By Gen. Lt. a.D, Max Bork


Comments on Russian Roads and Higways by Max Bork

"Comments on Russian Railroads and Highways," was originally prepared in German under the supervision of Historical Division, USAREUR. The author, Gen. Lt. a.D. Max Bork, in 1939 and I940 was a Branch Chief in the Transportation Division of the German Army General Staff.




At the present time the movement of modern armies through vast areas is largely dependent upon man-made lines of communication. Logistical support from the rear, in particular, must rely on highways and rail¬roads, the capacity of which will be decisive for the speed and the effective radius of all land operations.

In the age of the airplane, the rocket, and the atomic bomb, when the clash of opposing armies has become but one phase of total war, there is a tendency on the part of some military planners to shift the emphasis from ground operations to the use of airborne weapons on a global scale.

For the present, however, such weapons do not give promise of' being the final arbiter in the lighting of a war. Ground operations would still be indispensable in a war against a nation, such as Russia, whose people are possessed of an innate vigor, political solidarity, and strong ties to their native soil. Now, as before, the enemy's resources in manpower and raw materials must be seized or eliminated before final victory can be attained. In the end, however, this will be accomplished only if the ground forces can gain access to these resources, a goal that cannot be attained without doing battle with the enemy forces guarding them. In World War II the Germans suffered dire consequences when they sought to avoid such decisive battle in order to realize certain political and economic aims.

The chief medium over which men and materiel are transported is still the road and rail net. The momentum and scope of every ground operation are directly related to the capacity of the highways and railroads.


I. Description of the Russian Traffic Network



A. The Rail Net

(Sketch 1).

In 1914 the Russo-Polish border area between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian mountains was connected with European Russia by four main west-east rail lines which terminated in Leningrad, Moscow, the Donets Basin, and the Black Sea port of Odessa. These lines were crossed by four main north-south lines which connected Leningrad with Odessa; Archangelsk with the Crimea; Moscow with the Donets Basin; and Moscow with the Caucasus. This network was then crossed by two diagonal lines extending from Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) to Kremenchug and from Riga to the Donuts Basin. In addition, this net connected with the Siberian and Mongolian systems to the east and with the Murmansk line to the north.

The main rail lines of European Russia were supplemented by a number of low-capacity branch, spur, and narrow gauge liner. Most of the latter had been built to meet the requirements of World War I. An overall view of the Russian rail net gave the impression of a lack of uniformity. In some places main lines were single-track for no apparent reason. Often, construction apparently intended to establish lateral links between main lines ended in the middle of nowhere.



There were three areas in which industrial development had resulted in a certain density of trackage: the Donets Basin, Moscow, and Leningrad. The following statistics may serve to illustrate the density of the Russian rail net as compared to that of Germany. In 1938 the USSR had but .65 miles of rail per 100 square miles, most of which was in European Russia, where the average was 1.8 miles for the same area. During the same year the German rail net averaged twenty miles of rail per 100 square miles. Expressed differently, Russia had 3.3 miles of trackage per 10,000 population; whereas Germany had 5.8 miles in the same year.

1. Railroad Plant

Since rock is scarce in Russia, few railroads had beds of crushed rock ballast. In lieu of rook, sand and gravel was widely used.

The prevailing gauge of Russian railways is five feet, as compared to a gauge of four feet eight and one-half inches, which is standard in most other countries. This wider gauge provided more loading space per oar and compensated to some extent for the Russian shortage of rolling stock and the limited capacity of the railway lines.

Marshalling yards, shunting installations, and turnarounds (wyes instead of turntables) covered wide areas because land was cheap. This dispersion was advantageous in the event of air attacks.

Signaling and safety devices, even on the main lines, were primitive. In many cases only a semaphore was used to designate the right-of-way. The Germans observed electrically-operated devices only on the Moscow - Kharkov line, which, incidentally, was the only line with a bed of crushed-rock ballast.

The German invaders found that some of the railway bridges in European Russia were temporary, having been built during World War I. By German standards they were unsafe and most of them could not have supported the trains loaded with heavy tanks, which were in use during the later years of World War II. On several of these bridges the girders, made from sheet metal, had been riveted together.

For unknown reasons there were no double-track bridges. Double- track lines which crossed rivers did so on separate spans spaced 50 to 100 yards apart.

Much of the coal and water of European Russia is unsuitable for use in locomotives without special processing. For instance, at Losovaya, a large rail junction south of Kharkov, the Germans found a large tank of oil at the coaling point in which coal from the Donets area had to be soaked to render it usable. Between Dnepropetrovsk and Stalino the water at each of the eleven watering points had to be treated with different admixtures to prevent the formation of boiler scales.

Along the Russo-Polish border, east of the Bug and Niemen Rivers, the Russians had established a strip of no man's land to deprive an invader of railroad facilities. As a result, the railroads passing through this area were equipped to handle only through-traffic. There were no marshalling yards, shunting installations, detraining points, workshops, or other major facilities. This deficiency proved disadvantageous to the Germans during their advance as well as at the time of their withdrawal.

2. Rolling stock

Russian locomotives were classified by type similarly to those in other countries. In addition, the Russians used a rather complex condenser locomotive, the "Siberian," supposedly of American manufacture, which could cover up to 600 miles without taking on water.

Frequently, wood was used as fuel on secondary lines, especially in the north.

In employing western European locomotives in Russia, the Germans had to remember that in Russia water stations are farther apart than in most other countries since Russian locomotives have a greater water capacity. Throughout the war the Germans converted Russian-gauge freight CATS to normal gauge. The German State Railway developed specially equipped shop trains with lifting devices which permitted the change-over within a few minutes. However, the gauge of the Russian locomotives could not be changed.

3. Personnel

Because of the vital role which the railroads played in the national life, Russian railroad personnel considered themselves a separate class within Russian society. This feeling was expressed not only by pride in their profession but also by a love for their work that led them in times of stress to hide their tools from friend and foe alike in order to be able to go back to work the moment traffic was resumed. Their technical proficiency and willingness to work, even in the employ of the enemy, were remarkable.

B. Highways

1. Background of the Existing Highway Net

In 1941 European Russia did not have a highway net comparable to those in western European countries. The few roads which existed had only a limited capacity and apparently had not undergone any appreciable change in construction or lay-out during the past 100 year3, a condition due primarily to the relatively small demands of peacetime traffic. There were two types of roads:

a. the long, straight thoroughfares intended for commercial and military traffic, which usually followed the valleys of the larger rivers and connected cultural and industrial areas;

b. the unimproved roads which had developed through constant use of the same route connecting small settlements with nearby fields and forests,

2. Condition and Capacity of Roads

In contrast to the former Baltic States, where paved roads were common, the roads in European Russia had paved or asphalt surfacing only in and near large cities and industrial centers. The only road which had been bui1t according to western European standards and which was given constant maintenance was the Minsk - Moscow highway. The Germans designated this highway as Army Group Canter's "Rollbahn.”

The terms "Trakte" or "Greter" were used to refer to those through roads which cut straight across country and were often more than 100 yards wide. In summer these roads were extremely dusty. After a rain or thaw they became so mired that they could not be used by wheeled vehicles. Deep gullies cutting across these roads were particularly troublesome. Attempts to overcome the effects of weather by digging drainage ditches or by rolling were of little help because the roads did not have a hard top.

In an effort to overcome mud and snow the Germans often improvised wooden or ice roads. Wooden roads were constructed by laying down ribbons of planks spaced the width of the vehicular tread. Ice roads made use of frozen bodies of water or were fashioned by pouring water over deep snow. The use of corduroy roads and the tremendous amount of labor needed to construct them will be described later in this study.


