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JasonC

My overview of the Russian tactical system

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In response to an email question, I wrote the following description of Russian tactics in WW II. I thought some here might find it useful, or worth comment.

There were two principle components of the army, rifle forces and mech forces. Rifle forces were numerically dominant and provided the structure of lines and provided mass for attacks. They were also expected to lead breakthrough fighting. Mech forces were numerically an order of magnitude smaller, but much better equipped. They did most of the attacking after the first break in, and a fair portion of the defensive fighting as reaction reserves.

The overall system was echelons in depth, a macro version of traditional line and column tactics from clear back to the Napoleonic period. Compared to others, they used much greater depth. This was a reaction to empirical unreliability of single layers and subelements. Flat deployments of all major subelements on line were almost never used. Defensive deployments were generally 2 up 1 back to cover frontage, while attack deployments were frequently in full column, a major unit getting the frontage of only a single sub-unit. This was true for both rifle and mech components, though mech were a bit more likely to use 2 up 1 back on the attack, looking for a weak point rather than overloading a chosen one.

All echelons and formation types were expected to provide their own scouting and their own inherent fire support - though it was frequently fairly modest - and had ways of accomplishing their typical missions without any outside assistance. There was much less favoring of a single echelon level as the coordinator of all actions. And important decisions were shoved much higher up the chain of command than was typical in other country's systems.

There were all sorts of specialist unit types, which were generally folded into the formations they were supposed to work with as attachments or 4th or 5th pieces of their command span, each an echelon level smaller than the unit they supported. But to a much greater extent than other armies, they also pooled these an echelon level or two higher, and then assigned them to larger formations than usual, to bump up their combined arms ratio in this or that category.

This was effectively a method of centralizing the force composition decision at a higher level, typically army. Thus, AA would exist as divisions of 4 regiments each about enough to protect a single division sector, by pushing their battery subcomponents down to regiments. But an AA division was used, in order to put the decision "where does the AA go?" in the hands of the army commander or his chief of staff. He might delegate regiments to each of his divisions but he might instead concentrate it on a single sector or use most of it to cover artillery positions or supply routes etc.

The same was done with AT formations, 120mm mortar formations, rocket formations, larger caliber artillery formations, motorcycle recon formations, etc.

The actual mix of weapons present in an area therefore depended on 1 TOE less losses and 2 higher level decisions about where to put all this extra stuff. The TOE at the division level or below was a base level or bare minumum. They'd have more of whatever the mission called for, added on top by army or front command.

The mech guys fought more nearly at TOE - their TOE just included lots of these extras, typically at mech corps level, occasionally at tank army level. Even then the tank army stuff was usually assigned to a given mech corps for the duration of a single operation.

The operational units were rifle armies, tank armies, and tank or mech corps. Rifle armies accomplished things with their organic rifle divisions, and frequently had a single tank corps assigned when they had an offensive role, and/or a few brigades or regiments of tanks or SUs. Tank corps were minimum operational units of armor for fighting in the mech fashion. Independent brigades and regiments were instead used to support rifle formations. Tank armies generally had 3 mech corps, 2 tank and 1 mech being the most common form at midwar.

The mech had a bit more infantry weight and generally had the role of holding the ground taken until rifle formations closed up. The offensive part of the mech way of fighting was quite tank heavy. The tank corps was effectively their armor division, and its permanent brigade structure was there version of KGs or combat commands. Meaning, all cross attachments and such occurred at the brigade level, and everything other than the main 4 brigade themselves was given to some one of them for its mission. One was frequentty kept out of battle as the corps commander's reserve, and anything not really assigned would be put with it. The tank corps structure of 3 tank and 1 motor rifle brigade was meant to strike with tank heavy forces and hold the ground taken with mech infantry.

The mech infantry was purely truck borne, and intended to keep up with the tanks in an operational sense, but fought dismounted as ordinary infantry. The organic "antitank" regiments of the mech formations were their main field artillery as well - 76mm guns, motorized. They also used 120mm mortars, again motorized. Nothing heavier was expected to keep up with the mech or to stay supplied - though MRLs were also used in major operations, frequently for just 1-2 shoots then leaving to resupply. So when motor infantry went to hold something, it occupied ground already taken by the tank forces, dug in infantry, set up 76mm guns for direct and indirect fire, registered 120mm mortars and their own organic 82mms - the last typically direct lay - and held until foot rifle formations relieve them.

The striking portion was the tank brigade, with a single battalion of infantry to the equivalent of a western tank battalion's worth of tanks. Thus quite tank heavy. The infantry typically rode on the decks of the tanks. If some followed in trucks e.g. for weapons etc, it was a secondary measure. Indirect artillery coordination was minimal and limited to the 76mm and 120mm mortar stuff mentioned above. Basically tanks with riders were expected to be able to take ground on their own. They were massed and it usually worked, though a failure in the face of a PAK front or superior AFVs could get expensive. Lacking arty etc.

The infantry method of attack was to assume column formation on the subelements and then go at the enemy in echelon waves. This does not mean run him off his feet in one go. On the contrary, it means probe on a narrow front with a full strength unit, typically matching or outnumbering the defenders opposite in a single wave. They approach as closely as they can. When halted by fire they get what cover they can and fire back, as well as calling for all forms of fire support. The next wave then tries on the same portion of the front, after a bit of that fire prep. Repeat until the enemy gives way or there is only one subelement left in the attacking formation. The last one does not repeat the attack, but digs in and holds whatever is safely Russian after the previous.

