Western Corridor and Berlin Control Zone [BCZ] flights

De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk T.10 WG486 of RAF Gatow Station Flight over the Brandenburg Gate in 1994. Of 1940s vintage, the venerable Chipmunk outlasted all the other aircraft types by successfully operating for forty years in the BCZ.

View from a BRIXMIS Chipmunk under fire from a Soviet soldier. Flying at low level over Soviet installations clearly carried a risk and on occasions aircraft returned with the odd extra hole. Fortunately no one was ever hurt in such incidents.

From the outset the Russians harassed flights in the Corridors, but this was inconsistent and not directed solely at ICFs. The level of harassment depended on the international political temperature at the time. In the late 1940s/early 1950s there was often harassment of flights and incidences of Russian fighters opening fire on Allied military and civilian aircraft using the Corridors. This was especially true in the lead-up to the Berlin Blockade and Airlift. The fighters sometimes flew very close to aircraft, causing crashes and fatalities, such as the BEA Viking and Yak-3 collision over Dallgow-Döberitz in April 1948.

There were certainly many near misses, but these were generally attributed to accidental miscalculation, or excessive zeal, rather than deliberately planned and officially sanctioned action, although the possibility that there was a mix of both cannot be totally discounted. There were also instances when Soviet fighters practised interception techniques on aircraft in the Corridors. In times of heightened international or local tension, there were likely to be more ‘interceptions’ and close fly-bys to demonstrate to the West the Corridors’ vulnerability. This was especially true in 1961 and 1962 when the second Berlin crisis approached its climax. Incidents that involved large numbers of MiG fighters operating within the Corridors and intercepting aircraft were discussed by the British Cabinet in February 1962. Overall, Corridor incidents may well have been under-reported to avoid drawing unwanted attention to reconnaissance flights.

In 1962 the US complained to the Soviets on a number of occasions about the interception of its Corridor flights, although few resulted in formal diplomatic protests. On 23 July, two MiGs closed to within a hundred feet of a Carol Ann CT-29 (49–1910) some 10 to 15 miles north of Tempelhof. Later on the same day, a US Overseas Airways DC-7 was shadowed for some seven to eight minutes about 70 to 80 miles west of Berlin in the Southern Corridor. The ‘interception’ took place at around 4,000ft and at one point a MiG was only 20yd from the DC-7 and flying ‘in a manner which endangered the DC-7’s safety’. The US protest added that this was the fourth serious incident in seven days.

Frank Doucette, flying aboard the Hot Pepper C-54, recounted that:

Flying in the South Corridor, we got caught with the camera door open, working. The MiG pilot looked and waved. We waved back and took his picture. When we got to Berlin we contacted ‘Homeplate’ and they said for us to go to Châteauroux Air Base, France. When we got there, we were directed into a large hangar with engines running. We shut down and there was sitting another C-54 with the same tail number. Imagine that!

The crew returned to Wiesbaden in the re-marked aircraft and for the next week continued to ‘trail their coat’ along the Corridors. ‘Captain Stan Sturgill, First-Lieutenant Ron Hummel and I flew the Corridors at maximum altitude and at its edge. We had parachutes, steel pots, and blood chits, but the Soviets didn’t take the bait as they could see the distinctive large belly radome was absent.’

One of the most serious harassment incidents was the interception of a Pembroke. On 17 January 1972 XL954 was intercepted by three MiG-17’s which thundered by in line astern. Rob Fallon, one of the navigators, described how their Pembroke, flying close to the edge of the Southern Corridor, suddenly started bouncing around:

Immediately the radio became very frantic and we went onto a discrete frequency. The pilot lowered the undercarriage and flaps and brought XL954 down close to its stall speed and moved us back onto the corridor centreline. Meanwhile we were bouncing around in the back, rewinding the film to re-expose it, expecting that we might have to force land. Our cover story suddenly looked very thin. I had been reading the Gulag Archipelago at the time and had visions that, even if very lucky, we might end up in Siberia for a very long time!

The MiG-17s couldn’t compete with such slow speed, so carried on circling in order to stay with us. Soon another aircraft, this time a MiG-21, came up. It flew on a reciprocal heading beneath us and close enough to see the pilot looking up and waving. We could easily see the missiles loaded under the wings; he was probably at around 2,000ft. Radar was talking to us continually and monitored its approach.

After the event the RAF received an apology for the incident from the Russians through the BASC. The excuse given was that a trainee radar operator monitoring the Corridors had mis-plotted an aircraft, showing it had an apparent ground speed of 600 knots. Checking the inbound flight plans to Berlin, the only thing around was a twin-engined RAF aircraft and he made the assumption that it was one of our new RAF Phantoms commencing an attack run on Berlin to start World War Three! They were told that we were not shot down, or forced to land, because the first CAP MiG to buzz us told his control that the aircraft was not a Phantom and perhaps they should check again.

One significant piece of intelligence came out of this incident. The intercepting pilots could be heard talking in Russian. This confirmed Soviet involvement in CAPs because until then the intelligence suggested that only East Germans operated the alert and CAP aircraft.

A number of possible reasons explain the near misses experienced by Allied reconnaissance aircraft in the Corridors, such as high cockpit workloads causing distraction, failing to understand ATC instructions, and some because individual pilots wanted to ‘show off’ or be ‘mischievous’. Despite the harassment, not a single Allied aircraft operating in the Corridors or BCZ on reconnaissance operations was brought down, although the Soviets had shown on many occasions that they were quite prepared to bring down overflights and peripheral missions and to harass civilian and military flights en route to Berlin. There are instances of Allied aircraft leaving the relative safety of the Corridors but these were rare and largely undocumented. When they happened noisy Soviet protests usually followed, but not always. On 6 May 1975 an RAF Pembroke strayed from the Centre Corridor, penetrating into GDR airspace by 3½ miles. It eventually regained the Corridor after flying some 15 miles further before flying on to RAF Wildenrath. The British BASC element reported: ‘no contact was possible on any frequency’ with the aircraft until after it re-entered the Corridor. The Soviet controller in the BASC was not told of the incursion and no protest was filed.

Official records cast no light on the reasons for this ‘diversion’ so any explanation is speculative. Deliberately leaving the Corridor, even just by a few miles, was very risky. Such action would have to be approved at a very high level and justified by an intelligence priority of the highest order. Close-in ‘looks’ happened very rarely. They were never ‘officially’ authorised and there would be no official instructions. At the crew brief it could be suggested that, if conditions allowed, they might fly to the very edge of the Corridor to photograph a target of great importance but the final decision rested with the crew. In the event of a Soviet protest, the crew might receive an ‘interview without coffee and biscuits from their CO’, which was then instantly forgotten. The simple explanation is that there was probably a navigational error and the pilot eased the aircraft back into the Corridor rather than make an abrupt turn, in the hope that no one would notice it.

However, in this instance, the following day another Pembroke, most likely a passenger aircraft flying from RAF Gütersloh to Gatow along the Centre Corridor, adjacent to where the previous day’s Pembroke had left the Corridor, was subjected to a frightening airmiss:

the twin jet came from the South [and] passed in front of Pembroke by approx. 50yd. Then made a left turn onto a Southerly heading and disappeared from the Pembroke pilot’s view.

Unable to identify it definitively, the pilot described it as a ‘twin jet, swept wing with red star on fuselage’.

No other details of this incident are available, but the airmiss could indicate that the previous day’s excursion had indeed been noticed by the Soviets and was a sign of their displeasure.

As serious as reconnaissance flights were, a number of incidents, with a humorous side, illustrate that the Soviets had a very clear picture of what the Allies were doing. Phil Chaney described that during his tour: ‘one week before Christmas at an airfield on the Centre Corridor trampled out in the thick snow, just in front of the tower, in English and in time for the routine Pembroke’s overflight was “Happy Christmas”.’

Others have recounted similar messages. Indeed, snow seems to have been a popular medium for Soviet communication with overflying aircraft. As well as simple greetings there were also forthright expressions of the desire that the recipients ‘go away’ – or words to that effect. Phil Chaney describes another contact with the Russians around 1980 during a darts match against members of the BASC in the Gatow Officers’ Mess. ‘While I was playing against the Russian Colonel, he turned to me and asked, very slowly, if I was visiting on “The Pembroke” – then winked!’

Major General Peter Williams, who did two tours with BRIXMIS, was convinced that even the East German population knew precisely what the Chipmunks did. He recalls:

On one occasion a forester stopped us on tour as we were trying to creep up on a Soviet radar deployment in a forest north of Potsdam and, taking no notice of our protestations of incomprehension, announced: ‘Sorry, but you’re too late! The Russians were here for four days with about a dozen trucks, but they went home to Schönwalde late this morning. But don’t worry, your little plane came over and buzzed them earlier!’

