotions tend not to follow the official scheme. According to this scheme, an officer should be promoted every three to six years, the interval increasing as he rises in rank. All officers graduate from the air force schools with the rank of lieutenant (the wartime shortened course produced junior lieutenants). It is not uncommon that, of two lieutenants who enter the air force at the same time, one is in four years’ time a senior lieutenant and the other a major. The main factors in promotion are personal qualities and initiative. Any officer who has shown himself to be exceptionally able will find the road open to the highest rank, but this healthy and sound practice is sadly marred by political considerations. The case of Stalin’s son was not unique, though it was indeed the worst of them. In the normal course of events Vassily Stalin might have reached the rank of major; he was in fact a lieutenant general.

But perhaps even worse than open nepotism is the standing unwritten rule that an officer who is not a Party member has no chance whatsoever of reaching senior rank. Officers, therefore, have no choice but to join the Party and thus artificially swell its ranks. It could not happen that an officer would not be permitted to join the Party, because if he was politically suspect to such an extent he would not have been allowed to enter officers’ school as he would be “socially unsuitable,” as the Soviet phrase has it.

At the first meetings between the Soviet forces and their Western Allies, Soviet officers were always surprised by the age of their Western counterparts, who always seemed to them rather old, especially in the air force. In the Soviet Union it is not at all uncommon to find a Colonel General of Aviation (equivalent to a British Air Marshal) who is still in his thirties, and it is not impossible to find a Marshal of Aviation who is under forty. On the whole these men have all been promoted on their merits. General Smooshkevich and General Proskurov, who were both about thirty-five years old, were executed in the great purge of the 1930s, when the former was Commander in Chief of the Air Force and the latter CinC, Fighter Command.

The Soviet Air Force is certainly the most decorated service in the world. Air Force “heroes of the Soviet Union,” the highest Soviet award, increased to an unnatural number during the war. Further decoration of those who had already become Heroes became a problem, and it as even four times. The first men who received the third golden star of the Hero were both fighter pilots; the twenty-five-ear-old Maj. Ivan Kozhedub, and thirty-two-year-old Col. Alexander Pokruishkin. The only four-ties Hero is in fact Army Marshal Zhukov, who received his fourth start just before dismissal.

Almost all commanders of air armies and corps have once or twice become Heroes of the Soviet Union, but the decorations have fallen thickest on ordinary air force officers, especially those in fighters. Before the war it had been extremely unusual to see a junior officer wearing the Order of the Red Banner, not to mention the Order of Lenin; it is now not uncommon to see six of these orders on the breast of a young captain.

Before the war each decoration was accompanied by a small grant of money. After the war this practice was abolished, because, as the current witticism had it, “the Soviet bank would have been emptied” if all the grants had been paid.

Decorations, particularly in the air force, had lost their meaning, except for that of the Hero of the Soviet Union or the Order of Lenin, and possibly the Red Banner. The end of the war checked this flood of medals. Orders such as those of Kutusov or Suvorov cannot be given in peacetime, and in wartime only to officers in charge of strategic units. This also applies to the Order of Alexander Nevsky and the Patriotic War, except that they had a wider range of recipients.

In peacetime there is a standing regulation on decorations, according to which any member of the forces, regardless of his rank, who has completed twenty-five years of service, receives the Order of Lenin, after twenty years, the Red Banner, after fifteen years, the Red Star, and other medals for shorter terms of service.

Many decorations are given to those who have seen no active service except in staffs and political administrations. Members of political counterespionage attached to air force units also received many high decorations for no obvious reason.

Air force personnel are recruited from the yearly intake of conscripts. The main requirement is health. There are usually more men anxious to join than there are places for them, but when they have been sifted the position is reversed.

Most personnel, especially officers, are very reluctant to retire. The main reason for retirement, apart from age, is health. The reluctance is easily explained: On retirement the standard of living drops sharply, especially in the case of high-ranking officers. It is not only that pensions tend to be insufficient, but the high-ranking officer will find himself stripped of all his luxuries and privileges.

Before the war, retirement meant complete severance of all ties with the service, but after the war the government made certain concessions on this point. Officers are permitted to wear their uniforms (with a special stripe on the epaulet). They are known as “Colonel or General So-and-so, in retirement.” They may enter officers’ clubs and restaurants, and are entitled to salutes.

