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date of publication: 09-12-2012

Deep Battle

It is often assumed that Germany was the first country to develop and perfect deep penetration armoured tactics. In fact, in the USSR in the 1930s, armoured theorists and vehicle engineers were pioneering tactics and tanks that would eventually win the war with Nazi Germany.

The First Five Year Plan (1929-34) and its successors created a massive industrial base that was vital to creating the massed tank forces being envisaged in the late 1920s by senior Red Army officers. In 1929 the Red Army possessed just 340 tanks: this had risen to 7633 by 1935, giving the Soviets the largest tank fleet in the world. Massive losses inflicted by the Germans between 1941 and 1942 cut the Soviet tank park from a colossal 28,800 (these figures include replacement and training vehicles) to just 1503. By 1945, the resilience of the Soviet army and thorough industrial planning had rescored the Red Army's tank park to 16,200 operational, replacement and training vehicles.

Deep Battle: Tank KV-1, the Red Army

The sheer weight of materiel undoubtedly made an enormous contribution to Soviet victory in World War II, but this factor must be treated with some caution. Until the late 20th century, the prevailing view of the: Red Army was typified by the remarks of Colonel Albert Seaton, who wrote that the Soviet armed forces at thar time (the interwar period) had no soldiers of genius and experience, and the Red Army was an indifferent imitation of the German Army. Soviet victories during World War II were explained as being the result of brute force and ignorance (read also Deep Battle). The Red Army operations lacked sophistication in their planing and execution, using sledgehammer blows rather than the finesse and precision of the German rapier blows.

These arguments were not without substance. During the war, the Red Army mounted offensives that had all the hallmarks of a crude battering-ram, composed of vast amounts of men and equipment, and which incurred massive casualties. At the same time, such an interpretation rests upon a number of false premises about the conditions under which the Red Army fought, and the peculiar nature of Soviet views on the conduct of armoured warfare.

Basically, at the outbreak of war, the Soviet Army was in trained and inappropriately equipped. The massive casualties it suffered in the first two years forced the Soviet High Command (STAVKA) to commit troops as quickly as possible to the fighting. a decision which denied them the time to train to the high tactical standards of the German Army. Although mass was a key factor in Soviet operations, STAVKA did not possess an inexhaustible supply of manpower. As early as 1943, it had anricipatcd in creasing manpower shortages in the future. In 1945 Soviet rifle divisions had only onequarter of their strength on paper, in a force that stood at 2700 men.

That the Soviets were able to compensate for this deficiency can be attributed to the skillful planning and handing of their forces to create massive concemrations of tanks, infantry and guns at specific points along the from to conduct deep (battle), armoured thrusts that overwhelmed German positions. More signifi cantly, the Red Army's success stemmed from the years 1925-1941, when it created an original and sophisticated doctrine and organization for its tank and mechanized forces. These ideas, with a different emphasis on the methods of fighting, make it is misleading to judge Soviet conduct of operations by Western standards. When viewed within the context of Soviet society and military thought, a totally different perspective emerges on the Soviet Army, and its design and employment of tank forces. It was not an indifferent imitation; on the contrary, it was boldly original.


In the 1920s the Red Army was concerned with three major questions regarding future war: first, the nature of war between modern industrialized states; second, the problems of overcoming powerful enemy defences with frontal assaults in order to achieve decisive success; and third, the potential impact of advanced technology on the conduct of battle. The Red Army set about answering these questions through rigorous analysis of the two most recent wars: World War I ( 1914-18) and the Russian Civil War (1919-21).

Deep Battle: Tank ISU-152, Soviet army

Careful study of these recent conflicts provided the basis for predicting the nature of the next major conflict involving the Soviet Union, and the methods of fighting that would be needed to achieve victory. Understanding these two issues enabled the Soviets to make balanced speculations about the potential impact of future advances in technology on the battlefield. This knowledge was invaluable in creating the organization and doctrine of the Red Army, and also for focusing Soviet scientific research on developing the weapons required ro fight and win a future war.

The Red Army's ability to solve its problems in such a sophisticated manner was the product of an open and vibrant atmosphere of intellectual debate. Marshal M.V. Frunze organized a staff consisting of Russian Civil War commanders, former Tsarist military specialists (voenspatsy) and radical Communist officers. The result of this unique mix of ideological, practical knowledge and theoretical thought was the creation of the concept of the Deep Battle at the end of the 1920s, followed by the radical Deep Operations idea in the mid-1930s. These two related concepes combined to establish the broad guidelines for the organization of Soviet tank forces and the types of tanks which would be required, as well as their roles in combat.

Ultimately, the ideas created by two decades of openness and innovation were crushed after 1937 by Stalin 's ruthless purge of the officer corps, which killed most of the originators of the Deep Battle and Deep Operation concepts, while fear silenced the survivors. Only in the desperation of defeat during the war did Stalin relent and allow the pre-war concepts to be re-introduced.