As of this writing, Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine has cost the lives of some 75,930 Russians, at least 2,700 tanks, 277 aircraft, and untold numbers of artillery, ships, and other vehicles since February 2022. It’s clear the war isn’t going how the Russian military planned, which came as a surprise to not only Russia, but to much of the world as well.
It didn’t come as a surprise to at least one former Soviet military officer, who is now an Information Technology consultant living in the United States and has been for the past 46 years. Calling himself Sgt. Cary Mahoney, he wrote about his experience in the Army of the Soviet Union in an answer to a question on Quora.
Mahoney is a reference to actor Steve Guttenberg’s character on the 1980s movie series “Police Academy” and is not his real name. Using this pen name, he identified himself as the former commander of a Soviet S-75 middle-range anti-aircraft complex outside of Moscow during the Cold War.
He noted that the Soviet S-75 was high technology while he was serving and it required the expertise of Soviet engineers to create them and highly-trained crews to operate them. The best of the best were sent elsewhere, to places like Vietnam that were using the air defenses against the Americans at the time. Other capable engineers and non-commissioned officers were sent to proving grounds in Central Asia.
The rest of the Red Army was another story entirely.
Many of the S-75 divisions that weren’t deployed elsewhere for training and testing purposes were in the marshes and swamps surrounding cities like Moscow. There, the ranks were filled with what he calls “2nd rate officers and conscripts, barely literate and not well trained. I was one of those losers.”
Mahoney notes he was a 1st lieutenant with only ROTC training and no experience, commanding non-comes who could barely read, along with privates whose “value to a military was rather zero, if not negative.” They were on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which he implied only subtracted from their already minimal worth as a defensive force.
He goes on to cite the story of Mathias Rust, a West German teenager who managed to fly a Cessna 172 into the supposedly impregnable Soviet Air Defenses and land it in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square. Rust had only 50 hours of flying time under his belt when he took off from his hometown near Hamburg. He flew the plane to the Faroe Islands, then onto Iceland, Norway, Finland, and into the USSR.
With fairness to the Red Army, Soviet radar and surface-to-air missile batteries did track Rust on his flight, and he was even intercepted by a Soviet MiG-23 but all were not cleared to engage the Cessna as a target. Still, while flying over Novgorod, his Cessna disappeared from the tracking systems. His disappearance and a number of possible reappearances confused the Russian military defenses. His landing near St. Basil’s Cathedral confused Russians even more. He was captured and held for 14 months before being pardoned by Soviet Leader Andrei Gromyko.
The fallout of the Soviet military’s failure was a clearing house of old Soviet military officers, especially in the upper ranks of the USSR’s air forces. It eventually led to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader. Billions had been spent on air defenses, Mahoney notes, and the result was a civilian amateur pilot landing in Red Square.
Mahoney goes on to discuss an assignment as an artillery officer, commanding a division of S-60 anti-aircraft guns.
“I never saw the freaking gun before I arrived to a 1-week training to become a battery commander and promoted to captain, a battery commander. I’m not kidding you. My first and foremost duty was keeping the conscripts from drinking poisonous antifreeze. I was lucky enough to have a corporal, a “graduate” of the disciplinary battalion, who burned himself alive along with the truck he was warming up with the open flame gasoline burner. That’s the formidable Soviet army of 1980s.”