Soviet Operational Logistics, 1939-1990
Graham H. Turbiville, Jr.
The disintegration of the Soviet armed forces is continuing well after the official demise of the Soviet State at the end of 1991. Military manpower and materiel of the former Soviet Union has been divided or claimed by USSR successor states, with the largest share of these resources now incorporated into the Armed Forces of the Russian Republic. Russian military forces themselves sit in shrinking, isolated garrisons in what is now termed the “near abroad” beyond Russia’s borders, on the territory of a now united Germany, or in installations spread across Russia. One consequence of this enormous and continuing military turmoil has been the shattering of a centralized logistic support system designed to sustain joint and combined operations of unprecedented size and scope, which also is integrated with the military and civilian resources of the former Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact allies. Nevertheless, Soviet concepts for the conduct of combined operations - logistics theory, organizational structure, and resources integral to their support - remain instructive for military planners and historians alike and deserve the closest study and evaluation.
The development of Soviet military art and operational logistics - that complex of rear service roles, missions, procedures, and resources intended to sustain military operations by army and front groupings - clearly occupied a prominent place within overall Soviet efforts to formulate or adapt warfighting approaches to new conditions.1 As Soviet military theorists and planners have long emphasized, logistic theory and practice are shaped by the same historical and technological developments that influence Soviet warfighting approaches at every level. In turn, they play a major role in defining directions and parameters for Soviet warfighting approaches.
Soviet military writings point also to the need for logistic theory and practice that are wholly consistent with other components of strategy, operational art, and tactics. Despite the many changes in the political, economic, and military environment and the quickening pace of technological change, Soviet military theorists and planners continue to emphasize the importance of applying pertinent historical precedent to contemporary military problems. This process is evident now in the area of logistic
support, where formulating or adapting logistic support concepts for fundamentally different circumstances is a particularly complex task.2
This chapter will address the development of logistic concepts and resources integral to sustaining large-scale combined-arms operations as the Soviets have conceived them over the last five decades from 1939. It will also consider what Soviet specialists see as rear service developments that will shape logistic support in the 1990s.
Prewar Preparation, Wartime Reorganization, and the
When German forces began their rapid advance into the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 - the beginning of the Soviet-termed Great Patriotic War - the logistic support system of the Red Army and Navy was in virtually every respect unprepared for the demands that were to be placed upon it. Rear service responsibilities were largely decentralized; analogous rear service control and management entities often absent from key tactical, operational, and central command levels; existing rear service directorates understaffed; and logistic resources of all types badly deployed for dealing with the “difficult” support situations faced by Soviet military forces. Indeed, the whole concept of providing logistic support to armies and fronts - operational logistic support - proved badly flawed from both organizational and resource standpoints.
Prewar logistic planners anticipated these systemic and resource problems, though senior Soviet commanders (severely attrited by the 1930s purges) gave logistic matters only secondary attention. Thus, when a 47-year-old corps commissar named A. V. Khrulev was appointed supply chief of the Red Army in October 1939, he found himself in a job that was ill defined and possessed little real authority over those many agencies charged with logistic support.3 Khrulev, a decorated veteran of S. M. Budennyî’s First Cavalry Army in the civil war, set out with his staff to reconstruct a rear service establishment that even in peacetime seemed clearly unsuited to support large-scale combined-arms operations.
Almost from the beginning of his tenure, however, he became immersed in the numerous problems engendered by the 1939–1940 Winter War with Finland. Transportation and logistic management problems were particularly acute in the Winter War. Even from the earliest days, railway cars supplying front forces were backed up on a number of lines because of inadequate tracking and poor planning. An attempt to alleviate this problem by also supplying the Northwest Front by sea from Arkhangelsk through Murmansk instead created chaotic conditions at the Arkhangelsk port. Every Red Army branch of service (artillery, engineer, signal, etc.) operated on its own schedule with no overall coordination.
Information sent from operational levels to central logistic planning bodies was irregular and sometimes inaccurate.4
As a consequence of these problems, and the inability of the logistic establishment to deal with them, Khrulev pushed for the creation of a central “Quartermaster Directorate” with expanded capabilities, a request met by People’s Commissar of Defense Marshal K. E. Voroshilov, in the summer of 1940. Khrulev (now a lieutenant general) was given increased authority and staff support. While this constituted a measure of progress at the central level, it was far from the sweeping restructuring envisioned as necessary at all levels by senior logisticians.
As Khrulev continued to push for greater control over rear services in the months preceding the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II, there was considerable discussion and disagreement within the Soviet military establishment over the subordination of rear service bodies and responsibilities for planning logistic support at every level. These disagreements became particularly acute with the assignment of Army General G. I. Zhukov to be chief of the Soviet General Staff in January 1941.
General Zhukov “supported those on the general staff who believed that a general outline sufficed as a basis for directing the supply of the army in the field.”5 Under this approach:
In short, Zhukov wanted the general staff to retain direct control of key rear service entities.
By the start of the war, in accord with Zhukov’s wishes, logistic responsibilities were divided among the several principals. As the recently retired chief of staff of the Soviet Armed Forces Rear Services, Col. Gen. I. M. Golushko, noted in a considerable understatement forty years later, “a definite separateness could be observed in the organization and, consequently, in the actions of the directorates and services related to the rear support sphere.”7 At the tactical and operational levels, the control of logistic planning within fronts, armies, and divisions rested principally with the commanders and combat staffs, not specialized rear service planning bodies. This allowed only the most superficial attention to be given to rear service support because of the other combat demands placed on the commanders and staffs.8
In addition to the organizational problems and resulting difficulties in the operation of the rear service system, those logistic resources intended to support Soviet operational formations in the initial period of war were badly deployed. Basically, there were depots for all classes
of supply (weapons and equipment, ammunition, POL [petroleum, oil, and lubricants], repair parts, food, etc.) subordinate to the various central directorates of the Commissariat of Defense, and to military districts. These stockpiles were intended for the mobilizational deployment of operational formations. However, in addition to the lack of centralized rear service management (and likely because of it), there were dangerous anomalies in what supplies were found at which levels. For example, the General Staff ’s POL reserves were virtually all located at military district level or in facilities of the national economy, with almost no stocks under direct central control.9 Thus, the general staff was limited in how quickly it could influence the POL supply of field formations.
