Airsoft Action 07 - Mar 2012 - Page 52

here is positively well-equipped with what was known in the Russian army as the ‘existence load’ which adds an entrenching tool, waterbottle, veshmeshok rucksack and his plasch palatkas waterproof raincape/ groundsheet rolled across the top (in cold weather this could be substituted for a greatcoat). Personal protection is minimal, in the form of a steel helmet. For years the Soviet army continued with the WWII SSh40 steel helmet, but by the early-80s use of the improved SSh60 model worn by our soldier was more widespread. (Up until 1975 many soviet solders were, besides the substitution of the trademark AK47 for the bolt-action Moisin Nagant, near-indistinguishable from their WWII Red Army forefathers). While WWII Soviet soldiers considered the steel helmet ‘unmanly’, photographs from the Cold War era show it was almost universally worn, even in extreme cold weather when the winter ushanka fake fur and pile cap was issued (the cap is often seen worn underneath the steel helmet). The Ubiquitous Kalashnikov “While WWII Soviet soldiers considered the steel helmet ‘unmanly’, photographs from the Cold War era show it was almost universally worn” Perhaps the most distinctive item that our Red Army soldier carries is the ubiquitous AKM assault rifle. Essentially a modified form of the AK47 assault rifle (introduced in 1949 in small numbers to the Red Army), the AKM utilised stamped steel rather than a milled receiver for a lighter and more economical weapon. Other improvements included an adaptor upon the muzzle to reduce excessive climb on full-auto and an improved bayonet. The AKM is most distinguishable from the AK47 by the smaller rectangular indentation on the receiver above the magazine, the slanted muzzle adaptor and the pronounced ridge in the forward heatshield/grip. The AK series of weapons perhaps best illustrates the emphasis on quantity rather than quality in Soviet Russia. (As a side note of interest, the improved AKM 6Kh bayonet is able to combine with its scabbard to form a basic set of wirecutters – a feature copied by later NATO rifle designs including the UK’s SA80.) 052 March 2012 In contrast to NATO emphasis, in particular within the British Army, on high standards of marksmanship and aimed fire, Soviet doctrine was for the rifle squad to dismount to attack and advance in line, firing their weapons on full-automatic to put a veritable hail of fire down on the enemy. Of particular note is the basic design of the AK series. While nearly all western rifles are based around a fire selection system where fully-automatic fire is an addition, useful for close assaults and desperate situations, the AK series has full-auto as the default setting after one slides the rifle from ‘safe’ to ready to fire… single shot capability is very much an afterthought with Kalashnikov rifles. While the squad laid down automatic fire and advanced, important targets such as officers and NCOs would be engaged by the squad marksman with supporting fire provided by the AFV. By the 1980s the Soviet soldier was undoubtedly far better trained than his predecessors but the Red Army sill placed heavy emphasis on learning battle drills by rote. Training was unimaginative and repetitive, designed to condition the soldier to behave ‘exactly so’ in any given situation. Independent thought and initiative from NCOs and junior officers was positively discouraged, and NATO plans sought to take advantage of this by targeting higher command elements in order to paralyse the massed Russian forces. The shock infantry of the Red Army was eventually defeated by economics and political change – which is just as well given that at the height of the Cold War they outnumbered NATO troops 11-1. As one former Cold War-era tank commander stated: “We were under armoured and outgunned, the Russians could engage us beyond our tanks’ range and they could fire missiles on the move from over 5km away – our life expectancy on the Fulda Gap in a Centurion tank was around 28 seconds!” ■