The first Soviet medal as a national award was instituted by an ordinance of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on January 24, 1938, by the 20th anniversary of the Red Army. Under its statute, the medal was to be given to all the regular senior and commanding officers of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army and Navy who had served 20 years in its ranks prior to February 23,1938, and also to participants in the Civil War who had rendered special services to the Motherland.
A tentative version of this medal showing a Red Armyman on sentry with a tank, a gun and several warships and planes in the background was made. In those anxious times, however, the figure of a serviceman had to symbolise the country's readiness to repulse an enemy attack, so the initial version of the design was replaced with a new one, in which the Red Army-man was firing a rifle.
On October 17, 1938, the medal "For Gallantry" was instituted, which today still remains the most highly respected Soviet military medal. It was first awarded "for personal valour and gallantry in battles with enemies of the Soviet Union" (as its statute says) to brave frontier guards for efficient actions in defending the Soviet borders, to the heroes of the battles with the Japanese aggressors near Lake Khasan in 1938 and the river Khalkhin-Gol in 1939, and to servicemen who distinguished themselves in action during the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-1940. The medal "For Military Merit", instituted at the same time as the medal "For Gallantry", could be given to military men and civilians "who, in struggle with enemies of the Soviet state, contributed to the success of military operations at the front with their efficient, resourceful and bold actions at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty." In all, about 26,000 people were awarded the medal "For Gallantry" and more than 21,000 people were given the medal "For Military Merit" in the period before the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. In the years of the struggle against the Nazi invaders, millions of Soviet people received these medals.
The title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction in this country, was instituted by an ordinance of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR in April 1934. It is con-ferred for services to the Soviet state involving the performance of a heroic deed.
In 1939, the Gold Star Medal, which is presented to those awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, was instituted. The first to receive this highest distinction were the valiant airmen who took part in rescuing the crew and passengers of the icebreaker Chelyuskin, which became ice-bound and went down near the coast of the Chukotka Peninsula in February 1934. Working day and night in any weather for more than a month and a half, seven gallant pilots carried over the Chelyuskin crew and passengers to the mainland. By an ordinance of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR of April 20, 1934, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union was conferred on all these airmen- M.V.Vodopyanov, I.V.Doronin, N.EKamanin, S.A.Levanevsky, A.V.Lyapidevsky, V.S.Molokov, and M.T.Slepnyov. Later on, the Gold Star Medal was presented to them. Before 1941, a total of 626 people were awarded this high title, and six of them were given the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union twice. In the years of the Great Patriotic War, over 11,500 Soviet people of more than 100 nationalities became Heroes of the Soviet Union. Besides, a number of citizens of other countries were also awarded the Gold Star Medal for heroic feats performed in the struggle against Nazism. The first foreign citizen to receive the highest Soviet distinction (posthumously) was Otakar Jaros, an officer of a Czechoslovak Army unit stationed in the USSR. Besides him, the Gold Star Medal was conferred for heroic deeds performed in the struggle against Nazism on another four servicemen of the Czechoslovak Army, three servicemen of the Polish Army, four airmen from the French Normandie-Niemen Fighter Regiment, which fought as a unit of the Soviet Armed Forces, and Bulgarian General Vladimir Stoyanov-Zayimov, who was shot to death by Nazi henchmen in 1942. The Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union was posthumously awarded to Captain of the Guards Ruben Ibarruri, commander of a machine-gun company, the son of the ardent Spanish Communist Dolores Ibarruri. The gallant German patriot and antifascist Fritz Schmenkel, who fought against the Nazis in a Soviet partisan detachment and gave his life for the homeland of the October Revolution, was also made Hero of the Soviet Union.
In the years of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, the feats of arms and labour performed by the Soviet people were so numerous and so diverse that quite a number of new awards, including medals that would be an appropriate tribute of respect to the front-line soldiers, partisans and underground activists, and also to the workers on the home front, had to be instituted. A great contribution to the victory was made by the Soviet partisans. Many thousands of popular avengers were given the same orders and medals as the servicemen of the regular Red Army, and 190 of them who were the bravest were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. There was a decoration, however, which was given only to partisans - the medal "To Partisan of the Patriotic War" of two classes. A total of 127,000 people were awarded this medal.
In 1944, special distinctions were instituted for navymen. These medals were named after the outstanding Russian naval commanders Fyodor Ushakov and Pavel Nakhimov. They were awarded to rank-and-file servicemen and non-commissioned officers of the Navy for valour and gallantry displayed in sea battles. The Medal of Nakhimov could also be given to persons who were not in the Navy but who contributed to the successful accomplishment of the combat missions of warships and units of the USSR Navy with their efficient and resourceful actions at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty. In all, more than 15,000 Medals of Ushakov and over 13,000 Medals of Nakhimov were awarded during the Great Patriotic War.
Special medals were instituted for participants in the defence of various cities and regions of the Soviet Union that offered particularly stubborn resistance to the Nazi aggressors.
On December 22, 1942, the ordinance on the establishment of the medal "For the Defence of Leningrad" was adopted, and as early as April 1943 the first batch of the awards was minted under extremely hard conditions of the siege, incessant shel-lings and bombings notwithstanding. Nearly a million and a half medals "For the Defence of Leningrad" were received by the servicemen of the Leningrad Front, the industrial and office workers of the city's enterprises and the partisans of the Leningrad Region, who withstood the onslaught of the enemy and eventually threw the Nazis back from the walls of their native hero city through their common efforts.
In the years of the war, medals for the defence of the hero cities of Moscow, Odessa, Sevastopol and Stalingrad and also of the Caucasus and the Soviet Transpolar Region were instituted. Subsequently, a medal for the defence of the Hero City of Kiev was established.
Following a number of decisive victories of the Soviet Army, the enemy was driven out of the Soviet Union. The war was first continued on the territories of European countries temporarily occupied by the Nazis and, subsequently, in Nazi Germany itself. The enemy continued to offer fierce resistance, in particular, in Budapest, Konigsberg, Vienna and, finally, in Berlin. Medals were also instituted for the capture of these cities. Routing the Nazi armies, the Soviet troops liberated not only the population of the temporarily occupied territories of the Soviet Union, but also the people of other European countries that had fallen under the Nazi yoke. In this connection, medals were instituted for participants in the liberation of Belgrade, Warsaw and Prague.
All the participants in military operations and all the servicemen who performed their duties elsewhere received the medal "For Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945", instituted on May 9, 1945 - the Victory Day.
After the victory over Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, loyal to its allied commitments, took part in the war with militarist Japan. Following the defeat of the million-strong Kwantung Army, Japan signed the act of unconditional surrender on September 2, 1945. All the Soviet servicemen who participated in the defeat of Japanese militarists were decorated with the medal "For Victory over Japan."
The Soviet people will never forget the severe trials that fell to their lot in the struggle against Nazism. To mark jubilees, medals in commemoration of the 20th, 30th and 40th anniversaries of the victory over Nazi Germany were instituted.
Today as ever, the Soviet Army stands on guard of the peaceful labour of the Soviet people. In October 1974, the medal "For Conspicuous Service" of two classes was instituted as an award to servicemen who have distinguished themselves in combat and political training and who have shown valour, self-sacrifice and other merits while serving in the army. The medal "For Conspicuous Service in Guarding the State Border of the USSR" is also awarded for similar merits.