II. The Influence of Highways and Railroads on Operations


A. Offensive of Army Group North Against Leningrad (1941)

1. Mission

When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, Army Group North had the mission of destroying the Russian forces in the former Baltic States and depriving the Soviet fleet of its bases. To accomplish this mission the army group was to seize the Baltic ports and then capture Leningrad and Kronshtadt.

The main effort lay with the army group's right wing, which was to thrust northeastward toward Dvinsk. Mobile units spearheading this drive were to cross the Dvina and advance into the area northeast of Opochka as quickly as possible. In this manner the Russian forces in the Baltic States would be cut off and the stage set for a rapid German advance toward Leningrad.

2. Concentration of Forces

On the right, in the area between Mehlkemen and the Niemen River was Sixteenth Army with three corps headquarters to which were assigned eight infantry divisions and some GHQ units. Two corps head¬quarters with five infantry divisions were held in reserve.

The Fourth Panzer Group was deployed in the center between Klaipeda and the Taurage - Siauliai road and included two corps headquarters, three panzer divisions, two infantry divisions, and some GHQ units. Three motorized infantry divisions were kept in reserve.

On the left, between the Fourth Panzer Group and the Baltic coast, was the Eighteenth Army with three corps headquarters, six infantry divisions, some GHQ troops up front, and three infantry divisions in reserve.

The main effort was to be made by Sixteenth Army and Fourth Panzer Group with the latter spearheading the attack through Dvinsk. The First Air Force, then concentrated in East Prussia, was to furnish air support. Liaison with Naval Commander North was maintained by an army group staff officer.

3. Planning for the Operation

Information obtained before the start of the offensive did not give a clear picture of the Russian situation or intentions in the frontier and rear areas through which Army Group North was to advance.

In view of the transportation bottleneck at Kaunas, which was the only Niemen River crossing in Sixteenth Army's tone of advance, it appeared probable that the Russian troops then west of that river would be withdrawn eastward in anticipation of any major German thrust that might cut them off. The remainder of the road net opposite army group was good as far as the Dvina River and was suitable for all types of operations by both German and Russian forces. However, the German planners had to bear in mind that the secondary roads in the area were not sufficiently improved to support continuous heavy traffic, and that there was a progressive deterioration in the condition of the roads as one approached the interior of Russia.

Two through roads appeared suitable for sustained use by all types of traffic: one connected Eydtkuhnen, Mariampol, Kaunas, Dvinsk, and Ostrov; the other passed through Taurage, Siauliai, Riga, Pskov. From the very outset these roads had been earmarked for use as main supply routes.

The fact that all through traffic in the area of Army Group or Dvinsk North would have to cross the Dvina at Riga, Jekabpils, or Dvinck, meant that there would be bottlenecks at those points for both the German and Russian forces. These bridges could assume great strategic and tactical importance if the Russians did not elect to make a defensive stand west of the river, but rather should decide to fall eastward in a series of delaying actions.

It was essential that the attacker should seize these bridges intact to expedite his advance through this area and to assure the flow of supplies by rail.

The German planners directed their attention to the road junctions as Opochka, Ostrov, and Pskov. Because the secondary road net in the area of the pre-1939 USSR-Latvian border was expected to be poor, these junctions assumed particular importance as collecting points for traffic from the west and as distributing points for traffic to the north and east. These junctions, however, could also become bottlenecks. Along with the fact that the density of the road net in this area favored the German drive eastward, there was the danger that the attacking German units would be diverted from their course.

Both west and east of the Dvinsk there were extensive swamps and lakes, but particularly along the Kaunas - Dvinsk read. In this region all traffic was restricted to the main roads - a considerable advantage to the defender.

From an evaluation of the road net alone, it could not be determined whether the Russians would meet the attack on the German- Lithuanian border or whether they would fight a delaying action until the Germans had reached the Dvina or the former border between Russia and the Baltic States. The Russians could either reinforce their forces west of the Dvina and along its east bank or withdraw their forces in the Baltic States to the "Stalin Line," which followed the former bolder between Russia and the Baltic States. In the event of a retrograde movement the road net would permit the application of defensive-offensive tactics. This was especially true in the region of Liepaja - Jelgava - Riga, where several Russian divisions were believed to be. A Russian thrust southward from Estonia would, of course, threaten the German left flank. Offsetting these advantages afforded the Russians by the Estonian road net it should be noted that Army Group North's planned mopping-up operations in Estonia would be similarly furthered.

It was noted that there were no rail lines leading directly eastward from the Opochka-Ostrov area. The road net in the area east of the line Opochka-Pskov-Narva had a low capacity. The major routes of communication, ran from the Ostrov-Pskov area to Staraya Russa, Novgorod, Chudovo, and Leningrad. The German planners, studying their map, regarded the Pskov-Narva road as having doubtful value. There was a road and rail line leading from northern Estonia to Leningrad which could serve as an alterate route. However, it was vulnerable to naval attack since it had to pass through the narrow coastal corridor in the Narva area.

Only at the extreme south wing of Army Group North, near Velikiye Luki, did conditions appear more favorable for movement. The rail and road net between the Volkhov River and Lake Peipus assumed great significance because of the nature of the terrain through which it passed. Military geographic studies indicated that the terrain in this area was unfavorable for cross-country movements of large units, a factor that would become even more pronounced further north. This observation was particularly applicable to the sector between the Volkhov River and the Luga-Leningrad highway, where all movement during the spring and autumn rains was confined to the few existing roads. If Army Group North was to turn northward toward Leningrad in accordance with its mission, its drive might degenerate into a struggle against forests and swamps with its characteristic difficulties, especially for road-bound mobile unite. Further, it had to be anticipated that the elements which were to protect the flank of the forces executing this pivoting movement would not be able to gain sufficient maneuvering space east of the line Opochka-Ostrov because too much time would be lost in coring with terrain factors. On the south wing of Sixteenth Army, similar road conditions might obstruct the linking- up with Army Group Center. A serviceable road net was essential for mutual support of the main effort to be made by Army Group Center, as well as for the protection of the boundary area between the two army groups.

A glance at the road and rail net on the right flank of the German thrust on Leningrad indicated that the Russians would retain several roads and rail lines leading from the interior of Russia to Velikiye Luki, Staraya Russa, Novgorod, toward the Volkhov River, and Lake Ladoga. These routes could be used to intercept the thrust on Leningrad by an operation against the German flank. In such an instance, the rail junction at Bologoe would play an important part. The possibility of just such a Russian countermeasure at this time had to be taken into account. Earlier, i.e., during the initial phase of the invasion, the offensive operations of Army Group Center could be counted on to prevent any serious threat to the right flank of Army Group North.

It was clear to the German planners that the mission of isolating Leningrad would be complete only after the last roads and rail lines east of the city had been severed. Consequently, the thrust had to carry through to Lake Ladoga. It could not be foreseen that in winter the Russians would improvise a railroad over the ice of this lake.

For obvious reasons the mission of annihilating the Russian forces in the Baltic area could be accomplished only if the German elements driving into the region northeast of Opochka arrived in time and sufficient strength to execute an operation with inverted front. The Dvina River with its traffic bottleneck crossings, and later the swamps and watercourses of the Stalin Line, obstructed the realization of this goal.

Thus, though the traffic network between the afore-mentioned areas did permit any type of operation, gaining of the first objective of the invasion could be imperiled by these barriers, particularly the traffic bottlenecks along the Dvina. This had to be prevented. It remained undecided whether the traffic bottlenecks of the Narva corridor could be closed in time, considering the poor roads west of the Pskov - Leningrad highway.

