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Tajik russian troops in action

An RPG-section of motor-rifle troops from the 201st Division seen during the fighting in Tajikistan. (Photo: via Tom Cooper)

The 201st Gatchina Twice Red Banner Motor Rifle Division is a division within the Russian Ground Forces which has been active since World War II in both the Soviet Union and subsequently the Russian Federation.  

OriginsEdit

201st Rifle Division (First Formation)Edit

The division was formed as Red Army national unit on August 3, 1941 from the remains of the 24th Territorial Rifle Corps. It was originally designated as the 201st 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 (today Nizhny 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 Russian: «Латвияс стрелниекс» (Latvian rifleman) in Latvian. At least 70 Jewish 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 the division experienced was during the counteroffensive at Moscow in the areas of Naro-Fominsk and Borovsk where it suffered 55% 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.

Division joined in combat for Moscow (from December 20, 1941 until January 20, 1942), for Staraya Russa (from February 16, 1942 until April 4), Demjansk bridgehead (from April 6, 1942 until April 9, 1943; s; from April 10, 1943 until October 15 the Division was in Staraya Russa region, from October 18, 1943 until June 26, 1944 in Velikiye Luki and Novorzhev region. From June 26, 1944 until July 11 the Division was included with 130th Latvian Riflemen Corps until crossing the Latvian border . From July 18, 1944 Šķaune region and joined combat on Latvian soil on November 7, 1944.

The division also included other Latvian citizens who were behind Soviet front line and a large number of Russia's Latvians. Beginning strength was about 2,100 men. September 1941 the division had about 10,000 men. Division contained 92nd, 122nd and 191st Riflemen Regiment and 220th Artillery Regiment. On October 5, 1942 it became the 43rd Latvian Guard Riflemen Division. Regiments assigned to this Division were 121st, 123rd, and 125th Guard Riflemen Regiment and 94th Guard Artillery Regiment270th Artillery Battalion renamed to 55th Guard Artillery Battalion,48th Guard Antitank Artillery Division100th Antiaircraft Battery renamed to 44th Guard Antiaircraft Battery53rd Sapper Battalion renamed 47th Guard Sapper Battalion. The Division was commanded by Guard Major General Jānis Veikins, Regiment Commander L. Paegle, Regiment Commander A. Frolovs, Guard Major General Detlavs Brantkalns and Alfrēds Kalniņš.

201st Division (Second Formation)Edit

A new division was raised for the second time from 27th Rifle Brigade at Shlisselburg, near Leningrad, in Nov 1943 within the 23rd Army. It served in the Leningrad and Baltic coast areas. Aside from the usual components of the rifle division in 1943, the division also had a separate battalion equipped with snow skies, and each regiment had a snow skies equipped company to serve as advance detachments. In September the division was transferred to the 3rd Army. The initial composition of the division included:

  • 256 separate communications battalion
  • 119th separate reconnaissance company
  • 122nd separate reconnaissance company (ski)
  • 92nd rifle regiment (former 3, 5, 33 and 102 border guard detachments from the Karelian peninsula border guard brigade)
  • 122nd rifle regiment (former 13th Leningrad internal security brigade)
  • 191st rifle regiment (was created from detachments of a naval infantry brigade of the Baltic Fleet)
  • 220th artillery regiment
  • 198th separate anti-tank destroyer divizion
  • 51st separate sapper battalion
  • 53rd separate sapper battalion
  • 49th separate medical-sanitary battalion
  • 20th separate auto-delivery company
  • 136th separate chemical company

The division's first commander was Colonel Vyacheslav Petrovich Yakutovich.

In January 1944 the division was assigned to the 122nd Army Corps. 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. Following the relief of the siege the division incorporated several partisan detachments and groups which were used to strengthen the reconnaissance and skies equipped units. In February the division was transferred to the 117th Army Corps, and soon after awarded the Order of Red Banner for the liberation of Luga.

In June 1944 the division served with the 8th Army before moving to join the assault on Narva, for which the 191st regiment was awarded the honorific "Narvsky". On the 5 August the division was transferred to the 2nd Shock Army, and participated in the battles to break the Panther Line. After this battle the division was withdrawn for a brief reconstitution, and travelled by train to the Pskov area of operations with the rest of the Army. During the further battles in the Baltic republics, the 191st regiment was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky for destroying the German 23rd infantry regiment (12th Infantry Division) and two Latvian SS battalions. In the process of these battles the 1st and 2nd battalions of the regiment at one time were reduced to 20-30 men while the 3rd battalion ceased to exist.In October 1944 the division participated in the liberation of Riga after which the division was transferred to the 1st Baltic Front and participated in the containment of the Courland encirclement of Wehrmacht forces. From March 1945 the division was in the 1st Army Corps of the 1st Shock Army of the Kurland Group (Leningrad Front). On the 1 October 1945 the division completed its movement to Dushanbe in Tajikistan.

