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date of publication: 25-02-2013

The Warsaw Pact

OPERATION 'BAGRATION' (continuation)

On 5 March 1946, speaking at Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill had used a phrase thar defined the split between the Communist East and Capitalist West. 'From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the to continent.' Three years later the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established to bring together the countries of western Europe and Iceland, Canada and the United States in a defensive treaty in the face of Soviet pressure. In September 1949 the USSR exploded its first atomic bomb; some asserted that the days of conventional war were over. Massed armour backed by mobile infantry and artillery would not be used in action again.

Soviet Forces Tank T-54/55

Stalin died in 1953 and the military leaders like Marshal Zhukov who he had feared as potential rivals were recalled from exile in remote commands. From 1955 onwards Zhukov pressed to upgrade the equipment for the ground forces, including new APCs.

When in 1955 West Germany, with its own independent army, joined NATO, Moscow countered by establishing the Warsaw Pact. This treaty group included the USSR, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. The lines were now drawn for nearly 35 years of tension in Europe and plans for attack and defence. During this time, Warsaw Pact - or and infantry were deployed, but to suppress outbreaks of anti-Russian nationalism in East Germany, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The main purpose of the Warsaw Pact and notably the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG) was as an offensive force that could be used to bring political pressure to bear on the West. If the West appeared so weak and demoralized and the USA had become isolationist. the opportunity might present itself to GSFG and its Warsaw Pact allies to make a swift attack combining the tactics of with weapons of mass destruction: nuclear and chemical weapons. The experience of Operation Barbarossa had convinced the USSR that it would never be caught on the defensive again and that from now on, attack would be the best form of defence.


An attack on West Germany had three obvious axes, with a secondary through Austria. The main objective would be the federal capital of Bonn on the Rhine. To the north, the Second Guards Army. Third Shock Army and Third East German Army would drive acrosFwars the North German Plain against British forces. In the centre, the Eighth Guards Army would drive through the Fulda Gap into US forces, while to the south, the First and Fourth Czech armies would be responsible for attacks against Nuremberg in the US-defended areas.

Soviet Tank T-54/55

If they were committed to attack, Soviet commanders identified three types of action based on their experience in World War II: the meeting engagement; engagement of defence; pursuit. In the meeting engagement, both forces were moving, and by careful use of reconnaissance, the attacking off the march aimed to hit their opponent in the flank or rear. The engagement of defence was an attack against a hasty or prepared defensive position, and in these circumstances Soviet forces aimed to have a local superiority and go for the classic Deep Battle penetration, with attacks on the flanks and rear. With the tactics of pursuit, the Warsaw Pact nations aimed to give their fleeing enemy not a moment's rest. By maintaining continuous contact, they would ensure a complete defeat and thus prevent a new line of defence from being established.

From their wartime experience had developed a system of echelons for all their major elements. The first echelon, the main attacking force charged with seizing or destroying the primary objectives, had about two-thirds of the strength of the force-committed. The second echelon, following up, to concentrated on the subsequent objectives and other tasks. This was known as leapfrogging and allowed the second echelon to continue the offensive.

Replacement of casualties in the attack was achieved by units 'passing through' other formations. It was essential to use this method to maintain the momentum of attack. Against organized defences and without recourse to nuclear weapons, Soviet planners predicated a rate of 30km (18 miles) a day, and if nuclear weapons were used, this fact went up to 60km (36 miles) a day.

The echelon concept was peculiarly and was employed to break through German Army defences. These defences were normally in two layers. The second line was intended to hold a penetration long enough for a counterattack to restore the front line.