On the other hand, ammunition stockpiles, which were the responsibility of the Main Artillery Directorate’s (GAU) Artillery Supply Service at each level, were located in GAU central, military district, and field army depots. In wartime central depots were expected to supply forward army ammunition dumps directly, while army depots in turn would supply lower echelons.10 No provision was made for a front link, though fronts would be expected to plan for the expenditure and resupply of ammunition while army entities carried out the actual resupply operations.11 The problems and confusion resulting from this kind of arrangement were not difficult for Khrulev and his staff to imagine and indeed became quickly manifest once the war began.
It is clear that the rear service support establishment existing at the time of the German attack would have had substantial problems meeting large-scale support requirements even with adequate preparation time and favorable circumstances at the beginning of war. The German attack, however, totally disrupted prewar plans for rear service mobilization and support. Huge quantities of supplies were overrun or destroyed by German forces in the first days of the conflict. Those supplies surviving or located further in the interior were often “in the hands of various services that were not subordinated to combined-arms headquarters” and thus were not made available to combat units.12 Rear service elements had to simultaneously provide retreating units with supplies, undertake the mobilization deployment of rear service units, and evacuate supplies.13 In addition, because of the concurrent requirements to sustain Soviet units and operational formations in combat and evacuate over 1,300 industrial enterprises as well as agricultural and other resources, “two gigantic train flows were moving in opposite directions with incredible difficulty under constant air attack by the enemy.”14
It is not surprising, in light of the above, that the Soviet logistic support system failed in most respects to meet the enormous demands so suddenly placed upon it. By early July 1941, by Soviet assessment, Zhukov and the General Staff were so immersed in operational matters that they had neither a conception of the logistic situation at the fronts,
nor knew what the forces required in terms of logistic support. No requirements had, in fact, even been leveled on Khrulev and his staff. On 27 July a thoroughly frustrated Khrulev prepared a written proposal for a centralized rear service establishment designed to impose a measure of order on this rapidly unraveling rear support situation.15 The proposal was passed to the Supreme Commander, I. V. Stalin, who approved Khrulev’s recommendations and immediately ordered that a draft State Defense Committee (SDC) decision on the Red Army rear service organization be prepared.16
Working with his staff, Khrulev quickly drew up the SDC draft decree and presented it to Stalin in the predawn hours of 28 July.17 Over Zhukov’s objections, the decree was approved - a move that was to establish by 1 August the essential organizations and responsibilities of the Soviet Armed Forces Rear Services as they continued to exist through the 1980s.18 It also institutionalized what appears to be a degree of creative tension between the national-level rear services and the General Staff.19
Under the rear service reorganization approved by Stalin, Khrulev was named Chief of the Red Army Rear and a Deputy Commissar (later Minister) of Defense for Rear Services. A Main Directorate for the Rear (consisting of a Main Staff, Military Railroad Directorate, Highway Directorate, and Inspectorate) was established, with Main Quartermaster, Fuel Supply, Ambulance (Medical), and Veterinary Directorates also assigned to Khrulev’s direct control.20 The Staff of the Main Directorate of the Rear had sections designated to deal with rear service planning for operational formations, planning rail and motor transport shipments, organizing logistic entities and facilities; and handling general issues.21 Thus, Khrulev had control of vast logistic resources in the form of transport, supply stockpiles, and key services, as well as being able to speak with the authority of a Deputy Commissar of Defense. Only technical support - repair, maintenance, the supply of technical equipment including ammunition, and major end items - remained under the control of main and central technical directorates (e.g., GAU) and of the various branch services (artillery, armor, engineer, signal, etc.).22 These rear service organizations and resources were in total referred to as “central” or “strategic” rear services - assets the Supreme High Command (Verkhovnoe Glavnokomandovanie [VGK]) used to influence the course of strategic operations. As the war progressed, this level of rear service support became critical to the direct logistic support of operational formations and, as a consequence, integral to Soviet operational logistics.
Within the operational logistic system itself, “chiefs of the rear,” who were simultaneously deputy commanders for rear services, were set up in the fronts and armies. These officers and their staffs had duties analogous to those of Khrulev and his central apparatus. They were directly and immediately subordinate to the commander of the given operational
formation, and subordinate “in a special sense” to the chief of the rear at the next higher level.23 They were responsible for planning and controlling designated rear service activities of the fronts and armies, while the commanders and other staff officers concerned themselves with force planning and employment issues.
Stalin himself emphasized that supplying armies and fronts required an “iron discipline” and that the new deputy commanders for rear services “must be dictators in the rear zone” of their fronts.24 The rear service chiefs at all levels exercised a coordinating role even in regard to those technical support entities that were not directly subordinate to them. They accomplished this through their control of transportation - a role that grew as the war progressed - and were thus the center for all rear service planning from strategic to tactical levels.25 On 19 August a Chief of Rear Services of the Soviet Army Air Forces was established.26 This officer and his staff (replicated at lower levels) handled all aviation-specific supply items for flying and ground support units in the air armies of the fronts or other air units, while coordinating with the Red Army Chief of Rear Services and staff for all other supply items.27 Since the Main Administration of the Air Force was a component of the Red Army, the Air Force Chief of Rear Services was subordinate in a “special sense” to Khrulev.
By mid-August 1941, then, with a basic rear support structure in place, Khrulev and his subordinates undertook the staggering task of imposing order on a logistic situation that was failing at every level. He was, more specifically, charged with
Each of these functions encompassed numerous and complex components that had to be thoroughly planned and coordinated in accord with developing combat operations.
In performing these myriad tasks, a workable delineation of responsibility was developed between the central rear service bodies and the general staff, and between front and army commanders and their new rear service deputies. The general staff ’s Main Operations Directorate (and in an analogous way the front and army operations department staffs) would communicate to the rear services general, initial data on forthcoming combat operations and possible requirements. On this basis, rear service staffs worked out detailed logistic support plans for the operation.29
Each of the three periods of the Great Patriotic War and the 1945 Manchurian operation against Japanese forces, as analyzed by the Sovi-
ets, featured critical developments in sustaining all levels of Soviet and coalition armed forces.30 While it is not within the scope of this chapter to address these developments in any detail, features associated with each period are key to understanding Soviet rear service support concepts and operational logistics in particular as they developed in the post–World War II years.