Similarly, on 26 March 1981 there was a BASC Senior Controllers meeting. At the time there were a number of ongoing disputes between the western allies and the Soviets over a number of issues. These included a very close ‘airmiss’ between a Soviet helicopter and a Panam airlines B-727, a bullet that had struck an RAF C-130 landing at RAF Gatow and the Soviets unhappy with the conduct of western light aircraft flights within the BCZ, but especially the British and their Chipmunk in parts of the zone. At the time the Soviet Chief Controller, Colonel Evstigneyev was seen as rather a testy and excitable man and during the meeting he protested a number of times about alleged low flying transgressions in the Karlshorst and Werneuchen airfield areas of the Chipmunk and said: ‘Earlier this week the British Chipmunk was near Karlshorst taking pictures. The pilot took some of me walking between buildings. May I have copies please.’ Roy Marsden has also asserted that the Soviets knew exactly what the RAF Chipmunks were up to. He has said that in meetings with Soviet SERB officers they ‘often made oblique references to those who participated, about the Chipmunk aircraft and where it had been seen over installations both inside and allegedly outside the BCZ’. He believes that the Soviets largely turned a blind eye to many of the West’s intelligence-gathering activities in and over Berlin and the GDR. He thinks many senior Soviet officers, up until the late 1970s, had served in the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War) and did not want to repeat that experience. They perhaps thought the way to deter a Western pre-emptive attack was to let them see just how strong Warsaw Pact forces were and that this would dissuade ‘any reckless Western politicians’ from risking conflict for a ‘quick victory’.

Why not Stronger Countermeasures?

If well aware of Allied reconnaissance flights, why did the Soviet forces not undertake stronger countermeasures? There are a wide range of possible explanations for this.

Some British participants expressed the view that the lack of strong action against Western aircraft was a quid pro quo from the Soviets for the occasional wanderings of allegedly camera-equipped Aeroflot and Interflug flights that deviated from their assigned flight track to overfly military installations in Federal Germany. They would not respond to ATC instructions until they had returned to their assigned route. For example, on 29 October 1976, Aeroflot Flight SU297 from Moscow to Madrid, via Luxembourg, made a substantial deviation from its assigned track and flight level to overfly the USAF’s Bitburg Air Base. At the time the TAB-V aircraft shelters there were being modified to accept F-15 aircraft and it was strongly believed that SU297 had deliberately deviated to conduct aerial reconnaissance of the base.

Similarly Peter Jefferies recalls the time that a Mi-26 Halo heavy-lift helicopter was en route to France for its first appearance at the Paris Airshow in 1981. It transited the Corridors, as it was entitled to do, exiting into West German airspace, then deviated from its approved flight plan to overfly the USAF bases at Bitburg and Hahn. During the deviation it failed to respond to any ATC transmissions. On arrival in Paris the rear clamshell doors opened to reveal a camera on an oblique mount in the rear fuselage.

The Risks of Deliberate Shoot Downs

To deliberately bring down a Corridor reconnaissance flight without prima facie evidence of its activity would have been a very high-risk strategy for the Soviets. It would certainly have resulted in an international incident and immediately increased local tension, with the possibility of Western retaliation.

Proving aerial espionage in international airways such as the Corridors would have needed the airframe and reconnaissance equipment to survive sufficiently intact to be put on public display, like Powers’ U-2. It would have been entirely unpredictable whether such a result could have been achieved from a forced landing, or shoot down. Even if the Soviets could publicly demonstrate ‘aerial espionage’, it would probably have bothered few politicians and diplomats on either side. Intelligence gathering was practised by both parties, so apart from some faux diplomatic indignation and posturing followed by tit-for-tat responses, inevitably temporarily damaging local relationships, it would have made little difference overall. The main outcome would have been a Soviet propaganda victory and there might have been a short-term suspension of reconnaissance flights, but they would have resumed after a decent interval. Western retaliation might have included harassing of Aeroflot and Interflug flights over West Germany or barring them from Western airports. The possibilities were endless but would have depended on Western political will. The only real value in shooting down an aircraft would have been to apply political and military pressure on the city and there were easier, and more predictable, ways to do that around Berlin.

Capturing a reconnaissance aircraft intact, with the crew alive and being able to put them on public display, would have been a very different matter. There were often attempts to lure aircraft out of the Corridors by ‘spoofing’ – giving false instructions or signals by Soviet and GDR forces. This came in many forms, such as suggesting that an aircraft was off-course and needed to correct its heading. If a genuine in-flight emergency was ever declared, a ‘helpful voice’ would come on to the frequency offering landing options at a Soviet or GDR airfield along the route. In 1981, Peter Jefferies was a passenger on a training flight which started to receive suspicious instructions that would have directed them into Werneuchen airfield. The day was ‘8/8ths blue and gin clear’ so it was a fruitless exercise by the Soviets, but nevertheless they tried.

Equipment Displays – Showing Us Too

Periodically the Soviets put on equipment displays to show senior officers their latest ‘kit’. They would show examples of each equipment item to be found in a formation, or present a themed display of equipment associated with a particular function, such as the Army-level air defence equipment display shown in image 66. These displays were often mounted under a Corridor and there was considerable speculation that besides their stated purpose they were also intended to be a ‘show and tell’ for the West’s benefit.

The foregoing is compelling enough evidence that the Soviets and East Germans were fully aware of the reconnaissance flights. What they may not have been aware of was the quantity and high quality of the photography produced and the intelligence extracted from it.

As well as putting equipment on display that would be very visible to reconnaissance flights, there is some evidence to the contrary, that the Soviets sometimes tried to conceal the presence of specific equipment items until they were ready to reveal them. In early 1977, the SA-8 Gecko SAM system was the ‘hot’ intelligence ‘flavour of the month’. Was it in East Germany or not? Peter Jefferies remembers being on a training flight in Pembroke XL953, which was not ‘in fit’ on 15 March 1977. The flight landed at RAF Gatow in the late morning and after lunch they took off to ‘do’ the BCZ. As the aircraft approached Dallgow-Döberitz, three SA-8 Gecko TELAR were seen moving at high speed across the former airfield towards the hangars. Was this just a normal return to barracks? Or had the garrison been warned of the ‘spyplane’ and was it quickly attempting to conceal the SA-8’s presence?

Why did the Soviets and East Germans not locate their forces in areas out of Corridor and BCZ camera range? Most GSFG and NVA forces were housed in former Reichswehr barracks that had been taken over at the end of the war, although the NVA possessed some new-build barracks. The cost of building all new facilities out of camera range would have been prohibitive. Locating forces out of camera range would also have created a huge gap in the centre of the GDR devoid of military forces, which would need to be repopulated with forces prior to any hostilities. Moving forces to fill such a gap would have been an important indicator in its own right that would have been hard to ignore. In any case constructing bases in almost any part of the GDR would still have left them vulnerable to some level of AMLM observation and aerial reconnaissance.

Allied Secrecy

If the Soviets knew so much, why were the Allies so secretive about their reconnaissance flights? A cursory glance suggests that much of the secrecy practised by Allied military and governmental bodies was directed at concealing this knowledge from elements of their own, and other, military services and governments, although proving this would be extremely difficult. Openness would certainly have confirmed for the Soviets what they had long suspected. Reconnaissance operations were restricted to the three Allies. The British, French and US products were only shared directly between them and not widely with other NATO Allies. The West German government was never formally informed about the British flights until after they ceased in 1990. The Germans would almost certainly have insisted on the USA and UK sharing their information and material with them in return for allowing the flights’ continuation. Given the extent of the FRG government’s penetration by hostile intelligence services, the Soviets would soon have become totally aware of the operations and probably their products. Keeping the flights’ existence from them, and other less secure NATO nations, was considered necessary to reduce the risk of the operation’s compromise.

The use of transport and training aircraft meant that the intelligence-gathering operations were not overtly flaunted in the Soviets’ face, especially as they were integrated into the normal supply and VIP flights to and from the city. The sensors carried were very discreetly mounted and the numerous tell-tale external blisters and aerials associated with dedicated reconnaissance aircraft disguised as far as possible. Whilst the real role was kept largely hidden from the casual observer and was not an open affront to Soviet sensitivities, there was no immediate need for any ‘face-saving’ retaliation. This was a repetition of the situation created by early overflights of the USSR. Aware of the realities, as long as Corridor and BCZ flights were not too obvious, or provocative, the Soviet government was not forced into a political position where it was forced to act against them.


Politicians generally appeared to have recognised the military need for overflights to acquire intelligence. British politicians, senior MoD and FO/FCO officials saw political benefits of co-operation with the USA. Sharing British-collected imagery was a way of maintaining good relations with the US intelligence community and contributing something tangible to the US–UK intelligence ‘special relationship’, which was inevitably dominated by the Americans. But British politicians and officials were considerably more nervous about Soviet awareness of the programmes than the French and Americans. The British wanted the Corridor flights kept on a short leash, with a high degree of political control and ‘low visibility’. Their US counterparts treated Berlin operations in a more relaxed manner, important, but essentially ‘routine’ in nature. Both countries quickly developed procedures to balance the potential gains against the political and military risks involved until operations ended in 1990. The combination of AMLM activities and overflights of the GDR resulted in considerable information sharing between the three Western Allies and provided their intelligence agencies with rich pickings over the duration of the Cold War.

