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date of publication: 11-12-2012

Deep Operation

Beginning of Deep Operations

Deep Operations: Light Tank BT-5, the Red Army

The ideas of Deep Battle were crystallized in the 1936 Field Regulations (PU-36). Although banned during Stalin's purges, the 1936 regulations were re-introduced during World War II as the 1944 Field Regulations (PU-44), forming the basis for successful Soviet military operations in the latter stages of the war. However, Deep Battle was only one part of a more sophisticated Soviet approach to armed operations whose outline was sketched out in the early 1930s by Lieutenant-General V.K. Triandafillov. Although Triandafillov died in an air crash in July 1931, notes he had made earlier provided the basis for a series of posthumous lectures given In 1933 which was enritled Fundamentals of the Deep Operation, in which Triandafillov, in conjunction with a number of other theorists. pointed out that the was only the opening phase of an operation, and as such was designed to breach the enemy's front by the application of overwhelming force in order to annihilate the enemy's forces.

The next, and key, phase was to exploit the attack into the enemy's rear to inflict a decisive blow over a wide area in order to gain time and space. This concept, termed the Deep Operation, was based on Soviet realization that modern mass armies were systems whose ability to function and carry out their missions was dependenc upon efrective interaction between the front and rear. If the fighting mass of the enemy at the front could be separated from headquarters, supplies and reserves in its rear, it would cease to function and lay itself open to defeat. Unlike Deep Battle, which emphasized encirclement and physical destruction of enemy forces in order to break through the front line, the was concerned with djsrupring, or paralysing, an enemy's organization, command and control to great depth, an effect termed 'operational shock'. It was concluded that an enemy force which was suffering from the after-effects of operational shock would be far easier to defeat in detail because it would not be capable of coordinating a large-scale resistance.

the Red Army: Medium Tank T-34/76B, Soviet armed force

The Deep Operations concept was startlingly original. It should be emphasized that it was radically different to the German Army's ideas for conducting large-scale offensives, which would utilize new technology to carry out their traditional method of encirclement and then total annihilation of the enemy. Beyond a tactical level, the Germans would never emphasize disruption of the enemy as the key to success.

In conducting the Deep Operation, the Red Army outlined the procedure for the use of four echelons that were to interact simultaneously to generate maximum tactical and operational shock: the holding force; the strike force: the development echelon: and the desanti echelon. The holding forces were to fix the enemy across the whole front. and in the meantime the strike forces - with their NPP, DPP and DD tank groups - were to smash a series of large holes throughout the entire depth of the enemy's tactical defences.

Soviet Armed Force: The Tank riders, Tank T-34 photo 1

This was the Deep Battle, and its aim was to create the conditions for the development and desanti echelons to implement the Deep Operation. The former was to be conducted by large tank, mechanized and cavalry formations driving at great speed into the opponent's deep rear. The desanti echelon involved the landing of paratroops ahead of the armed formations in order to increase the effect of the deep strike. Radically for the time, the Soviets experimented with landing light tanks and vehicles from aircraft in order to increase the firepower, mobility and consequently the shockeffect of their airborne forces.

A variety of techniques were envisaged for employing the armed forces. The frontal blow was designed to slice up the whole from and rear of the enemy into a series of isolated groupings. The turning movement involved placing a large strike group of armed forces in the enemy's rear to threaten his line of retreat, or strike his from-line forces from behind. It was also designed to psychologically disrupt the enemy by forcing him to deal with the equally unenviable choices of fighting to his front and rear, or risking a retreat with a powerful Soviet armed force along his exposed flanks. A double envelopment of enemy forces by armed groups was a possibility, depending on the circumstances.

Whichever of these techniques was adopted, it was the interaction between fighting across the front and the forces manoeuvring at great depth that was responsible for generating the operational shock, collapse and success which would come about during an offensive.


