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Issue No.03 - July-September (2006 vol.28)
pp: 18-31
Hiroshi Ichikawa , Hiroshima University
ABSTRACT
Which computer was developed first in the Soviet Union? Which one was first successful? Such questions are difficult to answer, but recently declassified archival material may hold the key. The story of the Strela illustrates how competing interests?as institutions and factions jockeyed to gain political advantage-helped determine the fate of this computer, a political success but a technological failure.
INDEX TERMS
The former Soviet Union, the USSR Academy of Sciences, Strela computer, BESM computer, SKB-245 [Special Design Bureau No. 245], ITMVT [the Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Technology], Mikhail A. Lavrentev, Nikolai G. Bruevich, Centralized Pluralism, Political Patronage
CITATION
Hiroshi Ichikawa, "Strela-1, the First Soviet Computer: Political Success and Technological Failure", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.28, no. 3, pp. 18-31, July-September 2006, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.56
REFERENCES
1. See, for example, M.V. Keldysh, "Matematika—Vychislitelnaya tekhnika" ["Mathematics—Computer Technology"], Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya (v. 2) [Great Soviet Encyclopedia], vol. 50, p. 438 (in Russian).
2. Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv ekonomiki [Russian State Archive of the Economy], collection 8123, group 8, file 560, p. 239. In citing documents from the archives, I have listed the archives by their abbreviations, the document classifications, and the document filing numbers, omitting the full titles. I cited mainly documents kept in the Branch of the Russian State Archive of Economy [Filial Rossiiskogo gosudarstvennogo arkhiva ekonomiki (RGAE)], the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences [Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Akademii Nauk (Arkhiv RAN)], and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History [Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial-no-politicheskoi istorii (RGASPI)], all located in Moscow.
3. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 560, p. 204.
4. B.N. Malinovskii, Istoriya vychislitelnoi tekhniki v litsakh [History of Computer Technology in Personalities], Kiev 1995; see chapter 6, at http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ7.htm (in Russian).
5. I.M. Makarova et al., eds., Istoriya informatiki v Rossii: uchenye I ikh shkoly [History of Informatics in Russia: The Scientists and Their Schools], Nauka, 2003, p. 186 (in Russian).
6. Virtualnyi kompyuternyi muzei [Virtual Computer Museum], Istoriya otechestvennoi vychislitelnoi tekhniki [History of Russian Computer Technology]; http://computer-museum.ru/histussr18htm.
7. S.P. Prokhorov, "Computers in Russia: Science, Education and Industry," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 21, no. 3, 1999, pp. 4–15.
8. G.D. Crowe and S.E. Goodman, "S.A. Lebedev and the Birth of Soviet Computing," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 16, no. 1, 1994, pp. 4–24.
9. S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, MIT Press, 2002, pp. 131–149. In noting that the Ministry of Machine and Instrument Construction objected to disclosing BESM information to a group of scientists from India, Gerovitch said that the Soviets' policy of secrecy "was not solely the product of Soviet isolationist ideology, but could sometimes be induced by interagency rivalry and used as a weapon of bureaucratic competition." ( pp. 148–149). On the other hand, I.V. Kurchatov and B. Vannikov jointly wrote to Vice-Prime Minister V.A. Malyshev, an army general involved in developing the Soviet atomic bomb, to demand that a paper not be published about the Strela because of "an unnecessary citation," RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, pp. 271–272.
10. A. Nove, The Soviet Economic System, George Allen & Unwin, 2nd ed., 1988, p. 62.
11. Ibid, p. 65.
12. N. Krementsov, Stalinist Science, Princeton Univ., 1997. p. 5. Krementsov said, "The war forced the party-state bureaucracy to rely on the expertise of military, industrial, scientific, and technical specialists, thus loosening party control and increasing local autonomy and initiative" ( p. 65). He directed his attention to such consequences of war as the background of the symbiotic relationship between political power and scientists. Asif Siddiqi, however, clarified that even in the prewar period, internal discord among the specialists might have affected the political treatment they received through their political relationship: A. Siddiqi, "The Rocket's Red Glare: Technology, Conflict, and Terror in the Soviet Union," Technology and Culture, vol. 44, no. 3, 2003, pp. 471–501.
