A History Of Spetsnaz Page 6
The high point in the partisan war against Germany consisted of two operations carried out in 1943. By that time, as a result of action by osnaz, order had been introduced into the partisan movement; it had been 'purged' and brought under rigid central control. As a result of spetsnaz work the partisan movement had been taught the latest methods of warfare and the most advanced techniques of sabotage.
The operation known as the 'War of the Rails' was carried out over six weeks from August to September 1943. It was a very fortunate time to have chosen. It was at that moment when the Soviet forces, having exhausted the German army in defensive battles at Kursk, themselves suddenly went over to the offensive. To support the advance a huge operation was undertaken in the rear of the enemy with the object of paralysing his supply routes, preventing him from bringing up ammunition and fuel for the troops, and making it impossible for him to move his reserves around. The operation involved the participation of 167 partisan units with a total strength of 100,000 men. All the units of spetsnaz were sent behind the enemy lines to help the partisans. More than 150 tons of explosives, more than 150 kilometres of wire and over half a million detonators were transported to the partisan units by air. The spetsnaz units were instructed to maintain a strict watch over the fulfilment of their tasks. Most of them operated independently in the most dangerous and important places, and they also appointed men from their units to instruct the partisan units in the use of explosives.
Operation 'War of the Rails' was carried out simultaneously in a territory with a front more than 1000 kilometres wide and more than 500 kilometres in depth. On the first night of the operation 42,000 explosions took place on the railway lines, and the partisan activity increased with every night that passed. The German high command threw in tremendous forces to defend their lines of communication, so that every night could be heard not only the sound of bridges and railway lines being blown up but also the sounds of battle with the German forces as the partisans fought their way through to whatever they had to destroy. Altogether, in the course of the operation 215,000 rails, 836 complete trains, 184 rail and 556 road bridges were blown up. A vast quantity of enemy equipment and ammunition was also destroyed.
Having won the enormous battle at Kursk, the Red Army sped towards the river Dnieper and crossed it in several places. A second large-scale operation in support of the advancing troops was carried out in the enemy's rear under the name of 'Concert', which was in concept and spirit a continuation of the 'War of the Rails'. In the final stage of that operation all the spetsnaz units were taken off to new areas and were enabled to rest along with the partisan formations which had not taken part in it. Now their time had come. Operation 'Concert' began on 19 September 1943. That night in Belorussia alone 19,903 rails were blown up. On the night of 25 September 15,809 rails were destroyed. All the spetsnaz units and 193 partisan units took part in the operation 'Concert'. The total number of participants in the operation exceeded 120,000. In the course of the whole operation, which went on until the end of October, 148,557 rails were destroyed, several hundred trains with troops, weapons and ammunition were derailed, and hundreds of bridges were blown up. Despite a shortage of explosives and other material needed for such work, on the eve of the operation only eighty tons of explosives could be sent to the partisan. Nevertheless 'Concert' was a tremendous success.
After the Red Army moved into the territory of neighbouring states spetsnaz went through a radical reorganisation. The independent reconnaissance units, the reconnaissance posts which recruited agents for terrorist actions, and the independent radio battalions for conducting disinformation, were all retained in their entirety. There are plenty of references in the Soviet military press to operations by special intelligence units in the final stages of the war. For example, in the course of an operation in the Vistula-Oder area special groups from the Intelligence directorate of the headquarters of the 1st Ukrainian Front established the scope of the network of aerodromes and the exact position of the enemy's air bases, found the headquarters of the 4th Tank Army and the 17th Army, the 48th Tank Corps and the 42nd Army Corps, and also gathered a great deal of other very necessary information.
The detachments of 'guards minelayers' of spetsnaz were reformed, however, into regular guards sapper detachments and were used in that form until the end of the war. Only a relatively small number of 'guards minelayers' were kept in being and used behind the enemy lines in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Such a decision was absolutely right for the times. The maintargets for spetsnaz operations had been the enemy's lines of communication. But that had been before the Red Army had started to advance at great speed. When that happened, there was no longer any need to blow up bridges. They needed to be captured and preserved, not destroyed.
For this work the Red Army had separate shock brigades of motorised guards engineering troops which, operating jointly with the forward units, would capture especially important buildings and other objects, clear them of mines and defend them until the main force arrived. The guards formations of spetsnaz were used mainly for strengthening these special engineering brigades. Some of the surviving guards battalions of spetsnaz were transferred to the Far East where, in August 1945, they were used against the Japanese Army.
The use of spetsnaz in the Manchurian offensive of 1945 is of special interest, because it provides the best illustration of what was supposed to happen to Germany if she had not attacked the USSR.
Japan had a peace treaty with the Soviet Union. But Japan had gone to war with other states and had exhausted her military, economic and other resources. Japan had seized vast territories inhabited by hundreds of millions of people who wanted to be liberated and were ready to welcome and support any liberator who came along. Japan was in exactly the situation in which Stalin had wanted to see Germany: exhausted by war with other countries, and with troops scattered over expansive territories the populations of which hated the sight of them.
Thus, in the interests naturally of peace and humanity Stalin struck a sudden crushing blow at the armed forces of Japan in Manchuria and China, violating the treaty signed four years earlier. The operation took place over vast areas. In terms of the distances covered and the speed at which it moved, this operation has no equal in world history. Soviet troops operated over territories 5000 kilometres in width and 600-800 kilometres in depth. More than a million and a half soldiers took part in the operation, with over 5000 tanks and nearly 4000 aircraft. It really was a lightning operation, in the course of which 84,000 Japanese officers and men were killed and 593,000 taken prisoner. A tremendous quantity of arms, ammunition and other equipment was seized.
It may be objected that Japan was already on the brink of catastrophe. That is true. But therein lies Soviet strategy: to remain neutral until such time as the enemy exhausts himself in battle against someone else, and then to strike a sudden blow. That is precisely how the war against Germany was planned and that was why the partisan units, the barriers and defensive installations were all dispensed with, and why the ten airborne corps were created in 1941. continued next page...
[This is an excerpt from "The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces" by By Viktor Suvorov]
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