Red Army 1943-45

soviet flagStrength and organization of the Soviet armed forces in the second half of the war from 1943 to 1945.

Red Army 1943-45

The Red Army on the 1943-45 offensive.

arrowto Red Army 1942.

On 19 November 1942 Marshal Zhukov opened the Operation Uranus, the Soviet counter-offensive which trapped the German 6th Army with 22 divisions in Stalingrad and threatened to cut off the 21st Panzer Army in the Caucasus.
The Soviet ring around Stalingrad remained taut during the winter of 1942-43 and the last German resistance ended there on 2 February 1943. The German and Romanian troops lost 150,000 men killed and 91,000 prisoners of war.

In the spring of 1943, the Red Army advanced as far as the weather and increasing German resistance would allow. By the summer, the front had stabilized, with the main focus on the front bulge around Kursk, which protruded into the German lines and wanted to eliminate by Hitler.
The great German summer offensive against this prominent front bulge under the operation name Zitadelle (‘Citadel’) was intended to rob the Red Army of its initiative, but remained lying 6 miles (10 kilometres) after their starting positions. When the German troops hammered the Soviet defensive positions during this Battle of Kursk, the commanders of the Red Army led strong, mobile reserves from one endangered section to another, depriving the enemy of local superiority. The scale and complexity of these movements clearly showed how far the generals of the Red Army had learnt in the meantime to conduct mobile warfare.

In the winter of 1943-44, the Red Army was back on the offensive and pushed back the German front line. The decisive factor, however, was the 1944 summer offensive, when 2.5 million Soviet troops, supported by 5,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, smashed the German Central Army Group. As a result, the Eastern Front was now close to the German borders.

At that time the Red Army was clearly superior to the Wehrmacht and its victory was practically only a matter of time. At the end of August 1944 the Red Army was on the borders of East Prussia and Berlin was only 375 miles (600 kilometres) to the west.

The red flag on the Reichstag.

The honor of taking Berlin was left to Marshal Zhukov’s 1st Belarusian front with four mixed and two tank armies. This last offensive was heralded with a massive artillery fire at dawn on 16 April 1945. The German resistance was fierce and it was not possible to raise the Soviet flag on the Reichstag by soldiers of the 756th Soviet Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Assault Army before the night of 30 April to 1 May 1945.

Even before the final victory in Europe, Soviet units were moved to the Far East to invade Manchuria, occupied by the Japanese. On August 9, 1945, an invasion force of eleven mixed armies attacked the Japanese. The total strength of the Soviet armed forces deployed exceeded 1.5 million men with 26,137 guns, 5,556 armoured vehicles and over 5,000 aircraft.
After a short and brilliant operation, the Japanese surrendered on 24 August 1945.

It can be assumed that the Red Army lost more than 13.7 million soldiers during the Second World War.


Organization 1943-45

Advancing Russian troops moving a anti-tank gun forward by hand

Advancing Russian troops moving a anti-tank gun forward by hand. The over-all quality of the Russian infantry was decreasing from spring 1943 onwards, since the Red Army conscripted all available men till age of 60 in the recaptured territories.

In 1944 there were 48 rifle armies (a Soviet army of about the size of a Western corps) between the Baltic and the Black Sea. These varied quite greatly in size and were each 60,000 to 120,000 men strong and could be temporarily reinforced by independent tank and artillery formations, allowing them to rise to over 200,000 men.

The spearhead of the armoured units was the tank army, of which there were six in 1944. First established according to official TOE records in 1943, they usually consisted of two tank corps and one mechanized corps. Together with various support units, this gave the Tank Army a strength of about 40,000 to 60,000 men, which corresponded to a German Panzer Corps by and large.

Furthermore, the most important and numerically most existing unit at division level was still the Rifle Division. Already since the end of 1942 the new Soviet Rifle Division had a strength of about 9,500 men. These were organized in three infantry regiments with 2,500 men each and an artillery regiment with 1,000 men, as well as an anti-tank and pioneer battalion and a company of signals and reconnaissance troops.

As early as spring 1943, the human reserves of the Soviet Union began to dwindle gradually, so that the quality of the infantry deteriorated and further formations of units were no longer possible on a large scale. From the spring of 1943 until the end of the war, the number of Rifle divisions increased only from 513 to 527, and that of tank and mechanized brigades from 290 to 302.

heavy artillery

Soviet heavy artillery gun position.

