How delicate is the Trans-Siberian Railway as a supply line?

It comes up a lot in scenarios about an earlier Soviet-japanese war. Many believe that the supply line could easily be cut by air attack. Others say not so much, what do you think?
 
Not so much air attack, but ground. The TSRR ran very close to the Chinese border from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, coming within artillery range at Iman (Dal'nerechensk). If Japanese (or Chinese) ground forces occupied this area they could turn the flank of the Soviet forces defending Vladivostok and all territory north of it, creating a siege. The terrain here is favorable for defense: from the attacker's standpoint, in order to capture the town they would first have to get through marshland (unsuitable for tanks) and then cross the Ussuri River.

In September 1941, the correlation of forces between the Soviet and Japanese armies in this area was as follows:

USSR (35th Army)
Infantry:
35th, 66th, 78th Rifle Divisions, 109th Fortified Region (approx. 100 bunkers over 35 km front, depth 1-10 km)
Artillery: 76th, 187th Corps Artillery Regiments; 362nd, 367th Separate Artillery Battalions
Anti-Air: 110th Separate AA Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Area Brigade
Armored/Mechanized: 29th Motorcycle Regiment, Unnamed Armored Train Battalion
Air: 79th Fighter Aviation Division, 18th Reconnaissance Aviation Squadron
Engineer: 402nd Motorized Engineer Battalion, 3rd, 9th, 20th Motorized Pontoon Bridge Battalions, 60th Separate Sapper Battalion

Japan (5th Army)
Infantry/Cavalry:
11th, 24th, 25th Divisions, 3rd Cavalry Brigade, 6th Independent Garrison Unit, 3rd, 4th, 12th Border Garrison Units
Artillery: 8th Artillery Command, 5th, 7th, 12th, 20th Field Heavy Artillery Regiments, 1st Independent Field Artillery Regiment, 5th, 9th Independent Heavy Artillery Battalions, 6th Independent Rapid Fire (AT) Battalion
Anti-Air: 12th Field Air Defense Command, 53rd, 54th Field AA Battalions, 20th, 24th, 27th Field Machine Cannon Companies
Armored/Mechanized: 2nd Tank Group (4th, 10th, 11th Tank Regiments)
Air: No organic air units (JAAF in Manchuria had its own centralized command structure, the Soviet air force was allocated piecemeal to ground army HQs)
Engineer: 1st Engineer Command (HQ, 22nd, 24th Independent Engineer Regiments), 7th, 23rd Independent Engineer Regiments, 21st, 22nd, 29th Bridging Materials Companies, 13th River Crossing Materials Company, 38th, 42nd, 44th, 45th Field Road Construction Units, 17th Field Duty Unit, 8th Field Construction Unit

In the event of war, the Japanese planned to strengthen the 5th Army to 5 divisions, with 3 more in front reserve and 5 more in theater reserve. Because of the war in Europe, Soviet emergency reserves were small: for the entire Far Eastern Front (i.e, forces east of Skovorodino - 5 armies including the 35th) only 2 tank brigades, 3 artillery regiments with 76.2mm guns, 3 guards mortar regiments, and 5 armored trains were available.
 
Last edited:
It can be delicate depending on what is cut and where it is cut at. There are places along the the Chinese or Manchurian border that have no road access anywhere close so you have to bring in everything by the Railroad out there. You cut multiple points where they have to take the time to rebuild the track and roadbed you can cut the flow of supplies from European Russia to the Far East. 10 places cut that each take only a day to fix still means 10 days of the RR not operating. Cut a bridge out there and you have to fix the RR to get to where the bridge is then fix it. Some cases you could only bring the repair material from one direction and only work from one end of it. You also have to deal with the overhead wire where it is electrified that you could have them chop up into little pieces and take it into the woods or just dump it in a river. Imagine having 100 men taking each a 10 foot piece of wire with them, that equal 1000 feet of wire that would have to be restrung not to mention if they destroy the poles alongside the rr line that carry the overhead wire and the feeder wires.
 
Imagine having 100 men taking each a 10 foot piece of wire with them, that equal 1000 feet of wire that would have to be restrung not to mention if they destroy the poles alongside the rr line that carry the overhead wire and the feeder wires.
It’s not electrified but the line is long and the area sparsely populated. It’s vulnerable in the same way Turk railways were vulnerable to TE Lawrence and his raids.

