SMERSH (in capitalised letters) is a Soviet counterintelligence agency that was featured in Ian Fleming’s early James Bond novels and films as 007’s nemesis. SMERSH is a conjunction of two Russian words: “SMERt’ SHpionam”, (Смерть Шпионам), which means “Death to Spies”. Though Fleming’s SMERSH was supposed to be modelled on the real SMERSH organization, the novels had SMERSH as a massive Soviet counterintelligence operation aimed at sending operatives abroad to subvert the West with an additional goal of killing Western spies, particularly Bond.
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.
Within the world of James Bond, 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 Trotsky in 1940 and collaborated with NKVD in the midst of 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 MI6 acquired was Goytchev, who shot a medical officer in the Yugoslav embassy.
SMERSH made its first appearance in the novel Casino Royale. The SMERSH agent Le Chiffre attempted to recover lost funds from a failed chain of brothels in a game of Chemin-de-fer. MI6 decided to have Le Chiffre eliminated by making him lose to the 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 Deuxieme Bereau. During this game, Bond was nearly killed by a gunman, and initially went bankrupt until Leiter gave him more capital. After the game, Le Chiffre kidnapped Vesper and a chase initiated by Bond immediately followed. Bond ended up crashing and was subsequently captured and tortured with a carpet beater by Le Chiffre, who demanded the location of the money. When he did not yield, Le Chiffre was about to castrate him when a SMERSH agent executed him. The agent carved a Russian letter (representing SMERSH) into the back of his hand. Despite skin grafts, a faint scar remained on Bond’s hand. Later, another SMERSH agent known as “Adolph Gettler” was tracking Vesper and Bond, but Vesper committed suicide for Bond’s and her sake.
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 organization.
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 works, 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.
He had another mission of personal vengeance in Goldfinger after learning Auric Goldfinger is the treasurer of the agency.
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.
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 Genersl Pushkin, the then-current head of the KGB, as having been defunct for twenty years prior to the film.
- Casino Royale — Ian Fleming
- Live and Let Die — Ian Fleming
- From Russia with Love — Ian Fleming
- Goldfinger — Ian Fleming
- James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me (novelisation) — Christopher Wood
- Icebreaker — John Gardner
- No Deals, Mr. Bond — John Gardner
- From Russia with Love
- The Living Daylights
Notable villains in the Bond novels who were SMERSH agents include:
Le Chiffre was the main villain from the first Ian Fleming novel Casino Royale. He was the paymaster of the “Syndicat des Ouvriers d’Alsace”, a SMERSH controlled trade union.
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.
Goldfinger was the main villain from the Ian Fleming novel and film, Goldfinger. He was the treasurer of SMERSH. He was also a jeweller, a metallurgist, and a smuggler.
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.
Donovan “Red” Grant
Red Grant was the chief executioner of SMERSH. He was originally a British soldier during World War II, but defected to the Soviet Union. In both the film and the novel From Russia with Love, Grant worked under Rosa Klebb and therefore was also an agent of SPECTRE in the film.
Grubozaboyschikov was selected to be the head of SMERSH after the death of Lavrenty Beria in the novel From Russia with Love. He was one of many SMERSH personnel who conspired to kill and disgrace James 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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
A joking reference to SMERSH also appears in the spoof film, Casino Royale in which anyone who uttered the phrase was quieted by someone saying “SHHHHHHHH!” thereby making the acronym sound like “SMERSHHHHHHHHH…”