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  • Divisions: quality or quantity ?

    A question that often arose to me, it's the approach regarding divisional organization during the course of the war. If for British and American armies, there was no really important changes regarding the organization, in German and Soviet armies, the divisions in the end of the war were very different from those in the beginning.

    In RKKA, the catastrophical losses in the beginning of the war, forced to greatly reduce the manpower and the rest. The rest of war was characterized by the gradual return to of the firepower with manpower fluctuating around 10-11 thousands men. However on the field, the divisions rarely had the required manpower past Kursk and weren’t encountered in the two final years. In 45, they usually numbered around 4900-6000 men and had a variable number of artillery. So compared with the paper, those were basically half-a-division.

    In Wehrmacht, the situation was different. When Soviets tried to adapt the organization to the divisions, Germans rather adapted the organization following the situation on the front. The losses suffered in 1941-42 forced a number of divisions to reduce the number of battalions from nine to six. It became official in 1943 and one year later the volkgrenadier divisions arrived with a further reduction of manpower and artillery.

    The question is why it was preceded this way. Red Army could have disbanded 100-150 divisions in order to get the remaining divisions at full strength. Since it was primarily the active bayonets which suffered the majority of casualties, such reorganization could have brought rear troops in the fight thus greatly increasing the manpower directly at the front. The same can be said about Germany. Yes, more fronts called for more troops however those could have been organized in bigger units like previously in order to maximize their efficiency. Why the desire to have more divisions even if they weaker than they used to be/should be ? What is the logic behind this ?
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  • #2
    The basic Soviet rifle division for most of WW 2 was, as it actually operated in the field, the rough equivalent of a US or German regiment with support troops, a weak British infantry brigade. The rifle corps for all intents is the equivalent of an infantry division.

    The big problem in returning to larger divisions for the Red Army in WW 2 would have been one of trying to make them efficient in terms of command and control and logistics.
    The smaller units were more manageable in terms of operating with limited communications equipment and with limited logistic support. A big division like US or British ones would have really taxed the available material. Command and control would likewise be limited by the availability of radio and telephone equipment along with the necessary trained troops to operate and maintain that system.
    The smaller units they used were more efficient in this respect because they could get by with direct leadership most of the time even if it did hurt larger unit operations in terms of efficiency sometimes.

    I think the Soviets recognized early on that large units just weren't going to work with the available equipment and limited time they had to train their troops and went with what worked with sufficient efficiency that they could be effective in combat. In the end, that's what really mattered.

    By contrast, as the Wehrmacht fell apart they too did much the same thing. Panzer divisions gave way to brigades. Cavalry brigades appeared in the East. Infantry divisions went from 9 line battalions to 6 for much the same reasons.

    So, I don't think given the war situation the Soviets could have afforded the time and trouble it would have taken to try and reorganize their infantry divisions into larger formations while fighting it. You might note post war the Red Army quickly sought to motorize every formation they could, got rid of cavalry for the most part, and did start to reorganize all of their divisions into larger formations doing away with the brigade - corps structure of wartime.

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    • #3
      Keep in mind the Red Army had to keep troops in other areas as well. The Caucasus district was able to send its troops against the German advance because they were already there. Of course the original garrison units were long gone but Reservist and Conscript troops had been raised.

      Some units were sent far away from their home areas. The Baltic units were sent to the Far East and probably did not fight until the Red Army attacked Japan.

      I am reminded a bit of a quote made by Herman Goering: "The Fuhrer does not ask how many engines are on my bombers. He just wants to know how many there are!"

      I think many Red Army divisions on a "static" front were kept low on manpower and equipment. It was the "hot" areas that got the replacements. This helped out in supply as well.

      The Red Army divisions first gave up all their heavy Artillery. They lost all 152mm howitzers. They did keep a battery of 122mm Howitzers to add to the Battalion 75mm Field Guns. The Red Army then grouped the heavy Guns together and sent them the parts of the Front that needed them. They were the first to employ Artillery Divisions and maybe Artillery Corps.

      I think the Red Army did well in difficult times. The sudden surge in newly raised units meant officers that could not handle large formations. I can compare it in a way to units in the American Civil War where Regiments often shrank down to Company size before they were disbanded/consolidated.

      Pruitt
      Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

      Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

      by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Emtos View Post
        A question that often arose to me, it's the approach regarding divisional organization during the course of the war. If for British and American armies, there was no really important changes regarding the organization, in German and Soviet armies, the divisions in the end of the war were very different from those in the beginning.

        In RKKA, the catastrophical losses in the beginning of the war, forced to greatly reduce the manpower and the rest. The rest of war was characterized by the gradual return to of the firepower with manpower fluctuating around 10-11 thousands men. However on the field, the divisions rarely had the required manpower past Kursk and weren’t encountered in the two final years. In 45, they usually numbered around 4900-6000 men and had a variable number of artillery. So compared with the paper, those were basically half-a-division.

