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"Training of Russian Automatic Riflemen" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on the training of Russian automatic riflemen during WWII was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 15, Dec. 31, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The following report, a translation of an article by a Colonel in the Russian Army, is believed to give the latest Russian thought on the training of the automatic rifleman. The Russian automatic rifleman here referred to is equipped with a weapon comparable to the Thompson submachine-gun. According to a Russian instructional poster, best results are obtained with this weapon as follows: single shot, up to about 300 yards; short bursts, about 200 yards; long bursts, about 100 yards.

The fundamental assignments of the automatic riflemen are:

(a) To break up, or throw into confusion, enemy battle formations by sudden assault fire, creating the semblance of encirclement where possible;

(b) To filter through the gaps between the enemy units, and cause heavy losses by striking at his flanks and rear;

(c) To disorganize enemy control by sudden assaults on his staffs and command posts;

(d) To capture and hold important strategic points (crossroads, railheads, bridges, etc.).

It may readily be seen that men required for such tasks must be trained primarily as attackers. They must be excellent athletes and bold fighters. Furthermore, they must be capable of self-sacrifice, and have the ability to operate under any weather conditions, in the daytime or at night. It is of prime importance that they remain cool under any battle conditions. Surprise is always the basis of their action. In many cases it is necessary to creep up to within 150 to 250 yards of the enemy without being detected, and open fire so as to throw the enemy ranks into confusion if not to wipe them out.

It is necessary to select candidates carefully for this specialty in the Red Army. The men must be physically well developed, as well as in perfect health, particularly as regards eyesight and hearing. Their will-power and determination must be of the highest caliber.

The program of training for automatic riflemen is drawn up with special consideration as to their battle functions. The individual training of the automatic riflemen approximates that of the infantry riflemen in the elementary stages. Emphasis is placed on the following:

(a) Thorough familiarity with the automatic rifle, to include reduction of stoppages and care in the field;

(b) Marksmanship, to include firing from all positions at stationary, moving, and surprise targets;

(c) Throwing of grenades and gasoline bottles, especially against tanks, embrasures, and trenches;

(d) Ability to ski;

(e) Self-orientation by azimuth, compass, or map at any time.

In the individual tactical training of automatic riflemen, 8 to 10 hours are devoted to courses in: "The Automatic Rifleman in Offense," "Actions of Automatic Riflemen in Attack and Inside the Enemy Defenses" and "The Automatic Rifleman in Defense." Stress is laid upon movement by rushes and crawling noiseless approach to enemy positions, use of camouflage, and utilization of cover. Each trainee must learn the various means of preparing satisfactory fire positions for prone, kneeling, sitting, and standing fox holes. He must also know how to fire from skis and tanks.

The unit tactical training includes courses in: "Action of Automatic Rifle Units in Attack and Inside the Enemy Defenses," "Action of Automatic Riflemen Accompanied by Tank Destroyers in Offense," "Night Attacks by Automatic Rifle Units," "Automatic Rifle Units in Defense," "Automatic Rifle Units in Encircling Movements" and "Action of Automatic Rifle Units in Rear of the Enemy."

All studies should be conducted under practical conditions which approximate battle conditions as closely as possible, i.e., in snowfall, fog, poor visibility, etc. These studies should be filled with adverse situations to complicate operations, such as sudden assault from ambush, outflanking, appearance of enemy on the flanks or in rear, and encirclement.

Such practice develops initiative, cunning, "fight," and ability to think calmly under battle conditions. An automatic rifleman must never be allowed to forget that he may have to fight as an individual, separated from his unit, at any time and under any conditions. On the way to and from exercises, such factors as defense against aircraft, antitank defense, defense against motorized units, etc., are introduced and absorbed. Ability to dig in quickly, to pass through barbed-wire entanglements and other obstructions, and to work while wearing the gas mask, is emphasized.

In order to relieve monotony and to keep interest of the trainees alive, it is suggested that the different subjects be taught in varied, short lessons to achieve desired standards. A model daily lesson outlined early in the course consists of: complete assembly and disassembly of the automatic rifle; fire from cover; observation on the battlefield; discovery and choice of targets; study of grenades; and use of hand grenades.

Comment: Although the actual number of automatic rifles in Red Army infantry units is not known, it is believed to be comparatively high. Before the war with Germany, there were at least two per rifle squad, and it is believed the number per large infantry unit has been increased.

The Soviet press has repeatedly emphasized the importance of automatic rifles. Many photographs taken at the front show whole units of automatic riflemen. The Red Army "desyanti" troops who ride the tanks are always pictured armed with this weapon. Pictures of junior officers with this weapon have been noted.

As the Red Army teaches "close-in" fighting, using short ranges, it is readily understandable why so much emphasis is placed on this weapon and on the training of men to use it in the proper manner. The above article deals with the ideal training which is striven for but not believed to be achieved. The average automatic rifleman is, of course, more highly trained than an infantry rifleman.


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