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Discussion of Soviet Offensive Tactics

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When you get your hands on CMRT you will quickly find out that attacking with Soviet forces as one would US, British, or German units will likely result in defeat. Likewise, those playing the Germans as if they are in the Bocage fighting against Canadians or Yanks will have a tough time coming out on top. To help people out, I think it's a good idea to have a discussion about Soviet doctrine.

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First, let me say right off the bat that I have a huge amount of respect, and even admiration, for Soviet doctrine. Good doctrine is designed to leverage one's strengths and minimize one's weaknesses when fighting a specific enemy force. To the degree it is able to do that is the degree it is successful as a doctrine. There is no question about it... Soviet doctrine in the second half of WW2 was extremely effective at winning battles against Axis forces.

I say this because it's very easy, too easy, to "judge" Soviet doctrine by Western standards. By those standards the Soviet doctrine is often crude, wasteful, and even inhuman. I don't disagree with that sort of thinking provided the person also acknowledges that the Soviet doctrine was effective and that ultimately the Soviets won the war.

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One of the major shortcomings the Soviets suffered from was practical problems with coordinating forces, pretty much at all levels, for on-the-fly operations. Earlier in the war the Soviets tried to mimic dynamic low level combined arms tactics and they just didn't work. They also tried the Human Wave tactics and they didn't work either, though of the two they worked better.

Throughout the war the Soviets suffered from a shortage of experienced junior leadership, radios, and trust (i.e. infamous NKVD and Commissar interference). As the war went on the Soviets improved all three of these things, though not to the extent needed to conduct complex combined arms battles on-the-fly. Senior leadership recognized this and therefore did not base doctrine on wishful thinking.

Instead, the Soviets developed extremely sophisticated higher level planning and lower level execution. A plan was devised, forces organized around it, missions issued, time tables and schedules locked down, and then everybody did their role as expected. When it worked it worked brilliantly. However, when it failed it often did so spectacularly because timely adaptation to wildly unexpected circumstances simply wasn't the Soviet's cup of tea.

How does this relate to a CM battle when the Soviets are on the attack? In real life the higher levels of Soviet Command (i.e. the player) determines what his goals are and how he is going to achieve them. Not in a general sense, but in a VERY strictly spelled out way in detail. And those plans would be, in turn, as straight forward and with as little interdependence as possible. Even more importantly, these plans should be through the end of the battle. There should be no thinking "well, half way through the battle I'll evaluate and make new plans". That kind of thinking inherently relies upon improvisation and, as stated above, this is not a strength of Soviet forces (NOTE... of course since forces are micromanaged by a god-like player, the real world limitations are not felt as strongly as they were in real life).

In real life forces would achieve their objectives and would sit idle until they had a role to play in a new plan. This wasn't the case (as much) for Western forces because they could be given generalized instructions and therefore could keep going under their own initiative. The Soviets worked around this by having sufficient forces in place that when Force A got done Force B was already in place waiting to start it's own Plan. When Force B was done Force A was ready and prepped with a new plan. So on and so forth.

A typical Soviet assault would involve basically three groups of ground forces:

1. Break through = these units were specifically tasked with breaching the forward lines of the enemy. Nothing more.

2. Exploit = once break through was achieved, forces held in reserve (preferable armored) would flood through the gap in pursuit of more distant objectives designed for higher level goals (securing a bridge, blocking an enemy supply route, etc.).

3. Mop up = the above two groups were explicitly unconcerned about leaving pockets of resistance behind. That job was left to another group with no other purpose than to seek and destroy. It seems that commonly the breakthrough forces were eventually employed in mopping up large amounts of isolated pockets of resistance. However, the initial forces were ideally not involved in breakthrough so that they would be fresh and more likely to overwhelm scattered, improvised groups on the move.

This system worked pretty damned well, especially in situations where the Germans lacked mobile reserves. The frontline German troops that survived the attacks could maintain their positions for so long before they would run out of ammo, food, personnel, etc. They were also in no position to hamper exploitation forces which managed to break through elsewhere. Such breakthroughs generally hampered reinforcement and resupply, which in turn made holding positions even more difficult.

In Bagration the frontline German units were literally laid waste by massive artillery bombardments and attacks from concentrated combined arms break through forces. In too many places, too quickly, strong and numerically large Soviet exploitation forces ripped through secondary lines of defense and cut vital road and communications links with higher headquarters. Confused, badly blooded, and rapidly running out of ammunition the bypassed Germans tried to withdraw only to find that the front was now 10s of KMs to the rear! Worse, the Soviet's had allocated massive forces to do mop up operations. As a result account after account has German stragglers, sometimes numbering in the thousands, found that within hours of retreating that they were unable to move any further because much stronger Soviet units blocked their way. While this was an unpleasant surprise to the German side of the battles, on the Soviet side mostly things went according to plan.

Where things could go wrong was when the Germans had sufficient frontline forces to defeat the break through group, or sufficient mobile reserves to defeat the exploitation force. There were not many examples of this in Bagration and none that had a significant impact on the overall operation. However, since CM only simulates battles at the tactical level there is no concept of larger success/failure in any one specific battle. Therefore, it is entirely possible for the German forces to come out ahead if the Soviet player doesn't utilize his forces correctly.

Steve

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Hi Steve,

As someone who is learning WW2 tactics through the game and the discussions on the forum - this sort of information is always interesting. I'm sure playing a campaign in Red Thunder as the Germans is going to be a challenge and a test of ones resolve to stay positive under enormous pressure. Will the game have any specific commands like CMBB had such as the 'human wave' command to simulate Soviet Doctrine?

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Had the Human Wave doctrine been abandoned by '44?

Edit, 'barrier troops':

In July 1942, Stalin issued Order No. 227, directing that any commander or commissar of a regiment, battalion or army, who allowed retreat without permission from his superiors was subject to military tribunal. The order called for soldiers found guilty of disciplinary measures to be forced into "penal battalions", which were sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines. From 1942 to 1945, 427,910 soldiers were assigned to penal battalions. The order also directed "blocking detachments" to shoot fleeing panicked troops at the rear. In the first two months following the order, over 1,000 troops were shot by blocking units and blocking units sent over 130,000 troops to penal battalions. Despite having some effect initially, this measure proved to have a deteriorating effect on the troops' morale, so by October 1942 the idea of regular blocking units was quietly dropped. By 20 November 1944 the blocking units were disbanded officially.

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There is no Human Wave Command for this one as it's not appropriate for the timeframe. While there certainly were cases where such tactics were used (and by the Germans too, mind you), not enough to warrant special treatment. At least we don't see the need for one at this point.

Steve

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So what kinds of restrictions are modeled for the Soviets? In other words, would a competent player be able to play the Soviets just as he played the Germans/Italians/Americans? I know there are TOE differences and suchlike, but I'd be interested to find out if/how the inflexible Soviet structure is modeled in the game. Seems a little out of the scope of CM to me. Regardless, looking forward to an awesome game!

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Thanks Childress and Steve. I was assuming there wouldn't be but thought I'd ask anyway. I guess having green troops with high morale might produce a similar effect initially if required by a scenario. Anyway - I think there was one scenario in CMBB where I used it - then probably never used it again ;). Actually, it's probably been 5 or 6 years since I played CMBB so my memory is unreliable. haha

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NOTE... of course since forces are micromanaged by a god-like player, the real world limitations are not felt as strongly as they were in real life

So what kinds of restrictions are modeled for the Soviets?

This was my question as well reading the above note. The only one I have seen is the mentioned morale hit if Soviet squads become out of contact with their platoon leader. Is this morale hit bigger than for units from other nations who are out of contact? Are there also other modelled restrictions that make it better for players to follow Soviet doctrine?

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The cool thing, perhaps the coolest thing, about CM is that there's no one answer to complex questions like this. In a board game the answer would be "there is a -1 modifier to all attack rolls" or something like that. Something pretty neat, clean, and definitive. It had to be that way because inherently there wasn't anything else to do!

With CM the sum of many historically relevant details produces game behaviors which in turn drive player behavior. Anybody that's played with Italians in CMFI or Syrians in CMFI know what I mean.

For Soviet forces the following generalized factors help reward players for following Soviet doctrine and punish them for deviating:

1. Low to decent quality troops. Generally speaking most Soviet units should be between Green and Regular with only some units being at Veteran levels. While it is absolutely true that the relative quality of Soviet units were much higher than before, many of the soldiers taking part in Bagration had minimal training (by Western standards) and had seen little to no combat. In fact, many of the Soviet units had only recently been brought up to strength from fighting during the Winter (which was brutal) and early Spring.

2. Poor Command & Control capabilities. Lack of radios and comparatively weak junior leadership means it's easier to break C2, which in turn means problems for morale. Additionally, many leadership elements consist of 1-3 men, so the chances of having the HQ wiped out in one shot is pretty good.

3. Weaponry. The Soviets placed more and more emphasis on massive firepower at short ranges. For infantry many rifles were swapped out for SMGs and, in fact, entire formations were armed only with SMGs. Great if you're in close, useless otherwise. For armored vehicles the guns got bigger, but ammo counts and rates of fire reduced without a significant improvement in long range gunnery. Yes, if you're a German player the last thing you want is for your infantry to be in contact with Soviet infantry at 200-300m and then have an ISU-152 show up 500m away. But at longer distances, lots of opportunities for the Soviets to take casualties and be disrupted.

4. Organization. The Soviets recognized their leadership problems by organizing accordingly. Rifle Companies, and even Battalions, were used like the West would use a single Platoon. So why have all kinds of resources devoted to low level leadership when, in the end, those units had limited roles within a plan? As long as you keep your Squads, Platoons, and Companies packed together you should be OK even in the event of leadership casualties. Having Platoons trying to do individual missions, on the other hand, may result in a mini disaster. Likewise with amor... generally speaking it's 2-3 AFVs per platoon because more than that was difficult for a leader to control. To get the same impact as a German Panzer Platoon you basically need to use a full Company for the same task.

At least that's my perspective on what makes commanding Soviets a different experience than the Germans :D

Steve

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Actually, the Red Army of 1944 was in many points of view a more modern Army than the German. It had left behind the tactics of 1941-42, when desperation had dominated many decisions of the STAVKA.

But the myth, that Soviet Commanders everywhere and always donated there units regardless of the losses, ist still alive - mainly caused by the German Propaganda and reports, which always (during the war and after) tried to show the picture of kind of "zombie-like" Russian Soldiers, running into the enemy fire in their thousands.

Two veterans of the 3.SS-Panzer-Division, who reported me about almost the whole war in the East, always described the individual Soviet Soldiers as some kind of crafty, shifty and extraordinary courageous - and those veterans could remember only one short period of the war, they had been witnesses of real human wave attacks - during the defense around the Lushno-Sector in late September 1941.

Regards

Frank

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Steve,

After what I have read, I would agree with your statements.

The question though is, are there factors within CMRT that make a player want to follow Soviet doctrine to be successful - like the Italians with some sort of differences that really detrimentally effect your style of play if you try to play them as you would the others - or are the Soviets modeled like the Germans or the Yanks without national characteristics and so it is up to the player to try to simulate Soviet doctrine?

The Italians are a good example of this. They do make for a different style of play, not very different from the other powers but you do notice a slightly different playing style because of their tactical organization. Not being able to split the squads makes this difference even more noticeable and their leadership structure adds to this.

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Interestingly, these courageous and crafty Soviets, of official German accounts, often transformed, in the same accounts, to became vodka fuelled automata. What had changed? The first description was when the Germans were attacking, the second when they were retreating.

The Soviets relied on surprise, shock and momentum which will be hard to represent at the tactical level, unless the German player really wants to play scenario after scenario, with stragglers, or dug in units flanked at the start of the game. Or watch his panzers burn as he is forced to attack a reinforced flank of an attack. The Russians knew the war would never be won at the tactical level, so rarely bothered spending precious resources on training, equipping or supplying it's participants. Hence Stalin's maxim, about the relationship between quality and quantity.

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2. Poor Command & Control capabilities. Lack of radios and comparatively weak junior leadership means it's easier to break C2, which in turn means problems for morale. Additionally, many leadership elements consist of 1-3 men, so the chances of having the HQ wiped out in one shot is pretty good.

It's not clear to me if you are saying that the rules for establishing C2 are different for Soviets than other armies, or if that difficulty is simply a function of lack of radios.

I think what lurrp and Regiment were asking about was this blurb on the CMRT overview page:

All Squads can split, however Soviet units are less reliable when not in direct visual LOS of their Squad Leader.

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Actually tbh I was surprised to seeing that we would be allowed to split squads up. I understand that it comes at a cost (which I haven't seen yet) but to me it kind of flies in the face of the more rigid style the Russians practiced. That is not to say they didn't or couldn't mind you but instead of splitting a squad up I'd think they'd just send the whole platoon to do what they had in mind. This kind of makes sense to me when thinking about the whole battalion as a company example given:

"Rifle Companies, and even Battalions, were used like the West would use a single Platoon."

I am hoping the penalty for utilizing a split squad comes with a severe consequence since to me it provides a big tactical advantage. In this time frame it's bad enough if you are the Germans dealing with that red tidal wave. :) Hopefully this is part of the having to get used to playing with the Russians that Steve was writing about.

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I think it's best if Russian Units are not allowed to split, unless if Vet Inf, Special Units like Recon or SMG Squads...All German Inf Units will be allowed to split.

Joe

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Actually tbh I was surprised to seeing that we would be allowed to split squads up. I understand that it comes at a cost (which I haven't seen yet) but to me it kind of flies in the face of the more rigid style the Russians practiced.

This rigidity did not extend to very basic things like positioning in foxholes, occupying a house, splitting up on the backs of two tanks, etc.

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...

3. Weaponry. The Soviets placed more and more emphasis on massive firepower at short ranges. For infantry many rifles were swapped out for SMGs and, in fact, entire formations were armed only with SMGs. Great if you're in close, useless otherwise. For armored vehicles the guns got bigger, but ammo counts and rates of fire reduced without a significant improvement in long range gunnery. Yes, if you're a German player the last thing you want is for your infantry to be in contact with Soviet infantry at 200-300m and then have an ISU-152 show up 500m away. But at longer distances, lots of opportunities for the Soviets to take casualties and be disrupted.

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Steve, can you comment further on what is "close" range, particularly with the preponderance of SMG's in Russian formations.

SMG's have always seemed too accurate at long ranges ( I know the use of SMG's at longish ranges has been curbed a couple of times in patches ), but is 200m really feasible for accurate shooting ?

I know that ( according to previous threads on the subject ) the PPSH was more accurate than most, but my ( brief so far ) experience of Market Garden battles has 2 guys with Stens carving up full squads in cover at 200m which seems a little generous.

Or is this still being looked at ?

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Actually, the Red Army of 1944 was in many points of view a more modern Army than the German.

I could not agree more. The irony is that as the war went on the Soviet command became more flexible and decentralized, the Germans became more inflexible and centralized. At the beginning of the war Stalin interfered a lot, including arrests and executions of less successful commanders. But somehow he learned that wasn't helping, so he backed off. Hitler, on the other hand, went the opposite direction. The defeat of Army Group Center could have been prevented, or greatly reduced, if Hitler had let his generals call the shots.

But we can not overlook that lower level Soviet doctrine was not very flexible on purpose. The success of Soviet doctrine, especially planned offensives, was in large part due to extensive and detailed planning ahead of the battle. The battleplan was broken down into specific tasks that were coordinated by timetables. Alternative plans were also thought out ahead of time, in detail. Having lower level units deviate from their assignments and timetables could not be tolerated because it was impossible for a Major or Captain to know how his actions would affect the plan as a whole.

This is similar to what happened when the Americans unexpectedly crossed the Rhein at Remagen. Even though it was a good thing on it's own it caused a lot of problems for the entire front.

The question though is, are there factors within CMRT that make a player want to follow Soviet doctrine to be successful - like the Italians with some sort of differences that really detrimentally effect your style of play if you try to play them as you would the others - or are the Soviets modeled like the Germans or the Yanks without national characteristics and so it is up to the player to try to simulate Soviet doctrine?

The Italians don't have any special modifications other than they weren't allowed to split. Besides that there aren't any differences on the game design standpoint, but as you say in gameplay they are totally different because of the factors I just mentioned.

The Soviets (and soon Italians) can split their Squads, but with a steep morale penalty if the split off unit becomes isolated. This is because they do not have dedicated, trained assistant Squad Leaders like the Germans and Western Allies do.

Steve

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It's not clear to me if you are saying that the rules for establishing C2 are different for Soviets than other armies, or if that difficulty is simply a function of lack of radios.

Rules are the same. The lack of radios, lack of robust HQ units, small tank platoons, etc. produce different results within the same rules.

I think it's best if Russian Units are not allowed to split, unless if Vet Inf, Special Units like Recon or SMG Squads...All German Inf Units will be allowed to split.

We had long, long debates about this internally. There have always been strong arguments for letting Squads split, but not without some sort of penalty. The straw that broke the camel's back was when it was pointed out that a 10 man Soviet SMG Squad was supposed to go onto two vehicles. Well, can't do that if you can't split.

Steve, can you comment further on what is "close" range, particularly with the preponderance of SMG's in Russian formations.

SMG's have always seemed too accurate at long ranges ( I know the use of SMG's at longish ranges has been curbed a couple of times in patches ), but is 200m really feasible for accurate shooting ?

What I meant by this is if the SMG troops can get to within 200m of German positions they are already too close. It doesn't take much to get forces another 50m ahead and then the next 50m is even easier in many cases. Plus, I just plucked 200m out as an example. If the SMG guys are in a field covered by MG and mortar fire then they are probably screwed :D

There is nothing in CM so far that's comparable to the Soviet SMG Company. There's a big difference between 2 guys with Stens trying to provide cover compared to 10 guys with PPSh blazing away.

Steve

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Helpful discussion Soviet Offensive Tactics. Thank you.

"There is nothing in CM so far that's comparable to the Soviet SMG Company."

CMRT is going to be fun!

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1. Low to decent quality troops. Generally speaking most Soviet units should be between Green and Regular with only some units being at Veteran levels.

Would you say that sniper teams should be at Regular or Veteran levels? In all of the reading I have done, the Soviets had a highly-developed sniper program even before the war started, and by war's end the Red Army had many distinguished snipers within their ranks. If nothing else, it would seem to me good to have sniper teams at Regular level, since according to Soviet first-person accounts, a newly-trained sniper would be paired with a veteran sniper so the former one could learn the ropes more easily.

And before anyone interjects - no, the Soviets did not have what would be called today designated marksmen. Soldiers given a scoped rifle were only those who had gone through sniper training and consequently operated alongside another sniper.

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This rigidity did not extend to very basic things like positioning in foxholes, occupying a house, splitting up on the backs of two tanks, etc.

I meant more along the lines of having them work as independent squads for periods of a time. I did state that it wasn't that they couldn't or wouldn't as to the examples you mentioned just like I am sure they weren't required to march to a treeline as a squad to relive themselves :o. With the explanations Steve gave I am perfectly fine with them splitting to enable tank riding and so forth. I am just curious to seeing how the morale effects work in the AAR's and to see if the drawbacks are potentially worth it. To me they are similar as in the difference between a phalanx and a legions maniples.

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