Morale: The 1st Guards Tank Army Returns

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February 24, 2016: In the name of morale and national pride Russia is sort of reversing a 2008 reorganization to reconstitute the famous (during World War II and the Cold War) 1st Guards Tank Army. This revived unit will be stationed in western Russia, the better to frighten European countries that were invaded (during World War II) or threatened by it during the Cold War by the original 1st Guards Tank Army. The latest version will also be a “showcase” unit and be the first to receive new tanks and other weapons as well as the best troops available.

The new 1st Guards Tank Army is actually remarkably similar to its World War II counterpart. Back then mechanized (tank or infantry) forces were based on brigades. These were organized into Mechanized or Tank “Corps”. These Corps were actually similar in size and organization to Western mechanized or tank divisions. Thus the World War II 1st Guards Tank Army consisted of the 8th Guards Mechanized Corps (three mechanized infantry brigades and one tank brigade) and the 11th Guards Tank Corps (three tank brigades and one mechanized infantry brigade). The 2015 version consists of one tank division (two tank regiments), one mechanized infantry division (one tank regiment, three mechanized infantry regiments), one independent tank brigade and one independent mechanized infantry brigade.

During the Cold War the 1st Guards Tank Army consisted to two tank divisions and one mechanized infantry division. All three versions of the 1st Guards Tank Army had about the same number of troops (some 35,000) and tanks (about 300). All three versions had support troops (artillery, anti-aircraft, engineers, supply and so on.

The World War II era brigades had few support units and depended on the corps and army for supply, maintenance artillery and so on. In 2008 Russia reorganized its army by replacing divisions with more self-sufficient brigades. When that changes was complete several years later the combat forces consisted of 55 combat brigades (33 mechanized infantry and four tank, 22 Spetsnaz, airborne or air assault). These brigades are about half the size of American combat brigades and about a third of the personnel are conscripts who serve for one year. So the skill levels of troops in these brigades is much lower than for comparable troops in American or British brigades (and elite brigades in French, German and some other Western forces.) There are also 28 combat support brigades (eight armed with multi-barrel rocket launchers like the U.S. MLRS, nine with short range ballistic missiles, ten with anti-aircraft missile systems and one engineer brigade).

Russia, like the United States, did not get rid of divisions as “divisions” became a headquarters and some support units that could handle two or more combat brigades.

 


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