Behind Enemy Lines: Spetsnaz Tactics
Before spetsnaz units can begin active operations behind the enemy's lines they have to get there. The Soviet high command has the choice of either sending spetsnaz troops behind the enemy's lines before the outbreak of war, or sending them there after war has broken out. In the first case the enemy may discover them, realise that war has already begun and possibly press the buttons to start a nuclear war — pre-empting the Soviet Union. But if spetsnaz troops are sent in after the outbreak of war, it may be too late. The enemy may already have activated its nuclear capability, and then there will be nothing to put out of action in the enemy's rear: the missiles will be on their way to Soviet territory. One potential solution to the dilemma is that the better, smaller part of spetsnaz -the professional athletes — arrives before all-out war starts, taking extreme measures not to be discovered, while the standard units penetrate behind enemy lines after war has started.
In every Soviet embassy there are two secret organisations — the KGB rezidentura and the GRU rezidentura. The embassy and the KGB rezidentura are guarded by officers of the KGB frontier troops, but in cases where the GRU rezidentura has a complement of more than ten officers, it has its own internal spetsnaz guard. Before the outbreak of a war, in some cases several months previously, the number of spetsnaz officers in a Soviet embassy may be substantially increased, to the point where practically all the auxiliary personnel in the embassy, performing the duties of guards, cleaners, radio-operators, cooks and mechanics, will be spetsnaz athletes. With them, as their 'wives', women athletes from spetsnaz may turn up in the embassy. Similar changes of staff may take place in the many other Soviet bodies — the consulate, the commercial representation, the offices of Aeroflot, Intourist, TASS, Novosti and so forth.
The advantages of this arrangement are obvious, but it is not without its dangers. The principal danger lies in the fact that these new terrorist groups are based right in the centre of the country's capital city, uncomfortably close to government offices and surveillance. But within days, possibly within hours, before the outbreak of war they can, with care, make contact with the spetsnaz agent network and start a real war in the very centre of the city, using hiding places already prepared.
Part of their support will come from other spetsnaz groups which have recently arrived in the country in the guise of tourists, teams of sportsmen and various delegations. And at the very last moment large groups of fighting men may suddenly appear out of Aeroflot planes, ships in port, trains and Soviet long-distance road transport ('Sovtransavto'). Simultaneously there may be a secret landing of spetsnaz troops from Soviet submarines and surface vessels, both naval and merchant. (Small fishing vessels make an excellent means of transport for spetsnaz. They naturally spend long periods in the coastal waters of foreign states and do not arouse suspicion, so spetsnaz groups can spend a long time aboard and can easily return home if they do not get an order to make a landing). At the critical moment, on receipt of a signal, they can make a landing on the coast using aqualungs and small boats. Spetsnaz groups arriving by Aeroflot can adopt much the same tactics. In a period of tension, a system of regular watches may be introduced. This means that among the passengers on every plane there will be a group of commandos. Having arrived at their intended airport and not having been given a signal, they can remain aboard the aircraft (An aircraft is considered to be part of the territory of the country to which it belongs, and the pilot's cabin and the interior of the plane are not subject to foreign supervision.) and go back on the next flight. Next day another group will make the trip, and so on. One day the signal will come, and the group will leave the plane and start fighting right in the country's main airport. Their main task is to capture the airport for the benefit of a fresh wave of spetsnaz troops or airborne units (VDV).
It is a well-known fact that the 'liberation' of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 began with the arrival at Prague airport of Soviet military transport planes with VDV troops on board. The airborne troops did not need parachutes; the planes simply landed at the airport. Before the troops disembarked there was a moment when both the aircraft and their passengers were completely defenceless. Was the Soviet high command not taking a risk? No, because the fact is that by the time the planes landed, Prague airport had already been largely paralysed by a group of 'tourists' who had arrived earlier.
Spetsnaz groups may turn up in the territory of an enemy from the territory of neutral states. Before the outbreak of war or during a war spetsnaz groups may penetrate secretly into the territory of neutral states and wait there for an agreed signal or until a previously agreed time. One of the advantages of this is that the enemy does not watch over his frontiers with neutral countries as carefully as he does over his frontiers with Communist countries. The arrival of a spetsnaz group from a neutral state may pass unnoticed both by the enemy and the neutral state.
But what happens if the group is discovered on neutral territory? The answer is simple: the group will go into action in the same way as in enemy territory — avoid being followed, kill any witnesses, use force and cunning to halt any pursuers. They will make every effort to ensure that nobody from the group gets into the hands of their pursuers and not to leave any evidence about to show that the group belongs to the armed forces of the USSR. If the group should be captured by the authorities of the neutral state, Soviet diplomacy has enormous experience and some well-tried counter-moves. It may admit its mistake, make an official apology and offer compensation for any damage caused; it may declare that the group lost its way and thought it was already in enemy territory; or it may accuse the neutral state of having deliberately seized a group of members of the Soviet armed forces on Soviet territory for provocative purposes, and demand explanations, apologies and compensation, accompanied by open threats.
Experience has shown that this last plan is the most reliable. The reader should not dismiss it lightly. Soviet official publications wrote at the beginning of December 1939 that war was being waged against Finland in order to establish a Communist regime there, and a Communist government of 'people's Finland' had already been formed. Thirty years later Soviet marshals were writing that it was not at all like that: the Soviet Union was simply acting in self-defence. The war against Finland, which was waged from the first to the last day on Finnish territory, is now described as 'repelling Finnish aggression' (Marshal K. A. Meretskov, Na Sluzhbe na rodu (In the Service of the People), 1968.) and even as 'fulfilling the plan for protecting our frontiers.' (Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky, Delo Vselgesnle (A Life's Work), 1968.)
