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Discussion of Soviet Offensive Tactics


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Not to mention the fact that the Soviets were on the strategic offensive for this entire period. Assuming equally capable opponents (which is clearly not the case here), you would normally expect the attacking side to take higher casualties in exchange for gaining territory.

Actually the opposite is correct - a successful attacking force with local superiority will often inflict higher casualties on the unsuccessful defender. Furthermore more of an unsuccessful defender's casualties will be permanent missing in action (either WIA becoming KIA because unable to retreat or becoming prisoners) than the successful attacker's casualties, the WIA of which are more likely to be picked up, treated and returned eventually to the colours

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What Kensal said and a bit more too.

Loss rates and starting odds do not corollate easily when talking about large samples over long periods of time. That's because larger factors, which are not necessarily a direct result from a battle, really start to influence the higher number. One of the best examples of this is the Ruhr Pocket.

Roughly speaking the Germans had a 1.3:1 advantage in manpower and were on the defensive in defendable home terrain. Yet when the battle concluded the Germans had suffered 100:1 casualties when the 300,000+ prisoners are factored in. I don't know that there's any solid casualty figures from the fighting itself, but I expect they were also higher compared to the Allies'.

So if one just looks at this large scale battle, one could come away with a totally distorted concept of casualties and ratios.

When we look at specific Soviet operations from Bagration to the end of the war we see a mix of results. In some cases, like Vitebsk and Orsha, the Germans lost big time at the front and then even bigger because they couldn't get themselves out of trouble. Then when you look at things like the Forgotten Battles or the Praga battles, they don't come off looking as good. But overall they won and in the end that's what matters most.

Steve

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Hi,

Actually the opposite is correct - a successful attacking force with local superiority will often inflict higher casualties on the unsuccessful defender. Furthermore more of an unsuccessful defender's casualties will be permanent missing in action (either WIA becoming KIA because unable to retreat or becoming prisoners) than the successful attacker's casualties, the WIA of which are more likely to be picked up, treated and returned eventually to the colours

I am not sure that is true.. if forces are of equal quality ;).

There is the “if you use it you lose it” rule....

Having said that, the details matter. From memory, will have to look it up another day, you need to get to about 7 : 1 , attacker to defender, before aggregate casualties for the attacker fall below those of the defender. At say 4 : 1 the attacker will lose less in percentage terms but still more in number so individual casualties. And the above figures are at the operational level.

But detail matters. When I have time will look up the figures. Kensal, Yankeedog and Womble can be correct depending on the detail/assumptions.

However, at the overall level of the war in the east in ’44 YankeeDog is correct in that given the force ratio of say 3.2 : 1 and casualty ratio of around 1.3 : 1 does suggest that quality was in the same ball park. Soviets did things very differently, but probably equally well.

Remember German ration strength in June ’44 in the East was, from memory, 2,089,000. Casualties from Nov ’43 to Nov’44 about 2,100,000. Soviet ration strength in June ’44 6,400,000 in Front Armies. Casualties over all of ’44 around 2,700,000.

This clearly has big implications for quality amongst others.

All interesting stuff,

All the best,

Kip.

PS. did not see Steve's post.... will look up the figures... yes there is data on this sort of stuff no matter how imperfect.

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Hi,

Soviet : German casualty ratios were a lot closer than many like to believe by ’44. If you upgrade Soviet ’44 losses to account for Forgotten Battles and discharged due to disability and sickness you get a figure of 2,738,000. German losses for Nov’43 to Nov’44, counting the same way... including disabled due to wounds you get 2,100,000. Scarily close given that the Soviet Front Armies were three times the size. German frontline units were suffering far higher attrition rates than Soviet units, on average, from about August ’43 onwards. German frontline officers, NCOs and men of all ranks had on “average..” a far shorter shelf life than their Soviet opponents. From mid ’43 onwards.

