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    Soviet nuclear support troops (“mute” troops) and exercise "Uranium-6"


    Formations "S" of the 12th Main Directorate of the USSR Ministry of Defense solved strategic issues and had a special position. But, as elsewhere in the Soviet army, the competence and responsibility of some sometimes coexisted with the carelessness of others. From today's advanced perspective, we can say: it’s good that because of the total Soviet secrecy, the troops could not know about this. The armies going on the offensive had to be confident in their nuclear power, and the “mute” troops had to perform a task that was unique in its significance.


    The basis of the country's military power

    It's no exaggeration to say that the basis of Soviet military power was nuclear weapons and, accordingly, the nuclear technical supports formations (formations "S"). Everything else was built around them both in the strategic nuclear forces and in the operational-level troop formations. For example, the most important components of the front-line operation plan were the plan for the first nuclear strike and the plan for the nuclear-technical support of the front. Accordingly, increased requirements were put forward for the personnel of the formations "S", and they had a special status. Since this topic has an increased "sensitivity", we especially note that the information provided in this article has already been declassified.


    Formations "S" were autonomous in their activities and were subordinate only to the 12th Main Directorate of the USSR Ministry of Defense. The report of the Chief of Staff of the Kyiv Military District, Colonel-General V.M. Kramar in response to directive No.OMU /1/7421 of September 8, 1964, in which he informed the Chief of Staff of the Logistics of the USSR Armed Forces about this:


    "The headquarters of the district with parts of the 12th Main Directorate does not conduct correspondence, does not carry out organizational measures for them, does not have accurate data on their real names and locations, but only takes them into account by conditional names as extremely sensitive formations of the Central Subordination".


    Image 1. Storage of nuclear munitions of the aviation nomenclature at the facility "S" of the nuclear technical service (Kyiv Military District). The photo was provided by Major General N.M. Filatov


    These few numbers show how big the volume of tasks was. The number of nuclear warheads in service with the 43rd Rocket Army of the Strategic Missile Forces (mainly on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR and the Belorussian SSR) increased from about 200 units in 1962 to 1875 units in 1985.


    The limit of the use of nuclear weapons in the first operation of the front, formed on the basis of the troops of the Odessa Military District (OdMD), was supposed to be up to 600 units! In peacetime, there were no such quantities of nuclear weapons at facilities "S" in the operational territory of the OdMD, so their delivery from the Centers arsenals was constantly practiced. It was also assumed that they would be further transported abroad to Soviet groups of troops and allies. For example, the presence at the 341st facility "S" of its own railway base with 22 special wheelsets to the European standard railway tracks made it possible to transport cargo to Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.


    And then you can imagine what the facility "S" of Central Subordination was, we will give here the composition of the military unit 12474 (the 332nd facility "S", also known as "Makarov-1" in the Kyiv Military District). Here they stored and maintained special warheads for intercontinental and medium-range ballistic missiles of the Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), operational-tactical missiles of the Ground Forces and anti-aircraft missiles of the Air Defense Forces of the country, as well as nuclear ammunition of the aviation nomenclature. The total area of the facility was 1800 hectares. Of these, 1150 hectares were occupied by a technical position, and 650 hectares were occupied by administrative and residential areas. The total guarded perimeter along the fence of the facility was 17 km.


    At the technical position there were 4 special deepened, bunded and protected constructions, designed for the pressure of the shock wave front of at least 20 kg per 1 sq. cm. The total area of buildings - more than 12 thousand square meters, the useful area of buildings is about 5 thousand square meters. All special facilities were equipped with autonomous sources of water and electricity, as well as life support systems with autonomy in terms of reserves of 60 days.


    The facility had its own railway base with a total length of access roads of 11 km and rolling stock: 2 diesel locomotives TEM2, 32 special railway carriages (26 V-60 and 6 VG-124), 2 laboratory carriages for checking instrumentation LKIP-Zh and 1 railroad snow plow.


    The car base of the facility had 480 car spaces in heated storages, 16 parking lots under sheds and 80 in open storage areas. 263 vehicles included: 172 units of equipment of the combatant group, 85 units of the transport group and 6 units of training equipment. Railway and automobile bases made it possible to transport goods over any distance.