The Soviet Union is always innocent: it only repels perfidious aggressors. On other people's territory.
The principal way of delivering the main body of spetsnaz to the enemy's rear after the outbreak of war is to drop them by parachute. In the course of his two years' service every spetsnaz soldier makes thirty-five to forty parachute jumps. Spetsnaz professionals and officers have much greater experience with parachutes; some have thousands of jumps to their credit.
The parachute is not just a weapon and a form of transport. It also acts as a filter which courageous soldiers will pass through, but weak and cowardly men will not. The Soviet Government spends enormous sums on the development of parachute jumping as a sport. This is the main base from which the airborne troops and spetsnaz are built up. On 1 January 1985 the FAI had recorded sixty-three world records in parachute jumping, of which forty-eight are held by Soviet sportsmen (which means the Soviet Army). The Soviet military athlete Yuri Baranov was the first man in the world to exceed 13,000 jumps. Among Soviet women the champion in the number of jumps is Aleksandra Shvachko — she has made 8,200 jumps. The parachute psychosis continues.
In peacetime military transport planes are used for making parachute drops. But this is done largely to prevent the fact of the existence of spetsnaz from spreading. In wartime military transports would be used for dropping spetsnaz groups only in exceptional circumstances. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, the whole fleet of military transport planes would be taken up with transporting the airborne forces (VDV), of which there are an enormous number. Apart from which, military aviation would have other difficult missions to perform, such as the transport of troops within the country from passive, less important sectors to the areas where the main fighting was taking place. Secondly, the majority of military transports are enormous aircraft, built for moving people and equipment on a large scale, which do not suit the purposes of spetsnaz. It needs small planes that do not present large targets and carry no more than twenty or thirty people. They must also be able to fly at very low level without much noise. In some cases even smaller aircraft that take eight to ten, or down to three or four parachutists, are needed.
However, the official term 'civil aviation', which is the source of most spetsnaz transport in wartime, is a substantial misnomer. The minister for civil aviation bears, quite officially, the rank of air chief marshal in the Air Force. His deputies bear the rank of generals. The whole of Aeroflot's flying personnel have the ranks of officers of the reserve. In the event of war Aeroflot simply merges with the Soviet Air Force, and the reserve officers then become regular officers with the same rank.
It has more than enough small aircraft for the business of transporting and supplying spetsnaz units. The best of them are the Yakovlev-42 and the Yakovlev-40, very manoeuvrable, reliable, low-noise planes capable of flying at very low altitudes. They have one very important construction feature — passengers embark and disembark through a hatch at the bottom and rear of the aircraft. If need be, the hatch cover can be removed altogether, giving the parachutists an exit as on a military transport plane, which makes it possible to drop them in complete safety. Another plane that has great possibilities for spetsnaz is the Antonov-72 — an exact copy of the American YC-14 of which the plans were stolen by GRU spies.
But how can spetsnaz parachutists use ordinary civil jet-propelled aircraft, which passengers enter and leave by side doors? The doors cannot be opened in flight. And if they were made to open inwards instead of outwards, it would be exceptionally dangerous for a parachutist to leave the plane, because the force of the current of air would press the man back against the body of the plane. He might be killed either from the force with which he bounced back against the plane, or through interference with the opening of his parachute.
The problem has been solved by a very simple device. The door is arranged to open inwards, and a wide tube made of strong, flexible, synthetic material is allowed to hang out. As he leaves the door the parachutist finds himself in a sort of three-metre long corridor which he slides down so that he comes away from the aircraft when he is slightly to one side and below the fuselage.
Variations on this device were first used on Ilyushin-76 military transport planes. The heavy equipment of the airborne troops was dropped out of the huge rear freight hatch, while at the same time the men were leaving the plane through flexible 'sleeves' at the side. The West has not given this simple but very clever invention its due. Its importance lies not only in the fact that the time taken to drop Soviet parachutists from transport planes has been substantially reduced, with the result that every drop is safer and that forces are much better concentrated on landing. What it also means is that practically any jet-propelled civil aircraft can now be used for dropping parachute troops.
The dropping of a spetsnaz unit can be carried out at any time of the day or night. Every time has its advantages and its problems. Night-time is the spetsnaz soldier's ally, when the appearance of a group of spetsnaz deep in the enemy's rear may not be noticed at all. Even if the enemy were aware of the group's arrival, it is never easy to organise a full-scale search at night, especially if the exact landing place is not known and may be somewhere inaccessible where there are forests and hills or mountains with few roads and no troops on the spot. But at night there are likely to be casualties among the parachutists as they land. The same problems of assembly and orientation which face the pursuit troops face the spetsnaz unit too.
During the day, obviously, there are fewer accidents on landing; but the landing will be seen. Deliberate daytime landings may sometimes be carried out for the simple reason that the enemy does not expect such brazen behaviour at such a time.
In many cases the drop will be carried out early in the morning while there are still stars in the sky and the sun has not risen. This is a very good time if large numbers of soldiers are being dropped who are expected to go straight into battle and carry out their mission by means of a really sudden attack. In that case the high command does its best to ensure that the groups have as much daylight as possible for active operations on the first, most important day of their mission.
But every spetsnaz soldier's favourite time for being dropped is at sunset. The flight is calculated so that the parachutists' drop is carried out in the last minutes before the onset of darkness. The landing then takes place in the twilight when it is still light enough to avoid landing on a church spire or a telegraph pole. In half an hour at the most darkness will conceal the men and they will have the whole night ahead of them to leave the landing area and cover their tracks.