In providing rear service support in the first period of the war - a period characterized by largely retreating Soviet forces conducting a strategic defense in a rapidly changing operational environment - great emphasis was placed on reducing the cumbersome organization of operational rear services and on creating strategic logistic reserves.31 The permanent depots and repair centers that initially had been providing support to operational formations were replaced by field depots, the structure of transport support was improved, and the formation of consolidated army logistic bases stocking key supply items begun.32 The number of units and facilities as well as the proliferation of specialized rear staff officers and sections created haphazardly in the early days of the war were reduced.33
Motor transport at all levels was increased to the extent possible, though this was in critically short supply. As a consequence, extensive use was made of animal-drawn transport at all levels, as well as motor transport columns under VGK (central rear service) control.34 The new trend of using air transport for supplying operational formations gained momentum as the war progressed. Transport aircraft employed in such a role were also principally assets of the VGK.35 Enormous experience was gained in managing military rail shipments and in building and restoring rail lines. To facilitate this, in March 1942 Khrulev became the People’s Commissar of Railroads in addition to his other posts.36
Other significant developments during the first period of war included the extensive use of rear service operations groups. Under this practice, central rear service staffs, including sometimes Khrulev himself, were dispatched to the fronts to coordinate logistic activities and deal with special problems.37 This approach proved useful throughout the war, especially in supporting strategic offensive operations later in the conflict, as well as in formulating approaches for theater-level or strategic rear service control and management four decades later. In March 1942 the Soviets established the Trophy Service, which had organizations subordinated to rear service chiefs at central, front, and army levels to collect, classify, and evacuate captured German war materiel.38 The large quantities of materiel they recovered played an important role in offsetting the severe shortages of Soviet weapons and transport stocks at that time. In May 1942 the Soviets introduced rear service deputy commanders or chiefs of the rear at division and corps levels and established a Navy Chief of Rear Services.39
Simultaneously with supporting forces participating in the strategic defensive efforts of 1941 and 1942 the VGK began to build substantial strategic reserves of all types, including rear service reserves. The logistic components of these reserves comprised transport resources of all kinds, weapons systems and equipment, ammunition and POL stockpiles, and other resources. These assets, managed by central rear service organizations, could be employed only at the discretion of the VGK, and were intended to replace losses, create new units, and decisively influence the support of operational formations in key sectors.40 The employment of such strategic rear service reserves was to be critical for the support of subsequent Soviet counteroffensives and strategic offensive operations throughout the war, and the experience gained in their employment has clearly been incorporated into Soviet theater logistic support planning in the 1970s and 1980s.41
Overall, then, by the end of the first period of the war a basic rear service support system had been established that with considerable difficulty had imposed a measure of order on what had been a chaotic rear area situation. The system was sustaining strategic defensive operations across a broad front and, in accord with strictly followed VGK directives, central rear service organs were building a strategic logistic base for the conduct of far more ambitious operations.42
The second period of the war, as the Soviets assess it, was a fundamental turning point “not only in the course of the Great Patriotic War and the strategic situation, but also in the work of all levels of the Soviet Army’s rear.”43 New problems for the Soviet rear services surfaced during the November 1942 counteroffensive by the Southwestern, Don, and Stalingrad Fronts, as well as from the battles for the Caucasus in 1942– 1943, the summer 1943 Battle of Kursk, and the subsequent battle for the Dnieper.44 These centered principally on supplying huge combined-arms groupings, often poorly equipped in terms of combat and support equipment, that now were advancing over sweeping frontages and territory on which lines of communication had been largely destroyed. As in the first period of the war, the strategic rear services played a major role in this effort, amassing enormous quantities of materiel prior to the counteroffensives/offensives and directly supplying operational formations during their course. Golushko, for example, in noting that “the influence of the agencies of the strategic rear on the organization of rear support for the fronts increased with the increase in the scale of military actions” went on to indicate that “a number of central bases were prepositioned in the Transcaucasus republics when the battle for the Caucasus unfolded almost simultaneously with the enormous battle between the Volga and the Don.”45 In preparing for the Stalingrad offensive, the central rear services deployed supply bases forward to support the Stalingrad, Southern, and Briansk Fronts and managed other rear
service preparation efforts.46 In this way, the increasingly mobile central rear services acquired a role, which had not been envisioned earlier, in directly supporting operational groupings.
Great effort was given in the Stalingrad counteroffensives (in the Caucasus as well) to building and restoring roads and railways, with Khrulev requesting and receiving support from two VGK air transport divisions to help reduce transportation shortfalls.47 The role of special line of communications troops - Highway and Railway Troops, as well as other special bridge-building and engineer elements - thus grew in importance as an organic component of operational rear services and one critical to the successful supply and support of advancing formations. The application of experience gained in transportation-route construction, maintenance, and management was clearly evident in the buildup for the Kursk Battle.48
To better manage the central rear service resources that were playing such increasingly important front support roles in the switch to offensive operations, Khrulev established in the Azerbaidzhan SSR in 1942 a “supply base for the center” to improve the control of rear service resources. This effort included the dispatch of military materiel received from the defense industry and the shipment of supplies through ports on the Caspian Sea.49 In a subsequent effort to bring central materiel resources closer to the fronts engaging in offensive operations, central depots, for the first time in the war, were moved west of Moscow and the Volga in the spring of 1943.50 The forward deployment of central rear services would continue throughout the war. Technical support at the central and front levels was improved as well, with central- and front-subordinated assembly and distribution points for damaged combat and support equipment established.51
In operational formations, the Soviets encountered considerable difficulties in keeping combat units of the fronts and armies supplied with materiel. As a consequence of State Defense Committee findings, it was directed in June 1943 that in the future, higher rear service levels would be generally responsible for supplying and otherwise supporting lower levels, rather than the motor transport of units and formations being sent back to higher echelons to pick up supplies or deliver damaged equipment.52 This “delivery forward” principle continues as a primary tenet of the Russian logistic system today. In addition, the depths of unit and formation rear areas were greatly reduced, a trend that by the end of the war had cut rear area depths in half. This substantially reduced, of course, the distances required for supplying units and for evacuating casualties and equipment to rear bases.