13. P.E. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, MIT Press, 1998, p. 7.
14. For an early perspective, see, for example, M. Boretsky, "Comparative Progress in Technology, Productivity and Economic Efficiency; U.S.S.R. versus U.S.A.," New Directions in the Soviet Economy, U.S. Congress Joint Committee, 1966, pp. 172–175. M. Cave, "Computer Technology," The Technological Level of Soviet Industry, R. Amann, J.M. Cooper, and R.W. Davies, eds., Yale Univ. Press, 1977, pp. 377–390.
15. S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, p. 7.
16. Ibid., pp. 7–8.
17. Ibid., p. 131.
18. Besides these two organizations, we can refer to the effort by I.S. Bruk in the Energy Institute of the Academy of Sciences: see B. Malinovskii, chap. 5, http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ6.htm (in Russian).
19. RGASPI, collection 17, group 125, file 447, pp. 29–30.
20. Arkhiv RAN, collection 1559, group 1, file 3, p. 1.
21. Arkhiv RAN, collection 395, group 1–50g., file 1504-62-613, p. 87.
22. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 36, p. 29. Bruevich taught at the Military Aviation Academy from 1929–1961. He was a lieutenant general during World War II ( N. Krementsov, Stalinist Science, pp. 98 and 300).
23. Arkhiv RAN, collection 1559, group 1, file 3, pp. 3, 4.
24. Cited in G.D. Crowe and S.E. Goodman, "S.A. Lebedev and the Birth of Soviet Computing," p. 14.
25. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 36, pp. 48–49.
26. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 308, p. 31.
27. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 402, p. 1.
28. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 524, p. 27.
29. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 523, p. 11.
30. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 308, pp. 29–31.
31. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 482, p. 85. The major client contracts at that time were the Ministry of Armed Forces (later Ministry of Defense) RUB1,091,600; Moscow State University, RUB3,201,600; and Factory No. 293 of the Ministry of Aircraft Industry, RUB623,300.
32. For example, even in 1953, the Bureau built analog machines, such as Polyet (or flight, a computing machine specialized for testing automatic piloting systems of aircraft), Operator (an analog computer for modeling with changeable variables), Integral VI (with 6 integrators), and an analog calculator for discrete differential equations (RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 402, pp. 94–109). At the same time, the Bureau developed MDA, a high-performance differential analyzer with 24 integrators; a highperformance electrical integrator; a high-speed relay calculator; and two types of high-resistance germanium diodes (ibid., pp. 153–156). The Bureau planned to develop four new machines for the Chief Directorate of Artillery of the Ministry of Defense from 1955 to 1957: Korund (designed to calculate the atmosphere's influence on trajectory calculations), Plyut (designed for geological survey calculations), Granit (to verify results of correlative functions), and Udar (for integrations of the probability of warhead strikes); RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 629, pp. 181–184. Even in 1955, the Central Institute of Aeronautical Hydrodynamics recommended a calculator with an analog mechanism for complex simulations of jet flights; RGAE, collection 8123, group 11, stock unit 11, pp. 181–188.
33. The Energy Institute of the Academy of Sciences, for example, had been striving to develop differential analyzers equipped with six integrators since 1936 (RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 524, p. 19). The Institute manufactured its first device between 1938 and 1939 (ibid., p. 23). The Institute had tried for 10 years to design electronic integrators for differential equations. From 1948 to 1952, the Academy of Sciences' pursuits included a small electronic analog computing machine (ibid., p. 19).
34. Rossiiskaya Akademiya nauk, Ordena Lenina Sibirskoe otdelenie [Russian Academy of Sciences, The Siberian Branch], ed., Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], Izdatelstvo SO RAN, 2000, p. 54 (in Russian).
35. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 36, pp. 48–49.