Britain, France and the USA devoted significant resources to the collection and exploitation of airborne intelligence in the Corridors and BCZ and from peripheral flights. The operations grew in both extent and sophistication and were vital for several reasons. Until the mid-1960s they provided the only regular, relatively low-risk, surveillance of the most forward-based Soviet and East German forces. The priority was to try to gauge the level of direct threat to West Germany and Berlin, especially during the turbulent period of the second Berlin crisis between 1958 and 1962 and when The Wall was erected. Later, the priority changed to assembling more processed intelligence on the huge number of troops and their equipment stationed in the GDR and around Berlin that were widely observable from the Corridors and BCZ. This vast array of equipment was often the latest and best that the Soviet forces possessed. Corridor and BCZ flights produced a prodigious quantity of high-quality imagery and were in a strong position to record the evolution and development of Soviet and GDR force structures over the forty-five years of the Cold War.

The operations were conducted in great secrecy, despite the circumstantial and anecdotal information that the Soviets and East Germans were well aware of them. These flying activities went largely unhindered by Soviet and GDR forces. Indeed the Soviets became complicit in the whole process by being prepared to keep their knowledge of the Western flights largely to themselves. The Allies conducted the flights covertly, keeping them largely secret from their own armed forces, let alone the wider public. This allowed the Soviets to ‘turn a Nelsonian eye’ to them, largely impotent as they were to prevent them, without provoking a serious crisis with the West. Had the Soviets been determined to hide their activities and equipment from the West, they could have done so more effectively. By not constantly trying to hide all their operations and equipment, sometimes doing the complete opposite by putting them openly on display, the Soviets helped foster an element of stability, even at very tense times across a vulnerable divided city at the heart of the Cold War.


Soviet/Russian Armoured Trains from the Cold War to the Present Day

The end of the Great Patriotic War did not see armoured trains disappear from the Soviet inventory. An armoured train was active during the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 and also, up until the 1960s, another was permanently parked in a tunnel in a suburb of Berlin, according to former East German railway workers. Three important periods mark the modern history of these trains: the Sino-Soviet conflict, the wars in Chechnya (1994–6 then 1999–2000), and since 2010, the maintenance of order in the face of the growing insecurity in the republics to the south of Russia (Chechnya, Daghestan and Ingushetia). In addition, the continuing latent rebellion in the Caucasus region requires that appropriate railway security measures remain in force.

Between the late 1950s and the early 1960s, tension between the Soviet Union and China mounted over the question of the delineation of the frontier between the two countries, and in particular the status of the island of Damansky (Zhenbao to the Chinese) situated on the River Ussuri which separates the two countries.11 In March 1968, two weeks of fighting ended in a Soviet victory, but both sides continued to build up their forces for a future confrontation. On the Soviet side, the under-developed state of the region12 made the garrisons almost entirely dependent on the Transbaikal and Trans-Siberian railway lines, as much for resupply as for troop movement. The latter line is situated only some 100km (63 miles) from the frontier and is therefore vulnerable to a mass attack. With the whole railway network plus 1,200 sensitive points to protect, only armoured trains had the necessary firepower, flexibility and mobility.

Locomotive Design Bureau No 65 at the Kharkov factory, which had specialised in the production of T-64 tanks and locomotives since it was opened, was charged with the design work. Railway and armoured vehicle components were taken ‘off the shelf’, copying the ideas followed during the Great Patriotic War. Initially, the turrets were to come from T-55 tanks and ZSU 23-4 Shilka anti-aircraft armoured vehicles, armed with four 23mm AZP-2313 cannon. The use of a diesel locomotive circumvented the problems of electricity or alternatively water supply. The locomotive was built in Lioudinovo, and the armoured wagons in Kalinine and Marioupol. The train was ready in 1970 and was tested, but never entered service as the frontier tensions had decreased.

When tension once more increased, the employment of armoured trains was again considered during the establishment of the Far East central command structure in February 1979.

The new concept was modular: each armoured train was to comprise a central train and several autonomous units, with tanks embarked. Each of these armoured attack groups was to be formed with a TGM-14 armoured diesel shunter, positioned in between two flat wagons carrying T-55 or T-62 tanks. At the rear of each platform wagon, a demountable armoured casemate was intended for an infantry detachment, who could observe using periscopes, communicate by radio and fire through loopholes. Each train could include up to five groups of two tanks plus twenty-five men. Thus organised, a train could cover 500km (300 miles) of the rail network, each group covering 100km (60 miles).

The central train was formed from an armoured TG-16 diesel locomotive, a command wagon protected against NBC (Nuclear Bacteriological and Chemical) effects, since it was thought these trains could enter contaminated zones in the event of a nuclear attack. The wagon was armed with two 23mm ZU14 23-4. Additional anti-aircraft defence was provided by an armoured wagon equipped with either two ZU-23-4 or ZU-23-2 mounts. The reconnaissance element was provided by two flat wagons transporting PT-76 amphibious tanks which were protected by lateral armour plates 2m (6ft 6in) high, and able to disembark. The rail reconnaissance company was formed from eight BTR-40 ZhD vehicles, which could be carried over longer distances on flat wagons fitted with rails. In 1969, several BTR-40s were converted into trolleys by using the same method developed by GAZ for the wartime BA64-ZhD. Disembarking them took less than five minutes.

The four trains which were built never went into action, and were stored at Chita, being regularly used for exercises. One of the trains helped with clearing the track of derailed rolling stock in 1986. In January 1990 they were reactivated to go into action during the uprisings in Baku and Sumqayit, to keep open the two key routes linking the South Caucasus with Russia. They arrived on station after the recapture of Baku, but remained active to protect the railway convoys. At the end of their tour of duty, they were gradually dismantled, with the exception of the locomotives.

When the Chechen war began, the railway engineers put a certain number of specialised trains into service, incorrectly described as ‘armoured trains’, which were intended to maintain and repair the rail network and remove mines. It was only at the end of 2002 that four genuine armoured trains were employed, named Amur, Baikal, Don and Terek. Only the last of these included armoured wagons from trains previously taken out of service.

Their composition was generally as follows, with variations in the number and order of the wagons:

– flat wagon with ZU-23-2.

– flat wagon with BMP-2.

– flat wagon with T-62.

– armoured wagon, with fixed turret, for infantry weapons and grenade launchers.

– equipment wagon.

– one or two coaches for the crew.

– two or three safety wagons (carrying sand or ballast).

– one or two flat wagons carrying a signals vehicle.

– locomotive.

In October 2002 a fifth train, the Cosima Minine, joined the base at Hankala, which served as the supply depot for the trains. It had been built by an OMON unit on the base of commercial rolling stock, armoured with all the materials that could be found on site. In particular it transported a BMP-2 with additional protection provided by sleepers and other materials, which were also used on the other wagons of the train.

The armoured trains in the Caucasus are credited with an impressive performance, such as the clearing of mines from 1000km (over 600 miles) of track, the escorting of 100 troop trains, and reconnaissance missions covering the 32,000km (20,000 miles) of track between Russia and Chechnya.

Since 2004, the Russian Army has had a specialised railway unit, the ZhDk (Zheleznodoroznhiki), split into four railway corps, twenty-eight brigades and an unspecified number of units, in charge of military transportation, and responsible for their correct functioning and their protection. The two armoured trains in the North Caucasus (Ingushetia) were activated by the 76th ZhDk based at Volvograd.

With the return of insecurity in 2010, the Cosima Minine, the sole armoured train deployed by the Interior Ministry, was reconstructed and fitted with modern equipment. For mine clearance work, it is equipped with an M4K Kamysh which interferes with the radio detonation of mines up to 20km (12.5 miles) away. Its anti-aircraft defence is provided by two ZPU-4 armoured vehicles, ten AGS-17 automatic chaff launchers and a number of machine guns. Firepower is provided by a 30mm 2A42 cannon, and the 9P135 M anti-tank missiles of a BMP-2 armoured vehicle carried on a flat wagon and protected by a side wall of sandbags. As necessary, one or two T-62 tanks (115mm gun) can be added to the train. On its return to service in around December 2013, it was stationed either at Hankala to the west of Grozny or at Mozdok in North Ossetia, along with other armoured trains.

The other trains were supposed to have been dismantled after the end of the operations in the Caucasus. At the time of writing that order has been rescinded, the Russian Defence Minister having announced their reactivation as part of the modernisation of the armed forces. Certain sources consider that, apart from their value in asymmetric warfare, they could form excellent platforms for the transport and firing of self-propelled artillery pieces such as the brand-new 152mm 2S19 Msta-S howitzer.

Closing on Berlin April 1945

During the night of 22/23 April, General Helmuth Weidling, CO of 56th Panzer Corps, had been forced to relocate his headquarters to Rudow, a borough located between Neukolln and Schonfeld. His unit was now well within the city limits and in close contact with Soviet forces. It therefore came as some relief when he received orders from General Busse to break through the Soviet forces and link up with the northern flank of 9th Army near Konigs Wusterhausen. As his troops were preparing to disengage from the enemy on the morning of 23 April, Weidling was at last able to re-establish contact with Berlin. His telephone call to the bunker was passed on to General Krebs. Guderian’s successor greeted him with barely concealed contempt, informing Weidling coldly that he had been sentenced to death for pulling his troops back to the Olympic Village at Doberitz, located to the west of the city. To Weidling, this was utter nonsense, as his troops were attempting to disengage from the Soviet forces on the eastern sector of the city. He then made, what was in the circumstances, a brave decision to put his case personally to Hitler.