On its own territory spetsnaz has a standard military structure (See Appendices for precise organisation of spetsnaz at different levels.): section, platoon, company, battalion, brigade; or section, platoon, company, regiment. This organisation simplifies the control, administration and battle training of spetsnaz. But this structure cannot be used on enemy territory.
The problem is, firstly, that every spetsnaz operation is individual and unlike any other; a plan is worked out for each operation, which is unlike any other. Each operation consequently requires forces organised, not in a standard fashion, but adapted to the particular plan.
Secondly, when it is on enemy territory, a spetsnaz unit is in direct communication with a major headquarters, at the very least the headquarters of an all-arm or tank army, and orders are received in many cases directly from a high-level HQ. A very long chain of command is simply not needed.
On operations a simple and flexible chain of command is used. The organisational unit on enemy territory is known officially as the reconnaissance group of spetsnaz (RGSN). A group is formed before the beginning of an operation and may contain from two to thirty men. It can operate independently or as part of a detachment (ROSN), which consists of between thirty and 300 or more men. The detachment contains groups of various sizes and for various purposes. The names 'detachment' and 'group' are used deliberately, to emphasise the temporary nature of the units. In the course of an operation groups can leave a detachment and join it again, and each group may in turn break up into several smaller groups or, conversely, come together with others into one big group. Several large groups can join up and form a detachment which can at any moment split up again. The whole process is usually planned before the operation begins. For example: the drop may take place in small groups, perhaps fifteen of them altogether. On the second day of the operation (D+1) eight of the groups will join up into one detachment for a joint raid, while the rest operate independently. On D+2 two groups are taken out of the detachment to form the basis of a new detachment and another six groups link up with the second detachment. On D+5 the first detachment splits up into groups and on D+6 the second group splits up, and so on. Before the beginning of the operation each group is informed where and when to meet up with the other groups and what to do in case the rendezvous is not kept.
Having landed in enemy territory spetsnaz may go straight into battle. Otherwise, it will hide the equipment it no longer needs -boats, parachutes, etc — by either burying them in the ground or sinking them in water. Very often it will then mine the drop area. The mines are laid where the unwanted equipment has been buried. The area is also treated with one of a number of substances which will confuse a dog's sense of smell. After that, the group (of whatever size) will break up into little sub-groups which depart quickly in different directions. A meeting of the sub-groups will take place later at a previously arranged spot or, if this proves problematic, at one of the several alternative places which have been agreed.
The drop area is usually the first place where casualties occur. However good the parachute training is, leg injuries and fractures are a frequent occurrence, and when the drop takes place in an unfamiliar place, in complete darkness, perhaps in fog, over a forest or mountains, they are inevitable. Even built-up areas provide their own hazards. Spetsnaz laws are simple and easy to understand. In a case of serious injury the commander cannot take the wounded man with him; doing so would greatly reduce the group's mobility and might lead to the mission having to be aborted. But the commander cannot, equally, leave the wounded man alone. Consequently a simple and logical decision is taken, to kill the wounded man. Spetsnaz has a very humane means of killing its wounded soldiers -a powerful drug known to the men as 'Blessed Death'. An injection with the drug stops the pain and quickly produces a state of blissful drowsiness. In the event that a commander decides, out of misguided humanity, to take the wounded man with him, and it looks as if this might jeopardise the mission, the deputy commander is under orders to dispatch both the wounded man and the commander. The commander is removed without recourse to drugs. It is recommended that he be seized from behind with a hand over his mouth and a knife blow to his throat. If the deputy does not deal with his commander in this situation, then not just the commander and his deputy, but the entire group may be regarded as traitors, with all the inevitable consequences.
As they leave the area of the drop the groups and sub-groups cover their tracks, using methods that have been well known for centuries: walking through water and over stones, walking in each other's footsteps, and so forth. The groups lay more mines behind them and spread more powder against dogs.
After leaving the drop zone and having made sure that they are not being followed, the commander gives orders for the organisation of a base and a reserve base, safe places concealed from the view of outsiders. Long before a war GRU officers, working abroad in the guise of diplomats, journalists, consuls and other representatives of the USSR, choose places suitable for establishing bases. The majority of GRU officers have been at some time very closely familiar with spetsnaz, or are themselves spetsnaz officers, or have worked in the Intelligence Directorate of a district or group of forces. They know what is needed for a base to be convenient and safe.
Bases can be of all sorts and kinds. The ideal base would be a hiding place beneath ground level, with a drainage system, running water, a supply of food, a radio set to pick up the local news and some simple means of transport. I have already described how spetsnaz agents, recruited locally, can establish the more elaborate bases which are used by the professional groups of athletes carrying out exceptionally important tasks. In the majority of cases the base will be somewhere like a cave, or an abandoned quarry, or an underground passage in a town, or just a secluded place among the undergrowth in a dense forest.
A spetsnaz group can leave at the base all the heavy equipment it does not need immediately. The existence of even the most rudimentary base enables it to operate without having to carry much with it in the way of equipment or supplies. The approaches to the base are always guarded and the access paths mined — the closest with ordinary mines and the more distant ones with warning mines which explode with much noise and a bright flash, alerting any people in the base of approaching danger.
