Russian guns



During World War 1 the Russian Army was not able to arm and equip the great number of soldiers that it could enlist. Its western alleys, France and Great Britain, tried to solve this problem by sending arms and equipment to Russia, but this was not enough. To resolve this issue and to avoid the destruction of the whole French manpower in the Western front trenches, it was decided that Russian soldiers should be sent to France where they would be equipped and supplied by the French Army. It was expected that Russia could send 400,000 men, that should be transferred in France within ten months. In exchange Russia asked the delivery of 1,126 artillery pieces with their ammunitions, 1,850,000 rifles and other equipments. However soon it became clear that it was impossible to transfer a so great number of soldiers, and the Russian contingent was reduced to only 50,000 men : four brigades with 10,000 men each were assigned to France and one brigade to Macedonia. On the other hand the French Army too was not able to send all the requested supplies.

From the beginning of 1916 the Russian Head Quarters sent from Archangelsk and Vladivostok four brigades, each composed of two regiments, each with three battalions and one machine guns company with six Hotchkiss mod. 1914 or Saint-Étienne mod. 1907 machine guns (3,500 officers and men). Every regiment had also one replacement battalion with six companies (25 to 30 officers and 1,500 to 1,650 men). The total of these troops was 745 officers and 43,547 soldiers. The 1st and 3rd Special Brigades were directed to the French front and the 2nd and 4th to the Macedonian front, where they were attached to the Armée d’Orient under the command of General Sarrail. Four more brigades (5th – 8th) were raised in Russia, but they were not sent to France.


The 2nd Special Brigade (3rd and 4th regiments) was raised on 22 May 1916 and left Arkhangelsk at the beginning of July 1916. It arrived at Brest on 16 July, after a two weeks crossing. Then it was transferred to Marseille by train and reached Salonika on 30 July. It was assigned to the French group headed by gen. Cordonnier (156th and 57th Infantry Division), and deployed near the Serbian Army, in front of the Cerna loop. Supported by two French horse artillery batteries, from 12 to 23 September 1916, the 3rd regiment took part in the attack towards Florina, fighting near the village of Armesco and loosing 10 officers and 576 men. Afterwards, in October-November 1916, the 2nd Special Brigade took part in battle of Monastir, suffering once more heavy losses and from 25 November 1916 it was assigned to 1st Serbian Army.

The 3rd Special Brigade (5th and 6th regiments) was at first assigned to the Salonika front, but, while it was in Marseille waiting for its embarking, some problem of indiscipline arose, and on 20 September 1916 it was sent back to Mailly and assigned to the Western front. The 4th Special Brigade (7th and 8th regiments) left Arkhangelsk between 11 and 18 September and via Brest and Marseille it was sent to Salonika, where it arrived on 21 November 1916. After three weeks of training, it was assigned to the 3rd Serbian Army. Even if attached to the Serbian Army, the two Russian brigades remained subordinate to the French Army.


On 6 June 1917 the two brigades were reunited under the command of gen. Dieterichs and the 2nd Special Division was built. In July gen. Dieterichs was recalled to Russia and replaced with gen. Tarbeiev, the former commander of the 4th Special Brigade. On November 1917 he was replaced in his turn with gen. Taranovski.

So far the Russians had not their own artillery, but in combat they were supported at first by French, and then by Serbian artillery units. In order to fill this gap, the 2nd Special Artillery Brigade was raised and assigned to gen. Beliaev. It arrived in France in July 1917, and was armed with French guns : 24 – 75mm field guns, 12 – 65mm mountain guns, 8 – 120mm field howitzers and 6 – 58mm trench mortars. In July the division was sent to the front, and deployed with its two brigades on the left and on the right of Prespa lake. The artillery units, after having familiarized with the French guns, became to reach Salonika at the beginning of August.

The first expression of insubordination occurred on 29 October 1917, when some soldiers of the 4th Brigade refused to comply with the orders. In the course of the following winter the division mutinied and dissolved. A handful volunteered for service in the French Foreign Legion, and a larger proportion for work in labour companies. While the greatest part of the infantrymen refused to continue on  fighting, 400 artillerymen decided to stay and were assigned to the artillery park of the Armée d’Orient.




Russian liason officer of a 75mm Serbian battery attached to the 4th Special Brigade in 1917