        In Wehrmacht, the situation was different. When Soviets tried to adapt the organization to the divisions, Germans rather adapted the organization following the situation on the front. The losses suffered in 1941-42 forced a number of divisions to reduce the number of battalions from nine to six. It became official in 1943 and one year later the volkgrenadier divisions arrived with a further reduction of manpower and artillery.

        The question is why it was preceded this way. Red Army could have disbanded 100-150 divisions in order to get the remaining divisions at full strength. Since it was primarily the active bayonets which suffered the majority of casualties, such reorganization could have brought rear troops in the fight thus greatly increasing the manpower directly at the front. The same can be said about Germany. Yes, more fronts called for more troops however those could have been organized in bigger units like previously in order to maximize their efficiency. Why the desire to have more divisions even if they weaker than they used to be/should be ? What is the logic behind this ?
        As far as the British were concerned, the infantry division pre WW2, during WW2 and post WW2 remains basically the same, as far as organisation is concerned. Armoured divisions changed during WW2 to include relatively far more infantry than tanks as time went on. Essentially they went from two armoured brigades, to one armoured and one motorised infantry brigade. It should also be noted that one armoured division had one infantry battalion and six armoured regiments. This failed.

        As far as the Soviets are concerned, from my readings (and in the West this is limited), there are three basic types of Soviet formations. Concerning the more famous battles, there are two basic types. The first consists of a 'heavy' unit that can either break an attack or breakthrough an enemy defense. The second is a more mobile element that can exploit the success of the first type. The third unit is a lower manpower, higher firepower holding unit. The latter would consist of mortars, hmg's, AT rifles and towed 45mm AT weapons. These units covered the defense of those areas that were not strategically important.

        I'll let my betters talk about US and German divisions.
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        • #5
          I like to think of us members as equals. Of course some of us have better reading lists than others! (Middle Schoolers?)

          I thought the original British Mobile Divisions had two Motor Infantry Battalions. Were the three such divisions set up the same? I get a feeling that the Mobile Division (became 7th Armour) in Egypt was set up different? This may be because they had an Infantry Tank brigade and a Cruiser Brigade?

          Pruitt
          Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

          Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

          by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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          • #6
            The organisation of the original UK based Mobile Division gets a little fuzzy at times. Certainly as of Sep39 the Sp Gp of 1st Armd Div included two Motor Bns. 1st Tk Bde was also expected to operate in concert with the Mobile Div to some extent in the pre-war.

            There were a few changes in terms of the British Inf Div through the war, mostly seeing it get bigger. The 1938 model called for two MG Bns, each containing an Atk Coy with 2-pr guns, to support two of the three Inf Bdes; a third MG Bn was expected to be added upon mobilisation for the remaining Inf Bde. By 1939 the MG Bns were just MG units, moving to Corps Tps, with the RA taking over the Div atk role, then Inf Bdes formed their own Atk Coys, which survived into early 1941; post Dunkirk MG Bns came back to Inf Divs, just one now, and an LAA Regt and a Recce unit was added. There was a brief flirtation with Sp Bns in place of MG Bns, then the MG Bns got the 4.2-in mortar role tacked on.

            Red Army Divs did constantly shrink in size based on their authorised organisation, with three rewrites in 1942 alone. The infantry component did reduce the most, but a lot of the changes were in reducing subunit sizes; the Mar42 Rifle Squad was supposed to be 12 men for example, the Jul42 and Dec42 Squad both 9 men, but in each case there were always supposed to be four Squads per Platoon (the Mar42 Squad was actually an increase on the types used in 1941, which were all 11 strong). The Red Army did formalise the approach to 'reduced strength' units, and certainly some of them have the merest amount of infantry in them. I wonder sometimes if there's an underestimation of how Br/US units were trimmed down in the field by the rigours of campaign and shortages of replacements, but didn't result in new WE/TOs being issued.

            The German reductions to their Inf Divs were stark in other ways. They deleted posts almost everywhere, with Rifle Squads dropping from 10 to 9, Rifle Pls from 4 to 3 Squads, then skipping up to Regts, dropping their third Bn. The 1937 Inf Regt was roughly 3000 men at full strength, while the 1943 'new type' was down to around 2000.

            Perhaps there was an acceptance in having Divs that were much lower in strength, but retaining more Divs to actually manoeuvre with rather than having fewer, well stocked formations.

            Gary

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            • #7
              The Germans and the Red Army both greatly increased the weight of fire in the Infantry. They did this by introducing sub machine guns and Assault Rifles. In the German Army, most of the positions deleted were Riflemen firing bolt action rifles. Later on they introduced Assault Rifles which greatly increased weight of fire. The Red Army introduced SMG Platoons.