This amounted to reinforcing failure, compared to German ideas, and they regarded it as the height of mindless stupidity, wanton disregard of human life, folly, stubborness, etc. In fact is was basic attrition tactics adapted to modern combined arms conditions and to "command push" planning. Attacks were planned from the rear at a high echelon level, and expected to produce definite results that the rest of the plan depended on. It was not acceptable in such plans for various units to report that the situation did not look good in their sector, try somewhere else. Nor could a successful one call everyone to follow him and expect to be obeyed - or even heard. The higher level commander was responsible for giving his subformations do-able tasks and for providing them the mix of weapons they would need to succeed, in a combined arms and terrain-tactics sense. The subcommander was responsible for "laying his ship alongside the enemy" - i.e. fighting like the dickens on the terms his superior gave him.

A plan needed both to work, but the demarkation in responsibility as crystal clear, and on the whole meticulously enforced. Meaning the lower commander who shrunk from action would be shot, while a superior who gave hamfisted orders that were not achievable with what he provided would be relieved. The lower commander was not responsible for success but for the attempt, for fighting. Presenting a large casualty role excused failure, and bucked the responsible party up to the mucketee-muck who ordered the show. Success was always welcome. Failure in the mission without debiliating losses to explain why the attempt had failed or to demonstrate that it had been undoable, was inexcusable.

There was a fetish of concentration on attack sectors. It did not mean overstacking but depth, the waves explained above. The sin being avoided as evenly spreading the force all along the line, thereby making all the defenders effective and nowhere getting maximum use of technical means and combined arms. Even spreading was used only for defense and even then only for a minumum variety of weapons and the basic depth. Meaning a rifle division in 2 up 1 back formation with its organic 45mm, 76mm, 120mm, MGs, etc. Everything more specialized was supposed to be in the right place instead of everywhere - which in practice still meant spread, but over ~1/3 of the line where it would do the most good, instead of the whole line. So if a rifle army has 6 RDs and an antitank brigade attached, all of the ATB will be covering the sector of the 2 most threatened RDs. Instead of 12 ATGs per RD, 4 go without and 2 get 36 each, enough to put an extra battery of 76mm with each rifle battalion.

As for infantry tactics more specifically, they used a variety of types in both mech and infantry ways of fighting. In the mech way, the infantry were split between recon, tank rider, motor rifle, and pioneer. Recon meant motorcycles and a few trucks for modest supporting weapons, very lightly armed, working alone or with light tanks or armored cars. They did operational recon and screened long flanks. They were fully 20% of the infantry manpower of the mech formations, not an afterthought. Their basic mission is to put eyes everywhere to guide the tanks intelligently, because the tanks need to stay quite concentrated.

The next 20% were the riders, typically "tommy gunners", who rode on the tank decks. They did battlefield recon for the tanks and dug enemy infantry out of their holes, after the tanks drove them deep. The idea was to give the defender a dilemma about whether to open fire, and at what range. If the enemy fired while the force were still at long range, the riders dismounted and went to cover, and the tanks just stood off and plastered the place with HE. If they held their fire and so remained unspotted, the tanks would come reasonably close and then the riders would dismount and get into cover near the objective. A few would then investigate under overwatch from the tanks and the rest of the men. This system was hard on the infantrymen doing it, but quite effective and very useful for the tanks. The riders got to be tough as nails, those that stood it and lived, and they were individually the best in the force.

Half the mech infantry force were the standard motor rifle. They rode in trucks and had the full heavy weapons load of ordinary infantry - meaning heavier machineguns, 82mm mortars, ATRs. Their main mission was to hold ground. They would be called on to back up any of the other types in a pinch, or occasionally to deliver an infantry-force-type style echelon-wave attack. But usually they were spared that, being too valuable to throw away. They would also be pressed into supporting tank forces to bump the infantry to armor ratio back up - after losses or to accomodate terrain - and they got the missions only infantry could do - night recons, river crossings, woods interiors, block clearing, etc - that a mech force still needed done.

The last 10% were pioneers. In the rifle forces they had a larger role, but in the mech their main mission was to keep the routes serviceable. That meant bridging, mineclearing, road repair. Sometimes they would be included in assault groups, along with tommy gunners, as explained in the rifle version of things next.

Most of the fighting was done by the tankers and the tommy gunners, while most of the manpower was motor rifle that just held things and did the dozen dirty infantry jobs. The recon guys were near action a lot but did not press and were not hard hit, and the pioneers had it easy compared to the others.

In the rifle formations there was also an infantry division of labor. This time there was foot recon and "shock" groups of tommy gunners, line infantry, weapons, and pioneers.

Foot recon was a much more aggressive branch of service than the motorcycle guys, and included night infiltration as the standard mission. They spent days at a time in enemy rear areas. The mission was generally intel, sometimes raiding or getting PWs, rarely pitched battle. In major attacks, though, they also got "pathfinder" jobs - meaning they went first to KO enemy outposts and listening posts by stealth, marked paths as clear of mines or enemy observation. This was not "recon by death" but "sneaking into the movies goes to war". These were the elite of the rifle force.

Shock groups and pioneers were assault specialists, "SWAT". They used tommy guns, grenades, explosives, and flamethrowers, in roughly that order. They wanted to get within 50 meters from the enemy to kill him. How they got there was roughly a third sneaking, a third cover fire, and a third balls of brass. The focus was on special equipment and using it, and the groups were kept small. Numbers were not the point. Indeed, the idea was to risk a few (suicidally brave) men rather than a whole company in the open. They worm their way up to the enemy, using the distraction afforded by the rest of the war. In major assaults they followed the pathfinders in platoon sized groups. Individual enemy positions were targeted by a squad or two, not by massing. The skill level here was generally high - the men were picked and frequently volunteers - but so were loss rates, which kept them less uniformly good than foot recon.

