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General Liederkranz

Soviet Mortar Usage IRL

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I wonder if anyone knows how, IRL, the Soviets would use their mortars tactically on the attack? What I mean is this: my understanding is that the Soviets used guns and howitzers mostly for preplanned fire, but that they did use mortars for on-call support. I also know that CM abstracts field telephones, runners, flares, etc so that all HQs can call in indirect fire, even if they don't have radios.

But in reality, I wonder how the Soviets would have done it, since (according to the game) rifle formations didn't have radios below battalion level. On the defensive, I assume they could use field telephones to talk to the battalion mortars. I can also see having on-call targets, which would be TRPs in CM, and those would be straighforward (e.g. green flares mean fire on registered target #3, etc). But for on-the-fly targeting, it seems impossible to go through the spotting-rounds-and-correcting-fire procedure by sending back runners or shooting off flares. And field phones couldn't keep up with an attack. So what did they do on the attack? Did the Soviets send up forward observers to spot for battalion mortars? Did only battalion commanders serve this role with their radios? Or were company commanders temporarily given radios or field phones? Did they make extensive use of on-call preplotted targets, called in by runners or flares or homing pigeons or whatever? Or did the mortars have to get up front and fire "directly," observing their own fire?

This is, of course, largely irrelevant to the game except for extreme roleplaying, but every time I play I wonder how it would've really worked.

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21 minutes ago, General Liederkranz said:

Or did the mortars have to get up front and fire "directly," observing their own fire?

I'm no East Front maven, but I think mostly this. The mortar itself would likely set up somewhere where it would not receive fire from the enemy's direction, and a member of the crew would move forward to a position from which he could observe and call back corrections. Also, I would guess that they would have some means of communicating with the company commander (maybe quickly laid wire/field telephone). The Soviets also used a lot of signal flags to send messages. Doesn't really answer your question, but maybe some directions to start thinking.

Michael

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How do you zero in indirect fires support without radio feedback? I think for the Soviets, for the most part, the answer was "you don't". Their doctrine had evolved dependent on the various tools you mentioned.

From what I understand, they would scout out, mark and triangulate reference points/lines as part of initial planning for offensive/defensive plans. Soviets LOVED plans. They also loved the mortar, and after 41, they began shifting an insane proportion of their production to them. Funny enough, heavy infantry weapons were found more critical than tank production. After 41, they tried to centralize the organic fire support assets -- so, often decisions regarding mortars would be made at the divisional level (plans, plans, plans).

The doctrine of "artillery preparation" relied on LOTS of HEAVY mortars to make up for potential inaccuracy. A hammer would be applied, where the Allies would use a scalpel. Area denial and even psychological warfare were expected effects, rather than destruction of specific fortifications. You can see why they adopted mass rocket artillery as early as they did. They generally treated mortars, even the 82mm, as general purpose artillery.

All the while, direct fire capable guns were very emphasized in their doctrine. Divisional guns, especially. These would be put close to the front, and quickly wired via telephone to observers. The wire was extensively used, and almost exclusively, in 1941. You often see photos of guys lugging those big rollers of the stuff around. Soviets were damn sneaky. Prepared observation posts would be camouflaged right under the German's noses. They'd even sneak horse drawn artillery up to the line.

As the fighting on the eastern front became more mobile in '44. Those radios, including observation vehicles, which the soviets loved, came into heavy exploitation.

My general source has been: TACTICS & FIRE CONTROL OF RUSSIAN ARTILLERY IN ATTACK AND DEFENSE DURING 1941, 1942, and 1944 AND THEIR DEVELOPMENT IN RECENT TIMES BY OBERST (I.G) HANS-GEORG RICHERT

The source covers infinitely more on the topic than my overly-enthusiastic rant has -- got plenty of real life examples to boot. Highly suggest checking it out.

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Posted (edited)

I believe the primary reason that the Soviets centralized their artillery was because calculating different fires for different guns was an exponential problem - the Americans solved it over a decade and with the help of handheld radios and computer-assisted ballistics research, which provided American spotters with printed cards which assisted them in calling down fire. The Soviets likely could not have mimicked American doctrine, even if they had a radio for every man.

That is, the Soviets figured that rather than calculate separate fires for X guns, they could divide those guns into groups and concentrate on the same coordinates.

Artillery concentration on a large scale was achieved by all parties in the war - the Americans had a bigger hammer than most, it's just that they were the only ones with access to a scalpel as well.

 

Edited by Snake726

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You should almost never actually see the mortar teams "on map" when playing as the Soviets, except for on particularly large maps where it fits the abstractions. A couple of the scenarios get this wrong though and feature the mortar teams much, much closer to the frontline than they'd ever be, and with completely insufficient ammo (cough cough HAMMER'S FLANK) to execute the given plan. 

Usually the mortars would be considered too valuable an asset to risk close to the front, and the teams were armed only to defend themselves from surprise attacks or by stragglers. 

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In open area mortars were used centralised, under control of battalion commander. In forested or urban areas mortar platoons could be attached to companies. In some cases single 82 mortars were given to forward platoons.

If mortars were used "centralised", company commander would direct fire with the help of command detachment. He communicated with fire positions by telephone, messengers, signs, signals and "by chain" ("цепочкой"). I don't know exactly what "by chain" means, I guess that "chain" of soldiers would stretch from OP to mortars and they would shout to each other: "Add 200m! 0-05 to the right! One more spotting round!" So if you roleplay, just make a chain of units and call mortar strike.

In regulations (БУП-42) typically is said: "machiengun and mortar fire". Fire sector was assigned. Also fire tasks at frontline and in the depth of enemy defense were assigned. So direct and undirect fire was used.

