SMERSH (a portmanteau of the Russian Smyert Shpionam - Смерть Шпионам - which means "Death to Spies") is a fictional Soviet counterintelligence agency featured primarily in the early James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. While modelled on the real SMERSH organisation (which existed 1943-1946), Fleming's SMERSH expanded upon the original's operational jurisdiction, resulting in a large-scale subversive organisation which operated internationally and more closely resembled the real-life KGB.
SMERSH first formally appeared in the 1953 novel Casino Royale and subsequently appeared in Live and Let Die, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. After Fleming's death, it would appear in continuation novels such as James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, Icebreaker, No Deals, Mr. Bond, and Trigger Mortis. Although the organisation was largely absent from the EON Productions film and video game franchise, its role taken by the more politically neutral SPECTRE, it would be mentioned in the films From Russia with Love (1963) and The Living Daylights (1987).
The novel, Casino Royale, breaks SMERSH down into five departments:
- Department I: In charge of counterintelligence among Soviet organizations at home and abroad.
- Department II: Operations, including executions.
- Department III: Administration and finance.
- Department IV: Investigations and legal work. Personnel.
- Department V: Prosecutions — the section which passes final judgment on all victims.
In the James Bond 007 tabletop role-playing game, the re-established SMERSH is comprised of four sections:
- Planning and Administration: Makes sure that SMERSH runs smoothly and does not give any hint about the real extent of their power. Nikolai Lebedev, the leader of this department, handles the dual paperwork of SMERSH's actual activities and the bogus report he submits to the Soviet leaders.
Ian Fleming novels
Fleming's SMERSH is a Soviet counterintelligence agency that is a recurring threat to James Bond and the British Secret Service. According to Appendix B that is attached to the Head of Station S's letter to M, SMERSH assassinated Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in 1940 and collaborated with NKVD in the midst of Adolf Hilter's invasion of Russia. After the war, the number of SMERSH members were reduced to only a few hundred. At that point, the only operative the British had acquired was Goytchev, who shot a medical officer in the Yugoslav embassy.
The organisation makes its first appearance in the novel Casino Royale. In which, SMERSH paymaster Le Chiffre attempts to recover lost funds from a failed chain of brothels via a game of Chemin-de-fer. The secret service decides to prevent this by having him lose to finest gambler in the service, James Bond, with the assistance of Vesper Lynd of Section S, Felix Leiter of the CIA, and Rene Mathis of the Deuxième Bureau. During the game, Bond is nearly killed by a gunman, and initially goes bankrupt until Leiter provides him with more capital. After the game, a desperate Le Chiffre kidnaps Vesper and 007, torturing the latter with a carpet beater to discover the location of the money. With no success, Le Chiffre is about to castrate the spy when a SMERSH operative breaks in, declaring Le Chiffre a traitor, and executes him. The agent carves the Cyrillic letter "Ш" (representing the "SH" of "Spy") into the back of his right hand. Later, another SMERSH agent known as "Adolph Gettler" tracks Vesper and Bond, but Lynd, a double-agent working for the MVD, commits suicide for Bond's and her sake. Gettler declines to attack Bond, mentioning that his orders were to eliminate Le Chiffre, and says MI6's interest was useless, or "circulating like flies around dog mess".
Since these incidents Bond has sought revenge on a number of occasions beginning with Fleming's second novel Live and Let Die where Bond is almost completely uninterested in disrupting Mr. Big's setup to finance Soviet operations until he learns that Big is an agent of SMERSH. After learning this Bond makes it a personal mission of vengeance against the organisation. Mr. Big was the head of the "Black Widow Voodoo Cult" and according to M was one of the most powerful living criminals in the world. He learned his trade in crime from the Soviet Union during World War II to help undermine American society internally.
After causing the deaths of both Le Chiffre, Mr. Big, and Hugo Drax, SMERSH attempts to strike back in From Russia with Love. In the novel, 007 is issued a "death warrant" for immediate execution ("To be killed with ignominy") by SMERSH. Not only is Bond set up for assassination, but SMERSH also goes to great lengths to make his death one that will be embarrassing and scandalous throughout the entire intelligence community. The plan nearly succeeds, leaving Bond poisoned by Rosa Klebb, but he was subsequently rescued by his friend Rene Mathis from Casino Royale and recovered within a matter of months.
After Goldfinger, SMERSH is only mentioned fleetingly by Fleming, and in Thunderball, the organization is revealed to have been "disbanded" by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1958, and replaced by the Special Executive Department of the M.W.D.
In the continuation novels (and novelizations), however, SMERSH makes a comeback as an organization that has essentially been renamed and reorganized within the Soviet intelligence community. They are first mentioned again in the novelization to the film The Spy Who Loved Me, although they are replaced in the film by the KGB. In John Gardner's series of Bond novels, SMERSH is renamed as "Department V" (the letter) in Icebreaker. They return once again playing a much larger role in No Deals, Mr. Bond, this time renamed yet again as "Department Eight, Directorate S," and have been reorganized as a subsection of the KGB.