Mawdsley's Thunder in the East (Hodder 2005) quotes slightly different figures, albeit the methodology is different, so they both could be right:

Having noted the difficulty of statistical accuracy and differences in methodology, he gives German losses in the East for the period 1 October 1943 to 31 December 1944 as being 1,403,000 deaths (including subsequent deaths amongst prisoners), compared to 2,354,000 Soviet casualties, including prisoners (the majority of whom also died later). He notes that the third quarter of 1944 i.e. July-September 1994, during operation Bagration and its follow up, was the only quarter in the entire war on the Eastern front when German losses exceeded Soviet losses, by 518,000 to 511,000.

For the period from June 1941 to 30 September 1943 (2 years and 3 months) he gives 1,339,000 German deaths (including those who died in captivity) compared to 8,119,000 Soviet casualties, (including over 3,000,000 prisoners who died in captivity).

It is clear that the Soviets managed to change the loss ratio from the extremely disadvantageous in 1941 and 1942 to very disadvantageous throughout 1943 to disadvantageous in the first half of 1944 to nearly (but not quite) equality in the second half of 1944.

They managed to do that by playing to their strengths which meant in mid 1944 smashing a section of the German front with such overwhelming forces and overwhelming follow up forces, that the German defenders could not retreat and could be destroyed in much larger numbers than had previously been possible.

I am not sure though it is correct to characterise German units generally suffering much higher attrition rates than Soviet units across the whole Eastern front during this period - from mid-1943 to June 1944 Army Group Centre did not suffer a great deal of attrition as most of the fighting involved the southern army groups. However it was pretty much wholly destroyed in the space of 2 months from June 1944. Attrition isn't really the word...

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The Germans were only defeated because the Soviets hit them over and over and over and over again within a tiny amount of time. If they had just given it one Western style push they would not have done much than dislodge the Germans in a number of places and pushed them back.

Think of it like WW1. What would have happened at Verdun if the Germans were able to commit twice as many forces and condense the whole offensive down to a couple of months? German casualties would have been much higher, but perhaps the war would have gone to the Germans and not dragged out for 2 more years with them losing.

The Germans in Bagration were largely defeated because they simply couldn't keep a cohesive front. And they couldn't keep a cohesive front because the Soviets didn't take a break. The Soviets didn't take a break because they kept shuffling new forces into the fray.

It's a totally different mindset. It's akin to one of my old favorite sayings... if you can't fix it easily, get a bigger hammer :D

Steve

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The Soviet loss numbers, even today, are very suspicious.

The archives are locked, and only certain academicians are allowed access and only to specific files.

Different time frame, but of interest: One author (Soviet) trying to uncover the truth about his father's death just before operation typhoon, is a Soviet historian. He lists, exhaustively, strengths, equipments, and casualties. Of 3 fronts, 2 of them lose about the same number of rifles as they lose men. One front loses 3x the number of rifles as they lose in men. That is suspicious. Did that many men, over MONTHS, drop their rifles and run? Were the rifles never issued, so this was how the front covered up for it?

Or, did one report correctly list the equipment issued/returned, and another report dealing with manpower get manipulated?

The Soviets won. The price they paid is higher even than they have yet admitted.

Ken

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So, what strategy/tactic would you think is a good way to counter this soviet offensive, theoretically?

More firepower like the van fleet load in Korea?

Good start would have been not stripping from the army group all the mot and armoured divisions to shore up the southern army groups. Such units provided the reserves to eliminate the penetrations and retake the lost terrain. Stripping Army group centre of 1/2 it's artillery, 1/2 it's StuG's/tank destroyers, 88% of it's Panzers and the units/manpower that contained all that offensive power proved to be a fatal error.

Not losing all those afv in Normandy and southern France which were really their to rebuild after zittdle would have been a big help too. aka not fight a two front war.

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There's a video presentation by Glantz of that here:

http://www.carlisle.army.mil/AHEC/mediagallery/videogallery.cfm?id=32

(scroll right down to the bottom)

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Later war, some German commanders understood the Soviet method.