36. A.V. Zabrodin ed., M.V. Keldysh: tvorcheskii portret po vospominaniiam sovremennikov [M.V. Keldysh: Creative Portraits in Memories by His Contemporaries], Nauka, 2002, p. 344 (in Russian). The calculator Mercedes was invented by Ch. Hamann in Zella-Mehris in 1905 and produced in eastern Germany. Unfortunately, I could find no documents confirming that young Soviet girls worked with calculations at that time. Girls' role in computing's early days is getting more attention since J.S. Light's article, "When Computers Were Women," Technology and Culture, vol. 40, no. 3, 1999, pp. 455–483.
37. A.N. Myamlin, "M.V. Keldysh i Vychslichelnaya Tekhnika" ["M.V. Keldysh and Computer Technology"], A.V. Zabrodin, ed., p. 343 (in Russian).
38. Arkhiv RAN, Collection1559, Group 1, File 15, p.15; Neiman's given name and his father's name (Russian middle name) are unknown.
39. S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, pp. 132–133.
40. Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], p. 77.
41. For a reconsideration of the campaigned "scientific discussions," see A.B. Kozhevnikov, Stalin's Great Science: The Times and Adventures of Soviet Physicists, Imperial College Press, 2004, pp. 186–216. For a reevaluation of the philosophical discussion in the beginning of this campaign, see Y.I. Krivonosov, "Srazhenie na filosovskom fronte: Filosovskaya diskussiya 1947 goda—prolog ideologicheskogo pogroma nauki" ["The Battle in the Philosophical Front: Philosophical Discussion in 1947—Prologue of Ideological Pogrom of Sciences"], Voprosy istorii estestvoznaniya i tekhniki [Problems of History of Natural Sciences and Technology], no. 3, 1997, pp. 63–86 (in Russian), and V.D. Esakov, "K istorii filosovskoi diskussii 1947 goda" ["For the History of Philosophical Discussion in 1947"], Voprosy filosofii [Problems of Philosophy], no. 2, 1993, pp. 83–106 (in Russian).
42. Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], p. 58.
43. G.D. Crowe and S.E. Goodman, "S.A. Lebedev and the Birth of Soviet Computing," pp. 4–8.
44. Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], pp. 59–60. Later, Khrushchev's patronage for Lavrentev became well known. As late as 1962, Lavrentev made sure to thank Khrushchev in his speech: "Although the world-wide center of mathematics has moved to the United States owing to the immigration of many mathematicians (John von Neumann and others), and many great mathematicians have been mobilized to the physics field in the Soviet Union, we have been able to gather a sufficiently talented collective. N.S. Khrushchev gave us the powerful and organizational support.", Nauchinyi arkhiv Sibirskogo otdeleniya Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk [Scientific Archive of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences], collection 27, group 1, file 76, p. 4).
45. Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], p. 60.
46. Citing the minutes of the Party's Politburo meetings and other documents, Gerovitch affirmed that Khrushchev took action in favor of Lavrentev in the Party's top echelons (see S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 136).
47. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 36, pp. 34–44.
48. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 36, p. 47.
49. Arkhiv RAN, collection 395, group 1–49g, file 1503-62-613, pp. 149–172. In this "reply," Bruevich and his colleagues said "a series of the machines, based upon analogue principles, are younger. They have only appeared in the 20th century. The basic theories and the first example in the world of a differentiate analyzer were developed by the late academician, A.I. Krylov (p. 156). … The numerical machines cannot be massive computers for the solution of analytical subjects (p. 158). … ENIAC has a large number of vacuum tubes. Up to 70% of these tubes may, however, come to a standstill, which is somehow undesirable in the results and needs an inspection by special testing. … We must not repeat ENIAC (p. 160) … Research considering the problems of digital, high-speed, automatic machines began in ITMVT in the fall of 1948 with the help of the correspondent member of the Academy of Sciences, I.S. Bruk. … It became known that the subjects of the construction of such machines are so complicated that a special resolution is needed" ( p. 162).