In defensive operations the Soviets envisaged the use of armour in several ways. Forward tactical defences comprised strongly fortified and deeply echeloned lines supported by massed artillery and antitank fire. Tanks were employed on likely avenues of enemy attack to support the infantry in an antitank role and to spearhead local counterattacks. At the operational level, large Soviet tank and mechanized forces were deployed as a second echelon in the deep rear.

Deep Operations: The Tank riders, Soviet Armed

The task of these forces was twofold. The first was purely defensive; if the enemy managed to breach the main line of defence, then the second echelon armed forces were to move up and counterattack in order to restore the front line. The second was offensive. The Red Army's primary aim in a defensive operation was to grind the strength of the enemy's main assault forces down in its deep tactical defences. This would create the opportunity for the use of the second echelon tank and mechanized forces to deliver a counteroffensive. This blow was intended not simply to restore the front line, but also to develop a major attack beyond Soviet territory into the enemy's rear in order to inflict a decisive defeat on him.

In this manner, was able to establish a close relationship between defensive and offensive operations, in which it first created the conditions for a seamless shift to the latter. During World War II, it was the fighting during the Battle of Kursk which demonstrated the Red Army's use of a strong defence to wear down a German attack before an offensive.


The principles of the Deep Battle and the initial ideas about Deep Operation were extensively tested by the Soviets in manoeuvres during the 1930s. The two largest were those held in the Kiev Byelorussian Military Districts in 1935 and 1936 respectively. The Kiev manoeuvres, which were su pervised by Army Commander First Rank I. E. Yakir, involved VIII and XVII Rifle Corps, XXXXV Mechanized Corps, II Cavalry Corps and 9th Cavalry Division.

The exercise involved the penetration of a strong enemy defence and its exploitation by the cavalry. coordinated with airborne landings deep in the enemy's rear by elements of a parachute and two air-landed rifle regiments. In the summer of 1936 the Byelorussian Military District tested deep armed manoeuvres in conju nction with airborne landings under the supervision of the districr commander, I. P. Uborevich. The foreign military observers who were present at these trials were, on the whole, impressed by the sheer scale and sophistication of the Soviet forces they saw at work out on the testing grounds.

Deep Operations: Medium Tank T-34/76D, Soviet Armed

However, despite the sophistication of Soviet armed theory and the skillful organization demonstrated during manoeuvres, the Red Army was not a fully effective combat force. Deficiencies in tactical training and handling of troops were starkly exposed in the Russo-Finnish War. The mobilization of manpower reserves in the face of the threat from Germany between 1939 and 1941 prevented and inhibited effective reform because of lack of training resources and instructors as the army numbers rose to a strength of over five million.

When war with Germany broke out on 22 June 1941, the Red Army suffered a series of massive defeats because it was caught unprepared, with troops and officers who were poorly trained and equipped. In the opening months of the war, damning after-action reports from officers of the armed inspectorate revealed the dire state of the : over 30 per cent of tanks needed extensive repairs. Command staffs were not adequately trained, lacked radios and, in some cases, even went without maps.

Logistic and maintenance support was poorly appreciated and badly organized, leading to 40-50 percent of tanks being lost th rough lack of fuel or mechanical problems. Crews had not mastered the new KV and and had no training in field repairs. Some examples of the tactical handling of tanks was inept in the extreme. In one engagement when the lead tank of a column of Soviet tanks was destroyed, rather than deploying into a firing line, each remaining tank filed past rhe disabled vehicle. As the nexr leading rank was disabled, the unit, still in column, side-stepped round again. In minutes, the whole unit was destroyed.

Neither had the Soviets managed to resolve all the issues concerning the use of armed forces in Deep Operations. Critically the question of whether to commit the tank exploitation forces during the last phase of the breakthrough or after its complerion was not answered. Neither was the distance between tank forces openning in the enemy's rear. Prewar work on resolving these issues had been cut short by Stalin's purges of the officers corps, which ended research into Deep Operations. These problems, as well as the tactical and command skills required to implement Soviet theory, would have be learned during the war, and learned often at great cost.