Recon/probe

Huge buildup

Preplanned assault starting at one end and continuing across multiple units (stress the whole frontline so the Germans cannot shift reserves out of the line)

Someone, somewhere, will break through

If it is near the planned point, send the Tank Corps through the hole

The breakthrough element will plunge through to a certain depth, then have to stop for refuel, rearming, and replacing.

The flexible defense can parry that. But it needed two things that the Germans didn't have: leadership (Hitler) that let subordinates react to their situation; more reserves.

The defense needed to give ground and the ground needed to be given up to create a defense.

However much that would've delayed the end, I don't see how Germany could've kept the Soviet Union from winning, especially with the US/Brits sealing them off on their west.

FWIW.

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Tactical nuclear weapons, at least up 'til the mid '80s when NATO began to think they may have a chance in the conventional fight.

Yep I was questioning more of the conventional means as once things go nuclear who knows what'll happen:rolleyes:

Later war, some German commanders understood the Soviet method.

Recon/probe

Huge buildup

Preplanned assault starting at one end and continuing across multiple units (stress the whole frontline so the Germans cannot shift reserves out of the line)

Someone, somewhere, will break through

If it is near the planned point, send the Tank Corps through the hole

The breakthrough element will plunge through to a certain depth, then have to stop for refuel, rearming, and replacing.

The flexible defense can parry that. But it needed two things that the Germans didn't have: leadership (Hitler) that let subordinates react to their situation; more reserves.

The defense needed to give ground and the ground needed to be given up to create a defense.

However much that would've delayed the end, I don't see how Germany could've kept the Soviet Union from winning, especially with the US/Brits sealing them off on their west.

FWIW.

Thanks c3k that makes some sense to me, although not exactly sure what you mean by flexible defense. I've heard multi-layered defense lines but reckon that's pretty common when fighting against mobile mechanized forces; also I know there're reserves in a defense so one can plug the broken hole but apparently you said once the soviets attack the reserve is immediately tied?

I'm a bit new to this so excuse me if the Q's rather basic. For sure it's obvious Germany doesn't have the resources or the, should I say, political freedom to stop the offensive but just trying to think of a way to counter the doomy and gloomy reds in CM.

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Thanks c3k that makes some sense to me, although not exactly sure what you mean by flexible defense. I've heard multi-layered defense lines but reckon that's pretty common when fighting against mobile mechanized forces; also I know there're reserves in a defense so one can plug the broken hole but apparently you said once the soviets attack the reserve is immediately tied?

The two things C3K mentioned are critically interlinked. For Bagration the Germans lacked operational and strategic flexibility, due to direct interference from Hitler and his lackeys (FM Busch, for example). The Germans also lacked adequate reserves. They needed both, but flexibility was the more immediate one.

What is meant by flexibility? First of all, the frontline was not very well laid out. It was based on "we have this ground so we hold this ground to the death". Very stupid way of fighting a long term war. Which means at the strategic level the front should have been shifted westward during the Spring. It would have been tricky to do militarily, but it would have freed up forces and improved logistics. However, this was not to Hitler's liking and so instead of sacrificing something that was going to be lost anyway, he tried to hang onto it and lost everything in the process.

Operationally the German frontline commanders' hands were tied to the absolutely idiotic concept of "Fester Platz". Apparently everything learned about Maginot Line was forgotten. The Germans were being asked to defend a fixed line of fortifications that were underbuilt and undermanned. When the defenses were pierced there weren't the reserves to close the gaps, thus making the remaining defenses deathtraps. When the German frontline commanders tried to withdraw they were instructed not to. They pretty much all ignored these orders, but too late and so they were mowed down or captured.

And here is where the mobile reserves were supposed to work. As C3K said, the Soviet concept was to hammer the whole front and see which spot wound up cracking then flood through. The Germans would then have to counter the breakthrough wherever it happened to be. In order to do this they needed significant mobile reserves at regular intervals to the rear of the front. The Germans did not have enough forces in general nor the correct types. And because of that they couldn't respond fast and well enough to challenge the breakthroughs.