Because of the numerous difficulties which could arise due to the poor highways, railroad3, and the unfavorable terrain, the German planners had to make many decisions as to the rail and road net which the Army Group was to use during its advance. Although some of these decisions were likely to effect tactical operations, they were primarily of importance to the operation as a whole.


III. The Rail Net


Since it was desirable that an efficient rail line should support the advance of each army, it was decided that Sixteenth Army and later also Fourth Panzer Group would be served by the Eydtkuhnen-Kaunas line up to the Dvina and Eighteenth Army by the Taurage-Siauliai-Riga line, supplemented by the rail net of northwestern Latvia. However, Sixteenth Army's route from Kaunas to Dvinsk was the problem, since the rail line did not follow a straight line between those two points. The Army High Command ordered that Sixteenth Army use the line Kaunas - Vilnius - Dvinsk which ran through Army Group Center territory. The same route also served as supply line for the left wing of Army Group Center. However, since Army Group North needed sufficient reserve rail capacity to build up strength on the Sixteenth Army wing, where the main effort was to be made, lateral communications had to be selected for routing Sixteenth Army supplies via the Eighteenth Army area. At the same time these measures would have the secondary effect that the railroads west of the Dvina would be fully integrated into the German military rail net. This would offer further advantages if, for instance, the enemy intended to prolong resistance behind the Dvina. In that event this net could facilitate the German concentration of forces and such regrouping as was necessary to form points of main effort and shift troops for a "Battle of the Dvina.”
The same aspects, might also be of importance later in a battle for the Stalin Line along the pre-1939 border between Russia and the Baltic States. That this plan was executed only partially was due to the unexpectedly rapid progress of the German advance. The accomplishments of the railroad construction and operating personnel, as shown in Sketchs 2, 3 - deserve special note.

Utilization of Niemen River shipping to supply Sixteenth Army and the Panzer Group, and to transport construction materiel for bridge repairs at Kaunas relieved the burden on the road and rail net considerably. The following table shows how the thorough German planning expedited the resumption of rail traffic in newly occupied areas. The first trains arrived:

27 June - Kaunas (military railroad station)
28 June - Bajohren
6 July - Dvinsk (west bank of the Dvina)
9 July - Riga
10 July - Rezekne (shuttle traffic from Dvinsk and Riga)
11 July - Ostrov
13 July - Cherskaya (between Ostrov and Pskov)
17 July - Sebezh
24. July - Pskov


22 June – 19 July 1941


20 July - 21 October 1941

The accomplishments of the railway construction and operating units may be illustrated by means of the following table which shows the dates on which the above cities were first occupied by German elements:

Kaunas - 25 June (Sixteenth Army)
Dvinsk - 27 June (Panzer Group)
Riga - 29 June (Eighteenth Amy)
Rezekne - 3 July (Panzer Group)
Ostrov - 5 July (“ ")
Cherkaya - 8 July (" ")
Sebezh - 10 July (Sixteenth Army)
Pskov - 9 July (Panzer Group)

in this connection mention must also be made of the fact that some limited, intermittent traffic was resumed as early as 24 June from Laugszarge in the direction of Siauliai and from Riga (east bank of the Dvina) to Rujene and Gulbens. Uninterrupted traffic could be restored only after the heavy damage to bridges am. rail lines had been repaired. The following extract gives figures showing the time required to reinstate certain spans:


Locaion of railroad bridges
Date destroyed
Date restored
24 June 1941
17 July 1941
22 June 1941
29 June 1941
2 July 1941
12 July 1941
2 July 1941
22 July 1941
near Jekabpils
6 July 1941
23 July 1941
near Rezekne
6 July 1941
15 July 1941
near Cesis
8 July 1941
24 July 1941
neer Pskov
12 July 1941
27 July 1941
near Petseri
9 July 1941
24 July 1941



In support of Army Group North (including: First Air Force) between 22 June and 19 July 1941, it is estimated that 323 trains moved about l60,000 tons.

Shipping on the Niemen River as far up as Kaunas relieved the burden on the railroads by some 18,000 tons between 28 June (three days after the Germans occupied the area) and 19 July.

The Army Group's movement as far as the Leningrad area, where the Germans eventually went over to the defensive, is shown in the table below: (see also Sketch 3)

The Russians had effected systematic demolitions around Staraya Russa and Novgorod, and on the Dno-Bateskaya and Pskov - Gdov rail lines, as well as on the north~south lines at Tartu and Paide in Estonia.

Nevertheless, the first trains arrived at the cities listed below as indicated:


Point on axls of advance
Date occupied by German spearheads
Date of arrival of the first trains
11 July (Fourth Panzer Group)
18 July I941
Strugi Krasnyye(midway between Pskov and Luga)
11 July 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
20 July 1941
19 July 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
31 July 1941
Plyussa (southwest of Luga)
19 July 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
7 August 1941
18 July 1941 (Eighteenth Army)
12 August 1941
23 August 1941 ((Fourth Panzer Group)
23 August 1941
Volosovo (Narva-Gatchina line)
24 August 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
4 September 1941
20 August 1941 (Sixteen Army)
8 September 1941
Siverskaya (south of Leningrad)
29 August 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
13 September 1941
Veymarn (south of Leningrad)
14 August 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
11 September 1941
Gatchina (south of Leningrad)
11 september 1941 (Fourth Panzer Group)
17 September 1941
18 August 1941 (Sixteenth Army)
17 September 1941
Staraya Russa
8 August 1941 (Sixteenth Army)
29 September 1941


During the period covered by the above figures the lack of adequate motorized railroad construction units made itself felt. As a result, compromise had to be made in favor of the urgently needed rail connections. Work on many of the destroyed bridges could not begin until the rail line leading up to them had been reinstated to permit the transport of heavy bridge girders. This in turn depended upon the completion of any bridges along the route. In the area listed in the above table the Russians, for the first time, made extensive use of track rippers . In this fashion they destroyed some twenty miles of the Tallinn - Narva line north of Lake Peipus, including the water stations. Shortly before the German seizure of Narva the Russians had sent one more division westward across the Narva bridge and then, after evacuating the rolling stock to the east, had demolished the railroad bridge. This span could not be restored at once because of shortages in manpower and materiel. As a result, the Germans resorted to the use of cable-carriers and transshipped supplies in order to bridge the gap caused by the demolished Narva bridge.

The following figures indicate the achievement of the rail system in the movement of personnel and materiel during the phase of the operation from 20 July to 21 October:

I638 supply trains carried 821,000 tons for Army Group North,
300 supply trains moved 248,000 tons for the First Air Force;
531 trains carried troops; and
360-trains supported rail operations.

Altogether, 2829 trains carried, 1,069,000 tons (not. counting troop trains and trains used for rail operations).

The additional contributions made by the Niemen shipping during this phase rendered possible the moving of 2650 combat troops, 23,350 wounded, 6020 tons of supplies, and several thousand tons of empty con¬tainers.

In the area of Amy Group North between 22 June and 21 October 194l 4200 miles of standard western European gauge (4-8 1/2) and 312 miles of narrow gauge track were laid; 3750 miles were converted from narrow to standard gauge; and 186 rail bridges were restored. The rail net was adequate to meet the Amy Group's requirements, as demonstrated below:

The left and right wings of Sixteenth Amy were each served by a different rail line running in the direction of Velikiye Luki and Staraya Russa. The capacity of these two lines, though limited, could be considered adequate. There was no rail connection and only a poor road net connecting the afore-mentioned two cities. Some of the difficulties encountered after the penetration of the Stalin Line had to be attributed to these transportation deficiencies. In fact, Sixteenth Army was split into two parts for a considerable period of time.

