History of the Russian Airborne Forces (AbF) began in the late 1920s. In April 1929, near the village of Garm (the territory of the present-day Republic of Tajikistan), several planes landed a group of Red Army men, which defeated a detachment of Basmatchi due to support of local residents.
On 2 August 1930 during the exercise of the Air Force (AiF) of the Moscow Military District near Voronezh for the first time a small unit of 12 people was parachuted for the first time to perform tactical tasks. This date is officially considered to be the birthday of the AbF.
In 1931, the Leningrad Military District (LenMD) formed a prototype air motorised landing unit with 164 people in number as a part of the 1st air brigade, designed for airland delivery. Later, an inorganic paraborne unit was formed within the same air brigade. In August and September 1931 during the Leningrad and Ukrainian Military Districts’ exercise that unit was landed and performed tasks behind outlined enemy lines. In 1932, the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR adopted the decision to transform the units into the air battalions of special purpose. By the end of 1933 there were already 29 air landing battalions and brigades, having joined the Air Force. The Leningrad Military District was tasked with training of instructors in air landing and development of airborne tactical standards.
In 1934, all the exercises of the Red Army got 600 paratroopers involved, in 1935 during the manoeuvres of the Kiev Military District 1188 paratroopers were parachuted. In 1936, in the Belorussian Military District 3000 paratroopers were landed, 8200 men with artillery and other military equipment were air landed.
Improving training during exercises, paratroopers gained their experience in real combat. In 1939, the 212th airborne brigade (abb) participated in defeating the Japanese at Khalkhin Gol. For courage and heroism shown 352 paratroopers were awarded orders and medals. In 1939–1940, during the Soviet-Finnish war, the 201st, 202nd and 214th abbs fought together with rifle units.
On the basis of the experience gained in 1940 the new brigade staff was approved as composed of three battle sections: the parachute, glider and air-landed ones. From March 1941 the AbF began to form airborne corps (abc) of brigade composition (each corps had 3 brigades). By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War five corps were formed fully, but only with personnel due to lack of military equipment.
The main armaments of the airborne formations and units were predominantly light and heavy machine guns, 50mm and 82mm mortars, 45mm anti-tank and 76mm mountain guns, light tanks (T-40 and T-38), flame-throwers. The personnel jumped with parachutes of the type of PD-6, and then the PD-41.
Small cargoes were landed using paraborne soft bags. Heavy machinery was delivered to a landing party using air-landing method by means of special suspensions under aircraft fuselage. The TB-3 and DB-3 bombers, passenger planes PS-84 were basically used for landing.
The Great Patriotic War caught airborne corps, stationed in the Baltics, Belarus’ and Ukraine, in their formative stages. The heavy situation prevailing in the first days of war forced the Soviet command to use these corps in fighting as rifle units.
On 4 September 1941 the Administration of the Airborne Forces was transformed into the Administration of the Commander of the Airborne Forces of the Red Army, and the airborne corps were removed from the acting fronts and handed over directly to subordination of the Commander of the Airborne Forces.
The conditions for widespread use of the AbF were created during the counter-offensive near Moscow. In winter 1942 the Vyaz’ma airborne operation involving the 4th abc was held. In September 1943 the airborne assault was used, consisting of two brigades to assist the troops of the Voronezh Front in crossing the river of Dnieper. In the Manchurian strategic operation in August 1945 more than 4 thousand warriors of the infantry subunits, which successfully completed the tasks, were air landed.
In October 1944, the AbF were converted into the Separate Guards Airborne Army, which entered the Long-Range Aviation. In December 1944 this Army was disbanded, and the Administration of the AbF was created with submission to the Commander of the Airborne Forces. Three airborne brigades, one training airborne regiment, the advanced training courses of officers and the aeronautic division remained in the composition of the AbF.
For mass heroism of airborne troopers during the Great Patriotic War all the airborne formations were awarded the Guards honorary names. Thousands of soldiers, sergeants and officers of the AbF were awarded orders and medals, 296 people were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
In 1964, the AbF were transferred to the structure of the Land Force with direct submission to the USSR’s Minister of Defence. After the war, along with organizational changes re-armament of the troops took place: formations increased the number of automatic weapons, artillery, mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In the inventory of the AbF there were appeared tracked combat landing vehicles (BMD-1), landed self-propelled gun mounts (ASU-57 and SU-85), 85mm and 122mm guns, rocket launchers and other weapons. Military transport aircraft An-12, An-22 and IL-76 were set up for landing. At the same time the special airborne equipment was developed.
