Soviet "by the book" tactics
in the Winter War
The Army of Soviet Union (the Red Army) was based on the old imperial
army of Russia.
The old cadre of professional officers was more or less destroyed
by the purges of Stalin. A large part of the new officers were chosen
by political abilities, more than military abilities.
The Red Army gained experience in their civil war, wars against
Poland and Japan. But the experience gained by those wars were not
generally usable in large all-out war. Nevertheless those wars influenced
the evolvement of tactics in the Red Army.
The Field regulations of the Red Army from 1929 where active offense
was extremely emphasized, but at the same time, the attacking formations
were tied down by strict rules. For instance the order of the battle
(OB), positioning and the width and depth of the attack sectors were
all regulated. The tactic was attack by masses, where the numbers
ruled over spirit.
In 1936 a new temporary Field regulations, gave more freedom to
commanders as the previous one, but was still quite restricting. Although
the new temporary field regulation was some three years in use, the
old '29 field regulations had left its stiffening mark on the
tactics used in 1939.
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Order of battle
The forces were divided into a attack group and a support group,
which were deployed in depth of two or three waves to ensure maneuverability.
If needed a reserve should be formed to counter any unsuspected events.
In an attack the Attack group should be strong enough to destroy
the enemy throughout the attack sector. The majority of supporting
(tanks and artillery) elements are committed to the attack group.
The support group was to tie down the enemy along
the front by small scale attacks. The support group was to be relatively
weak and attack with local objectives only. Only when the attack of
the Attack group shakes the the enemy defenses, should the support
group join in the decisive attack maneuver.
The regiments of the attack group deployed side by side, the regiments
deployed their battalions in 2 or 3 echelons. The battalions in
the 2nd a 3rd echelon received their orders at the same time as the
1st echelon. Their mission was to develop the success further and
support the 1st echelon without additional orders. The battalions
in the 1st echelon were given attack sectors, while the battalions
in the 2nd and 3rd echelon received only attack directions.
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In an attack, the main objectives were:
- The enemy was to be caught in an enveloping attack
on one or both flanks,
- By a mixed force of tanks and infantry, cut off
the routes of retreat from the main force of the enemy (deployed near
- and with the help of air support, armor and cavalry
units, prevent the rear elements of the enemy to escape.
The enemy was to be tied down along the whole front, encircled and
eventually destroyed, instead of pushing the enemy back.
The recon units should try to find out if the enemy has open flanks,
if none can be found, a preferred target for the attack is the boundary
between enemy units.
- The divisional tank units were used in infantry support, except
the long-range tank group, which was to create havoc in the enemy
rear area, by overrunning artillery positions etc. , when a breakthrough
- The artillery was to be divided into attack support groups, which
supported the regiments of the attack group, and sub-support groups
to support battalions and companies. They were committed to different
units as was thought to be necessary.
Corps- and Army-artillery units (normally large
caliber artillery) were used to form long range-support groups, whose
mission was counter battery fire, prevent the enemy to move his reserves,
bombard road-junctions, HQs, and to neutralize enemy AA-positions.
Super heavy ( > 152 mm) artillery was used against strong fortifications.
Infantry commanders ordered the use of artillery in detail.
The artillery was to destroy the tactical (front-line
division) defenses in depth.
- The air support was to be used by massing them to attack tactical
targets, which couldn't be suppressed or destroyed by artillery or
other means, and attack enemy reserves.
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When the enemy was not in prepared positions, the 1st
echelon battalion, in the Attack group, should be supported by an
artillery battalion and a tank company, or by two artillery battalions.
The attack sector could have a max. width of 600 meters, but if there
was more tank and artillery support available, the width could be
as much as 1 000 meters
The total width of the Attack group, of a normal division (not strengthened
by extra artillery & tanks) , could be 2 000 - 2 500 meters, and
if a division was strengthened by a artillery regiment and a tank
battalion, 3 000 - 3 500 meters The total attack-sector width of a
division (Attack group + support group) could be twice as wide as
the width of the Attack group.
- The main mission of the artillery was to support the advances
of; 1) the long range tank group, 2) infantry support tanks, 3) the
infantry. The main force of the organic artillery, and all extra artillery
units were to be used in the support of the Attack group.
If the number of artillery pieces (not including
the long range support group) numbered 30 - 35 pieces /km and the
number of tanks available equals 2 tank battalions, the duration of
the preliminary bombardment could be reduced to 1 hour. If no tanks
were available, the bombardment could take even 3 hours, and if the
enemy was strongly entrenched, considerably more.