OK, so what could the Germans have done? Strategically pull back to pretty much the prewar boundaries, leaving a buffer of Soviet territory. Obviously never a realistic consideration with Hitler in charge, so definite pie in the sky.

Operationally they could have realized that no matter what they did the Soviets were going to break through SOMEWHERE. A careful analysis would have shown where the most vulnerable places were and those should have been either abandoned during the Spring or predetermined to be given up as soon as the offensive started. Plans based around this would have allowed the Germans to form a more defendable line and had it's meager resources better allocated for it.

Also keep in mind that Hitler was convinced the attack would come further south against Army Group North Ukraine. Because of the Soviet's superior capability for hiding their intentions and the German's superior ability to screw up intelligence gathering, the German side was top to bottom ill prepared for Bagration as it played out.

I'm a bit new to this so excuse me if the Q's rather basic. For sure it's obvious Germany doesn't have the resources or the, should I say, political freedom to stop the offensive but just trying to think of a way to counter the doomy and gloomy reds in CM.

Tactically there's a lot that can be done in CM to win against the Soviets. At CM's scale the Soviets lost *frequently* during the Bagration and follow up operations. It's just that these minor tactical victories didn't mean anything in terms of the overall outcome. It's like a guy going into a knife fight with a pointy stick (yes, there is a reference there!). He may score a couple of good gashes on the other guy, however in the end he's stuck like a pig and gets a toe tag at the end of the day.

Steve

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...

Thanks for the reply steve. Did a bit research of my own, mostly about how NATO planned to do it. Seems it comes down to defense in depth, fighting withdrawal and then counter attack. It's like... fighting an axe carrying giant 5 times your size with a bow and arrow, by shooting him repeatedly while running away.

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...as once things go nuclear who knows what'll happen:rolleyes:

Simple: Lots of people die, if not from immediate effects, then from the fallout. Depending on many variables, central Europe might become pretty uninhabitable for generations. Think Chernobyl on a much grander scale.

And that's just from a localized use of tactical nukes. If it escalated into an all out nuclear exchange, you can pretty much kiss vertebrate life on the planet goodbye. People may have forgotten—if they ever knew—just how horrible nuclear war could be. I hope we can appreciate just how lucky we were that cooler heads on both sides never decided to take that step.

Michael

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I think the Fester Platz thing was a direct result of Model's success in crushing the Soviet Operation Mars in 1942.

Model in 42 actually reverted to experiences in successful WWI western front battles.

* Continuous defensive forward line thinly held

*multiple static lines (Hitler wanted just one line)

*centralised artillery (WWII the Germans tended to parcel out arty and it's control to Divisions or lower)

*Tactical reserves

*forward intelligence sourced by combat units, reconnoissance, signals intercept battalion/div level Intelligence pers as opposed to OKH intelligence appreciation.

The issue was in 1942 Army group centre was in a much better position in manpower, arty and Panzer's relative to the attacking Soviet Armies.

German

1,615 tanks

450,000 men

Soviets

1,718 tanks

702,923 men

Compare with Bagration where you're looking at over 5000 soviet tanks verses little over (initially) 500 you can see the massive shift in force disparity. Multiplier was the fact that the strategic and tactical reserves meant to plug holes was now down south.

Note that WWI style multiple lines, reserves and centralised arty was broken by both the German Spring offensive and to a much larger extent the allies setpeice offensives during 1918.

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Thanks for the reply steve. Did a bit research of my own, mostly about how NATO planned to do it. Seems it comes down to defense in depth, fighting withdrawal and then counter attack. It's like... fighting an axe carrying giant 5 times your size with a bow and arrow, by shooting him repeatedly while running away.

It would not have worked, maybe in the so called Fulda gap, but look at the North where the Germans and the BAOR were expected to parry a Soviet shock Army (3rd) which was only the first echelon of the attack. The force ratios are worse than at Bagration.

