SOVIET OPERATIONAL-LEVEL LOGISTICS IN 1944 Part I

It quickly became apparent in the first period of the war that logistics was the least thought-through element of Soviet military theory. Rear services (i.e., logistic) units were cumbersome, immobile, and unable to adapt to fluid conditions. Planning was fragmented, ineffective, and often disconnected from the operational concept it was supposed to support.

Some Principles of Logistic Support

By the end of the second period of the war, the Red Army was realizing in practice the demands of theory, conducting progressively deeper operations at a steadily rising tempo.37 During the third period, these operations were planned to achieve their goal in two to three weeks, though if they were developing successfully, provision was made for a transition to subsequent operations without any (or only the briefest) operational pause. Characteristically, an operation would start with a fierce battle—expensive in men, materiel, ammunition, and fuel—to penetrate the tactical zone of defense. Once the breakthrough had been achieved and the participating armies were conducting exploitation, logistic demands would fall dramatically, reflecting the reduced effectiveness of the defense (although there would be occasional smaller peaks in expenditure as enemy reinforcements arrived or obstacles had to be forced in the operational depth). The exploitation phase of the operation would not develop linearly. Rather, the breaching of the once continuous front line would lead to very fluid, dynamic combat spread over a considerable area. Formations would thrust deep into the enemy’s operational rear, bypassing centres of resistance, and the Germans would endeavor to cut off and destroy the spearheads, even as these were seeking to complete an encirclement or destroy retreating forces in parallel pursuit. Sudden, dramatic changes in the situation, with shifts in emphasis from one axis to another or even sometimes from attack to defense, would be common. In such circumstances, attrition would not take place relatively evenly across a defined front. Rather, there would be areas of intense but localized fighting and destruction and large passive sectors where logistic demands would be much lighter. The traditional logistic system would not be appropriate for such a battle space. Forward divisions or corps could not indent for supplies and collect them from dumps in secure rear areas, nor could they evacuate their casualties and damaged equipment rearward to semistatic hospitals and workshops. Formations would be unable to rely on constant resupply and would have to live off mobile stocks for at least a few days at a time. Medical and repair facilities would have to move well forward and set up in the areas that had seen heavy fighting and where casualties were concentrated. This understanding of the nature of combat led to the adoption of some principles of logistics that were contrary to Western understanding and practice.

The bulk of logistic assets was held at army and front levels. Such centralized control was seen as essential to operational flexibility. Centralized control enabled operational-level commanders to tailor their logistic allocations to conform to the importance of the mission, their forces’ strength, and the ground allocated to their subordinate formations. Commanders of higher formations who were familiar with the overall operational concept and situation could quickly shift resources from burned-out, stalled, or merely less successful divisions, corps, and armies and reallocate them to others that were making better progress. They also held transport reserves with which they could reinforce success and ensure that it did not become ephemeral because of insufficient supply to exploit it. Changing the emphasis from one axis to another would be far more difficult and slower in a decentralized system in which the “ownership” of transport and supplies was jealously guarded, whatever the operational vision of the higher commander.38

It was the responsibility of the higher commander to keep his subordinates supplied in accordance with the demands of the operational situation. The basic concept of resupply was not, in other words, “demand pull,” which in the first period of the war had resulted in excessive expenditure on less important missions, to the detriment of the main effort. It became one of “supply push,” whereby consumption rates were laid down by the front for each stage of an operation in accordance with the priorities it had established; allocations changed as and when the exigencies of battle led to modification of plans. This concept of forward delivery was easy to implement, as the bulk of transport was controlled at the operational level. Thus, a divisional transport company possessed only 45 trucks, a combined-arms army’s three to four battalions had up to 600, and a front’s three to five regiments mustered 3,500 to 4,500. This made it easier to switch emphasis between axes, open a new one, or simply cope with ever-lengthening lines of communication by re-allocating front assets according to shifting priorities. The system also enabled shortcuts to ensure a speedy response to pressing needs: for instance, tank army trucks could skip an echelon by delivering direct to brigades, bypassing corps. The system was hard on units and formations that were achieving success but only on a secondary axis; it was even harder on those that ran into difficulties and were accordingly de-prioritized. But it ensured the economical use of both stocks and transport in furthering the operational aim.