              Pruitt
              Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

              Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

              by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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              • #8
                Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                The basic Soviet rifle division for most of WW 2 was, as it actually operated in the field, the rough equivalent of a US or German regiment with support troops, a weak British infantry brigade. The rifle corps for all intents is the equivalent of an infantry division.
                5-6 thousand men with relatively strong artillery is somewhat between a usual regiment (3-4 thousand) and usual division (12-18 thousand). Accordingly a rifle corps of 3 division and corps units will have 20-25 thousands men which is stronger than practically all divisions.
                The big problem in returning to larger divisions for the Red Army in WW 2 would have been one of trying to make them efficient in terms of command and control and logistics.
                The main problem was simply a lack of personnel. There was no way to maintain all 450-500 divisions at full strength.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Emtos View Post
                  What is the logic behind this ?
                  A theory that explains it all is that new units were created in 1941-42 in an improvised fashion without any solid plan and without a clear idea what would be the effective organization of the army. Hence huge structural disproportions.

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                  • #10
                    I would imagine the limiting factor would be the supply of small arms and the 75mm Field Guns. You can get by with using 37mm antitank guns in the beginning. I imagine they had a number in storage. Who knows? Maybe some depots still have PPsh SMG's and T-34 tanks? Only the depot maintenance staff knows!

                    Pruitt
                    Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                    Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                    by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Artyom_A View Post
                      A theory that explains it all is that new units were created in 1941-42 in an improvised fashion without any solid plan and without a clear idea what would be the effective organization of the army. Hence huge structural disproportions.
                      This, as far as the Soviets go.
                      But I would also like to emphasize what Nick wrote, which applies to other combatants too, and particularly to the Germans:

                      ...The third unit is a lower manpower, higher firepower holding unit. The latter would consist of mortars, hmg's, AT rifles and towed 45mm AT weapons. These units covered the defense...
                      When you are short on manpower, you may try to make it up for that with firepower. You then field smaller divisions, in terms of men in the infantry regiments, but with (roughly) the same firepower as before. These serve you even better if on the defensive, as Nick mentioned.
                      Michele

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                      • #12
                        I recall reading about one story from the Red Army. One Company was under the command of Pavlov. He was addicted to alcohol and the staff officer over him was suspicious he was not reporting casualties so he could get the vodka rations. The Staff Officer sent in the report and a big battle broke out and the Germans were repulsed by Pavlov's Company. The Staff Officer was sent a message by Command, "Send Pavlov his Vodka!".

                        Pruitt
                        Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                        Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                        by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Michele View Post
                          You then field smaller divisions, in terms of men in the infantry regiments, but with (roughly) the same firepower as before.
                          The German type 44 infantry division had an authorized strength of nearly 13 thousand men. While smaller then previews versions it didn't deviate that much from a normal divisional size. The US infantry division in the same year had some 14+ thousand men from IRC.
                          The personnel strength cannot be reduced indefinitely while serving the same number of heavy weapons. There is some limit when this reduction starts to affect firepower. In particular a typical Soviet practice in case of many casualties was to keep a part of heavy infantry weapons at the divisional dump. They remained on strength formally but were not used practically. Conversely after receiving personnel reinforcement these weapons could be brought back to line.
                          Back to the original question the division can be defined as a unit whose normal frontage is equal or comparable to the range of its field artillery. So an extended frontline could give some rationale to a bigger number of smaller divisions.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Artyom_A View Post
                            The German type 44 infantry division had an authorized strength of nearly 13 thousand men. While smaller then previews versions it didn't deviate that much from a normal divisional size. The US infantry division in the same year had some 14+ thousand men from IRC.
                            Some 13,000 men is not that smaller than the average for most combatants in this period, sure. But it's very significantly less than 17,000 (!) as in 1939.

                            Also note I said "in terms of men in the infantry regiments". Remove one full battalion from each regiment, then consider the squad is smaller, the company is smaller...
                            Service troops were reduced, but by about a third. Artillery was reduced by only a quarter (3 battalions instead of 4). The recce battalion was done away with, but replaced by the fusilier battalion. The division still had a Panzerjäger and an engineer battalion as before.
                            So if you consider the reduction in terms of men in the infantry regiments, that is the most significant indeed.

                            The personnel strength cannot be reduced indefinitely while serving the same number of heavy weapons. There is some limit when this reduction starts to affect firepower.
                            No argument against that. But remember, that is especially true if you have to move that firepower, and all the more so if you want to move it quickly.
                            Michele

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                            • #15
                              Keep in mind that when you delete Infantry Battalions from an Infantry Division you usually post them all in the line with no reserves. Three Battalion Regiments would normally place two Battalions up and have one behind.

                              Some German Infantry Divisions with only two Infantry Regiments still had the third Infantry Battalions removed.

                              I would offer that an American division was often over strength with Corps and Army level units attached. They always had the nine Infantry Battalions as well.

                              Pruitt
                              Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                              Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                              by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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