50. Arkhiv RAN, collection 395, group 1–49g, file 1503-62-613, pp. 2–4.
51. Ibid., p. 75.
52. Arkhiv RAN, collection1559, group 1, file 6, p. 11.
53. Ibid., p. 51.
54. Arkhiv RAN, collection 2, group 3-a, file 109 (microfiche).
55. Arkhiv RAN, collection 395, group 1–50g, file 1504-60-613, p. 3.
56. Although his proposal was eventually accepted in the Bureau session of 23 May 1950, some members of the Department of Technological Sciences showed hesitation. (Arkhiv RAN, collection 395, group 1–50g, file 1504-65-613, p. 31.) Moreover, inside the Institute Lavrentev met with strong resistance; the Scientific Secretary (D.N. Shakhsuvarov), who was removed from office by Lavrentev, accused him in court of unfair dismissal and won the trial in the lower courts ( Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], pp. 59, 60).
57. Arkhiv RAN, collection 395, group 1–50g, file 1504-69-613, pp. 59,63, 66,68. Bruevich said, "I cannot help referring to my right to carry out scientific research activities in the fields in which I have been engaged for a long time. I have been engaged in two fields—precision of machinery and computing techniques. … I had carried out the task of computing continuous functions for a very long time. … Although I was engaged in this task, i.e. the development of differentiate analyzers, for many years, why is it that we cannot find my surname in the Five Year Plan? … This [Author's note: The direction which Lavrentev was taking.] means the adoption of a measure of exiling Bruevich. This is not a Soviet attitude towards the scientist. I think that I need to make a proper protest." (ibid., pp. 59,63). Lavrentev brought forth a counterargument to Bruevich's remark: "I won't refer to any personal matter of anyone without the direction of Boris Alekseivich (Vvedenskii). Not only Nikolai Grigorievich (Bruevich) is devoting himself to the task of differential analyzers. I don't regard Nikolai Grigorievich as the only specialist in this field" (ibid., p. 66). Bruevich tried again to make a counterargument against Lavrentev, saying, "Appointing the leader and removing the leader are quite different things. … The matter would be different, if I had committed any mistake in leadership." No sooner had he said that than a Bureau member, A.A. Blagonravov, interrupted, saying, "I propose that the plans should be adopted." Thus the argument was stopped with Vvedenskii shouting, "Adopted!" (ibid., p. 68).
58. Arkhiv RAN, collection 1559, group 1, file 15, pp. 1–82.
59. Ibid., p. 28.
60. Ibid., pp. 76–81.
61. RGASPI, collection 17, group 133, file 174, p. 71, and Arkhiv RAN, collection 1559, group 1, file 14, p. 87.
62. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 354, pp. 185–186.
63. Ibid., p. 187.
64. See, for example, his letter to V.M. Molotov, vice-chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, dated 7 August 1943 (RGASPI, collection 82, group 2, file 930, pp. 49–56). He, in the capacity of Academician-Secretary of the Presidium of the Academy, revealed some calumnious information about some candidates for membership of the Academy. For example, he says, "L. D. Landau is politically ineligible," "B. G. Kuznetsov is zero [Author's note: meaning totally useless]," "It is undesirable that two persons of German origin are nominated for the Presidium while we are fighting with Germany," and so on. Also in the postwar days, he sent a letter to the Party's Central Committee secretary, A.A. Kuznetsov (ibid, pp. 141–148) in order to inform him of the political careers and the nationalities of the scientific workers of the Institute of History, the Institute of Physics, and the Department of Biological Sciences of the Academy of Sciences.
65. Immediately after the dismissal of Bruevich from the ITMVT, at the suggestion of L.P. Beriya, Minister of Home Affairs, the Academy of Sciences carried out a survey on the activities for observation of secrecy in the Department of Precision Mechanics and Machines of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering. They found Bruevich and several colleagues leaving classified experimental data on the accuracy tests of the bombing-meters, which were carried out in Baku in 1944–1945 at the demands of the Navy, open on their desks. Consequently, five of them, including Bruevich, received official reprimands for carelessness, and senior associate Kobrinskii also received a dismissal notice (RGASPI, collection 17, group 133, file 174, pp. 64–66).
