Soviet long-service awards (19441957)

Major General Fyodor Sambur

A 1951-dated photo of Major General Fyodor Sambur wearing a Red Star for 15 years, a Red Banner for 20 years and a Lenin for 25 years of service

When people are considering researching an award from their collection, they very often ask me if a certain serial number falls in one of the known serial number ranges for long-service awards. The tables below are intended to help answer these questions.

But first of all a short introduction. By Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of June 4, 1944 the practice of awarding military orders and medals for long service was established.[1] The following awards could be bestowed:

  • For 10 years of service: Medal for Combat Merit
  • For 15 years of service: Order of the Red Star
  • For 20 years of service: Order of the Red Banner
  • For 25 years of service: Order of Lenin
  • For 30 years of service: another Order of the Red Banner

This system was abolished thirteen years later, by Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on September 14, 1957.[2] The Presidium explained this decision as follows:

"The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet has ascertained that the existing practice of awarding Soviet orders and medals to servicemen for long service at the present time does not contribute in the right manner to dealing with the challenges that lie before the Soviet Armed Forces. The practice of large-scale awards to servicemen for a specified number of years of service in the Army or Navy, without regard to the nature of their service duties and concrete merits, has led to a decreased value of awards, and awarding Soviet orders and medals has stopped being an important means of commending servicemen for achieving significant successes in military and political training, strengthening the military discipline, and improving the troops' combat readiness."[3]

Instead, the "Medal for Impeccable Service" was instituted by the same decree to reward long-serving officers and career non-commissioned officers. It came in three classes: for 10, 15 and 20 years of service.

As listed above, three different orders and one medal could be awarded for long service. Below I have provided the serial number ranges for each of these four awards, indicating which serial number ranges contain long-service awards. I want to stress, however, that this is not an exact science: a rough chronological order can be seen in the serial numbers (they were given out roughly in numerical order), but many awards are outliers (this mostly applies to wartime decorations, but to a lesser extent to postwar awards as well). The problem lies in the fact that awards could be issued (physically handed to the recipient) days or weeks after the award date (the administrative act of conferring an award upon somebody), but also months, years, or even decades later. Therefore, the relation between award date and serial number is a distorted one. The borders in the tables below are not exact ones, but should be considered grey areas.

Furthermore, as can be seen, the vast majority of post-war awards were given out for long service; only a very small number of them were "real" awards, decorations awarded for deeds of bravery or merit (including catch-up awards) or for wounds sustained during the war. Locating them, however, is like looking for a needle in a stack of needles, and it is impossible to reflect this in the tables below. The Order of the Red Banner, for example, was awarded some 172,000 times for long service after the war, while just a few hundred specimens were awarded for bravery or merit.[4]

I have created these tables on the basis of my personal serial number database, which I have been compiling over the last ten years, as well as Echoes of War: Researching Soviet Military Decorations by Paul Schmitt.

For a breakdown of the most important Soviet awards into the years they were awarded, please visit this page.

ORDER OF LENIN
Instituted on April 6, 1930

Serial number range

Type of award

≈ 1 6,700

Real awards, 1930-Jun 1941

≈ 6,700 7,500

Real awards, 1941

≈ 7,500 12,000

Real awards, 1942

≈ 12,000 16,000

Real awards, 1943

≈ 16,000 19,300

Real awards, 1944

Negligible

Real awards, 1945

≈ 19,300 58,000

Long-service awards, 1945

≈ 58,000 61,000

Long-service awards, 1946

≈ 61,000 70,000

Long-service awards, 1947

≈ 70,000 94,000

Long-service awards, 1948

≈ 94,000 120,000

Long-service awards, 1949

≈ 120,000 130,000

Long-service awards, 1950

≈ 130,000 200,000

Long-service awards, 1951

≈ 200,000 220,000

Long-service awards, 1952

≈ 220,000 260,000

Long-service awards, 1953

≈ 260,000 295,000

Long-service awards, 1954

≈ 295,000 310,000

Long-service awards, 1955

≈ 310,000 332,000

Long-service awards, 1956

≈ 332,000 end (≈ 462,000)

Real awards, 1957-1991



ORDER OF THE RED BANNER
Instituted on August 1, 1924

Serial number range

Type of award

≈ 1 14,700

Real awards, 1924-Jun 1941

≈ 14,700 18,000

Real awards, 1941

≈ 18,000 44,000

Real awards, 1942

≈ 44,000 81,000

Real awards, 1943

≈ 81,000 135,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 135,000 170,000

Long-service awards, 1944

≈ 170,000 181,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 181,000 298,000

Real awards, 1945

≈ 298,000 307,000

Long-service awards, 1945-1947

≈ 307,000 309,000

Long-service awards, 1948

≈ 309,000 327,000

Long-service awards, 1949

≈ 327,000 350,000

Long-service awards, 1950

≈ 350,000 367,000

Long-service awards, 1951

≈ 367,000 386,000

Long-service awards, 1952

≈ 386,000 405,000

Long-service awards, 1953

≈ 405,000 450,000

Long-service awards, 1954

≈ 450,000 475,000

Long-service awards, 1955

≈ 475,000 530,000

Long-service awards, 1956

≈ 530,000 end (567,288)