Promotion in the air force is easy and quick; so is demotion. Any general or marshal of the air force could lose his rank and all that went with it without much warning. If he were lucky he could merely be relieved of his rank and sent to some insignificant post as happened, for example, to General Musienko, Deputy to the Commanding Officer of the 2d Air Army, who suddenly found himself chairman of a large state agricultural undertaking (Sovkhoz) in the Committee of the Party. If the worst happens, and he falls into political disgrace, the question of rank will hardly arise, since he will be lucky to escape with his life.

In wartime ordinary officers could be demoted in large numbers for such offenses as abandoning their equipment or for suffering too many casualties among their men. Many air force officers had a very anxious time trying to convince counterintelligence that they had been obliged to parachute and abandon their aircraft. Ultimately pilots became terrified of surviving themselves without their aircraft, since the punishment for what was judged to be the very serious offense of abandoning equipment without sufficient reason was demotion to the ranks, loss of all decorations, and service of from three to eight months in a punishment battalion. The actual term to be served in such a battalion mattered little, since it was very unlikely that anyone would survive for more than a few days.

In peacetime, too, strict disciplinary courts are maintained. The worst offenses are treason and defection to the West. Sentence for these offenses is death, or at the very least fifteen years of slave labor, in the latter case, of course, passed in absentia.

All offenses are strictly divided into political and nonpolitical. Anything that the Secret Police and the political authorities choose to regard as an anti-Soviet activity would automatically mean the ruin of a man’s entire career, expulsion from the service, and almost certainly a long term of imprisonment. There is no limit to the imagination of the authorities as far as anti-Soviet activities are concerned, and they may range from the plotting of a revolution to the relation of funny stories about the Soviet leaders.

Nonpolitical offenses are mostly of two kinds: theft of government property and offenses against morals. The first is again of very wide range: The supply officer of an air division or corps may make a few million rubles by manipulating the property and funds in his charge; or a technician may take away a few pints of a spirit designed for technical purposes and drink it with his friends. This last is a traditional offense in the air force.

Punishment in the first case depends on the political standing and the political contacts of the officer. In 1947 Major Lozovsky, in charge of supply in an air army, took home to Russia from occupied Austria two railway carriages full of valuable goods and several mission rubles in cash. An investigation was carried out, and a considerable scandal was caused; a few months later Major Lozovsky was observed walking peacefully down a street in Moscow, wearing civilian clothes, and it was discovered that he was a high executive in the Moscow Restaurant Trust. He was the nephew of the Deputy Foreign Minister Lozovsky; otherwise, he might well have got up to ten years’ imprisonment.

Lesser offenses of a nonpolitical kind may be punished by demotion and imprisonment of up to five years. But there is always a chance that even without political standing and contacts an offender may be let off scot-free, for the Secret Police tend to turn a blind eye to nonpolitical offenses.

Offenses against morals include rape, exceptionally stormy married lives which disturb the peace of the garrison, and venereal diseases. Rape is taken very seriously as a rule. In one instance an Engineer General of the Technical Air Service, who raped a girl of thirteen, was relieved of his rank and decoration and demoted to a building technician on an airfield. The second offense is usually dealt with by the local political authorities without calling in the military tribunal, and the man may lose his seniority and might even be demoted one or two ranks. Venereal disease became an offense, particularly serious in the air force, toward the end of the war. At first victims of venereal disease were regarded with sympathy and understanding by their superiors, and to get syphilis was affectionately known as “to become a general” and gonorrhea as “to become a colonel.”

Later, when the number of cases in the air force had increased catastrophically in the units stationed in the occupied countries, contraction of the disease became an offense, and an officer or man would be sent home with a black mark in his dossier; for an officer this meant the ruin of his career.

An officer or man contracting a normal illness while serving receives first-class treatment in special air force hospitals. There is a central air force hospital in Moscow, with the latest modern equipment and research laboratories. Each air army also has its own similar hospital on a smaller scale; corps and divisions have medical battalions that also have a certain number of beds available. Regiments have medical companies that can give first aid and clinical treatment but have no beds. All air force hospitals are under the control of a special medical administration under the air force high command. This administration also maintains rest homes for air force personnel, including some in the most beautiful parts of Russia, the Crimea and the Caucasus.

The high command is very reluctant to invalid personnel out of the air force, and very prolonged treatment is often given to restore a man to health rather than lose him from the service.

Since the war the system of annual leaves has been restored. The length of the leave depends on various circumstances: the personal record of the man concerned, his distance from his home (this is a big factor in Russia). According to these circumstances, his leave may be from two to five weeks. In peacetime there are also one-day and weekend leaves. Leave on a working day is usually granted on under special circumstances. On the weekend all personnel off duty are entitled to go where they please, providing their behavior in the past week has been satisfactory. There is always a certain number confined to barracks.

