Strategy and tactics
The Axe Theory
For decades, Western military theorists have unanimously asserted that any nuclear war would begin with a first stage during which only conventional weapons would be used. Then, after a certain period, each side would begin, uncertainly and irresolutely at first, to use nuclear weapons of the lowest calibre. Gradually, larger and larger nuclear weapons would be brought into action. These theorists hold varying views on the period which this escalation would take, ranging from a few weeks to several months.
Being unopposed, this theory was to be found in the pages of both serious studies and light novels-the latter being fantasies with happy endings, in which a nuclear war was brought to a halt in such a way that it could never recur.
The theory that a nuclear war would take a long time to build up originated in the West at the beginning of the nuclear age. It is incomprehensible and absurd, and it completely mystifies Soviet marshals. For a long time there was a secret debate at the highest levels of the Soviet government-have the Western politicians and generals gone off their heads or are they bluffing? It was concluded that, of course, no one really believed in the theory but that it had been thought up in order to hide what Western policy-makers really believed about the subject. But then the question arose: for whose benefit could such an unconvincing and, to put it mildly, such a silly idea have been dreamed up? Presumably not for that of the Soviet leadership. The theory is too naive for specialists to believe. That must mean that it was devised for the ignorant and for the popular masses in the West, to reassure the man in the street.
The first American film I ever saw was The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner in the main role. At that time all I knew about the Americans was what Communist propaganda said about them and I had not believed that since my earliest childhood. Thus it was from a cowboy film that I began to try to form my own independent opinions about the American people and about the principles by which they live.
American films are not often shown in the Soviet Union, but after The Magnificent Seven I did not miss a single one. The country as I saw it on the screen pleased me and the people even more so-good-looking, strong, masculine and decisive. It seemed that the Americans spent all their time in the saddle, riding on marvellous horses in blazing sunlight through deserts, shooting down villains without mercy. My heart belonged only to America. I worshipped the Americans-in particular for the decisiveness with which they kept down the number of crooks in their society. The heroes of American films would submit for long periods and with great patience to humiliation and insults and were cheated at every turn, but matters were always settled with a dramatically decisive gunfight. The two enemies gaze unflinchingly into each other's eyes. Each has his hands tensely over his holsters. No exchange of curses, no insults, not a superfluous movement. Dramatic silence. Both are calm and collected. Clearly death has spread its black wings above them. The gunfight itself almost represents death, for each of them. They look long and hard into each other's eyes. Suddenly and simultaneously both of them realise, not from what they see or hear, not with their minds or their hearts but from pure animal instinct, that the moment has come. Two shots ring out as one. It is impossible to detect the moment at which they draw their guns and pull the triggers. The denouement is instantaneous, without preamble. A corpse rolls on the ground. Occasionally there are two corpses. Usually the villain is killed but the hero is only wounded. In the hand.
Many years passed and I became an officer serving with the General Staff. Suddenly, as I studied American theories of war, I came to an appalling realisation. It became clear to me that a modern American cowboy who is working up to a decisive fight will always expect to begin by spitting at and insulting his opponent and to continue by throwing whisky in his face and chucking custard pies at him before resorting to more serious weapons. He expects to hurl chairs and bottles at his enemy and to try to stick a fork or a tableknife into his behind and then to fight with his fists and only after all this to fight it out with his gun.
This is a very dangerous philosophy. You are going to end up by using pistols. Why not start with them? Why should the bandit you are fighting wait for you to remember your gun? He may shoot you before you do, just as you are going to slap his face. By using his most deadly weapon at the beginning of the fight, your enemy saves his strength. Why should he waste it throwing chairs at you? Moreover, this will enable him to save his own despicable life. After all, he does not know, either, when you, the noble hero, will decide to use your gun. Why should he wait for this moment? You might make a sudden decision to shoot him immediately after throwing custard pies at him, without waiting for the exchange of chairs. Of course he won't wait for you when it comes to staying alive. He will shoot first. At the very start of the fight.
I consoled myself for a long time with the hope that the theory of escalation in a nuclear war had been dreamed up by the American specialists to reassure nervous old-age pensioners. Clearly, the theory is too fatally dangerous to serve as a basis for secret military planning. Yet, suddenly, the American specialists demonstrated to the whole world that they really believed that this theory would apply to a world-wide nuclear war. They really did believe that the bandit they would be fighting would give them time to throw custard pies and chairs at him before he made use of his most deadly weapon.