Successful operations inevitably ran into problems as supply lines lengthened, turnaround times and breakdowns increased, and cargo capacity ran short. Air resuppply could provide limited lift in an emergency, but suitable aircraft were lacking for any major, sustained effort. The Red Army insisted that formations improvise with self-help measures rather than simply relying on the senior commander to repair deficiencies. Some artillery units, for instance, had to give up their prime movers, and motorized infantry their trucks (riding instead on the tanks and SAUs). There was often large-scale reliance on impressing local animal-drawn transport. A typical example happened in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation when Third Guards Army’s dirt-road supply line to its railhead grew from 60 to 200 km (37 to 125 miles) between 20 July and 1 August; it supplemented its resources with around 7,000 supply-days of farm horses and carts. Thirteenth Army had much the same experience, and in each case 1 Ukrainian Front allocated 200 to 220 trucks from its reserve to assist until a new railhead could open at Rava-Russkaya.39 On occasion, peasants were compelled to carry artillery rounds or roll fuel barrels from one village to the next; Fifty-Third Army of 2 Ukrainian Front used locals and the personnel of a reserve rifle regiment to carry 340 tonnes of shells when it looked like the batteries would run short.

As with transport, most other rear services were centralized. Tactical formations held only enough organic rear services units to cope with routine, light combat situations. This conferred two advantages. With light logistic tails, they were more agile and maneuverable than if they had been encumbered with masses of vulnerable noncombat vehicles and personnel. It also ensured that specialist and scarce service support elements were used economically and to maximum effect. For instance, there was no point in giving a rifle division the means to deal with high levels of casualties if it was in reserve or deployed on a passive sector; a small medical battalion would suffice for day-to-day needs. If, however, that division and the rest of its corps were advancing in the expectation of carrying out an opposed river crossing in the near future, army and, if necessary, front would ensure the concentration of sufficient resources from their medical reserves to cope with the anticipated flow of casualties. The same applied to the recovery and restoration of damaged equipment. Mobile corps possessed enough technical support to cope with routine maintenance and some breakdowns. When they were committed to battle, higher-echelon recovery and repair units were directed to the area of the most intense fighting to collect and then repair damaged hardware in situ.

Calculating and Meeting Requirements for Supply

The Red Army made sustained and, in time, largely successful efforts to calculate and then update operational and battlefield norms, which if implemented effectively, would increase the chances of success.40 By the summer of 1943, they were generally successful in assessing the material needs of offensive operations. Plainly, these were determined by the strength of the formation, the scope and duration of its mission, and the level of resistance encountered. However, on average, front requirements in 1944 were assessed as follows: 3.5 to 4.0 units of fire per artillery weapon, tank, or SAU; four to six refills for vehicles and fifteen to twenty for aircraft fuel;41 and fifteen to twenty-five daily rations per soldier and horse. To achieve such an accumulation of supply, three to four weeks preparation time was allowed (a lengthy period that posed challenges to the maskirovka plan). To give an idea of the sheer volume and weight involved in such a buildup, the preparations of 1 Belorussian Front for the Belorussian Operation can be used as an example. The front amassed 2.5 to 7.7 units of fire (depending on caliber), four to seven refills for its vehicles and aircraft, and ten to fifteen days of food and forage. Moving these stocks required 17,939 rail wagons (the four fronts together needed 44,111 wagonloads). In the event, the operation exceeded its planned scope, as did its successors, and an additional 15,518 wagonloads were dispatched to Rokossovskiy’s front to sustain combat into August (the four together receiving 48,280).42 Accumulating the logistic resources required to accomplish front near missions required much work on infrastructure (which, like movements, had to be concealed) and impressive staff work, bearing in mind the simultaneous concentrations of troops and equipment. These problems, however, paled in comparison with the difficulties of supplying formations once the centre of gravity had shifted into the operational depth in pursuit of distant missions.