Following post-war reductions the division was reflagged as the 325th rifle brigade, but in 1948 was again reflagged as a 27th mountain-rifle division. This included receiving pack mountain 75mm guns for its artillery regiment that were of the 1905 model with their manufacturer's plate stating they were manufactured in St. Petersburg. In 1958, following post-Stalinist reforms, the division was reduced to a 451st mountain rifle regiment, but in the next year it was reformed albeit as a 124th mountain rifle cadre division. In 1963 the division received its tank battalions, and reverted to the 201st Gatchina Rifle Division (2nd formation) was converted to a Motor Rifle Division in 1964 when the division was again raised to a full wartime establishment, and after a training exercise its 234th Tank Regiment's T-34/85 tanks were exchanged for the T-54 model. By this time the division's artillery regiment became the 998th Self Propelled Artillery Regiment "Starokonstantinovsky". In 1960s the division also received its 1098th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment.

AfghanistanEdit

As part of the Central Asian Military District the division participated in the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, when it entered Afghanistan with the 40th Army. It was stationed in Kunduz province. At this time the division lost the 92nd and 191st Motor Rifle Regiments, and gained the 149th Guards "Chenstokhova" Motor Rifle Regiment and the 395th Motor Rifle Regiment. The Division headquarters, the 220th artillery regiment, 149th Guards and other smaller units were stationed in Kunduz, while the 122nd MRR was based in Tashkurgan and the 395th MRR in Puli-Khumri. The tank regiment remained in Samarkand.

During its service in Afghanistan the division largely coordinated its operations with the Afghan Army's 18th (Mazar-i-Sharif) and 20th (Baglan) infantry divisions, as well as the 10th and 31st infantry regiments.

In 1985, the division received a second Order of the Red Banner. The division used BMP-1 and BMP-2 IFVs, BTR-60 and BTR-70 APCs, T-62 tanks and 122mm self propelled guns "Gvozdika". The last Soviet vehicle to leave Afghanistan on 15 February 1989 was a BTR-60 from the 201st.  The BTR-60 is still kept to the present day as a memorial.

Following its withdrawal, the 191st MRR was returned to the division, while it retained the 149th Guards MRR.

The Tajik Civil WarEdit

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 after its subunits were reinforced with Russian SpetzNaz troops. 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, 200 km east of Dushanbe. The division launched a counterattack supported by ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters. On April 19, the 201st launched an offensive into Gorno-Badach and advanced 20 kilometres, forcing the Islamists out of several bases.

In 1996 the division's sapper battalion participated in border region mine clearance operations with Tajikistan forces.

In 2001 the division was deployed to the Afghanistan border in expectation of the US attack on Afghanistan, and possible attempts by the Taliban to cross the border into Tajikistan.

Present DayEdit

To replace the division’s mass desertions, the government has relied first on Russian conscripts and then on volunteers serving under contract as of 1995. Even with the new volunteers, the division has only around 7,000 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 the 4th 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 10 km 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.

OrganizationEdit

201st Motor Rifle Division (base)

  • 783rd separate reconnaissance battalion
  • 340th separate repair and restoration battalion
  • 636th separate service support battalion
  • 252nd separate communications battalion
  • 212nd separate communications battalion (territorial)
  • 92nd Motor Rifle Regiment- Giprozemgorodok garrison, Dushanbe
  • 149th Guards Motor Rifle Regiment- Kulyab garrison
  • 191st Motor Rifle Regiment- Kurgan-Tyube garrison
  • separate tank battalion (withdrawn from Tajikistan 2006)
  • 998th Artillery Regiment (withdrawn from Tajikistan 2006)
  • 1098th Air Defence Regiment (withdrawn from Tajikistan 2006)
  • 303rd separate helicopter squadron using four Mi-24 and four Mi-8 helicopters
  • 670th Air Group (squadron) equipped with five SU-25  aircraft is subordinated to the 201st Military Base command to which also belongs the 201st Division.

Total StrengthEdit

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

96 Tanks

300 Armoured Personnel Carriers

54 Artillery Pieces

1,100 other vehicles

8 helicopters

5 ground attack aircraft

Outside SourcesEdit

  • 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
  • Атаев Р.С. Подумаем над этим (О термине "таджикско-афганская граница"), "Солдат России" газета 201-й МСД, №65 от 1 октября 1994 г., Душанбе.


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