Military Review

In the offensive and defense. On the tactics of the Russian infantry of the First World War. 1 part

Despite all the advantages of defense, at all times military art recognized the offensive as the main type of battle. After the Russo-Japanese War 1904 - 1905 attention was drawn to the fact that the Russian army, despite the precepts of A. V. Suvorov about the superiority of the offensive against the “mean defense”, was in fact not able to conduct effective offensive actions.

Therefore, immediately after the war, special attention was paid to "introducing an offensive spirit" in the army by issuing a number of instructions, instructions, and scientific works. In the textbooks of tactics, in contrast to previous publications, the idea of ​​the primacy of the offensive in front of the defense began to be conducted. Moreover, the term “defense” was replaced by some specialists with the term “waiting”.

As a result, the experience of war, refracted by military thought, found its expression in the new field charter of the Russian army.

The main place in the Charter of the Field Service 1912 (reissued in 1915) was an offensive battle - it was the “Most Valid Means” for defeating the enemy. Moreover, the basis of actions at each meeting with the enemy should have been the desire for offensive actions. “The decision to defeat the enemy must be irrevocable and brought to the end. The desire to win must be in the head and heart of every boss; they must instill this determination with all their subordinates " [Charter Field Service. SPb .: Military printing house, 1912. C. 195].

The fact that the offensive subjugates the will of the enemy and breaks down its operational plans was the key in recognizing an offensive battle as a priority tactical device for the Russian army. The document noted that: “In advancing, one should strive to deprive the enemy of his freedom of action, undermine his moral strength and ability to resist. This is achieved by energy in the development of further actions in accordance with the task and the situation that will be formed during the offensive, and causing the enemy as much losses as possible. ” [Ibid. C. 197].

It should be borne in mind that the enemy cannot be considered immobile - he will react to the activity of the Russian troops. Accordingly, the command must be ready to parry any surprises. A thorough reconnaissance should precede the offensive.

The main form of offensive combat is an attack on an enemy who is in a defensive position.

An offensive battle consists of the following periods: rapprochement, offensive, attack, and pursuit.

Considering the increased power of field artillery, the troops approaching the enemy’s advanced position 5 - 3 km are entering a period of rendezvous. At this stage, a plan of attack is developed, the objects of attack are determined, an order is issued for the attack, and the formations, units and subunits are deployed into battle order. Further rapprochement takes place in a dispersed order of battle, and the commander is required to be able to advance his unit independently and covertly.

The Artillery Charter recommended pushing forward (often at the forefront) - so that it could most effectively fight the enemy’s fire weapons.

Vanguard decisive action should provide profitable starting positions for the offensive of the main forces, to capture strongholds, facilitating their deployment and further action.

The offensive period began from the moment when the infantry occupied the first rifle position. From this point on, it must attack not only under the cover of artillery fire, but also under the cover of small arms.

The Charter considered movement to be the best form of the attack as a rifle chain with intervals of two to ten steps between fighters. The document stated: “The advance of the infantry consists of a combination of movement towards the enemy with fire from rifle positions. The more secretive and faster the transition from one position to another, the less it will suffer losses and achieve better results with its fire, thanks to the suddenness of opening it with new positions. This is achieved depending on the distance to the enemy and the strength of his fire, dashes platoons, squads, units and one by one, if necessary with short stops between rifle positions, so that the targets for the enemy are not great and appear to him only for a short time; in the near distance from the enemy you will even have to crawl [Ibid. C. 199].

Before the last throw to the front edge of the enemy defense, the advancing infantry was instructed to take the last shooting line, replenish people with company and battalion reserves and prepare an attack with rifle fire. The attack was supposed to begin when the enemy is most depressed by the fire of the advancing infantry, and must be waged swiftly and energetically.

An offensive against the front of the enemy must be combined with the coverage of its flanks, and if forces and conditions allow, then with a round.

After the enemy is knocked down, the attackers must proceed to his pursuit.