At issue was the rear services’ ability to keep pace with the tempo of the advance. The most efficient, most rapid means of moving large quantities of fuel and ammunition was by rail. Of course, the retreating Germans, whenever they were given the opportunity, did their usually efficient best to rip up track and demolish bridges. As the Soviets advanced, each front’s Directorate for Reconstruction and Obstacle Work used its three to four railway brigades and two to three mechanized battalions to restore one or two lines. By 1944, the rate of repair work had doubled compared with the second period and averaged 7 to 12 km (4 to 7 miles) of track per day; the rate was only 3 to 5 km (2 to 3 miles) per day through areas where the enemy had prepared defenses but went up to 20 km (12 miles) in the operational depth. Higher rates were a consequence of deploying more resources and also of an increased tempo in the advance. Combined-arms armies on principal axes averaged around 8 to 10 km (5 to 6 miles) per day in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation, 12 to 18 km (7 to 11 miles) in the Belorussian Operation, and 16 to 20 km (10 to 12 miles) in the Yassi-Kishinev Operation. In those same operations, tank armies averaged 23 to 27 km (14 to 16 miles), 22 to 30 km (13 to 18 miles), and 44 km (27 miles) per day, respectively, but with maximum daily rates up to twice those figures. The higher the rate of advance and the more active the Red Air Force, the more the enemy was deprived of the opportunity and time to inflict serious damage on the transport infrastructure and the faster rehabilitation proceeded. However, bridge repair, especially over sizable rivers, usually lagged days behind the reconstruction of track and accounted for the uneven pace of restoration between fronts. Moreover, getting a railway up and running at even minimal capacity involved more than the physical restoration of lines; stations, refueling facilities, signaling and communications, and other essential infrastructure features had to be provided. The switch from broad gauge to standard gauge further complicated matters once the offensive penetrated into East Prussia and Poland.

In the more successful operations of the third period, mobile formations advanced 300 to 350 km (185 to 220 miles) within ten to fourteen days—almost double that in the thrust from the Vistula to the Oder. Higher-formation dumps were left far behind. It would usually be many weeks before each front would achieve the required level of development for a forward relocation of its stocks and thus a continuation of the offensive on its axis: that is, it would have to make operational a couple of lines going forward and two or three laterally, together totaling 800 to 1,500 km (500 to 930 miles) of track and carrying forty to fifty trains a day. During the course of the initial operation, a front would work to restore one or two lines with an early capacity of eight to fourteen pairs of trains each day. Where conditions were favorable, such as on 3 Belorussian Front’s sector in Belorussia, railheads could catch up to within 70 to 130 km (40 to 80 miles) from the line of contact. Where conditions were less benign, as in the sectors of 2 and 1 Belorussian Fronts, the lag could be 150 to 380 km (90 to 235 miles) and more. Thus, rail transport generally played only a limited role in sustaining operations in the enemy’s depth. The Yassi-Kishinev Operation was an exception. There, the railway lines were taken virtually intact, and in their swift offensive into Romania, 2 and 3 Ukrainian Fronts captured about 2,000 locomotives and 56,000 wagons, enabling them to exploit standard-gauge railways from the outset; this contributed to the depth of advance achieved by Sixth Tank Army between 20 August and 25 September—about 1,000 km (620 miles).

