Russia's Barnaul Cartridge Plant produces the BEAR series (Brown Bear, Silver Bear, and Golden Bear) – a line of hunting ammunition, each with its own specialized characteristics. Each brand uses lead-cored FMJ, soft point, or hollow point bullets, has steel cases with Berdan primers, and uses non-corrosive propellant. However, they each differ in the protective coating used on the cartridge case. Golden Bear cartridges feature a brass coating on the steel case.
Before producing one of today's popular lines of ammo, Barnaul Cartridge Plant had a rich history dating back to Emperor Alexander II in Russia. After opening one of the first cartridge plants in St. Petersburg, Barnaul produced cartridges for the Russian Army during WWI and was later evacuated during the Civil War.
During the Great Patriotic War, the plant produced 7.62mm, 12.7mm, and 14.5mm with armor-piercing bullets. They went on to receive the Soviet Union’s highest decoration for outstanding services rendered to the State, the Order of Lenin. Barnaul later began producing a wide variety of hunting and sporting cartridges – which they continue to be known for to this day.
Golden Bear Ammunition’s Roots in War
Golden Bear ammunition is manufactured in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a factory with roots in the 19th Century. Originally, the factory was known as “Arsenal P” after it was opened by the Imperial Russian government. The Russian Civil War prompted the evacuation and relocation of the factory. The new Communist government of Russia opened again in 1920 but renamed it “Factory P.” Eight years later, they once again renamed the plant, this time calling it “Factory 17.”
The factory was once again evacuated in 1941, this time thanks to the Second World War. This war is known in Russia (and all post-Soviet states except for Ukraine, where the name was officially changed in 2015 by legislative statute) as “the Great Patriotic War.” This time it was the Soviets evacuating the factory to keep it out of the hands of the advancing Nazi German forces.
Both before and during the evacuation, the plant produced heavy, armor-piercing ammunition in the service of the war effort, including 7.62mm, 12.7mm, and 14.5mm rounds. The highest honor that can be bestowed upon a person or group, the Order of Lenin, was given to the plant. After the war, this plant became renowned around the world as one of the premier manufacturers of hunting and sporting rounds. This continues to be the niche of the BEAR line of ammunition today, though they also manufacture military rounds at this same plant.
The Siege of Leningrad and Golden Bear Ammunition
We call it “The Siege of Leningrad.” In Russia, they call it “the 900-day siege.” In truth, no matter what you call it, this was one of the longest sieges in human history and a strong candidate for one of the most destructive. In fact, the sources of the day saw the Siege of Leningrad as far more significant an event in the war than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Far more people died in the siege than in both bombings combined.
Leningrad was extremely important to the Soviets. The capital of the Soviet Union was Moscow, but the revolution began in St. Petersburg – making this an important psychological possession for the Soviets. It was also the second-largest city in the Soviet Union, meaning that holding it was of the utmost importance for the war effort. When all was said and done, 642,000 Soviets died during the siege and another 400,000 died during the evacuation.
For their part, the German Army had a lot invested in taking Leningrad, however not as much as the Soviets had in defending it. Hitler instructed the army “Leningrad first, Donetsk Basin second, Moscow third.” The Wehrmacht cut off the lines of communications as it marched through some of the northernmost regions of Soviet Russia.
The citizens of Leningrad had far more personal reasons to defend the city, however. While Soviet propaganda stated that Hitler would take the city and rename it “Adolfsburg,” internal German documents reveal a far more sinister plan: Hitler planned to surround the city, starve the inhabitants to death over the course of several weeks and then raze it to the ground before passing off the surrounding area to their temporary allies in Finland. In the words of Hitler himself, "St. Petersburg must be erased from the face of the Earth… We have no interest in saving lives of the civilian population.”