It was quite rightly noted that combat success will be given to someone who has a clear goal, is better oriented in the environment, acts more resolutely, more skillfully and braver. And the efforts of all parts of the troops should be directed towards achieving a common goal.

A decisive blow and the use of all available forces and means - the key to success.

The charter of field service was the best charter in Europe on the eve of world war. It most fully considered both forms of combat and actions of troops in battle. Special emphasis was placed on the maneuvering of units and formations in various types of combat.

At the same time, the German Stroyev infantry charter demanded a continuous offensive from the infantry — without application to the terrain, in height, without self-digging. The French charter, as well as the German one, demanded to advance without being applied to the terrain and without self-digging.

The experience of the Great War corrected the tactics of offensive combat, especially for infantry. First of all, it concerned the movement under enemy fire. Thus, the instructions and recommendations developed during the war indicated that when firing rare, but at the same time accurate fire of heavy artillery, it was necessary to hear the sound of an approaching series of enemy shells, immediately heal, and after the break, quickly jumped to his feet, continue motion [Bunyakovsky V. From the experience of the current war. PG.1916. C. 16]. A different tactic was recommended for movement under shrapnel fire: in this case it is not advisable to lie down, since for shrapnel fire “a person in a supine position, especially at long distances, is a bigger target than a moving ...” [Ibid. C. 17]. To reduce the number of cases of severe and fatal wounds to the head, it was recommended to cover the head with an engineer blade, located “in a somewhat inclined position”. In an unexpected machine-gun fire, it was prescribed to immediately lie down facing the machine guns, tightly clinging to the ground and using a shovel to protect the head. The soldier had to take advantage of the pause in the shooting of the machine gun in order to continue the dashes.

The fighters were recommended to attack light, removing unwanted equipment. The movement in the attack should have been characterized by swiftness, while running the body of the soldier was given a forward inclined position. When attacking positions equipped with wire barriers, groups were allocated to make passes in the barriers.

Russian troops successfully waged offensive battles of any complexity. For example, in October 1915. The 34 Infantry Division, technically relatively poorly equipped, gained a strong enemy position stretching up to 5 km, defended by a more numerous enemy with approximately equivalent technical equipment. Success was achieved at relatively low total losses (slightly more than 1500 people), while the compound trophies were 5692 prisoners, 4 mortars, 17 machine guns and a searchlight. The reasons for the tactical success were: surprise and relative power of artillery preparation; the swiftness of the strike and the preliminary rapprochement of the infantry with the enemy trenches at a distance of up to 300 meters.

In a positional war, the only type of infantry action was a breakthrough. At the end of 1915 - the beginning of 1916. strong wire fences and fire defenders led to the failure of infantry attacks. The use of scissors for cutting wire entailed only the death of people who cut it. Boards, mats and other auxiliary equipment used to overcome barriers did not meet the expectations placed on it. During this period, the Russian artillery, due to its small size, could not provide substantial assistance to the infantry.

A new word in the tactics of the offensive was the actions of the Russian troops during the Offensive of the South-Western Front 1916. They were distinguished by careful coordination of the actions of all combat arms. In order to disorient the enemy, the Russian command organized a breakthrough of the Austro-German positions not on a single combat sector, but simultaneously on several directions - on a broad front. The enemy was deprived of the opportunity to properly use their reserves and could not remove troops from one sector of the front and transfer them to another. The gunners acted so skillfully that the enemy for a long time could not establish when the infantry would begin the attack. After the shooting, the Austrian trenches of the first line opened fire. Then, when the enemy took refuge in underground shelters ("foxhole"), the artillery moved its fire deep into the enemy defense. The Austrian infantry, thinking that the Russian attack would now begin, again took up its position to repel it. But the Russian gunners again concentrated fire on the first line of the trenches, forcing the enemy’s infantry to take refuge in shelters for the third time. Russian artillery until then repeated its maneuver with the transfer of fire, until the last, for the fifth time, the Austrians had not left their shelters during the transfer of fire. Then the Russian infantry rushed to the attack and without a shot broke into the first line of trenches, destroying and taking prisoner of a stunned enemy.