Finally, the successful evacuation and restoration of Soviet defense industrial facilities began to play a major role in the supply of Soviet military forces in the second period of the war.53 Industrial output - together with
other sources of equipment, including Lend-Lease shipments - contributed also to the rapid reequipping and reorganization of the USSR’s armed forces. It made possible the buildup of strategic reserves that enabled the successful switch “from strategic defense, to counteroffensive, and then to strategic offensive operations of tremendous scope.”54
The third period of the war saw the Soviet armed forces engaged in three major campaigns that could each be fairly characterized as of “tremendous scope.” Supporting the strategic offensives conducted within the course of these campaigns presented all levels of the Soviet rear services with enormous problems and necessitated the development of new support concepts. As the winter campaign developed, for example, rear services fell far behind the advancing fronts, and armies engaged in the offensive had to rely heavily on local procurement, assets provided by the Trophy Service, and repaired equipment to sustain themselves.55 Shortages of motor transport, disrupted rail and road lines of communication, and early spring thaws compounded the problems.56 Overcoming these difficulties involved a range of field expedients, including a renewed reliance on animal transport, the hand delivery of ammunition and other supplies by rear service personnel on foot, and the increased use of transport aviation to deliver supplies, principally ammunition, to those forces most intensively engaged.57
Overall, despite the numerous tactical, operational, and strategic logistic support problems encountered, the winter 1944 campaign concluded successfully and rear service preparations for the subsequent summer/fall campaign began well before its completion. These rear service support plans were predicated on the concept of successive offensives on different axes. Joint planning involving the VGK, the chief of the rear, GAU, and other central rear agencies set out supply requirements that had to be fulfilled before and during the course of the operations. Rear service support was to meet both consumption needs as the operation unfolded and, of particular importance, establish operational and strategic reserves that would enable the fronts to undertake subsequent operations without significant pauses.58 This logistic planning approach remains key to contemporary theater rear service support concepts.
In supporting operations of the summer and fall of 1944 and the concluding 1945 campaign in eastern Europe, rear service units, reinforced with motor transport and making heavy use of rail, were brought much closer to the combat forces they would be sustaining:
The extensive maneuver and regrouping of units and formations between fronts and strategic directions during the 1944–1945 operations required the simultaneous maneuver of rear service units and resources. Making more effective use of all forms of transport coordinated by those strategic and operational transportation management bodies established earlier in the war, the massive Soviet transfers of units and materiel was carried out with increasing skill. Indeed, the successful regrouping, peregruppirovka, of Soviet forces during this period is the focus of close Russian attention today by planners seeking applicable lessons learned.
When Soviet forces entered Eastern Europe, the Soviet rear services were given the task of managing and exploiting foreign road and rail networks. As a consequence, eleven strategic rear service transloading bases were deployed at the junction of railroads having broad Soviet and narrower east European gauge lines, as well as at some seaports.60 These bases oversaw, prioritized, and otherwise facilitated the dispatch of military units and materiel to Soviet forces advancing into Eastern Europe. In addition, “procurement administrations” were established under the Red Army chief of the rear in Romania, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, while fronts began to be assigned railroad operating brigades (in addition to railroad construction brigades).61
At the same time, “depots of central subordination - artillery, food, fuel, clothing, and others with materiel reserves, and also repair medical, transport, airfield engineering, procurement, and other rear organs - had to be moved forward with the fronts.”62 This gave the Supreme High Command the means of directly influencing the success of strategic offensives logistically, by reinforcing the rear services of designated operational formations. In an effort that Soviet planners concerned with Warsaw Pact coalition support measures have given much careful postwar analysis, the “rear services also provided support to Polish, Czechoslovak, and other foreign military organizations formed on Soviet territory, and which battled shoulder-to-shoulder with the USSR Armed Forces against a common enemy.”63
As noted, a number of technical support services were not under the direct control of the chiefs of the rear at each level, but rather of representatives of organizations like GAU, the armored services, engineer services, etc. Despite this, as contemporary Soviet logisticians like I. M. Golushko emphasized, the joint planning of transportation, evacuation, rear defense, and common approaches to deployment and redeployment, all supervised and largely controlled by the chief of the rear, provided for a smooth, effective working relationship among the various components of the rear service system.64
A most important focus of Soviet rear service attention - particularly during the third period of the war and in Manchuria - was the logistic support of mobile groups. Mobile groups were established at army
and front levels, and most often comprised reinforced tank, mechanized, or cavalry corps at army level, or tank-mechanized-cavalry groupings of up to army size at front level.65 These mobile groupings were tasked to advance rapidly into the operational depths of the enemy, “cut up enemy groupings,” and otherwise facilitate his defeat - missions that required them to operate at great distances from the main forces and their rear service bases.66 A number of specialized supply and support procedures for the operational and exploitation groups were developed. These included the allocation of “slices” of the more mobile army, front, and central rear service assets to the mobile groups, and innovative approaches to provide for their continuing supply and technical support. As Soviet sources note, special rear service headquarters groups were sometimes organized to oversee mobile group support, which included motor transport, supply stocks, special troops (i.e., line of communications [LOC] construction and repair, combat engineer, etc.), medical support assets, and other rear service resources.67 The direct supply of mobile groups by transport aviation resources was also provided for when practical, and by the end of the war it was considered a standard component of support for deep operations forces.68 While transport aircraft were limited throughout the war, aviation’s potential for the rear service support of mobile formations made a profound impression on Soviet planners.
Protecting, defending, and securing operational and deep rear areas was a major Soviet concern throughout the war. In the third period, this emphasis was focused on securing the rear areas of advancing front forces as well as the increasingly long lines of communication running back to the Soviet Union. This task was principally assigned to the Border Guard and Internal Troop units of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, or the NKVD, which were most typically organized into security regiments, security battalions, and maneuver groups.
