home » category of tanks » Stalin's legacy » Soviet Doctrine
date of publication: 27-02-2013

Soviet Doctrine, Tank Gun

24-Hour Battle

Soviet doctrine also emphasized continuity of operations: the 24-hour battle in all weather and conditions. Ironically the most impressive demonstration of this was during Operation Desert Sabre, the brief land campaign by Coalition forces (largely US and British) in the Gulf War of 1991. Soviet infantry were trained to fight from the armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and not to dismount if at all possible. Engineers were forward to clear minefields and bridge gaps.

Soviet Tank T-54/55

Firepower included tactical nuclear weapons as well as persistent and nonpersistent chemical agents, the latter including nerve agents. The planning for the release of nuclear weapons, which would normally be air-burst. would be conducted at Front level, but the decision to use them would have been made at higher levels. Chemical agents, depending on their nature, would either be ground-burst or air-burst, and one of the most favoured delivery systems would be the truck-mounted BM-21 122mm (4.8 in) multiple rocket launcher.

Soviet doctrine favoured the use of armour in massed multiple formations, and since it offered protection to its crews against radiation and chemical contamination, it was the ideal arm with which to explo it gaps in defences caused by chemical or tactical nuclear attack.

Faced by a defensive position that was still able to offer resistance. Soviet doctrine stated that it should either be penetrated or bypassed. Given that forces as small as a Motor Rifle Regiment had a frontage of about 5-10km (3.1-6.2 miles) in which to manoeuvre, tactical circumstances would often have obliged them to make a frontal attack. However, if they could manoeuvre, they had a choice of deep or close envelopment.

Soviet Tank T-72

Deep envelopment drew on the old Deep Battle principles, and it would have been executed at Front level. Areas where defences were light, like mountain or arctic regions, were the most favourable terrain for executing a deep envelopment manoeuvre. Close envelopment could be used against one (Okhrat) or both flanks (Obkhod) and would be supported by fire from the attacking troops rocket or artillery batteries. These types of close-envelopment manoeuvres might also be launched in conjunction with a frontal spoiling attack.

To undertake these missions, the GSFG had two formations: the Motor Rifle Division (MRO) and the Tank Division (TO). A combined-arms army would have had two to four MRD, and two TD backed by artillery, engineers and signals. The most obvious distinguishing feature between them was the number and type of tanks and APCs. The MRO, with a Tank Regiment (TR) with 95 tanks, and three Motor Rifle Regiments (MRR) with 31 tanks, also deployed the eight-wheeled BTR60P APC and the T-64 or T-72. The TO was the opposite: with three TR and one MRR, it had 316 medium and 17 , and 190 APCs. The MRR had the BMP tracked amphibious APC.

Just as the became the model by which medium tanks were assessed in the 1940s, so the BMP - developed in the 1960s and first seen in public in 1967- set a new standard in APC design. In fact, it was not an APC, a 'battle taxi' that would carry an infantry section into battle, but a whole new concept: a Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle (MICV). With a 73 mm (2.9 in) turret - mounted gun and a 9M14 Malyutka (AT-3 'Sagger'), the BMP-1 had the gun and ATGW combination that would only emer service with the West when the US Army accepted the Bradley and the British the Warrior MICV in the 1980s.

The BMP had its drawbacks: it was cramped and the suspension could give a nauseous ride at speed cross-country. However, in 1970 it was years ahead of other designs. Since then the USSR, and now Russia, have continued to improve on the original concept with new armament and ATGW and a two-man turret in the BMP-2. The armament could be used either for self-defence, or for shooting in the infantry squad if it had dismounted to attack an objective.

Soviet Tank T-72

Like earlier Soviet designs, both the less sophisticated BTR and the BMP are vehicles that have been updated and modernized: the BMP-1 has now gone through three marks and is currently fielded as the BMP-3. The BTR60P, a design that dates back to the 1950s, has grown through to the BTR-80, a chassis that is used as an APC, and for armoured recovery, chemical agents reconnaissance and as a 120mm (4.7 in) armed SP tank gun.

The proponents of Deep Battle would also have been delighted to discover that the Tank and Motor Rifle Regiments now had their own mechanized artillery: the SO-152 Akatsiya 152mm (5.9 in) and the SO 122 Gvozdika 122mm (4.8 in) self-propelled tank gun. As antiaircraft defence, there were wbeeled and tracked surface-co-air missile launchers, and the formidable ZSU-23-4 Shilka radar-controlled quad 23mm (0.9 in) tracked AA gun. These vehicles were new, but officers would have noticed that the new generation of medium tanks that entered service in the 1950 and 1960s looked familiar.

Though the T-54, T-55 and T-62 had a turret and hull as well as, main armament that was unrecognizable from the mid-1930s, they had Christie suspension with characteristic big wheels. Even later vehicles like the T-72 and T-90 have a similar suspension, though they have idlers to ensure better track tension. However, this similarity is not surprising, since the T-54 grew out of the T-44, a modification of the T-34/85. The first prototype T-54 was completed in 1946 and production followed at Kharkov in 1947. For a design that is over 50 years old, it is still extremely successful, with large numbers still in service around the world and numerous updates and modifications. Taking a good basic design and improving on it meant that the tank was to develop through the T-55 up to the later T-62.


Even as late as the mid-1980s, the rough old veteran of World War II, the infamous T-34/85. was still soldiering on. The largest users were North Korea with 250, followed by Syria with 200, while Cuba. Egypt and Iraq had 100, and Israel had a similar number which had been captured from her Arab neighbours. Besides being manufactured in factories in the USSR: the was also made in Poland from 1953, and in Czechoslovakia from 1951. The Czechs built 3000 tanks, some of which were supplied to Egypt in 1956. It is only appropriate that the famous, war-winning T-34 should have had such a lasting effect on tank warfare.