Tuesday 17 September 2013

The One with the Rifle Shoots

Popular history is filled to the brim with images of Red Army soldiers that are sent to the front without weapons, or without ammunition, left to their own devices by a cruel regime that cannot supply them with what they need to fight the enemy. If you look at very specific excerpts from archive sources, it appears to be true.

"The military districts' bookkeeping data does not fully reflect the real stocks of weapons and ammunition. Inspections of the Moscow Military Disctrict showed abysmal accounting of military resources."

Seems pretty hopeless, right? Well, here's the full text of the document.

"The People's Commissariat of Government Control of the USSR inspected the stock of weapons and armament on June 30th and July 1st of this year on the 32 MVO warehouses and 2 central NKO armament bases.

The inspection determined that on bases of units that already left for the front, in Moscow and its suburbs alone, 22 thousand rifles, 2,346 machineguns, 247 mortars, 483 guns and howitzers, 4,064,600 rifle cartridges, 52,177 shells, 8,952 hand grenades, etc., were left unissued. 

The two GAU KA bases contain 62,623 rifles, 92,756 pistols and revolvers, 724 mounted machineguns, 3,107 handheld machineguns, 149 mortars, 1,748 howitzers, 3,649,700 rifle cartidges, and 8,449 shells.
The People's Commissariat of Government Control issued a request for lists of armament and ammunition to the military districts. By noon on July 2nd, information from the MVO, HVO, SKVO, ZakVO, YrVO, and KOVO arrived. The lists are attached.

The military districts' bookkeeping data does not fully reflect the real stocks of weapons and ammunition. Inspections of the Moscow Military District showed abysmal accounting of military resources. Unit and base warehouses contain more armament and ammunition than the District records indicate. 

The "Vystrel" courses should have 1,620 rifles. In reality, they have 1,780. Instead of 115 machineguns, they had 220. The Moscow Military-Political School had 16 machineguns issued to it, and 104 on the day of inspection. The 1st Moscow Artillery School had 29 machineguns instead of 9, the 1st Communications Regiment was not supposed to have any machineguns, but had 5. The #38 Okruzhnoy warehouse was supposed to have 13087 rifles, but had 830 rifles more. The warehouse also had a surplus of 88,681 rifle cartridges."

So there you have it, instead of not enough guns, the Soviets had too many guns. Truly, a unique problem in history.


  1. Well, granted. But then there's the question of whether or not those units deployed to the front have their weapons, if so many are sitting unused in depots.

  2. From what I have read, the examples of units not having enough weapons were largely isolated incidents and most common early on as units became encircled. I cannot find anything which would suggest it was a widespread problem.

  3. Moscow always gets the prime cut of any meat. Everyone else gets the gristle.

  4. Couldn't this be a confusion with the "Shtrafbat" penal units that were deliberately not issued weapons? Some commenters may have extended this to the entire Red Army.

    Or else, it could be another case in point that although officially a "planned economy", the main problem in the USSR was the dire lack of and poor execution of any planning

    1. Ahaha, what? Shtrafbats that weren't issued weapons? You have got to be joking.

    2. Also there was plenty of planning, it was just disconnected from reality. See the request for 5000 T-50s when the tank didn't even finish trials yet.

    3. RE: Shtrafbats and armament: http://dr-guillotin.livejournal.com/24461.html

      Here's a list of one understrength shtrafbat in 1945. For 191 battle-ready men (253 total minus 46 being released due to their term being up and 16 being released due to wounds), there are 90 rifles, 83 SMGs, 8 hand MGs, 3 mounted MGs, 4 ATRs. That's 90+83+8+3*3+4*2 = 198 soldiers worth of weapons. Assuming MG squads don't get a commander for some reason, 195 soldiers'.

      That's assuming all 191 men will fight, including the 45 senior officers. Also there's at least one radio operator, but let's give him a weapon too.

  5. Yes, that was in 1945, when the Red Army was the finest war machine the world had seen so far.

    Things looked quite different back in 1942, when "Order 227" was issued, establishing blocking detachments and penal battalions to prevent further retreat.

    It was those poor chaps who were tasked to clear minefields by walking over them, or attract enemy fire wearing "camouflage" designed to draw attention.

    Most "volunteers" for these units already had a death sentence, being criminals or "enemies of the Soviet Union"

    1. You may have to PM Peter about this or ask those in Historical forum, man. There are quite a number of people not fully understanding about Order 227.

    2. That's not how order 227 worked, hope this helps

    3. Was in a hurry to get out the door when I commented last, so let me expand on this: the pop culture perception of blocking detachments (think Enemy at the Gates type bullshit) and what they actually did are two very different things. Several commanders met their formation with resistance since it took men away from the front (Chuikov being one of them); at times they were "borrowed" and sent into combat themselves. When operating in their intended capacity, a blocking detachment would usually be further behind the front (certainly not as portrayed in pop culture) and would not machine-gun retreating soldiers willy-nilly. The role of the blocking detachment was to discourage desertion, not massacre legitimately retreating forces.

      Soldiers caught by the blocking detachments faced a number of possible fates. One was simply being told to turn around and head back to the front, or being folded into the next group of reinforcements. Another was being assigned to a shtrafbat which was definitely more dangerous than regular duty but was not the suicide mission it is made out to be. Of course, court martial was also a possibility, and execution would arise as a possibility there.

      The actual numbers speak for themselves: the vast majority of RKKA soldiers were never sent to shtrafbats, and only a tiny proportion were actually executed. Bear in mind that the RKKA mobilised such an incredibly large number of troops during the course of the war that a number that looks big to us may actually be rather insignificant in reality.

      It's also important to keep in mind that the Germans were also performing similar actions, although according to their own names and systems. They also executed soldiers.

      At the end of the day, though, if a soldier is still capable of fighting and will not actively sabotage you or spread panic, there is little reason to shoot him. It's a waste of manpower and of life.

      IMPORTANT NOTE: Invidivual commanders and even private soldiers were known to have shot deserters who tried to cross to the Germans. This was an action by the infantry units themselves and had nothing to do with blocking detachments, nor was it really comparable - defecting soldiers who may divulge important intel or aid the enemy are a whole different kettle of fish from deserters who just want to piss off home.

    4. guess what, the date written in the document was in 1941