Awards to WW II U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Personnel

Perhaps one of the best kept secrets of Soviet Russia and one of the least recognized facts of WW II dealt with the award 117 Soviet orders and 66 Soviet medals to U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel for their efforts during WW II. It was one of the Soviet's best kept secrets because acknowledgement of the fact would pierce the myth maintained by the Soviet Communist Party that they, and they alone, defeated the Nazi German forces, which had invaded their country. It remains a little known fact here because the Cold War soon ensued following the close of WW II and the Soviet Union became our archenemy.

The awards of the orders and medals were made to recognize the devotion, valor and courage of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel, who assisted in the important delivery of war material and food to the Soviet Union's northern ports. These U.S. servicemen braved the lethal German U-2 fleet, which wreaked havoc on Allied shipping during the war.

The orders and medals awarded include:

  • The Order of the Patriotic War 1st and 2nd Class
  • The Order of the Red Star
  • The Order of Glory
  • The Ushakov Medal
  • The Medal of Nahimov
  • The Medal for Valor
  • The Medal for Combat Service

In a number of cases, these medals were accompanied by benefits such as annual stipends, payable for life, free rail and water voyage passes, rent subsidies and certain Soviet tax exemptions. Such benefits are prohibited from being received or used by U.S. military personnel without the express permission of the U.S. Congress (which was not forthcoming in these cases). In fact, the ensuing Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union voided such recognition, since the U.S. service personnel were not allowed to display these awards on their uniforms.

The second versions of both the Order of the Patriotic War 1st and 2nd class and the Order of the Red Star are breast badges and are intended for wear without a suspension ribbon. The remaining six medals are suspended from pentagonal ribbons in traditional Soviet fashion. Among those so honored were sailors, who fought their way through the Nazi submarine and Luftwaffe blockade to supply the Port of Murmansk. In many cases, this included sea battles with Nazi submarines involving Naval aviators from the Carriers Bogue, Block Island, Card, Casablanca and Croatan. U.S. Merchant seamen, who faced the same dangers, were not so honored*.

The Soviet recognition acknowledges the importance of the maintenance and control of the seaways without which re-supply would have been impossible. And the Soviets may well have fallen to the Nazi invader. In many cases, the awards were presented to servicemen, who waged war directly against Nazi submarines. Included among them was LCDR John Corbus, USN, who while in command of the USS Herring, a submarine, torpedoed and sank a Nazi submarine with extreme skill. He was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class for his effort. The awards also recognize the significant contribution of the U.S. Coast Guard in the destruction of German submarines, such as LCDR Robert Wilcox, USCG who was credited with the sinking of a Nazi U-boat, which had torpedoed an Allied tanker. In one of the more bizarre acts, recognized by the Soviets, LCDR Francis Pollard, USCG, who succeeded in sinking a German U-boat off the coast of Iceland while in command of the icebreaker, Northland. Both Coast Guard officers received the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class.

An excerpt from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Decree Nr. 222-46 reads as follows: For Outstanding Military Activities Which Facilitated the Sailing of Transports with War Supplies to Ports of the Soviet Union During the War Against the Common Enemy of the USSR and the USA - Hiterlite Germany - and for the Valor and Gallantry They Displayed, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Awards Decorations to the Following Servicemen of the Navy, Naval Reserve, Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve of the United States of America.

The number of Soviet awards by service organization were as follows:
AwardNavyNaval ReserveCoast GuardCoast Guard ReserveTotal
Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class3192024
Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class2220125
Order of the Red Star4200024
Order of the Glory 3rd Class12320044
Medal of Ushakov23005
Medal of Nahimov2120014
Medal for Valor6170023
Medal for Combat Service6180024

The number of awards broken down by officer and enlisted recipients are as follows:
Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class24024
Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class24125
Order of the Red Star21324
Order of Glory 3rd Class251944
Medal of Ushakov055
Medal of Nahimovv01414
Medal for Valor02323
Medal for Combat Service02424

The Order of the Patriotic War was established on May 20, 1942 in two classes. The first class was awarded to Officers and enlisted men of the armed forces and security troops and to partisans, regardless of rank, for skillful command of their units in combat, personal bravery, staunchness and courage. It was also bestowed for outstanding contributions to the success of an operation. The second class was awarded to the same groups for lesser personnel valor in action. The order is composed of gold (first class) and silver (second class) plating and enamel. It was designed by A. Kuznetsov. The Type 1 version was suspended from a hero-style red ribbon bar. The Type 2 versions are screw-back badges and have the mintmark, Monteny Dvor (the Mint or literally the Money Yard), in several variations and a serial number. More than 1 million of the second-class versions of the order were awarded.

The 44mm screw-back badges are designed as a red enamel star with gilt (1st class) or silver (2nd class) rays between the points of the star. Behind the star are a crossed sword and rifle with a fixed bayonet. In the center of the star is a 21mm medallion with a hammer and sickle symbol on a red enamel field. This is surrounded by a white enamel ring with a Cyrillic inscription, which reads, PATRIOTIC WAR. This was a clever propagandistic reference to the Patriotic War of 1812, which was intended to inspire patriotism in the face of Nazi Germany's invasion.

The Order of the Red Star was established April 6, 1930. It was generally awarded to Soviet military personnel of all ranks and services, as well as to units collectively, for outstanding service in defense of the Soviet Union in both peace and war, contributions to state security, promotion of military science, development of military equipment and for personal courage or valor in battle. It was also used a long service award until the establishment of the Irreproachable Service medals in 1958. It is composed of silver and enamel and was designed by V. Kupriyanov and V. Golenetsky. About four million of these orders were awarded. There are two types, which are differentiated by the marks on the screw-back reverse. Type 1 contains the mark Goshak. Type 2 are either unmarked or contain one of the following Cyrillic marks: Mondvor or Monteny Dvor. The order is serially marked. The 45mm red enamel star with silver edges has a central silver medallion with a soldier holding a rifle with a fixed bayonet. This is surrounded by a Cyrillic inscription, which reads, WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE.