The number of security regiments or other NKVD units assigned to front rear areas varied widely with the perceived threat, though half a dozen or more security regiments per front was not unusual. Their actions were controlled by chief of rear security, usually a senior NKVD officer, by the front military council, and directly determined by the decisions of the deputy front commander for rear services in his formulation of the rear service plan.69 In addition to the units drawn from the NKVD, regular line maneuver units and logistic units - all of whose actions were coordinated with NKVD forces - were assigned rear area security duties.70 Overall, rear area security, carried out by both dedicated and temporarily assigned forces, was considered a rear service responsibility and remained so for the next 40 years.
The final Soviet strategic operation of World War II, the 1945 strategic offensive in Manchuria, required the redeployment of substantial
Soviet forces and supplies from Europe to the Soviet Far East. From December 1944 to August of the following year, some four armies, numerous other maneuver, aviation, and special troop units, and huge quantities of materiel were moved over distances of up to 11,000 kilometers, principally by rail. Postwar Russian planners continue to study all the dimensions of the redeployment associated with the Manchurian operation, which serves as a model considered particularly useful for the strategic movement of combined-arms forces.71
Planning by the Soviet Supreme High Command for the operation, which began on 9 August, called for the creation of three fronts to defeat the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria: the Transbaikal, First Far Eastern, and Second Far Eastern Fronts.72 Each of these, in accord with the organizational concepts developed during the Great Patriotic War, had rear service deputy commanders and staffs, as well as technical support and branch arms and services representatives, to direct and coordinate the overall rear service support of operational formations.
Of particular significance, however, was the establishment of a strategic rear service control body in the composition of a “High Command of Forces for the Far Eastern Theater of Military Action.” The Far East High Command, which was a deployed headquarters of the Supreme High Command, was set up because of the great distance of this theater from Moscow and the enormous area and scope of operations planned.73 The commander in chief of forces in the theater was Marshal of the Soviet Union A. M. Vasilevskiî, who with his staff and representatives controlled and coordinated assigned ground, air, air defense, and naval forces, including allocated reserves of the Soviet Supreme High Command (transport and strike aviation, artillery, engineer units, motor transport, etc.) and units of the Mongolian People’s Republic.74
Within Vasilevskiî’s High Command of Forces, a rear service operations group headed by Col. Gen. V. I. Vinogradov (a Deputy Chief of Red Army Rear Services) was established with the mission of organizing and managing overall rear service support for the 11 combined-arms, 1 tank, and 3 air defense armies, and other ground and air groupings. In addition, the rear service operations group coordinated the rear service activities of the Pacific Fleet and Amur River Flotilla.75 Vinogradov’s staff consisted of representatives from the Red Army’s central rear service directorates, including the Central Directorate of Military Communications (VOSO) and the Main Motor Transport, the Main Road Building and Maintenance, Main Fuel Supply, Food Supply, Clothing Supply, Main Medical, and Main Trophy Directorates.76
As noted, counterparts to these directorate representatives were present in assigned operational formations and tactical units, where they were the support to rear service deputy commanders. At every level of command, as before, rear service deputy commanders and staffs played key roles in coordinating the activities of technical services not under their direct control.
Despite maritime materiel deliveries to Far East ports, theater-level rear services were linked principally to the “center” by the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which had extremely limited feeder lines in the Far East. Therefore, supplies for some theater forces had to be moved by motor transport to front forces and concentration areas, in some cases a distance of hundreds of kilometers. In addition, the primitive road network, insufficient motor transport, and rapid advances by many maneuver units on the fronts made it difficult to relocate operational-level logistic bases so far forward.
Front supply depots of the Transbaikal Front, for example, did not relocate during the operation because of this combination of factors, with the increasing distance between bases and supported forces causing substantial logistic problems as the operation progressed.77 Fuel consumption in particular was extremely high. By the third day of the operation, elements of the front’s fast moving Sixth Guards Tank Army had to be resupplied with fuel by air transport.78 From 11–16 August the Sixth Guards Tank Army received as much fuel by air as it did by motor transport, with the Transbaikal Front overall receiving some 2,456 metric tons of fuel by air during the course of the operation.79
Certainly, the Soviets experienced problems in logistic support of Far East Theater forces in their successful twenty-four day campaign, many of which are enumerated in Soviet historical writings.80 Notable among these, in addition to the movement and fuel problems noted above, were providing water and cooking fuel, accomplishing road maintenance, ensuring adequate levels of rear service communications, providing for the timely evacuation of casualties, dealing with motor transport shortages, and other difficulties. Regarding the overall effectiveness of rear service support, however, Soviet military historians make the following judgment:
Despite this generally positive assessment, one major rear service shortcoming highlighted in retrospective assessments of the operation has considerable implications for the contemporary support of theater operations on a strategic scale. That is, while emphasizing the importance of having the Rear Service Directorate in the headquarters of the Far Eastern High Command of Forces, the absence of logistic resources directly under its control was a major drawback to its effective operation.82
Since such reserves - reserves of the center - had been established and employed as a matter of course by the central rear services and VGK in strategic offensive and defensive operations against the Germans, their absence in the Far East was most likely a consequence of resource constraints in this remote theater of military action. In any event, the lack of such resources in the Manchurian campaign reinforced Soviet perceptions regarding the absolute necessity for such strategic logistic reserves to directly support operational formations in a theater of strategic military action.
The Soviet rear services ended World War II with a vastly different structure, governed by far more complex and sophisticated support concepts than had existed in the prewar years. It was geared to support combined-arms operations of sweeping scope, with a rear service management structure centralized at the national level and replicated at the operational and tactical levels. Thus, as a former chief of rear services of the Soviet armed forces pointed out, in July and August 1944 the rear services were “capable of simultaneously and completely supporting the participants in the strategic advance of ten of the eleven fronts which were available at that time.”83 Clear, workable delineations were made between operational and rear service planning and control, which at the same time provided for their integration at all levels. The responsibility of higher echelons to support lower echelons in accord with a center-to-front to army-to-tactical-unit scheme was confirmed, as was the requirement to establish logistic reserves at each level. These would not only support one planned operation, but they would permit formations to undertake subsequent operations without substantial pauses to resupply and regroup. To accomplish this, echeloned systems of relocatable logistic bases at the central and operational levels were created to support combat units and groupings. Echelonment of transport, repair, medical, and other assets was also specified and improved throughout the war.
