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The Russian Airborne Troops or VDV (from "Vozdushno-Desantnye Vojska", Russian: Воздушно-десантные войска = ВДВ; Air-landing Forces) is an arm of service of the Armed forces of the Russian Federation, on a par with the Strategic Rocket Forces and the Russian Space Forces. First formed before World War II, the force undertook two significant airborne operations and a number of smaller jumps during the war and after 1945 for many years was the largest airborne force in the world.


The word desánt, as used in the Vozdushno-Desantnye Vojska, is a borrowing of the French descente (‘debarkation’ or ‘landing’). It is also used by the Russian Ground Forces for the desantno-shturmoviye batal′ony ( ), the airmobile assault battalions, and by the Russian Naval Infantry in voyenno-morskoy desant ( ), an amphibious landing. The airborne, air-assault, and amphibious troops of all services are referred to as desantniki, which literally means ‘those who land’. The term desant is defined by Radzievskii as:
Troops intended for landing, or which have already landed on enemy-occupied territory for the purpose of conducting combat operations. According to the transportation method used, a landing force may be amphibious, airborne, or combined; and according to its scale and purpose, such a force may be strategic, operational, or tactical.
The concept of desant is linked with the Russian doctrinal emphasis on flanking maneuvers.

Interwar and World War II

Originally formed in the Soviet Unionmarker during the mid 1930s, they were massively expanded during World War II. They then formed up to ten Airborne Corps with numerous Independent Airborne Brigades, with most or all achieving "Guards" status. 9th Guards Army was eventually formed with three Guards Rifle Corps (37th, 38th, and 39th) being of Airborne divisions. At the end of the war they were reconstituted as Guards Rifle Divisions.

The Soviet airborne forces were mostly used as 'leg' infantry during the war. Only a few small airborne drops were carried out in the first desperate days of Operation Barbarossa, in the vicinity of Kiev, Odessamarker, and the Kerch peninsula. The two significant airborne operations of the war were the Vyazma operation of February-March 1942, involving 4th Airborne Corps, and the Dnepr/Kiev operation of September 1943, involving a temporary corps formation consisting of 1st, 3rd, and 5th Airborne Brigades.

List of Airborne Corps 22 June 1941

Source forums.
  • 1st Airborne Corps: Major General Usenko Matvei Alekseyevich (on 23 June - October 1941 year)

    Colonel, 19 January 1942 Major General Zholudev Victor Grigorevich (on December 15, 1941 - July 1942)

    Major General Alexander Peter Alekseyevich (September - December 1942).
  • 2nd Airborne Corps:

    Major General Kharitonov Fedor Mikhaylovich (23 June - 9 September 1941)

    Colonel Gubarevich Joseph Ivanovich (May - October 1941)

    Colonel, since 1942 Major General Tikhonov Mikhail Fedorovich (September 1941 - May 1942).
  • 3rd Airborne Corps:

    Major General Glazunov Vasiliy Afanasevich (June 23 - 29 August 1941)

    Colonel Travnikov Nikolai Grigorevich (September 1941 - March 1942)

    Colonel Afanasev Fedor Alexandrovich (February - July 1942).
  • 4th Airborne Corps:

    Major General Zhadov Aleksey Semenovich (23 June - 2 August 1941)

    Colonel, 19 January 1942 Major General Levashev Aleksey Fedorovich (November 1941 - February 23, 1942)

    Colonel, 13 May 1942 Major General Kazankin Alexander Fedorovich (23 February 1942 - December 1942).
Russian Airborne major emblem
  • 5th Airborne Corps:

    Major General Bezuglyy Ivan Semenovich (June - October 1941)

    Colonel Gur'yev Stepan Savelevich (3 October 1941 - August 1942)

    Colonel Afanasev Fedor Alexandrovich (August - November 1942)

    Major General of Shore Duty Parafilo Terenty Mikhaylovich (25 November - December 1942)
  • 6th Airborne Corps:

    Major General Pastrevich Alexander Ivanovich (October 1941 - August 1942)

    Major General Kirzimov Alexander Ilyich (August - December 1942)
  • 7th Airborne Corps:

    Colonel, since 1942 Major General Gubarevich Joseph Ivanovich (October 1941 - August 1942)

    Major General Lyapin Peter Ivanovich (August - December 1942).
  • 8th Airborne Corps:

    Colonel, 1942 Major General Glazkov Vasiliy Andreevich (October 1941 - August 1942)

    Colonel Konev Ivan Nikitin (29 August - December 1942).
  • 9th Airborne Corps:

    Major General Bezuglyy Ivan Semenovich (October 1941 - March 30, 1942, “for the use of combat aircraft for personal purposes, the non-fulfillment within the required period of the orders of the military council VDV (Airborne Troops) about the transfer of aircraft to other formations” removed from the held post, and is from June lowered in the service rank to Colonel)

    Colonel, since 1942 Major General Denisenko Mikhail Ivanovich (March - August 1942)

    Colonel Mamontov Aleksey Georgievich (18 August - 29 October 1942)

    Major General Travnikov Nikolai Grigorevich (October 29 - December 1942).
  • 10th Airborne Corps

    Colonel, 1942 Major General Ivanov Nikolai Petrovich (November 1941 - August 1942)

    Major General Kapitokhin Alexander Grigorevich (August 29 - December 1942).

Airborne Corps formed during World War II

During October 1944 the three Guards Airborne Corps were formed into the Independent Guards Airborne Army. In December this Army was renamed into the 9th Guards Army.

  • 37th Guard Svirsk Airborne Corps (19 January - 9 August 1944, and from 30 December 1944, 37th Guards Rifle Corps):

    General Lieutenant Mironov Pavel Vasilyevich (19 January 1944 - May 1946)
  • 38th Guard Airborne Corps:

    Major General, from November 5, General Lieutenant Kapitokhin Alexander Grigorevich (August 9, 1944 year - March 25, 1945)

    General Lieutenant Utvenko Alexander Ivanovich (26 March 1945 - July 1946)
    • 104th Guards Rifle Division
    • 105th Guards Rifle Division
    • 106th Guards Rifle Division
  • 39th Guard Airborne Corps:

    General Lieutenant Tikhonov Mikhail Fedorovich (August 1944 - June 1945).
    • 100th Guards Rifle Division
    • 107th Guards Rifle Division
    • 114th Guards Rifle Division (from 14th Guards Airborne Division (2nd formation))


HQ 9th Guards Army was redesignated Headquarters Airborne Forces soon after the war ended. The units of the Army were removed from the order of battle of the Air Forces of USSR and assigned directly to the Ministry of Armed Forces of USSR.

The creation of the post-war Soviet Airborne Forces owe much to the efforts of one man, Army General Vasily Filipovich Margelov, so much so that the abbreviation of VDV in the Airborne Forces is sometimes waggishly interpreted as "Войска дяди Васи", "Troops of Uncle Vasya".

The 37th, 38th, and 39th Corps survived for a while, and in 1946 the force consisted of five corps (the 8th and 15th had been added) and ten divisions:
  • 8th Airborne Corps (103rd and 114th Divisions). The 114th Airborne Division was established in 1946 on the basis of the similarly numbered Rifle Division in Borovukha (just east of Slutskmarker) in the Belarussian SSR. The Division was disbanded in 1956, with two of its regiments (the 350th and 357th) joining the 103rd Guards Airborne Division.
  • 15th Airborne Corps (the 76th and 104th Divisions),
  • 37th Airborne Corps (the 98th and 99th in Primorsky Kraimarker)
  • 38th Airborne Corps (105th and 106th at Tulamarker),
  • 39th Airborne Corps at Belaya Tserkovmarker in Ukraine (the 100th and 107th Divisions (Chernihiv, disbanded 1959))

However the force was eventually reduced to seven Airborne Divisions, with an Independent Airborne regiment and up to sixteen Air Assault Brigades.

Airborne units of two divisions (7th and 31st Guards) were used during Soviet operations in Hungary during 1956, and the 7th Guards division was used again during 1968 operations in Czechoslovakia. The first experimental air assault brigade - the 1st Airborne [Airmobile/Air Assault] Brigade - was apparently activated in 1967/1968 from parts of the 51st Guards Parachute Landing Regiment (PDP) (Tula), after the Russian had been impressed by the American experiences in Vietnam.

By the 1980s there were seven airborne divisions in the VDV (including one training) and several independent brigades, regiments and battalions although only two divisions were capable of being deployed for combat operations in the first wave against NATO employing assets of the Transport Aviation of the Military Air Forces and the Aeroflot.

There was also a mistaken Western belief, either intentional Soviet deception or stemming from confusion in the West, that an Airborne Division, reported as the 6th, was being maintained in the Far East in the 1980s. This maskirovka division was then 'disbanded' later in the 1980s, causing comment within Western professional journals that another division was likely to be reformed so that the Far East had an airborne presence. The division was not listed in V.I. Feskov et al.'s The Soviet Army during the period of the Cold War, (2004) and the nearest division ever active, the 99th Guards Airborne Svirsk Red Banner Division based at Ussuriyskmarker, was broken up to form separate air assault brigades (parts of the 11th, 13th, and 83rd Brigades) in 1973.