The Fourth Panzer Group„ including the infantry units attached to it to facilitate progress through the more than sixty miles of forests and swamps between the Volkhov River and Lake Peipus, had adequate rail support. Sixteenth Army's assault wing, which had been formed southwest of Lake Ilmen by the end of July and which was to accompany another Panzer Group thrust on Leningrad by pushing north via Chudovo, received adequate support by the beginning of August. As a result, by 10 August the operation against Leningrad could be resumed.

The rail net in Estonia provided sufficient support for Eighteenth Army's relatively small forces - five divisions — engaged in mopping-up operations. Army relied less upon the railroads than on the road net because of the need for greater flexibility in selecting objectives and forming concentrations of main effort. Mention roust be made of the fact that the Tallinn - Narva line was back in service as early as 3 September 19Ul. It was thus available for the transfer of the bulk of Eighteenth Army from Estonia to the Leningrad front after the fall of Tallinn on 28 August 1941.

The Germans had to overcome difficulties arising from the extensive narrow gauge rail net, particularly in northwestern Estonia. During the first half of September two feeder lines were established along the coast facing the Estonian islands in the Baltic in preparation for the invasion of those islands which began on 14 September.

In the area of Eighteenth Army the use of waterways served to relieve the railroads of some of their burden. The right wing of Eighteenth Army east of Lake Peipus was supplied not only over the rather poor Pskov - Gdov road and railway but also, after 31 July 1941 by an improvised flotilla which traversed the lake. The small vessels had to travel in convoy, since the Russians operated several gunboats on the lake.

The first German supply ships arrived at the Baltic ports as follows:

Liepaja on 4 July 1941
Riga on 11 July 194l.

By 30 September a suitable sea-lane to Tallinn had been established. However, this port could not be fully used at the outset because of the continued threat of Russian submarine attacks.

The following figures show the extent to which movement of army and air force supplies by water relieved the general transportation situation.

Between 4 July and 11 August 1941 30,000 tons passed through the port of Liepaja and 8,000 tons through Riga; from 19 October to 2 November 194l some 39,000 tons were handled.

The overall effectiveness of the transportation net within the area of Army Group North was thus greatly improved, particularly in view of the lessened load on the railways, since the locomotives no longer had to make the long haul from Germany to the front.

This chapter on the relationship between the rail net and tactical operations should not be concluded without special mention of the German attempts to seize the rail bridges at Kaunas and those across the Dvina before the Russians could destroy them. In every instance the Germans sent special detachments ahead of the main body of troops with the sole mission of seizing the bridges intact. However, the Germans were successful only at Dvinsk and, indeed, only to a limited extent. Elsewhere, the Russians were able to carry out their demolition even while the fighting for control of the bridge was still in progress. On the other hand, German motorized units succeeded in seizing important objectives east and west of the Dvina, and during subsequent operations in Russia. In the area of Eighteenth Army the rail bridge across the Dubysa River at Lydavenai, which rose 90 feet above the river bed and measured 300 yards in length, was taken undamaged by German spearheads, as were several large spans across the Venta River.

A. Conversion of Gauge

The purpose of converting Russian gauge (5'-) to western European standard gauge was to enable through trains to proceed from the interior of Germany to the Dvina River. The German planners had to assume that the Russians would destroy all bridges across the Dvina. If much standard gauge rolling stock were to be captured by the Germans west of the Dvina River, immediate conversion would not be necessary. Rail lines up to the Dvina had to be put into operation at the earliest possible date, because all available truck capacity was urgently needed east of the river in order to assure the German advance at least as far as the area northeast of Opochka. Even so, transshipment at the German-Lithuanian border with great expenditure of both time and manpower would still be inevitable. The early conversion of gauge was thus imperative; its urgency would be in direct proportion to the quantity of standard gauge rolling stock captured west of the Dvina.

As the operation progressed, the Germans could expect to obtain a clearer picture of the quantity of standard gauge rolling stock east of the Dvina. Then it had to be decided whether rail movement east of the river should be continued on wide (Russian) gauge - which would again necessitate time-consuming transshipment at the river - or whether con¬version should be started concurrent with the restoration of the bridges across the Dvina, so that, after their completion, trains from Germany proper could proceed without interruption across this waterway and on to the east. In this connection the problem of manpower would be of decisive importance.

The Germans did find wide gauge rolling stock east of the Dvina; about 30 locomotives and $00 cars which could handle supply and troop traffic on a limited scale. Eighty cars were discovered at Riga. Later, at Tallinn the Germans found enough rolling stock to make up three troops trains which carried on a shuttle service between Tallinn and Narva when the Eighteenth Army moved from western Estonia to the vicinity of Leningrad. It may be assumed that the Chief of Field Transportation managed to divert rolling stock from the Vilnius area to relieve the situation west of the Dvina River.

Apart from a few stretches of track near the German-Lithuanian border, gauge conversion, even west of the Dvina, was not undertaken until later, and then only gradually. This was advantageous for supplying the front, which meanwhile had moved far beyond the terrain of the pre¬viously converted stretches, because a lengthy interruption of the relatively few efficient wide gauge lines was not desirable as long as operations remained fluid.

When gauge conversion of the Pskov - Leningrad railroad line was ordered in late September 19Ul, the anticipated reduction in traffic had to be offset by stockpiling supplies in advance and providing for a greater train density following the conversion. In general, the greatest difficulties were encountered during the conversion of yard facilities, such as switches, at the railroad stations. (For details, see Sketch 4).

During the Army Group's advance toward Leningrad the Luftwaffe flew numerous missions in order to disrupt the rail net in the Russians' rear area to prevent the removal of wide gauge rolling stock to the east.

1 January 1942

The first cold wave of the season, accompanied by a light snowfall, set in during the first week of October. This was the first taste of the tough winter which was to follow. The first cold wave was succeeded by several weeks of autumn mud. Demands on the rail lines increased. The completion of the Gdov - Veymarn line (the last leg of which the Russians had been unable to complete) now produced favorable results in the Lenin¬grad area. During the following weeks, however, this line began at some spots to sink into the bottomless mud, so that a ride on a train in this area resembled a trip in a roller coaster. Around the turn of the year had
the temperatures, which/dropped lower than usual this year, placed further heavy demands on railroad personnel and equipment. Frost damage to switches and turntables at times reduced the capacity of the line to well under ten trains per day; yet Army Group North needed about thirty trains per day. At Pskov ten locomotives were stalled for several days because of frost damage to the turntables.

When the Germans concluded their offensive operations against Leningrad and went over to the defensive in this sector, supplies could be shipped by rail directly from Germany to the front despite the distance of more than 600 miles. This accomplishment was due in large measure to the devotion to duty of the German railway construction and operating personnel, as well as to the co-operation of Latvian and Estonian rail¬roaders, who were willing to make great sacrifices in order to be liberated from Bolshevism. Another important factor that made possible the success of the German offensive and the strengthening of the German positions facing Leningrad was the failure of the Russian Air Force to launch any serious attacks on the rail net. However, there were two exceptions: The Russian Air Force attacked German troops and installations near the front at Leningrad, and briefly interfered with German operations in Estonia. Sketch 3 shows the capacity of the rail net used by the Germans the beginning of 1942.


IV. The Road Net


Many of the factors enumerated in the preceding chapter were also generally applicable to the road net, which was the medium over which the movement of tactical units was effected and thus was fundamental to their employment in mobile warfare. This chapter will deal with only these aspects which are applicable to the road net.

