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Differences between the Allies. A Russian Arnhem?


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I have started to look into the differences the Russians and the US/British experience and methods in 1944 when they were in similar positions.

For instance the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead, Operation Goodwood, etc and the start of Operation Bagration.

It struck me that the British halt in Holland without capturing the major bridges in front of them would have been handled differently had it been a Russian force in that position. A Russian general would have rushed a tank division forward to capture the bridges and then dig in to wait for the rest to come up. So that rather than a huge airborne operation you would have had a tank force grimly hanging on while the German pressure built and relief forces fought their way forward. Perhaps there is a scenario in this?

Anyone else looked at this sort of thing?

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The Sandomirz bridgehead springs to mind; armored elements of 1st Ukrainian Front bust through a Lviv/Lvov/Lemberg in July '44, after killing off about a Corps by encirclement they cross the San River on the run, and then manage a bridgehead across the Wisla at Sandomirz.

For a couple of weeks there it was pure mech troops trying to hang on as they had left the infantry back pretty much on the other side of the Carpathians. The bridgehead was something like 150 kilometers from the orginal front lines and heaven knows how much further from the railheads. As it turned out, they held.

Originally posted by Der Alte Fritz:

I have started to look into the differences the Russians and the US/British experience and methods in 1944 when they were in similar positions.

For instance the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead, Operation Goodwood, etc and the start of Operation Bagration.

It struck me that the British halt in Holland without capturing the major bridges in front of them would have been handled differently had it been a Russian force in that position. A Russian general would have rushed a tank division forward to capture the bridges and then dig in to wait for the rest to come up. So that rather than a huge airborne operation you would have had a tank force grimly hanging on while the German pressure built and relief forces fought their way forward. Perhaps there is a scenario in this?

Anyone else looked at this sort of thing?

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Originally posted by Der Alte Fritz:

I have started to look into the differences the Russians and the US/British experience and methods in 1944 when they were in similar positions.

Arguably they were never in similar positions, as Russian logistics depended on rail transport and Allied logistics depended on shipping. And I doubt that the terrain and troop densities were all that similar.

Originally posted by Der Alte Fritz:

It struck me that the British halt in Holland without capturing the major bridges in front of them would have been handled differently had it been a Russian force in that position. A Russian general would have rushed a tank division forward to capture the bridges and then dig in to wait for the rest to come up. So that rather than a huge airborne operation you would have had a tank force grimly hanging on while the German pressure built and relief forces fought their way forward.

From the point of view of airborne forces, the Russians had their "Arnhem" in '43 with the Kanev drop. The Germans lost their enthusiasm for airborne operations after Crete, and the Russians after Kanev, but I think the Anglo-Allies retained some degree of enthusiasm after Arnhem, although the drops in support of the Rhine crossing were very much less ambitious in terms of depth. Having overwhelming air superiority probably helped.

All the best,

John.

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I was imagining a "what-if" scenario. At Arnhem, when 11th Armoured Division halted at Antwerp in early September, they failed to block the retreat of the German 15th Army, capture the north bank of the Scheldt or push on to capture the Rhine crossings. They had already driven 250 miles but Horrocks is quoted as saying that they had 100 miles of petrol left.

I just imagined if there had been a Soviet Tank Corps there and what they would have done. I bet they would have driven the 65 miles to Arnhem, dug in and hung on till the rest of the army got more fuel and fought their way up to them.

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Yes, a little bit of apples and oranges here. But I'll hazard some guesses for the fun of it.

Doctrinally, the Red Army might have viewed a Market Garden as worth the gamble, and worth the lives of their Red Devils, even had they known of the presence of 2 refitting SS Panzer divisions at Arnhem.

A key difference: Soviet airborne doctrine would have had their VDV paras transition over to partisan warfare as soon as German heavy forces appeared, rather than fighting to the last man for the bridges.

Also, a Soviet Horrocks would be instructed to achieve a linkup with these forces by any means necessary, using infiltration (infantry, cavalry) if the armoured columns couldn't get up the roads and flooded countryside.

The German defenders would then be faced with a deep combat zone, with armed bands of Russians all around them on both sides of the Rhine, and infiltrating across in steadily greater numbers (phone poles, the whole Dnieper thing)

Would a Russian force have been in Berlin (or Hamburg) by Christmas as Monty hoped? Probably not. But winter 1944 would have been a lot uglier for the defenders (and for the Dutch populace) than it was in the event.

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Assuming for the sake of argument that

the aircraft were available,did the Soviets

have any AFV that could be landed by glider?

I guess the Universal Carrier would be a useful

transport vehicle for airborne forces...but

were any light tanks or tankettes suitable?

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Direct answer to your question: no, the VDV had no organic AFVs, they were rifle formations (and served as elite infantry at the front far more often than they were used in any kind of airborne role). Towed AT guns and PTRs were their organic AT assets.

I did pretty intensive research in (translated) Soviet military historical journals for my college thesis (1985), but never came across any refs to Red Army glider ops in WWII, much less ones carrying vehicles. Russian staff were certainly impressed by the German glider coups at Eben Emael, the Marathon bridge and Gran Sasso (Skorzeny), but these were small scale raids.

The Russians made more use of air landed forces than did the other WWII powers (given access to partisan-controlled airstrips in areas not covered by German AA). They saw it as a much less complicated way to insert forces than paradrops or gliders, in spite of the risks to the transports. Here too, I doubt they bothered with vehicles -- a supply nightmare and of little value in the hinterland. They'd use man- and horse-pack to get their ordnance off the LZs.

Large numbers of VDV, infantry and spetsnaz troops were successfully airlanded at Japanese airfields during the lightning occupation of Manchuria in 9/45, largely after the Kwangtung army had been ordered to cease resistance. Here too, I doubt this included vehicles -- a few jeeps maybe. The armoured columns were simply moving too fast.

Postwar, a number of Soviet AFVs were designed to be air transportable by the huge AN-22 Anteus, including the PT-76, BTR and BRDM. The former was allegedly able to carry a T-62 MBT as well, but this may have been maskirovka.

If you want to do a what-if, I'd think Lend-Lease Wacos would be more likely than Hamilcars. These could hold jeeps with towed ATGs.

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I echo LLF's comments about "elite infantry at the front" - particularly in critical reserve roles. Examples include the 201st airborne brigade airlifted to Mtsensk in 1941, after the fall of Orel, to block Guderian's route to Moscow. Motorcycle infantry was also sent by road, and 2 tank brigades. That was a typical early war "shoestring" use.

At midwar they were full divisions backstopping the most important sectors. At Kursk for example, the 3rd and 4th Guards Airborne were committed as infantry to the fight for Ponyri on the north face and are the ones who retook most of the town. The previous RDs had been bled to death trying to hold it. That was the high water mark in the north. In the south, the 9th Guards Airborne division was put into the line at Prokhorovka right at the climax of the offensive. Also the high water mark - they held.

In all those cases, numerous tank formations were also committed and probably had more to do with holding. But the reserve infantry used in the clutch was the airborne, who were held out of battle unless such crises occurred, as valuable specialists and highest quality etc.

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Slightly off topic but...

Originally posted by LongLeftFlank:

Postwar, a number of Soviet AFVs were designed to be air transportable by the huge AN-22 Anteus, including the PT-76, BTR and BRDM. The former was allegedly able to carry a T-62 MBT as well, but this may have been maskirovka.

And then there was the ASU-85 assault gun specifically designed for airborne troops.
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