The coordinated use of all forms of transport under the centralized control of rear service military transportation staffs was developed, with the use of motor transport and aviation becoming increasingly important as the war progressed. Considerable progress was made in employing both motor transport and aviation to resupply mobile groups, with innovative approaches that remain instructive for contemporary rear service planners. Special line of communications troops - railroad, highway, and engineer in particular - played a growing role in building, restoring, and maintaining routes critical to the movement and support of troops.
A development of key importance during the war was the evolution in the role of central rear services from a relatively passive storage and distribution network to that of directly sustaining operational formations engaged in strategic offensive and defensive operations. In the prewar years, planners envisioned that central rear services, fragmented and uncoordinated as they were, would serve principally as a conduit to re-
ceive materiel from the national economy and deliver it to the fronts and fleets.84 However, the experience of the war from its earliest days caused the role of the central rear services to broaden substantially.85
As Russian assessments stress, the role and significance of central rear services increased, especially “during strategic offensive operations on foreign territory, when the rear service efforts of operational formations had to be augmented in the theater of strategic military action.” A broad spectrum of logistic units, facilities, and materiel under central rear service subordination was moved forward with the fronts and directly supported these formations during strategic offensives, including the utilization of transport, military, and economic resources on foreign territory.86
At the end of the war, then, the USSR had established a large and complex logistic system from strategic to tactical levels that despite its shortcomings and limited resource base had successfully sustained the Soviet armed forces through four years of war. This logistical system was critical to sustaining operational maneuver. As with the Soviet armed forces overall, however, Soviet rear service planners and theorists were soon faced with new kinds of military problems generated by rapidly changing weapons technology and future battlefields that promised to be far more demanding for the conduct of combined-arms operations.
Operational Logistics after World War II
The wartime experience addressed above became the focus of study in the immediate postwar years, with Soviet rear service personnel who had distinguished themselves in the war selected for study or teaching at advanced military schools and academies.87 The logistic lessons learned from the Great Patriotic War and the Manchurian Campaign began to be generalized and incorporated into rear service support concepts and planning, with relatively modest transport and equipment modernization programs simultaneously instituted. By 1950 the last animal-drawn logistic transport means were removed from rear service units and replaced by medium cargo trucks.88 Nevertheless, motor transport was in limited supply for some years, with Lend- Lease Studebaker trucks provided by the U.S. continuing to be found in Soviet motor transport units into the 1960s.
Clearly, much of the attention of rear service personnel and organizations in the years immediately after the war was directed at the enormous problems of demobilization, force restructuring and modernization, and assistance in rebuilding the national economy that had been devastated by four years of war.89 But at the rear service schools and academies, attention to important theoretical questions of rear service support was much in evidence, including issues that were to play such an important role in later “new” Soviet operational concepts, including such issues as the support of “operational maneuver groups” and other deep operations forces of various types.90
The generalization of war experience, study of theoretical questions of rear service support, and continuing transport and equipment modernization efforts were supplemented by the more direct involvement of the Soviet rear services in supporting combat operations. That is, the Soviet logistic establishment played a large role in providing weapons, equipment, and supplies to the Korean and Chinese armed forces from 1950 to 1953.91 By 1954, however, the rear services, like the rest of the armed forces, began to address the impact of new weapons, equipment, and troop control means on military operations, including the complex issues associated with operations under nuclear conditions. These developments, which began to fundamentally shape the structure and operational concepts of the Soviet armed forces in the 1950s and beyond, collectively became known as the “revolution in military affairs.”
With the overall direction of the Chief of Rear Services, Col. Gen. V. I. Vinogradov, the focus of “experimental research” on emerging rear service support problems became the newly reestablished and expanded Rear Staff of the Ministry of Defense (whose 1953 incarnation, unlike earlier versions, centralized rear control for all of the services) and the Military Academy of Rear and Supply.92 Vinogradov had headed the Rear Service Directorate within the Far East High Command of Forces during the Manchurian campaign. He presided over a period of substantial change within the rear services and faced considerable pressure to undertake organizational changes that in the view of rear service planners would be poorly conceived. For example, it was decided about 1957 to abolish the post of deputy commander for rear services within troop units, making the position simply that of chief. That greatly undermined the authority of these officers, who no longer spoke in the name of the commander but only as staff specialists controlling only limited rear service resources. In addition, because of the reduced size of the armed forces, it was proposed that operational-level rear services be abolished.93 Such decisions and proposals seemed to fly in the face of the rear service theory and practice ratified during four years of war.
The clear and still-vivid war experiences mustered in support of rear service arguments and positions during this period were generally successful in shaping logistic force structure and control decisions. A major rear service conference held in 1958 to resolve many of these issues resulted in the reestablishment of the rear service deputy commander position, and a reaffirmation of other structural and organizational aspects of rear service support developed or improved during the war. Following the conference, the practice of appointing line officers to rear service positions became more widespread, including appointing combined-arms commanders to the position of Deputy Minister of Defense/Armed Forces Chief of the Rear. Marshal I. Kh. Bagramian, a World War II army and front com-
mander among other duties, was named Chief of the Rear, with all of his successors to date coming from major field/military district commands.94 This practice was intended to further the integration of logistic support personnel, organizations, and resources within combined arms units and formations.
While the questions of rear service support under conditions of nuclear weapons employment had begun to be addressed during the 1950s, it was only at the start of the 1960s that nuclear warfighting variants became for a time the principal focus for the Soviet armed forces. Under the apocalyptic view of future war prominent in the early to mid-1960s, it seemed to some Soviet military theorists and planners that traditional methods of rear service support in part had lost their relevance. In their view, a nuclear war of short duration would reduce the requirement for the kinds of sustained logistic support associated with multifront strategic offensives of the last war. Logistic support for fast-moving maneuver forces would have to be far more mobile, and the measured buildup and movement of logistic forces and means would be both dangerous and problematic. Ammunition requirements would be reduced in any case, since nuclear strikes would create large gaps in enemy defenses formerly created by conventional artillery. The reconstitution of weakened maneuver units and formations would neither be possible nor desirable, since warfighting contingencies were based on a ten- to fourteen-day race to the Channel coast and entire divisions would replace those that had lost their combat effectiveness.95 Such judgments sparked intense debate within the Soviet General Staff.96
By the mid-1960s the process of debate and discussion - centered on reconciling traditional approaches to sustaining operations with new requirements - had already modified some of the most extreme views of Soviet theorists predicated on war variants seen as nuclear from the onset of initial operations. Nevertheless, rear services during this period had been tailored to support a fast-moving war of relatively short duration, one almost certainly to be fought with the widespread employment of nuclear weapons throughout the depths of theaters and the USSR itself and with support concepts tailored in accord with such variants.