Some additional info on the Railway from 1904-05 (Source:Connaughton, Richard. Rising Sun And Tumbling Bear: Russia's War with Japan)
With luck, a train from Europe would take fifteen days to cover the 5,000 miles but forty days was not unusual. It took, by rule of thumb, a month to deploy a battalion from Moscow to Mukden (Shenyang). Added to the difficulties was the high-handedness of nobility and generals claiming priority over their army who were relegated to sidings while the VIPs swept by. The sidings were used by returning engines, but not the rolling stock. It was not cost effective to return the empty wagons, which were destined to become either fuel or living accommodation.
Russia’s strategic lifeline, the railway, was also hugely manpower intensive. Any threat to the railway was a direct threat to the Russian ability to continue with the war. This fact served to maintain General Kuropatkin in a continuous state of nervous energy; 55,000 men were deployed to defend the line between the Ural Mountains and the Manchurian frontier. Within Manchuria, a force of 25,000 men was assigned to protect the railway. Every bridge had a guard. Japanese agents directed the Hunhutze brigands against targets on the railway. The Chinese division posted in the area to control these outlaws had little effect, and in one month ninety attempts to disrupt the railway had occurred between Mukden and Tiehling.
In February of 1904, the need dictated that rails were laid across the ice of the lake and by 28 March over sixty military trains had made the laborious crossing. By September the Circum-Baikal link was completed, and by the end of the year the system ran nine to ten trains daily each way and had carried 410,000 soldiers, 93,000 horses and 1,000 guns. To put that in perspective, a European Russian army corps needed 267 railway trains with which to move.
 
Last edited:

thaddeus

Donor
Not so much air attack, but ground. The TSRR ran very close to the Chinese border from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, coming within artillery range at Iman (Dal'nerechensk). If Japanese (or Chinese) ground forces occupied this area they could turn the flank of the Soviet forces defending Vladivostok and all territory north of it, creating a siege. The terrain here is favorable for defense: from the attacker's standpoint, in order to capture the town they would first have to get through marshland (unsuitable for tanks) and then cross the Ussuri River.

I've always questioned whether the KMT couldn't have prompted a war between Soviets and Japanese during the Barbarossa timeframe, that such a conflict could have drained Japan, while the Soviets were occupied with the European war and wouldn't, had they defeated Japan, advance into China.

guess all three parties had intelligence operations and such Chinese interference would/might be detected?
 
I have no idea when/if the Soviet had introduced Centralized Traffic Control on the TSR. Timetable routing with Telegraph updates for Train Orders on block status wasn't nearly as efficient as CTC to Radio dispatch to the Train itself

USSR is a black hole to me on information on that kind of RR operation.

But some Canadian systems were still doing Timetable routing as late as the 1980s.
 
I've always questioned whether the KMT couldn't have prompted a war between Soviets and Japanese during the Barbarossa timeframe, that such a conflict could have drained Japan, while the Soviets were occupied with the European war and wouldn't, had they defeated Japan, advance into China.

guess all three parties had intelligence operations and such Chinese interference would/might be detected?
I think it would have been hard for the Chinese to pull it off; first, any plot would probably have been detected early, second, the resources the KMT had for that sort of thing were quite small, and third, the Soviets had a high tolerance for Japanese provocation at that time since they were desperate to avoid a two front war.
 
Forgive me since this is slightly off-topic but in the 1960s and 70s how vulnerable was this railway to attacks by the Chinese communist army?
 
Forgive me since this is slightly off-topic but in the 1960s and 70s how vulnerable was this railway to attacks by the Chinese communist army?
Not particularly. Late 60's into the 1970's was perhaps the point of greatest disparity in Soviet and Chinese forces between 1949 to now that favors the Soviets. The Chinese had not come even close to Soviet industry, their equipment was either Soviet leased or (poorly-made) copies, with a few exceptions. Now of course partisans/agents bombing the railway was always a danger, but the PLA would not have been able to cut the railway except when it was in artillery range of it's own borders. It does cross into that range a few times, along the Ussuri River, but the Soviets would have known that and also created routes around it, built up forces, and defended the railway in those sections even more fiercely.
 
Not particularly. Late 60's into the 1970's was perhaps the point of greatest disparity in Soviet and Chinese forces between 1949 to now that favors the Soviets. The Chinese had not come even close to Soviet industry, their equipment was either Soviet leased or (poorly-made) copies, with a few exceptions. Now of course partisans/agents bombing the railway was always a danger, but the PLA would not have been able to cut the railway except when it was in artillery range of it's own borders. It does cross into that range a few times, along the Ussuri River, but the Soviets would have known that and also created routes around it, built up forces, and defended the railway in those sections even more fiercely.
Good analysis but I thought the greatest parity might be by early 80s atleast in terms of AirPower
 
It's easy to damage track, but easy to replece/epair, as long as you have the materials and crew. Bridges and tunnels are harder; most supply depots do not have spare tunnels in their inventory.
 
It's greatest defence is that much of it is so far from anywhere that to get to it & perform sabotage the attackers will practically have to build there own transport system.

It could be attacked from the air but until PGMs attacking railroad tracks was pretty ineffective although the rolling stock was more vulnerable.
 
Top