Pioneers had other missions - mine clearing, wire clearing, minelaying, improving positions - and weren't always used for the assault roles above. Drafts would be made from the larger pioneer formations for the assault details. Plenty of other pioneers are doing more mundane things in relative safety.

Then there were the weapons. The rifle formations did not generally have tanks - sometimes modest levels of support from an independent armor brigade, or SU-76 formation later in the war - so the heavy firepower and overwatch role was performed by a different subgroup. It was the heavy weapons formations and artillery attachments. This included the MGs, the mortars, and the ATRs at the bottom of the echelon tree, and then added small antitank guns, infantry guns, 76mm guns in direct lay, and observors for those and for 120mm mortars indirect. All were regiment or below weapons in practice and under rifle formation command. Their role was overwatch fires, to react to fire hitting their own unit by taking out whoever was messing it up. They also formed the backbone of the defense when in position, both with heavy HE and MG coverage against infantry, and the AT net vs. armor. Range and relative immobility are their leading characteristics.

The Russians got a lot better at that part of infantry fighting as the war progressed. In 1941 they were pretty awful at it. As late as October 1942, they were still doing things like having all the 76mm guns and 120mm mortars fire with the main artillery in big prep fires long before the actual attack, and leaving most of the MGs in fixed defensive positions. The result was infantry attacks that consisted almost entirely on riflemen trying to advance onto intact German positions (since the prep never knew exactly where they all were etc), which typically failed with huge losses. By 1943 they were using all their supporting arms much more effectively, and divided artillery use between division and above stuff (which fired to a plan or prep) and the reactive regimental team and below stuff (which fired on targets as they appeared). Direct fire by field caliber artillery was a key Russian method here, much more heavily used than in other armies.

Then there is the main body of the infantry, the line. This was around 2/3rds of the manpower, after all the roles above are taken out. Everything else made conditions for them to fight in that they could succeed within, or didn't. On defense they formed the close range part of the defense, within the ranged protection of the heavy weapons and artillery and AT networks. Typically in 2 up 1 back deployments, repeated at several echelons levels. The idea was to create a kind of honeycomb of modest sized positions, platoon to company scale, leaving the ground between them open, but overlapping their fields of fire at rifle ranges.

On defense there was an enourmous emphasis on digging in as deep as possible, fortifying buildings, creating obstacles. A rifle soldier spent far more time and effort with his shovel than with his rifle. The operational effect sought was unkillable sprawling pockets of annoying ranged fire. They wanted to make the Germans come up and exchange off each position at grenade range, expecting to give as good as they got if the Germans obliged.

On the attack, it was instead the waves tactics already mentioned. When a position succumbed, all the following waves would continue through it and lap around the edges of positions on either flank. The holdouts standing up to the repeated attacks would draw more and more of the available supporting artillery and heavy weapons fire, and a new wave would hit them. Eventually they'd crumble under the arty, or accumulating losses, or their ammo would give out, or a shock group would get close and lucky, etc - that was the idea. Of course it was also expensive if none of those things happened, or soon.

The waves themselves do not try to just run onto the enemy position. They are driven to ground by fire - it is expected. They are then just to fire back (with LMGs and rifles) from where they pinned, improving their positioning, cover, closing the range again, as opportunity offers. If they can't budge they can't budge - the weapons and arty hit the guys hitting them, and another wave tries. When cover fire pins enough of the defenders, somebody will get close enough for tommy guns and grenades, and that will finish it. Everybody takes their share of the pain. It is thought that there is no getting around it, that flinching from enemy fire as too strong to attack will just leave another hard fight for tomorrow. They don't expect to get lopsided clean kills by going around or any other razzle dazzle, they just wade in and take their licks, to give their own back.

The operational effect wanted is "relentless". To get relentless from expensive tactics, you need a lot of depth in the deployments, hence the pure column form of attack e.g. a regiment attacks with up to 8 company waves on a width of only 1-2 companies - saving the last to hold its own frontage along with the weapons - rather than say 6 companies wide with shallow reserves. It is meant to *outlast* the enemy on the chosen frontage, to have the last reserve locally. When one of the early waves succeeds, the remainder continue without loss and the momentum of the attack stays strong. Effectively the front wave is shielding the others and helping carrying them deeper into the enemy position before they are harmed.

I hope this is interesting.

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JasonC,

Bravo!

Martyr,

I keep asking him to write one! No joy, though, so far. Clearly, though, he has a lot to say, being both deeply read in the topic and having thought about it considerably.

Regards,

John Kettler

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Originally posted by juan_gigante:

I rarely have time to play CMBB anymore, but I still enjoy reading JasonC's excellent posts.

You rarely have time to play CMAK anymore.

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Interesting for sure!

I wonder what you base this on though? Does it relate to CMBB in some manner or is it knowledge condensed from reading many different sources?

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The latter. Wide reading and also wide wargaming of the subject for a couple decades, many types and many scales.

I do think you can get more out of the Russians in CMBB if you know why the stuff is there, what it is meant for, etc. But the write up is general and historical, and a lot of it deals with larger issues than appear in CM.

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V. interesting summary of JasonC's sense of how Soviet grand tactics work. Some remarks, /en vrac/

Where does this style come from ? This is at a much lower level than "deep battle", operations, etc. Not "armour-boy" style thinking, but SOPs forged in the 1941-1942 fighting ? Response to particular pressures in command structure ?

We want more scenarios with foot recon and shock groups !

Relentless, fighting like the dickens-- operative words. Hence the particular horror of defending against this still of offence.

How does arty above field level work in this system ? As godlike, but unresponsive prep fires, only loosely linked to the antlike action at Battn level ?

