SMERSH (James Bond)

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UniverseJames Bond series
TypeIntelligence agency
Founded1940 or earlier
Key peopleGeneral Grubozaboyschikov (leader)
Rosa Klebb (Director of Operations)
Donovan "Red" Grant (Chief Executioner)
Mr. Big
Auric Goldfinger
Political subversion of the West

SMERSH is a Soviet counterintelligence agency featured in Ian Fleming's early James Bond novels as agent 007's nemesis. It is a fictionalised version of SMERSH, operating in the Cold War period of the 1950s in numerous countries and continents. The actual organisation from which he drew its name existed from 1943 to 1946, under the supervision of NKVD Head Lavrentiy Beria. The name is a portmanteau of two Russian words: "SMERt' SHpionam" [Смерть Шпионам, Směrť Špionam], meaning "Death to Spies".

Though the real SMERSH was subsumed by the MGB in 1946, the novels portray SMERSH as a massive counterintelligence organisation which continues operating into later decades. In this it more resembles the foreign clandestine detachments of the KGB. Fleming's SMERSH aims its operatives abroad for the subversion of the West, with the additional goal of killing Western spies, particularly James Bond of SIS. SMERSH's headquarters are variously stated to be in Leningrad or in Moscow, Soviet Union.

In the Bond film series, SMERSH is usually replaced with SPECTRE – a global terrorist organisation also from the novels, which narratively took over SMERSH’s role in the novels from the late 1950s with increasing detente with the Soviet Union. It is, however, incorporated into the plotline of The Living Daylights, where a Soviet general operates under the guise of “Smert Shpionam”, while an account of the real-life organisation is given as reason why it is redundant.

Departmental overview[edit]

The novel Casino Royale breaks SMERSH down into five departments or отделы (оtdyels):

  • Department I: In charge of counterintelligence among Soviet organisations 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 him and the British Secret Service. In Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, SMERSH is described as the most powerful and feared organisation in the Soviet Union, with its main headquarters in Leningrad. It was believed to be under the personal direction of Lavrentiy Beria and was tasked with "the elimination of all forms of treachery and back-sliding within the various branches of the Soviet Secret Service and Secret Police at home and abroad" (a mission vaguely similar to that of the real-life SMERSH). The organisation was suspected of having carried out Leon Trotsky's assassination in 1940. While it was hugely expanded during World War II to deal with treachery among Soviet forces, it was purged after the war and by the time of Casino Royale was believed "to consist of only a few hundred operatives of very high quality", only one of whom had ever been captured by British agents.[1] By the time of From Russia, with Love, however, Fleming describes SMERSH as having 40,000 agents and being based in Moscow rather than in Leningrad.[2]

SMERSH makes its first impact on Bond in Casino Royale, in which the Communist agent Le Chiffre loses a large sum of money entrusted to him by the organisation. An agent kills him and cuts a Sha (ш), the initial Cyrillic letter of "Špion" (Russian for "spy") into the back of Bond's right hand. (Despite skin grafts, signs of the wound remain in later Bond books).[3] Then, at the end of the novel, Bond's lover and fellow agent Vesper Lynd—in fact a Soviet double agent—commits suicide when she learns that a SMERSH agent has her under surveillance and that the organisation is planning to kill her. As a result of her death, Bond swears vengeance upon SMERSH, which he calls "the threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy".[4] His revenge begins in the second novel, Live and Let Die, wherein he becomes highly interested in disrupting Mr. Big's financing of Soviet operations upon learning that he is a SMERSH agent.[5] SMERSH retaliates in From Russia, with Love, issuing a death warrant for the immediate execution of James Bond ("To be killed with ignominy").[6] SMERSH goes to great lengths in an effort to achieve three goals: kill Bond, cause an embarrassing scandal for the British intelligence community, and kill its code-breaking experts with a booby-trapped encryption machine. The first part of From Russia, with Love is presented entirely from SMERSH's point of view, depicting the interplay between various agents and operatives and the meticulous preparations for killing Bond, and a large part of the book passes before Bond confronts any SMERSH personnel directly. Bond faces SMERSH again in Goldfinger after learning that Auric Goldfinger, the agency's treasurer, is planning to steal the gold bullion stored at Fort Knox and defect to the Soviet Union with it.