The German planners intended to have each front-line division advance on its own highway or road. With regard to the area west of the Dvina this proposition led the logistical planners to calculate the manpower and material needed to restore any vital bridges demolished along the route of these thoroughfares. Assurance of being able to maintain the advance east of the Dvina depended on calculations that could be made on the basis of air and ground reconnaissance. The importance of this planning for the speedy progress of the operations is illustrated by the following list of bridges which were constructed in the area of Army Group North.

AS of 16 July 1941 in the area between the German-Lithuanian border and the Dvina River, eighty bridges of more than twenty yards length, most of which were two-lane, had been restored. In addition, numerous small repairs had to be carried out on other bridges.

From 1 July to 21 October 1941, in the region between the Dvina River and the Leningrad front, as well as in Estonia, the Germans constructed 410 bridges equipped to handle two-way traffic, of which 96 had a load capacity of from 18 to 26 tons; 4 had a capacity of from 56 to 39 tons.

It was found expedient to charge only one engineer staff with the responsibility for the bridge construction program. In this manner early arrival of the materiel required to replace military bridges with emergency or permanent bridges as well as the speedy release of the materiel used in military bridges for use closer to the front were assured. The availability of military bridges at the front was decisive for the speedy progress of operations. The afore-mentioned engineer staff was also charged with the protection of rivers and harbors from floating mines, and with preparations for the demolition of several key bridges.

As a result of this planning and the measures taken the Germans succeeded in maintaining that part of the road net which was vital for their operations and in improving it sufficiently to meet all demands. The difficulties encountered by Sixteenth Army in co-ordinating its advance in the area east of Opochka - Ostrov to Lake Valday north of Ostashkov have been enumerated in the preceding chapter. These difficulties slowed up Sixteenth Army's advance considerably.

The forest and swamp region between the Volkhov River and Lake Peipus, which army group had to penetrate in its pivoting movement toward Leningrad, was more than sixty miles wide. Initially the area between the Volkhov River and the Pskov - Leningrad highway seemed an ideal choice for the main effort. However, captured maps, military-geographical data, and air and ground reconnaissance suggested the likelihood of such serious difficulties that the commitment of the panzer group in this area appeared quite hazardous. Even if Russian forces in this area were numerically inferior, an exhausting and time-consuming battle for the few existing roads had to be expected. Under these circumstances the Germans would be unable to continue their speedy advance toward Leningrad. German units further to the west were able to resume the attack from the bridgeheads around Luga only after a considerable loss of time because they had to await the arrival of additional infantry divisions for a break-through attempt against the strongly fortified Russian Luga position before attacking through the difficult terrain which permitted the commitment of tanks on only a very small scale. Because of difficulties resulting from the extended German supply lines distribution points were moved as close to the front as possible. Far from ideal was the decision forced upon XXXXI Panzer Corps, which on 11 July had to jump off from Ludoni (midway between Pskov and Luga) for a westward thrust, followed by a drive to the north toward Sabsk. However, in view of the prevailing circumstances Army Group North approved this decision.

Even west of the main highway to Leningrad the condition of the roads bearing most of the corps' supply traffic was so poor that critical situations were inevitable during the month of August which corps spent in the Luga bridgeheads south of Veymarn. Even so, corps achieved considerable success, as confimed by the frantic counterattacks of improvised Russian units. XXXXI Corps now seriously menaced the only rail and road connection between Leningrad and Estonia. Nevertheless, the latter remained in Russian hands until the end of August 19Ul» Eighteenth Army's move from Estonia through the Narva corridor was also facilitated by the corps' operations around the Luga bridgeheads. Despite the fact that the corps was not available for its original mission - to form the right wing of the German northward drive along the Volkhov River - its success did indirectly benefit that thrust, since it tied down Russian forces which might otherwise have participated in the defense of Leningrad.

The Germans driving along the Volkhov River did not reach Lake Ladoga at a point directly west of the river as planned because of the poor roads and difficult terrain north of Chudovo. However, German troops did finally reach the lake at a place near Shlisselburg after having attacked in strength along the Chudovo - Leningrad highway.

From 20 October to 9 November 194l, in spite of the difficult road conditions. Army Group North attempted to cut off the Russian forces which had remained in the narrow corridor between Volkhov and Shlisselburg by an enveloping movement east of the Volkhov River toward Tikhvin and by a link-up with the Finns along the Svir River. The operation succeeded despite the fact that the Germans encountered almost impassable terrain prior to reaching Tikhvin. The muddy season which began at this time forced the mobile units committed in this area to construct corduroy roads along most of the ninety-mile stretch under enemy fire. In the end these gains had to be abandoned because the Russians, experienced in mobile winter warfare and not confined to man-made roads, menaced the only German supply route to an ever-increasing extent. A further advance of flank-protecting forces which were to participate in the eastward drive across the Volkhov toward Tikhvin failed because of insufficient manpower, difficult terrain, and limited mobility under Russian fall and winter weather conditions. The Germans did everything in their power to protect the Novgorod - Chudovo road, which passed close to the front lines. Nevertheless, by January these security troops, too, had to retreat behind the Volkhov in the face of Russian winter mobility and numerical superiority. As a result, the important feeder route leading to Chudovo was seriously menaced by the Russians.

In order to keep the roads open during the muddy season and the winter the Germans had to establish a road information service which kept unit commanders and drivers continuously informed of the condition of the major highways and roads and initiated action leading to road maintenance. In due time some 3»200 miles of supply roads and highways east of the former border between Russia and the Baltic States were kept free of snow and ice. The construction gangs, especially the men of Organization Todt, often performed superhuman feats. By November 1942, 440 miles or corduroy road had been laid and maintained east of the former border between Russia and the Baltic States. The bulk of the operation was concentrated between Volkhov and the Pskov - Leningrad highway. The work accomplished is best illustrated by the following example. Some 7,328,500 logs were cut and put into place, the equivalent of 336,427 truck loads. If these loaded trucks had been lined up with normal intervals between vehicles, they would have covered the distance from Gibraltar to Leningrad.

Conclusions about the Russians and their Rail and Highway Net

The enumeration of the logistical problems confronting the Germans in 194l should not be concluded without reference to the Russian attitude toward the same problems. In the Baltic States the co-operation of the civilian population helped the German commanders to overcome the difficulties encountered on railroads and highways in this area. In Russia proper, on the other hand, the defender was familiar with railroad and road conditions, the terrain, and the effects of the seasons. The Russians did not hesitate to employ brutal methods in procuring labor. They knew which men, animals, and machines would produce the best results in each situation. In this manner the Russians were able to restore quickly the railroads and highways which the Germans had destroyed. The loss of time resulting from the German destruction was compensated for by operations around the clock, As a result of these advantages, Russian combat units frequently emerged in great strength from terrain which the Germans had considered impassable. In winter Russian ground troops used frozen rivers as march routes. The Russians even operated a rail line across frozen Lake Ladoga.

The planners of military operations in Russia will do well to count on the native resourcefulness of the Russians.


V. Brief Examples of the Influence of Railroads on the Planning and Execution of Military Operations.


A. Army Group South's Attack on the Caucasus and Stalingrad.

The Armed Forces Chief of Transportation stated the following opinion on the question of a simultaneous advance on both the Caucasus and the Stalingrad - Volga River area:

"A simultaneous supply of both offensives by rail is impossible. The only available routes are the Don Basin - Rostov - Baku line and the single track Don Basin - Chir River - Stalingrad and the Salsk - Stalingrad lines. By means of demolitions the Russians have completely destroyed the main line of Rostov via Mariupol, which will require an unusually great amount of time to be restored.

Even after the above lines have been restored, their capacity will still not be sufficient to support two operations running in different directions over distances of roughly 600 miles (Rostov - Baku line) and 300 miles (Don Basin - Stalingrad line).

