There were three attempts to institute brothels in the Russian army during World War I. Both the Tsarist and Provisionary governments planned to establish field brothels for the needs of the army, for a number of reasons. The Bolsheviks had a similar plan in the works in April 1917. Russian army brothels were to be modeled on the German military brothels, which had rendered services to the army personnel since 1915.
The Russian army captured several German field brothels following the Brusilov Breakthrough in the summer of 1916. The Russian newspapers reported that the Cossacks had treated the daughters of joy in a very gallant fashion. It was reported that the ladies had stayed with the Cossacks for quite awhile as the Russians moved farther westward. In most cases the headquarters turned a blind eye to debauchery since the troops under General Brusilov were doing well at the time. The war eventually turned into a protracted trench war. As a result, brothels began to spring up in close proximity to many frontline units of the Russian army.
The Russian Provisionary government planned to legalize the operation of military brothels. In March 1917, the then foreign minister Pavel Milyukov, an active supporter of the “war till victory,” proposed to use relevant experience of the enemy and establish field brothels in the Russian army. Milyukov came up with the proposal a few days before he tendered his resignation. According to Milyukov, field brothels were supposed to give a boost to the troops’ morale. Besides, the move was designed to change the soldiers’ hostile attitude toward the Provisionary government.
Milyukov’s proposal gained no official support; the Provisionary government shelved it till better times. But the members of the executive committee of Petrograd Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies apparently took note of it. In April 1917, Petrograd Council of People’s Deputies issued order No 3 with the intention to consider the establishment of field brothels in the Russian army. The Council hoped that the measures would help decrease a high incidence of violent crimes committed by military personnel against the local population. Yet again, the proposed plan provided for the use of German experience. However, no real steps were taken in the end. The civil war soon broke out in Russia, the world revolution followed. The latter did not prevent the German military brothels from servicing officers and soldiers up to 1945.
The German military authorities were known for their strict adherence to rules and regulations regarding the supply of troops with weaponry and provisions. Issues relating to sexual life of military personnel were addressed by the German military command with the same level of pedantry. The army authorities apparently acknowledged that allowing access to women of easy virtue was something that had to be allowed within reason, if one wanted to keep up the troops’ morale. That is the reason why measures were taken to ensure that military brothels for officers and solders were erected in all territories occupied by the German troops. Mobile field brothels staffed with 5-20 “ladies of pleasure” would follow the army. The life of military harlots was anything but a bed of roses. According to rules, every woman was to service up to 600 soldiers a month, otherwise she must be deprived of her salary and benefits.
There were three classes of houses of joy; the highest for the officers, intermediate ones for non-commissioned officers, and the third for common soldiers. The rules and regulations stipulated that one prostitute was to be provided for 100 soldiers, one prostitute for 75 non-commissioned officers, and one prostitute for 50 officers. However, the military authorities soon began to find it increasingly difficult to supply brothels with scores of patriotism-minded German prostitutes in order to satisfy the needs of lust-inflamed men in uniform. Besides, inmates could not last long due to heavy daily workloads.
Consequently, the military authorities had to hire local females in regions occupied by the Germans. In view of the chronic misery of the occupied territories, most women took the job voluntarily. Money and food rations were the best motivation for them to sell their bodies to the enemy. At the beginning the German officers were strictly forbidden to have any kinds of contacts of an intimate nature with women from the occupied districts. Before long the officers grew too tired of the charms of the German ladies of the evening in military brothels. Eventually, the top brass had to shut their eyes to numerous cases of relationships involving German officers and local women. Some of the officers even fathered children.
Basically, the German military command established the system of military brothels in an effort to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among the military. It was thought that precautionary measures could be best enforced on the basis of militarized institutions placed under control of army sanitary officials. The Germans had good reasons to take steps aimed to control the spread of STDs derived from prostitutes in occupied countries. For instance, the number of German soldiers who contracted various venereal diseases in Hungary alone was greater than the total number of casualties suffered by the German army over a month’s period of combat operations.
Soldiers had to comply with rigorous sanitary requirements every time they wanted to use services of army prostitutes. Rules and regulations were laid down by the military authorities with a great deal of German pedantry. On the whole, a visit to a military brothel was hardly a chance for soldiers to indulge themselves in debauchery. Prior to applying for an entrance card, every soldier was to undergo a mandatory medical examination. Aside from containing usual information e.g. time allotted and number of a brothel, the card also had some space reserved for a prostitute’s signature and registration number to be put at the end of the visit. The soldier would be issued three condoms and a can with disinfectant powder by a sanitary official. Then the soldier would be shown to a shower bath. The soldier was required to pour disinfectant first on his genitals and then on the prostitute’s genitals before engaging in intercourse. Once the visit was over, the soldier was to show his card and an empty can of disinfectant to a sergeant major assigned to the brothel. In fact, soldiers were strictly forbidden to shirk from practicing coitus while in a brothel. Failure to perform or refusal to visit a brothel might be considered a punishable offence. Common soldiers were entitled to six visits to a brothel per month.
In 1915, the Germans used airplanes for dropping propaganda leaflets over some sectors of the Eastern front. The leaflets featured girls of Slavic appearance cuddling young men in fancy clothes. The caption read, “Ivan, your sweetheart is having fun with another man while you make war!”
The British took advantage of the German system of military brothels during WWII. A number of German soldiers were hospitalized and treated for scabies after contracting the disease in military brothels, which were furnished with infected condoms by the British spies.
According to unconfirmed reports, Soviet military intelligence set up a brothel for Western sailors in the port of Murmansk in WWII. Murmansk was extensively used by U.S. and British convoys for delivering arms and provisions for the Red Army during the war. The state-controlled house of prostitution was staffed with young attractive women handpicked by intelligence officers. The authorities got rid of the women in a most horrible way shortly after the war ended in 1945. Rumor has it that 300 women were ordered to board a barge that was subsequently towed into the sea and sunk.
Translated by Guerman Grachev