66. RGASPI, collection 17, group 132, file 354, pp. 188–191.
67. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 524, p. 20.
68. G.D. Crowe and S.E. Goodman, "S.A. Lebedev and the Birth of Soviet Computing," pp. 8–9.
69. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 560, pp. 113–114.
70. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, pp. 89–91.
71. Malinovskii, chap. 6, p. 6; see http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ7.htm (in Russian).
72. For his contribution, see Malinovskii, chap. 5; see http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ6.htm (in Russian).
73. Ibid., chap. 6, p. 17; see http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ7.htm (in Russian).
74. Ibid., chap. 2, p. 2; see http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ3.htm (in Russian). D. Kipyatkov, Chief of 3rd Division of the State Planning Committee, said in his report dated 21 Feb. 1951, "Industry has a serious difficulty in gaining the necessary amount of vacuum-tubes." (RGAE, collection 4372, group 98, file 968, p. 25.) It was planned that a billion rubles would be invested in vacuum-tube manufacture from 1951 to 1955. The main purpose of this investment was, however, to enlarge the industrial basis of Soviet radar-building (ibid., p. 28).
75. Malinovskii, chap. 2, p. 4; see http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ3.htm (in Russian).
76. Ibid., chap. 6, p. 19; see http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/MALINOWSKIJ7.htm (in Russian).
77. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 524, p. 20.
78. Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], p. 60.
79. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 481, p. 89: The initial proposal by the Ministry of Machine and Instrument Construction for the financial plan for this machine was denied by the Ministry of Finance and the State Planning Committee. The total development expenditure was reduced to only RUB200,000 (RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 523, p. 84).
80. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 481, p. 89.
81. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 402, pp. 1–2.
82. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 523, p. 84.
83. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 481, p. 102.
84. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 402, p. 2.
85. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 560, pp. 200–202, 205–208.
86. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 524, p. 25.
87. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 560, p. 192.
88. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 560, p. 263, 295.
89. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, p. 253. For the discussion itself, see RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 630, pp. 18–24.
90. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, pp. 138–142.
91. Ibid., p. 138.
92. Vek Lavrenteva [The Time of Lavrentev], pp. 59–60.
93. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, p. 112.
94. According to the news agency TASS (the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia) on 12 November 1955, a Dr. Dreier of the Darmstadt Institute of Applied Mathematics admired BESM as the fastest machine in Europe; I.M. Makarov et al., eds., Istoriya informatiki v Rossii [History of Informatics in Russia.], p. 74.
95. S.P. Prokhorov, "Computers in Russia: Science, Education and Industry," p. 4.
96. M.R. Shura-Bura, "Moi Keldysh" ["My Keldysh"], A.V. Zabrodin, ed., M.V. Keldysh: tvorcheskii portret po vospominaniiam sovremennikov, p. 359.
97. A.V. Zabrodin, "V nachale bolshogo puti" ["In the Beginning of the Great Way"], A.V. Zabrodin, ed., M.V. Keldysh: tvorcheskii portret po vospominaniiam sovremennikov, p. 370.
98. M.R. Shura-Bura, "Moi Keldysh ["My Keldysh"], pp. 358–359.
99. Ibid., pp. 359–360.
100. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, pp. 271–272.
101. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 623, p. 261.
102. This Ministry, then People's Commissariat, was temporary reorganized as the People's Commissariat for Projectile Munitions, during the war; see N.S. Simonov, Voenno-promyshlennyi kompleks SSSR v 1920–1950-e gody: tempy ekonomicheskogo rosta, struktura, organizatsiya proizvodstva i upravlenie [The USSR Military-Industrial Complex in 1920's–1950's: Rates of Economic Growth, Structure, Organization of Productions and Management], ROSSPEN, 1996, p. 139 (in Russian).
103. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 551, p. 29.
104. RGAE, collection 8123, group 8, file 619, pp. 9, 11.
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