Welcome to Cold War Gamer, a blog I am using to record my Cold War wargaming projects. These range from fictitious Cold War hot projects to historical conflicts that took place around the globe throughout the Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the Cold War Gamer.

My current projects include: Central Front; British & Soviet. South African Border War; Angolans and South Africans. Soviet Afghan War; Soviets and Afghans

Friday, 17 February 2012

ORBAT - 1980s Soviet MRR and TR, Part 1 Deployment and ORBAT

The Soviet Motor Rifle (MRR) and Tank Regiment (TR) in the 1980s had a broadly stable organisational structure with little significant structural change. Equipment change was however quite dramatic as the cold war arms race heated up in the final years of the cold war just prior to the collapse of the soviet union in 1991. Currently my concept of the cold war ends in 1993 with the withdrawal of the forward deployed groups of forces by the Russians.

The factors that affect the composition of the wargames force based on the Soviet Tank or Motor Rifle Regiment are location, base organisation, equipment change and task organisation which in the soviet force was governed by the Echelon system as well as factors such as march security. The intent of these posts is to articulate the impact of these to identify what can be fielded in the 1980s in order to create scenarios that would have been historically feasible.

in dealing with the Soviet Army it is always worth remembering that such a vast organisation changed quite slowly and whilst units in GSFG were armed with the latest equipment units in different readiness categories elsewhere continued to deploy older and or cheaper versions of key equipments for a considerable time, this could be as long as 10s of years. This offers considerable flexibility in the type of force deployed in any game.  On top of this the Soviets seldom threw hard ware away and tended to backload it to lower readiness units in less critical sectors or provide it to client states in Africa and the Middle East. A nice example of this is the T34, which equipped some mobilisation only units and of course was prevelant in client states in africa throughout this period.

This post will look at the impact of location and the basic structure and a subsequent ones will examine the impact of equipment evolution, the echelon system and task organisation.

The Groups of Soviet Forces that would likely be involved in action in central Europe, include the Northern Group of Forces in Poland, Group of Soviet Forces Germany and The Central Group of Forces in Chezceslovakia.  These forward deployed forces together with the European military districts inside the Soviet Union of Baltic, Byelorussia and Carpathia formed the Western TVD (strategic Direction) or theatre of operations. Other Theatres that might contribute forces directly include the South Western TVD aimed at Turkey and the Northern TVD aimed at Scandinavia.  An overview of Cold War Soviet Military Districts is here.

Inside the Soviet Army written by a Soviet defector noted that from within the Western TVD and the Warsaw pact forces local to those countries  unto 4 Fronts and a Group of Tank armies could be created. Each Front broadly consisted of an Air Army two Combined Arms Armies and a Tank Army. With the  NVA incorporated then GSFG could create 2 Fronts, Central Group of Forces including the CSLA would form another Front and together these constituted the 1st Echelon. The Northern Group of Forces with the PPA constituted the Front in the 2nd echelon.  The 3rd echelon a Group of Tank Armies could be created centred on the Byelorussia MD, the whole being aimed at Western Europe.

In the forward groups of forces the divisions were all Category A, in Byelorussia they were a mix of Category B and C and in the remaining Military Districts of the Western Theatre a Mix of category B and C. The so what in all that is that whilst the initial actions of any conflict would be conducted using the latest equipment, in units with the most lavish equipment scales follow on forces would be equipped with a more diverse range of tanks and APCs and be subject to a degree of orginisational variability, making for a wide variety of options for any Soviet force at a moment in time.

Guild Big Game 2011, 1st Echelon MRR seizing crossing
 points, 2nd Echelon MRR preparing to cross.

Within GSFG conventional wisdom holds that the broad transition progressed from T55/T62 combinations in the 60's through T62/T64 in the 70s to T62/64/80 in the 80's. Within this there were some interesting nuances relating to the introduction of Laser Range Finders, Tube launched missile systems, composite armour and reactive armour, many of these were delivered as upgrades to the in place force. In general older equipments provided the training stock or were found in the independent tank regiments attached to Motor Rifle Divisions.

Of interest and difficult to identify is the broad division between the deployment of T64 and T72. My current assumption is that T 64 deployment was prioritised to the forward Group of forces and that T72s were primarily used in the European Military Districts.  This assertion is indirectly supported by the composition of the Byelorussian forces following the decomposition of the Soviet Union.  In 1994 they deployed a mix of T54/55, T62, T64 and T72 with the largest single type being T72. The Osprey Tank War central front asserts that armour in both Central and Northern Group of forces would include significant numbers of T 72, which seems also likely of the Southern Group of Forces but not stated.  In addition to the broad equipment policy the forward deployed units were also subject to greater equipment scalings.

Guild Big Game 2011, BMP 1 MRB, passing through the 2S1 Battalion
of the 1st Echelon MRR

The motor rifle regiment and tank regiment were key building blocks in the development of soviet force structures.  The MRR consisted of the following elements:

3 Motor Rifle Battalions (2 BTR and 1 BMP) in MRD, and 1 BMP only in TD
1 Tank Battalion, with companies of 10 or 13 tanks, 13 in MRD by mid 1980s
1 122mm artillery Battery or Battalion, towed in early MRD or SP in TD, BMP equiped MRR and some later BTR MRB.
Recce Company
Anti Tank Battery
Air Defence Battery
Engineer companies

Regimental HQ, Supply, Repair and Medical elements

MRB, T-72, BMP 2, Revell, ACE and Liberation Miniatures

Tank Regiments were of similar structure but with 3 Tank Battalions and 1 Motor Rifle Battalion, an additional MRL battery and no AT company, Tank Regiments in MRD did not include a Motor Rifle Battalion.  Motor Rifle Regiments in Tank Divisions were equipped with BMP.

