Soviet railway brigades

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stg 44
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Soviet railway brigades

Post by stg 44 » 10 May 2017 02:05

I came across this post earlier today:
viewtopic.php?f=76&t=198948&p=1848460&h ... m#p1848460
This is the Soviet secret of rapid advance and supply. They too operated in 300km bounds although slightly differently (Rear Area Services supplies everything directly to the Army Depots which are then responsible for delivering supplies directly to the Divisions, Divisions are only responsible with their single Motor Transport Company for collecting subsistence supplies from the Army and distributing supplies around the Division by horse drawn columns.). But their advance concentrates on capturing railways quickly and they have a vast organisation of Railway Troops - 30 Brigades (compared to 6 Regiments of Eisenbahnpionieres) backed up by construction teams and railway operating teams from NKPS for a total of 250,000 men deployed on railway re-construction. The Germans can completely destroy the railways, it makes no difference as the NKPS can re-build railways from scratch at a rate close to that of the advancing troops of the Combined Arms Armies. The pursuit is maintained by lorry columns sufficient to support the pursuit AND fight a battle at the end of it by concentrating supplies at the Schwerepunkt (another German organisational problem as they do not introduce Army Group Supply Officers until 1942?) everyone else has to live off the land. The lorries who carry out this work are not LL four wheel drive Studebakers (which are reserved for artillery units) but are Soviet made Gaz-AA or LL Ford 6 two wheel drive trucks of 1.5 tonne load weight - light enough to operate on the worst of roads and be hauled out of ditches by horses, not German 8 tonne trailer combinations which break up the road and are difficult to recover. They will support advances up to 650km by the time of the Oder-Vistula Offensive in Jan 1945. But railways are the key to this success and they will get any railway to operate, broad gauge, standard gauge, Romanian low capacity, German high capacity, they will make it work by putting loads of men on loading unloading, trans-shipping, whatever is needed.
Can anyone describe the composition and workings of these Soviet supply units? How did they differ from the German units used in 1941?

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Re: Soviet railway brigades

Post by Art » 10 May 2017 15:00

Check, for example:
viewtopic.php?p=1863242#p1863242
In general the description is correct: about 250 000-300 000 in railway troops working on repair of existing roads or in some cases on new construction and demolition in case of retreat.
The Germans can completely destroy the railways, it makes no difference as the NKPS can re-build railways from scratch at a rate close to that of the advancing troops of the Combined Arms Armies
That is probably a bit of overstatement. First, it takes enormous work to destroy the railroad completely (usually it was limited to damage inflicted on ties, bridges, stations and signal lines). Then, of course, it was much easier to repair damaged roads then to build them from zero. That rebuilding always proceeded at sufficient speed is not completely correct either: one notorious case is post-Stalingrad campaign which was plagued by transportation difficulties among other things.

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Re: Soviet railway brigades

Post by Art » 10 May 2017 20:23

More details about railway engineers organization:

In 1941 Soviet railway troops consisted of three principal parts:

1. Special Corps of Railway Troops. The Corps was an RKKA formation but was under operational control of the NKPS (civil ministry of transport). The Corps consisted of 5 railway brigades with 27 railway construction battalions, 3 railway bridge battalions, 2 mechanization battalions (units with heavy machinery), 5 mechanization companies, 2 railway operating companies, 5 training battalions. Total in 5 brigades – 53 572 men. Also 7 railway operating regiments, total 14 430 men. All combined 68 002 men. By the start of 1941 the Corps was deployed mostly in the Far East where it built the Baikal-Amur railroad. In the spring of 1941 the Corps HQ and 3 brigades (1, 4, 5 Brigades) were transferred to Ukraine, 3 and 7 Brigades stayed in the Far East. After mobilization organization and strength remained basically unchanged to the end of 1941. In September 1941 the Corps was disbanded as an operational command, thereafter brigades operated independently.
2. Separate railway formations under control of RKKA Transportation Directorate. Before mobilization they consisted of 8 brigades, 8 regiments and other units with a total strength of 29 260. With the start of mobilization each regiment was converted to a replacement regiment and also formed a new brigade HQ. So after mobilization there were 16 (8+8) railway brigades and smaller units: 42 reconstruction battalions, 15 bridge battalions, 16 mechanization battalion, 25 railway operating companies, 1 suspension bridge battalion, 8 front railway depots, 2 central railway depots, 7 replacement railway regiments. Each brigade consisted of 2-3 railway reconstruction battalions, 1 bridge battalion, 1 mechanization battalion, 1-2 operating companies. Total strength after mobilization – 97 277 men. By the end of 1941 1 Brigade HQ, 7 battalions, 1 training regiment, 1 operating company and 1 front depots were additional formed which brought the number of brigades to 17. It must be mentioned that separate railway brigades and brigades of the Railway Corps had different organization and different TO&Es and the second were about twice as large.
3. Special formations of the NKPS – various repair trains, workshops and depots with civilian workers. The performed tasks similar to 1) and 2) but with more emphasize on special operations (recovery of signal lines and water supply, repair of rolling stock etc).