The demonstration was as public as it possibly could be. At the end of the 1960s the Americans began to deploy their anti-missile defence system. They could not, of course, use it to defend more than one vitally important objective. The objective they chose to protect was their strategic rockets. They did not decide to safeguard the heart and mind of their country-the President, their government or their capital. Instead they would protect their pistol-in other words they were showing the whole world that, in the event of a fight, they did not intend to use it. This revelation was greeted with the greatest delight in the Kremlin and by the General Staff.
The philosophy of the Soviet General Staff is no different from that of the horsemen whom I had watched riding the desert. `If you want to stay alive, kill your enemy. The quicker you finish him off, the less chance he will have to use his own gun.' In essence, this is the whole theoretical basis on which their plans for a third world war have been drawn up. The theory is known unofficially in the General Staff as the `axe theory'. It is stupid, say the Soviet generals, to start a fist-fight if your opponent may use a knife. It is just as stupid to attack him with a knife if he may use an axe. The more terrible the weapon which your opponent may use, the more decisively you must attack him, and the more quickly you must finish him off. Any delay or hesitation in doing this will just give him a fresh opportunity to use his axe on you. To put it briefly, you can only prevent your enemy from using his axe if you use your own first.
The `axe theory' was put forward in all Soviet manuals and handbooks to be read at regimental level and higher. In each of these one of the main sections was headed `Evading the blow'. These handbooks advocated, most insistently, the delivery of a massive pre-emptive attack on the enemy, as the best method of self-protection. This recommendation was not confined to secret manuals-non-confidential military publications carried it as well.
But this was trivial by comparison to the demonstration which the Soviet Union gave the whole world at the beginning of the 1970s, with the official publication of data about the Soviet anti-missile defence system. This whole system was, in reality, totally inadequate, but the idea behind it provides an excellent illustration of the Soviet philosophy on nuclear war. By contrast to the United States, the Soviet Union had no thought of protecting its strategic rockets with an anti-missile system. The best protection for rockets in a war is to use them immediately. Could any one devise a more effective way of defending them?
In addition to such elementary military logic, there are political and economic reasons which would quite simply compel the Soviet command to make use of the overwhelming proportion of its nuclear armoury within the first few minutes of a war.
From the political point of view, the turning point must be reached within the first few minutes. What alternative could there be? In peacetime Soviet soldiers desert to the West by the hundred, their sailors jump off ships in Western ports, their pilots try to break through the West's anti-aircraft defences in their aircraft. Even in peacetime, the problems involved in keeping the population in chains are almost insoluble. The problems are already as acute as this when no more than a few thousand of the most trusted Soviet citizens have even a theoretical chance of escaping. In wartime tens of millions of soldiers would have an opportunity to desert-and they would take it! In order to prevent this, every soldier must realise quite clearly that, from the very first moments of a war, there is no sanctuary for him at the other side of the nuclear desert. Otherwise the whole Communist house of cards will collapse.
From an economic point of view, too, the war must be as short as possible. Socialism is unable to feed itself from its own resources. The Soviet variety is no exception to this general rule. Before the revolution, Russia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia all exported foodstuffs. Nowadays they have not enough reserves to hold out from one harvest to the next. Yet shortage of food leads very quickly to manifestations of discontent, to food-riots and to revolution. Remember what happened in Novocherkassk in 1962, throughout the Soviet Union in 1964 and in Poland in 1970 and 1980. If socialism is unable to feed itself in peacetime, when the whole army is used to bring in the harvest, what will happen when the whole army is thrown into battle and when all the men and vehicles at present used for agriculture are mobilised for war?
For these reasons, the Communists are forced to plan any adventures they have in mind for the second part of the year, for the period when the harvest has already been brought in, and to try to finish them as quickly as possible. Before the next season for work in the fields comes round.
The Strategic Offensive
Soviet generals believe, quite correctly, that the best kind of defensive operation is an offensive. Accordingly, no practical or theoretical work on purely defensive operations is carried out at Army level or higher. In order that they should take the offensive, Soviet generals are taught how to attack. In order that they should defend themselves successfully, they are also taught how to attack. Therefore, when we talk of a large-scale operation-one conducted by a Front or a Strategic Direction-we can talk only of an offensive.
The philosophy behind the offensive is simple. It is easy to tear up a pack of cards if you take them one by one. If you put a dozen cards together it is very difficult to tear them up. If you try to tear up the whole pack at once you will be unsuccessful: you will not be able to tear them all up, and, furthermore, not a single card in the pack will be torn. Similarly, Soviet generals attack only with enormous masses of troops, using their cards only as a whole pack. In this way, the pack protects the cards which make it up.