BTR equipped units contained additional Anti Tank platoons which in the forward Group of Forces could be over strength.

BTR, MRB - Figures and Vehicles Liberation Miniatures

Throughout the 80s there were relatively minor organisational changes to the overall structure of the MRR or TR.

  • An increase in artillery from a gun battery to a battalion of three batteries (around 1984), on reflection I decided tripling the quantity of Artillery constituted a major change.  Some BTR Regiments in the forward group of forces started to receive 2S1 to replace D 30 towards the end of the period (1984?).
  • Regimental Air Defence Batteries, migrated from 2 Platoons of 2 vehicle SA 9 Gaskin or SA 13 Gopher and 2 Platoons 2 vehicle ZSU 23-4 to 2 Platoons of 3 2S6 and 2 Platoons of 3 BMP 2 each with 3 SA 14 launchers.  The SA 9 equiped BTR and early BMP MRR whilst SA 13 equipped later BMP and Tank Regiments the 2S6 evolution was also confined to BMP and tank units.
  • Regimental Recce retained a Track, Wheeled and MC Sect, with tracked migrating from PT 76, through (1980) BMP 1 to (1984) BMP 2.
  • Regimental Anti Tank, MRR only, maintained structure and migrated equipment AT 3 to AT4 AT5.

In addition to the changes in the composition of the Regiment there were also changes to the MRB and TB, with the MRB undergoing the most significant, structural change in the 80s. This included changes to the composition and size to the:
  • Morter Platoon the original 82mm mortars were replaced by 120mm mortars in the late 70's and the Vasilek automatic mortar started to replace 120mm in BTR and or BMP units by the end of the period.
  • Air Defence Platoon SA 7/14 assets were originally distributed to companies but were then grouped into an AD Platoon with 3 BMP from 1984, by the end of the period this was reflected in BTR units probably from 1989.
  • from around 1984 an AGS 17 platoon with 3 BMP was added in BMP equipped battalions, this existed in BTR battalions at company level but included additional transport. By the end of the period (1989) they were centralised in BTR units
  • Anti Tank Platoon, BTR MRR only, enhanced size in forward Groups of Forces.
  • Weapons section was created at company level with Anti Tank (AT 7) and Machine Gun (PKM) elements within the companies of BTR (3+3) equipped battalions and machine Gun squads in BMP (0+6) companies. (1989)
Most of the other changes over the period were created by swapping old equipment for new, or from different equipments being used in different units.

The next post in this series is 1980s Soviet MRR and TR - Part 2 Tank Change


MRD 197919841989
MRR BMP 197919841989 BTR 19791984, 1989
TD 1979, 1984, 1989
TR 1979, 1984, 1989
Tank War Central Front, Osprey
Military Balance 1993 - 1994, IISS
Warsaw Pact Orbat 1989
Inside The Soviet Army Today, Osprey
Inside The Soviet Army, V Suverov
Weapons and Tactic of The Soviet Army, Isbey
ORBAT- 1980's MRR and TRR Part 2Part 3, Part 4 


  1. That's an incredible collection of miniatures you have there; and a very informative, well written article to boot.

  2. Thanks, they are not all mine, the Mi 24 and 2S1s in the Guild Big Game 2011 belong to Rutger who posts on the Guild, glad you like the blog

  3. Generally an excellent article couple of points:T72 was never deployed with GSFG although it was in the Western Military Districts The split for tank deployment was T62 in the south and T64 in the North T55 was used in the Independent Tank Bn's of MR Divs (not Regiments) with 5 Tank Coys. Independent Tank Regiments were Army assets and were for most of the time were equipped with T10's

    1. Hi Andy glad you liked it, Ref T-72 I think that's pretty much what I say. The only discussion in this post about forward deployed T-72s is I think around NGF and CGF quoted from osprey although I have one other source for T72 in CGF and a long running debate about it with a number of ex military intelligence mates. The Unit composition discussed with T-72s in other posts was all focused on a series of games involving CGF not GSFG, although somewhere I think I call it CSFG.

  4. You mention that BTR company's started adding weapons sections including PK series mgs. Are you sure these aren't NSV 12.7mm weapons? Janes Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army lists these guns as coming into service and with the shift to 5.45mm RPK-74 being used at section level, this would make sense creating a light/heavy mg mix. A Soviet infantry company supported by AGS-17/AT-7/NSV's would have been pretty fearsome, IMHO.

    1. Thats an interesting question. The 1988 version of Weapons and Tactics list the 12.7mm NSV as part of the AT Pl in a BTR equipped MRB. AFM Volume 2 Part 3 Tactics a British Army Intelligence publication revised in 1991 shows 3 PKM in the MG/AT Platoon of units in WGF in Annex H pp H-1. FM-100-2-3 published Jun 1991 also shows 3 PKM in the same part of the organisation under its motorised rifle company BTR. I have gone with the two later publications views. The AT/MG Platoon as part of a company might reasonably be expected to be using lighter weapons with less of a logistic footprint and training burden, the Larger weapons by this time were grouped in Pl at Bn level. The question I have always been interested in with this platoon is if the PKMs were provided tripods which would increase the weight of fire delivered and the effective range

    2. The answer could be that different units used different set ups, I suppose. I have pictures of a BTR equipped platoon circa 1989 which had one RPK-74 and one PKM per section, while I've seen others with two RPK's. Speed of issue of kit in the Soviet army was pretty slow so I suppose all scenarios are possible. We could probably go mad trying to make sense of it all! Thanks for replying.

  5. Fabulous mate,

    I hope to complete my motorised division soon, so I can crack on with my Bundeswehr