Russian Naval Infantry in WW2

My interest in the Russian Naval Infantry of WW2 was sparked when reading accounts of the fighting at Stalingrad and in the Crimea. Sometime later I purchased and painted a Russian Naval Infantry Battalion to use for Crossfire. My challenge now is scenarios where I can use them.

See also


With the massive losses sustained in the early days of Operation Barbarossa the Russians had to find additional man power for the army, and fast. One source was the navy and two types of unit were quickly formed as a result: Naval Infantry Brigades and Naval Rifle Brigades. The men were not specialist marines, and merely ships crews converted to infantry. None-the-less they showed considerable élan tempered by a lack of tactical skill.

Naval Infantry Brigades (Brigada morskoi pekhoty) were adhoc formations used to protect the Russian Naval bases from the invading Germans. The combination of their black naval uniforms and their élan earned them the nicknames “Black Devils” (??) and “Black Death”. They retained their navy gear until it wore out but over time the sailors adopted conventional army uniforms.

Naval Rifle Brigades (Brigada morskoi strelkovy) had a more formal organisation. From Sep 1941 to Apr 1942 the Soviets raised 250 Rifle Brigades, of which 37 were created from naval personnel. They had army command, control, and organisation and equipment, and wore army uniforms from the outset. The only unusual thing about them was the source of their personnel.

Many of these units had brief and brutal careers, but some saw out the war, and at least one, 8th Naval Rifle Brigade, eventually became a Guards Rifle Division after performing well in the field.

Theatres of Operation

Naval Infantry Brigades were involved in the following operations:

  • Defending Baltic Sea ports
    • Leningrad
    • Tallinin
  • Defending Black Sea ports
    • Odessa
    • Sevastopol
  • Stalingrad
  • Amphibious operations in the Sea of Azov
  • Amphibious operations in the across major rivers.

Unit Histories

Unit Formed Composition History Fate Comment
Naval Infantry Brigades (Brigada Morskoi Pekhoty)
3 Jul 1941 from the S M Kirov Naval Academy in Leningrad 4 battalions Jul 1941 – Jun 1944 Defended the area between Lakes Ladoga and Onega. Jun – Dec 1944 Took part in attack on Finland. I Jan 1945 Converted to a mountain rifle brigade
4 From the S M Kirov Naval Academy in Leningrad 3 battalions: 304, 306, 314 Naval Infantry Battalions Defended Neva River (Sep 1941) Guarded Ice Bridge across Lake Ladoga.
Late Apr 1945 amphibious assault on East Prussia (the the last amphibious assault of the war on the Eastern Front)
Remained under Navy control for the entire war. renumbered as 260. Brigada Morskoi Pekhoty at the end of 1942
260 See 4. Brigada Morskoi Pekhoty
6 From Red Banner Baltic Fleet at Kronstadt 3 Battalions Defended various sectors of the Leningrad front May 1943 Disbanded As many as 50% of the brigade may have been Komsomol (Young Communist) members
7 Aug 1941 Sevastopol 4 Battalions Aug 1941 – Jul 1942 Defended naval base during siege July 1942 Destroyed when city fell
8 Aug 1941 in Novorossiisk * Initially 4 Battalions. 5 battalions when destroyed Oct – Dec 1941 Sevastopol Dec 1941 Destroyed in heavy fighting
9 Dec 1941 in Taganrog on the Sea of Azov near Rostov 6 Battalions Late May – Jul 1942 Sevastopol July 1942 Destroyed when city fell
12 in Archanglesk north of the Arctic Circle Protected Murmansk, and raided German and Finnish positions around the Barents Sea
83 Aug 1942 in Novorossiisk * after Germans captured Rostov Initially 3battalions: 16, 144, and 305 Naval Infantry Battalions
In Feb 1943 they had 4+ battalions
Aug 1942 Defended Novorossiisk then pushed south with the army. Feb – Sep 1943 amphibious operation to recapture Novorossiisk supported by M3L Stuart light tanks. Contained within bridgehead at Malaya Zemlya—the (Little Land), the Kuban bridgehead was reduced.
Nov 1943 Involved in landings on Kerch peninsular.
1944 Operated up the Danube into Romania and Hungary.
Mar 1945 Crossed the Danube into Budapest
Apr 1945 Rode the tanks of the 5th Guards Tank Corps toward Prague when war ended.
Their final title was 83rd Novorossiisko – Dunaiskaya (Novorossiisk – Danube) twice Order of the Red Banner, Order of Suvorov Brigade of Naval Infantry!
92 Sep 1942 from the Volga Flotilla Both Chuikov (1963) and Erickson (1993) says from Baltic and Northern Fleets. 2 Battalions Stalingrad. It was their men who held the Grain Elevator. Disbanded once the city was recaptured Erickson calls it the “92nd Rifle Brigade” (p. 404), which technically is incorrect. Chuikov (1963) says the men were exceptional.
254 From the 135th Rifle Regiment Protected Murmansk Who knows why an army unit was converted to a navy unit.
Naval Rifle Brigades (Brigada morskoi strelkovy)
7 Sep 1941 from Baltic Fleet Sep 1941 – Jan 1944 Defended positions near Kolpino (on the Leningrad-Moskow railroad). Took part in nearly all the operations in that region including the Battle of Krasny Bor (10 Feb 1943) against the Blue Division. Jan 1944 Liberated Pushkin, Vyritsa, Luga, then moved upon Pskov. When formed many of the men had previously fought against the Germans in Estonia. Redesignated 72nd Rifle Division in Dec 1941
8 in Hanko peninsula Ruslan mentioned tanks, aircrafts, and artillery when the Brigade moved to Leningrad. To Dec 1941 Defended Hanko peninsula against the Finns. Dec 1941 Leningrad.
Aug 1942 Tosno operation where it fought against the SS Polizei Division (the Soviets held the bridgehead on the right bank of the Tosna river, the Germans managed to stop the Soviet offensive – draw).
Jan 1943 played the main role in breaking the siege of Leningrad, took Poselok #5 and was made a Guard Divisions as a result
10 Feb 1943 Battle of Krasny Bor against the Blue Division.
Jul-Aug 1943 Fought at Arbuzovo
Aug 1943 Joined 30th Guard Corps which was used as a strike force in the following ations …
Sep 1943 Sinyavino heights.
Jan1944 Broke the German positions near Pulkovo and captured Krasnoye Selo
Feb 1944 took bridgehead near Narva
Jun 1944 broke three Finnish fortified lines on the Karelian isthmus (the so-called “Mannerheim line”
Redesignated 136th Rifle Division in early 1942. Redesignated 63rd Guards Rifle Division in in Jan 1943.
Aug 1943 Became part of 30th Guard Corps with 45th and 64th Divisions.

