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Railroads - 1939-45 Great Patriotic War

After the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, eastern Poland, and portions of Finland and Romania. Consequently, before Germany's 1941 attack on the Soviet Union, the size of the Soviet rail network increased by the assets located in these areas and countries. During the Soviet-Finnish War (November 1939 to March 1940), Soviet railroads supported military operations. Over 20 percent of the rolling stock was used to supply the operations against the Finnish forces. Although military cargo shipments originated in many parts of the country, they all fed into the October and Murmansk railroads in areas where few highways were able to handle motor transport. This fact and the distance that freight had to travel to the front combined to cause unloading bottlenecks at final destination stations and yards. Although delays were substantial, civilian and military railroad authorities learned important lessons from the Finnish campaign.

During World War II, railroads were of major importance in supporting military operations as well as in providing for the increased needs of the wartime economy. Because of their importance and vulnerability, trains, tracks, yards, and other facilities became the prime targets of the German air force and, in areas close to the front, of German artillery.

Railroad operations during the war corresponded to the main phases of military operations. The first phase extended from the German offensive on June 22, 1941, to the Red Army's counteroffensive, which culminated in a Soviet victory at Stalingrad in February 1943. During this phase, the railroads evacuated people, industrial plants, and their own rolling stock to the eastern areas of the country. From July to November 1941, some 1.5 million carloads of freight were moved eastward. The railroads also carried troops and military matériel from rear areas to the front. All of the operations were accomplished under threatened or actual enemy fire.

The second phase extended throughout most of 1943, when the Red Army slowly advanced against strong German resistance. The railroads coped with increasing demands for transportation services as industrial plants increased production. In addition, the Red Army relied heavily on the railroads to move personnel and supplies for major operations. Thus, during the first three months of the Kursk campaign (March to July 1943), three major rail lines averaged about 2,800 cars with military cargo per day, reaching a daily peak of 3,249 in May. Moreover, as the Soviet forces regained territories, military and civilian railroad construction teams restored and rebuilt trackage destroyed by the retreating enemy.

Great effort was given in the Stalingrad counteroffensives (in the Caucasus as well) to building and restoring roads and railways. The role of special line of communications troops - Highway and Railway Troops, as well as other special bridge-building and engineer elements - thus grew in importance as an organic component of operational rear services and one critical to the successful supply and support of advancing formations. The application of experience gained in transportation-route construction, maintenance, and management was clearly evident in the buildup for the Kursk Battle.

In the third phase, from early 1944 to the end of the war in May 1945, the Red Army rapidly extended the front westward, causing the distances between production facilities (in the Ural Mountains and Siberia) and military consumers to grow accordingly, thereby further straining railroad resources. The Red Army's Belorussian offensive, which was launched on June 23, 1944, required, during its buildup phase, 440,000 freight cars, or 65 percent of Soviet rolling stock. In early 1945, the Red Army pursued German forces into neighboring countries, requiring the railroads to cope with different track widths, which went from 1,520-millimeter-gauge track to 1,435-millimeter-gauge track in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and eventually in Germany itself.

When Soviet forces entered Eastern Europe, the Soviet rear services were given the task of managing and exploiting foreign road and rail networks. As a consequence, eleven strategic rear service transloading bases were deployed at the junction of railroads having broad Soviet and narrower east European gauge lines, as well as at some seaports.

The Soviet rear services ended World War II with a vastly different structure, governed by far more complex and sophisticated support concepts than had existed in the prewar years. Special line of communications troops - railroad, highway, and engineer in particular - played a growing role in building, restoring, and maintaining routes critical to the movement and support of troops.

Despite the effort made to haul men and matériel to the front and to provide at least some service to the civilian sector, as well as to restore operations in war-damaged areas, the Soviet Union managed to build 6,700 kilometers of new lines during the war years. The new lines tapped areas rich in the mineral resources that were required for the war effort or shortened the distances between important economic regions. Of the 52,400 kilometers of Soviet main track roadway damaged during the war, 48,800 kilometers were restored by May 1945. About 166,000 freight cars were destroyed, and the number of locomotives decreased by about 1,000, although almost 2,000 were furnished by the United States as part of an agreement authorized by its Lend-Lease Law.

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