Thus, the tactics of attack underwent great changes in the course of the war. In accordance with the norms of the prewar statutes, an all-arms battle consisted of the interaction of infantry and artillery, and the prevailing importance of infantry and the secondary role of artillery were emphasized. The entire burden of the offensive battle fell on the shoulders of infantry, armed with rifles and a small number of heavy machine guns. Artillery usually conducted only short artillery preparation, but did not support the infantry during the attack and did not accompany it in the depths of the enemy defense.

But already the experience of the first battles revealed a sharp increase in the value of fire. Particularly vividly revealed the importance of machine-gun fire in defense - overcoming the fire of the defense of even weakly entrenched infantry turned out to be extremely difficult. The main reason for this was the lack of artillery, especially howitzer and heavy, and a rather weak interaction of infantry and artillery.

The basis of the combat order was the rifle chain.

The combat sector was a dense rifle chain, followed by numerous support companies and companies (battalion, regimental, brigade and divisional) in platoon and company columns. Despite the fact that at the first stage of the war, the rifle chain responded to the realities of the hostilities, over time, the failure of the linear battle formation emerged, the rifle chain being the vivid expression of which. Her strike force was insufficient, and she was difficult to maneuver. The chain was vulnerable to enemy fire, machine-gun fire literally mowed it down. The lack of a deep build of battle order made it impossible to feed the offensive from the depths, it was often exhausted. Linear combat order was sensitive to enemy counterattacks. The lack of depth of order of battle painfully affected in defense.

Il 1. Offensive infantry. Galicia, 1914

Il 2. Russian infantry attacks German positions.

The offensive usually began with a non-engineered line, located at a distance of 1000-1500 meters from the enemy, and was conducted in the form of rectilinear and uniform advance of troops. The main method of conducting an offensive battle was considered to be a combination of a frontal strike with coverage (bypass) of one or both enemy flanks (the line of advance of the Russian infantry division in 1914 was 6 - 9 km). The experience of the first battles showed that this method of solving problems and building combat order, often leading to heavy losses from enemy fire, did not provide sufficient initial attack power and overcome even the enemy’s shallow defense, because the reserves were used not to build up forces from the depth, but to fill chain losses.

Later, long-term artillery preparation began to be carried out for fire suppression of the enemy’s reinforced defense and preparation for an attack, the division’s offensive line narrowed, and the intervals between fighters in the rifle chain increased.

To be continued

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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 25 August 2017 07: 27
    Not a bad review ..
  2. IvanTheTerrible
    IvanTheTerrible 25 August 2017 08: 46
    Very interesting article! I sincerely thank you and look forward to continuing!
  3. Lieutenant Teterin
    Lieutenant Teterin 25 August 2017 10: 19
    Great article! The author - my sincere gratitude for the work done! hi The article is very valuable because in modern historiography, little attention is paid to the study of the First World War, which became the Second World War for Russia. Equally little attention is paid to the study of the tactics of the Russian troops of that time, and this is a valuable and integral part of Russian military art.
    PS I want to add on my own behalf that the Russian Field Service Charter, recognizing the offensive as a priority form of battle, paid a lot of attention to self-digging, coupled with the engineering properties of the terrain, while, for example, the French did not even contain a chapter on defense, and the battle, according to the French military theorists , had to decide "elan vital" - "vital impulse", i.e. swift offensive light, which with its onslaught will overturn the enemy. The French paid dearly for this theory in August 1914, as well as for the bright red uniform infantry pants.
  4. My three penny
    My three penny 25 August 2017 14: 08
    Interesting and informative.
  5. Barcid
    Barcid 25 August 2017 15: 30
    Good, scrupulous article
  6. Nagaibak
    Nagaibak 4 February 2018 17: 47
    Thank you for your work. A wonderful series of articles. I want a book.))) Seriously ... do you have any information on the 7th Finland Rifle Regiment?
  7. The comment was deleted.