There must be a set of guidelines for genrating scenarios and QBs in there, but I'm too lazy to generate it.

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Excellent appreciation of the Russians.

Very well done!

Perhaps if you wanted to expand the article a little, you could expand a bit on the way forces were used once they had achieved a breakthrough, about deep penetrations and the use of the Cavalry Corps behind enemy lines. This would be of interest.

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well as i say in my email Thanks Janson for the summary.

In deep it have nothing to do with CMBB guys was a question to help me understand russian tactics, I would say that this summary is more that i was expecting Thanks!!!!

I really was surprices because i was asking you about some books recommendation and you give me this summary. I think you must write a book about this topic Thanks again

[ July 26, 2006, 06:41 PM: Message edited by: Isaac A ]

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"How does arty above field level work in this system ? As godlike, but unresponsive prep fires, only loosely linked to the antlike action at Battn level ?"

Basically yes, and episodically. The reasons are organizational and logistical.

First, it is pooled at the army level. Some is initially under Stavka control - the whole Russian army's central reserve - and it passes to Front command, but those are organizational "way stations" on the way to an army level assignment. Entire "breakthrough artillery corps" will be assigned to a single rifle army. With more besides - scores of independent regiments each of 20 or 24 guns. Half of all the tubes in the force are in these higher level pools, and they are the heavier half.

The armies that get them, get them because they have some key overall mission given to them by their Front or the overall high command. Example - 11 Guards Army is to spearhead the northern prong of Operation Kutuzov, aka the Orel counteroffensive.

OK, then it gets a whole breakthrough artillery corps - 8th - plus another artillery division - 14th - plus 12 yes that is right 12 more independent gun artillery regiments (122mm guns) plus 5 independent howitzer regiments plus 2 mortar regiments plus 2 rocket brigades and 5 rocket regiments - plus 3 AA divisions and 4 extra AA regiments (37mm) and 2 extra AA battalions (85mm). Overall, the army has 2650 guns and mortars 76mm and up and 140 MRLs. For 12 rifle divisions - over 200 guns per division, against more like 50 on the divisional TOE.

Then how are they used? Well, the army picks an attack sector and stuff half its infantry in that sector, with more behind in second echelon. And the guns pile up behind that part of the front. Acres of them, layered by their ranges and missions. Some long ranged 122mm guns with counterbattery missions need to reach deep so they are pushed up close to the front. The divisional and regimental 76s and 120s are also close. The rockets come up close when it is time, but don't stay long. The bulk of the 122s and 152s are farther back, able to hit the first couple lines of German positions but otherwise sheltered by their range, spread to ease logisticial burdens and avoid being a perfect counterbattery or air target, etc.

Massive amounts of ammunition are stockpiled by all these guns. Remember the logistics system is mostly rail, with horses and wagons hauling stuff from rail line to firing position - so the build up takes weeks to months. And the stuff isn't going to move again, not rapidly.

But at zero hour, they can throw the kitchen sink at the German lines. They fire hurricane barrages for 3 hours on the morning of the attack, while the attacking infantry are still in their own holes. Not coordinated with ground movements, just a big fire plan based on whatever intel they've managed to collect before the whole show starts. Kaboom, front line positions sent into orbit and their defenders pinned deep in their dugouts. "Our forward defenses looked like a freshly plowed field" is a typical German side comment.

During the attack itself, the long ranged guns are still in range, and they are firing at phase lines. Divisional 76s may fire a rolling barrage ahead of the infantry advance. 122s are firing counterbattery, or hitting known enemy reserve positions to keep the men there deep while the front line positions are hit. Some of the bigger guns are drizzling in a few shells an hour on the transport routes, the rail lines and roads and bridge areas. Just interdiction, to discourage large movements.

Up at the pointy end, the barrage has lifted as rifle forces go in. They are racing Germans to the front of the German trenches - Germans climbing out of their dugouts, digging out of fallen crap, trying to maneuver through caved-in communication trenches - while Russians race across no man's land. If a few Germans at their MGs can delay the Russians, the rest of the Germans will get time to deploy.

Ok, but there are still new targets appearing. MG nests, holdouts, a manned trench system an hour after the barrage. What does artillery do about these?

The full breakthrough artillery corps and all those regiments of 122s? Precious little. Instead it falls to the 120mm mortars and the 76mm guns, the stuff pushed down to regimental command, to deal with them. Sometimes by direct fire. SUs do the same thing, direct fire.

The heavy stuff is still used on the second day, with new phase lines based on where they got on the first day. A few batteries have inched forward - to the edge of the moonscape made by the first day's barrage. But if the attack is going well, in 2-3 days they will be out of range of the original positions of the guns, and their ammo stockpiles. And the supporting fire will drop off to nothing - from the big higher echelon stuff, that is.

When the German defenses harden again, guns will gradually collect opposite them, as logistics and time allow. A position that has held out for a month in an otherwise moving front line, will find a whole park opposite. Battering away day after day, as ammo can be brought up to fed the guns. Each time, firing at the map coordinate because it is known it is German owned rather than friendly. Whether there is anyone there that instant, whether they aren't deep in cover, whether it would be tactically useful - who cares? There are Germans in that town, shell that town.

On defense, similar methods. Now the artillery park is set up behind the expected axis of enemy attack. It is layered somewhat deeper, because they understand the front line may move against them.

Where is the enemy main effort today? Everybody within 10 miles fires at it. They aren't waiting for a call on the radio saying "Fire mission! enemy in the open!". Instead, general Konev arranges for staff colonel Demerov to coordinate fires against the enemy grouping on the Belkov direction, and the colonel calls or visits a dozen batteries and gives them their orders, signed and in triplicate. These say, "at 10 AM, fire at sector Belkov A" or what have you.

