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date of publication: 10-12-2012

Deep Battle, Soviet tank


Deep Battle: Heavy Tank IS-2, Soviet tank

Of central importance to the evolution of Soviet military art (read also ) was an appreciation of the condicions of modern war, Citing evidence from World War I, the Red Army theorists concluded that the million-man armies created by modern industrialized states were too resilient and phys ically large to be defeated in a single campaign. Strategic victory in future conflicts would come through an accumulation of victories. With millions of troops engaged. the vast scale of the battlefield meant that numerous individual battles would occur. There was a real danger that these battles would become localized events, leading to a random pattern of success or failure in each one, which mi ght ultimately lead to great loss, but definitely no substantial gains.

To avoid this chaotic battlefield and to make sure that resources were used effectively for maximum gain, Soviet tank officers - amongst whom A.A. Svechin, M.N. Tukachevsky and V.K. Triandafillov were the most influential - argued that it was necessary to carefully coordinate multiple individual tactical battles based on sound logistics, towards achieving a single aim, which was known as the deep operation.

The method by which a higher-level commander prioritized and coordinated the tactical battles to achieve the operation's aim was known as operational art. Rather like the conductor of an orchestra, the operational commander's task was to blend numerous instruments. each playing their own solos, within the framework of one musical score. Alone, a single deep operation would still be inadequate for overcoming the enemy's vast resources; rather, strategic vierory would stem from the sum of several deep operation, planned and conducted one after the other and interconnected in time.

DEEP BATTLE AND ARMOUR (deep operation)

Having established the idea that strategic victory in future war would result from an accumulation of operational successes, each flowing from the ability to link individual battles to a common aim, the Red Army turned to the issue of achieving tactical success in battle. The Soviet tank paid particular attention to the nature of combat during World War I.

Deep Battle: Joseph Stalin, Tank force

Given that the Red Army concluded that tactical defence was based upon the concept of a succession of fortified lines in depth, it logically followed that the attacker would need to structure his forces in a similar fashion. Successive echelons would be necessary in order to retain sufficient force to overcome the entire defence. A detailed analysis of numerous battles in the war, most notable of these being the British attack at Amiens on 8 August 1918, involving over 400 tanks, emphasized the need for close tactical cooperation between infantry, artillery and o ther service arms. The Russian 1916 offensive under General Brusilov demonstrated that an attack on a broad from would tie down enemy forces, there by creating the conditions for a breakthrough with overwhelming force at pre-selected points on the front line.

In 1929 two works outlined a coherent doctrine incorporating Soviet tank observations on combat, termed : these were the 1929 Field Regulations (PU-29) and. more signifi cantly. Lieutenant- General V K. Triandafillov's book. The Nature of Operation of Modern Armies. The aim of Deep Operation was to penetrate all of the enemy's tactical defences, to a depth of approximately 10-15km (6.2-9.3 miles). Partially echoing the Brusilov offensive, Triandafillov argued that only a simultaneous attack across the front and entire depth of the enemy's tactical position could break the line and subsequently restore mobility to operation.

On the main axes of attack was to be conducted simultaneously by long-range artillery and air strikes against the enemy rear, and fromal attacks by deeply echeloned all-arms formations. in order to achieve a swift breakthrough. These concentrations of force were to be concea led from the enemy by maskirovka, a combinati on of deception, disinformation, security and camouflage, there by creating conditions of maximum surprise, and further weakening the enemy's ability to respond.


The significance of Triandafillov's work went beyond the idea of Deep Battle because it outlined the conduct of an operation, not just the tactical means, which was the focus of PU-29. His book also established the potential impact of massed tank formations in future combat, a subject largely ignored in the Field Regulations. Triandafillov's book was written on the eve of the First Five Year Plan which provided with the tank force he had outlined.

In 1930 an experimental armoured brigade was created under the command of K.B. Kalinovsky. Initially, it consisted of a tank regiment, an infantry regiment, an artillery division, and a reconnaissance battalion. In total the brigade had 60 MS-I tanks and 32 T-27 tankettes. By 1932 four regiments of increased size had been created at Smolensk, Leningrad, Kharkov and Moscow, while several territorial tank battalions also existed. These new forces were panly a result of the great rank programme of 1931, which had re-structured industrial production to create the massed tank force which were advocated by Triandafillov and Marshal M.N. Tukachevsky.

Deep Battle: Tank ISU-152, Tank force, Soviet tank

A commission to determine the organization of tank and mechanized forces was established in 1932. On advice received from this commission, the decision was taken to form the 11th and 45th Mechanized Corps in autumn 1932. Each corps contained a mechanized brigade of T-26 tanks (three tank battalions, a rifle battalion, an artillery division, an engineer battalion, and antiaircraft machine-gun company); a second tank regiment with an identical order of battle but equipped with BT tanks; a rifle brigade, and units under corps command (reconnaissance, engineers, flame throwing battalions, antiaircraft artillery division, traffic-control company and a technical supply base). Worth emphasizing is that in broad outline, this was close to German Panzer division organization, but with one exception: the first Panzer division was not created until 1935.

Deep Battle: Heavy Tank IS-2,  Soviet tank

In fact, K. B. Kalinovsky's experimental brigade played a vital role in testing Triandafillov's idea about the tactical employment of tanks in Deep Battle and the types of tanks required to fulfil each mission. There were three groups of armour: NPP (infantry support), DPP (long-range infantry support) and DD (long-range action/exploitation). The definitions of these groups was not related to their range of action, but to the particular tactical task to be performed in effecting a breakthrough of the entire depth of the enemy's defences.

NPP tanks were designed to clear a path for the infantry through the enemy's initial defences in order to effect a breakin. Their roles included crushing barbed wire left uncut by the artillery preparation, and des troying enemy strongpoints and tanks. They were also to assist in beating off enemy counterattacks. Trials established thar 15-16 NPP tanks were required to success fully attack 1 km (0.6 miles) of the front line. The tanks were to advance at intervals of 15-30m ( 16.4-32.8yd), following directly behind the creeping artillery barrage.

Deep Battle: Heavy Tank IS-2, Tank force

Infantry were to follow in waves not more than 100m (91yd) behind the tanks in order to mop up surviving enemy positions. If the tanks encountered obstacles, or defences that they were ill-suited to tackle, then the infantry were to move forward and attack under covering fire from the tanks. Once the enemy was destroyed, or engineers had created passages over or through the obstacles, the NPP tanks were to resume their position in the vanguard of the attack, once the artillery had resumed fire. These tactics were first used to varying degrees of effect during a series of border clashes with the Chinese in 1929.

Tanks in the DPP echelon were tasked with supporting the second echelon of infantry in continuing the breakthrough of the enemy's positions in depth. They operated with infantry and artillery in the same tact cal pattern as the NPP tanks. DPP tank groups were also tasked to seek out and destroy enemy artillery positions in depth ahead of the infantry, and destroy enemy sub-units in reserve to prevent them supporting units in more forward positions. The DD tanks would assist those forces carrying o ut the final stages of the breakthrough.

The T-26 light, T-28 medium and heavy T-33 tanks developed in the late 1920s were designed to carry out NPP and DPP roles. By the outbreak of war, these vehicles had been replaced by the stronger KV-1 and KV-2 heavy assault tanks. As the war progressed, the more powerful KV-85, IS-1 and IS-2 tanks - as well as SU-122/152 and ISU-122/152 self-propelled guns capable of withstanding improved antitank weapons - were introduced. (read also ) was used during all phases of the assault, depending on the strength of enemy defences.