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How often did a Red Army soldier march per day?

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  • #16
    25-30 km has been a good sustained daily march rate ever since the Roman Legions for units of regimental-brigade (or Legion) size - 3-5000 men. Marlborough's army of 15 - 25,000 (he picked up German contingents on the way) made about 20-25 km per day across western Germany in 1704 in high summer (July) and actually arrived in Bavaria in better condition than they'd left Holland. This was exceptional, though, and due to very, very good organization of the march.
    Large units for a short time have historically hit speeds of 50 or more km per day, but only for a few days and with on occasion some pretty serious wastage. The wastage, by the way, is most severe in summer - not winter, fall or spring. Heat stroke and heat prostration brought on by long duration exercise in the summer sun will drop more troops than simple exhaustion or frost casualties in other seasons.
    Given the very short training time that most Soviet infantrymen received, I suspect that most were not in good condition for long foot marches until they had been in units for a while. On the other hand, some pre-war units at the very start of the war - June-July 1941 - made some pretty long foot marches, but it's hard to get good statistics on actual march speeds, because the marches were interrupted and disrupted by air or ground attack so often.
    Another hidden problem of foot marches. At least in WWII, both the German and Soviet infantry units had a considerable number of horses hauling heavy weapons and supplies, and a long march, especially in summer, was literally murder on the horses. A man can be motivated to move farther and faster, but a horse that gets overheated is in immediate and deadly trouble. The German army lost almost 1/3 of the horses it took into the USSR in Barbarossa before the first fall, and largely to the wastage from long marches in a continental summer climate. I haven't seen any figures for horse losses in the Red Army, but I bet that first summer saw some nasty wastage, between long forced marches and poor veterinary support (too many veterinary units in the new rifle divisions were simply not well-manned or trained, like every other specialized element in those divisions)
    Final note. While both armies could make pretty equal foot marches in good terrain, the Germans admitted that the Red Army was better than they were at moving units of troops over rough terrain, through woods and swamps. Reason for this, which the Germans do not seem to have caught on to during the war, was that a Red Army unit would have men moving ahead of the main body to 'clear the trail' of brush and obstructions so the rest could move faster. The lead party would be rotated so they could stay fresh and keep the whole unit moving. Every rifle regiment had a sapper (combat engineer) platoon with a wagon full of Pioneer Tools (axes, long-handled shovels, picks, etc) that could be issued to the 'clearing parties' to keep the unit advancing in poor terrain. I first saw a description of these clearing units in a translation of a post-war Soviet infantry manual published around 1950-51.

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