If, on the other hand, large numbers of tanks and
masses of artillery was available, the enemy front-line could be bombarded
only for 10 - 15 minutes, after which the artillery could start to
"escort" the tanks by moving the bombardment ahead of the
tanks (300 - 400 meters / artillery battalion) .
The moment of launching the infantry attack was the moment when
the tanks broke into the defense line. If no tanks were available,
the infantry commander signaled the artillery (usually with flares)
to move the bombardment behind the chosen attack point.
If the enemy had a secondary line, the breaching of that line was
also to be included into the original attack order.
If the enemy was in prepared positions, the time used in preliminary
bombardment and air attacks was increased, and the attack sectors
of the 1st echelon battalions narrowed.
| It's very important to remember
that the following echelons were given their orders beforehand.
They were to fight their way past the 1st echelon and encircle
The attack was to
meant to advance like an armored steamroller into the rear of
the enemy crushing all opposition.
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a schematic display of the Soviet artillery tactics
(as it was used during the Winter War)
||Regimental artillery (regiment's organic artillery
and possibly attached batteries.) bombarded the Finnish front-line
in both direct and indirect fire.
Divisional artillery targeted also road junctions and other
places of thought importance. The fire was unobserved until
on some places, captive balloons were taken into use. Many
batteries fired with only increasing and decreasing elevation,
"sawing" the targeted area back and forth.
The heavy (long distance) Corps- artillery units fired on
targets in the Finnish rear area. The fire from these guns
was most devastating when used to destroy Finnish defenses.
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a schematic display of Soviet tactics used in the Bay of Viipuri
to capture Finnish held islands
||The island was first attacked by Soviet aircraft
and artillery was brought up to fire both indirect and direct
After the bombardment had begun, tanks surrounded the
islet providing support and cutting off any escape attempts.
After the defenders had been suppressed, the Soviet infantry
spread out to in order to attack from several directions
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The objectives of defense was:
- to save strength on a broad front, in order to conduct a decisive
attack in a chosen direction
- to buy time for the concentration of forces to conduct an attack
- to buy time on a secondary direction until an attack on the decisive
direction produces results
- to hold a ordered area
- to wear an attacking enemy down and shake it, and switch to attack
The strength of the defense was thought to base on the use of fire,
terrain, field fortifications and chemicals (?) .
The defense should be organized so, that the enemy infantry could
be destroyed in front of the line, and the enemy tanks are prevented
to break into the defensive positions. Any breakthroughs are destroyed
by artillery and a counterattack by Soviet tanks.
The importance of Antitank (AT) defense is very
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When a division deploys for defense without contact with the enemy,
the defense position normally contained:
- in front of the defense position, a pioneer-chemical obstacle zone,
which was defended by small infantry detachments with artillery support.
The front edge could be as far as 12 km from the actual defense line.
But if the division had contact with the enemy,
no pioneer-chemical obstacle zone was formed. The form and position
of the pioneer-chemical obstacle zone should deceive the enemy about
the position of the main defense position.
- the security zone, which contained several strongpoints with a maximum
distance of 3 km from the main defense position.
- the Main Defense position
- a rear position 12 - 15 km behind the main defense position
A division deployed for defense, forms a defense perimeter 8 - 12
km wide and 4 - 6 deep, A infantry regiment forms a perimeter 3 -
5 km wide and 2,5 - 3 km deep, and a infantry battalion a perimeter
1,5 - 2,5 km wide and 1,5 - 2 km deep.
The battalion perimeters in the front-line had
their perimeters touching each other without any gaps, and defensible
to every direction (all-round defense).
The mentioned width and
depth depended on terrain and available AT-weapons.
To deceive the enemy;
- the main defense line should be placed, in front of or behind, ridges
or hills avoiding any conspicuous terrain and pattern
- in front of the main defense line, especially along suspected approach
routes, deception lines should be created running diagonally from
the main line, from where the enemy could be caught in a crossfire.
The deception line should be manned by forward guards.
- deceptive works, obstacles, bunkers etc. should be made
- all defense works should be carefully camouflaged
Within the defense perimeter;
- all HQ's and artillery positions should be protected by a circle
- MG's and other infantry weapons should be deployed in depth, and
as many ambush positions should be made as possible
In case of an attack, the supporting group (front-line battalions)
was to give the enemy a devastating blow rendering him incapable to
continue the attack. If the enemy managed to achieve a breakthrough,
the attack group (reserve) destroys the enemy with a counterattack
and in a favorable situation transform the situation in a strong attack
against the shaken enemy.
