Tuesday 4 November 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Mikhail Svirin: Man, Historian, Soldier

Mikhail Svirin was one of the historians that opened up an entirely new history of armoured vehicles, based on documents declassified in the late 80s and early 90s. These people laid down the foundation on which a new generation of researchers is building their work even now. Unfortunately, in May of this year, he passed away. The editor in chief of the publisher "Tactical Press", Gregoriy Pernavskiy, writes about Svirin, having known this exceptional man personally:

There are people that appear in your life and disappear without any noticeable trace. Others walk the same path as you, and even if they leave, you will always think what they would say when you do something. Mikhail Nikolayevich was one of those people.

I try to remember who we met through in the second half of the 1990s. I remember only that it was long before the rise of the "Military-Historical Forum" that gave the world a generation of authors which turned the world of military history upside down. These people were already in the second generation. They knew where to go, and, most important, what to look for.

Svirin was a part of the first generation of military history enthusiasts, and a history enthusiast in general. In those days, no doors opened for us. The only historical education came from the state. Enthusiasts, amateurs, those of us with hot hearts, had no place in this system. We did not give up. Through back doors, we gained access to technical libraries, talked to "elders" from design bureaus, met up with other enthusiasts. Slowly, as concrete cracks under great pressure, the dogmas of the old system fell.

In the 1990s, new books and magazines were printed. They were few in number, and for us enthusiasts, they were worth their weight in gold. They were traded, Xeroxed, given visible places in collections. The names Svirin, Kolomiyets, Baryatinskiy were known to all that are connected to military history. They deserve this fame. These three men rolled the boulder up the hill, and due to their efforts, many stars rose, and continue to rise.

As for "Uncle Misha", he achieved many things: founded the excellent military historical "Polygon" magazine for model enthusiasts. Alas, it did not survive. Turns out that amateur researchers don't have extra money. In order to publish his book on the T-28, Svirin sold his car. People are split into "effective managers" and those who do real things, strive and suffer for them. These are people from two different worlds.

Without his magazine, Svirin started the most difficult project of his life. He wrote his magnum opus "History of the Soviet Tank", known to all armoured vehicle enthusiasts. Mikhail Nikolayevich was not just a writer, he was a true scientist. His main talent was combining military and political history, explaining the reasons why engineers settled on one decision or other.

Of course, Svirin's book is not the gospel truth. It contains mistakes, leaps of faith, imperfections. It describes far from all dramatic episodes in the history of Soviet tank building. This is easily explained. What modern enthusiasts have easy access to was simply impossible for enthusiasts of the 70s and 80s. Conclusions were often made with incomplete or distorted information. Nevertheless, aside from maybe encyclopedias, there is no overall history of the Soviet tank, and will not be for a long time.

Aside from books, Uncle Misha wrote for internet resources and forums. Meetings with him became fascinating and unique lectures. In his last years, he almost entirely switched to a patriotic upbringing of children and teenagers, and stopped writing, mostly because he has said most of what he wanted. Most, but not all. His health failed him. The wounds of the "peaceful war" (Svirin took part in mine clearing in Checnya and suffered concussions there) took their toll.

For years, his injuries caused him horrible pain. Any other man would have turned into a furious beast, but not Svirin. He was nearly an avatar of good. Himself in need of help, he was always ready to offer a helping hand and at least contribute advice. He had friends that were always ready to help, Maksim Kolomiyets, Sergey Burkatovskiy, Aleksandr Kontorovich, and many more. Uncle Misha was a truly great man and a real fighter. He knew that his cause was just, and he never surrendered.

Article author: Grigoriy Pernavskiy

Original article available here.

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