On 3 January 1942 railway troops were reorganized by a special GKO order. All RKKA railway troops (17 brigade HQs, 8 replacement regiments, 44 railway reconstruction battalions, 17 bridge battalions, 17 mechanization battalions, 26 railway operating companies, 9 front railway depots, 3 central depots and Transportation Military School) with 104384/76816 authorized/actual strength were transferred to the NKPS. In addition the Red Army was to provide replacements for bringing those units to full strength and to form 5 additional brigades with 20 reconstruction battalions, 5 bridge battalions, 6 mechanization battalions, 11 operating companies, and also 2 replacement regiments. In addition to 5 brigades of the former Special Railway Corps already under NKPS control that was to make 17+5+5=27 railway brigades with a total strength of 222 thousand men. It must be mentioned that 5 brigades of the former Railway Corps retained their special organization until new unified TO&Es were issued in 1943. A Main Directorate of Military Reconstruction Work (GUVVR) was created inside the NKPS to control railway construction/reconstruction operations. It included the Railway Troops Directorate formed from the former HQ of Railway Corps which was to command all railway engineer units. GUVVR also adsorbed NKPS civil formations (total 34 800 men) which were reorganized as military units and their workers received status of military personnel. They however retained their special organization and were not included in railway brigades. Each Soviet Front received a special HQ – Military Reconstruction Work Directorate (UVVR) which was to control railway construction/reconstruction and railway troops in the front area. UVVR typically commanded one or several railway brigade, each usually operating on a separate railway line.

This principal organization remained basically unchanged to the end of the war, although railway engineer force was expanded and additional new units formed. By the end of 1942 there were 30 railway brigades, 2 railway operating brigades and misc. units with 225600/196300 authorized/actual strength (of them 112 500 in the operational forces on the front). By the end of 1943 – 250301/253492 authorized/actual strength in railway troops. Also 60500 men in the NKPS formations (186 various units, mostly repair trains) In 1945 – 35 railway reconstruction and 2 operating brigades, 19 operating regiments, 9 replacement regiments, 110 reconstruction and 40 bridge battalions, 30 mechanization battalions, 30 signal recovery battalion, 3 truck battalions etc. Total 271 652 men in May 1945.
In February 1943 new standard TO&Es for the railway brigade were issued. The brigade was to consist of HQ, 4 railway reconstruction battalions, one bridge battalion, one mechanization battalion and one railway operating company. Later on a signal recovery battalion, carpenter battalion and an additional operating company were added to the brigade structure, a water supply company included in each mechanization battalion. That brought the brigade authorized strength to 6306 men (see the organizational chart here)

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Re: Soviet railway brigades

Post by stg 44 » 11 May 2017 02:55

Thanks for the info!

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Re: Soviet railway brigades

Post by Der Alte Fritz » 13 May 2017 07:54

The key difference to understand between the Soviets and the Germans is that
1. The NKPS is a militarised formation and has been cooperating with the Red Army for a long time
2. The Red Army has been using railways for a whole range of military tasks as had its predecessor including conducting long range military operations like the 1905 Russo-Japanese War and the support of operations for long campaigns since 1877
3. The two are integrated to a large extent
4. The Reichsbahn is not militarised
5. The Wehrmacht uses railways for mobilisation, troop movement and secondary supply
6. The Heer has a military concept built around a rapid defeat of the enemy so that railway re-building and use for supply support is a secondary consideration. It has only fought short range campaigns since 1815.
7. The Eisenbahnpioniere are separate from the Reichsbahn engineering units and when intermediate type militarised Reichsbahn are created in March and June 1941 (for the Russian campaign) the FED and HBD, these are small under equipped (and what they do have is quickly commandeered by the EBP) and have little operational influence.
8. The Eisenbahnpioniere have no idea what their priority should be. They main role was to build high capacity tracks (36 trains a day) over the 300 km from the border depots to the Supply District so that the GTR could support the next advance for the second round of encirclements. They fail to do this instead building low capacity lines right behind each army. They changed plenty of gauge by August 1941 it was simply the wrong bit of track and they failed to restore signalling and engine depots which were necessary to deliver a service more than 12 trains a day.

You can read further about this issue in my article for the Journal of Slavic Military Studies http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10. ... 17.1308120
which has just been published at the start of May

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Re: Soviet railway brigades

Post by stg 44 » 14 May 2017 21:28

Der Alte Fritz wrote:The key difference to understand between the Soviets and the Germans is that
1. The NKPS is a militarised formation and has been cooperating with the Red Army for a long time
2. The Red Army has been using railways for a whole range of military tasks as had its predecessor including conducting long range military operations like the 1905 Russo-Japanese War and the support of operations for long campaigns since 1877
3. The two are integrated to a large extent
4. The Reichsbahn is not militarised
5. The Wehrmacht uses railways for mobilisation, troop movement and secondary supply
6. The Heer has a military concept built around a rapid defeat of the enemy so that railway re-building and use for supply support is a secondary consideration. It has only fought short range campaigns since 1815.
7. The Eisenbahnpioniere are separate from the Reichsbahn engineering units and when intermediate type militarised Reichsbahn are created in March and June 1941 (for the Russian campaign) the FED and HBD, these are small under equipped (and what they do have is quickly commandeered by the EBP) and have little operational influence.
8. The Eisenbahnpioniere have no idea what their priority should be. They main role was to build high capacity tracks (36 trains a day) over the 300 km from the border depots to the Supply District so that the GTR could support the next advance for the second round of encirclements. They fail to do this instead building low capacity lines right behind each army. They changed plenty of gauge by August 1941 it was simply the wrong bit of track and they failed to restore signalling and engine depots which were necessary to deliver a service more than 12 trains a day.

You can read further about this issue in my article for the Journal of Slavic Military Studies http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10. ... 17.1308120
which has just been published at the start of May
Thank you, that article was very informative.

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