Both of the foregoing screw-back Orders had appropriate service ribbons, which could be worn in lieu of the actual Order.

The Order of Glory was established in three classes (gold, silver with gold center and silver). It was awarded to noncommissioned officers of the ground forces and to air force personnel up to the rank of junior lieutenant for glorious deeds, outstanding feats of valor, and displays of courage and intrepidness while on active service in defense of the Soviet Union. The degree of achievement determines the level of the award. The award was designed by N. Moskalyov.

The first class is made of approximately 95% gold. The second class of the Order is encountered in three variations. The first variation with a 1mm border reverse is very rare. The third class is encountered in two variations. The Type 1 is similar to the second-class Type 1, except for the gold center on the obverse. The second variation has a hand engraved serial number.

The order is suspended from a black pentagonal ribbon with two 5mm central and 2mm edge stripes in orange. The 45mm star shaped planchets features a 23mm central disk with an image of the Spassky Tower, an integral part of the Kremlin wall, surmounted by a red enamel star and surrounded by a wreath on top and an a banner on the bottom, inscribed with the Cyrillic word, SLAVA, or GLORY. The central disk of the 2nd class award is silver gilt and the 1st class is all gold.

The Ushakov Medal was established March 3, 1944. The Ushakov medal is made of silver and is bestowed upon noncommissioned officers of the Russian Navy and naval units of the frontier guards for courage and valor displayed in defense of the Soviet Union, for participation in naval operations involving risk of life and for assistance in the conduct of naval combat operations.

The light blue ribbon has a 2mm blue and 2mm white stripe on each edge. A 50mm silver ship's chain in the shape of a V lies over the suspension ribbon and connects to a silver ship's anchor. The silver chain device is intended to recall the chain worn on the Imperial Russian Bicentennial Medal of the Battle of Gangut (1714-1914). The Battle of Gangut was the first Russian naval victory. The original Battle of Gangut Medal issued in 1714 was a large silver medal worn around the neck and suspended from a silver chain. A 36mm disk, containing the bust of Admiral F. F. Ushakov surrounded by the Cyrillic inscription, ADMIRAL USHAKOV, is superimposed over the anchor. The anchor is clearly visible from the reverse, which is otherwise plan except for a serial number.

The Nahimov Medal (commonly referred to as the Nakhimov Medal) was also established March 3, 1944 and is made of bronze. It was awarded to marines, soldiers, sergeants, petty officers and warrant officers of the Soviet Navy and marine divisions of frontier troops for valor and gallantry displayed in sea battles. It could also be awarded to non-navy personnel whose efficient and resourceful actions at the risk of their lives, contributed to the successful outcome of combat missions involving USSR naval units.

The pentagonal ribbon consists of four blue stripes separated by three white stripes. The 38mm bronze planchet contains a bust of Admiral Pavel Nahimov and the Cyrillic inscription, ADMIRAL NAHIMOV. The reverse depicts a sailing ship inside a rope disk over two crossed anchors surrounded by a ship's chain.

The Medal for Bravery, known also as the Medal of Courage, Medal of valor or medal of Gallantry, was established October 17, 1938. It was awarded to personnel of all ranks in the military, border troops or Ministry of the Interior forces, for personnel bravery in a theater of operations, defense of the Soviet Union's borders, performance of duty in life-threatening situations, and counter espionage activities. It was also awarded to civilians and foreigners. Approximately 4 to 5 million were issued.

The Type 1 version was suspended from a hero-style red ribbon and contained either a hand engraved or stamped serial number on the otherwise plain reverse. The Type 2 is suspended from a gray pentagonal ribbon with 2mm blue edge stripes. The Type 2 is also serially numbered. The 38mm obverse contains a flight of three Soviet fighter aircraft, the Cyrillic legend, FOR VALOR, in red enamel and a tank and the red enamel legend USSR in Cyrillic at the very bottom.

The Medal for Combat Service was established October 17, 1938 and is awarded for contributions to the success of a combat mission or the contribution to the combat readiness of a military unit.

The 34mm silver medal is inscribed in Cyrillic, FOR COMBAT MERIT, over a crossed saber and rifle. The inscription, which has appeared translated erroneously as FOR DISINTGUISHED SERVICE IN BATTLE has led to erroneous references to this medal as the Distinguished Service Medal. At the very top is the inscription CCCP (USSR) in red enamel. The plain reverse contains a serial number with exception of the very last version, which does not have a serial number. It was originally suspended from a red hero-style ribbon. The type 2 is suspended from a gray pentagonal ribbon with 2mm yellow edge stripes.

Special thanks to S. G. "Yash" Yasinitsky for his assistance.

*Author's Note: In 1985, the Russia issued its 40th Anniversary Medal of World War II. This medal, which is sometimes referred to as the Murmansk Medal, was awarded to among others, all U.S. sailors, armed guards, and merchant marines, who participated in the extremely dangerous convoys to Murmansk during WW II. It was also awarded to U.S. airmen, who flew air cover for these supply missions. Any eligible American, who played a role in these convoys, can contact the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. and submit $4.00 along with proof of such service to receive this medal. It can also be purchased commercially in the U.S.

The Order of the Patriotic War 1st and 2nd Class and the Order of the Red Star

The Order of Glory 3rd Class, the Ushakov Medal and the Medal of Nahimov

The Medal for Combat Service and The Medal for Valor