Weidling arrived at the bunker in the early evening to be met by General Krebs and General Burgdorf who received him coolly. Unfazed, Weidling launched into a spirited defence, stating that the only troops that he had sent to the west were a small number of foreign ‘volunteers’ attached to labour battalions and some sick and wounded. Asked for the present whereabouts and situation of his Corps, Weidling replied that his troops were currently in the process of disengaging from the enemy in order to move south as ordered.  Krebs assured Weidling that it had all been a misunderstanding. Before seeing Hitler, the orders for his Corps to move south were cancelled and he was given fresh instructions to concentrate on the defence of the city.

The subsequent meeting with Hitler resembled a one act farce, as the death sentence was rescinded and replaced by an appointment as commandant of the Berlin defence area (replacing Colonel Ernst Kaether who had been in post for less than a day). Weidling later recalled his meeting with Hitler:

Behind a table covered with maps sat the Fuhrer of the German Reich. He turned his head as I entered. I saw a bloated face and delirious eyes. When he tried to stand up, I noticed to my horror that his hands and one of his legs were trembling. He managed to stand up with great difficulty. He offered me his hand. With a distorted smile and in a barely audible voice he asked whether we had met before. When I replied that he had decorated me with the oak leaves to my Knight’s Cross on 13 April 1944, he said: ‘I recall the name, but I can’t remember the face’. His own was like a grinning mask. He then laboriously got back into his armchair. Even while he was sitting down, his left leg kept twitching. His knee moved like the pendulum of a clock, only faster.

After having made Weidling responsible for the defence of Berlin, Hitler issued instructions for his Corps to deploy in the southern and eastern sectors of the city. He then went on to expound his own ideas for the defence of the city which involved pulling in the forces of Wenck, Busse and Steiner. That day, Weidling started to disengage his forces. The reduced 56th Panzer Corps consisting of remnants of the 9th Parachute Division, the badly mauled Muncheberg Panzer Division, the 20th Panzer Grenadier Division, the 11th Panzer Grenadier Division ‘Nordland’ and the 18th Panzer Grenadier Division. His units were used to stiffen the defence sectors held by a miscellany of trained troops and poorly equipped home guard units.

On the morning of 24 April, 20th Panzer Grenadier Division were engaged in hard fighting along the Teltow Canal, successfully eliminating a Soviet bridgehead at Lankwitz.  However, they were too thinly spread to prevent the establishment of a small lodgement at Stahnsdorf. Watching the unfolding drama from a rooftop observation post, Marshal Konev surveyed the scene:

From the roof of this building we had a fine view of Berlin, especially its southern and south-western districts. The left flank could be seen as far as Potsdam. Our field of vision extended to the right flank where, on the outskirts of Berlin, the troops of the 1st Ukrainian and the 1st Belorussian fronts were to link up.

I remember how vast the city appeared to me. I noted the massive old buildings, in which the district that lay before me abounded, and the density of these buildings; I took note of everything that might complicate our task of capturing Berlin. I also noticed the canals, rivers and streams that crossed Berlin in different directions and were plainly visible from above. Such a multiplicity of water obstacles promised additional difficulties.

Before us lay a front-line city, besieged and prepared for defence. Had there been a reasonable government at the head of Germany it would have been logical, under the circumstances, to expect from it an immediate surrender. Only surrender could have preserved what still remained of Berlin; it would also have saved the lives of many of its citizens. But it was apparently futile to expect a reasonable decision and we had to fight it out. As I gazed upon Berlin I reflected that its end would spell the end of the war and that the sooner we took the city the sooner the war would be over.

Konev’s hopes came a step closer following the main breakthrough which came in the centre of the line at Teltow itself.  By late morning 6th Guards Tank Corps crossed the canal establishing a firm bridgehead which was soon strengthened by the addition of a tank bearing bridge. Later, General David Abramovitch Dragunski described the assault on the German defences:

The attack began. The approaching dusk was submerged by the artillery preparation’s sea of fire. A mighty shock wave pressed us into the earth… I had not seen firing of such intensity for a long time. The breakthrough near Kiev, the battle of Lvov, the attack on the Sandomierz bridgehead, all these vast operations could not be compared with what occurred on the Teltow Canal in the morning hours of 24 April… A whole artillery corps concentrated within two days on a narrow breakthrough sector, effecting a density of 600 gun barrels per kilometre of front, massing together mortars, organising the fire plan, measuring out the firing positions while on the move and finally coordinating everything that could be achieved by a talented army commander like Marshal Konev… Then thousands of shells roared over the heads of our tank troops. Behind us rumbled the dull thumps of the mortars. The fire trails of the Katiushas ripped apart the sky. General Riasanov’s bombers and fighters attacked, while Pokryschkin’s fighters covered them from above.

The north bank of the canal and the southern boundary of Berlin were in flames. Buildings and fortified positions fell in rubble and ashes as thick clouds of smoke rose up… Thousands of enemy soldiers were killed… Futilely, Goebbels cried out that the Russians would never get into the city. In vain, many of his believing audience put their hopes in the so-called wonder weapons… Right until the last minute they hoped for some miracle or other, but the miracle kept them waiting…

The watches hand crept slowly forward. The murderous artillery fire moved off to the north. The bombs were already exploding somewhat to the side of us. The time for our attack came even closer… A series of green verey lights climbed into the sky. The reconnaissance parties, engineers and submachine-gunners climbed out of their trenches and cover to storm the canal bank, the engineers dragging up the boats to cross by, and behind them came the landing troops… The riflemen had it somewhat easier than us as they did not have to get heavy tanks and self-propelled guns across… It looked as if everyone was convinced that the result of the battle depended entirely on his personal efforts.

Once it became light we could see several dark objects on the opposite bank. These were the members of our storm groups… I knew precisely how important it was to support the men. What could they achieve on the other bank with their light weapons… The commanders of two brigades of the Breakthrough Artillery Division suddenly appeared near me. They had assessed the situation and were already giving the necessary orders. Some stout hearted gunners hastened past us on their way to establish a forward observation post on the other bank. Shortly afterwards the guns thundered, clearing the way for our battalion.

At last Bystrov reported that the bridge, which the enemy had made impassable the day before, was now usable. Nevertheless, only light tanks could pass over the temporarily repaired bridge under heavy fire… The enemy had recovered from our artillery preparation and was now conducting a massive resistance. We even had to reckon with counter-attacks… The artillery and tank fire fight had lasted for over an hour already. The Fascists were increasingly active… Bystrov had only been able to get three self-propelled guns across the canal, two others having fallen into the water with the wrecked bridge…

We tied down the enemy’s forces, but that was all we achieved. The same applied to our right hand neighbour. But our action lightened the load of other units. In the centre the 22nd Guards Motorised Rifle Brigade, followed by the 23rd, was able to force the canal, form a bridgehead and get its main forces across. Several hours later, a bridge had been established over which the tank brigades and corps rolled. The battle for the Teltow Canal was decided, the gateway to Berlin had been opened.

The defence of Teltow served to demonstrate to the Red Army that the battle for the capital of the Reich would be a hard-fought affair.

The battle for Tempelhof would be equally as bitter, as the Red Army was determined to cut off this major airfield and possible escape route for the Nazi elite. General Chuikov sent in elements of the 39th and 79th Guards Rifle Divisions in a flanking manoeuvre. He then launched his main attack with elements from 8th Guards Army and 1st Guards Tank Army against the southern perimeter. Chuikov later recalled in his memoirs the savage fight for the airfield:

The aerodrome was defended by anti-aircraft units, SS troops, and tanks, the latter being drawn up in a large L-shape along the southern and eastern edges of the field. Most of them were dug into the ground, and thus made invulnerable fire points. It looked as though the Berlin garrison had no more fuel supplies for their tanks; all the petrol and diesel fuel, according to depositions from captured tank crews, had been taken by the air force for their planes.

In the underground hangars of the aerodrome planes were standing ready, tanks filled with fuel, able to take off at any minute; beside them were their crews, standing on duty every hour in the twenty-four, and amongst these men were pilots and navigators who in the past had been entrusted with the duty of flying Hitler, Goebbels, Bormann and other Nazi leaders to destinations all over Germany. From this information one might conclude that Hitler and his closest associates were still in Berlin, and might – who knows what the devil has up his sleeve! – slip out through this last loop-hole. So we had to do everything possible to ensure that this did not happen…

We did not know the precise location and other details of the exit gates from the underground hangars, so storm groups reinforced with tanks were assigned to the job of cutting off all access to the runways themselves by fire from guns and machine guns, and so keeping the planes bottled up underground. The plan worked perfectly. From the evening of 25 April on, not a single plane took off from the field, and by midday on 26 April the aerodrome itself, and the whole airport complex of Tempelhof – hangars, communications, installations, and the main ‘Affluence’ building were in our hands.