There is a reason why the French and the British needed "tactical" Nukes and the experimentation with "tiny" tactical nukes such as M28/9 with were carried out and employed for a time. This weapon was short ranged enough that employment would quite likely dose the operators as well as nearby friendly units.

Safer tac nukes such as shells for M109's were only withdrawn from US units in Germany in 1991

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davy_Crockett_(nuclear_device).

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It didn't help that the German counter attacks, against, bridgeheads or spearheads, were unimaginative replicas of tactics used before and burned up armour in needlessly aggressive actions. The Germans seem to have bought into their, Slavic studies bull and not cottoned on to the fact the Russians had learned their costly lessons well. Spearhead flanks were heavily reinforced by anti-armour assets as they had a good idea where the blow would fall.

Secondly, the German production of unreliable uber-tanks played a role, unable to conduct long road marches they had to be transported by train and often debussed in such haste they could not establish a proper radio net. If they broke down, such was the paucity of assets to recover them and the speed of Soviet advances they were abandoned. The decision to go for small high quality units of armour, and investing heavily in their crews training, cost them dearly.

So yes, Grofaz's endless dictates did not help, but neither did hind-bound armoured doctrine, and a fatal underestimation of Soviet capabilities. NATO publically bought into the German 'military miracle' myth and lopsided casualty rates from the AIW's, as proof, they could counter the Soviet Threat conventionally. Western Germany's understandable insistence on forward defence and no first use doctrine, would have left the NATO units vulnerable to a similar Bagration style hammering. Though if certain accounts are to be believed, the first wave of Soviet invaders, would have been tactical nukes.

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I think the Fester Platz thing was a direct result of Model's success in crushing the Soviet Operation Mars in 1942.

And then the pocket battles that came later in winter 1943 and again in winter 1944. What Hitler "missed" was that these battles were extremely costly and were themselves desperate actions resulting from major screwups. They were something the Germans should have tried hard to avoid, not basing an entire strategy on it!

This is akin to someone getting a flat tire, finding they don't have a spare, scrounging around in a junkyard for one that ALMOST fits, then driving on it slowly for many miles before getting the old one repaired. Did it work? Yes. But the lesson here is to have the correct spare tire for the next trip. Hitler, would have said "no need for that, because we can instead find a junkyard and take 3 times longer to get to where we need to go".

Back to the post war generals blaming Hitler for their own failings. I don't think many German generals thought that the Fester Platz idea was a good one. They certainly didn't think it was when they didn't get the labor and resources they needed to execute it correctly. Now, perhaps many of those Generals didn't really conceive of how badly things would go, but I'm pretty confident that if they had a choice they would have advocated a different strategy instead of finding out.

I also agree that the Soviets win the Gold for the "most improved nation at war" award. Silver would go to the Americans, since they started out fairly unprepared and quickly recovered. Bronze goes to the Free French, if only because they had a LOT of help. Germany was in the running earlier in the war, but they peaked shortly after and then declined ungracefully over the years.

Hungary and Romania actually did pretty well in improving their capabilities. But all sorts of factors hampered them throughout the war.

Italy... I think it's better to just leave that one alone :D

Steve

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Gentlemen,

I think the discussion above, while useful and insightful, tends to overlook (or under-appreciate) the fact that holding ground is not merely a tactical consideration; holding ground means also holding manpower reserves and/or economic resources (or at least denying them to the enemy).

I think you'll agree that the whole Nazi military-economic model for Germany was essentially unsustainable - short of a swift and complete victory on the Eastern Front (and maybe even with it). And it tended to get increasingly worse with time and with ground lost. A bit like a person whose expenses are consistently higher than their income, can find certain logic in spending increasing amounts on lottery tickets, and/or taking out more and more loans - however slim the chance of success, the alternatives in their view might have differed only in the depth of the sh*thole they would end up in.

This all-or-nothing gambling style seemed to have served Hitler and the Germans surprisingly well for surprisingly long, so in some way it is understandable that they were reluctant to "jump off the tiger" and start giving ground - again, viewing the alternatives just as different shades of crappiness.

Just my humble opinion.

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