On the whole the facilities for sport are not good. There are some excellent football teams, such as the ZDSA, the Central House of the Soviet Army, in which air force officers are included, or Kruilya Sovetov (Wings of the Soviets), but the players in these teams could hardly be described as regular air force officers, because they are really professional sportsmen and their air force commissions are merely formalities.

Air garrisons usually have sports grounds with various facilities, but attendance, unless compulsory, is very poor. Air force personnel have very little free time, and what they do have they want to spend on their own pursuits.

Every air garrison has its own officers’ club, besides the officers’ clubs for all services, in which are restaurants and bars where drinks can be bought. But serious drinking is usually done outside these establishments, away from superior officers. Of the Soviet services, the air force is the most hard drinking, since they are the best paid and have the highest proportion of young unmarried officers. The usual drinks are various kinds of vodka and the traditional drink, “technical spirit,” which is highly thought of as being stronger than ordinary liquor, pure, and above all costing nothing, apart from the slight risk of being caught stealing it. People say it is: “Clear as the tears of the Mother of God, and strong as Soviet power.”

Slang in the Soviet forces is usually too indecent to be repeated; there are one or two sayings, however, such as “where discipline ends, the air force begins.”

Air Force songs are also extremely indecent, on the whole, and very popular. There are also songs written by Soviet composers glorifying the air force, and one of these has been declared to be virtually the anthem of the air force.

We are born to turn myth into reality

To overcome distance and height

Intellect has given us steel hands — wings,

And instead of a heart, a burning engine.

Each air regiment has its own brass band. Regimental clubs have musical instruments, the most popular of which are accordions.

Women played a fairly important part in the air force during the war. There were whole regiments of women. The most famous was that of Col. Valentina Grizodubova, which fought successfully on the south Caucasian front. Many women became Heroes of the Soviet Union and received other decorations. After the war, these units were disbanded, and there are very few women in the air force. Most of the ones who remain are employed in the medical service. Clubs, canteens, and laundries also employ women, but they do not belong to the regular serving personnel. These girls usually have boy friends among the officers but their popularity tends to depend on the position of the garrison and the number of girls in the surrounding district.

It is often possible to locate an air garrison in town by the number of girls patrolling outside. The military police often have the chase them off. “There is no prostitution in the Soviet Union.”

Much of this may not seem very different from other air forces; it is in the realm of political indoctrination and control that the differences become remarkable.

Pay and Allowances in the Soviet Air Force

The pay of officer personnel of the Soviet Air Force and naval air arm, based solely on rank, is the same as that for other armed forces of the Soviet Union.

The figures in the table below are misleadingly low. Other factors are duty assignment, longevity (computed on a scaled percentage of base and assignment pay), and flight pay. Personnel are paid according to their assignments as rated (flying or aircrew) or nonrated personnel (engineering, technical, and other specializations). Pilots are the most favored; then the navigator-bombardiers; next the graduate engineers on flight status. Next come graduate engineers responsible for maintenance of aircraft and related equipment; next the technical officers whose education is of a secondary level but who have taken specialized courses in communications, electronics, airframes, engines, etc.

For example, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Force may annually receive 13,200 rubles in base pay, plus 31,200 rubles annually for his assignment as commanding officer of a fighter squadron. He would probably have been in career service for fifteen to twenty years and would therefore receive longevity pay amounting to twenty percent of his rank and assignment pay, or 8,850 rubles. Inasmuch as he could be assumed to be a Class I pilot, he would receive an additional 200 rubles per month, or 2,400 annually.

He may also receive flight bonus pay if he has flown more than the annual norm, based on scales of pay for night flying, instrument time, and formation flying. Extra pay is also given for parachute jumps beyond the annual requirement. Deductions for the purchase of state bonds are made from his pay, the amount varying according to whether the officer is stationed within the USSR or in an occupied area.

Salaries may also be subject to personal taxation, similar to income tax. Without regard to allowance for hardship post differential, free food ration, and housing, this Soviet lieutenant colonel would get around 77,200 rubles yearly. At ten rubles to the dollar, this alone amounts to US $7,720, plus bonus pay and the other exceptions mentioned above.

Fringe benefits, such as food, clothing, rental allowance, and substantial discounts on consumer goods, amount to as much or more than the cash he receives. By comparison a lieutenant colonel with comparable qualifications and assignments in the USAF receives about &9,600 annually for base and flight pay. He receives no assignment pay but does receive housing and subsistence pay.

