This glossary of Russian words and phrases, military jargon, and technical terms is a combination of the glossaries included in all three books.

There are many different systems for converting Russian Cyrillic spelling to Roman letters for those who read English. I’ve tried to use spellings of names most familiar or easy to pronounce for those readers, rather than any one system.

Glossary of Selected Terms

Aelita: science fiction novel by Alexey Tolstoy published in 1923; part of a trend for stories about Mars, its silent movie adaptation in 1924 became a box office hit in the Soviet Union; the story is about two intrepid Soviet explorers travelling to Mars, where they meet Aelita, daughter of the Martian ruler, and start a revolution

Babushka: Russian for “grandmother”

Banderovs: Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas, named for their leader, Stepan Bandera

Bf 110: German fighter with two engines and a crew of two or three; was also used as a ground attack plane

bogatyr: term for a heroic knight in Russian legends

Central Front: group of armies within the Red Army that was charged with the defence of the northern sector during the Battle of Kursk

collimator: a special lens marked by fine lines, such as crosshairs, used to aim guns

Communist Party of the Soviet Union: In the single party system of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party controlled the government and all its operations. Among its policies were strict government control over the economy and property owned collectively by the people or the State.

dacha: a country house

deadstick: refers to flying and landing an aircraft without power

durak: meaning “fool,” this card game remains popular in Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union

Feldwebel: rank in the German army, equivalent to a platoon sergeant

ferry pilots: pilots specifically used to deliver aircraft, for instance, from the factory to a base at the front

Flak: short for Fliegerabwehrkanone (German for “aircraft defence cannon;”) the term became popular beyond Germany in the late 1930s and tended to be used as a term for both anti-aircraft cannons and the bursting explosives they fired

Flak soldiers: German air force personnel (such as Flak gunners) used as ground troops to help make up for manpower shortages in the German army

Focke-Wulf Fw 190: versatile German fighter, known for its powerful engine and firepower; it was given the nickname “heavy” by some Soviet pilots

frontovik: slang term for Soviet foot soldiers who fought at the front

Great Terror: period of purges in the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938 that resulted in mass arrests, deportations and hundreds of thousands of deaths

half-track: armoured vehicle with wheels at the front and caterpillar tracks at the rear

Hauptmann: rank in the German army, equivalent to a captain

Heinkel He 111: German medium bomber; frequently used against troop formations, installations or industrial targets; with two engines and a crew of five, it had a reputation for being able to sustain a lot of damage

Henschel Hs 129: German ground attack plane equipped with two engines and an anti-tank cannon under the cockpit; it was heavily armoured and designed for low-level attacks

Hiwi: short for Hilfswilliger, German for “volunteer,” term for collaborators recruited into a wide variety of roles assisting the German war effort

Hero of the Soviet Union: a gold star medal; the Soviet Union’s highest honour; during the war, fighter pilots were given this award after ten kills; they could be awarded the same medal additional times after scoring thirty kills and fifty kills

Ishak (I-16): primary Soviet fighter before the arrival of more modern planes like the Yak-1

Ilya Muromets: medieval Russian warrior (bogatyr) and folk hero

JG54: Jagdgeschwader 54 was a Luftwaffe fighter unit that boasted many top aces; they were nicknamed Grünherz (Green Hearts) for the insignia painted on their fighter fuselages

Junkers Ju 88: German medium bomber with a crew of four; two powerful engines gave it high speed that made it useful for many different roles

Kalmyk: a people of Mongolian ethnicity, primarily residing in the Caucasus region of the Soviet Union at the start of the war

Kaminski Brigade (SS RONA): informal name, taken from its commander Bronislav Kaminski, for the SS Russian National Liberation Army Brigade, an armed unit of Russian collaborators operating under the Nazi SS organization; originally charged with policing an “autonomous” area within the occupied territories, they were tasked with anti-partisan activities and committed many atrocities during the war

kolkhoz: short for kollektivnoye khozyaystvo; Soviet collective farm, where farmers collectively managed and worked land owned by the State, providing their agricultural output to the government and were paid for their labour

Komsomol: short for Kommunisticheskiy soyuz molodyozhi (Communist Youth League;) Soviet youth organization for both genders, aged 14-28; intended to promote Communist ideals and act as feeder for public service and the military; Komsomol groups frequently held activities for camping, sports, and other recreation; they also trained in paramilitary activities like shooting and flying in order to prepare young people for national defence

Koryo-saram: roughly translated from Korean as “Korean people,” this was the term of identification used by ethnic Koreans living within the Soviet Union

kosovorotka: loose fitting, traditional Russian peasant shirt

Kübelwagen: German light vehicle, roughly equivalent in usage to the jeep

Kupala Night: summer solstice celebration for Kupala, an ancient fertility goddess of Eastern European origin

Lavochkin La-5: Soviet single-seat fighter with heavier armament and a more powerful engine than the Yak-1

lend-lease: term referring to a program begun by the United States in 1941 intended to support the nations fighting against Germany and Japan; massive amounts of war supplies were given to the Soviet Union and proved especially critical while Soviet industry was being relocated

Lisunov Li-2: Soviet transport plane which was a licensed version of the Douglas DC-3 design; it had two engines and could carry about 20 passengers

Luftwaffe: the air force of Nazi Germany

makhra: Russian slang for a foot soldier, similar to “grunt” or “GI” in America

Messer (Messerschmitt Bf 109): the main German single-seat fighter throughout the war