The Red Army attached great importance to the role of artillery on the battlefield. The Soviet Rifle Division was therefore very well equipped with artillery, but at no time during the war was it able to offer the infantrymen support as was the practice in the German army, for example.
This was mainly due to the lack of technically qualified personnel in the Red Army and was particularly noticeable in the artillery sector.
Therefore, in the course of the war, more and more artillery was grouped into special formations, where it was used as a fire barrage in the pattern of the World War One. By the end of the war, three-quarters of all artillery guns were no longer in the rifle divisions, but in special formations.

These artillery divisions consisted of four brigades, along with signal and fire control units, giving them a strength of nearly 10,000 men. This division was organized as follows: a mortar brigade with 100 PTDR-1941 anti-tank rifles and more than 100 x 120 mm mortars, a light field artillery brigade with three regiments of 24 x 76 mm cannons each, a howitzer brigade of 48 x 122 mm and 24 x 152 mm howitzers, and a medium field gun brigade with 12 x 122 mm cannons and 24 x 152 mm howitzers.
Each brigade consisted of two to three regiments, together with auxiliary and infantry units, which were lavishly equipped with sub-machine guns.
The largest artillery formation was the Corps, in which everything up to 25 brigades was combined under a single command.

Loading the rocket launchers

Loading the rocket launchers during the battle for Berlin in 1945.

A special feature of the Red Army were the rocket launcher units, which were equipped with multiple rocket launchers. These were generally known by the name of Katyusha or by the German soldiers as Stalin’s organ.
Even if they had only a limited fire range, they were able to have a massive fire effect on a target within a very short time, which made them very popular with the Soviet troops.
The largest formation of rocket launchers was the Brigade, which was divided into three regiments of 800 men each, each equipped with more than six 37mm anti-tank guns against roaming German tanks and 24 ten-barrel 132mm rocket launchers.

T-34 tanks near Odessa 1944

‘Tank rider’ infantry disembark from T-34-85s (armed with the longer 85mm gun) during the battle for Odessa in 1944.

By building up the Soviet armament industry from 1942 onwards in areas outside enemy access or the Luftwaffe, tanks were built in large quantities for the Red Army. In mid-1943 it again had about 8,000 tanks at the front and in 1945 at least 15,000.
Many of these tanks consisted of the newer types of the T-34 and KV tanks. Instead of distributing these tanks to infantry formations, they were divided into new, independent tank brigades.
With a strength of 1,300 men, this brigade was divided into three small battalions of 21 tanks with 140 men each.
In contrast to the old tank brigades of 1941, which had about 80 to 90 tanks with only few support units, these new tank brigades were strengthened with a 400-man infantry battalion – armed with sub-machine guns – and companies of anti-tank and anti-aircraft troops.

These brigades were grouped into tank corps, which was the Soviet counterpart to the German Panzer divisions and were deployed in the same way.
In 1943 there were 26 tank corps. Each corps consisted of three tank brigades, one motorized rifle brigade and support units. The corps had about 200 armoured vehicles, which almost corresponded to the 160 to 180 tanks of a German Panzer division. The only weak point of the corps was the lack of an own, sufficiently strong artillery support.

Russian soldiers, equipped with PPSh and box magazines

Russian soldiers, equipped with PPSh and unusual box magazines, are attacking from T-34 tanks during the summer offensive of 1944.

The other important motorized unit in the usual size of a strong division in other armies was the Mechanized Corps, which had a strength of almost 18,000 men and was thus the largest and strongest formation within the Red Army.
It consisted of three brigades of mechanized infantry and a separate tank brigade with support units of artillery on self-propelled guns.
The Mechanized Corps turned out to be a successful combination of motorized infantry, artillery and armoured vehicles. This success contrasted with the Western Allies, who had too many tanks and too few infantry and support units in their armoured divisions.

The Mechanized Infantry Brigade consisted of three battalions and one anti-tank battalion, plus companies armed with sub-machine guns and machine guns, as well as engineers and reconnaissance troops. But what gave the Mechanized Rifle Brigade a special clout was its battalion of 31 T-34 tanks – or sometimes even a regiment of 41 tanks.
Together with the tank brigade and the artillery self-propelled guns, this gave the Corps between 200 and 230 armoured vehicles.

assault guns SU-152

Russian heavy tank destroyers and assault guns SU-152 crossing a side arm of the river Donez at Orel salient. Nicknamed ‘Zvierboy’ (Animal Hunter) for their ability to deal with the new German Panther, Tiger and Ferdinand armoured vehicles.