The Red Army advances came at a high price in terms of both men and machines. Weidling’s forces had inflicted heavy losses, albeit at high cost to themselves. Whilst the Red Army could sustain high losses, the German garrison could not. What Weidling needed more than anything at this time was reinforcements.

Remarkably, some German reinforcements made it into the beleaguered city. On the evening of 24 April, approximately ninety men, including most of the officers, the best non-commissioned officers and the divisional chaplain Monsignor Count Mayol de Lupe arrived at the Olympic Stadium. The volunteers who had accompanied their commander General Gustav Krukenberg to Berlin were on the whole fierce anti-Communists, arguably none more so than the divisional chaplain. The Monsignor was a larger than life character who was highly decorated, having been awarded the Legion d’ Honneur and the Iron Cross first and second class. Aged seventy two, he had been twice wounded in combat and was not adverse to anointing the dying with one hand, whilst firing his revolver with the other. His staunch anti-Communist credentials were laid out in this statement:

The world must choose; on the one hand Bolshevist savagery, an infernal force; on the other Christian civilisation. We must choose at all costs. We cannot loyally remain neutral any longer! It’s Bolshevist anarchy, or Christian order!

The uncompromising cleric joined his comrades in the defence of Neukolln. Later, the remnants of the volunteer force were pushed back into the central government district which had been designated as Defence Sector Z. Here, the Frenchmen fighting for Hitler’s lost cause acquitted themselves exceedingly well, turning the streets of Berlin into a graveyard for Soviet armour.


The BMP-2 IFV first appeared in the late 1970s and may be regarded as a ‘product improved’ BMP-1. Many of the drawbacks of the BMP-1 were eliminated, the most obvious being the replacement of the BMP-1’s 73 mm low velocity gun by a more versatile and effective 30 mm cannon and the relocation of the commander from a position behind the driver to the turret.

ATGW launchers may be mounted over the turret and an anti-tank grenade launcher is often carried. The rather cramped interior remains but the number of troops carried is reduced to seven (plus the commander who normally dismounts with the troops). The BMP-2 has been produced in large numbers; the Russian Army alone is estimated to have received some 20,000 vehicles so the type remains one of the Eastern Bloc’s most important combat vehicles numerically. Licence production continues in the former Czechoslovakia (BVP-2) and in India, where the BMP-2 is known as the Sarath. Essentially similar vehicles have been produced in Bulgaria (BMP-30) from where many were exported to Iraq.

The BMP-2 carries over the same general lines as the BMP-1 and is thus a low, agile, reliable and serviceable vehicle with adequate engine power for most all-terrain missions, especially with late production vehicles which have several improvements over earlier models such as improved fire control, extra armour in places and layout alterations.

A command version exists and mine ploughs may be fitted to most vehicles. Indian Sarath variants include an armoured ambulance, an armoured engineering vehicle and a bridging reconnaissance vehicle.

Modernization Package

Installation of the AG-17 automatic grenade launcher.

Replacement of the BPK-2-42 gunner’s sight fitted with an IR searchlight by the BPK-3-42 sight provided with a laser searchlight (increase in the range of gunner’s night vision from 800 to 1,300 meters) or by the BPM-M sight equipped with a thermal imaging module (2 to 2.5-fold increase in the range of gunner’s night vision).

Installation of the TKN-AI commander’s vision device fitted with laser active-impulse illumination in lieu of the TKN-3B commander’s vision device (increase in the target detection range and range finding measurement within 200 and 3,000 m with an accuracy of up to 20 m).

Replacement of the TVNE-1PA (TVNE- 1B) driver’s night vision device by the PVM multipurpose device (provision for day and night surveillance).

Modernization of the fire control system (provision for use of various antitank weapons and ATGM firing in poor visibility conditions both by day and night).

Installation of additional armor plating (ensured protection of the side armor plates against the 12.7mm B- 32 armor-piercing bullet hitting the armor at any angle). Additional updating of the BMP-1 and BMP-2 vehicles is also possible, including:

– installation of antimine armor plates under the bottom of the hull, attachment of the driver’s and commander’s seats to the hull side, installation of the Inei firefighting system in the personnel compartment and additional armored flaps (to increase armor protection of the vehicle sides), mounting of the KBM-2 air conditioner and a modernized active-passive gunner’s sight;

– replacement of the standard engine by the 370 hp UTD-23 turbocharged diesel with appropriate refit of the transmission.


Former Soviet Union

BMP-2 obr. 1980 – Initial production model.

BMP-2 obr. 1984 – Improved version with “kovriki” armour on turret front.

BMP-2 obr. 1986 – Late-production model with new BPK-2-42 sight instead of the BPK-1-42.

BMP-2D (D stands for desantnaya – assault) – Fitted with additional spaced type steel appliqué armour on the hull sides, under the driver’s and commander’s stations, and 6 mm thick appliqué armour on the turret. Due to the added weight, the vehicle is no longer amphibious. It also has provision for mounting a mine clearing system under the nose of the vehicle. In service since 1982, it saw service during Soviet war in Afghanistan. During that conflict, western observers saw the vehicle for the first time and gave it a designation BMP-2E.

BMP-2K (K stands for komandirskaya – command) – Command variant fitted with two whip antennas mounted on the rear of the hull, one behind the turret and one on the right-hand side of the rear of the vehicle, one IFF antenna (pin stick) on the left-hand side of the rear of the vehicle and a support for a telescopic mast in the front of the IFF antenna. The firing port equipped with the periscope was removed from either side of the vehicle. The antennae on the turret was removed. The radio equipment consists ether of the R-123M and R-130M radio sets, or the more modern R-173, R-126 and R-10. The crew consists of six men.

BMP-2M – This is the general designator for upgraded (modernizirovannyj) versions.

BMP-2M “Berezhok” – This version from KBP has an additional AG-30 grenade launcher, 2+2 launchers for ATGM 9M133 “Kornet” and new day/night sights as found on the BMD-4. This upgrade was selected by Algeria, and Russia will upgrade several hundred vehicles.

The upgrade package from Kurganmashzavod consists of the UTD-23 400 hp (294 kW) turbocharged engine, BPK-3-42 and TKN-AI sights, additional passive armour, an AG-17 “Plamya” grenade launcher and a KBM-2 air conditioning unit. Furthermore, the upgraded vehicle will have an improved suspension with road wheels of higher load carrying capacity, enhanced-hardness torsion bars, power-consuming shock absorbers and tracks with rubber pad shoes. The upgrade package was ready in 2008.

BMO-1 (boyevaya mashina ognemyotchikov) – Transport vehicle for a flamethrower squad armed with 30 RPO-A “Shmel” 93 mm napalm rocket launchers. It is equipped with storage racks and a dummy turret. The crew consists of seven soldiers. It entered service in 2001.

Former Czechoslovakia

BVP-2 (bojové vozidlo pěchoty) – Czechoslovak produced version of BMP-2.

BVP-2V or VR 1p (vozidlo velitele roty) – Company commander’s vehicle with tent, telescopic mast and radiosets RF 1325 (x 2), IPRS 32, RF 1301 and NS 2480D.

VPV (VPV stands for vyprošťovací pásové vozidlo) – BVP-2 conversion into an ARV developed at the ZTS Martin Research and Development Institute and production commenced at the ZTS Martin plant (which is now in Slovakia) in 1984. It is equipped with a powered crane with 5 tonnes capacity, heavy winch, wider troop compartment etc. Hatches on top of the turret and the troop compartment were removed. The vehicle is divided into four compartments: engine, commander’s, driver’s and repair/cargo. The crew consists of a commander/crane operator, driver/welder/slinger and a logistician/mechanic. The vehicle is armed with a pintle-mounted 7.62 mm PKT light machine gun. A small number of those vehicles was also based on BVP-1.


BMP-2 “Sarath” (“Chariot of Victory”), also known as BMP-II – Indian licence-produced variant of the BMP-2,[18] built by Ordnance Factory Medak. The first vehicle, assembled from components supplied by KBP, was ready in 1987. By 1999, about 90% of the complete vehicle and its associated systems were being produced in India. It was estimated that, by 2007, 1,250 vehicles had been built. India has also developed the following versions of the “Sarath”:

BMP-2 Light Tank – DRDO developed light tank on BMP-2 Chassis DRDO light tank.

BMP-2K “Sarath” – Command vehicle, similar to the Soviet/Russian version.

Armoured Ambulance – This version retains the turret but without the gun or smoke grenade launchers. The troop compartment has been modified to carry four stretchers.

Armoured Vehicle Tracked Light Repair – Armoured recovery vehicle, fitted with a light hydraulic crane.

Armoured Amphibious Dozer (AAD) – Turret-less combat engineer vehicle, fitted with a folding dozer blade at the rear, mine ploughs, a main winch with a capacity of 8,000 kg and a rocket-propelled earth anchor for self-recovery.

Armoured Engineer Reconnaissance Vehicle (AERV) – This version has no gun and is fitted with specialised equipment, including an echo-sounder, a water current metre, a laser range finder and GPS. On the left rear of the hull, a marking system with 40 rods is fitted.

NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV) – For detection of nuclear, biological and chemical contamination. The NBCRV was developed by DRDO and VRDE and has been ordered by the Indian army.

Carrier Mortar Tracked Vehicle – This turret-less version has an 81 mm mortar mounted in the modified troop compartment. The mortar is fired through an opening in the hull roof that has two hinged doors. It has a max. range of 5,000 m and a normal rate of fire of 6–8 rds/min. There is also a longe-range version of the mortar. The vehicle carries 108 mortar rounds and is also fitted with a 7.62 mm machine gun with 2,350 rounds. Crew: 2+4. The first prototype was completed in 1997.

NAMICA (Nag Missile Carrier) – part of the Nag anti-tank missile system. The Nag (snake) missile is launched from a retractable armoured launcher that contains four launch tubes and the guidance package. “Nag” is a fire-and-forget top-attack ATGM with a tandem-HEAT warhead and a range of at least 4 km.

Akash – Air-defence missile system that is based on a modified “Sarath” chassis with 7 road wheels. On top of the hull there’s a launcher for three SAMs with a range of 27 km and semi-active homing guidance.

Rajendra – This is a multifunctional 3-D phased radar (MUFAR), associated with the “Akash” system. It is also based on the stretched chassis.

BMP-2 UGV “Muntra” – unmanned reconnaissance vehicle, “S” version is fitted with equipment used to detect nuclear, biological and chemical contamination while the “M” version is designed to detect mines.

105 mm Self-Propelled Gun – This is OFB’s mechanized version of the Indian Light Field Gun (EQPT 105/37 LFG E2) with 42 rounds stowed. The gun is mounted in a lightly armoured turret. The 105 mm SPG was shown for the first time in public in February 2010 during DEFEXPO-2010 in New Delhi and is planned to replace the FV433 Abbot SPG in the Indian army.


BMP-2 upgrade designed by Nimda fitting it with new power unit and automatic transmission which improves both mobility and reliability.


BWP-2 – Polish designation for BMP-2 and BMP-2D.


BMP-2MD – Finnish modernisation of the BMP-2, which includes thermal camouflage, thermal sights, anti-aircraft sight and new day/night optics for the gunner and commander, heated cabin and seats, new external storage boxes functioning also as spaced armour and new radio and communications systems.


Operational Maneuver Group [OMG]

In the 1980s, the Soviets began to form new corps-type structures. These corps are divisions expanded to almost twice the size of a tank division [TD]. They are ideally suited to act as an operational maneuver group (OMG) for the front, conducting high-speed operations deep in an enemy’s rear area. These NAC formations contain around 400 tanks, 750 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs)and armored personnel carriers (APCs),and 300 artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers (MRLs). Additional units of this type may appear once testing and operational evaluation end.

Soviet maneuver divisions are continuously undergoing a reorganization that significantly upgrades their combat capability. This manual includes the main features of the most current organizational changes. The addition of new sub-units and the upgrade of existing elements have expanded both motorized rifle divisions [MRDs] and TDs. The greatest changes are in the TDs.

The BTR-and BMP-equipped motorized rifle battalions (MRBs) have expanded the mortar battery from six to eight tubes. They have added a machine gun/antitank platoon to each company in the BTR-equipped MRB. The BMP-equipped MRB has added machine gun platoons, with no extra antitank weapons. Also, the Soviets have now consolidated the automatic grenade launcher and antiaircraft (AA) squads in platoons at the battalion level of both BTR-and BMP-equipped MRBs.

In order to support the fast-moving maneuver units envisioned for future battlefields, the Soviets have formed materiel support units within combined arms units from tactical to front levels. Within divisions and regiments, respectively, materiel sup-port battalions and companies combine formerly fragmented motor transport, supply, and service functions. The new rear area units will provide a 30-percent increase in motor transport assets and a streamlined command structure. A similar re-organization at army and front levels has created materiel support brigades with centralized control for ammunition, fuel, and other supplies.

The airborne division is now a fully mechanized combined arms organization. Airborne divisions now consist of three regiments equipped with the air-droppable BMD, affording these units greater firepower and mobility. The Soviets have also produced a new 120-millimeter 2S9 airborne self-propelled (SP) howitzer with a mortar capability for airborne and air assault units.

Since the late 1970s, the Soviets have developed the tank regiment (TR) into a combined arms team (tank, motorized rifle, and artillery) that promises to be as flexible in its employment as the motorized rifle regiment (MRR). (The MRR already had a tank battalion (TB) and an artillery battalion.) The addition of an MRB to the TR of a TD eliminates the necessity for the TD commander to reinforce each of his TRs with MRR assets. This leaves the TD with four maneuver regiments. The addition of an artillery battalion to the TR places a great deal more firepower under direct control of the regimental commander. The division commander then has greater flexibility in the use of his artillery resources to influence the battle. Hence, the capability of the TR and TD to conduct largely self-supported combined arms combat has increased greatly.

Large-caliber SP guns and mortars and long-range MRLs have increased the artillery available to army and front commanders. Additionally, some army-level regiments have grown to brigade size with the addition of a fourth artillery battalion. These battalions are currently expanding from 18 to 24 tubes, primarily in units opposite NATO. All of the Soviet’s SP and towed guns/howitzers (152-millimeter and larger) are nuclear-capable. The Soviets are also adding newer nuclear-capable pieces such as the 203-millimeter SP gun 2S7 and the 240-millimeter SP mortar 2S4. They are deploying the BM-22 220-millimeter MRL, which can fire deep into the enemy’s rear. These improvements greatly enhance area coverage and counter-battery support to subordinate divisions. The new T-64/72/80-seriestanks feature improved firepower, with a 125-millimeter main gun and an improved fire control system. Both the T-80 and a variant of the T-64 can fire an ATGM through the main tube. The T-80 can mount reactive armor which further protects against the West’s antitank capabilities. At the same time, the establishment of army aviation has given ground forces a vertical dimension. The helicopter now provides CAAs and TAs with a highly maneuverable and versatile platform for reconnaissance, command and control (C2), and fire support. General-purpose and attack helicopter units can move with armies and divisions at the high rates of advance they will need to conduct combined arms operations in depth.


Soviet maneuver divisions are well-balanced, powerful, and mobile fighting units. They have a combined arms structure as well as a comprehensive array of combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) elements. In early 1987, there were 211 active Soviet maneuver divisions: 150 MRDs, 52 TDs, 7 airborne divisions, and 2 static defense divisions. The totals did not include 2 new army corps (NAC) and 5 mobilization divisions.

The basic structures of the three types of divisions (motorized rifle, tank, and airborne). While this presents “type” Soviet divisions, different configurations and different categories of readiness exist among actual divisions.

Divisions receive new items of equipment according to the priorities established by the MOD. High-priority formations, such as the Soviet forces in the Western TVD, are usually the first to receive modern equipment. When they replace older material, the Soviets send that older equipment to lower-priority units in the interior of the USSR or to reserve stocks. Late-model T-64/72/80 tanks constitute about one-third of the USSR’s tanks. While older T-55 and T-62 tanks constitute moat of the remainder, over 1,500 T-80s are currently deployed opposite NATO and nearly 75 percent of the 19,000 Soviet tanks in the Western Theater are T-64/72/80 models.

By MAJOR B. M. Young’s, USMC
April 6, 1984

“Rear area security has been a continuing problem for armies throughout history. Today is no different; the capability of the Soviet Union to inflict damage to our rear areas is a serious threat. Those threats and actions within the . . . rear area which impede or deny the orderly flow of supplies and services to the forward maneuver elements affect directly the ability of those maneuver elements to accomplish their mission.

The U. S. Army’s FM 100-5, Operations, considered to be the capstone publication for U. S. maneuver warfare, specifically warns:
‘Just as we plan to fight in the enemy’s rear area, so he plans to fight in ours. The enemy will carefully coordinate his attack in our rear area with his actions in the main battle area….the object of these rear area attacks is to destroy critical links, to cause disruption, and to degrade the capability of forces dedicated to support or reinforce the main effort.’
. . .

Perhaps at the outset, some terms should be defined. The rear area is the area in the rear of the combat and forward areas. Rear area security (RAS) is defined as those measures taken prior to, during, and/or after an enemy airborne attack, sabotage action, infiltration, guerrilla action, and/or initiation of psychological or propaganda warfare to minimize the effects thereof. Rear area protection (RAP) includes all measures taken to prevent interruptions of combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) operations.

A historical review of rear area operations reveals that the Soviet Union has traditionally been successful in employing forces in the enemy’s rear area. These rear area operations were conducted to disrupt or destroy enemy combat support and combat service support operations and as economy of force measures to force enemy commanders to divert tactical or frontline units in defense of their rear areas. Successful rear area operations in military history serve to emphasize the importance and magnitude of the rear area security problem.

. . .

The Soviet Army has had tremendous experience with rear area operations and is cognizant of their effectiveness.

Having stated the historical significance of rear area operations, it is now appropriate to examine briefly the threat impose by our most likely enemy in futur3e conflicts.