There is regulation about mortar company: http://militera.lib.ru/regulations/russr/1942_bup/09.html

You can use google translate. Ask me if something is unclear.

 

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On 8/27/2018 at 7:52 PM, DerKommissar said:

How do you zero in indirect fires support without radio feedback? I think for the Soviets, for the most part, the answer was "you don't".

If fire position is 200-400 m behind observation post, it is easier.

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6 hours ago, DMS said:

I don't know exactly what "by chain" means, I guess that "chain" of soldiers would stretch from OP to mortars and they would shout to each other: "Add 200m! 0-05 to the right! One more spotting round!" So if you roleplay, just make a chain of units and call mortar strike.

I had never thought of this, but it makes a lot of sense that they would do it. From that document, this suggests to me that the mortar teams would rely on direct-lay fire frequently when new targets appeared once an attack was underway: "351. С захватом пехотой переднего края и проникновением ее в глубину обороны минометная рота (батарея) повзводно быстро выдвигается вперед для поражения целей, наиболее мешающих продвижению пехоты. / 351. With the capture by the infantry of the front edge and penetration of it into the depth of defense, the mortar company (battery) platoon quickly advances forward to defeat the targets most interfering with the advance of the infantry."

Thanks for the thoughts everyone!

 

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On 9/2/2018 at 10:08 AM, DMS said:

If fire position is 200-400 m behind observation post, it is easier.

Aye, or if one has a field phone setup. After all, wire was the preferred method of artillery communication, even in the US Army. That analysis highlighted how we look over the role of signal troops. Soviet signal corps had to sneak the wire in behind the watchful eye of the Wehrmacht -- and from the analysis, it looks like they were very successful at establishing hidden FOs.

Can you imagine if we get actual field telephones in CM 3.0?

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On 8/27/2018 at 11:52 AM, DerKommissar said:

How do you zero in indirect fires support without radio feedback? I think for the Soviets, for the most part, the answer was "you don't".

Radios would've been available to the battery commander, and the Battalion Commander would've been able to call for fire support. I can't imagine the Soviets frequently used mortars in planned fire since they're under the command of infantry formations, who will use them to respond to the sorts of emergent threats that the bigger guns missed or just weren't available for. This was probably where the PM-38 established its value, being one of the largest tubes available to the infantry in anyone's Army. A 120mm round will just excavate a slit trench or a foxhole, and the weapon had such great range that the Russians would use it to suppress howitzer batteries. 

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21 hours ago, SimpleSimon said:

Radios would've been available to the battery commander, and the Battalion Commander would've been able to call for fire support. I can't imagine the Soviets frequently used mortars in planned fire since they're under the command of infantry formations, who will use them to respond to the sorts of emergent threats that the bigger guns missed or just weren't available for. This was probably where the PM-38 established its value, being one of the largest tubes available to the infantry in anyone's Army. A 120mm round will just excavate a slit trench or a foxhole, and the weapon had such great range that the Russians would use it to suppress howitzer batteries. 

"The Russian batteries, however, were situated so far to the rear of the Russian main line of resistance that although they were able to hit the German battle position with long-range fire, they could not, in turn, be reached by the German artillery from normal firing positions. In some cases the German sound-ranging battery did not even manage to detect these distant Russian batteries. If, however, German artillery was displaced forward and employed close behind the German main line of resistance in order to shell a Russian battery which had been located, it was very soon identified by the Russians — whether by means of sound-ranging equipment could not be determined — and was shelled by 80-mm and 120-mm mortars (the latter had a range of six kilometers), against which it was helpless, and, in addition, was taken under fire by Russian artillery." - H.G. Richert ( http://www.allworldwars.com/Tactics-and-Fire-Control-of-Russian-Artillery-in-1941-44-by-Richert.html )

The paper also states that 82mm and 120mm mortars were often used together for pounding infantry -- and for counter fire, apparently.

"In two known instances the Russians again used artillery observer? who were located behind the German battle position and had radio communications. The Russian artillery directed excellently adjusted fire at all targets which the observers were able to see, and this lasted until the observers were tracked down and killed." - H.G. Richert

An interesting tactic, I believe this quote's from the early war section, which is kind of weird. Saying that the Soviets DIDN'T use radios would be inaccurate.

"When the Russians conduct a defense with weak artillery, especially on the broad front, mortars of the infantry and elements of heavy machine gun units are attached to the divisional artillery in addition to the heavy mortar battalions which are regularly assigned to the artillery. Then the fire of all these units is controlled according to a single plan. " - H.G. Richert

It looks like they had special Artillery officers attached to Infantry division command, who was responsible for all fire missions -- including infantry guns and HMGs. The theme is that the Artillery arm would centralize all artillery, so it could be used according to operational plans.

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On 9/6/2018 at 2:41 PM, DerKommissar said:

An interesting tactic, I believe this quote's from the early war section, which is kind of weird. Saying that the Soviets DIDN'T use radios would be inaccurate.

Totally. 

On 9/6/2018 at 2:41 PM, DerKommissar said:

The paper also states that 82mm and 120mm mortars were often used together for pounding infantry -- and for counter fire, apparently.

Medium mortars especially have shorter ranges than most Russian  commanders -Regiment and above - would want to concern themselves with I would think. That said the necessities of the Eastern Front might well have forced them to reach down and manipulate elements that low on the pole as a matter of circumstance. Orwell observed in Spain that Generals were often the sole authority that could make use of local fire support assets, even if it was one rusty Brandt mortar and 12 rounds. 

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