By 1965, with an emerging Soviet assessment that future general wars would have at least conventional phases, however, rear service planners began to reexamine more intensively just what would be required to support large combined-arms forces under both nuclear and nonnuclear conditions. In preparing a logistic support structure for nuclear war, they renewed their attention to the increasingly complex problems of conventional rear service support. Thus, by 1966 the current rear service chief of staff, Lt. Gen. M. Novikov, felt compelled to assert that “at present we have a logistical arm capable of ensuring mobile operations by the troops in any situation, with or without nuclear weapons involved.”97 Regard-
less of how Western analysts would assess the accuracy of Novikov’s assertion about Soviet logistic capabilities at that time, it clearly pointed to a changing perception of future battlefield requirements by Soviet rear service planners.
Despite changing technologies and new requirements for Soviet logisticians to consider, there were five imperatives throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that continued to shape rear service force structure and concepts. These included: (1) the need for greater rear service mobility; (2) the requirement to consolidate and centralize diverse rear service assets into more manageable, responsive units and groupings; (3) the need to establish increasingly more powerful logistic resources from lower to higher levels; (4) the requirement to create rear service control and management bodies that matched those of maneuver units in effectiveness; and (5) the need to develop measures to ensure the survivability of rear service units and resources in the face of increasing threats to rear areas from a variety of strike systems and forces.98 Despite more than two decades of postwar rear service force modernization efforts and structural improvements introduced in response to these imperatives, the gap growing between rear service capabilities and the requirements generated by far more complex and demanding contingencies became apparent by the 1970s. As a consequence, these imperatives gained, as a Soviet planner might note, “new content” and by the end of the decade generated the largest rear service force restructuring of the postwar years.
Sustaining Theater Strategic Operations
It is clear from a variety of Soviet military writings, both open sources and openly available classified assessments, that by the early 1970s Soviet planners were postulating the conduct of multifront strategic operations without the employment of nuclear weapons. The prospect of conventional operations of increasing duration, as well as the concurrent formulation of concepts for strategic offensives designed to achieve theater goals with the use of conventional weapons only, dictated the implementation of sweeping logistic preparations and rear service force restructuring. Despite a number of at-the-time ambiguous indications throughout the 1970s, however, it was not until some ten years later that Soviet open sources began to speak more candidly about “theater strategic operations” and associated logistic support requirements.
Marshal of the Soviet Union N. V. Ogarkov announced in the summer of 1981 that the basic form of operation in a future war would be the “theater strategic operation,” which highlighted for Western analysts that a fundamental change in Soviet planning for theater war had taken place.99 The former chief of the Soviet General Staff, later commander in chief of the High Command of Forces in the Western The-
ater of Strategic Military Action (TSMA), went on to note that “in the implementation of complex modern operations,” the nation’s logistic support system “must make good in a shorter space of time the loss of a huge quantity of combat equipment and weapons, without which it is virtually impossible to maintain the armed forces’ combat capability at the necessary level.”100
In fact, the developments that Ogarkov publicly articulated in 1981 had not sprung full-blown in the 1980s. Rather, Soviet concepts for strategic combined-arms operations in continental TSMAs had been integral to Soviet planning for at least a decade and a half. Thus, by the early 1970s Soviet military educational institutions like the Voroshilov General Staff Academy were instructing Soviet officers in the conduct of all components of theater strategic operations, including rear service support.101 As Soviet planners envisioned it, a theater strategic operation would comprise a number of major components, coordinated and integrated with each other and carried out in accord with a common plan and concept to achieve defined military-political aims of strategic significance. The Soviet goal was to achieve these aims with the use of conventional weapons only, by rapidly attriting enemy nuclear delivery means and associated control and support facilities, quickly achieving an intermingling of friendly and enemy forces, and so rapidly penetrating opposing defenses that nuclear employment was no longer a useful enemy option. Nevertheless, the constant threat of nuclear use by the enemy would shape the conduct of operations by all force groupings and require contingency nuclear fire planning and readiness for nuclear operations on the part of Soviet commanders and staffs at all levels. Control and planning for theater strategic operations would be exercised by high commands of forces in the TSMAs or, in some cases, directly by the Supreme High Command.102
One of the major tasks to which Soviet logistic planners addressed themselves in the early l970s was the accelerated development of a logistic infrastructure better able to sustain such sweeping conventional operations. Many of these rear service preparations are associated with that component of strategy Soviet planners term strategic deployment and more specifically the discipline within strategic deployment, “preparing the theater of strategic military action.” Theater preparation encompasses a broad spectrum of engineer, signal, line of communication, and other preparations for conducting large-scale combined-arms operations. The logistic aspects of these preparations consisted of major programs designed to establish logistic reserves of all types of supplies throughout theater areas, with particular emphasis put on pre-positioning in Eastern Europe ammunition and POL stockpiles capable of supporting many weeks of operations.103
The Soviets expected that establishing a theater logistic support
structure is among the most complex and time-consuming elements of preparing for the conduct of theater strategic operations, a process that to the extent possible must be accomplished in peacetime. As a consequence, transportation systems and facilities with military application, both in Eastern Europe and the USSR, were improved, and stocks of construction materiel for the repair and restoration of war-damaged rail lines, roads, and bridges were established. Special troop units, notably railroad, highway, and pipeline troops intended for the construction, repair, management, and operation of transportation systems, were expanded and modernized. Among the many tasks assigned to railroad troops, for example, would be restoring the rail transloading zones along Soviet western borders, where broad and narrow gauge rail lines meet. As in the latter stages of World War II, these important facilities would fall under the control of Soviet strategic rear service bodies.104 Russian planners expected that these other transportation facilities throughout theater areas would be subject to heavy and continuing enemy attack. The establishment and improvement of rail ferry links on the Black and Baltic Seas also constituted rear service theater preparations, which in wartime would supplement other forms of transport for military cargoes.105
A major feature of Russian rear service support was the requirement to mobilize large transport and other resources from the national economy to fully establish a logistic support base. Russian planners had to consider what new burdens the prolonged withdrawal of such assets would mean for the functioning of the national economies in a conventional war of extended duration.
