During World War II, the Russian Armed Forces consisted of five main elements; the Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force, National Air Defense and Armed Forces Support. The Ground Forces represented about 80 percent of the total manpower, being the largest in strength. It had approximately 5,300,000 military effectives at the outbreak of the Russo-German War in June 1941. However, devastating damage brought by the German Mechanized Forces resulted in more than 70 percent losses of its entire troop strength within five months. This led to rapid reorganization of the Ground Forces, and with a help of the harsh winter climate of Russia, they managed to repel German’s advance just in front of Moscow. Due to the heavy losses, reorganized units became much smaller than before. Rifle Forces (infantry) reduced their divisional strength from 14,483 to 10,859. Tank Divisions, which possessed some 20,000 armored vehicles, lost about 70% of them at the initial stage of war. Most surviving Tank Divisions were disbanded, and the available tanks and crews were re-assigned to much smaller units like independent tank battalions or tank brigades. It was in 1945, just prior to the end of the conflict, that the Russian Armed Forces recuperated the pre-war level of their strength.
The main strength of the Russian counter-offensive was their tank troops. Following concentrated fire by their artillery units, the tank troops advanced in three groups, and many infantrymen rode on the tanks of the 2nd and 3rd groups. This infantry practice was unique to Russian tactics and was called “Tankoviy Desant” by the Russians. Since the Russian Ground Forces did not possess armored troop carriers like the German halftracks, an infantry battalion called the ‘Motor Rifle Unit” was attached to every tank brigade and assigned to close support the tanks. A Motor Rifle Unit consisted of about 500 infantrymen. PPSh-41 or PPS-43 machine guns as support arms. Soldiers carried as many magazines as possible, and advanced while riding on tanks. Once encountering an enemy’s defensive position, infantrymen would disembark from the tank, attack the position, and then return to the tank. These infantrymen were spearheads of the attack, and due to enemy’s defensive fire, liable to sustain heavy casualties.
The standard uniform of the Russian infantrymen during WW2 was a simple blouse called “Gymnastiorka”. Early in the conflict, greatcoats and rain capes were often used as wintertime attire. In 1940, a quilted jacket called “Telogreika” was introduced, but not enough quantities were supplied in the beginning.
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