The lessons of World War II are still vivid in the minds of the Soviet military hierarchy. The two principles of war which seem to dominate Soviet military doctrine are: offensive and mass. Western strategists and tacticians are continuously working on methods to defeat or counter these
Soviet capabilities.

The immediate question should be, “What is the threat today?” The principles of war, economy of force (the reciprocal of mass) and the offensive are the driving factors in the importance of rear area operations as a force multiplier in Soviet doctrine today.

The evolution of Soviet doctrine for the employment of ground forces developed rapidly in post World War II. Soviet conventional ground forces were trained and equipped to maneuver motorized rifle and tank units in seizing objectives deep in the enemy rear areas. Soviet doctrine continues to emphasize the offensive and high-speed penetration of enemy defenses and combat formations to seize deep objectives.

The Soviet desant concept advocates employing forces in the enemy rear areas or flanks. This concept is a consolidation of Soviet thinking in the employment of airborne, heliborne, and amphibious forces in economy of force operations to disrupt the enemy rear area. The desant concept is an accessory to the principle of the offensive because its primary purpose is to support the advance of the Soviet regular ground forces.

The Soviet forces involved in rear area operations would be drawn primarily from three sources: airborne units, long-range reconnaissance units from tank and motorized rifle units, and designated combined arms units (also called forward detachments) from tank and motorized rifle units.

The Soviet Union maintains the world’s largest airborne force which is organized into seven active divisions. The most important feature of these airborne divisions and their subordinate units is that, once landed, they are a light-armor mechanized force. The BMD is the airborne equivalent of the Soviet Infantry combat fighting vehicle BMP, and, as such, provides Soviet airborne forces a significant mobility and firepower capability.

Soviet doctrine assigns three basic missions to airborne forces: (1) strategic; (2) operational; and (3) tactical.

The primary difference in these missions is the depth of operation and the nature of the objectives. Of importance to this paper are the operational and tactical missions. Operational missions in support of the Front (largest Soviet fighting organization) are executed under the control of the Front commander. These missions include seizing bridgeheads, airfields, road junctions, as well as destruction of enemy logistical facilities. Operating in the enemy rear areas, these units prevent the effective and timely employment of reserve forces and generally disrupt the enemy’s offensive and defensive posture. Standard procedure for operational missions of this nature would involve dropping a regimental sized unit up to 300km beyond the FEBA in support of a Front offensive. Ground forces linkup would occur within two to three days with the airborne forces.

The tactical mission concept includes battalion to regimental-sized operations up to 100km beyond the FEBA in support of an Army offensive. Linkup in these operations is planned within 48 hours. The tactical mission has objectives similar to operational missions, but on a smaller scale.

Tactical long-range reconnaissance units are found in reconnaissance battalions of motorized rifle and tank divisions, the mission of these units is to conduct ground reconnaissance of the enemy rear area up to 100km beyond the FEBA. These battalions are capable of operating in an area of 50-60km wide on three or four axes. Six to eight armored reconnaissance squads, each consisting of two to three BRDM’s and/or BMP-R’s and motorcycles, are used. Their primary mission is reconnaissance, but they may attack small targets of opportunity or even conduct sabotage operations against logistic units. In addition, long-range reconnaissance patrols are often flown by helicopter. They can operate throughout a rear area to locate both reserve force and command post locations and to recon possible avenues of approach.

The special combined arms unit, also called a forward detachment, is typically composed of a motorized rifle battalion with tanks, self-propelled artillery, and air defense weapons. This detachment is a small, highly mobile and firepower intensive unit. These forward detachments take advantage of a gap in the enemy front and penetrate deep into the enemy rear area. The objectives of these small independent units vary according to the situation. These detachments are key elements in the successful linkup with airborne and helicopter forces. How valid a threat is a forward detachment? According to Victor Suvorov, author of Inside the Soviet Army, one battalion in each Soviet regiment is held ready to assume the mission of a forward detachment at all times.

In conjunction with the Soviet forces previously mentioned three additional organizations have been recently identified as having the primary mission of operating in an enemy’s rear area. The three organizations are: the Spetsnaz; Air Assault Brigades; and the Operational Maneuver Group (OMG).

The Spetsnaz are the special purpose or unconventional warfare forces of the Soviet Union. Each Combined Arms Army and Tank Army has a Spetsnaz Company totaling approximately 105 personnel. Depending upon its assigned mission, the company can operate as an entity or it can be fragmented into smaller groups and teams. In addition, each Front has a Spetsnaz Brigade of approximately 1300 highly-skilled, elite troops. Spetsnaz troops are all volunteers and are superbly trained to operate in a clandestine manner behind enemy lines. The Soviets consider that Spetsnaz operations can only be successful if they take place simultaneously on a massive scale with other operations. Spetsnaz units are placed in areas where there are numerous high-value targets (i.e., command posts, logistical facilities).

The Soviet Air Assault Brigades represent a significant increase in the Front level combat capability. These brigades have a combination of battalions which are parachute and BMD-equipped. The air assault brigade is capable of undertaking a myriad of missions because of its unique structure, mobility, and firepower. The brigade consists of three battalions with approximately 2,500 personnel; the battalions are employed by airborne drop or by helicopter. The missions assigned the heliborne battalions include neutralization of command posts, seizure of key terrain, and destruction of logistics sites. Soviet doctrine for the employment of heliborne forces states that those forces can be inserted anywhere in the tactical depth of the enemy’s defense or combat formations up to 50km from friendly forces.

The Operational Maneuver Group (OMG) appears to be a large one-way raiding force, composed of infantry, tanks, artillery, air defense and a heavy air assault component. The Soviets believe that successful OMG operations could severely disrupt the enemy rear area, thereby increasing the chances of maintaining the rapid advance of Army and Front level forces. The OMG is a specially tailored combat force with no fixed structure. The OMG has three main missions, all of which are directed at the enemy’s rear area: (1) destruction of enemy weapons systems; (2) destruction of the enemy’s in-depth defense or offensive combat formation (actions by the OMG would include destruction of command and control positions, logistics assets and surprise attacks on flank and rear area units); (3) seizure of deep key terrain and critical objectives.

It should be readily apparent that the Soviet threat to rear area security is quite significant. Soviet operations in the rear area will not of themselves be of sufficient scale to bring about a Soviet victory. One major function of all the forces mentioned is to reduce the enemy’s capacity to resist, thus making it easier for the main attacking forces to accomplish their missions.

Having described the Soviet threat to rear areas, it would be appropriate to review what current doctrine provides the conduct of rear area security operations.

U. S. Army doctrine is found in FM 31-85, Rear Area Protection (RAP) Operations. Though issued in 1970, it does provide a basic philosophy of RAS and eight principles which are still valid: austerity, command, and economy of force, integrated protection, offensive, responsiveness, supervision, and priority of risks.

The cornerstone of Army doctrine is FM 100-5, Operations, which provides information on Rear Area Protection and gives a concise and meaningful resume of the threat as it is projected and adequately outlines responsibilities for rear and combat operations (RACO).”

Chechnya Helicopters

Secessionism in the small autonomous north Caucasus republic of Chechnya led to two Russian campaigns, the first from 1994 to 1996 and the second beginning in 1999 and, in a much reduced form, continuing at the time of this writing. Of Chechnya’s land area, totaling some one hundred by eighty kilometers, about 11 percent is comprised of medium-high mountain and 8 percent of high mountains. The area of medium height is heavily forested particularly over the slopes facing north, with beech forests, oak, elders, and hornbeam. In the first Chechen war, after Russia’s violent “shock and awe” campaign had flattened Chechnya’s capital city of Grozny and cleared the lower areas of Chechnya, the insurgents withdrew to the higher ground in the south and its sixty-mile-long border with independent Georgia. The forested mountain areas with the two Argun rivers provide a route of entry into Chechnya both for supplies and foreign volunteers, such as Saudi Arabian Wahabis, Uzbekhs, Somalis, and others. In times of difficulty the forests could also serve as a route for any hard-pressed insurgent band to escape into safety. Road transport in these areas is, at best, difficult and dangerous because of limited visibility; at times, especially in the rainy season, vehicle movement is impossible. In the nineteenth century the tsar’s army had cut open some swathes of forest to provide fields of fire and some protection against ambushes. The Russians tried to follow their forebears’ tactics, together with helicopter logistic supply support for outposts and border posts.

In both Chechen wars the Russians experienced great difficulty in flying helicopters in the forest rayons. Wind conditions could vary greatly and suddenly both in direction and strength, making landings hazardous and any use of helicopters as gunships quite uncertain. In the first conflict the Russians sought to extend shock and awe, and the destruction of villages on the edges of the forests, by positioning artillery at the actual edge and firing into the forest while dropping random bombs at the same time. Some of the bombs and shells were new, highly destructive, tactical-level, thermobasic, or fuel-air explosives. In their occasional forays into the forest, poorly prepared Russian soldiers were more concerned with preserving their own lives than with attacking their opponents; the forays achieved little. The Chechen insurgents, supported by well-publicized foreign Muslim volunteers often of little military value, would then withdraw further into the forests, trying to lure the Russians into pursuit to then ambush them from all sides. Some insurgent bands either lived entirely in the woods or found shelter in remote forest villages, emerging to strike at Russian posts or headquarters. Russians initially remained prudent in the use of helicopters, keeping them airborne. One reason for this caution was the sharp differences of opinion on how, or even whether, the war should be fought and which of the many rival government services and agencies should be in charge. These differences eventually led to a cease-fire and the end of the first war.