Not sure if Naval Infantry Brigade or Naval Rifle Brigade
66 With 64th Army on Don bend in Jul 1942 66th Motorised (Naval) Infantry Brigade
154 With 64th Army on Don bend in Jul 1942 154th Motorised (Naval) Infantry Brigade

* Novorossiisk is on the Kuban peninsula of the Caucasus coast of the Black Sea

According to Vercamer (n.d.) two Battalions of Soviet Naval Infantry were in the defence of the Estonian Islands (8 Sep – 20 Oct 1941). It is interesting that he distinguishes says one was Soviet Naval Infantry and the other Soviet Naval Infantry Volunteers, so I wonder if the former was actually a Naval Rifle Battalion, i.e. trained and equipped by the army.

421st Marine Division were deployed in the defence of Odessa (8 Aug to 16 Oct 1941) ( The Battle of Odessa – 1941). On the morning of 22 Sep about 2,000 men of the 3rd Marine Brigade landed at Grigorievka and Chebankal; I’m assuming they mean the 3rd Naval Rifle Brigade, as the 3rd Naval Infantry Brigade was in the north. Another landing was attempted to the east, but failed.

Beevor (1999) mentions naval brigades sent to reinforce Stalingrad that were formed by combining cadets from the Leningrad Naval Academy with sailors from the Far East Fleet. I’m aware of the 92nd Naval Infantry Brigade fighting at Stalingrad, but the guys mentioned by Beevor can’t be them as the 92nd was formed from the Volga naval squadron.


Beevor, A. (1999). Stalingrad. Penguin.

BattleFront: Morskoi Pekhoty Brigades

Ruslan from St Petersburg (private communication)

Vercamer, A L. (n.d.). Naval War in the Baltic Sea 1941-1945. On-line The Battle of Odessa – 1941

Zaloga, S. J., and Ness, L. S. (2003). Red Army Handbook 1939-1945. Sutton.

And I must look up …

Sharp, C. C. (1995). Soviet Order of Battle WWII Vol VII: Red Death. Soviet mountain, naval, NKVD, and allied divisions, brigades, 1941-45. Nafziger Collection.

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