The maximum capacity of the above-mentioned single track lines is twelve trains per day, including those used to transport materiel for the maintenance and improvement of the lines.

One great disadvantage lies in the fact that all the traffic must pass through the Rostov bottleneck, so that either the troops advancing toward the Caucasus or those driving on Stalingrad will not receive adequate supplies. Even though the main line from Rostov to Baku does have sufficient capacity, numerous single track stretches of the line slow up traffic considerably in view of the great distances involved.

Deficiencies in the rail system cannot be compensated for by reliance on truck transportation, since the available loading capacity of the truck is below that of the railroads and road conditions are unfavorable.

Consequently, two simultaneous operations toward the Caucasus
and Stalingrad are not recommended because of the overwhelming logistical it

Aside from the strategic mistake of letting the available forces advance simultaneously in two directions, the course of the fighting and especially the subsequent retreat illustrate with particular clarity to what extent a military operation had to depend on highways and railroads.

B. Transfer of Eleventh Army from the Crimea to Leningrad (l942)

After the conquest of the Crimea Hitler decided to transfer Eleventh Army from there to the sector of Army Group North.

Shifting the motorized elements of army over such a great distance by overland march was impossible because

(1) the wear and tear on equipment and the fuel consumption would have been prohibitive and
(2) the existing south-north routes in Russia were unsuitable for large-scale movements. It would have been necessary to detour through German territory.

As a result, despite the fact that the railroads were already overtaxed, a transfer via the south-north rail lines was ordered. Only two lines (single track) connected the Crimea with the Russian rail net. These ran northwest and northeast from Dzankoy. The former was interrupted at the Dnepr because the rail bridge at Kherson was still under construction. This problem was solved by moving the motorized elements overland and entraining them on the west bank of the Dnepr.

To avoid interrupting movements in the Army Group South and Center areas, only oertain elements of Eleventh Army were transported over the lateral lines, one of which led via Gomel and the other via Bresk- Litovsk. The bulk of Eleventh Army went by way of German-held Poland and East Prussia. The distance and time involved in this detour were of no great consequence in view of the advantage gained from the continuity and compactness of the over-all movement.

The execution of this transfer at a time of severe strain along the entire Russian front, when the results of the German Construction Program for the East (1942)” were not yet apparent shows once more the importance of the few Russian highways end rail lines.

In this manner Eleventh Army reached its destination without attrition of equipment or accidents. As a result, the men were well rested and ready for immediate commitment.

C. Operation "Zitadelle" (6 July 1943)

In July 1943 strong German forces to be used in this joint Army Group South and Center offensive were moved to their assembly areas by rail transportation. The main concentration area was Kharkov.

During the summer of 1943 the transportation picture was more favorable than it had been at any time since the beginning of the Russian campaign. The rail and highway construction program for 1942 had for the most part been completed and the capacity of the Russian rail net had been greatly increased. Every day more than 200 trains crossed the border from Germany, 125 of which headed for the sector of Army Group South. The expanded rail net was able to handle both the traffic from Germany and the very heavy rail traffic inside Russia proper without the least difficulty despite the partisan activity, which was on the increase and already constituted a serious menace, particularly in the area of Army Group Center. The increased number of sidings permitted extensive side-tracking. During the long summer days trains could be operated within sight of one another and thus compensate for the interruptions caused by partisan demolitions. In spite of some 841 reported attacks on the rail lines in the area of Army Group Center during June 1943 it was possible to run 867 troop trains, 995 supply trains, and 703 trains of other types. During July 1943 the train density increased by 25 percent, although as many as 1114 partisan attacks were recorded for that month.

The concentration of the assault force in the area of Army Group South in terms of rail support is indicated by the following statistics: The total number of trains arriving daily from Germany was 110, of which 60 carried troops. In the Kharkov area the number of troop trains unloaded daily was 24 for the Stalino area, 30, and for Vinnitsa, 6. Rail traffic was not disrupted at any time in the area of Army Group South since there were no partisans there.

Once again it become evident that, as a carrier, the railroad was superior to any other means of transportation.


VI. Influence of Russian Railroads and Highways on the German Supply Situation, as Illustrated by some Supply Problems of Army Group Center 1941-1942.


A. Railroads

During the entire Russian campaign the railroads constituted the primary means of transportation for supplies. The Grosstransportraum* vehicles in lieu of their military counterparts. These truck units were non-organic with respect to the Table of Organization of an army and are referred to as such in this translation.
of the German Army's Chief of Supply and Administration (with a total capacity at the beginning of the Russian campaign of only 50,000 tons, which had been broken down among the amy groups and armies), as well as the organic truck transportation of each army (880 tons), infantry division (220 tons), motorized infantry division (330 tons, and panzer division (from 650 to 1000 tons) were quite unable to replace the railroads when large distances were involved. As will be shown later, this could have been accomplished only if the Grosstransportraum had been increased by 700 percent. However, this was impossible because both vehicles and fuel were in short supply. Over limited distances (200 to 300 miles), however, truck transportation could temporarily assume the railroad's supply function.

The German planners were fully aware of these factors and took: them into consideration. It was calculated that the German forces could advance 300 miles without rail support. A halt was then anticipated, primarily to replenish the stock of fuel. Simultaneously it would become necessary to move up supplies and establish supply bases close to the front. In view of the large tonnage to be moved in this operation the use of rail transportation would be imperative. The course of the initial fighting fully confirmed these calculations: The initial German thrust drove
approximately 400 miles into Russian territory and reached the area around Vitebsk. Here the anticipated halt occurred. However, contrary to expectation, the Soviet Union had not been decisively defeated.

After the rail line up to Minsk had been restored and the supplies necessary to continue the drive had been brought up, the Germans continued their eastward drive. Even though the rail line was extended east to Smolensk as the attack progressed, the second thrust barely succeeded in reaching the area Bryansk - Vyazma - Rzhev. The subsequent assault on Moscow failed mainly because the Germans were unable to create quickly enough the necessary supply build-up for this third phase of the operation. The railroad was unable to transport the enormous volume of supplies necessary.

The main supply line for Amy Group Center ran vie Smolensk to Vyazma. (See Sketch 5). Dependent on it were three armies and two panzer groups. Another line farther north, leading from Nevel via Velikiye Luki to Rzhev, which the Chief of Supply had repeatedly recommended for use since it could have given considerable logistical support to the army group's left wing, remained idle due to the scarcity of construction personnel and materiel. The failure to put the line into operation made itself felt still more adversely during the great defensive battles in the winter of 1942.


1941 - 1941

By this time it was evident to what extent the movement of supplies - in other words the success of the military operations in general - depended particularly on the railroads. The inability to complete rail lines on schedule and their failure to fill requirements caused repeated interruptions in the offensive and finally culminated in the crisis at the gates of Moscow. Great privation for both men and animals resulted from this breakdown in the supply system when the devastating effects of winter made themselves felt. In the area of Army Group North, on the other hand, the situation was much more favorable since there the railroads would adequately handle the long-distance hauling, leaving the available trucks free to handle exclusively the distribution of supplies near the front.

The railroad had the advantage that it could operate un¬interruptedly around the clock, so that despite some delays and low speeds it could still cover an average distance of 500 miles per day, which was three times the distance trucks could be expected to traverse. Thus, the movement of supplies over long distances was unquestionably the responsibility of the railroads, a fact, which had to be borne in mind during the planning phase. The existing rail net, which was to play such a vital role, hai to be carefully scrutinized before any final plans could be made.

The following examples from the area of Army Group Center are intended to illustrate the importance of the railroad during the Russian campaigns.

