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Russian Rifle Regiments


waldo
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Hi all,

The Russian army had separate Rifle Regiments (e.g. 1st Finnish Rifle Regiment) of 2 battalions. I haven't been able to find any information on these units. Were they elite units? Were their soldiers crack shots? What was their special function (if any) or was the "Rifle" title just a form of honorific?

I'd appreciate any info that can be given on these units.

Waldo

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According Major W.A. McBean, Handbook of the Russian Army, (HMSO, 1905), "The Russian Rifles are considered as light troops, are provided with a better stamp of recruit, and shoot better than the other infantry." (p. 21)

The basic unit of the Russian Rifles was the battalion, which was usually organized in much the same way as a contemporary Russian infantry battalion. In some cases, two, three, or four battalions were combined to form a rifle regiment.

Of course, this was in 1905, before the reforms that followed the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

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I have a book somewhere with a section on Rifles in the Finnish Army including those taken from Russian Forces and others upon Finnish independence. With reference to this question there where no Finnish troops in the Russian army post 1905, but some of the Russian units in Finland 1914-18 where called Finnish and IRC this was common in the Tsarist Army battalions where often called after where they served, this is different to the original German Jaeger battalions that could refer to where they where recruited.

I will dig out over the next few days.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Waldo

The Russian army had separate Rifle Regiments (e.g. 1st Finnish Rifle Regiment) of 2 battalions. I haven't been able to find any information on these units. Were they elite units? Were their soldiers crack shots? What was their special function (if any) or was the "Rifle" title just a form of honorific?

No, by 1905 the rifle regiments were an historical designation (honorific) and didn’t represent a special capability. There wasn’t any special training, equipment, or personnel associated with these units.

The main reason for the regiments (actually the rifle brigades) was to provide a smaller maneuver unit at the corps level to cover flanks, form advance guards, holding isolated positions, etc., in cases where the use of a division was too much combat power. If a rifle brigade wasn’t available, the tendency was to break up divisions to form detachments for these roles, wasting a valuable unit. In the case of the East Siberians (1904), it allowed a larger dispersion of combat power over a vast area in a garrison role using smaller, self contained units. In 1904, the East Siberian Rifle Regiments were increased from two to three battalions, and in 1905-06 further increased to four (same as a line regiment). They always operated as brigades (four regiments of two battalions) and later as divisions (four regiments of three battalion). In 1906 the East Siberian Rifle Regiments were absorbed into the Siberian infantry regimental sequence and ceased to exist as rifle regiments.

All five line rifle brigades (1-5) were used during the RJW. Again, these were organized as two-battalion regiments, with each brigade of four regiments, making them the same size as a regular infantry brigade (8 battalions). They kept this structure until 1915, when they were reorganized as a 16 battalion division (each regiment increased to four battalions), making the brigade into a division.

There were also Caucasian and Turkistani rifle regiments in addition to the Line and Finnish regiments discussed. These too were reorganized into 16 battalion divisions in 1915-16.

The Russian rifle units never operated in a manner like the German Jäger battalions in WWI. They mostly covered or extend the flanks for corps and armies, or acted as a reserve. They were regular infantry with possibly better morale due to the historical connection, but this was not due to better soldiers as compared to the infantry units.

Jeff

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A small correction to my post above (written from memory). The Siberian forces prior to 1906 consisted of two types of infantry, rifle regiments (East Siberians) and line infantry (Siberians). After the war the two were combined and titled Siberian Rifles, not Siberian Infantry as I indicated above. There was no practical difference between the Siberian rifle units and regular line infantry.

Jeff

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Jeff,

Thanks for your valuable discourse. IT's alot more detailed than anything I've read on these units. Do you recall your source(s)? I'm interested in learning more about the WW1 Russian army and would like to follow up.

Thanks again,

Waldo

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Waldo

I wish I could provide one or two books, but this information is from a number of sources.

If you read Russian, the best is Russian Infantry Regiments 1855-1918 (I will need to check the book at home to make sure I remembered the title correctly and provide the author’s name). This is the third part of a series on Russian infantry regiments.

The next best source (up to 1905) is the Russian official history of the Russo-Japanese War:

Guerre russo-japonaise 1904-1905, historique rédigé à l'Etat-Major de l'armée russe. This is the French translation of the history. Tome I discusses the Russian Army before the war. The set details the discussions and changes that happened during the war (the expansion of the East Siberian units is an example)

Der Russisch Japanische Krieg: Amtliche Darstellung des Russischen Generalstabes. This is the German translation. Not as good as the French because it is abridged.

Military observer reports from the Russo-Japanese War:

-Reports from Officers attached to the Japanese and Russian Forces in the Field (UK)

-Reports of Military Observers attached to the Armies in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War (US)

Menning Bayonets before Bullets

Van der Oye & Menning Reforming the Tsar’s Army

Golovine The Russian Campaign of 1914

Knox With the Russian Army

Handbook on the Russian Army 1914. As I stated before, some of the information in these books is dated. For example, this edition still discusses the pre-1883 regimental flags instead of the flags adopted on that date.

Armed Strength of Russia 1886.

There is no one source that is an organizational history of the army. Many of the books above give bits and pieces. There are other WWI accounts that add to the picture, but the army organizationally didn’t really change much after the RJW.

The best two books on the Russians in WWI are:

Stone The Eastern Front

Rutherford The Russian Army in World War I (republished as The Ally: The Russian Army in World War I)

These two books cover the entire war and will give you a sense of where and when. You should understand that the Russian Army in WWI is not well covered in English (it is also not well covered in other languages).

Jeff

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Jeff,

Thanks for this list. It had not occurred to me to look at Russo-Japanese War studies. I suppose, for obvious reasons, there is no official history of the war from the Russian side?

Waldo

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