Ground Troops

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ground Troops


an armed service assigned to perform strategic and operational-tactical missions in land theaters. Ground troops constitute the mainstay of the military might of most countries.

In terms of combat capabilities, ground troops, independently or in cooperation with other armed services, can repel an invasion by land armies or large-scale airborne and marine landing parties; they can deliver simultaneous massed fire strikes to the full depth of the enemy’s operational deployment, break through the enemy’s defense, carry out a major strategic offensive at a quick pace and to great depth, and consolidate the occupied territory. The main strength of the ground troops as an armed service lies in the great firepower and shock action, high mobility, and complete combat self-sufficiency. Where nuclear weapons are used, ground troops, owing to their fighting characteristics and capabilities, can exploit nuclear strikes to wipe out enemy groupings completely and to seize vitally important enemy areas.

The Soviet ground troops are equipped with nuclear weapons and missiles, conventional weapons and combat equipment, and communications and transportation equipment. They consist of the combat arms and special troops. The combat arms include rocket forces, artillery, motorized rifle troops, tank troops, airborne troops, and air defense troops.

The rocket forces are the mainstay of the combat might of the ground troops. They are designed to deliver powerful nuclear strikes against any targets located in the tactical and operational depth of the enemy defense. The artillery is capable of providing reliable fire support to combined arms large units in all types of combat and operations.

The motorized rifle troops and tank troops are the main striking force of the ground troops. They can cover large distances, break through a deeply echeloned defense saturated with numerous antitank weapons, maneuver adroitly on the field of battle, develop the offensive at a quick pace after nuclear strikes or powerful artillery fire, and successfully wage battle against an enemy using modern means of destruction.

The airborne troops can seize and hold areas in the enemy’s tactical and operational rear and operate successfully far from the main groupings of the ground troops. The air defense troops are able to provide cover for units and large units at low, medium, and high altitudes.

The special troops are the engineer troops, chemical troops, radar troops, signal corps, motor transport troops, road troops, various services, and the rear units and services.

The Soviet ground troops are organized into subunits (podrazdelenie), units (chast’), large units (soedinenie), and strategic groupings (ob”edinenie). In peacetime the highest military-administrative formation is the military district. The ground troops are headed by a commander in chief who is the deputy minister of defense of the USSR. Subordinate to him are the Main Headquarters of the Ground Troops, the commanders (chiefs) of the combat arms, and the chiefs of special troops, main directorates, military schools, and scientific research establishments.

The commanders in chief of the ground troops have been Marshals of the Soviet Union G. K. Zhukov (March-June 1946), I. S. Konev (July 1946-March 1950, March 1955-March 1956), R. Ia. Malinovskii (March 1956-October 1957), A. A. Grechko (November 1957-April 1960), and V. I. Chuikov (April 1960-June 1964) and General of the Army I. G. Pavlovskii (since November 1967).

The US ground troops (US Army) are divided into combat arms and services. The combat arms include troops who wage combat directly: the infantry, armor, and artillery. The corps of engineers, signal corps, army aviation, and intelligence and counterintelligence units are considered both combat arms and services because they support the combat arms in waging combat and at the same time may participate directly in combat themselves. Among the services are the corps of engineers, signal corps, chemical corps, ordnance, intelligence and counterintelligence, the quartermaster corps, transportation corps, and the military police. The US Army is headed by the secretary of the army, who is a civilian appointee, and is directed by the Continental Army Command (headed by a chief of staff). The chief of staff of the US Army is appointed from among the generals.

Organizationally, the US Army is made up of divisions, corps, armies, and army groups. They also include various types of separate brigades, armored cavalry regiments, separate battalions of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, radar troops, and special forces trained for subversion in the enemy rear. There are infantry, mechanized, armor, airborne, and airmobile divisions. The army corps has a headquarters, corps units and subunits, and two to four or more divisions. The field army has a headquarters, army units, and several army corps. Units from the reserve of the main command are attached to reinforce an army. An army group is formed for a certain period. It includes several field armies and one tactical air command. In the United States the army has nuclear missiles and other modern weapons and combat equipment.

Ground troops are the most ancient branch of the armed forces. In the slaveholding states they consisted of infantry and cavalry or of just one combat arm. In ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Greece and the armies of other states organizational elements emerged, such as groups of ten, 100, and the like. The organization of ground troops reached its highest development in ancient Rome, where the legion, divided into subunits (centuries and cohorts), was a permanent administrative and combat element after the fourth century B.C.

