units of various sizes of the Soviet armed forces that distinguished themselves in combat during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).
In accordance with the decision of the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command by the order number 308 of the People’s Commissar for Defense (Sept. 18, 1941) the 100th, 127th, 153rd, and 161st rifle divisions, which distinguished themselves in August and September in the battle of Smolensk, were renamed the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th guards divisions. In the course of the war the combat experience, military skill, discipline, heroism, and high degree of organization of the Soviet guards served as a model to the whole army. The Soviet guards fought at the decisive sectors of the front. In the battle of Moscow, high heroism was displayed by the soldiers of the 316th and 78th rifle divisions, the 4th Tank Brigade, and other units, and the title of guards unit was conferred on them. In accordance with a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, guards banners were handed to units on whom the title of guards unit had been conferred. By the ukase of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of May 21, 1942, guards ranks were introduced for servicemen of guards units of various sizes, and a guards insignia to be worn on the right side of the chest was instituted. In June 1943 guards red banners were confirmed for guards armies and corps, and in February 1944 models of guards banners for naval units of various sizes were confirmed.
Guards units played a major role in the Stalingrad Battle of 1942-43. The First, Second, and Third guards armies fought here and displayed exceptional heroism and courage. Several armies (the Twenty-fourth, Sixty-sixth, Twenty-first, and Sixty-second) received the title of guards army and were named the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth guards armies respectively. The title of guards unit was also conferred on several tank and mechanized corps and air divisions. The first guards tank armies were created in the summer of 1943: these were the Third and the Fifth tank armies, which played a decisive role in the battle of Kursk. In the offensive operation of 1943-45 guards units of various sizes were active in the major campaigns. By the end of the war the Soviet guards included 11 combined arms and six tank armies; 39 rifle, seven cavalry, 12 tank, nine mechanized, and 13 air corps; 128 rifle, 17 cavalry, six artillery, 47 air, and six antiaircraft artillery divisions; 15 rifle, eight airborne, 68 tank, and 42 motorized rifle and mechanized brigades; and a large number of other units. The title of guards unit was conferred on all rocket-launcher units from the moment of their formation.
Many warships and naval units received the title of guards units: in the Northern Fleet, the submarines D-3, S-56, Shch-402, M-72, M-171, M-174, K-22 and Shch-422; in the Baltic Red Banner Fleet the destroyer Vitse-admiral Drozd, the mine layer Oka, the minesweeper GafeV, and several divisions of torpedo and patrol boats and cutter minesweepers, as well as the Krasnoe Selo Red Banner Brigade, which was the first guards naval artillery railroad; in the Black Sea Fleet, the cruisers Krasnyi Kavkaz and Krasnyi Krym, the destroyer Soobrazitel’nyi, the minesweeper Zashchitnik, the patrol boat SK-065, and the submarines S-33, Shch-205, T-215, M-35, and M-62; in the Pacific Fleet, the mine layer Okhotsk, the escort ships Metel’ and SKR-2, the minesweepers T-278 and T-281, and two torpedo cutter divisions; and in the Amur Flotilla, the monitor Sverdlov, the gunboats Proletarii and Krasnaia Zvezda, and two armored-cutter detachments. Many air force units of various sizes of the national air defense forces, the navy, and the shore defense were also transformed into guards units.