Thursday, May 28, 2015

Warsaw Pact Deployment on the Central Front I

A Warsaw Pact invasion would have come via three main paths through Germany.

As with that of the Americans, British and French, the long-term Soviet deployment on the Central Front was, in the main, a direct result of where the Red Army stopped in 1945, although there were some minor adjustments during the forty years of the Cold War. The forces permanently stationed in East Germany were designated Group of Soviet Forces Germany (GSFG), with their headquarters at Zossen-Wünstorf, 30 km south of Berlin, and comprised five armies, most of which were approximately equivalent to a NATO corps in size.

The Soviet army believed that the basic form of military strategy was the offensive, and all its (and the Warsaw Pact’s) planning, organizations and exercises were devoted to this end. The 1945 organizations lasted for only a short time, and from 1947 infantry regiments began to be mechanized, using BTR-40P wheeled trucks. This process gathered pace in the 1950s, until 1957, when a major re-equipment programme began to bear fruit and new-style tank and motor-rifle divisions were introduced, which were smaller, easier to control and much harder hitting than their predecessors. These were organized into two types of army: a ‘tank army’, in which tank divisions normally predominated, and a ‘combined-arms army’, in which motor-rifle divisions predominated, the number and type of divisions depending upon the army’s combat mission.

The history of GSFG included some major equipment milestones, which marked a significant increase in tactical capability. The first of these was the fielding of T-62 tanks and BTR-60 eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers in the early 1960s, while in the early 1970s the Mi-24 (NATO = ‘Hind’) helicopter gave a totally new capability to the Soviet air force’s Frontal Aviation command. The changeover in artillery from wheeled to tracked self-propelled guns, which came in the late 1970s, was also of major significance, although it was made considerably later than in NATO. The final stage was marked by the fielding of the new T-80 tank, which joined the front line facing NATO in the mid-1980s.

In war the Warsaw Pact forces in central Europe would have come under the Western Teatr Voyennykh Destiviy (Theatre of Military Operations (TVD)), which would have been subdivided into fronts, each composed of a number of armies, and an air army. The commander-in-chief Western TVD controlled all Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland, as well as the second-echelon armies which would have been generated by the western military districts in the USSR.

In 1945 East Germany was occupied by six armies: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Guards Tank Armies; the 3rd Shock Army; and the 8th Guards Army.fn2 Of these, the 4th Guards Tank Army was gradually withdrawn to the USSR in the 1950s, followed by the 3rd Guards Tank Army in 1960–61. This appears to have overstretched the headquarters that remained, since, in the aftermath of the 1961 Berlin crisis, a new headquarters unit, the 20th Guards Tank Army, was formed. The other army was Frontal Aviation’s 16th Air Army, which remained in East Germany from 1945 to the end of the Cold War.

From the 1960s onwards, GSFG comprised the following.

• The 2nd Guards Tank Army, the northernmost formation, occupied an area near the Baltic south of Rostock, with its peacetime headquarters at Fürstenberg–Havel, 60 km north of Berlin. Despite its title of ‘Tank Army’, it actually consisted of just one tank division, plus two motor-rifle divisions.

• The 3rd Shock Army was located in the centre and, in view of its intended role of thrusting across the North German Plain, it consisted of four tank divisions and a single motor-rifle division, making it, at least on paper, the most formidable fighting formation in any army. The title ‘Shock’ was conferred in 1945, but the name changed to 3rd Mechanized Army in 1947, before reverting to 3rd Shock Army in 1957–8. The headquarters was at Magdeburg, conveniently close to the IGB and just off the E8 autobahn, which would have been the main axis of the army’s advance into West Germany in the event of war.

• The 8th Guards Army was located in the south and, as its intended role would take it through primarily infantry country, it consisted of one tank division and three motor-rifle divisions. Its headquarters was at Nohra, 10 km south-west of Weimar.

• The 20th Guards Army was located just west of Berlin, effectively in the rear of the 3rd Shock Army. It consisted of three motor-rifle divisions, and did not have an integral tank division. Its headquarters was at Eberswalde-Finow, some 40 km north-east of Berlin.

• The 1st Guards Tank Army was virtually identical to the 3rd Shock Army, with four tank divisions and one motor-rifle division. Its headquarters was at Dresden, in the south-east corner of the GDR.

GSFG also included considerably more supporting units (artillery, engineers, aviation, communications and logistic services) than other similar organizations in the Soviet armed forces. Thus, for example, GSFG was supported by 34 Guards Artillery Division, which was three times the size of a normal artillery division.

The offensive nature of GSFG’s wartime missions was underlined by a further six reinforced bridging regiments and six amphibious river-crossing battalions, whose wartime mission was to ensure that the many rivers in West Germany and Denmark were crossed quickly. There were also two assault-engineer regiments, specially trained in urban clearance tasks, whose wartime missions would have been in cities such as Braunschweig and Hanover and in the Ruhr. Two aviation regiments were equipped with Hind attack helicopters, which established such a fearsome reputation in Afghanistan. There were also eight spetsnaz battalions for employment in NATO’s rear areas, and one integral airborne regiment, although GSFG had priority call on one or more of the airborne divisions back in the USSR, which were normally under centralized Ministry of Defence control.

The peacetime strength of GSFG amounted to some 380,000 men, with 7,000 tanks, 3,000 infantry fighting vehicles, 300 helicopters and a vast amount of artillery. All were manned at Category-A levels, which was usually well in excess of 90 per cent of their wartime figure.

Situated in Poland was the Soviet Northern Group of Forces (NGF), with its headquarters at Legnica. In peacetime its troops consisted of two motor rifle divisions and an air army. In war its position astride the lines of communication from the homeland would have been absolutely vital to the success of the offensive, and it would have been reinforced by units from the USSR.

The third element, in addition to GSFG and NGF, was the Central Group of Forces (CGF), which was formed in 1968, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The headquarters was located at Milovice, Czechoslovakia, some 30 km north-west of Hradec Králové, and after a rapid build-up in 1968–71 the CGF was composed of two tank and three motor-rifle divisions.

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