Real awards, 1957-1991



ORDER OF THE RED BANNER, SECOND AWARD
Instituted on August 1, 1924

Serial number range

Type of award

≈ 1 500

Real awards, 1924-Jun 1941

≈ 500 700

Real awards, 1941

≈ 700 2,000

Real awards, 1942

≈ 2,000 4,000

Real awards, 1943

≈ 4,000 5,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 5,000 11,500

Long-service awards, 1944

Negligible

Real awards, 1944

≈ 11,500 12,000

Real awards, 1945

≈ 12,000 14,000

Long-service awards, 1945-1947

≈ 14,000 15,000

Long-service awards, 1948

≈ 15,000 16,000

Long-service awards, 1949

≈ 16,000 19,000

Long-service awards, 1950

≈ 19,000 21,500

Long-service awards, 1951

≈ 21,500 22,000

Long-service awards, 1952

≈ 22,000 22,500

Long-service awards, 1953

≈ 22,500 27,000

Long-service awards, 1954

≈ 27,000 28,000

Long-service awards, 1955

≈ 28,000 30,000

Long-service awards, 1956

≈ 30,000 end (≈ 33,902)

Real awards, 1957-1991



ORDER OF THE RED BANNER, THIRD AWARD
Instituted on August 1, 1924

Serial number range

Type of award

≈ 1 20

Real awards, 1924-Jun 1941

≈ 20 950

Real awards, 1941-1944

≈ 950 1,500

Long-service awards, 1944

Negligible

Real awards, 1944-1945

≈ 1,500 9,500

Long-service awards, 1945-1956

≈ 9,500 end (12,733)

Real awards, 1957-1991



ORDER OF THE RED BANNER, FOURTH AWARD
Instituted on August 1, 1924

Serial number range

Type of award

Negligible

Real awards, 1924-Jun 1941

≈ 1 250

Real awards, 1941-1944

≈ 250 450

Long-service awards, 1944

Negligible

Real awards, 1944-1945

≈ 450 2,700

Long-service awards, 1945-1956

≈ 2,700 end (4,332)

Real awards, 1957-1991



ORDER OF THE RED STAR
Instituted on April 6, 1930

Serial number range

Type of award

≈ 1 20,000

Real awards, 1930-Jun 1941

≈ 20,000 27,000

Real awards, 1941

≈ 27,000 80,000

Real awards, 1942

≈ 80,000 440,000

Real awards, 1943

≈ 440,000 848,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 848,000 1,000,000

Long-service awards, 1944

≈ 1,000,000 1,160,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 1,160,000 2,700,000

Real awards, 1945

≈ 2,700,000 2,780,000

Long-service awards, 1945-1947

≈ 2,780,000 2,870,000

Long-service awards, 1948

≈ 2,870,000 2,900,000

Long-service awards, 1949

≈ 2,900,000 2,960,000

Long-service awards, 1950

≈ 2,960,000 3,054,000

Long-service awards, 1951

≈ 3,054,000 3,070,000

Long-service awards, 1952

≈ 3,070,000 3,147,000

Long-service awards, 1953

≈ 3,147,000 3,317,000

Long-service awards, 1954

≈ 3,317,000 3,378,000

Long-service awards, 1955

≈ 3,378,000 3,550,000

Long-service awards, 1956

≈ 3,550,000 end (3,860,800)

Real awards, 1957-1991



MEDAL FOR COMBAT MERIT
Instituted on October 17, 1938

Serial number range

Type of award

≈ 1 20,000

Real awards, 1938-1941

≈ 20,000 22,000

Real awards, 1941

≈ 22,000 160,000

Real awards, 1942

≈ 160,000 850,000

Real awards, 1943

≈ 850,000 1,250,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 1,250,000 1,870,000

Long-service awards, 1944

≈ 1,870,000 1,900,000

Real awards, 1944

≈ 1,900,000 2,300,000

Real awards, 1945

≈ 2,300,000 3,100,000

Long-service awards, 1945-1946

≈ 3,100,000 end (≈ 3,210,000)

Long-service awards, 1947[5]

Although I am not going to detail them here, it may be interesting to know that the long-service award practice was also established for the civilian sector by Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of February 12, 1948.[6] The following awards could be awarded to civilians for long service in a certain field:

  • For 10 years of service: Medal for Labor Distinction
  • For 15 years of service: Medal for Valiant Labor
  • For 20 years of service: Order of the Badge of Honor
  • For 25 years of service: Order of the Red Banner of Labor
  • For 30 years of service: Order of Lenin

_________________________

[1] Kuznetsov, A. and I. Pak, 'Orden Krasnogo Znameni', at Ordena i medali SSSR, link.
[2] 'Ukaz Prezidiuma VS SSSR ot 14.09.1957', at Zakonodatelstvo SSSR, link.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Kuznetsov, A. and I. Pak, 'Orden Krasnogo Znameni', at Ordena i medali SSSR, link.
[5] On January 30, 1947 the Secretariat of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR officially decided that the Soviet mints stop numbering the Medal for Combat Merit. Kuznetsov, A. and I. Pak, 'Medal "Za Boyeviye zaslugi"', at Ordena i medali SSSR, link.
[6] 'Ukaz Prezidiuma VS SSSR ot 12.02.1948', at Zakonodatelstvo SSSR, link.


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