Observing this principle of concentration of resources, in any future war the Soviet Army will only carry out operations by single Fronts in certain isolated sectors. In most cases it will carry out strategic operations-that is to say operations by groups of Fronts working together in the same sector.
The scenario for a strategic offensive operation is a standard one, in all cases. Let us take the Western Strategic Direction as an example. We already know that this has a minimum of three Fronts in its first echelon, one more in its second echelon, and a Group of Tank Armies in its third. The Baltic Fleet operates on its flank. Each of its Fronts has one Tank Army, one Air Army and two All-Arms Armies. In addition, the Commander-in-Chief has at his disposal a Corps from the Strategic Rocket Forces, a Corps from the Long-Range Air Force, three airborne divisions and the entire forces of Military Transport Aviation. The rear areas of the Strategic Direction are protected by three Armies from the National Air Defence Forces. A strategic offensive is divided into five stages:
The first stage, or initial nuclear strike, lasts for half an hour. Taking part in this strike are all the rocket formations which can be used at that stage, including the Corps from the Strategic Rocket Forces, the rocket brigades of the Fronts and Armies, the rocket battalions of the first division echelon and all the nuclear artillery which has reached the forward edge of the battle area. The initial nuclear strike has as its targets:
Command posts and command centres, administrative and political centres, lines of communication and communications centres-in other words, the brain and nerve-centres of a state and of its armies.
Rocket bases, stores for nuclear weapons, bases for nuclear submarines and for bomber aircraft. These targets must be knocked out in order to reduce Soviet losses at the hands of the enemy to the absolute minimum.
Airfields, anti-aircraft positions, radar stations, to ensure the success of the offensive breaks in the enemy's defenses, must be made for Soviet aircraft. The main groupings of the enemy's forces. Why fight them if they can be destroyed before a battle can begin?
In addition to the forces directly under the command of the C-in-C of the Strategic Direction, units of the Strategic Rocket Forces will also play a supporting role in the initial nuclear strike. These will concern themselves in particular with attacks on the enemy's principal ports, in order to prevent the enemy from bringing up reinforcements and in order to isolate the European continent.
Soviet generals consider, with good reason, that an initial nuclear strike must be unexpected, of short duration and of the greatest possible intensity. If it is delayed by as much as an hour, the situation of the Soviet Union will deteriorate sharply. Many of the enemy's fighting units may move from their permanent locations, his aircraft may be dispersed on to motorways; divisions of his land forces may leave their barracks, his senior leaders may move, with their cabinets, to underground shelters or to air-borne command posts and the task of annihilating them will become extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is why the maximum possible number of nuclear weapons will be used to deliver an initial nuclear strike.
The second stage follows immediately upon the first. It lasts between 90 and 120 minutes. It consists of a mass air attack by the Air Armies of all the Fronts and by all the Long-Range Air Force units at the disposal of the C-in-C of the Strategic Direction.
This attack is carried out as a series of waves. The first wave consists of all the available reconnaissance aircraft-not only those of the reconnaissance regiments but also the squadrons of fighters and fighter bombers which have been trained in reconnaissance. In all, more than a thousand reconnaissance aircraft from the Strategic Direction will join this wave; they will be assisted by several hundred pilotless reconnaissance aircraft. The primary tasks of the aircraft in this wave are to assess the effectiveness of the initial nuclear strike and to identify any objectives which have not been destroyed.
Immediately behind these aircraft comes the main wave, made up of all the Air Armies and Corps. Nuclear weapons are carried by those aircraft whose crews have been trained to deliver a nuclear strike. The targets of this wave are in the same categories as those of the rockets which delivered the initial nuclear attack. But, unlike the rockets, these aircraft attack mobile rather than stationary targets. They follow up after the rockets, finishing off whatever the latter were unable to destroy. Among the first of their mobile targets are: tank columns which have managed to leave their barracks, groups of aircraft which have succeeded in taking off from their permanent airfields and in reaching dispersal points on motorways, and mobile anti-aircraft weapons.
The Soviet commanders believe that this massive air activity can be carried out without heavy losses, since the enemy's radars will have been destroyed, many of his computer systems and lines of communication will have been disrupted and his aircrews and anti-aircraft forces will have been demoralised.
