Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division

201st Motor Rifle Division

The 201st Gatchina Twice Red Banner Motor Rifle Division was originally raised twice in World War II as part of the Soviet Union's Red Army and is now part of the Russian Ground Forces.

The Great Patriotic War

201st Rifle Division (First Formation) first appears on the rolls of the Red Army as part of the Moscow Military District on 1 September 1941. as the 210st Latvian Rifle Division, the first of three 'national' divisions with predominantly Baltic-speaking personnel. The basis of the division was the 76th independent Latvian rifle regiment which was in turn formed from the two Latvian volunteer battalions that participated in the retreats of the Red Army, including the defence of Tallinn. It had been established Aug 1941 at Gorki (present day Nizhni-Novgorod Gorokhovetz Army Camp. In addition to the much depleted 76th regiment (about 1200 troops), were added 2500 Latvian speaking members of the state militia (police) and NKVD, as well as the predominantly Latvian speaking 582nd construction battalion, and members of the 24th Corps which was the territorial reserve formation in Latvia which failed to form due to rapid German advance.

At this time the composition of the division included the 92nd, 122st and 191st rifle regiments, 220th artillery regiment, 10th independent AAA battery, 170th independent signals battalion, and other support units. By December 1941 the division had 10,348 personnel, of whom 51% were ethnic Latvians, 26% ethnic Russians, 17% Jews and 6% others. This caused some problems since most Jews spoke Yiddish only, and the Latvians published the divisional paper «Латвияс стрелниекс» (Latvian rifleman) in Latvian. At least 70 Jesh members of the division were members of the Zionist "Beitar" organisation that had been training members for travel to the then Palestine to defend Jewish settlements there before Latvia was annexed by Soviet Union.

The first combat division experienced was during the counteroffensive at Moscow in the areas of Naro-Fominsk and Borovsk where it suffered 55% in casualties. By June 1942 only 36% of the division were Latvian-speaking, and a year later this figure was reduced to 32%. However in part this was due to the formation of a second Latvian division, the 308th Latvian Rifle division. The division was reflagged as the 43rd Guards Rifle Division in October 1942.

The 201st division (2nd formation) was raised for the second time from 27th Rifle Brigade at Schlusselburg in Nov 1943. It served in the Leningrad and Baltic coast areas. The division received the title “Gatchina” for its role in breaking the siege of Leningrad and received its first Order of the Red Banner during the war. In May 1945 the division was part of 1st Shock Army of the Kurland Group (Leningrad Front).

Afghanistan

The 201st Rifle Division was converted to a Motor Rifle Division around 1957 and was part of the Central Asian Military District until the invasion of Afghanistan in December of 1979, when it entered Afghanistan with the 40th Army. It was stationed in Kunduz province.

In 1985, the unit received a second Order of the Red Banner. The last Soviet vehicle to leave Afghanistan was a BTR-60 from the 201st. The BTR-60 is still kept to the present day as a memorial.

The Tajik Civil War

At the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the 201st was stationed in Tajikistan. The newly independent Tajikistan fell apart in 1992 - the Tajikistan Civil War. Most of the conscripts were raised in Tajikistan and deserted while the Russian officers kept control of the division’s equipment. In September 1992, Russian president Yeltsin reinstated the division under firm Russian control. The CIS formed the Collective Peacekeeping Force in Tajikistan and the 201st formed its core.

The 201st Motor Rifle Division, with the support of loyal Tajik forces, attacked Dushanbe. Russian and Tajik force entered and seized control of the city in December 1992. After the capital was recaptured, offensives were launched in Kofarnikhon and Kurgan-Tyube. Both cities fell quickly and the major concentrations of Islamist rebels were scattered. However, in 1995, Islamist insurgents assaulted one of the bases of the 201st at Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province and ambushed a convoy near Kalashum, 200km east of Dushanbe. The division launched a counterattack supported by ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters. On April 19th, the 201st launched an offensive into Gorno-Badach and advanced 20 kilometres, forcing the Islamists out of several bases.

Present day

To replace the division’s mass desertions, the government has relied first on Russian conscripts and then on volunteers as of 1995. Even with the new volunteers, the division has only around 6,000 men or half the establishment of a standard Motor Rifle division. Some perks have been made to attract volunteers such as longer leave and double the pay of normal units. In 1999, the Russian and Tajik government agreed to convert the division into a military base. However, due to continued violence in the region the 201st remains a fully active division. Currently there is a 6 month training course for the division and a 6 month tour of duty in Tajikistan. This serves as the entire 2 year service requirement of Russian males, but manpower continues to be a problem. Equipment continues to be rather out of date as some of the division’s arms date to the Afghan war. The division maintains a line of static defensive posts along the Afghanistan border to prevent raids by rogue Taliban fighters. In 2001 the Division came under command of the 2nd Army of the newly amalgamated Volga-Ural Military District.

On August 13, 2003 the 201st Motor Rifle Division participated in a joint exercise with the Tajik military 10km southwest of Dushanbe at the Lyaur testing ground.

At one point during the civil war in Tajikistan, soldiers of the 201st Motor Rifle Division safely escorted staff of the American Embassy in Dushanbe to the airport for evacuation. This marks the only time in history that Americans have officially asked for and been given protection by the Russian military.

Subordinated units and fighting strength

201st Motor Rifle Division

  • 92nd Motor Rifle Regiment- Giprozemgorodok Barracks, Dushanbe
  • 149th Guards Motor Rifle Regiment- Kulyab
  • 191st Motor Rifle Regiment- Kurgan/Tyube
  • Tank Battalion
  • Artillery Regiment
  • Air Defense Regiment

Total strength

Commander as of 2001 was Major General Yuri Perminov. 6,000-7,000 men

160 Tanks

300 Armoured Personnel Carriers

200 Artillery Pieces

1,100 other vehicles

References

  • Orr, M.J. The Russian Garrison in Tajikistan- 201st Gatchina Twice Red Banner Motor Rifle Division. The Conflict Studies Research Centre. Camberly Surrey, England 2001.
  • Cooper, Tom. Tajikistan 1992-1997 www.acig.org, September, 2003.
  • Pravda Online
  • http://samsv.narod.ru/Div/Sd/sd201/default.html

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