    Image 2. Scheme of the 332nd facility "S" ("Makarov-1")


    The organizational and staffing structure of military unit 12474 included the administration, assembly teams, the power engineering unit, the calibration laboratory and support units. In addition, the facility "S" included separate military units:

    • a separate battalion of electrified barriers and guards;

    • a separate communication center;

    • automobile base with 4 structural subdivisions;

    • railway base with 5 structural subdivisions;

    • military fire brigade and rescue team;

    • military hospital with 14 structural subdivisions and medical departments, including maternity, pediatric and others;

    • a separate engineering and technical company;

    • center of culture, education and leisure.


    The full strength of the facility "S" was more than 100 officers, about 60 ensigns, about 700 conscripts and 430 workers and employees. The military town consisted of 27 houses (966 apartments), a school for 536 places, a kindergarten for 280 places, shops, a household complex, a reinforced concrete structure plant, House Management Committee, a military trade "Voentorg", departments of the KGB and the Ministry of the Interior, a field bank and a communications department. The population of the closed military town was 3,200 people, of which 937 were children under 17 years old.


    Image 3. hulls made of titanium alloy with elements of combat training nuclear bombs RN40-Ya45 (without tails-stabilizers) at facility "S". The photo was provided by Major General N.M. Filatov


    Of the 38 nuclear technical supports facilities deployed on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR, there were both the most modern in the Soviet Union and very primitive military "nuclear cellars". Thus, the mobile rocket technical base of the 14th Guards Combined Army of the OdMD, stationed 10 km from Belgorod-Dnestrovsky, was intended for storage, maintenance and delivery of warheads and missiles to the 173rd missile brigade (at the 9K72 "Elbrus" complexes) and missile divisions of motorized rifle divisions (on the 9K52 "Luna" complexes).


    Head of the Rocket and artillery service of the 14th Guards Army, colonel A.P. Pavlov recalled:

    "This warehouse is the holy of holies of the entire technical area and is located on a separate, additionally fenced off area. To my surprise, inside the warehouse I saw ordinary barrels sealed on both sides – this is how warheads for nuclear-armed missiles are stored."


    The chief engineer of the base replied that their main task is to maintain a strictly defined temperature and humidity regime in the warehouse. Pavlov asked what they do when the humidity in the storage is below normal? The chief engineer replied: “We put open containers with water on the floor…” In the event of a cold snap, the temperature regime in the storage directly depended on the correct operation of the boiler house in the military unit.


    Image 4. Scheme of the 341st facility "S" ("Kirovograd-25")


    Supply of special ammunition to the troops

    The assembly brigades supplied the troops with nuclear munitions from storage. At this important stage, some specific difficulties arose. According to the instructions, in peacetime, special ammunition could be issued to the troops only by written order of the Chief of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces. In this regard, at the end of 1975, there was an incident in the 24th Missile Division of the RVSN during a visit there by the Chief of the General Staff, General of the Army V.G. Kulikov. At the command post of the missile regiment, Kulikov verbally ordered 4 nuclear warheads to be delivered from the missile technical base. He had little knowledge of the details of this process, so he was surprised at the refusal to carry out the order. The head of the base arrived at the command post and demanded that he be left alone with Kulikov, since the topic of the conversation was top secret. Kulikov withdrew his claims and admitted that the head of the base was right.


    Such cases were quite common, because due to the complete secrecy, even high-level commanders had a very approximate idea of features of the formations "S". For example, in 1970, Chief of the General Staff Marshal M.V. Zakharov canceled the order of the commander of the Carpathian Military District, Colonel-General G.I. Obaturov on the placement of anti-aircraft missiles in the storage of special ammunition of the mobile rocket technical base. New secret missiles arrived in the District, but there were no storage places for them. General Obaturov thought that this was a logical decision, since the "nuclear cellar" met the requirements for secrecy, and there was free place for missiles.  


    Sometimes, counting on the increased secrecy of all aspects of nuclear technical support, they hid the unseemly state of affairs at the facility. In 1976, the alert of a mobile rocket technical base and a park division of the 28th Combined Army of the Belorussian Military District ended poorly.


    All visits to special ammunition warehouse were recorded in special logs indicating who, when and how long was in them. According to the instructions, only a few people from the commanding staff of the combined army had access to the special zone of the mobile rocket technical base: the army commander, a member of the military council - the head of the political department, the army chief of staff and the head of the Rocket and artillery weapons service. But in the 28th Army, a whole delegation arrived for inspection with persons not agreed upon by the head of the special department. Commander Lieutenant-General G.G. Armenopolov acted "in a military way":


    "Having visited a storage facility with nuclear warheads and a park of transport-loading vehicles (TZM), I came to a very sad conclusion – neither the park nor the division are combat-ready: 90 percent of the TZM are with the flat tires, some are without batteries, the carts are dismantled. I was assured that there was nothing to worry about. I decided to show scary or not this state of technical equipment. I announced a combat alert and ordered 6 nuclear warheads to be delivered to the army missile brigade in 4 hours. I ordered that the respective heads of the military branches be sent to the facilities".  


    There were several serious violations in the actions of the commander, which he justified with the words "the commander is responsible for everything". The head of the special department pointed out the abuse of official authority and threatened to report to the leadership of counterintelligence, but Armenopolov prevented this:


    "I put the Chief of the Signal Corps near the console to forbid any person to report to the command of the military district or to Moscow ... I thought it would be better if they could report when my experiment was over. They won't dare report when they see the results of this experiment".


    Commander Armenopolov acted on the principle of "winners are not judged" and achieved his goal. For 14 hours, not a single car was able to leave the park. Of course, It is impossible to imagine a potential situation in which an army missile brigade in Belarus would have to urgently launch a nuclear strike.


    The problem lies elsewhere: the assembly brigades were not able to leave the facility at the appointed time and get out from under a possible surprise attack by the enemy. This means that the army risked being left without its main strike force – operational-tactical missiles with nuclear weapons. The military council of the army decided to dismiss the commander of the mobile rocket technical base and the commander of the park division from their posts, although they had patronage in Moscow and there were obvious violations during the check.


    After the warheads leave the "nuclear cellar", new difficulties could arise. The assembly brigade was an automobile convoy, consisting of vehicles that maintained the necessary conditions for the transport of special ammunition (storage vehicles and transport vehicles), as well as cranes, radio stations and guards. These convoys made 500-kilometer marches. Of course, in such cases there were incidents characteristic of any long marches. For example, in July 1984, during such a march of military unit 52228 (the mobile rocket technical base of the 8th Tank Army of the Carpathian Military District), the command vehicle R-125MT2 of the assembly brigade had an accident due to the fact that the conscript driver fell asleep behind the wheel. An analysis of this situation with the punishment of the perpetrators was made in order No. 154 of November 25, 1986, the commander of military unit 57949 (Headquarters of the 8th Tank Army).


    Image 5. Storage vehicles 9F223 with special ammunition of formations "S".


    In 1986, the order of the commander of military unit 57949 summed up another scandalous incident that occurred in military unit 52228 in February 1982. Due to the negligence of the assembly and the regulations group of the assembly team, during a demonstration lesson, the 9F223 nuclear ammunition storage vehicle was lost in a fire. The "nuclear" officers kept gas canisters in a special capsule for nuclear weapons. This compartment is equipped to maintain the set temperature. During a demonstration in front of the personnel of the operation of the capsule, gasoline vapors from canisters ignited. The special compartment of the 9F223 machine fell into disrepair and could not be restored. At the same time, the “nuclear scientists” hid the incident and wanted to repair the car using the “no contracted method” in order to stretch out the few years remaining until it was decommissioned in the prescribed manner. Therefore, this story came to the attention of the command only in 1986.


    Sometimes secrecy even had a negative impact on the possible use of nuclear weapons. For example, for many years, the Bulgarian allies have been practicing the acceptance of nuclear warheads from the Soviet assembly brigade and their further conditional transportation to the positions of the missile forces on their Mi-4 helicopters during exercises.


    Due to secrecy, the Bulgarians were not familiarized with the weight and size characteristics of the warheads. Almost by accident, they learned that the Mi-4 could not actually carry a warhead. The process of combat training has changed. Mi-8 helicopters were allocated to deliver nuclear warheads to missile systems. It is easy to imagine the cost of this mistake in planning nuclear technical support in a real combat situation. This would lead to the disruption of the first nuclear strike of the front and the failure to fulfill the tasks assigned to it. The High Command of the United Armed Forces in the theater of operations would be forced to turn to the Supreme High Command in order to replace the temporarily incapacitated nuclear missile forces of the front with the means of the Strategic Missile Forces.


    Such mistakes happened in the OdMD. In February 1979, a special exercise of the 14th Guards Combined Army, which was the main striking force of the district (front), was held here. The army and the district had good marks, but such a plot cannot be thought up on purpose. For the delivery of missiles and warheads, they selected and agreed in advance the meeting point of the transports. Secrecy required to do it somewhere in an inconspicuous place. But the representatives of the missile brigade and the transport of the assembly brigade got lost and could not meet for a long time. The extreme shortage of radio facilities among the "mute" did not allow to maintain normal communication. In addition, both the rocket men and the assembly team did not hear in time the radio signal about the start of the transfer of nuclear weapons. This disrupted the implementation of the training task of transferring warheads to missilemen and all the bad consequences for the front.


    From these maneuvers conclusions were drawn. The meeting points of transports were chosen at clearly identifiable places (for example, at crossroads). Now no further explanation was needed. They wanted to increase the number of radio stations, since the existing 15 regular radio equipment in the mobile rocket technical base was not enough to create their own radio network and control the six transports it created. At the same time, it was decided to upgrade the obsolete vehicles of the assembly teams and to allocate earth-moving equipment for the engineering equipment of spare areas of concentration. This was especially important in the event of a sudden outbreak of nuclear war. When analyzing the exercise "West-72", the Minister of Defense demanded that large-scale engineering work be done in advance to shelter personnel, military equipment and supplies of materiel in the spare areas of concentration. Due to the lack of earth-moving equipment, the army's mobile rocket technical base was unable to fulfill this order for 7 years.


    The exercise "Uranium-6"

    The verification of the results of the efforts undertaken took place in 1981, when, simultaneously with the front command and staff exercise of the OdMD, a special exercise "Uran-6" was conducted on nuclear support. Operational groups from the district headquarters, the 14th Guards Army, the 32nd Army Corps, the 106th Missile Brigade, the 6th Department and 6 groups of military branches participated in the exercise. The head of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense led the exercise. This was to work out the interaction of the front headquarters with the formations "S", which actually delivered nuclear ammunition by rail, road and air. The following tasks were also completed:

    • Transfer of nuclear munitions to missile and technical units and combat support units;

    • Suspension and docking of nuclear warheads with carriers and their final preparation by the crews of the formations "S";

    • Operational reassignment of the army's mobile rocket technical base of the formation "S" to the commander of the army.


    Based on the results of the exercise "Uranium-6", it was concluded that the nuclear technical support service as a whole is capable of fulfilling the tasks. But due to the increase in the number of targets in the first nuclear strike of the front, the volume of tasks also increased. Now the mobile base in the OdMD was supposed to create up to 11 automobile transports for the delivery of nuclear weapons, and formations "S" (until the moment they received a signal to issue special ammunition to the troops of the front) experienced a large shortage of storage vehicles when unloading special ammunition from railway carriages arriving in the district from Center. From the "Report on the front command and staff exercise conducted in the Odessa military district, June 10 - June 17, 1981" No. 3 / 00387, submitted to the Chief of the General Staff on July 14, 1981, it follows that for the decision tasks of receiving nuclear weapons delivered by rail, it is necessary:

    • to form additionally skeleton mobile rocket technical bases (two per district), the mobilization of which should be carried out on combat readiness "Increased". Each of them should have 36 storage vehicles, 3-4 radio R-125MT2 and one transport security company;

    • in mobile rocket technical bases transfer units for transporting special ammunition from park batteries to the assembly teams of operational-tactical and tactical missiles;

    • for the period of delivery of special ammunition, provide transport with additional means of communication, since it was impossible to provide communication with road transport using only four radio R-125MT2 available in the mobile rocket technical base.

    In addition to radio equipment, the assembly brigades lacked camouflage nets, so they were also supposed to be removed from the troops.


    The difficulties of serving "mute" troops were not only in the potential health hazards of direct work with nuclear weapons. Their special status meant special requirements and high responsibility. Otherwise, the formations "S" had the same problems as the usual linear formations of the armed forces: a shortage of material resources, a gradual backlog of the technical base from the requirements of the time, and difficulties with domestic arrangements. Unlike the rest of the troops, the "mute" were silent and justified their unofficial nickname.