In the second war the Russians and their Chechen collaborators again saw their priority as taking control of Grozny and the lower ground areas, hoping that, by so doing, resistance would continue for only a short time in the mountains and forests. Russian forces were by now better equipped and trained with much greater gun, mortar, and rocket-launcher firepower which they planned to use at maximum range. Artillery or mortar batteries were attached to company-level sub- units in all areas. With the aim of securing their approved Chechen leaders’ power; the Russians again launched a heavy assault on Grozny, flattening the capital city and its surrounding suburbs and towns, the areas of economic importance. Included in these assaults were units equipped with the Buratino, a 36-barreled rocket launcher capable of firing incendiary or fuel-air explosives and laser-guided projectiles from their 220-mm mortars. Having devastated the low country, the Russians moved to more proactive incursions into the forest areas in the south, particularly in the Shatovski rayons. The incursions mostly took the form of raids mounted from the forest edges preceded by artillery shelling and aircraft bombing; pursuit groups with flame throwers would seek to encircle forest bands. The Russians admitted, however, that many escaped.

Other groups were landed by helicopter in small village areas or small open clearings deep in the southern mountain forests. These groups were usually Special Forces rather than line infantry and were to meet unexpected hazards. The Russians have been reticent and have not released a full account of all the practical difficulties these missions experienced, but accounts of two disasters and other press reports pro- vide some insight.

The first disaster occurred at the end of February 2000, when airborne solders of a Parachute Desyant Company were massacred in or following a helicopter landing on a forest-covered hill near Ulus Kert. The second occurred in April 2007, when an HIP Mil Mi-8 helicopter carrying men of the 22nd Spetsnez Military Intelligence Brigade crashed near Sanoy, killing all the men aboard. The brigade had been called to help units already on the ground who were in pursuit of an insurgent group but had become bogged down in mud. The Russian HIP helicopters were old, most twenty-five years old or more, with reduced rotor thrust and other control problems. Further, in the HIP and other Russian helicopters the pilot’s range of vision was limited to the front, making landings in windy conditions in small tree-lined spaces very dangerous indeed. Between 19 August 2002 and 27 April 2007, a total of eighteen helicopters were lost in Chechnya, seven by fire from the ground, three by crashing into a mountain, and the remainder by technical problems or pilot error causing rotor blades to hit treetops. But as the Russian pursuit attacks became progressively more effective, Chechen forest and mountain resistance fell. The strategy of opposition changed to one of sporadic attacks in Russia and the neighboring autonomous republics. The death of the leading Chechen guerrilla leader led to a nominal cease-fire and the installation of a client regime. In Russia itself the small number of casualties per month continues to arouse criticism, and on a remote forest-lined stretch of the Moscow-St. Petersburg railway, North Caucasian insurgents blew up the prestigious Nevsky Express train in November 2009, killing twenty-six people and wounding at least a hundred.


Much useful information on the Chechnya operations may be found in Lieutenant-Colonel C. W. Blandy, North Caucasus: Problems of Helicopter Support in Mountains (Swindon, UK: Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, 2007).

Michael Orr, “Better or Just Not So Bad, an Evaluation of Russian Combat Efficiency in the Second Chechen War,” and Lester W. Grau “Technology and the Second Chechen Campaign,” both in Anne Aldis, ed., The Second Chechen War (Swindon, UK: Strategic and Combat Studies Institute, 2000)

Soviet Pursuit of the Superfortress

During the Second World War, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin had asked America for Boeing B-29 Superfortresses through lend-lease but was rebuffed as the United States had correctly surmised that the allied status of the two countries might not survive the war and did not want to deliver the Americans’ most advanced bomber to the Soviet Union. Undeterred, Stalin set about having his agents find out all the information they could about the B-29 and tasked Andrey Tupolev (and Vladimir Myasishchev) with the job of designing an aeroplane that was the equal of the B-29 in capabilities; this project was known internally in the Tupolev OKB as the `64′.

By the end of the Second World War, the only indigenous four-engined bomber design that the Soviets possessed was the obsolete Pe-8, though they also had a few Lancasters, B-17s and B-24s that had been abandoned by the Western Allies on Soviet soil and rebuilt to flying status, and the three B-29s that had been interned. Stalin recognised the need for a modern strategic bomber that was also capable of carrying the nuclear bomb then being developed, and directed Andrey Tupolev and Vladimir Myasishchev to develop such an aeroplane. The Tupolev aircraft was designated as the `64′, while the Myasishchev designs were designated as the `M-202′ (`DVB-202′) and `M-302′ (`DVB-302′).

Before the fortuitous arrival of the three force-landed B-29s in the Soviet Far East, the Soviet Union, in the form of the Tupolev OKB, had begun development on a four-engined bomber that would have similar capabilities to the B-29.

The Soviets first became aware of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber in 1943, at about the same time that development of the Soviet nuclear weapon began. It was apparent that a new, capable bomber was needed to deliver this new weapon, so the Soviets, recognising the capabilities of the B- 29, set about creating a bomber of their own that mirrored its abilities. It was also at this time that the Tupolev OKB began developing the `64′ as just such a bomber. The OKB was directed in September 1943 to develop a mock-up and preliminary design for this high-altitude, long-range heavy bomber, which was to be powered by Shevtsov M-71TK-M engines. In addition, the bomber was to have remote-controlled turrets, and pressurised cabins, as with the B-29.

This aircraft was to have the following specifications: a range of 3,107 miles (5,000 km) with a full bomb load of 22,046 lb (10,000 kg) at 249 mph (400 kph), a maximum speed of 311 mph at 32,808 feet (500 kph at 10,000 m), and a bomb bay capacity of 22,046 lb (10,000 kg). It was also to have a range of 3,728 miles (6,000 km) with a bomb load of 15,432 to 17,637 lb (7,000 to 8,000 kg).

Drawing upon what he knew about the B-29 (and what Soviet spies were able to determine) and his own considerable engineering capabilities, by August 1944, Tupolev had readied the preliminary design of the Soviet B-29 `analogue’ (analogous in capability to the American B-29). Again, it was not to be a direct copy, but was to be capable of the same missions and with a similar overall performance. The aircraft was to be a long-range four-engined bomber capable of carrying a maximum bomb load of 39,683 lb (18,000 kg), with bombs of up to 11,023 lb (5,000 kg) in calibre. One can see that this bomb load was much greater than what had initially been called for-22,046 lb (10,000 kg). The pressurised cabins were to allow the crews to fly in comfort up to an altitude of 26,247 feet to 32,808 feet (8,000 m to 10,000 m).

Defensive armament was to consist of turrets armed with either two or canopies mentioned previously, and 2,300 hp AM-46TK-3PB engines. The low-wing configuration would have made it easier to turn the aircraft into a passenger aircraft, but in the event, no version of the `64′ ever passed beyond the mock-up stage, as the reverse-engineering of the B-29 proved successful, rendering the `64′ redundant.

`M-202′ (`DVB-202′)

This was the first of the Myasishchev OKB’s analogues to the B-29 and design work began in 1944. It is obvious from the extant drawings of the design that it drew heavily on what was known of the B-29, which the DVB- 202 very strongly resembled. It also drew upon experience from Myasishchev’s earlier attempt at a modern long-range bomber, the DVB-102.

Like the B-29 (and the Tu-4), the M-202 was to be a large, four-engined monoplane with a non-stepped flush cockpit, and a retractable tricycle landing gear. Again, as with the B-29, it featured a heavy defensive armament, in the form of four remote-controlled turrets and a manned tail turret. The first variant of the M-202 had the turrets arranged in the same way as the B-29, with two dorsal turrets fore and aft on the fuselage, two ventral turrets fore and aft on the fuselage, and a tail turret. Another variant had both of the dorsal turrets mounted in the forward fuselage, with the ventral turrets being mounted fore and aft, and a tail turret being included.

The following specifications were issued for the M-202: a maximum speed of 373 mph at 32,808 feet (600 kph at 10,000 m), a ceiling of 39,370 feet (12,000 m), and a range of 3,728 miles (6,000 km) at a height of 32,808 feet (10,000 m) with a bomb load of 8,818 lb (4,000 kg).

Development of the M-202 was stopped in favour of the improved M-302.

`M-302′ (`DVB-302′)

The second of Myasishchev’s B-29 analogues, it was a development of the M-202. Using the same basic layout of the M-202, the M-302 was designed to use four of the Shvetsov ASh-72TK turbo-charged radial engines. The M-302 lost out to the Tu-4 and was not proceeded with, even in prototype form. The DVB-402 was a development of the DVB-302 that had a raised cockpit, instead of the flush B-29-type cockpit. Likewise, it was not proceeded with.