After Goldfinger, SMERSH is mentioned only fleetingly, usually in reference to having been disbanded. In Thunderball, three former members of SMERSH are described as having become high-ranking operatives of the apolitical criminal organization, SPECTRE.

In the continuation novels (and novelizations), however, SMERSH returns as an organisation essentially renamed and reorganised within Soviet intelligence. They are first mentioned again in the novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me, although replaced by KGB in the film. In John Gardner's series of Bond novels, SMERSH is renamed Department V (the letter) in Icebreaker. They return in a larger role in No Deals, Mr. Bond, renamed Department Eight, Directorate S, a KGB sub-section.


In the film series, Bond's archenemy became SPECTRE, which first appeared in Fleming's novel Thunderball (1961). SPECTRE is introduced in the first film, Dr. No (1962), in which Julius No explains to Bond that it is the acronym for the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, the four great cornerstones of power. Film versions of novels where SMERSH appears substituted either SPECTRE or independent villains.

Although twice referred to, SMERSH never appears in the official film series; first, in From Russia with Love (1963), Bond initially thinks he is fighting SMERSH, only to learn that the villains are from SPECTRE, including Rosa Klebb, the former head of operations for SMERSH who has secretly defected to SPECTRE. Bond's love interest Tatiana Romanova says she knows Klebb as SMERSH's head of operations, and obeys her orders, presuming them from SMERSH. Second, The Living Daylights (1987) features a faked SMERSH re-activation. Throughout, it is referred to with its full name, Smiert Spionam (alternative spelling of Smert' Shpionam), rather than the better-known acronym; General Pushkin, then head of KGB, says it has been inoperative for 20 years. SMERSH is also an element in the 1967 spoofed film adaptation of Casino Royale that centres upon Le Chiffre's attempted recovery of SMERSH monies via baccarat at the Royale casino.

In the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale, SMERSH's role in the plot is filled by a terrorist organisation called Quantum which in the later film Spectre was revealed to be a subgroup of SPECTRE.


  • 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 (novelization) — Christopher Wood
  • Icebreaker — John Gardner
  • No Deals, Mr. Bond — John Gardner
  • Devil May Care — Sebastian Faulks
  • From Russia with Love
  • The Living Daylights
  • Casino Royale (1954)
  • Casino Royale (1967)

SMERSH agents[edit]

Notable villains in the Bond novels who were SMERSH agents or associates, included:

