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The Soviet Tactics and Operational Art

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The Eastern Front is a very different proposition from France and Italy as we have been playing before. Certainly the Soviet tactics, operational art and strategic methods were quite unlike those of the Western Allies and the Germans to a certain extent operated in a different way. It is noticeable that units sent to the East with no experience often had a rough time before they acclimatised while threadbare units often performed very well simply through experience.

So I want to start a thread where we can collect our accumulated tactical knowledge for use in the game and in designing scenarios.

In the Repository under CMBB is an article which I wrote called "The Russian Way of War" together with a map pack which goes through basic Soviet tactics and operations, the idea being that it would give readers a background knowledge in one place so that they could understand what was going on when reading battle histories and help them design realistic scenarios. The attack section is based around the attack during Operation Bagration by 11th Guards Army on the 78.Sturm.Div at Orscha and gives unit information and a short history of the battle.

You can get the "Russia Way of War" from here:



Another great source of information is the old threads in the CMBB section of the forums - try old grogs such as JasonC and John Kettler for a start.

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It is noticeable that units sent to the East with no experience often had a rough time before they acclimatised while threadbare units often performed very well simply through experience.

Conversely there seems to have been a process of adjusting to the Western front as well.

There was a lot of discussion (and blame-gaming) during Normandy and the subsequent battle of France when Rommel and others accustomed to fighting the Western Allies accused the "East Front generals" of being too optimistic with their ideas of counterattacks in the face of British and American air superiority and firepower. They, in turn, accused Rommel and the "Westerners" of being pessimistic and static in their thinking.

I don't know if there was a similar process of adjustment at the unit level, but it's quite probable. Precautions against air attack, and generally not bunching up and being careless in the face of air and artillery, seem like obvious areas. It's noticeable that the Germans were able to maneuver with big units in the open during daytime in the East late in the war (check out e.g. picures from the counterattack in Poland) when this was a very risky proposition in the West.

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Taken from Glantz "The Soviet Conduct of Tactical Maneuver"


Tank Armies on the offensive, usually marched in two columns with two Mech/Tank Corps side by side with the rest following on behind.

Similarly Mech/Tank Corps marched with 2 Tank Brigades in column with the remainder following on behind.

This is illustrated by the diagram attached which is of the 2nd Guards Tank Army during the Vistula Oder Offensive.

This example is taken from the 2nd Tank Army during the Lvov Sandomir Offensive

At the head of these columns would be:

Recce Groups

(1 Tank Company and 1 Recce Platoon)

10km behind them came:

Mine and Road Groups

( 1 Tank Platoon and a company of sappers)

This units job was to clear the road of mines and mark the road.

2-5km behind them came:

Forward Detachment (1-2 for each Tank Corps)

1 Tank Brigade (34 x T-34)

1 SAU Regt (21 x SUs)

Motor Rifle Battalion - 2-3 Companies (200 SMG troops)

Tank Destroyer Battery (4 x 76mm guns)

Sapper Company (80 Engineers) with some pontoons

operating 30km in front of the Main Body

Main Body of 2 Tanks Corps, 1 Mech Corps and Army sub units.

These Forward detachments are a key element in Soviet Tactical thinking as they provide the maneuver element of the Tank Army being small enough to find ways through the defences but large enough to conduct a decent fight against retreating enemy forces or hold a bridgehead unitl the main body arrives.

Typical rates of advance were 30km a day and Forward Detachments were used by Combined Arms Armies as well:

69th Army in Lvov Sandomir Offensive Forward Detachment:

2nd Bn 240 Rifle Regt of 117th Rifle Division (SMG troops) mounted on trucks

1 artillery battalion (12 76/122mm guns)

1 Tank Destroyer Battalion (12 x 45mm AT guns)

1 Sapper Company (80 men)

1 SAU Regt (21 x SU76)

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Here is the order of March diagram. It can be seen in higher res. here:


Another good map showing Combat operations of the 2nd Motorised Rifle Battalion in the vanguard of the 19th Mechanised Brigade. Vistula-Oder operation


Tank Destroyer would usually be 45mm or 76mm towed guns

The tactics used were to form a fire support group in overwatch from the start line of the towed AT guns and SAU to suppress enemy AT guns, infantry, etc with the Motor Rifle Battalions mortars firing deeper into the enemy position. Then the tanks would launch a rapid attack across the open ground with infantry riding on the back, with the tanks rolling forward, stopping, firing in suppression and then moving forward again in a series of bounds until they reached the enemy line when the SMG troops would dismount and assault the final survivors.