While these massive air operations are taking place all staff personnel will be working at top speed on evaluation of the information which is coming in about the results of the initial nuclear strike. Meanwhile, all the rocket launchers which took part in the initial nuclear strike will be reloading. At the same time, too, the rocket battalions of the divisions and the rocket brigades of the Armies and Fronts, which did not take part in the initial strike because they were too far behind the front line, will move up to the forward edge of the battle area at the maximum possible speed.
All aircraft will then return to their bases and the third stage will begin immediately.
The third stage, like the first, will last only half an hour. Taking part in it will be even more rocket launchers than those involved in the first stage, since many will have moved up from the rear areas. The thinking behind this plan is simple: in battle the enemy's prime concern will be to hunt out and destroy all Soviet rocket launchers; each of these should therefore inflict the maximum possible damage on the enemy before this happens. The aim is to destroy all those targets which survived the first and second stages, and to put the maximum possible number of the enemy's troops and equipment, especially his nuclear weapons, out of action.
The fourth stage lasts between 10 and 20 days. It can be broken down into offensive operations by individual Fronts. Each Front concentrates all its efforts on ensuring success for its Tank Army. To achieve this the All-Arms Army attacks the enemy's defences and the Front Commander directs the Tank Army to the point at which a breakthrough has been achieved. At the same time, the entire resources of the Front's artillery division are used to clear a path for the Tank Army. The rocket brigades lay down a nuclear carpet ahead of the Tank Army, and the Air Army covers its breakthrough operation. The Front's anti-tank brigades cover the Tank Army's flanks, the air-borne assault brigade seizes bridges and crossing points for its use, and the diversionary brigade, operating ahead of and on the flanks of the Tank Army, does everything possible to provide it with favourable operating conditions.
The Tank Army is brought up to a breach in the enemy defences only when a real breakthrough has been achieved and once the Front's forces have room for manoeuvre. The Tank Army pushes forward at maximum possible speed to the greatest depth it can reach. It avoids prolonged engagements, it keeps clear of pockets of resistance and it often becomes separated by considerable distances from the other components of the Front. Its task, its aim, is to deliver a blow like that from a sword or an axe: the deeper it cuts, the better.
An All-Arms Army advances more slowly than a Tank Army, destroying all the pockets of resistance in its path and any groups of enemy troops which have been surrounded, clearing up the area as it moves forward.
A Tank Army is like a rushing flood, tearing its way through a gap in a dyke, smashing and destroying everything in its path. By contrast an All-Arms Army is a quiet, stagnant sheet of water, flooding a whole area, drowning enemy islands and slowly undermining buildings and other structures until they collapse.
During the first few hours or days of a war, one or all of the Fronts may suffer enormous losses. But it should not be assumed that the C-in-C of a Strategic Direction will use his second echelon Front to strengthen or take the place of the Front which has suffered most. The second echelon Front is brought into action at the point where the greatest success has been achieved, where the dyke has really been breached or where at least a very dangerous crack can be seen developing.
The fifth stage lasts 7–8 days. It may begin at any time during the fourth stage. As soon as the C-in-C is sure that one of his Fronts has really broken through, he moves up his second echelon Front and, if this manages to push through the opening, he brings his striking force, his Group of Tank Armies, into action. This operation by the Group against the enemy's rear defences represents the fifth stage of a strategic offensive.
This Group of Tank Armies consists of two Tank Armies. However, by this time the Tank Armies of the Fronts may already be in action against the enemy's rear defences. These Tank Armies may be taken away from the Front Commanders, at the decision of the C-in-C, and incorporated in the Group of Tank Armies. Towards the end of the action there may be five or even six Tank Armies in the Group, bringing its establishment up to as much as 10,000 tanks. If during a breakthrough half or even two thirds of these are lost, the Group still will be of impressive strength.
However, the Soviet General Staff hopes that losses will not be as large as this. Our pack of cards effect should manifest itself. Moreover, the operations of the Group of Tank Armies will be supported by all the resources available to the C-in-C of the Strategic Direction. All his rocket and air forces will be attacking the enemy with nuclear weapons, his airborne divisions will be dropped to help the Group to advance. Lastly, the whole Baltic Fleet will be supporting the Group. If the Group manages to advance, the whole of the forces available to the State, up to and including the Supreme Commander himself, can be massed to support it.
The strategic offensive has one alternative form. This is sometimes known as a `Friday evening' offensive. It differs from the normal version only in dispensing with the first three stages described above. The operation therefore begins at the fourth stage-with a surprise attack by a group of Fronts against one or more countries.