The defenders in that sector just know that their attackers get inundated with shells from time to time. If they want to organize reactive fires, they instead use the organic mortars and direct fire guns (76mm etc) that are part of their own unit and answer to their own colonel. If they tried to order an independent 122mm gun regiment to fire in their support, they'd get "Who authorized this? Where is your signed order? Do you think you are Stalin or something?"

The local tactical commander does not have the authority to control all this higher echelon stuff. It is directed to support him by the higher commander who gave him his mission. That commander tells him about it, so he understands what will be done to help him etc. They may coordinate it all the night before in a council of war in some tent or hovel. But he does not command it, it simply happens in his sector.

The reason all units have their own organic fire support however modest, is because it is the only thing they "own" for certain. Everything else might be directed by some muckety-muck to some more urgent task. The company and battalion can count on their own mortars, the regiment on its own assigned 76mms and 120mm, with others perhaps added to them as attachments because the mission is important etc. That is all.

And deep into a running battle, those may be the only things supplied or in the tactical area, anyway. The big stuff moves slowly. It isn't a scalpel.

The mech guys have their own motorized 76mm guns and 120mm mortars, and sometimes MRLs, which are always motorized but frequently just one-shot and withdraw for resupply, style weapons. Occasionally there will be a single motorized regiment of something bigger, 122s or 152s, attached to some given tank corps for the duration of an operation - but rarely, and only when motorized. They benefit from all the big stuff on defense in an important sector or during a breakthrough - without "owning" it. But once they exploit or the line moves, that stuff is gone. They use direct fire from tanks and SUs, or the reactive lighter stuff.

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I should perhaps expand on the virtues of this artillery system. Its efficiency drawbacks and limited flexibility are presumably obvious, to people who know western systems. But it solves 3 tough problems that the Russians needed addressed.

First, it gives the higher commander a way to shape the developing battle. He decides where the artillery weight falls. It isn't pulled away by frantic units trying to save themselves - which there are in abundance, regularly. Central direction means artillery is used en masse where it is most needed - operationally speaking. The shells are not wasted on some secondary front because some FO is aggressive.

Second, it eases the logistic, unit shifting, and planning burden involved in keeping all these heavy tubes positioned and supplied. The ammo is saved unless an express order for its use comes down from on high. Staffers can plan out units of fire and combat days, a month in advance if they have to, and the calculations will be accurate. They can translate units of fire into tons of throughput and solve railcar loading problems, site dumps, allocate horse teams etc.

Westerners letting any battalion that wants to, fire off 5000 rounds a day, are leaning on fleets of 2 1/2 ton trucks that can move anything anywhere in an instant, on demand - the Russians have nothing remotely like that.

Third, the Russians have lots of tube production capacity but not so abundant ammo production capacity, and very weak logistics links once you leave the rail line compared to either. This system lets them multiply tubes everywhere, and then feed the ones that are close to the action, without moving them. And just leave the ones away from the action in position, but not fed. This might seem wasteful in tubes or the combat power per gun, but those are not scarce. Ability to move stuff is scarce, and ammo. So "preposition" the tubes, and some dumps, and then feed the ones that need it because the action is near them this week.

When the whole front moves 300 miles, the Russians have to pick up the whole apparatus and set it up again. That means railcar loadings, trips over repaired lines as fast as they can be fixed, rail unloadings, wagons out to the battery position. For the guns and for every shell. The rate determining step is not how fast you can cock the cannon, but how fast the horseteams and stevedores can do all this work. So when you've got lots of time from a relatively static front, you can blast as powerfully as you please. But when it moves, not so much. Ergo, you better get your firing in during that window, so the surge firepower has to be huge, because firing time is not going to be (with everyone in position, ready, supplied etc).

You don't get huge surge firepower to work by waiting around for neat targets. When the chance is there logistically, you grab it, and dump everything you can on every enemy area within range.

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Apropos of TANK RIDER, I'd like to hear from JasonC

or anyone else who knows about the split between tank riders as regular assigned troops and tank riders as members of penal units. While I know what tank riders are, I freely admit to knowing little about them as units.

JasonC,

More great posts! The artillery parceling you describe reminds me of RAGs and DAGs from my military aerospace days.

Regards,

John Kettler

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Originally posted by JasonC:

Not coordinated with ground movements, just a big fire plan based on whatever intel they've managed to collect before the whole show starts. Kaboom, front line positions sent into orbit and their defenders pinned deep in their dugouts. "Our forward defenses looked like a freshly plowed field" is a typical German side comment.

To give some further information on this, based on Soviet officer memoirs I have read, this collection of intel was a core task for divisional and below staffs during the attack preparation. Higher levels of command would compare the amount of targets reported by divisions. If you were (well) below the average in reporting targets in your divisional sector, it could happen that the Front commander pays you a visit, and gives you the option to either report more targets, or attack on D-Day without artillery support (so happened to one Colonel commanding a rifle division - the meeting with Konev was apparently quite frosty). The way reconnaissance at this level was done was standard. Send a group of 3/4 men out to capture a POW. Feign an attack by a battalion at night, while the divisional intel staff is sitting in overwatch with a map and a pen, drawing in firing posts as they open up. The Germans did of course know this, and designated 'Schweige' (silent) MG posts which would under no circumstances open fire before the big day. The Soviets in turn knew this, and tried to make their feint attacks believable big ones to get the Schweige MGs to open up.