45mm AT guns were widely used but they tended to be placed in pairs with cover to the front and firing off to one side. The next pair along the line would cover the front of the first pair and so on and so on down the line. They were aiming for side armour hits, this and the wide use by the Germans of light armour and half tracks kept the 45mm AT gun in business until it started to be replaced by the 57mm AT gun.


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Jan 1944 Zhitomir Operation

4 GTC as mobile group for 60 Army forms a forward detachment of:

381 Tank Bn

SAU Battery

2 SMG Companies

Jan 1944 Korsun Operation

Forward detachment of 6 Tank Army

233 Tank Brigade


Motor Rifle Bn

Tank destroyer battery

July 1944 Lvov Sandomir operation

Forward detachment of 5 GTA provided by the 1 Gd Tank Corps of

reinforced 17 Gd Tank Bde

Two leading Tank Corps of 2 Tank Army each put out 2 forward detachments of

Tank Bde


2-3 SMG Companies

Sapper Company

details as my post above

The follow on Combined Arms Army the 69th puts out its own forward detachment, the purpose of which is to keep contact with the Tank Army. I have given its strength above but it was mounted on 50 trucks taken from the Army/Front Automobile Park. These would probably be GAZ-AA or Ford 6 1.5 tonne trucks as the four wheel trucks would normally only be used by artillery regiments as prime movers.

Jan 1945 Vistula Oder Operation

All Tank units put out 2 Forward Detachments:

Tank Army = Tank Corps

Tank Corps = Tank Brigade

Tank Brigade = Reinforced Tank Bn

Combined Arms Armies put out 2 Forward Detachments:

CA Army = Tank Bde

Rifle Corps = Rifle Regt

Rifle Division = Rifle Bn

So the 69 Army again puts out two FD to keep up with the 2 Tank Armies for example:

1006 Rifle Regt

41 Auto Regt

220 Separate Tank Bde

89 Separate Heavy Tank Regt

507 Tank destroyer Regt



Mortar Bn

Gd Mortar Bn (MLR)

Sapper Co

This in turn would form its own FD of a reinforced battalion.

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Great info, guys. Been playing CM since the 1st demo (which ran OK on the computer in Labor and Delivery while I was in med school lol), but just too damn busy except to sit back and admire for the past 10 years.

Let me just say I think it's fantastic that a bunch of guys exist who care so much about this stuff and getting it *right*.

I have zero interest in something which isn't realistic. To me, it's just a waste of time, since I view wargames as tools to better understand history - not just games.

For that reason, info like this is just great to have. I really appreciate the effort that people put into this. I just wish I had more time to contribute.

Anyway, Thanks is what I wanted to say.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Being a bit reluctant to start any new threads for a while:D, I dug this one up (from page 9 already!) to ask about Soviet small unit tactics in CM and "gaminess".

So, how much can I split my Soviet squads and not be too "gamey? Are the limitations in CM for them...C2 breakage for example... self-correcting?

In Normandy, MG, and GL, I almost always split squads almost all the time, except when moving up to the front on larger maps or when one way or the other it is safe to get close to the enemy. I do this for both Axis and Allies.

I have tried to limit splitting Soviets, and when I do, I keep the sections (or squads/platoons as the case may be) in relatively close proximity, unless they are Recon and even then I don't let them wander too far from each other or their HQ. Those red lines generally turn brown mighty quick, so, combined with experience, motivation, and leadership values, is the CM game engine keeping me "honest" and in the spirit of soviet doctrine when I do split?

I view the scenario designer's briefing firm orders from my overlords, so my Soviet forces generally move straight for the objective, but of course flanking when possible. Even then, it will be a whole squad/platoon/company as the case may be, rather than Western Front's squad leader saying "you send your section/team 200 yds over to the right, I'll take the other section 200 yds beyond that and try to get behind them and Sgt. Rock will keep 3 team here as a base of fire". In addition, as further tactical self-discipline, I try to keep my squads and platoon on task with my plan...3rd platoon, you take that farm complex...in which case I will make 3rd continue on to do so, or die trying, instead of changing their orders and having them attack that piece of woods with the 2 MG42's off to the right of the farm they discovered on their approach.

Hmmm, I'm not sure I am conveying my concern very well, but, in essence, I try to limit my Soviet's flexibility contrary to my West Front tactical habits. But do I really need to, or will the game mechanism take care of that of me!

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