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Below is a
schematic display of Soviet defenses
(as encountered by the Finns in the Karelian Isthmus)
| In the security zone , the Soviet units had several
small forward positions armed relatively strong with MG's and LMG's
The main defense line was deployed with relative depth, employing
large numbers of MG's and LMG's
The Attack group and reserves
Artillery positions were protected with strong rings of
MG's, AT-guns and tanks.
The Attack group, strengthened by tanks, is positioned in a junction
enabling quick response to many directions.
Tanks patrol on the roads behind the front.
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The Soviet Field regulations have also mentioned winter
warfare. What makes winter warfare special, is the snow cover, coldness
and the short period of daylight.
The winter have the following effects in the operations;
- The importance of urban areas in providing shelter and a place for
rest, for the troops.
- The need of skis when moving out from the roads
- The increase of marches in dark
| ( Interestingly ) The Soviet Field regulations
had the following notion: "The maneuverability of the troops
in winter, depends entirely on their experience in winter warfare,
their winter gear and the nature of the terrain.
Troops which don't have had practice for winter warfare
and are not properly equipped, will quickly lose their combat
effectiveness, while their heavy equipment (unsuitable for winter
operations) will become a burden.
If the enemy has any of these weaknesses, our troops should
use it to their own benefit and try to actively and relentlessly
destroy the enemy."
(Note:This is my own translation from a Finnish text, so it's
likely that it's not a precise translation from the original Russian
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The unique characteristic
In the areas north of Lake Ladoga, the Finns encountered
a surprising characteristic in the Soviet soldier. In cases, where
he became surrounded, he rather dug in, than tried to break out and
retreat towards friendly lines.
In the Finnish operations in the area, many Soviet
pockets were surrounded, and the surrounded units formed defensive
circles using whatever equipment was present (called "Motti"
by the Finns) . As the food & other supply situation worsened,
breakthroughs were attempted, but in most cases, the surrounded soldiers
showed remarkable passiveness (quite often, the lack of Finnish manpower
led to the point where several Motti's were guarded only by frequent
ski patrols, and still no breakout attempts were made) .
The usual Finnish lack of artillery resulted in
the habit of letting the cold and hunger to weaken the Motti's before
it was attacked. The Finns learned to respect the almost inhuman resilience
of the Soviet soldier, enduring cold and hunger remarkably long.
Below is an
example of a Soviet defense of a motti
1) the Lemetti - Uomaa road
2) an entrenched AT-gun
3) Soviet tank
4) artillery pieces in direct fire positions
5) Soviet shelters (connected with trenches)
This is the western part of the "West-Lemetti Motti"
or the "Armor Motti" ("Lemetti lšntinen"
or "Panssarimotti" in Finnish). The defenders dug
in on January 11th, when they were harassed from every direction
The west Lemetti Motti was very strong. The tanks had formed
a ring of mobile pillboxes which proved out to be hard to
destroy, as the Finns had only satchel charges and Molotov
cocktails. Also the lack of artillery was a handicap. The
infantry had entrenched between the tanks.
The West-Lemetti Motti was in two parts, the other one being
the so-called "Mylly" ("Mill" in English)
strongpoint. The western part was destroyed on February 2nd
at 0315 hrs. After that the Finns concentrated against the
strongpoint "Mylly", which was stormed on February
4th at 0430 hrs.
- From the western part, the following war booty was captured;
25 tanks (from which many were captured without damage) ,
2 field guns (76 RK 27) , 1 AT-gun (45 mm) , 1 AA-mg , 2 field
kitchens , 12 trucks . It appears that all rifles, mg's and
lmg's were taken into use by the Finns immediately, because
no data remains of the number of captured infantry weapons.
- From the strongpoint "Mylly", the following war
booty was captured; 7 tanks , 2 field guns , 1 AT -gun , one
82 mm mortar , 13 front wagons for field guns , 4 field kitchens
, 26 trucks , 4 cars , 10 horse carriages , 1 radio station
, a field bakery , the equipment of the division's orchestra.
Again, most of the infantry weapons were taken into use, but
this time 5 LMG's , 1 MG and 210 rifles were handed over to
be transported to the Finnish depots.
For more information of this subject
go to "Motti's"