During the barrage, artillery would also leave small corridors uncovered, through which assault companies/battalions would move, while the Germans are still in their dugouts. That way they would be in the trench, welcoming the Germans coming out of their dugouts when the barrage ended (vividly described by a survivor of the initial assault at Iassy).

It could also happen that the initial barrage was curtailed/cancelled, because the Germans had given up their first trench position to avoid it.

Finally, Soviet air support operated together with the artillery, and presumably integrated into the fireplan (again vividly described by the Iassy survivor).

All the best

Andreas

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Originally posted by Der Alte Fritz:

Perhaps if you wanted to expand the article a little, you could expand a bit on the way forces were used once they had achieved a breakthrough, about deep penetrations and the use of the Cavalry Corps behind enemy lines. This would be of interest.

Regarding Cavalry Corps, their main use was to give some added mobility to breakthrough forces in the often not particularly well-developed geography of the east.

Unknown Pages of a Heroic Raid

In general they were not expected to get into heavy combat by frontally assaulting anyone. Konev's (increasingly upset) missives to Baranov and his Cavalry Corps during the L'vov-Sandomierz Operation make that very clear. They were supposed to move fast, block roads against movement, disrupt reinforcements, and exploit 'unpassable' terrain by moving through it. In the process they could get hammered very badly, as the text above indicates, and as happened to 5th GCC in the latter stages of Bagration, and Pliev's Cavalry Mechanised Group at Debrecen.

A Cavalry Corps was a relatively small formation, smaller than a German rifle division, and because of this it could survive with low supply requirements for a while (but not forever - even horses need fodder if you are always on the move).

I would think that they were mostly used on the flanks of breakthroughs because of their comparatively lower combat power, where through their actions they could serve to broaden the breakthrough into directions where no heavy opposition was present, and to prevent the Germans from massing forces on the flank. The real fighting against German counter-attacks and reinforcements would be up to the mechanised breakthrough formations.

All the best

Andreas

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How do tanks fit in the picture at rifle level ? Would they be rare, because of choice not to penny-packet, and concentration in higher formation for break through fighting by mech elements ? Their place taken by SU-76s ? By 76mm firing direct ?

(again, consequences for your average CMBB scenario).

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Andreas has sketched the cavalry story reasonably well, but I'd modify a few details and add some historical and regional variation.

First understand that cavalry corps did have armor in the TOE, and frequently in practice. Light tanks, BTs originally and then T-60s and T-70s, but also modest numbers of T-34s by 1942-3, more of them in the late war. They were treated as independent operational units much like tank corps, but held at Front level much longer and (in the most common use anyway) released aka assigned to some army only during an exploitation phase. They did not have the hitting power of a tank corps but had a comparable number of riflemen and about the tanks of a tank brigade.

In the early war the mech arm failed completely for technical and command reasons. They were huge formations of 1000 tanks and 1000 trucks and they could not be maintained in the field. In the circumstances, the Russians moved to using infantry armies for offensive missions, and for mobile defensive stuff they went smaller scale and lower tech. Tanks went to brigades, the prewar mech corps was abolished. But they still did not really know how to use the cavalry.

It came into its own during the battle of Moscow. Along with small formations of ski troops - a brigade or so was typical - the cavalry kept its tactical mobility in the harsh winter conditions. They could move in 2 foot snow. They could traverse the endless forests of the central Russian zone, which are extended by marshland that freezes in the winter. While not easy to supply - horses eat a lot and die in droves when underfed or overworked - a cavalry unit would achieve plenty while its mounts held and then become a dismounted unit.

So they infiltrated. They and the ski guys turned flanks through woods once the Germans were holding strongpoints in places with houses to stay indoors to avoid frostbite. There were already partisans in the German rear, and there were also leftovers from the 1941 disasters who had taken to the woods rather than died. As these mobile formations pushed deeper into the German operational rear, they received aid from these scattered forces. They got supplies by raiding the Germans, "making war support war", as Napoleon put it.

A cavalry corps "raid" could last a month or two and might lose half the force. But it would achieve something - cut off German forces, cut rail lines, flanks turned locally whenever the Germans tried to form a line rather than an all around hedgehog defense, raided HQs supply and artillery positions, etc.

Their successes in the winter of 41 convinced the Russians to keep them. In spring and summer, still in the north and speaking of defensive periods, they found other uses for them - screening long quiet sectors of bad terrain, patrolling areas far from roads or rail supply, etc. If there were serious Germans opposite, it was a rifle formation job, but there weren't everywhere and always. The theater was just too big.

In the south they had cross country mobility in the absence of roads, but not compared to tanks. They were used on secondary axes and during the exploitation phase of major offensives. What does that mean? Well, after the breakthrough, the tank arms is tear-assing into the German operational rear, and the Germans are railing in the kitchen sink to try to stop them. Meanwhile, the Russian rifle formations are laboriously mopping up the holdouts and trying to walk clear across Russia, hauling their supplies and ammunition in 2 wheeled carts.

The cavalry follow the tanks and provide them the sort of support infantry does otherwise, because the infantry is not up with them. The Mech guys have their own organic motor rifle for the tactical side of that, but to keep combined arms those have to stay right up with the tanks, most of the time. So somebody has to take the secondary axis, screen the river line just reached etc. Send cavalry.

E.g. in Uranus, when the tanks turn southeast to encircle Stalingrad, the 8th cavalry corps heads west to the Chir river instead. In Kutuzov, when 4th Tank army turns east to try to trap the Germans still in the Orel salient, a rifle corps from 11th Guards Army is pushing south through woodland to cut the east west rail line - and it gets its mobile support from the 2nd Guards cavalry corps.