In practice, what happened in Czechoslovakia was an operation by a group of Fronts, carried out swiftly and without warning. Significantly this operation caught the Czechs off guard-profiting by the Friday evening relaxation of the State apparatus after a working week. Because of the small size of Czechoslovakia and the evident disinclination of the Czech army to defend its country, the C-in-C did not bring his Group of Tank Armies forward from Byelorussia and the Front commanders did not push their Tank Armies into Czechoslovakia. Only a very small number of tanks took part in the operation-some 9,000 in all, drawn from the tank battalions of the regiments involved, the tank regiments of the divisions and the tank divisions of the Armies.
The success of the Czech operation produced a new optimism in various other countries in Europe, which realised that they could hope to be similarly liberated in the course of a few hours.
The terrible epidemic of pacification which subsequently swept through Western Europe aroused new hopes of success through a bloodless revolution in the hearts of the Soviet General Staff.
In the winter of 1940, the Red Army broke through the `Mannerheim Line'. No one knows what price it paid for this victory, but, time and again, demographers have come up with the same figure-a total of 1,500,000 human lives. Whether this is accurate or not, the losses were so staggering, even by Soviet standards, that the advance was halted the very moment Finnish resistance was broken.
The following summer Soviet tanks were rumbling through the streets of three sovereign states-Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Since then, Soviet tanks have visited Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bucharest, Budapest, Sofia, Belgrade, Pyongyang and even Peking. But they never dared to enter Helsinki.
Finland is the only country which has fought a war against Soviet aggression without ever having allowed Soviet tanks to enter its capital.
It is therefore surprising that it is Finland which has become the symbol of submission to Communist expansion. Halted by the valour with which this brave country defended itself, the communists changed their tactics. If they could not bring the Finns to their knees by fighting, they decided they would do it by peaceful methods. Their new weapon turned out to be more powerful than tanks. Soviet tanks entered Yugoslavia and Romania but both countries are independent today. They never reached Helsinki, but Finland has submitted.
This result surprised even the Soviet Communists themselves and it took them a long time to appreciate the power of the weapon which had fallen so unexpectedly into their hands. When they finally realised its effectiveness, they put it to immediate use against the remaining countries of Western Europe. Its effects are to be seen everywhere around us. The Communists knew that they could never seize Western Europe so long as it was capable of defending itself, and this is why they concentrated their attacks on Western European determination to stand up to them.
Pacifism is sweeping through the West. It is doing the same in the Soviet Union. In the West, though, it is uncontrolled while in the USSR it is encouraged from above. However, both movements have a common aim. Western pacifists are fighting to stop the installation of new rockets in Western Europe. Soviet pacifists speak out for the same cause-against the installation of rockets in Western Europe.
When I lecture to Western officers on tactics in the Soviet Army, I often close my talk by putting a question to them-always the same one-in order to be sure that they have understood me correctly. The question is trivial and elementary. Three Soviet motor-rifle companies are on the move in the same sector. The first has come under murderous fire and its attack has crumbled, the second is advancing slowly, with heavy losses, the third has suffered an enemy counter-attack and, having lost all its command personnel, is retreating. The commander of the regiment to which these companies belong has three tank companies and three artillery batteries in reserve. Try and guess, I say, how this regimental commander uses his reserves to support his three companies. `You are to guess,' I say, `what steps a Soviet regimental commander would take, not a Western one but a Soviet, a Soviet, a Soviet one.'
I have never yet received the correct reply.
Yet in this situation there is only one possible answer. From the platoon level to that of the Supreme Commander all would agree that there is only one possible decision: all three tank companies and all three artillery batteries must be used to strengthen the company which is moving ahead, however slowly. The others, which are suffering losses, certainly do not qualify for help. If the regimental commander, in a state of drunkenness or from sheer stupidity, were to make any other decision he would, of course, be immediately relieved of his command, reduced to the ranks and sent to pay for his mistake with his own blood, in a penal battalion.
My audiences ask, with surprise, how it can be that two company commanders, whose men are suffering heavy casualties, can ask for help without receiving any? `That's the way it is,' I reply, calmly. `How can there be any doubt about it?'
`What happens,' ask the Western officers, `if a Soviet platoon or company commander asks for artillery support. Does he get it?'
`He has no right to ask for it,' I say.
`And if a company commander asks for air support-does he get it?'
`He has no right to ask for support of any sort, let alone air support.' My audience smiles-they believe they have found the Achilles heel of Soviet tactics. But I am always irritated-for this is not weakness, but strength.