When the group moves off to carry out its task, a few men normally remain behind to guard the base, choosing convenient observation points from which to keep an eye on it. In the event of its being discovered the guard leaves the location quietly and makes for the reserve base, leaving warnings of the danger to the rest of the group in an agreed place. The main group returning from its mission will visit the reserve base first and only then go to the main base. There is a double safeguard here: the group may meet the guards in the reserve base and so avoid falling into a trap; otherwise the group will see the warning signals left by the guards. The craters from exploded mines around the base may also serve as warnings of danger. If the worst comes to the worst, the guards can give warning of danger by radio.
A spetsnaz group may also have a moving base. Then it can operate at night, unhampered by heavy burdens, while the guards cart all the group's heavy equipment along by other routes. Each morning the group meets up with its mobile base. The group replenishes its supplies and then remains behind to rest or to set off on another operation, while the base moves to another place. The most unexpected places can be used by the mobile bases. I once saw a base which looked simply like a pile of grass that had been thrown down in the middle of a field. The soldiers' packs and equipment had been very carefully disguised, and the men guarding the base were a kilometre away, also in a field and camouflaged with grass. All around there were lots of convenient ravines overgrown with young trees and bushes. That was where the KGB and MVD units were looking for the spetsnaz base, and where the helicopters were circling overhead. It did not occur to anybody that a base could be right in the middle of an open field.
In some cases a spetsnaz group may capture a vehicle for transporting its mobile base. It might be an armoured personnel carrier, a truck or an ordinary car. And if a group is engaged in very intensive fighting involving frequent changes of location, then no base is organised. In the event of its being pursued the group can abandon all its heavy equipment, having first removed the safety pin from the remaining mines.
In order to destroy a target it has first to be located. In the overwhelming majority of cases a spetsnaz operation includes the search for the target. This is understandable, since targets whose location is known and which are not movable can be destroyed easily and quickly with missiles and aircraft. But a great number of targets in present-day fighting are mobile. On the eve of a war or just after it has broken out, government offices are moved out of a country's capital for secret command posts whose location is known to very few people. New communications centres and lines are brought into operation. Aircraft are removed from stationary aerodromes and dispersed to airfields established in places unknown to the enemy. Many missile installations are moved to new concealed, and carefully guarded, locations. Troops and headquarters are also relocated.
In these circumstances the search for targets acquires paramount significance for spetsnaz. To be able to find a target of special importance, to identify it, and to know how to distinguish real targets from false ones, become the most important tasks for spetsnaz, more important even than the destruction of the targets. Once a target has been discovered it can be destroyed by other forces — missiles, aircraft, marines, airborne troops. But a target that has not been discovered cannot be destroyed by anyone.
Because the business of identifying targets is the most important task for spetsnaz it cannot be a separate and independent organisation. It can carry out this task only if it relies on all the resources of the GRU, and only if it can make use of information obtained by agents and from all the various kinds of razvedka -satellite, aircraft, naval, electronic, and so forth.
Every form of razvedka has its good and its bad side. A complete picture of what is happening can be obtained only by making use of all forms of razvedka in close interaction one with another, compensating for the weaknesses of some forms with the advantages of the others.
Every officer in charge of razvedka uses spetsnaz only where its use can give the very best result. When he sends a spetsnaz group behind enemy lines the officer in command already knows a good deal about the enemy from other sources. He knows exactly what the unit is to look for and roughly where it has to look. The information obtained by spetsnaz groups (sometimes only fragmentary and uncertain) can in turn be of exceptional value to the other forms of razvedka and be the starting point for more attentive work in those areas by agents and other services.
Only with a union of all forces and resources is it possible to reveal the plans and intentions of the enemy, the strength and organisation of his forces, and to inflict defeat on him.
But let us return to the commander of the spetsnaz group who, despatching it to a particular area, already knows a good deal about the area, the specially important targets that may be found there, and even their approximate location. This information (or as much of it as concerns him) is passed on to the commander of the group and his deputy. The group has landed safely, covered its tracks, established a base and started its search. How should it set about it?
There are several tried and tested methods. Each target of special importance must have a communications centre and lines of communication leading to it. The group may include experts at radio razvedka. Let us not forget that spetsnaz is the 3rd department and radio razvedka the 5th department of the same Directorate (the Second) at the headquarters of every front, fleet, group of forces and military district. Spetsnaz and radio razvedka are very closely connected and often help each other, even to the point of having radio razvedka experts in spetsnaz groups. By monitoring radio transmissions in the area of important targets it is possible to determine quite accurately their whereabouts.
But it is also possible to discover the target without the aid of radio razvedka. The direction of receiving and transmitting aerials of tropospheric, radio-relay and other communication lines provides a lot of information about the location of the terminal points on lines of communication. This in turn leads us right up to the command posts and other targets of great importance.
Sometimes before a search begins the commander of the group will decide by the map which, in his opinion, are the most likely locations for particular targets. His group will examine those areas first of all.
If the targets are moved, then the roads, bridges, tunnels and mountain passes where they may be seen are put under observation.
The search for a particular target can be carried out simultaneously by several groups. In that case the officer in charge divides the territory being searched into squares in each of which one group operates.
Each group searching a square usually spreads out into a long line with tens or even hundreds of metres between each man. Each man moves by the compass, trying to keep in sight of his neighbours. They advance in complete silence. They choose suitable observation points and carefully examine the areas ahead of them, and if they discover nothing they move on to another hiding place. In this way relatively small groups of well trained soldiers can keep quite extensive areas under observation. Unlike razvedka conducted from outer space or the air, spetsnaz can get right up to targets and view them, not from above, but from the ground. Experience shows that it is much more difficult to deceive a spetsnaz man with false targets than it is a man operating an electronic intelligence station or an expert at interpreting pictures taken from the air or from space.
Spetsnaz groups have recently begun to make ever greater use of electronic apparatus for seeking their targets. They now carry portable radar, infra-red and acoustic equipment, night-vision sights, and so forth. But whatever new electronic devices are invented, they will never replace the simplest and most reliable method of establishing the location of important targets: questioning a prisoner.
It may be claimed that not every prisoner will agree to answer the questions put to him, or that some prisoners will answer the questions put by spetsnaz but give wrong answers and lead their interrogators astray. To which my reply is categorical. Everybody answers questions from spetsnaz. There are no exceptions. I have been asked how long a very strong person can hold out against questioning by spetsnaz, without replying to questions. The answer is: one second. If you don't believe this, just try the following experiment. Get one of your friends who considers himself a strong character to write on a piece of paper a number known only to himself and seal the paper in an envelope. Then tie your friend to a post or a tree and ask him what number he wrote on the paper. If he refuses to answer, file his teeth down with a big file and count the time. Having received the answer, open the envelope and check that he has given you the number written on the paper. I guarantee the answer will be correct.
If you perform such an experiment, you will have an idea of one of spetsnaz's, milder ways of questioning people. But there are more effective and reliable ways of making a person talk. Everyone who falls into the hands of spetsnaz knows he is going to be killed. But people exert themselves to give correct and precise answers. They are not fighting for their lives but for an easy death. Prisoners are generally interrogated in twos or larger groups. If one seems to know less than the others, he can be used for demonstration purposes to encourage them to talk. If the questioning is being done in a town the prisoner may have a heated iron placed on his body, or have his ears pierced with an electric drill, or be cut to pieces with an electric saw. A man's fingers are particularly sensitive. If the finger of a man being questioned is simply bent back and the end of the finger squashed as it is bent, the pain is unendurable. One method considered very effective is a form of torture known as 'the bicycle'. A man is bound and laid on his back. Pieces of paper (or cotton wool or rags) soaked in spirit, eau-de-cologne, etc., are stuck between his fingers and set alight.
Spetsnaz has a special passion for the sexual organs. If the conditions permit, a very old and simple method is used to demonstrate the power of spetsnaz. The captors drive a big wedge into the trunk of a tree, then force the victim's sexual organs into the opening and knock out the wedge. They then proceed to question the other prisoners. At the same time, in order to make them more talkative, the principal spetsnaz weapon — the little infantryman's spade — is used. As spetsnaz asks its questions the blade of the spade is used to cut off ears and fingers, to hit the victims in the liver and perform a whole catalogue of unpleasant operations on the person under interrogation.
One very simple way of making a man talk is known as the 'swallow', well known in Soviet concentration camps. It does not require any weapons or other instruments, and if it is used with discretion it does not leave any traces on the victim's body. He is laid face down on the ground and his legs are bent back to bring his heels as close as possible to the back of his neck. The 'swallow' generally produces a straight answer in a matter of seconds.
Of course, every method has its shortcomings. That is why a commander uses several methods at the same time. The 'swallow' is not usually employed in the early stages of an operation. Immediately after a landing, the commander of a spetsnaz group tries to use one really blood-thirsty device out of his arsenal: cutting a man's lips with a razor, or breaking his neck by twisting his head round. These methods are used even when a prisoner obviously has no information, the aim being to prevent any possibility of any of the men in the group going over to the enemy. Everyone, including those who have not taken part in the torture, knows that after this he has no choice: he is bound to his group by a bloody understanding and must either come out on top or die with his group. In case of surrender he may have to suffer the same torture as his friends have just used.
In recent years the KGB, GRU and spetsnaz have had the benefit of an enormous training ground in which to try out the effectiveness of their methods of questioning: Afghanistan. The information received from there describes things which greatly exceed in skill and inventiveness anything I have described here. I am quite deliberately not quoting here interrogation methods used by the Soviet forces, including spetsnaz, in Afghanistan, which have been reported by thoroughly reliable sources. Western journalists have access to that material and to living witnesses.
Once it has obtained the information it needs about the targets of interest to it, the spetsnaz group checks the facts and then kills the prisoners. It should be particularly noted that those who have told the truth do have an easy death. They may be shot, hanged, have their throats cut or be drowned. Spetsnaz does not torture anybody for the sake of torture. You come across practically no sadists in spetsnaz. If they find one they quickly get rid of him. Both the easier and the tougher forms of questioning in spetsnaz are an unavoidable evil that the fighting men have to accept. They use these methods, not out of a love of torturing people, but as the simplest and most reliable way of obtaining information essential to their purpose.
Having discovered the target and reported on it to their command, spetsnaz will in most cases leave the target area as quickly as possible. Very soon afterwards, the target will come under attack by missiles, aircraft or other weapons. In a number of cases, however, the spetsnaz group will destroy the target it has discovered itself. They are often given the mission in that form: 'Find and destroy'. But there are also situations when the task is given as 'Find and report', and the group commander takes an independent decision about destroying the target. He may do so when, having found the target, he discovers suddenly that he cannot report to his superior officers about it; and he may also do so when he comes across a missile ready for firing.
Robbed of the chance or the time to transmit a report, the commander has to take all possible steps to destroy the target, including ordering a suicide attack on it. Readiness to carry out a suicide mission is maintained in spetsnaz by many methods. One of them is to expose obvious sadists and have them transferred immediately to other branches of the forces, because experience shows that in the overwhelming majority of cases the sadist is a coward, incapable of sacrificing himself.
The actual destruction of targets is perhaps the most ordinary and prosaic part of the entire operation. VIPs are usually killed as they are being transported from one place to another, when they are at their most vulnerable. The weapons include snipers' rifles, grenade-launchers or mines laid in the roadway. If a VIP enjoys travelling by helicopter it is a very simple matter. For one thing, a single helicopter is a better target than a number of cars, when the terrorists do not know exactly which car their victim is travelling in. Secondly, even minor damage to a helicopter will bring it down and almost certainly kill the VIP.
Missiles and aircraft are also attacked with snipers' rifles and grenade-launchers of various kinds. One bullet hole in a missile or an aircraft can put it out of action. If he cannot hit his target from a distance the commander of the group will attack, usually from two sides. His deputy will attack with one group of men from one side, trying to make as much noise and gunfire as possible, while the other group led by the commander will move, noiselessly, as close to the target as it can. It is obvious that an attack by a small spetsnaz group on a well defended target is suicide. But spetsnaz will do it. The fact is that even an unsuccessful attack on a missile ready for firing will force the enemy to re-check the whole missile and all its supporting equipment for faults. This may delay the firing for valuable hours, which in a nuclear war might be long enough to alter the course of the conflict.
Control and Combined Operations
If we describe the modern infantryman in battle and leave it at that, then, however accurate the description, the picture will be incomplete. The modern infantryman should never just be described independently, because he never operates independently. He operates in the closest co-operation with tanks; his way forward is laid by sappers; the artillery and air force work in his interests; he may be helped in his fighting by helicopter gunships; ahead of him there are reconnaissance and parachute units; and behind him is an enormous organisation to support and service him, from supplying ammunition to evacuating the wounded quickly.
To understand the strength of spetsnaz one has to remember that spetsnaz is primarily reconnaissance, forces which gather and transmit information to their commanders to which their commanders immediately react. The strength of those reconaissance forces lies in the fact that they have behind them the whole of the nuclear might of the USSR. It may be that before the appearance of spetsnaz on enemy territory, a nuclear blow will already have been made, and despite the attendant dangers, this greatly improves the position of the fighting groups, because the enemy is clearly not going to bother with them. In other circumstances the groups will appear on enemy territory and obtain information required by the Soviet command or amplify it, enabling an immediate nuclear strike to follow. A nuclear strike close to where a spetsnaz group is operating is theoretically regarded as the salvation of the group. When there are ruins and fires all round, a state of panic and the usual links and standards have broken down, a group can operate almost openly without any fear of capture.
Similarly, Soviet command may choose to deploy other weapons before spetsnaz begins operations or immediately after a group makes its landing: chemical weapons, air attacks or bombardment of the coastline with naval artillery. There is a co-operative principle at work here. Such actions will give the spetsnaz groups enormous moral and physical support. And the reverse is also true — the operations of a group in a particular area and the information it provides will make the strike by Soviet forces more accurate and effective.
In the course of a war direct co-operation is the most dependable form of co-operation. For example, the military commander of a front has learnt through his network of agents (the second department of the 2nd Directorate at front headquarters) or from other sources that there is in a certain area a very important but mobile target which keeps changing its position. He appoints one of his air force divisions to destroy the target. A spetsnaz group (or groups) is appointed to direct the division to the target. The liaison between the groups and the air force division is better not conducted through the front headquarters, but directly. The air division commander is told very briefly what the groups are capable of, and they are then handed over to his command. They are dropped behind enemy lines and, while they are carrying out the operation, they maintain direct contact with their divisional headquarters. After the strike on the target the spetsnaz group — if it has survived -returns immediately to the direct control of the front headquarters, to remain there until it needs to be put under the command of some other force as decided by the front commander.
Direct co-operation is a cornerstone of Soviet strategy and practised widely on manoeuvres, especially at the strategic level (See Appendix D for the organisation of spetsnaz at strategic level.), when spetsnaz groups from regiments of professional athletes are subordinated to commanders of, for example, the strategic missile troops or the strategic (long-range) aviation.
For the main principle governing Soviet strategy is the concentration of colossal forces against the enemy's most vulnerable spot. Soviet troops will strike a super-powerful, sudden blow and then force their way rapidly ahead. In this situation, or immediately before it, a mass drop of spetsnaz units will be carried out ahead of and on the flanks of the advancing force, or in places that have to be neutralised for the success of the operation on the main line of advance.
Spetsnaz units at army level (See Appendix A), on the other hand, are dropped in the areas of operations of their own armies at a depth of 100 to 500 kilometres; and spetsnaz units under the command of the fronts (See Appendix B) are dropped in the area of operations of their fronts at a depth of between 500 and 1000 kilometres.
The headquarters to which the group is subordinated tries not to interfere in the operations of the spetsnaz group, reckoning that the commander on the spot can see and understand the situation better than can people at headquarters far from where the events are taking place. The headquarters will intervene if it becomes necessary to redirect it to attack a more important target or if a strike is to take place where it is located. But a warning may not be given if the group is not going to have time to get away from the strike area, since all such warnings carry the risk of revealing Soviet intentions to the enemy.
Co-operation between different groups of spetsnaz is carried out by means of a distribution of territories for operations by different groups, so that simultaneous blows can be struck in different areas if need be. Co-operation can also be carried out by forward headquarters at battalion, regiment and brigade level, dropped behind the lines to co-ordinate major spetsnaz forces in an area. Because spetsnaz organisation is so flexible, a group which has landed by chance in another group's operational area can quickly be brought under the latter's command by an order from a superior headquarters.
In the course of a war other Soviet units apart from spetsnaz will be operating in enemy territory:
Deep reconnaissance companies from the reconnaissance battalions of the motor-rifle and tank divisions. Both in their function and the tactics they adopt, these companies are practically indistinguishable from regular spetsnaz. The difference lies in the fact that these companies do not use parachutes but penetrate behind the enemy's lines in helicopters, jeeps and armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Deep reconnaissance units do not usually co-operate with spetsnaz. But their operations, up to 100 kilometres behind the front line, make it possible to concentrate spetsnaz activity deeper in the enemy's rear without having to divert it to operations in the zone nearer the front.
Air-assault brigades at front level operate independently, but in some cases spetsnaz units may direct the combat helicopters to their targets. It is sometimes possible to have joint operations conducted by men dropped from helicopters and to use helicopters from an air-assault brigade for evacuating the wounded and prisoners.
Airborne divisions operate in accordance with the plans of the commander-in-chief. If difficulties arise with the delivery of supplies to their units, they switch to partisan combat tactics. Co-operation between airborne divisions and spetsnaz units is not normally organised, although large-scale drops in the enemy's rear create a favourable situation for operations by all spetsnaz units.
Naval infantry are commanded by the same commander as naval spetsnaz: every fleet commander has one brigade of the latter and a brigade (or regiment) of infantry. Consequently these two formations, both intended for operations in the enemy's rear, co-operate very closely. Normally when the naval infantry makes a landing on an enemy coastline, their operation is preceded by, or accompanied by, spetsnaz operations in the same area. Groups of naval spetsnaz can, of course, operate independently of the naval infantry if they need to, especially in cases where the operations are expected to be in remote areas requiring special skills of survival or concealment.
There are two specific sets of circumstances in which superior headquarters organises direct co-operation between all units operating in the enemy rear. The first is when a combined attack offers the only possibility of destroying or capturing the target, and the second is when Soviet units in the enemy rear have suffered substantial losses and the Soviet command decides to make up improvised groups out of the remnants of the ragged units that are left.
In the course of an advance spetsnaz groups, as might be expected, co-operate very closely with the forward detachments.
A Soviet advance — a sudden break through the defences of the enemy in several places and the rapid forward movement of masses of troops, supported by an equal mass of aircraft and helicopters -is always co-ordinated with a simultaneous strike in the rear of the enemy by spetsnaz forces, airborne troops and naval infantry.
In other armies different criteria are applied to measure a commander's success — for example, what percentage of the enemy's forces have been destroyed by his troops. In the Soviet Army this is of secondary importance, and may be of no importance at all, because a commander's value is judged by one criterion only: the speed with which his troops advance.
To take the speed of advance as the sole measure of a commander's abilities is not so stupid as it might seem at first glance. As a guiding principle it forces all commanders to seek, find and exploit the weakest spots in the enemy's defences. It obliges the commander to turn the enemy's flank and to avoid getting caught up in unnecessary skirmishes. It also makes commanders make use of theoretically impassable areas to get to the rear of the enemy, instead of battering at his defences.
To find the enemy's weak spots a commander will send reconnaissance groups ahead, and forward detachments which he has assembled for the duration of the advance. Every commander of a regiment, division, army and, in some cases, of a front will form his own forward detachment. In a regiment the detachment normally includes a motor-rifle company with a tank platoon (or a tank company with a motor-rifle platoon); a battery of self-propelled howitzers; an anti-aircraft platoon; and an anti-tank platoon and sapper and chemical warfare units. In a division it will consist of a motor-rifle or tank battalion, with a tank or motor-rifle company as appropriate; an artillery battalion; anti-aircraft and anti-tank batteries; and a company of sappers and some support units. In an army the scale is correspondingly greater: two or three motor-rifle battalions; one or two tank battalions; two or three artillery battalions, a battalion of multi-barrelled rocket launchers; a few anti-aircraft batteries; an anti-tank battalion; and sappers and chemical warfare troops. Where a front makes up its own forward detachment it will consist of several regiments, most of them tank regiments. The success of each general (i.e. the speed at which he advances) is determined by the speed of his very best units. In practice this means that it is determined by the operations of the forward detachment which he sends into battle. Thus every general assembles his best units for that crucial detachment, puts his most determined officers in command, and puts at their disposal a large slice of his reinforcements. All this makes the forward detachment into a concentration of the strength of the main forces.
It often happens that very high-ranking generals are put in command of relatively small detachments. For example, the forward detachment of the 3rd Guards Tank Army in the Prague operation was commanded by General I. G. Ziberov, who was deputy chief of staff. (The detachment consisted of the 69th mechanised brigade, the 16th self-propelled artillery brigade, the 50th motorcycle regiment, and the 253rd independent penal company).
Every forward detachment is certainly very vulnerable. Let us imagine what the first day of a war in Europe would be like, when the main concentration of Soviet troops has succeeded in some places in making very small breaches in the defences of the forces of the Western powers. Taking advantage of these breaches, and of any other opportunities offered — blunders by the enemy, unoccupied sectors and the like — about a hundred forward detachments of regiments, about twenty-five more powerful forward detachments of divisions, and about eight even more powerful forward detachments from armies have penetrated into the rear of the NATO forces. None of them has got involved in the fighting. They are not in the least concerned about their rear or their flanks. They are simply racing ahead without looking back.
This is very similar to the Vistula-Oder operation of 1945, on the eve of which Marshal G. K. Zhukov assembled all sixty-seven commanders of the forward detachments and demanded of each one: 100 kilometres forward progress on the first day of the operation. A hundred kilometres, irrespective of how the main forces were operating, and irrespective of whether the main forces succeeded in breaking through the enemy's defences. Every commander who advanced a hundred kilometres on the first day or averaged seventy kilometres a day for the first four days would receive the highest award — the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union. Everybody in the detachment would receive a decoration, and all the men undergoing punishment (every forward detachment has on its strength anything from a company to a battalion's worth of such men riding on the outside of the tanks) would have their offences struck out.
Say what you like about the lack of initiative in Soviet soldiers and officers. Just imagine giving men from a penal battalion such a task. If you succeed in not getting involved in the fighting, and if you manage to outflank the enemy and keep moving, we will strike out all your offences. Get involved in fighting and you will not only shed your blood, you will die a criminal too.
Operations by Soviet forward detachments are not restrained by any limitations. 'The operations of forward detachments must be independent and not restricted by the dividing lines,' the Soviet Military Encyclopaedia declares. The fact that the forward detachments may be cut off from the main force should not deter them. For example, on the advance in Manchuria in 1945 the 6th Guards Tank Army advanced rapidly towards the ocean, having crossed the desert, the apparently impregnable Khingan mountain range and the rice fields, and covering 810 kilometres in eleven days. But ahead of it were forward detachments, operating continually, which had rushed 150 to 200 kilometres ahead of the main force. When the officer in command of the front learnt of this spurt ahead (by quite unprotected detachments, which really had not a single support vehicle with them), he did not order the detachments to slow down; on the contrary, he ordered them to increase their speed still further, and not to worry about the distance separating them, however great it was. The more the forward detachments were separated from the main force, the better. The more unsuspected and strange the appearance of Soviet troops seems to the enemy, the greater the panic and the more successful the operations of both the forward detachments and the main Soviet troops.
Forward detachments were of enormous importance in the last war. The speed at which our troops advanced reached at times eighty to a hundred kilometres a day. Such a speed of advance in operations on such an enormous scale causes surprise even today. But it must always be remembered that this terrible rate of advance was to a great extent made possible by the operations of the forward detachments'. These are the words of Army-General I.I. Gusakovsky, the same general who from January to April 1945, from the Vistula to Berlin itself, commanded the forward detachment of the 11th Guards Tank Corps and the whole of the 1st Guards Tank Army.
In the last war the forward detachments pierced the enemy's defences with dozens of spearheads at the same time, and the main body of troops followed in their tracks. The forward detachments then destroyed in the enemy's rear only targets that were easy to destroy, and in many cases moved forward quickly enough to capture bridges before they were blown up. The reason the enemy had not blown them up was because his main forces were still wholly engaged against the main forces of the Red Army.
The role played by forward detachments has greatly increased in modern warfare. All Soviet military exercises are aimed at improving the operations of forward detachments. There are two very good reasons why the role of the forward detachments has grown in importance. The first is, predictably, that war has acquired a nuclear dimension. Nuclear weapons (and other modern means of fighting) need to be discovered and destroyed at the earliest possible opportunity. And the more Soviet troops there are on enemy territories, the less likelihood there is of their being destroyed by nuclear weapons. It will always be difficult for the enemy to make a nuclear strike against his own rear where not only are his own forces operating, and which are inhabited but where a strike would also be against his own civilian population.
A forward detachment, rushing far ahead and seeking out and destroying missile batteries, airfields, headquarters and communication lines resembles spetsnaz both in character and in spirit. It usually has no transport vehicles at all. It carries only what can be found room for in the tanks and armoured transporters, and its operations may last only a short time, until the fuel in the tanks gives out. All the same, the daring and dashing actions of the detachments will break up the enemy's defences, producing chaos and panic in his rear, and creating conditions in which the main force can operate with far greater chances of success.
In principle spetsnaz does exactly the same. The difference is that spetsnaz groups have greater opportunities for discovering important targets, whereas forward detachments have greater opportunities than spetsnaz for destroying them. Which is why the forward detachment of each regiment is closely linked up with the regiment's reconnaissance company secretly operating deep inside the enemy's defences. Similarly, the forward detachments of divisions are linked directly with divisional reconnaissance battalions, receiving a great deal of information from them and, by their swift reactions, creating better operating conditions for the reconnaissance battalions.
The forward detachment of an army, usually led by the deputy army commander, will be operating at the same time as the army's spetsnaz groups who will have been dropped 100 to 500 kilometres ahead. This means that the forward detachment may find itself in the same operational area as the army's spetsnaz groups as early as forty-eight hours after the start of the operation. At that point the deputy army commander will establish direct contact with the spetsnaz groups, receiving information from them, sometimes redirecting groups to more important targets and areas, helping the groups and receiving help from them. The spetsnaz group may, for example, capture a bridge and hold it for a very short time. The forward detachment simply has to be able to move fast enough to get to the bridge and take over with some of its men. The spetsnaz group will stay at the bridge, while the forward detachment runs ahead, and then, after the main body of Soviet forces has arrived at the bridge the spetsnaz group will again, after briefing, be dropped by parachute far ahead.
Sometimes spetsnaz at the front level will operate in the interests of the army's forward detachments, in which case the army's own spetsnaz will turn its attention to the most successful forward detachments of the army's divisions.
Forward detachments are a very powerful weapon in the hands of the Soviet commanders, who have great experience in deploying them. They are in reality the best units of the Soviet Army and in the course of an advance will operate not only in a similar way to spetsnaz, but in very close collaboration with it too. The success of operations by spetsnaz groups in strategic warfare depends ultimately on the skill and fighting ability of dozens of forward detachments which carry out lightning operations to overturn the enemy's plans and frustrate his attempts to locate and destroy the spetsnaz groups.