Later, as the fighting moved to the huge marshlands of west-central Russia, the cavalry was called on to flank positions on either side of the Pripyat by making "hooks" through it. In the late war when it was a matter of crossing the Carpathians to enter the Balkans etc, cavalry would be sent at passes that wouldn't support full tank armies. And try to use them to turn the others.

Tactically, things varied somewhat with the season and region, because whether they actually had their tanks along depended on whether snow was 6 inches or 2 feet, whether it was marsh or open steppe, etc. When they had their tanks, the idea was to envelope with mounted cavalry and a few lights, and then hit the encircled enemies with T-34s and dismounts fighting as infantry.

It was generally an exploitation phase, so the enemy didn't have continuous full battle positions. They were trying to stop tanks at bottlenecks - river crossings, roads or rail, passable open gaps in woodland or marsh, etc. So enveloping tactically was usually possible, if you positioned things right beforehand. It they were too tough to crack, you'd just block the roads and cut the bridges etc behind them so they couldn't get away, and wait for the rifle masses to come up and eat them.

When they didn't have their tanks, they were in terrain where the enemy wouldn't have any either, and usually where visibility was quite limited, force to space low, etc. The idea then is to screen the enemy to blind him, send out scouts to get an intel advantage - a better picture of where everyone actually is, enemy and friendly - and then exploit it to gang up on some subunit of the enemy or cut it off etc.

If that last part isn't clear, understand, a very thin screen of cavalry could hold against enemy infantry forces in tough terrain, because there was a big honking reserve behind the thin screen, out of action - which thanks to its horses could reach any part of the screen in an hour, and would if they heard firing. Thin layers of scouts then find all enemy and send runners to HQ to piece it all together. When the commander sees it all laid out on a map, he notices enemy unit A is out on a limb, sends cavalry regiment D to block its retreat, and then takes the whole reserve to go kill enemy unit A. Repeat as necessary.

[ July 27, 2006, 08:32 AM: Message edited by: JasonC ]

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Originally posted by jtcm:

How do tanks fit in the picture at rifle level ? Would they be rare, because of choice not to penny-packet, and concentration in higher formation for break through fighting by mech elements ? Their place taken by SU-76s ? By 76mm firing direct ?

(again, consequences for your average CMBB scenario).

Breakthrough tank regiments (21 tanks, in two companies of 10 and one tank for the commander) would be assigned to rifle formations tasked with (well, duh) breakthrough. These would be Kv-1s, Kv-85, and then JS tanks. They would also be given independent SU regiments (same organisation as the tanks).

The reason that these tank companies were labelled regiments was supposedly that this made it possible to sub-ordinate a battalion of infantry to them, giving the tank unit commander command of the whole operation in his sector.

Outside breakthrough sectors, you would not normally see much, if any tanks.

All the best

Andreas

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Well not entirely right, Andreas. First on regiments, the Russian artillery regiments routinely had 16 or 20 pieces, and the SUs followed that as a matter of course. Same reason 31 StuGs was called a "brigade" - because things we'd think of as "platoons" were designated "batteries" in the artillery, and a battery is a company sized unit (for towed artillery manning reasons). So it was already normal for units of about 20 weapons to be designated a "regiment" in the Russian force structure. Not a command issue, just standard. You see the same in AA.

Heavy tank regiments had 21 tanks. There were also independent tank regiments equipped with lend lease vehicles, typically 40 or so, that were used to support the infantry for the most part. Valentines and such. There were also independent regiments equipped with Russian equipment, typically mixed T-70s and T-34s. In 1942 there were a lot of light tanks (T-60s e.g.) that were spread around supporting infantry, too. Sometimes these were with mixed formations that had a few KVs and T-34s, but frequently those were missing, and an RD might just have a regiment of T-60s and split them up as mobile MG nests and scouts etc.

Then there were larger armor formations that were subordinated to infantry armies. It was common for them to each have a tank brigade, and ones given an offensive role often had a single tank corps assigned to them as their breakthrough leaders and exploitation force. Sometimes a few regiments of SUs at army level, too - particularly late in the war, when there were scads of them. These would be assigned to a particular sector to beef up its antitank ability or to enable one rifle division to attack more effectively. The same happened with the independent tank brigades - those would generally pair with one RD, rather than being split over several.

These different layers of modest independent supporting armor forces let the higher ups pick the armor to infantry ratio. There were maybe 5 formulaic levels of this. A full tank army had 3 mech corps and attached SUs, sometimes a heavy tank regiment as well, and was expected to fight purely in the mech style, and was given important independent operational missions.

A single tank corps, on the other hand, was expect to act as a sword for the army it was assigned to, but fighting in the mech style. Usually it was kept together, though often one brigade would be held back in reserve, and the other two might find themselves reinforcing adjacent sectors with the prior infantry formations still present. On defense in particular.

A single tank brigade was not expected to fight on its own, but instead teamed with some larger formation and gave it armor support. Sometimes it would be split to defend. Or after a rifle regiment leads an attack, it hits the breech as a body and tries to widen it for the next one.

Single regiments aren't expect to fight alone either, and instead are supporting some combat team, subordinate to a particular division or mech corps commander. And they might well be penny packeted, as low as one platoon of SUs supporting an infantry battalion.

Last there is the level of "none", which you see for static defense or fighting in terrain unsuited to tanks. Also sometimes early one, say through mid 1942. But later, attacks in terrain where tanks could move at all would have one of the above levels of armor support. In cases of "none", towed guns used direct were the ranged overwatch arm, rather than tanks.