During the early and mature periods of feudalism in Western Europe (ninth-14th centuries), the knight cavalry was the chief arm of the ground troops and infantry played a subsidiary role. In Rus’ the infantry retained its importance alongside the cavalry. In the 14th century artillery was introduced in Western Europe, but infantry reemerged as one of the basic combat arms. With the creation of standing mercenary armies in Western Europe in the 15th century, organizational elements emerged, first companies and then regiments (consisting of eight to 12 and more companies), followed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by brigades and battalions. A standing army was gradually formed in Russia in the 16th and 17th centuries; it was divided into regiments (also called prikazy) consisting of 100-man subunits (sotni), companies, 50-man units (polusotni), ten-man units (desiatki), and the like.

An orderly permanent organization (divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, companies, and squadrons) was adapted in the 17th—18th centuries in various countries, including Russia (18th century). At the same time, engineer troops appeared in the ground troops. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the division, and afterward the corps (early 19th century), became combined arms large units of permanent composition and included a definite number of units in conformity with tables of organization, which were periodically changed. The strength of a country’s ground troops was now calculated by the number of divisions. In the mid-19th century signal troops appeared in the Russian and other armies. During the 19th century massive armed forces were built on the principles of a regular army whose foundation was the ground troops. The division-corps form of organization became firmly established; armies were created as operational strategic groupings.

During World War I (1914–18), the ground troops of the combatant countries constituted the bulk of the forces. Armored, motor transport, and chemical troops, air defense forces, and other new types appeared during the war. The quantitative growth of artillery and the use of automatic weapons greatly enlarged the firepower of the ground troops. Regimental and battalion artillery and antitank and antiaircraft artillery were developed, and the number of light and medium machine guns and infantry mortars increased sharply. Motor vehicles were used to move the infantry. In many countries the cavalry ceased to be important. The ground troops of the belligerent countries gained considerable experience in waging front and army operations (seeWAR, ART OF, and OPERATIONAL ART).

As a result of the triumph of the October Revolution of 1917, Soviet Russia created fundamentally new armed forces, based on ground troops that consisted of various combat arms and special troops. The highest tactical large units were rifle and cavalry divisions (and corps after the Civil War of 1918–20); the largest operational strategic groupings were armies.

By the beginning of World War II (1939–45), the size of the ground troops in many countries had sharply increased, especially in the armies of the fascist states; in addition, the proportion of tank, mechanized, and airborne troops and antitank and antiaircraft artillery had grown, and the processes of mechanizing and motorizing the troops continued. Among the capitalist states, fascist Germany had the largest and best-trained ground troops. At the beginning of the war ground troops constituted the bulk of the troops of the belligerent countries.

During the war, major operational strategic groupings of ground troops were formed and deployed: fronts (groups of armies) and combined arms and tank armies (groups). Moreover, new tactical large units appeared: artillery divisions and corps; mortar, antitank, and airborne units and large units; and air defense large units. The Soviet ground troops bore the brunt of the war. With the support of air and naval forces, they crushed the main forces of the ground armies of the fascist states and demonstrated complete superiority over them, completely mastering the art of waging operations in any theater. Armored troops became the main striking force and the most important operational means for developing an offensive to great depth and at great speed; artillery became the primary fire force of the ground troops. Engineer troops developed into an operational means of supporting the ground forces’ maneuvering, breaking through the enemy defense, forcing water barriers, and setting up defensive lines and zones. During the war, more than 80 percent of all personnel of the Soviet armed forces served in the ground forces.

After the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the ground troops continued their development on the basis of the acquired combat experience and the further improvement in weapons and combat equipment. They became fully motorized and mechanized. The rifle troops (infantry) received new types of weapons and armored combat vehicles, which increased their mobility and made it possible to wage combat not only in dismounted formation but also in the combat vehicles themselves. In 1957 the rifle and mechanized divisions of the Soviet armed forces were reorganized as motorized rifle divisions. By this time, the cavalry had lost its importance as a combat arm in all countries and was disbanded.

In the early 1960’s the ground troops of the most advanced countries adopted nuclear missiles, improved conventional weapons and combat equipment, and modern means of command and control. The organizational structure of the units, large units, and strategic groupings of the ground troops, procedures for using these troops in combat and operations, and training methods were changed on the basis of the new weapons and equipment and in conformity with new conditions for waging battle. The appearance of nuclear weapons brought about a change in the ratio of the armed services. Strategic missile forces have become paramount, but nonetheless the ground troops continue to be one of the leading and most numerous armed services.

The further development of the ground troops will follow the line of improving their organizational structure, increasing firepower, and improving mobility.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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