How is it possible not to be irritated? A situation in which every platoon commander can ask for artillery support is one in which the divisional commander is unable to concentrate the full strength of his artillery in the decisive sector-a platoon commander cannot know which this is. A situation in which every company commander can call for air support is one in which the Commander of a Group of Armies is unable to bring together all his aircraft as a single striking force. To a military man this represents something quite unthinkable-the dispersal of resources.
The tactics used by Jenghiz Khan were primitive, in the extreme. His Mongolian horsemen would never engage in a single combat in any of the countries which his hordes overran. The training for battle which they received consisted solely of instruction in maintaining formation and in the observance of a disciplinary code which was enforced in the most barbarous way.
During a battle Jenghiz Khan would keep a close watch on the situation from a nearby hill. As soon as the slightest sign of success was visible at any point, he would concentrate all his forces there, sometimes even throwing in his own personal guard. Having broken through the enemy's line at a single point he would push irresistibly ahead and the enemy army, split in two, would disintegrate. It is worth recording that he never lost a battle in his life. Centuries passed and new weapons appeared. It seemed that this ancient principle of war was dead and buried. That at least was how it seemed to the French armies at Toulon. But then the young Bonaparte appeared, mustered all the artillery at the decisive spot and won his first brilliant victory with lightning speed. Subsequently he always concentrated his artillery and his cavalry in large numbers. In consequence, his junior commanders were deprived of both artillery and cavalry. Despite this, for decades his armies won every battle. At Waterloo he paid the penalty for abandoning the principle of concentrating his forces in the most important sector. His defeat there was the price he paid for dispersing his resources.
More time passed, tanks, aircraft and machine-guns made their appearance. The principles of Jenghiz Khan and Bonaparte were completely forgotten in France. In 1940 the Allies had more tanks than the Germans. They were evenly distributed among infantry sub-units, whose commanders were proud to have tanks directly under their command. Their German opposite numbers had no such grounds for pride, and this was the reason why Germany's victory was so rapid and so decisive. The German tanks were not dispersed but were concentrated in what, by the standards of 1940, were huge groups. The Allied tanks were scattered, like widely-spread fingers, which could not be clenched to make a fist. The German tanks struck, as a fist, unexpectedly and at the weakest point. The Germans' success has gone down in history as a victory which was won by their tanks.
Soviet tactics are of the utmost simplicity; they can be condensed into a single phrase-the maximum concentration of forces in the decisive sector. Anyone who was found responsible for dispersing forces of divisional strength or above during the war was shot without further ado. At lower levels the usual penalty for wasting resources in this way was reduction to the ranks and a posting to a penal battalion, which would also lead to death, though not always immediately, it is true.
Every Soviet operation, from Stalingrad onwards, developed in the way water breaks through a concrete dam: a single drop seeps through a microscopic crack, and is followed immediately by a dozen more drops, after which first hundreds and then thousands of litres pour through at ever increasing speed, becoming a cataract of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of raging water.
Here is one entirely typical example of such a breakthrough, carried out by the 16th Guards Rifle Corps of the 2nd Guards Army at Kursk in 1943. During an offensive by nine forward battalions only one managed to make any ground. Immediately, the commander of the regiment to which this battalion belonged concentrated all his resources at that point, on a front one kilometre wide. His divisional commander thereupon threw all his forces into this sector. The breach slowly became deeper and wider and within half an hour the corps commander's reserves began to arrive. Within three hours, 27 of the 36 battalions belonging to the corps had been brought in to fight in the narrow sector, which was by now 7 kilometres wide. 1,087 of the 1,176 guns belonging to the corps, and all its tanks, were assembled in the breakthrough sector. Naturally, the battalion commanders who had been unable to penetrate the enemy's defences not only received no reinforcements, but had everything under their command taken away from them. And this was entirely as it should have been!
As the breach was widened, more and more forces were concentrated there. As soon as he was informed of the breakthrough the Commander of the Central Front, General Rokossovskiy, rushed an entire Army to the spot, with an Air Army to cover the operations. A few days later the Supreme Commander added his own reserve army, the 4th Tank Army, to the forces breaking through. Such a massive concentration of forces could not, of course, be withstood by the German commanders. Several hundred kilometres of their front disintegrated simultaneously and a hasty withdrawal began. The last big offensive mounted by the German army in World War II had collapsed. After this, the Germans never again launched a single large-scale attack, confining themselves to smaller operations, such as those at Balaton or in the Ardennes. The moral of this story is clear. If every platoon commander had had the right to call for fire support for his unit, the corps commander would have been unable to concentrate his reserves in the breach and the Front would never have broken through. Without this, there could have been no success.
