Soviet infantry units 1941-42April 6, 2010 0 Comments
Soviet infantry units went through a huge transformation between 1941 and mid 1943. In October 1941 Soviet infantry consisted of units which had survived or avoided the initial German assault and subsequent encirclements. The majority of new infantry units arriving in the front lines were the last of the mobilization of prewar trained reservists and untrained militia. The Japanese attack on the US reduced the threat to the Soviet Far East. This allowed Stalin to redeploy some well trained first line units from central and eastern Siberia to bolster the western defense.
Both the quality and size of Soviet infantry units varied greatly in late 1941 and early 1942. Prewar divisions and division fragments with current combat experience were mixed with newly mobilized regular reserve units and raw militia levies with no combat experience and often little or no training. The prewar (April 1941) Soviet Table of Organization & Equipment (TOE) called for a fully equipped infantry division to have three rifle regiments (9 infantry Bn) two artillery regiments (5 artillery Bn) and a large complement of specialist battalions including antitank, antiaircraft, engineers and support services (medical, signals, maintenance). Fully manned, this unit would have 14,454 officers and enlisted. Three months later and after the opening German attack the official Soviet infantry division TOE called for three rifle regiments one artillery regiment and reduced support units totaling 10,790 officers and enlisted. Nevertheless the average size of Soviet infantry divisions facing the Germans on the Moscow front on 1 October 1941 was only 7000 men.
Mobilization of manpower, training and equipment for rebuilt and new infantry units was a problem for the Soviet Army but the most severe shortage was experienced officers. The combination of prewar Stalinist purges of the officer corps and the destruction of units in encirclement battles left a desperate shortage of officers.
The Soviet Army tried several expedients to increase the number of infantry formations for front line duty. The earliest expedient was raising untrained militia units. Soviet Army high command quickly realized that these units were ineffective and militia units were converted to regular units or used to provide manpower for damaged units starting in late 1941. Infantry units were also raised from other Soviet security and military branches primarily NKVD and Soviet Navy.
The next expedient was infantry brigades which appeared in front line armies starting with the first Soviet winter counter offensive in Dec 41—Jan 42. Infantry brigades were used to counter the shortage of officer cadre, especially field grade officers who usually commanded and staffed regiments and divisions. The Soviet infantry brigade was highly variable in composition but nominal TOE was 3 infantry battalions, light and heavy mortar battalions, 1 artillery battalion, antitank battalion and a limited number of support and service units usually company sized. Such a brigade contained 4,350 officers and enlisted. These units were equivalent to many infantry divisions currently in combat. The biggest problem with the Soviet infantry brigade was lack of staying power. Support organizations in the brigades, especially logistic services, were small in size and poorly trained. Infantry brigades went into the line or into attacks in late 41 and early 42 and melted away because they could not supply and support their combat units. In late 1942 the Soviet Army was reorganizing surviving infantry brigades to full divisions and disbanding others to provide replacements for damaged infantry divisions.
The first Guards infantry divisions started appearing in late 1941. Guards designation was most often awarded to units which conducted successful offensive operations.