The Soviet officer corps as a whole enjoys pay and fringe benefits far in excess of the career NCO or conscript. With the promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher, the tendency is for career officers as such to level off on a more equal basis.

Taking aircrew personnel as a group, including the radio operator/gunner who is usually a sergeant or master sergeant, and contrasting this group with all categories of ground force and naval personnel, whether officer, career, NCO, or conscripts, the comparison is still weighted in favor of aircrew personnel. The radio operator/gunner, the only enlisted man with flight status, get slightly more pay and a little better rations than other men of comparable time in service and the same grade. His quarters, clothing ration, and other welfare factors are the same as those of other career NCOs in the air or ground forces, and his leave allowance is comparable.

Ground crews and other less favored air personnel are paid, billeted, and fed according to their value to their organization. There is a definite tendency to attract career NCOs in the more important service jobs by offering advance technical training and bonuses for exceptional work. Also, in combat, extra rations and decorations are liberally awarded.

The base pay of conscripts and NCOs in the air force is believed to be the same as that for ground forces (see table).

In addition, there are numerous incentive privileges and awards available to conscripts and NCOs. Monetary premiums are awarded for successfully accomplishing their assigned missions. If over a certain period of time an engine or radio equipment does not develop any serious trouble, the mechanic responsible gets a cash premium.

Conscripted sergeants, corporals, and privates, who have proved to be competent both professionally and politically, may be accepted for extra-term active duty of not less than two years and are eligible for promotion to the next highest rank.

Sergeants may be given officer ranks, both if they continue in service, or if they transfer to the inactive reserves. They must, however, pass established examinations to become junior lieutenants or pass the examinations of a full course of the officer candidate school to become a lieutenant.

Extra-term servicemen receive leaves of absence and have the right to pensions and financial assistance according to rules applying to all officers. Extra-term family servicemen can quarter in separate premises of the barracks or outside the barracks with permission of their unit commanders. They may wear civilian clothing when not on duty. Servicemen of the USSR enjoy all rights of Soviet citizens; Unlimited participation in the country’s political life, the right to vote, the right to be elected to the supreme and local organs of the government, and the right to belong to the Party, Komsomol, and to various social organizations.

Monthly Rates of Pay for Officer Personnel

Rank Monthly Pay Dollar Value*
Marshal of Aviation 3,000 rubles $300
Colonel General 2,200 rubles 220
Lieutenant General 1,900 rubles 190
Major General 1,600 rubles 160
Colonel 1,300 rubles 130
Lieutenant Colonel 1,100 rubles 110
Major 900 rubles 90
Captain 700 rubles 70
Senior Lieutenant 600 rubles 60
Lieutenant 500 rubles 50
Junior Lieutenant 400 rubles 40

*Computed at the rate of 10 rubles to the dollar.

Monthly rates of pay for airmen and ncos



First Two Years

Subsequent Years

Rubles Dollars Rubles Dollars
Private 30 $ 3.00 50 $ 5.00
Corporal 40 4.00 70 7.00
Junior Sergeant 60 6.00 120 12.00
Sergeant 75 7.50 150 15.00

Extra-term Service Volunteers:


Pay of Rank or Appointment

Bonus for Extended Voluntary Service

Rubles Dollars Rubles Dollars
Private 30 $3.00 300 $30.00
Corporal 40 4.00 300 30.00
Junior Sergeant 90 9.00 400 40.00
Sergeant 120 12.00 500 50.00
Senior Sergeant 200 20.00 600 60.00
Master Sergeant 300 30.00 700 70.00

The author, Boris Kuban, is a native of Russia, where he was born thirty-six years ago. He spent two years in an aircraft training college studying aircraft design before war broke out between Germany and the USSR in June 1941.At that time he was a member of the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and was sent to a military school for artillery training. His war service, however, was with the infantry, in which he commanded divisional reconnaissance troops and later was a company commander and, temporarily, a battalion commander.

After being wounded twice, he was given specialized training for the military diplomatic service. On completion of the course Mr. Kuban was attached to the Northern Group of Soviet Armies in the capacity of “special duties officer” to the air forces in the group. He later was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he was on the staff of the political adviser to the Commander in Chief of the Northern Group of Soviet Armies.

Mr. Kuban has been working as a journalist for the past few years, since he decided to come over to the West.“

How the Soviet Air Force Lives” is one chapter from a new book. The chapter is reprinted with permission from The Soviet Air and Rocket Forces, edited by Asher Lee, published by Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., N.Y., 1959, $7.50.