In 1989, the Airborne Forces consisted of:

After the Fall of the Soviet Union

Structure Russian Airborne Forces
With the demise of the Soviet Unionmarker, the number of VDV divisions has shrunk from seven to four, as well as one brigade and the brigade-sized training centre:

The 11th Air Assault Brigade in the Siberian Military District and the 56th Air Assault Regiment in the North Caucasus Military District) are partially infantry formations reporting directly to the military districts they are stationed in. The VDV's training institute is the Ryazanmarker Institute for the Airborne Troops named for General of the Army V.F. Margelov. In addition, in the mid-late 1990s, the former 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment was stationed in Gudautamarker, Abkhaziamarker AR, Georgia. It later became the 10th Independent Peacekeeping Airborne Regiment. The unit was further designated the 50th Military Base.

In the early 1990s, General Pavel Grachev, the first Russian Defence Minister, planned for the VDV to form the core of the planned Mobile Forces. This was announced in Krasnaya Zvezda ('Red Star,') the Ministry of Defence's daily newspaper, in July 1992. However, the Mobile Forces plan never eventuated. The number of formations available for the force was far less than anticipated, since much of the Airborne Forces had been 'nationalised' by the republics their units had been previously based in, and other arms of service, such as the GRU and Military Transport Aviation, who were to provide the airlift component, were adamantly opposed to ceding control of their forces.

After an experimental period, the 104th Parachute Regiment of 76th Airborne Division became the first Russian ground forces regiment that was fully composed of professional soldiers (and not of "srochniki" - the conscripted soldiers aged eighteen). It was announced that the 98th Airborne Division is also earmarked for contract manning, and by September 2006, it was confirmed that 95% of the units of the 98th Division had shifted to contract manning.
The VDV divisions are equipped with armoured fighting vehicles, artillery and anti-aircraft guns, trucks and jeeps. Thus VDV units possess superior mobility and firepower with these vehicles. Each division has both regiments equipped with them and their derivatives. (Each division used to have three regiments, but the 106th was the last, and lost its third regiment in 2006.) With the reduction in forces after 1991, the 61st Air Army, Russia's military air transport force, has enough operational heavy transport aircraft to move one airborne division, manned at peacetime standards, in two-and-a-half lifts. The single independent brigade, the 31st at Ulyanovskmarker, however, is not equipped with its own armor or artillery and may be equivalent to Western airborne troops, in that it functions as light infantry and must walk when reaching their destination. The 31st was the former 104th Guards Airborne Division.

VDV troops participated in the rapid deployment of Russian forces stationed in Bosnianmarker city Ugljevikmarker, in and around Pristinamarker airport during the Kosovo War, surprising NATOmarker. They also were deployed in Chechnyamarker as an active bridgehead for other forces to follow.

Russian airborne troops had their own holiday during the Soviet era, which continues to be celebrated on the 2nd of August. One of their most prized distinguishing marks is their Telnyashka shirts (another, maybe even more emblematic, is a blue beret. VDV soldiers are often called "blue berets").

Notable former Airborne Forces officers include Aleksandr Lebed, who was involved in responses to disorder in the Caucasus republics in the last years of the Soviet Unionmarker, and Pavel Grachev who went on to become the first Minister of Defence of the Russian Federationmarker. PRIDE heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter Sergei Kharitonov, went to the Airborne Troops academy in Ryazan', and remains on active duty with the Russian Airborne Troops.


Older sleeve ensign version of Russian Airborne field uniform
As of 2007 the VDV is armed with following equipment.

Personnel firearms
  • AK-74M, assault rifle of the Russian Army (5.45x39mm)
  • AKS-74, main purpose assault rifle (AK-74 with folding skeleton buttstock) (5.45x39mm)
  • AKS-74U, special purpose and self-defence assault rifle carbine (AKS-74 with shortened barrel) (5.45x39mm)
  • RPK-74, light weight machinegun (5.45x39mm)
  • PKM, general purpose machinegun (7.62x54mm)
  • 7.62mm “Pecheneg” machinegun, currently replacing PKM as general purpose machinegun throughout the Russian Armed Forces
  • Dragunov SVD, sniper rifle (7.62x54mm)
  • Dragunov SVU, modified SVD in bullpup configuration and its variants are in a limited use
  • GP-25 and GP-30, under-barrel 40mm grenade launchers for fragmentation and gas grenades
  • AGS-17 “Plamya” (Flame), automatic grenade launcher