The requirement to plan and prepare for the support of theater-wide conventional operations lasting weeks or months shaped the development of new planning norms for ammunition, POL, and other supply consumption; changed rear service deployment and relocation times; substantially increased the requirement for motor transport at all levels; placed new demands on rear service units for the sustained, incremental replacement of losses in maneuver forces and rear service units themselves; and compressed the time that rear service commanders and staffs would have to respond to more demanding support missions. It became clear to Soviet rear service planners that the gap between those support requirements generated by far more capable combat forces, and the capabilities of logistic units to meet these demands, would necessitate logistic restructuring on a large scale.106
In the late 1970s, driven by the above considerations, the Soviet rear services began the most sweeping logistic reorganization of the postwar years. Under this reorganization, new “materiel support units” were formed at tactical and operational levels, replacing the older unwieldy system of logistic bases, transport units, and fragmented supply and servicing units and resources. This was the component of the Soviet logistic
system charged with the receipt, storage, movement, and delivery of ammunition, POL, and other consumable supply items. New, streamlined “materiel support brigades,” each under a single commander, replaced the loosely coordinated and managed army mobile bases and front forward bases. At division and regimental levels, fragmented transport/supply entities were replaced by “materiel support battalions” and “materiel support companies,” respectively. This reorganization increased transport lift capabilities, improved rear service responsiveness, facilitated the tailoring and allocation of logistic support packages - especially important for the support of deep operations forces - and assigned rear service units increased responsibilities for their own defense.107 This logistic reorganization was clearly tied to force-restructuring efforts under way at the same time in other theater force components, which were intended in large measure to structure combined-armed forces for the conduct of nonnuclear theater-strategic operations.
In all these restructuring efforts, a careful examination of historical precedent, supplemented by new battlefield technologies and capabilities, characterized the Soviet approach. As noted earlier the 1981 publication of sanctioned military-historical research topics encompassing a spectrum of critical rear service issues illustrates the role of applicable military precedent in this process.108 As the 1980s ended, however, Soviet military planners were faced with military restructuring problems the scope of which they had not imagined just a few years earlier, and whose precise direction was far from clear.
Logistics Dimensions of Military Posture
Even before Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s 7 December 1988 unilateral troop reduction announcement, logistic restructuring programs already under way in the 1980s and the application of new technologies to logistic materiel and equipment were both streamlining and reducing the size of the Soviet logistic infrastructure.109 As noted above, the materiel support system had already been restructured. Because the new materiel support units at all levels provided a much enhanced framework for incremental reinforcement, reductions in their active strength could be reconstituted rapidly through the addition of transport companies and battalions activated from stored equipment sets or mobilized from the national economy, as well as the addition of requisite servicing units of various types. This process would have been far more difficult under the old materiel base system used until the end of the 1970s.110
It was clear that both the technical and medical support components
of the Soviet theater logistic system were good candidates for precisely the kind of reorganization already carried out in the area of materiel support. The creation in peacetime of multifunctional repair and medical regiments and brigades in place of apparently cumbersome and more loosely controlled technical and medical support groupings and bases would seem a likely development that responded to the same Soviet imperatives that drove the reorganization of the materiel support system.111
In an insightful article published early in 1988, Colonel-General Golushko stressed how substantially different the Soviet rear service establishment was going to be.112 According to Golushko, these changes would come as a consequence of new technology, force restructuring, and “the new defensive strategy” that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee for the Soviet State adopted.113 He noted in regard to technology’s impact that the “qualitative ‘boom’ [bum] in the expenditure and accumulation of [resupply] reserves will diminish.”114 More specifically, these potential developments included:
While the size of the deployed Russian materiel support system may well be smaller and more mobile for future Russian forces, technical support requirements will certainly increase as Soviet equipment continues to grow in sophistication and complexity. New kinds of weapon systems and equipment (e.g., directed-energy weapons, target acquisition, and communication systems) will dictate new technical support approaches and, quite likely, new kinds of repair and maintenance units.
Those more or less evolutionary changes noted above promised substantial change in the Russian logistic system. However, the sweeping Soviet/Russian military reduction and reorganization announced in December 1988, to be carried out in the context of a new defensive military
doctrine, presented new considerations.117 Additionally, the prospects for sweeping conventional arms control agreements and a rapidly changing political, economic, and international security environment pointed to a radical change in force posture. Without question, Soviet troop withdrawals from Eastern Europe, the German reunification, and the increasingly independent posture of former Warsaw Pact allies fundamentally alters Russian concepts for conducting theater strategic operations, as do nationality problems within the former Soviet bloc itself. They also changed earlier Soviet assumptions about every dimension of coalition logistic support, called into question the future of forward-based logistic stockpiles in Eastern Europe and portions of the former USSR, and raised questions about the security of transport and other support operations in some national republics. All these fears, of course, turned out to be more than justified.
Without question, all the issues noted above utterly disrupted Russian logistic force structure and support concepts in the final days of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet State. The dismemberment of forward logistic bases in Eastern Europe, the rapid loss of those transportation systems and other military and civilian resources of Warsaw Pact states upon which theater sustainability was to be so heavily based, the declared independence of constituent republics of the USSR and the consequent disruption of cohesive transport and mobilization systems, simultaneous troop withdrawals and draw-downs, and a host of other “logistic” problems in some respects overshadowed the calamitous events of the first period of the Great Patriotic War. In any event, the elaborate, carefully conceived, and heavily resourced system of Soviet/Russian logistic support that reached its high-water mark in the late 1980s was in a few short years destroyed. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that the concepts that underpinned this system, the historical experience and theoretical formulations upon which they were based, and emerging approaches to complex logistic support problems during the last days of the USSR armed forces all provide a rich body of material for historians and military planners alike. In this respect, Soviet approaches to logistic support in all its dimensions - especially operational logistics - remains a worthwhile focus of study and evaluation.
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