In 1956, two airborne divisions (abds) took part in the Hungarian events. In 1968, after the capture of two airfields near Prague and Bratislava the 7th and 103rd Guards abds were landed, they ensured the successful execution of the task by units and formations of the United Armed Forces of the countries-participants of the Warsaw Pact during the events in Czechoslovakia.
In 1979-1989 the AbF participated in combat operations as a part of the Limited Contingent of Soviet Troops in Afghanistan. For courage and heroism more than 30 thousand airborne warriors were awarded orders and medals, and 16 men became Heroes of the Soviet Union.
From 1979 several air assault brigades and separate air assault battalions were formed in addition to three air assault brigades in the Military Districts. They entered the military structure of the AbF by 1989.
From 1988 formations and military units of the AbF permanently carried out various special tasks to resolve the ethnic conflicts in the territory of the USSR.
In 1992, the AbF supported the evacuation of the Russian embassy in Kabul (Democratic Republic of Afghanistan). Based on the AbF the first Russian peacekeeping battalion of United Nations in Yugoslavia was formed. From 1992 to 1998 the airborne regiment ran peacekeeping mission in the Republic of Abkhazia.
In 1994–1996 and 1999–2004 all the formations and military units of the AbF were involved in the fighting in the territory of the Chechen Republic. For courage and heroism 89 airborne warriors were awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.
In 1995, on the basis of formations of the AbF the peacekeeping contingents in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in 1999 in Kosovo and Metohiya (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) were formed. The 10th anniversary of an air assault battalion’s unprecedented march-throw was marked in 2009.
By the end of the 1990s four abds, one abb, one training centre and supporting units remained in the AbF.
After 2005, the AbF formed three components:
• airborne (the main) – the 98th Guards abd and the 106th Guards abd composed of 2 regiments each;
• air assault – the 76th Guards air assault division (aad) composed of 2 regiments and the 31st separate air assault brigade (saabr) composed of 3 battalions;
• mountain – the 7th Guards. aad (mountain).
Formations of the AbF got the modern armoured vehicles and armament (BMD-4, armoured personnel carrier BTR-D «Rakushka», motor cars KamAZ).
From 2005 subdivisions of formations and units of the AbF took an active part in joint exercises with units of the Armed Forces of Armenia, Belarus’, Germany, India, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan.
In August 2008 military units of the Airborne Forces took part in the operation to force Georgia to peace, acting along the Ossetian and Abkhazian directions.
Two airborne formations (the 98th Guards abd and the 31st Guards saabr) are part of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the Collective Security Treaty Ortganisation (CSTO’s CRRF).
On the basis of separate anti-aircraft missile artillery battalions at the end of 2009 separate anti-aircraft missile regiments were formed within each airborne division. At the initial stage air defence systems of the Land Force entered the inventory. Later they will be replaced by landed systems. By 2012 divisions are planned to form the third airborne regiments.
The Commanders of the AbF In different years:
• Maj.-Gen. V.A. Glazunov (1941–1943);
• Maj.-Gen. A.G. Kapitokhin (1943–1944);
• Lt.-Gen. I.I. Zatevakhin (1944–1946);
• Col.-Gen. V.V. Glagolev (1946–1947);
• Lt.-Gen. A.F. Kazankin (1947–1948);
• Col.-Gen. of Aviation S.I. Rudenko (1948–1950);
• Col.-Gen. A.V. Gorbatov (1950–1954);
• Gen. of the Army V.F. Margelov (1954–1959, 1961–1979);
• Col.-Gen. I.V. Tutarinov (1959–1961);
• Gen. of the Army D.S. Sukhorukov (1979–1987);
• Col.-Gen. N.V. Kalinin (1987–1989);
• Col.-Gen. V.A. Achalov (1989);
• Lt.-Gen. P.S. Grachyov (1989–1991);
• Col.-Gen. Ye.N. Podkolzin (1991–1996);
• Col.-Gen. G.I. Shpak (1996–2003);
• Col.-Gen. A.P. Kolmakov (2003–2007);
• Lt.-Gen. V.Ye. Yevtukhovich (2007–2009);
• Lt.-Gen. V.A. Shamanov (since May 2009).