The Pope? How many divisions has he got?
~ Josef Stalin
Today is the Day of Russia’s Guards Regiments! Today’s holiday is another one brought to us by that triumvirate of Russian leaders: Peter The Great, Josef Stalin, and Vladimir Putin, and celebrates the elite, or “crack” regiments who have earned the title “Guards” through exceptional achievement, bravery, and military prowess. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the holiday’s celebration in today’s Russia, but the history of the Guards dates back to 1687.
Although crowned Tsar in 1672 as a child, together with his mentally deficient half-brother Ivan V, Peter The Great spent most of his childhood outside of Moscow and away from the intrigues of the Kremlin. In the peaceful riverside villages of Preobrazhenky and Semyonovsky, energetic Peter organized the local boys into playing soldiers: games which became more complicated as the years went by, until, by 1689 the toy regiments constituted sufficient military might to play a major part in Peter’s successful efforts to wrest power from his half sister, the Regent Sophia. Peter set about a complete transformation of Russia’s armed forces, and designated the loyal companions of his youth as the two elite “Guards,” regiments: The Preobrazhenky and Semenovsky. These regiments remained the pinnacle of aristocratic military service until 1917, personally attached to the Tsar, and often under his personal command. The Guards’ regiments represented a significant political force, and their backing of a young German princess married to the lackluster and insane Peter III would play a major role in the ultimate coronation of Catherine II, or Catherine The Great. Peter insisted in working his own way up from a lowly recruit to the Colonel of the Regiment: a burden all other Romanov men would be saddled with in the years to come.
The glory and panache of the Guards’ disappeared in the defeat of the White Army in the Civil War of 1918, and by 1920, most former Guardsmen were either teaching riding in Central Park or driving cabs in Paris. It would take World War II to revive the idea of designating a “Guards” regiment. Stalin designated Guards status for exceptional bravery and military success on a few rifle divisions, artillery divisions, aircraft, tank regiments, and navel warships, cruisers and destroyers. At the end of the war, however, these Guards divisions were dismissed and the privileges and patronage of the Head of State were not extended into peacetime.
Fast forward to the Putin era, and the Guards are brought out of retirement, dusted off, and put to work again for the greater glory of Russia’s new empire: along with double-headed eagles, the orthodox church, money, and good old Russian excess.
Today the Guards’ Regiments, under the direct command of the Head of State, Dmitry Medvedev include the Kantimirovsky Armored Division, the Tamanskaya Motorized Rifle Division, The Carpathian-Berlin Motorized Rifle Division, the Sevastopol Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, as well as Air Force Bases and Naval Ships.
Congratulations to all of Russia’s elite Guards Regiments!
This post is part of The Stunt.
I’m indebted to the very informative web portal www.arms.expo.ru for details on the modern Guards divisions.
About the photo: I took this photo a few years ago at the inaugural "Changing of the Guard" in Cathedral Square in the Moscow Kremlin. Although these soldiers do actually serve in Russia's military, I've not been able to confirm if they are actually "Guards" or if they are, like the soldiers who stand guard at the Eternal Flame, part of "The President's Regiment." If any readers know, please pop me a note in the form of a comment: it would be great to get some more information to make this post complete!
Had you heard of the toy army of Peter The Great? Does it make you think you might want to pay more attention to what your children are actually up to in the sandbox? Thank you for stopping by on this very festive and colorful profpraznik! Stick around and enjoy some more posts like this one: