Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Saturday, February 07, 2004


This is coolbert:

The division.

You hear this word bandied about from time to time by persons purporting to be reporters covering the "military scene".

Was a word widely used during the Cold War.

The Soviets were always having one hundred eighty (180) divisions on their side, the U.S. having eighteen (18) divisions on their side.

Quite a disparity there, isn't it? Soviet army forces SO MUCH lareger than American it was very frightening!

Well, what does the word mean in the military sense, and what does it say?

A division is normally the largest military unit to be found in an army that has a fixed structure.

Normal divisions in army structure will have the same number of brigades or regiments, each brigade or regiment having the same number of battalions, each battalion having the same number of companies, etc.

For units above the size of division level, corps, army or greater, a fixed structure is normally not found to be present.

Each unit [army, corps, greater] will be task tailored for the mission they are given.

Since a division is said to normally have a fixed structure, it can be used as a standard to gauge the relative strengths of armies throughout the world. The country possessing say twenty (20) divisions can be said to have a relative combat strength about four (4) times as great as a country say possessing five (5) divisions.

Now, there was a problem with this equation when attempting to equate Soviet and U.S. forces by comparing the number of divisions that each possessed.

Of the eighteen (18) divisions the U.S. had on active duty, almost all were close to 100 % strength with regard to manpower, equipment, and training. Ready to go. A pretty high status of preparedness was maintained.

For the Soviet divisions, things are more complicated.

About sixty (60) of the Soviet divisions were at 100 % strength or close to it. Of that sixty, about half were deployed on the border with China. The other half were deployed against NATO. Another 1/3 of the Soviet divisions were at about 50 % strength and the remaining third were at only 5 % strength!! Those latter units, 2/3 of the Soviet divisions were woefully equipped for combat on a short notice. They would have to be fleshed out, equipped and trained. A period of time that would be considerable.

How did this whole thing with divisions start?

The type of warfare practiced by the early Greeks was the phalanx.

A tightly group mass of about 6000 men on either side would engage in battle, each group arranged in more or less a square of fighters.

Each group would advance on the other, they would meet, and engage in close quarters battle with sword and spear.

Trouble with this.

Of the 6000 combatants on either side, only a very small number of combatants in the immediate first rows of the squares would actually be fighting. The remainder would be pushing from behind and awaiting their turn at the "front" of the square as their fellows in front of them would fall. This was very inefficient. To accommodate new tactics and concepts as devised, and to increase the number of combatants actually involved in the fighting at any given time, "divisions" in the squares were created, allowing for more flexibility by the command, the strategoi [strategists, generals].




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