The artillery self-propelled gun regiment was divided into four companies, each equipped with five SU-76 or SU-85. In the ‘heavy’ regiments these were five ISU-100, ISU-122 or ISU-152 self-propelled guns.
Although the Soviet artillery self-propelled guns were no match for enemies battle tanks, they were effective weapons that could be built quickly, cheaply and easily, making them popular vehicles with both the Soviet and German High Commands.

Just like the Tank Corps, the Mechanized Corps received better equipment and personnel than the usual rifle divisions and became a kind of elite formation within the Red Army, comparable to the Panzer divisions of the Wehrmacht.
The Mechanized Corps was particularly distinguished in achieving and exploiting breakthroughs through the German front, as it was sufficiently mobile to quickly overcome greater distances, had the necessary firepower to break through defensive positions, and had enough infantry to hold a salient or bridgehead against enemy counter-attacks.

Red cavalry has reached the lower Dnieper

Red cavalry has reached the lower Dnieper and rider and horse drink water from the big river.

Beside the tank and mechanized corps there were still the cavalry divisions. Due to the cavalry tradition of the civil war these units had a great reputation.
During autumn and spring meltwater and heavy rainfall transformed the roads in Russia into a morass impassable for motor vehicles. At this time the cavalry was practically the only mobile troop. They were mobile infantry, reconnaissance troops, mobile reserve and carried out patrols far behind enemy lines.
During Soviet offensives in the winter of 1942-43, the Red Army cavalrymen lived on unstrawed grain and horse meat while the horses ate the straw from the hut roofs. The German troops were repeatedly surprised by the ability of these Soviet soldiers to live virtually completely unsupplied from the land alone.

After the German attack, the Cossack formations, which had been viewed as ambivalent in the Soviet Union, were re-established and even in 1945 there were still 34 cavalry divisions in the Red Army. It was not until the mid-1950s that the last cavalry units in the Soviet Union were disbanded.


Important Red Army units in 1943-45 (I)
Rifle division (1943-45) Cavalry division (1943) Tank Corps (1944)
Total units between 504 (May 1943) and 527 (May 1945) 34 (1945) 26 (1943)
Infantry regiments 3 with 2,500 men each - 1 brigade motorised infantry with 3 battalions, each 650 men
Total men 9,619 4,600 10,980
Machine guns 647 (674 guards) 230 517
Sub-machine guns 1,305 (1,638 guards) ? ?
Anti-tank rifles 212 (275 guards) 112 207
Mortars 160 (56 x 50mm, 83 x 82mm, 21 x 120mm) 48 (36 x 82mm, 12 x 120mm) 94 (52 x 82mm, 42 x 120mm)
Howitzers and Field guns 44 (32 x 76mm, 12 x 122mm) 24 (76mm) 50 (21 x SU-85, 21 X SU-152, 8 Katyusha rocket-launchers)
Anti-tank guns 50 (45mm) 18 (12 x 45mm, 6 x 37mm) 82 (46 x 45mm, 36 x 76mm)
Anti-aircraft guns - - ?
Tanks - 208 (T-34)
Armoured cars c.9 (BA-64)
Motor vehicles 180 100 1,610
Horse drawn vehicles 640 404
Important Red Army units in 1943-45 (II)
Mechanized Corps (1944) Artillery division (1944) Rocket-launcher Brigade
Total units 17 (1945) 94 (late 1944) c.57 (1945)
Infantry regiments 3 brigades motorised infantry each with three battalions, each 650 men auxiliary infantry
Total men 15,020 9,700 2,400
Machine guns 895 168
Anti-tank rifles 375 288
Mortars 142 (100 x 82mm, 42 x 120mm) 108 (120mm)
Howitzers and Field guns 46 (17 x SU-85, 21 x SU-152, 8 Katyusha rocket-launchers) 180 (72 x 76mm, 60 x 122mm, 48 x 152mm) 72 (Katyusha 132mm rocket-launchers)
Anti-tank guns 68 (52 x 45mm, 16 x 76mm) - 18 (37mm)
Anti-aircraft guns ? - -
Tanks 197 (21 x T-70, 176 x T-34)
Arnoured cars c.11 (8 x BM-13, 3 x BA-64)
Motor vehicles 2,120 1,530 ?
Horse drawn vehicles ?
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