Modern Soviet tactics, then, follow in the footprints of Jenghiz Khan, Bonaparte, the German generals who won the battle for France and the Soviet generals in the war against Germany.
Nuclear weapons have changed the face of war, as did artillery in the middle ages, the machine gun in the First World War and the tank in the Second. The principles of military science have not been affected by these changes, for they are immutable-disperse your forces and you will lose, concentrate them and you will win.
The only amendment which needs to be made to these ancient principles in the nuclear age is that a commander must concentrate his nuclear forces, too, in the main sector, together with the artillery, aircraft, and tanks which he assembles there. The threat of a nuclear response, too, plays a role in tactics. The concentration of forces can be completed very rapidly today, and they are then a target for the enemy's nuclear weapons, whereas earlier he was unable to use them during the comparatively long time they took to assemble. Otherwise everything remains as it was. If a single company breaks through the battalion commander supports it with his whole mortar battery, leaving the other companies to fend for themselves. Informed of the success of the company, the commander of the regiment orders his tank battalions to the sector and arranges for his artillery to provide concentrated fire support, then the divisional commander moves in his tank regiment and he too brings in his entire artillery reserves; in addition, he may arrange to have nuclear strikes carried out ahead of his troops. Then, flooding through like the torrent, rushing through the broken dam, come all the tanks and artillery of the Army, all the tanks, aircraft, artillery and rockets of the Front, of the Strategic Direction, of the Soviet Union and of its satellites!
One further misunderstanding needs clarification. Although a platoon or company commander is not entitled to summon up aircraft or the divisional artillery, this certainly does not mean that Soviet forces operate without fire support. The commander of a Soviet motor-rifle battalion (400 men) has 6 120mm mortars at his disposal. The commander of an American battalion (900 men) has only 4 106mm mortars. The commander of a Soviet regiment (2,100 men) has a battalion of 18 122mm howitzers and a battery of 6 Grad P multi-barrelled rocket launchers. The commander of an American brigade (4,000–5,000 men) has no fire weapons at all. Commanders of Soviet and American divisions have approximately the same quantity of fire weapons.
Commanders of Soviet battalions and regiments, not being entitled to call on their divisional commanders for help have enough fire weapons under their command to follow up successes achieved by any of their platoons, companies or battalions. Since they are equipped with these weapons, the divisional commander is free to make use of the full weight of his divisional artillery wherever he decides it is needed.
Many Western specialists believe that in order to carry out an operation of the sort described it would be necessary to assemble a massive concentration of material resources and that the Soviet command would encounter extreme difficulty in providing its enormous forces with the supplies they would need. This delusion is based on typical Western concepts of the organisation of the supply and replenishment of military forces.
The Soviet Army has a completely different approach to the problems of supply from that adopted in the West-one which avoids many headaches. Let us start from the fact that a Soviet soldier is not issued with a sleeping bag, and does not need one. He can be left unfed for several days. All that he needs is ammunition and this solves many problems. The problem of supplying Soviet troops in battle is thus confined to the provision of ammunition. We already know that each commander has transport sub-units at his disposal; every regiment has a company which can transport loads of 200 tons, every division a battalion with a capacity of 1,000 tons, every Army a transport regiment, and so forth. All this capacity is used solely to move up ammunition for advancing forces. Each commander allocates a large proportion of this ammunition to the sector which is achieving success-the remainder suffer accordingly.
No less important during a rapid advance is fuel-the life-blood of war. A basic approach has been taken to the problem of fuel-supply. As a condition for its acceptance by the armed Services, every type of Soviet combat vehicle-tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery prime movers, etc.-must have sufficient fuel capacity to take it at least 600 kilometres. Thus, Soviet Fronts would be able to make a dash across Western Germany without refuelling. Thereafter, the pipe-laying battalion of each Army would lay a line to the Front's main pipeline which would have been laid by the Front's pipe-laying regiment. The Front's pipelines would be linked with secret underground main lines which had been laid down in Eastern Europe in peacetime. In addition, the C-in-C of a Strategic Direction has under his command a pipe-laying brigade, which can be used to assist the Fronts. At the terminals of the pipelines the pipe-layers set up a number of refuelling centres, each of which can simultaneously refuel a battalion or even a regiment. In addition, the Soviet Army is at present evolving techniques for using helicopters for fuel resupply. Let us take a division which is advancing. One of its tank battalions has stopped, on orders from the divisional commander, and is left behind by the other battalions. In a field by the road, on which the battalion has halted, a V-12 helicopter lands, carrying 40 or more tons of fuel. Within ten minutes it has refuelled all the tanks and taken off again. The battalion sets off for the front again, replacing another which halts to refuel. A single V-12 helicopter flying at low altitude at a speed of 250 kilometres an hour, can refuel a whole division in one day. It is not particularly vulnerable, since it is flying over its own rear areas, which are protected by the Air Defence Troops of the Land Forces. If trucks were used to supply a division hundreds of them would be needed, travelling on damaged, overloaded roads and presenting an excellent target. The destruction of a single bridge could bring them all to a halt. While a single truck carrying ten tons would take twenty-four hours to make a particular journey, a helicopter could do the same job in one hour. Even if helicopters were more vulnerable than endless convoys of trucks, Soviet generals would still use them, for time is far more precious than money during a war.