Sample levels of armor support in different operational roles - 11 Guards Army in Kutuzov hada major breakthrough role, and had been bulked up to the size of 2 standard armies. 2 tank corps worked alongside it and exploited through its breech - 1st and 5th - but remained operationally independent and subordinated to Western Front. 11th Guards itself had 4 tank brigades, a heavy tank regiment (KVs), a separate tank regiment (LL), and an SU regiment. The army total was 280 AFVs for 12 RDs. The neighboring 50th Army, initially defensive and screening a long sector, but eventually pressed into a subsidiary diversionary attack, had 1 tank brigade and 1 SU regiment, 87 AFVs total, for 7 RDs.

The Front level had 2 tank corps each with its own SU regiment, 3 extra tank brigades, and 5 extra tank regiments. It could and did dole out the independent brigades and regiments to beef up RDs in this sector or that. About half the armor was in the 2 TCs.

So overall, that front had 2 tank corps, 8 tank brigades, 7 tank regiments (for KVs and LL), and 5 SU regiments. It used half of the independent armor - a quarter of the total - to support the initial breakthrough effort and kept the other half initially in reserve to meet events. And unleashed the major TCs - with half the armor, used en masse but fighting mech style not rifle style - on day 2 of the offensive (basically).

What is characteristic of this thoroughly mixed system is that it puts flexibility in the hands of the Front and Army commanders for operational planning, while the lower divisional guys can't rely on a single set amount of support coming from a TOE. They get what the muckety-mucks give them.

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JK - penal unit fantasies are pretty much just that, fantasies by German side historians. There were indeed penal units in the Russian army, but a penal detail typically consisted in digging ditches or removing mines - dirty and hazardous duty far away from where it could do immediate operational harm to the rest of the army, if the f-ups f'ed up again.

There were also cases of penal units pressed into combat. But these were more in the nature of a second chance than a punishment. Combat was honorable. As in most armies, honor followed responsibility on the one hand and danger on the other. If a unit performed well in difficult and bloody combat, the men would be forgiven past errors.

One needs to understand the basic attitude a typical Russian soldier had toward the risks represented by the war, what he thought of his chances, and what he ascribed things to. The typical soldier did not expect to get killed. And the typical soldier didn't get killed. The typical soldier *did* expect to get wounded, even to get wounded repeatedly. He expected to bleed but to survive. And most did.

In a typical month long major operation, up to a third of the participating personnel might become casualties. The other two thirds - three quarters if things went well - would be unscathed. But face continued hazardous duty, of course. Of the third or quarter who became causalties, 3 out of 4 would be in the "medical" category - a stint in hospital - not permanent military losses. The last was largely a euphemism for dead, but included the cripples invalided home after loss of a limb, PWs, missing who deserted or went partisan etc. Each of them a slice of that quarter. Overall maybe a 6th of the causalties were actually killed.

A stint in hospital had various things to be said for it. It wasn't so dangerous as the front. It was cleaner. Creature comforts and society were better. Various opportunities for change of role in the war might present themselves as well. And one was honored, one had served and sacrificed, done one's part for the time being.

Few could expect to survive continued exposure to the risks of front line combat for the duration of the war. But wounds made that risk somewhat self-limiting, because months would be spent off the line recovering. A man worried about whether the wound he got would be mortal, or would maim him for life, or hoped it would be the kind that kept him out of action for a while but did not serious imperil him. But he expected to get one. When he "got his", he was off for the month.

There were of course jobs much less exposed than the front line infantry, and a man might go the whole war in them safely. He'd probably see a few people around him die and a number get wounded, but was unlikely to be harmed himself. And if he was, it would probably be a relatively minor wound from which he'd recover fully. These included rear area service and logistic roles, HQ roles, most of the artillery, engineering when it wasn't of the assault pioneer variety etc. The Russian army was short on such "tail" compared to the German, in particular, but it was a quarter to a third.

Some of the combat roles were less dangerous than others, as well. Tankers were much less likely to be frequently wounded than infantry. Heavy weapons crews and the average pioneer likewise. AA, arty. The most dangerous positions were in the infantry.

But infantry also had quiet sectors, screening operations, static defense. A man who had served well enough might earn promotion to NCO and might see a spell spent training others. Major operations required build up periods logistically speaking. Deep layered reserves have portions in the safer rear areas, and they rotate the roles, so spells in the line are interrupted by periods of relative safety. Then there is the hospital.

So men did not view military service as a death sentence - nothing like it. They thought the war could not be avoided and had to be won, that it was hard, that it demanded sacrifice, that they would be expected to try and to risk and to bleed. Some might angle for safety immediately, most sought to give enough for honor and then to survive.

Russian propaganda rapidly saw that patriotic appeal would do more than party nonsense or cynicism. They appealed to the defenselessness of Russian civilians and the harshness of the Germans, played up to be sure, but with plenty of reality to start from. And the men were simply and directly called on to interpose themselves between German soldiers and defenseless Russian civilans and to save their lives by fighting and bleeding for them. It was perfectly effective motivation.

They had a bigger morale problem originally, with the widespread contempt the rank and file had for Soviet leadership and for military command. The commanders seemed not to know what the heck they were doing, and its seemed folly to follow their orders. That improved after the battle of Moscow - that was vital to Russia simply because there had been widespread despair beforehand, and now they knew the Germans could be beaten. By the time of the end of the successful Stalingrad campaign, those problems were basically gone.

As for tank riders in particular, it was a prestigious role, thought of as hazardous certainly but also admired for prowess and bravery, as such roles usually are. You can see this in propaganda, which requires a grain of truth to work. Recon roles and rider roles were played up in Russian propaganda precisely because the rankers looked up to men who did such things, for their sheer balls. Undoubtedly most of that propaganda is schlock. But the underlying admiration had to be there for it to make sense even as schlock.

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