Murzilka: illustrated children’s magazine founded in the Soviet Union in 1924

NKVD: Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs); this Soviet organization was a combination spy agency and national police force; responsible for the political repression that maintained control over the country for the ruling Communist Party; it would eventually become the KGB; their uniforms were known for their blue-topped caps

Oberstleutnant: rank in the German army, equivalent to lieutenant-colonel

olmash: Hungarian apple pastry

Order of Lenin: Soviet award for outstanding service to the nation, both military and civilian; the medal depicted a portrait of Vladimir Lenin; it was considered second in honour only to Hero of the Soviet Union

Order of the Red Banner: Soviet military award, next in rank to the Order of Lenin; some servicemen and women valued it more highly because it was a purely military award; the medal depicted a red flag emblazoned with a Communist motto

Order of the Red Star: Soviet military award, next in rank to the Order of the Red Banner; the medal is a red star with a depiction of a soldier at its centre

Patriotic War (also Second Patriotic War, Great Patriotic War): name used for several wars Russia and the Soviet Union fought against invaders; Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 was known as the “Patriotic War of 1812;” World War I was known as the “Patriotic War” or “Second Patriotic War;” the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II was known as the “Great Patriotic War.”

Peshka (Pe-2): versatile Soviet light bomber, with two engines and a crew of three

Petrushka: traditional comedic character in Russian folk puppet shows; usually depicted as a court jester

pirozhki: traditional Russian stuffed buns; come in sweet or savoury varieties

pilotka: foldable military cap; it has a triangular appearance when viewed from the front; also known as a side cap

Polizei: German for “police,” a term used by Soviets to refer to collaborationist police in the occupied territories

Pravda: Russian for “Truth”, this was the name of the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party. It effectively provided the official news and opinions of the ruling class.

Rama (Fw 189): German reconnaissance plane; rama is Russian for “frame;” it had two engines mounted on parallel booms linked by the wings near the nose and a stabilizer near the tail, giving it the appearance of a window frame; a glass-enclosed crew compartment made it ideal for spotting and photographing enemy troops on the ground

Red Army Soldier (Krasnoarmeets): the official magazine of the Red Army

Red Star (Krasnaya Zvezda): the official military newspaper of the Soviet Union; for the award, see Order of the Red Star

revetment: protective shelter for airplanes, often made with packed earth and sandbags

Sándor Márai: Hungarian author, poet, and journalist who rose to prominence in the 1930s

sirin: mythical creature with a bird’s body and the head and torso of a woman; based on the sirens of Greek mythology, it was adapted into Russian culture and came to symbolize joy and harmony

SovInformBuro: Sovetskoye Informatsionnoye Byuro (Soviet Information Bureau;) news agency established by the Communist Party at the start of the war to provide a central source for news and propaganda

Sovnarkom: short for Soviet narodnykh kommissarov (Council of People’s Commissars;) the highest government authority running the Soviet Union; effectively its Cabinet

Special Department (Osobyi otdel): a unit of the NKVD, also referred to as the “OO section;” it was later spun off into its own agency, SMERSH

special officer (osobist): the term used by Air Force personnel for an agent of SMERSH (Smert’ Shpionam, meaning “Death to Spies,”) a special department of the NKVD, directed to hunt and eliminate foreign spies and internal opposition

Staffelkapitän: position in the Luftwaffe, equivalent to a squadron commander

Stahlhelm: German for “steel helmet,’ the standard military headgear of the German army in World War II

starik: Russian for “old man”

Stavka: the supreme command of the Soviet Armed Forces

Stuka: German dive bomber; with its gull-wing design (resembling a seagull’s wings in flight) and fixed landing gear, it was one of the most recognizable planes in the war; to bomb targets, it dived directly at the enemy, dropping bombs with remarkable accuracy, only pulling out of the dive close to the ground

Sturmovik (IL-2): the main ground attack plane for the Soviet Air Force during the war; a combination of cannons, rockets, and bombs made it devastating to ground targets such as tanks; despite heavy armour plating, the need to fly low and slow in attack runs made it vulnerable; most versions had a tail gunner in addition to the pilot

The Woman Worker (Rabotnitsa): a magazine devoted to women and families founded in pre-Soviet Russia in 1914

Timur and His Team (Timur I Yevo Komanda): 1940 children’s novel by Arkady Gaidar, about a teenage boy who organizes a secret group of youths to perform good deeds and fight off hooligans

tracer: bullets or cannon shells designed to burn brightly when fired, assisting with aiming; typically, Soviet aircraft loaded one tracer in every four rounds of gun ammunition

U-2: incredibly versatile Soviet biplane used by both civilians and the military in many roles, from cropduster to air ambulance; it was also the main aircraft used to train new pilots before and during the war

ushanka: fur-lined hat with ear flaps

usy: Russian for “moustache”

valenki: traditional Russian felt boots used in winter

VVS: Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (Military Air Forces;) the Soviet Air Force

Yak-1: the main Soviet single-seat fighter during the war

yellow-mouth (zheltorotik): literally yellow beak, referring to chicks, a derogatory term for novices

Young Pioneers: Soviet organization for children aged 10-15 that was equivalent to the Boy Scouts; open to both boys and girls, membership was heavily encouraged to help instill Communist ideals in children

zampolit: zamestitel’ komondira politicheskoi chasti (deputy for political matters;) official representative of the Communist Party within a military unit, responsible for education, morale and propaganda

ZiS: Zavod imeni Stalina (Stalin Factory;) Moscow-based automotive factory, renamed for Stalin in 1931 and a major supplier of vehicles and other equipment during the war