Armoured Vehicles

Unlike the rest of the mechanized units, which use variety of APC and IFVs, the VDV uses exclusively BMD family vehicles. There are over 1800 armored fighting vehicles, mostly BMD-1 and BMD-2. There were also over 100 BMD-3, but it is unknown if they were upgraded to BMD-4 level. All of them are amphibious, moving at around 10 km/h in water. BMD-4 is also capable of full, continuous fire while in the deep water, unlike any other vehicle with such heavy weaponry (100mm gun and 30mm auto cannon).

Various BMD are configured and modified to act as search and rescue, medical, communication and other special purposes vehicles to allow specialists to operate in battle more safely and with much higher mobility.

  • Airborne self-propelled artillery guns ASU-57 and ASU-85, have light armour and limited anti-tank capability, but provide invaluable fire support for paratroopers behind enemy lines (the caliber of the gun is the number next to ASU designation in mm)
  • 2S9 “Nona-S” configuration of 2S9 Anona, 120mm self-propelled mortar
  • 2S25 Sprut-SD a 125mm self-propelled artillery/anti-tank gun based on BMD-3 hull.
  • 2A18 “D-30”, a 122-mm gun howitzer and anti-tank weapon, towed by truck, not amphibious, unique capability to make 360 degree turns as it is deployed on tripod
  • ZU-23-2, is either mounted on an amphibious hull, usually based on a PT-76 light tank, or it can be towed by a jeep or truck as it has wheels.

Other VehiclesThe VDV is equipped with numerous types of airborne capable trucks and jeeps: Ural, GAZmarker, KamAZ and UAZ for transporting cargo, specialist crews and equipment (e.g. mortars, ammunitions), but not infantry (all fighting paratroopers are transported in armoured vehicles).

In January 2007, VDV commander-in-chief General Colonel Aleksander Kolmakov announced that within next 3 years, the VDV will be re-equipped with new equipment. It includes the new BMD-4 “Bahcha-U” airborne fighting vehicles, also approximate 100 BMD-3 vehicles will be upgraded to BMD-4 level, 125mm self-propelled anti-tank/artillery guns 2C25 “Sprut”, new anti-aircraft self-propelled gun vehicles BTR-D3 “Rakushka”, airborne trucks “KamAZ-43501” as well as new parachutes “D-10” and new firearms and other personal equipment for conventional and special purposes.


  1. p.386, Isby
  2. pp.175-176, Simpkin
  3. p.387, Bonn
  4. p.172-182, Staskov
  5. Zhukov, A.E., Forum at [1]
  6. See also Axis History Forum thread on 9GA and Soviet airborne units
  7. See also :ru:37-й гвардейский стрелковый корпус
  9. via forum
  10. pp.190-191, Simpkin
  11. p.29, IISS Military Balance 1985-86; p.36, Isby
  12. Jane's Military Review, 1984, 85, or 1986
  13. [2]. See also [3]
  14. Routledge, IISS Military Balance 2007, p.195
  15. See also :ru:Рязанский институт Воздушно-десантных войск имени генерала армии Маргелова В.Ф.
  16. Baev, Pavel, The Russian Army in a Time of Troubles, International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, 1996, p.127-135
  18. p.243,363, Austin & Muraviev quoting Kedrov & Sokut, 'Transportirovat diviziu za odin vyliot [To transport Division in One Take-Off], Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, No.11, 1999, p.1, translation from Russian


  • Austin, Greg, & Muraviev, Alexey D., Red Star East: The Armed Forces of Russia in Asia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2000 [26684]
  • Bonn, Keith E.(ed.), Slaughterhouse: The handbook of the Eastern Front, Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA, 2005
  • VDV at
  • Isby, David C., Weapons and tactics of the Soviet Army, Jane's Publishing Company, London 1988
  • KMS Ltd in association with "RYAZAN" International Airborne and Special Forces Veterans Organisation RUSSIAN VDV
  • Schofield, Carey, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Stackpole/Greenhill, 1993
  • Simpkin, Richard, Red Armour: An examination of the Soviet Mobile Force Concept, Brassey's Defence Publishers, London, 1984
  • Staskov, Lt. Gen. N.V., 1943 Dnepr Airborne Operation: Lessons and Conclusions, Military Thought, Vol. 12, No.4, 2003 (in Russian)

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