  • Le Chiffre: Le Chiffre is the villain in Casino Royale. He is paymaster of the "Syndicat des Ouvriers d'Alsace", a SMERSH-controlled trade union.
  • "Adolph Gettler": A SMERSH agent who shadowed Bond and Vesper while they are on French holiday in Casino Royale. He was identifiable by his eyepatch, screwed in like a monocle. His real name is unknown, but he posed as a Swiss wristwatch salesman named Adolph Gettler.
  • Mr. Big: The villain in the novel Live and Let Die. He is head of the "Black Widow Voodoo Cult", and, according to M, is one of the most powerful living criminals in the world. He smuggles pirate treasure from Jamaica to the United States in order to finance SMERSH operations. In the film, he is an independent criminal and the alter-ego of Dr. Kananga, the ruler of a small Caribbean island nation in which he is producing heroin for distribution in New York.
  • Auric Goldfinger: The villain in Goldfinger. He is SMERSH's treasurer, yet also a jeweller, metallurgist and smuggler. He has no apparent SMERSH affiliation in the film, instead planning to use a Chinese-supplied dirty bomb to cause economic chaos and increase the value of his bullion holdings.
  • Colonel Rosa Klebb: Head of Otdyel II, the SMERSH torture and death department in the novel From Russia, with Love. She employs MGB Corporal Tatiana Romanova to entrap James Bond in Istanbul, where he would be killed and disgraced before the intelligence community. The plan fails and René Mathis captures her, but she manages to kick Bond with a poisoned knife hidden in a shoe and nearly kill him. In the film, Klebb (Lotte Lenya) has defected from SMERSH to SPECTRE; Romanova ultimately shoots and kills her.
  • Donovan "Red" Grant: In the novel he is a pathological killer employed as Chief Executioner of SMERSH. Originally a British soldier serving with the occupation forces in Berlin, he defected to the USSR. In the film From Russia with Love, he works under Rosa Klebb, making him a SPECTRE agent (with his first name changed to Donald).
  • Colonel-General Grubozaboyschikov: He is selected head of SMERSH after Lavrenty Beria's death. In the novel, he chairs a committee of Soviet security organisations which meets to plan an intelligence coup against the West.
  • Colonel Kronsteen: He is planning department head for SMERSH in the novel. He is a chess expert and the champion of Moscow for two years running. During the championship game for his third year, SMERSH summons him to plan Bond's assassination. In the film, Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) works for SPECTRE, and is tasked with planning Bond's killing and disgrace as revenge for killing Dr. Julius No (depicted in the previous film, Dr. No). Ultimately, he fails and is murdered at Ernst Stavro Blofeld's behest.
  • Colonel Niktin: Heads the Soviet Secret Service (MGB, KGB post-1953) in From Russia with Love. Later in the novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me, he is promoted to Colonel-General and is head of SMERSH. He does not appear in the actual film, however, replaced by General Gogol as head of the KGB.
  • Lieutenant-General Slavin: Head of the intelligence department for the General Staff of the Army (GRU). He is a member of the committee of Soviet security organisations which meet under SMERSH chairmanship in From Russia, with Love to plan the disgrace and killing of James Bond.
  • Lieutenant-General Vozdvishensky: Vozdvishensky is head of RUMID, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intelligence department. He represents this department on the committee of Soviet security organisations which meets under SMERSH leadership in From Russia, with Love, in order to plan the killing of James Bond "with ignominy". Recorded as being tired of killing and of having enjoyed his time as a diplomat in London, Vozdvishensky agrees to the project without enthusiasm. The novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me reveals that he has since defected and now conducts a language symposium for employees of the British Ministry of Defence.
  • Sergei Borzov: A member of Otdyel II, the operations and executions branch of SMERSH in the novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me; however, he is never mentioned as a member in the actual film. Borzov is the romantic love interest of Anya Amasova, agent XXX, before being killed by James Bond in the opening teaser.
  • Anya Amasova: Amasova, aka agent XXX, is a member of Otdyel IV in the novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • Kolya Mosolov: A KGB agent and a member of the Icebreaker team in the novel Icebreaker. He is discovered to have planned the entire Icebreaker team in coordination with von Glöda. The two have a deal in which Mosolov would betray his country and sell arms to von Glöda in exchange for Bond's capture. Mosolov being not only an agent of the KGB, but also an agent working within "Department V" (formerly SMERSH). Mosolov believes that von Glöda will not succeed and is merely going along with the deal for the time being in order to capture Bond for the Soviets.
  • 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 number of other fictional spy organisations appear to be loosely based on SMERSH, some of them parodies, e.g., THRUSH in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Schlecht in The Intelligence Men, and STENCH in Carry On Spying.

See also[edit]

  • List of James Bond villains


  1. Fleming, Ian, Casino Royale (Jonathan Cape, 1953), ch. 2.
  2. Fleming, Ian, From Russia, with Love (Jonathan Cape, 1957), ch. 6.
  3. Fleming, Casino Royale, ch. 18.
  4. Fleming, Casino Royale, ch. 27.
  5. Fleming, Ian, Live and Let Die (Jonathan Cape, 1954), ch. 2.
  6. Fleming, From Russia, with Love, ch. 4.

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