The number of mechanized and motorized formations and units in the Red Army grew continuously as the war progressed. Operations developed increasing tempo and depth and became more complex and harder to predict, with their switches of axes and uneven evolution. There was therefore an increasing reliance on motor transport for logistic support at the operational level as a supplement to and, for lengthy periods, a substitute for the railways. Prompt road repair and maintenance were vital. Front Road Directorates controlled twelve to fifteen separate road-building and maintenance battalions and four to five bridge-building battalions. These were used for the creation of military roads going forward to army rear boundaries; there would be two or three roads on the most important axes, each some 300 to 400 km (185 to 250 miles) long, or sometimes longer in highly successful operations.43 Much attention was devoted not only to the engineering side but also to the efficient organization of command and control and the provision of refueling and vehicle recovery and maintenance points.

The greatest challenge facing motor transport troops was to ensure the uninterrupted resupply of tank armies and their subordinate elements during rapidly evolving, dynamic operations in the enemy’s depth. A tank army’s rear services were organized in two echelons. The first, tactical, mobile echelon followed directly behind the combat units. The second, lacking mobility, comprised the army dumps, which remained static until a reduced tempo or an operational pause enabled forward redeployment. Typically, tactical supplies on wheels would be divided as follows: ammunition—1 unit of fire carried on each combat vehicle or prime mover and by each soldier for small arms, with another 0.25 in unit, brigade, and corps transport, for a total of 1.75 units of fire;44 fuel—1 fill per vehicle, with another 0.5 refill in both unit and brigade transport and a third at corps; food—two daily rations carried by each man, with two to three in unit and three to four in brigade transport and an additional four to five at corps, enough for eleven to fourteen days. Army dumps usually held 1 to 1.5 units of fire, two to four refills, and fifteen to twenty rations to replenish mobile stocks. However, experience soon showed that the fighting troops could exhaust their stocks of fuel and, more rarely, ammunition before they could be replaced. To ensure against this and the possibility of a new mission being assigned for which supply had not been budgeted, more flexibility was needed. Extra transport was provided so that army dumps could form a mobile echelon and act as an emergency reserve for the immediate delivery of fuel. And as corps’ rear became separated from army dumps by much more than 100 km (60 miles), the latter formed advanced sections or delivered direct to brigades, bypassing the corps level in the interest of time. With deeper advances, army resources increasingly failed to guarantee continuous resupply, and the front responded by either reinforcing the most important formations with extra motor vehicles or delivering direct to corps.

Once supplies had to be hauled over distances of 500 to 600 km (310 to 370 miles) or more between front dumps and the troops in contact—a round-trip of four or five days—fronts had generally reached their culminating point. Even before that point was reached, army operations frequently suffered from enforced, temporary pauses as their logistic support failed to keep up. For instance, Third Guards Tank and Fourth Tank Armies failed to take L’vov from the line of march on 19 July when distance, congestion, and bad roads in the Koltuv corridor, together with high consumption rates, combined to create ammunition and especially fuel deficiencies. In the Vistula-Oder Operation, Second Guards Tank Army was halted, at one time or another, for a total of five days during the sixteen-day operation. Even if the advance was not brought to a complete halt, armies could be forced to check one of their corps, or corps to check one or two of their brigades, until more fuel could be brought up. Thus, on 25 January in the Vistula-Oder Operation, Third Guards Tank Army’s 9 Mechanized Corps had to limit its advance to two brigades; in the same operation, Fourth Tank Army was able to employ only a single tank brigade in its forcing of the Oder. On occasion, a continuation of the advance became possible, even though the system was failing, because significant stocks of fuel were captured. In the Lublin-Brest Operation, more than 30 percent of Second Tank Army’s consumption consisted of such trophy fuel, as did 25 percent of Second Guards Tank Army’s in advancing from the Vistula to the Oder. Such a development was, of course, more likely when surprise and, in consequence, a high tempo of advance were achieved. In the Yassi-Kishinev Operation, Sixth Tank Army captured the Ploiesti oil fields and refineries intact, and a further advance of more than 500 km (300 miles) by 2 Ukrainian Front was sustained by laying a 225 km (140 mile) pipeline. Of course, such windfalls were only that; they could not be factored into planning.

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