Early in 1942 the Vyazma - Rzhev rail line was still wide gauge. Several low grade locomotives end cars which had been captured by the Germans were proving very useful. Although an average of only one or two trains per day could operate from Vyazma, the terminal point of standard gauge, to Rzhev, it was just this trickle of supplies brought up over that line that enabled the Germans to conduct a successful defense against all major Russian attacks on the left flank of Army Group Center in the area Sychevka - Rzhev during 1942. The total capacity of all other transportation media would have been inadequate to meet the requirements of the combat units.

In the area of Ninth Army an average of twenty German divisions — as many as thirty-three in major battles — participated in the fighting in the Vyazma - Rzhev sector. Their daily supply requirements varied between 2800 and 4000 tons, the equivalent of six train loads. The distance from the border of East Prussia to the front¬line divisions was about 900 miles. Assuming a possible average daily mileage capability of 180 miles, a non-organic truck capacity of 33,000 tons (including a safety factor of 5,000 tons) would have been necessary to deliver the above-mentioned 2800 tons of supplies daily. At the beginning of the Russian campaign in 194l, Ninth Army was actually allotted a non-organic truck capacity of 5,500 tons. By the time Ninth Army reached Rzhev this capacity had already been reduced by half. During a six month period in 1942 no non-organic trucks whatever were available in Ninth Army's area.

The armies were thus obliged to rely solely upon their organic truck transportation, which had already been greatly reduced during the extensive German advance.

The importance of the railroad was thereby increased. It now had to bring supplies nearer the front than before in an effort to compensate for the curtailed truck capacity. Everything depended on the existing rail net. Very few new lines, could be constructed, and these only over short distances. Cross-connections to facilitate the re-routing of trains assumed special significance in instances where lines were paralyzed for days at a time by air or ground attacks. It was due primarily to the efforts of the railway operating personnel that the most vital supplies did reach the front-lin6 unite in time and in adequate quantities.

B. Highways

Even though truck transportation ranked behind the railroad in transporting supplies to German units in Russia, because of its limited capacity over extensive distances, its mission was just as important as that of the railroad. It remained for the trucks to carry the supplies from the railheads to the front - line units. The truck float was a reliable means of transportation provided that adequate fuel was available and the roads were in good condition.

However, there were only few roads in Russia which were capable of handling heavy traffic. There were practically no improved roads in Ninth Army's area north of the Minsk - Moscow highway. Even the latter highway did not. come up to western European standards. From Minsk to Smolensk it had an asphalt or concrete surface. Between Smolensk and Vyazma granite slabs constituted the paving. East of Vyazma the highway was still under construction. A stone-paved surface permitted the use of trailer trucks, thus affording considerable relief for the overtaxed railroads. Truck transportation assumed great importance for the support of the front-line units. In the beginning, however, full utilization of the Minsk-Moscow highway was not possible because of the following reasons:

First of all, the Russians had laid delayed-action mines in the roadbed which left some craters the entire width of the pavement. These craters were either filled with earth — in which case traffic could resume at a snail's pace - or else the trucks had to detour cross¬-country a feat that could often be accomplished only with the greatest difficulty.

Moreover, during the first half of 1942 traffic was sometimes blocked for days at a time as a result of enemy interference. Finally, the Minsk - Moscow highway suffered greatly from the heavy flow of traffic since its surface could not withstand indefinitely the strain of the heavy loads (up to twenty tons).

Nevertheless, the Minsk - Moscow highway remained the only usable supply route for Army Group Center's left wing, and was used simultaneously by Fourth and Ninth Armies, as well as by Fourth Panzer Army. It was of vital importance for the supply of the above-mentioned units since the railroad alone could not carry all the supplies.

In dry weather and in winter, unless the snow was too deep, almost all Russian roads were passable, provided that they were not subjected to excessive stress. Unfortunately, such overloading did result from the truck convoys hauling heavy loads over large distances. For this reason, they were directed over improved roads.

During the two muddy seasons, each of which lasted about six weeks in the spring and autumn, otherwise passable unimproved roads sometimes became a morass which could be traversed by prime movers and other tracked vehicles but not by the average commercial trucks, such as the Germans had commandered and turned over to the armed forces. These trucks had been designed for operation on the relatively good roads of western Europe. The Russian three-axle truck accomplished wonders on muddy roads and in muddy terrain, for which it had been specifically designed.

Since German trucks were not equipped with all-wheel drive and thus lacked cross-country mobility, their use was restricted to the better roads. Such roads increased in importance whenever the axis of movement led through forests, swamps, and other types of difficult terrain.

The few good roads that there were in Russia might assume the greatest importance if combat units and reinforcements had to be moved as quickly as possible in non-organic trucks or other supply vehicles to threatened sectors of the front. Throughout the Russian campaign this means of strengthening weak sectors never failed, and reinforcements always arrived in time. Consequently, in planning military operations, the Germans had to give special consideration to the road net.

In many instances the railroad could not be used for the lateral movement of troop units, either because of inadequate trackage or the long, time-consuming marches between the front and the railhead. Trucks, on the other hand, picked up troops close to the front and moved them close to their new sector.

The truck drivers were frequently ordered to take a longer route if this meant traveling on better roads. The disadvantage of having to travel farther was always compensated for by the higher speed at which the vehicles could proceed.

Passable roads were indeed necessary to assure a steady flow of supplies to the combat units. This flow was maintained throughout the Russian campaign, but could have proceeded even more smoothly if the weight and design of the trucks had been adapted to Russian road conditions.

The utilization of trucks would have been even more efficient if the road net had been extensive enough to permit the designation of Rollbahnen, which would be used only by motorized units and supply trucks. However, since only few improved roads were available motorized units and other march columns, cars, trucks, and horse-drawn vehicles all had to use one and the same road. As a result, the speed of motor traffic was considerably reduced, especially if the road was used for two-way traffic.

Motor traffic never did come to a complete standstill at any point along the Russian front, and there never was a complete breakdown of the German supply system.




In World War II the strategic importance of the railroad in the vast expanses of Russia was indisputably greater than in any other European theater of war - truth equally applicable to attack, defense, and withdrawal.

This fact, as well as the axiom of the elder Moltke, viz., that military operations may be imperiled to the point of failure if the troops advance too far ahead of the railroad termini, held true for motor transportation during the Russian campaign.

The Russians were fully aware of the importance of the railroad for German operations, and employed partisans in order to disrupt German rail traffic. The Russians developed their partisan warfare into a medium of combat which, in the selection of the objective, the time, and the type of interference, could be brought to bear almost without any danger of a properly timed German defense.

During the Russian campaign the Germans were faced with the problem of bringing about a reasonably smooth transition from wide gauge to standard gauge. This conversion required & lot of manpower from the very beginning particularly construction and operating units. During the restoration of rail lines in Russia the Germans had to devote special attention to the repair of damage caused by large-scale Russian demolitions. The Russians were masters of destruction, and the Germans soon learned to take this factor into account in their planning.

The difference in gauge initially compelled the Germans to transship all supplies at the border, a process which consumed much time and manpower. Consequently, the Germans began to convert wide gauge to standard gauge as soon as possible. The need for this conversion became even more urgent as less Russian rolling stock was seized. In order to prevent the Russians from evacuating most of their rolling stock to the east, the Luftwaffe was committed against rail centers far behind the Russian lines. In several instances the Germans also committed their ground forces in an attempt to halt the eastward movement of rolling stock. This was a particularly important problem in view of the traditional Russian scorched-earth policy, which provided for either total evacuation or complete destruction of anything which might prove useful to the invader. Even though the Germans did desire a "battle with inverted front" — a deep thrust by armored units into the enemy's rear followed by an about-face — in order to encircle strong enemy forces concentrated at rail and motor transportation centers, it was recognized that these forces might gain sufficient time to totally destroy railroads and bridges.