Classic film continuity
In the James Bond film series, Bond's archenemy became SPECTRE, first used in Ian Fleming's novel Thunderball. Film versions of novels in which SMERSH was featured either substituted them with SPECTRE or made the villains independent operatives. In truth, SMERSH really never makes an appearance in the James Bond film franchise at all, although it is referenced twice. The film, From Russia with Love has Bond initially thinking he is combatting SMERSH only to find that the villains are actually working for SPECTRE, including the villain Rosa Klebb who was a SMERSH operative that has secretly defected to SPECTRE.
The second reference to SMERSH in films was in the The Living Daylights (1987), which featured a faked re-activation of SMERSH. It was noted by General Pushkin, the then-current head of the KGB, as having been defunct for twenty years prior to the film.
In the James Bond 007 tabletop role-playing game, SMERSH is re-established by the Soviets after having thought to have been dissolved around 1972. Founded by General Orlov, who survives the events of Octopussy in the Victory Games series, the new SMERSH is part of the KGB, but answerable solely to the Politburo. As a compromise between moderate members of the Politburo and Orlov's faction, enough funds were allotted to establish a headquarters and pay a skeleton force of officers and agents. With this groundwork laid, SMERSH could be started up quickly, if the need suddenly arose. Orlov acted as liaison between the new SMERSH and the Politburo. But, the organization is more powerful than anyone in the Politburo suspects; it is a small, but efficient, organization, funded by international jewel and drug smuggling.
In the the 1967 spoof film, Casino Royale, multiple 007s battle a far less serious interpretation of SMERSH, led by the mysterious Dr. Noah. The 1967 organization is an independent criminal organization, headquartered underneath the eponymous Casino Royale, and has been eliminating agents of the world's intelligence agencies: notably, MI6, CIA, Deuxième Bureau, and the KGB. When the original James Bond comes out of retirement to deal with SMERSH, they attempt to discredit him by destroying his "celibate image". In one of the few similarities with its namesake novel, SMERSH agent Le Chiffre has embezzled their money, and is desperate to cover up the theft before he is executed. SMERSH's greater scheme revolves around the neurotic plans of Dr. Noah, who is revealed to be Sir James' nephew Jimmy Bond. He intends to use biological warfare to make all women beautiful and kill men taller than he is, and plans to assassinate the world's leaders and replace them with evil doubles. SMERSH is presumably destroyed when Jimmy/Dr Noah is duped into swallowing one of his own atomic pills, which subsequently explodes, destroying Casino Royale with everyone inside.
Notable villains in the Bond novels who were SMERSH agents include:
- Mr. Big
- Mr. Big was the main villain from the novel Live and Let Die. He was the head of the "Black Widow Voodoo Cult" and according to M was one of the most powerful living criminals in the world. He learned his trade in crime from the Soviet Union during World War II to help undermine American society internally.
- Colonel Rosa Klebb
- Rosa Klebb was the head of Otdyel II, the SMERSH department of torture and death in the novel From Russia with Love. Klebb was responsible for hiring Tatiana Romanova as a trick to lure Bond to Istanbul where Bond would be killed and disgraced within the intelligence community. Ultimately the plan failed and she was captured by Rene Mathis. In the film adaptation, Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, defected her post in SMERSH to work for SPECTRE. She was later shot in the back by Romanova who had fallen in love with Bond.
- Colonel Tov Kronsteen
- Kronsteen was the head of the planning department for SMERSH in the novel From Russia with Love. He was a Chess expert and the champion of Moscow for two years running. During the championship game for his third year Kronsteen was called away by SMERSH to come up with a plan to kill and discredit James Bond. In the film, Kronsteen, worked for SPECTRE and was tasked with coming up with a plan to kill and disgrace James Bond for the "murder" of Dr. Julius No in the film, Dr. No. Ultimately after his plan failed he was murdered at the behest of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Kronsteen was played by Vladek Sheybal.
- Colonel Niktin
- Niktin was the head of the Soviet Secret Service (MGB known as KGB post 1953) in From Russia with Love. Later in James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, the novelization of the film The Spy Who Loved Me, Niktin without explanation had been promoted to Colonel-General and was the head of SMERSH. Although in the novelization of the film, Niktin did not appear in the film and was substituted by General Gogol who at that time was the head of the KGB.
- Lieutenant-General Slavin
- Slavin was the head of the intelligence department for the General Staff of the Army (GRU). He was one of many SMERSH personnel who conspired to kill and disgrace James Bond.
- Lieutenant-General Vozdvishensky
- Vozdvishensky was the head of the intelligence department for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (R.U.M.I.D.). He was one of many SMERSH personnel who conspired to kill and disgrace James Bond.
- Sergei Borzov
- Sergei was a member of Otdyel II, the operations and executions branch of SMERSH in the film novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me, but was never mentioned as a member in the actual film. Borzov was the romantic love interest of agent XXX before being killed by James Bond in the opening teaser.
- Anya Amasova
- Anya, aka agent XXX, was a member of Otdyel IV in the film novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.
- General Konstantin Nikolaevich Chernov
- Codenamed "Blackfriar", Chernov (also known as Koyla Chernov) is the Chief Investigating Officer of Department Eight, Directorate S (formerly SMERSH). He appears in John Gardner's No Deals, Mr. Bond as the villain who is systematically targeting former members of a secret operation in East Germany.