No conquest of Leningrad in the traditional sense was planned. The German military had been instructed to refuse all offers of surrender from the Soviets with regard to Leningrad. This goes back to the sheer size of Leningrad’s civilian population. No one in the German military had any doubt that Leningrad would fall before the Wehrmacht. Hitler himself had even printed invitations for his victory party to be held at the city’s Hotel Astoria.
Traditional mortars were used, but the primary weapon the Germans planned to use was hunger. They were to seal the city off and simply wait for everyone to starve over a period of weeks. The failure of this initial plan is what eventually led to one of the longest sieges in human history.
Finland: The Democratic Allies of the German Dictatorship
In theory, Finland was a neutral nation. However, the politics of being constantly in the crosshairs of Soviet invasion and occupation made the former Russian possession bounce back and forth between the Axis and Allies throughout the course of the war. For its part, the Soviet Union was not shy about its expansionist designs on Finland. During the Winter War, it had sought to incorporate Finnish territory back, and it succeeded in claiming large swaths of Finnish territory. Finland made tactical alliance with the Axis powers to regain this territory in the Continuation War, making it the only democratic power to fight with the Axis despite having never been a signatory to any Axis treaties.
Finnish intelligence was indispensable to the Germans, however. It was the humble Finns who did the legwork in partially breaking Soviet codes, making all low-level communications between Soviets transparent for the invading forces. What’s more, the German government didn’t care if the Finns were the first to occupy Leningrad, because of their disinterest in occupying the city for themselves.
Finland, however, was not able to regain any of its lost territory. In fact, it lost 10 percent of its total territory as well as its second-largest city to the Soviet Union by the end of the war. Also by the war’s end, nearly the total Karelian and Finnish populations of the USSR fled across the Finnish border.
Leningrad Under Siege: Daily Life
Soviet civilians were evacuated from the city in waves, eventually totalling 1.4 million. Most of the evacuees were children and women. Many of them died during the evacuation. Life within the city walls wasn’t much better for Leningrad. Tight food rationing meant that at one point during the siege, the average civilian was receiving a scant 300 grams of bread as their total daily ration. In the early fall and late summer of 1941, the relentless shelling from the German military had completely destroyed every food warehouse in the city.
Those who remained within the city had to go to desperate lengths to eat anything at all. Potato starch was often used in wallpaper glue, so people would remove the wallpaper and boil it to get potato starch soup. Old leather goods were likewise boiled and eaten where possible. Cannibalism was first reported in the brutal winter, straddling 1941 and 1942. When ground human flesh was found being sold in the city’s markets, the Soviet authorities had to ban all sales of ground meat. A program to cover the city in vegetable gardens helped to take some of the pressure off by 1942.
Education and the service industry ground to a halt. Bombardment was felt sharply in the winter, and the city’s water supply was regularly destroyed at this time every year of the siege. The citizenry of Leningrad searched for water in the frigid sub-Arctic winter, collecting ice and snow, which caused major spikes in the casualty rates. Electricity could not meet demands for the civilian population, the factories or public transportation.
The shuttering of public transportation meant three million people were trapped in Leningrad. Barnaul Cartridge Plant, where Golden Bear Ammo and the entire BEAR line are made, was evacuated alongside 1.4 million Leningrad citizens and 86 other strategic industries.
To this day, the modern day citizens of St. Petersburg take great pride in the history of the Siege of Leningrad. “Troy fell, Rome fell, Leningrad did not fall” is often heard in the city.
Golden Bear Ammo Review
The entire BEAR line has a fascinating history in relationship to the Second World War, but is the ammunition itself any good? The short answer is yes. Golden Bear specializes in shotgun and rifle rounds for sport and hunting. The cost is reasonable, which is why it’s such a popular line to buy in bulk purchases, along with the whole BEAR line (Brown Bear, Golden Bear and Silver Bear). Each one of these has its own specialized purpose, encased in a different protective coating.
What they all have in common is soft point or hollow point bullets, steel cases, non-corrosive propellant, Berdan primers and lead-cored full metal jackets.