The Germans decided to convert gauge in the immediate wake of the advancing troops, since this enabled them to bring up supplies close to the frontline.

In this age of engines and tanks the importance of roads for military operations increased considerably. While pre-war Germany had made great strides in the construction of the Autobahnen and other through- roads, it could hardly be expected that any comparable system of highways would be encountered by the German forces advancing eastward into the interior of Russia. The fact that the Germans were able to maintain a road net from western Europe to the Russian front and from the northern Russian front to the south over which troops could be shifted whenever necessary was duo primarily to the devotion to duty and efficiency of the road construction and maintenance units under the command of the Chief of Transportation. Russian roads and bridges, as a rule, had been constructed solely for the limited requirements of peacetime traffic, and were unable to support a constant flow of heavy trucks and equipment. This was particularly apparent in areas where the roads led through extensive swamps or sandy soil.

In addition to the employment of an adequate number of repair crews, which were incorporated into units near the front, German commanders took special measures to reduce the attrition of materiel brought about by the poor Russian roads. If too large a number of supply trucks became unserviceable at any time, there was the danger that the mobility and range of military operations would suffer.

The establishment of speedways for general automotive traffic and of special thoroughfares to be used only by tanks proved very effective in preserving motor vehicles and made possible a fairly smooth flow of traffic. There also was a definite correlation between the attrition of motor vehicles and the distance between the railheads and the combat units.

The capacity of the Russian rail and road net under went considerable seasonal variations. During the muddy season in the spring and fall, which usually lasted for eight weeks, a very heavy burden was placed on the railroad because most of the roads became impassable. Consequently, the capacity of the rail net had to be checked and improved in advance of these seasons, and the railheads had to be moved as close as possible to the front line.

Whenever there was a lack of road repair crews, only a few main routes were kept open for traffic. Unimproved and poorly surfaced roads had to be closed to traffic. Wherever this measure was neglected, the roads became completely impassable, even on occasions during summer. Prior to closing these roads the Germans saw to it that a maximum amount of supplies for the duration of the muddy season was stockpiled at the front.

The Russian winter with its extremely low temperatures actually improved the capacity of the road net. Snow drifts, however, presented a problem. It was necessary either to take precautionary measures to prevent them or to construct new roads through terrain where the danger of snowdrifts was only slight. In addition to maintaining, a road net for long-distance traffic, the Germans also worked on road nets intended exclusively for combat zone traffic.

Without adequate preparations for winter and with insufficient manpower any attacker risks severe delays in his schedule. In some instances snow becomes such an enormous obstacle in tactical operations that any further movements are all but impossible.

The rail net must also be prepared for winter. Locomotives, railroad installations and repair shops have to be winterproofed and special winter lubricants used. Critical situations arise whenever these precautions were neglected.

The protection of the rail and road net is of decisive importance in Russia, the country where partisans and sabotage have a long history. Sufficient personnel have to be assigned from the very beginning to protect railroads and bridges from air and ground attack. Security patrols should be stationed at vital points along rail lines, such as bridges, as soon as the lines have been restored. These patrols must be strong and of sufficient mobility to protect the rail lines under construction.

The Russians committed partisans and other saboteurs for the demolition of rail lines and bridges deep in the Germans' rear area. The mines were laid in such a way that they could be set off by either pull ignition or pressure. The Germans suffered heavy losses in men, materiel, and time as a result of these attacks. In order to protect vital installations the Germans had to divert considerable manpower into this channel. Systematic "shake-down" procedures were followed in order to ferret out partisans. However, the benefits derived from these actions were usually short-lived and partisan resistance resumed after a short time. The sudden commitment of screening units and the use of all rail lines and roads necessary to completely surround a partisan- infested area was particularly effective.

The use of armored trains for the protection of rail lines also proved successful despite all expectations to the contrary.

The direction of an operation is favorable if it cuts the enemy's most important rail lines and roads within a short time, thus limiting the enemy's freedom of movement by depriving him of supplies and rein¬forcements which can no longer be moved up from the rear.

In selecting the direction for a given operation the old maxim that an efficient rail line must follow each army still holds good. However, in a country the site of Russia, where the rail net was very sparse, this maxim obviously could not be applied in full. Non-organic trucking units had to be employed to compensate for the low capacity. The factors involved in moving supplies by air exceed the scope of this study, which deals solely with railroads and highways.

In determining the direction of a military operation an evaluation of the rail and road net is of major importance, since it indicates vulnerable spots in the enemy's rail and road net, the destruction of which by the retreating enemy can seriously upset the attacker's timetable for the operation. Valuable information is obtained from a thorough study of military-geographical data.

On the basis of this evaluation an estimate can be made of the materiel and personnel required for the restoration of railroads and highways. Only by means of this preparatory work is it possible to plan the timing of the operation and the creation of the various sectors.

However, the attacker should not confine his planning to the building of railroads and highways only in the immediate wake of his advancing forces but must also plan the subsequent meshing of these lines. Once the attacker ha6 under his control an efficient rail and road net he will gain greater freedom of movement in his operations. Thus, troops can be assembled and points of main effort formed and shifted with a minimum loss of time. Likewise, enemy counterattacks or other reverses for the attacker can be more easily compensated for.

German maps were for the most part not reliable for the purpose of evaluating the Russian rail and road net. Captured Russian maps proved more valuable and were reproduced as quickly as possible for distribution to combat units.

Of particular importance is the early air and ground reconnaissance of the Russian rail and road net lying in the path of the attacker, including those areas where the enemy is likely to assemble for a counterattack. The results of reconnaissance must be continuously checked. If necessary, additional reconnaissance must be carried out at frequent intervals.

The requirement that every army should be followed by an efficient rail line is based primarily on the demands which the rail net has to meet in carrying supplies to the combat units. The greater the distance from the railheads to the frontline, the more important becomes the road net, since trucks will have to traverse this distance. Trucks will carry the supplies from the railhead to the supply depots, situated on the major highways and at key road junctions, where they will be stockpiled. Although in some instances supplies are directly taken from the railhead to the combat units, most of the materiel will be picked up at the depots by unit trucks. The flow of supplies from the depots to the front line will be more efficient if the road net can handle heavy trailer traffic.

There are no hard and fast rules as to the distance between railheads and the front line, since this depends on the strength and type of units to be supplied and the total available loading capacity of the trucks. Consequently, it will be necessary to determine the proper distance in each instance. The rail and road net may be relieved of some of their burden whenever part of the shipments can be assigned to inland waterway or ocean shipping. This happened during the advance of Army Group North in 1941, as pointed out earlier in this study. The use of shipping was especially desirable in instances where there was a shortage of locomotives for long-distance hauling.

A modern army which is not limited in its supply of fuel should, in addition to air transport, also prepare for the large-scale employment of trucks in the event that rail lines are temporarily disrupted. (German experience with non-organic truck units indicated that the minimum capacity figure per army was about 33»000 tons.) Trucks must be designed especially for conditions in Russia. All wheeled vehicles should have four-wheel drive. Thirty percent of all vehicles should be tracked in view of the special demands of the muddy season, Naturally, motor maintenance shops must be planned on a large scale. It is to be emphasized again that roads should be repaired systematically by permanently assigned repair crews. Aircraft may also be used to patrol and protect the roads from the air.


In order to attain victory the attacking force must launch a strong surprise thrust in a favorable direction.

It has been the purpose of this study to illustrate the importance of highways and railroads in Russia for military operations by means of German experiences in World War II.