Provisions, spare parts, etc. are, quite simply, not supplied.
Now let us see how this works in practice. A division which is up to full strength, fully equipped, fed and fuelled, with more than 2,000 tons of ammunition, is moving up into action from the second echelon. This division can spend from three to five days in action, without rest for either its soldiers or its officers. The wounded are evacuated to the rear by the medical battalion, after first aid has been given.
Its companies, battalions and regiments waste no time waiting for spare parts for equipment which has been damaged. They simply throw it aside. The repair and refitting battalion mends whatever it can, cannibalising one tank to repair two or three others, removing its engine, tracks, turret and anything else which is needed. Any piece of equipment which is seriously damaged is left for removal to the rear by the Army's or the Front's mobile tank repair workshop.
In action, the division fights with great determination, but its numbers dwindle. Some of its fighting equipment is returned after repair, but not a great deal. After three to five days of hard fighting, the survivors are sent back to the second echelon, their place being taken by a fresh division which has been well fed and fully rested. From the remnants of the old division, a new one is quickly put together. Combat equipment is provided by the tank repair workshops. The fact that it belonged to some other division only the day before is immaterial. Reinforcements reach the new division from the hospitals-whether these soldiers and officers formerly belonged to other divisions, Armies or Fronts is also immaterial. With them arrive equipment from the factories and reservists-some of whom are older, others still very young boys. The division shakes down, exercises and allows its soldiers to get all the sleep they need. Then, after five days, it moves up into action, fully fed and fuelled, with 2,000 tons of ammunition.
Often, while it is reforming, a division receives entirely new equipment, straight from the factory, but it may also be issued with older material taken from store, while its own, or what remains of it, is taken from it for some other division which is also re-forming, not far away.
Frequently, after a particularly punishing series of battles, a division cannot be re-formed. In this event all its commanders from company level upwards are withdrawn and what is left of the division is administered by the deputies to the battalion and regimental commanders and by the deputy divisional commander. This remnant will continue to fight, to the last man, while the divisional commander and his subordinates are in the rear, receiving new equipment and new soldiers. Within a short period of time they return to the battle in which what was left of their former division perished so recently.
One most important element needed for the rebuilding of a new division is its old colours. A fresh division can be set up very quickly around the old colours. But if the colours are lost-that is the end of the division. If such a thing should happen, all its former commanders are sent to penal battalions, where they expiate their guilt with blood, while their division is disbanded and used to bring others up to strength.
Here is an example from the history of the 24th Samara-Ulyanovsk Iron Division, with which I entered Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The division was established in 1918 and was one of the best in the Red Army. Lenin corresponded personally with some of its soldiers. It was active in the war against Germany from the very beginning of hostilities and distinguished itself in the fighting near Minsk until, as part of the 13th Army, it found itself encircled. Part of the division managed to break out but its colours were lost. Despite its past achievements, the division was disbanded and its various officers were tried by military tribunals. In 1944, when the Red Army once again reached and then crossed the Soviet frontiers, a special commission began questioning local inhabitants in an attempt to discover where Soviet officers and soldiers who had been killed in action during the first days of the war were buried. A peasant, D. N. Tyapin, told the commission how he had found the body of a Soviet officer, wrapped in a flag, and how he had buried the body, with the flag. The grave was immediately opened and the colours of the 24th Iron Division were found. The flag was immediately sent away for restoration and, just as quickly, a new division was formed and given the old colours, the battle honours and the title of the old division. Today the 24th Iron Division is one of the most famous in the Soviet Army. However, despite the fact that it distinguished itself in the battle which ended the war, it was never made a Guards division. It was not forgiven for the loss of its colours.