RUSSIAN EMPIRE
 


 
ARMY COMMAND FLAGS  •  1914-17
 

In August 1914, the Russian Army mobilized 69 infantry divisions, 24 cavalry divisions, 17 rifle brigades and 8 cavalry brigades—a force that was to grow substantially as reservists were recalled to the colors and new units were raised. The basic combat formation was the army corps, usually consisting of two infantry divisions, a cavalry division or brigade, an artillery howitzer battalion, a sapper battalion, a supply battalion and a detachment of gendarmes (military police). The infantry division consisted of a headquarters company, two infantry brigades and an artillery brigade. Each infantry brigade controlled two infantry regiments and the artillery brigade had two battalions, each with three batteries of field guns. By modern standards the infantry division's support services were minimal. On campaign a company of the corps sapper battalion and perhaps a squadron of cavalry were detached to each infantry division, but supply and communications troops were controlled by the corps and army headquarters.  Cavalry divisions had a similar organization—two cavalry brigades each with two cavalry regiments—but instead of an artillery brigade they had only one battalion of horse artillery.

Contrary to legend, the Russian Army in 1914 was reasonably well equipped with small arms (including eight machine guns per infantry regiment) and field artillery. One serious deficiency was the lack of light and medium field howitzers capable of indirect fire. The infantry divisions had none and each army corps had only one artillery howitzer battalion. Heavy artillery suitable for use in the field was practically nonexistent. More serious still was the ammunition situation. Prewar planning had greatly underestimated the rate at which ammunition—artillery ammunition in particular—would be expended in battle. Existing stocks were quickly consumed in the 1914 campaign and new production was unable to keep up with demand. Consequently the Russian Army suffered a chronic shortage of ammunition. Production of rifles, machine guns and artillery was also insufficient to both replace losses and arm newly raised divisions. These problems were gradually solved, but by the time they were the Russian Army had already suffered crippling losses and the country was moving toward revolution.

Another problem that bedeviled the Russian Army was a shortage of trained staff officers, noncommissioned officers and technical troops. Most conscripts and reservists were illiterate peasants: hardy, obedient, patriotic and brave but difficult to train in any but the most rudimentary military duties. It was particularly hard to find sufficient men for those service branches requiring formal education and technical qualifications, such as the artillery, engineers, signal corps, railway troops, etc. And in sharp contrast to the well-educated, well-trained NCO corps of the German Army, Russian NCOs were usually not much better educated than the men they led. All these factors conspired to limit the Army's combat effectiveness. Against the Austrians and Turks the Russian Army proved more than capable of holding its own, but against the Germans its deficiencies resulted in a succession of costly and demoralizing defeats.

To identify the location of headquarters and commanders in the field, the Russian Army employed a system of command flags. For an army command, the flag consisted of ten horizontal stripes, orange and black (the colors of the ribbon of the Cross of St. George). Corps, divisions and brigades (except artillery brigades) had two-color flags (e.g. green border and orange field for corps) with the unit's numerical designation in black. A monogram was added if necessary to identify the unit (e.g. Siberian corps and divisions). Artillery brigades, all regiments and all battalions had two color-flags (e.g. green diamond with red corners for an artillery brigade), again with the unit designation in black. Infantry regiments of infantry divisions had flags with orange diamonds and differently colored corners to indicate their brigade assignment.

Credit: These drawings are based on images and information from VEXILLOGRAPHIA, the outstanding website devoted to the historical and current flags of Russia and related countries. This is a Russian-language site with only brief English summaries, though with the help of Google Translate I was able to decipher the text. In some cases, however, my interpretations of the descriptions of these flags are speculative, e.g. the Siberian corps and divisions. Comments and corrections are therefore welcome.
 



 

ARMY COMMAND

 

XI ARMY CORPS

 

III SIBERIAN ARMY CORPS

 

1st GRENADIER DIVISION

 

11th SIBERIAN RIFLE DIVISION

 

9th INFANTRY DIVISION

 

 

1st BRIGADE, 9th INFANTRY DIVISION
33rd Yelets Infantry Regiment  •  34th Sevsk Infantry Regiment

 

 

  2nd BRIGADE, 9th INFANTRY DIVISION
35th Bryansk Infantry Regiment  •  36th Orel Infantry Regiment
 

9th INFANTRY DIVISION ARTILLERY BRIGADE

 

2nd CAVALRY DIVISION

 

1st DON COSSACK CAVALRY DIVISION

 

4th NOVOTROISKO-YEKATERINOSLAV DRAGOON REGIMENT
 



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