A typical example of the offensive of the Russian army during the wartime period of war is the Galician battle, which unfolded at the front in 400 km and lasted 33 day. During this battle, Russian troops defeated four Austro-Hungarian armies, advanced 200 km and occupied Galicia.
The Austro-Hungarian troops retreated for pp San and Dunajec to Krakow, and for a long time could not conduct active operations. The frontal offensive of the troops of the South-Western Front was combined with simultaneous embraces and rounds of the flanks of enemy units and subunits. When the advance of the Russian infantry was delayed by machine gun fire from the Austrians, artillery came to the rescue. Moving forward to open positions, she destroyed enemy firing points with direct fire. Thus, during the offensive north of the city of Tomashov at the second stage of the Galician battle, south of Tarnavatka, the Austrian battalion stubbornly defended. At the height of 325,8, the enemy successfully positioned a group of machine guns that shot all approaches to the position with longitudinal fire - its attack by two Russian battalions did not bring any success. Two 76-mm guns were pushed into open positions, and within a few minutes all Austrian machine guns were destroyed by direct fire. After that, one Russian battalion attacked the Austrians from the front, and the other, bypassing the enemy’s right flank and going to the rear, cut off the retreat path. As a result of the skillful combination of an offensive from the front and a roundabout maneuver, the enemy battalion was defeated.
With the establishment of positional forms of struggle, the nature of the battle has changed dramatically. The strength of the defenders, burrowing into the trenches and covering themselves with wire barriers, increased even more.
Combined arms combat was still based on the interaction of infantry and artillery, but the importance of artillery increased. It was entrusted with the task of preparing an infantry attack, destroying enemy defenses and making passages in barriers. The density of artillery groups also increased. The infantry required the swiftness of the offensive, in order to overcome the defensive system of the enemy with one throw. But this did not succeed - the methods of shooting were still poorly developed, advancing artillery forward posed enormous difficulties, and the infantry, deprived of the support of artillery, broke into the depths of the defense, was destroyed by the enemy.
The depth of combat order has increased dramatically. The chains were replaced by deeply echeloned waves of chains. The battle formation acquired the features of a deep phalanx, cumbersome, difficult to control, limited in its maneuver, capable only of straight forward movement.
The defense in the first year of positional struggle developed in depth. The importance of infantry melee increased in the maze of trenches and shelters. Armored grenades entered the armament of the infantry. Trench artillery appears. New elements such as escort artillery and assault groups appeared in battle formation. The combat formations of units and formations began to be echeloned. The division's offensive line was still reduced (to 2 km), and the offensive was carried out from pre-prepared initial positions after careful artillery preparation, during which chemical shells were sometimes used.
Overcoming a solid and deeply echeloned defense required a better organization of the interaction of the combat arms on the battlefield. If at the beginning of the war it was organized between infantry and artillery, then during the war it became necessary to organize closer interaction not only with artillery, but also with aviation. The battle more and more began to acquire the character of a combined arms, and success in it was achieved only as a result of the joint efforts of all the combat arms participating in it.
The Russian infantry learned how to conduct successful offensive operations in the context of a positional warfare, breaking through the enemy's echeloned defense — an illustration is the offensive of the South-Western Front in the spring and summer of 1916 and the Mitava operation of the 12 Army in December of the same year.
Il 3. Russian infantry.
In the section on defensive combat, a new form of defense that emerged in the Russo-Japanese War 1904 - 1905. (in the form of continuous lines of continuous trenches), was not provided. Statutory documents gave the defense a subordinate and temporary nature. Thus, the Field Service Charter did not deny the importance of defense and recognized the need to move to it, but only if the goal could not be achieved by means of an offensive. [Charter Field Service. C. 207].
The Charter demanded that the defense be active and end with the transition to the offensive. Being defended, it was necessary not only to fend off the enemy, but, having upset the latter, to deliver a decisive blow to him, having taken all forces in a vigorous offensive. Being defended from the enemy, it was necessary to upset the enemy with fire by all means and methods, and, undermining his moral strength, to launch an offensive and defeat him [Ibid].
The defense was divided into active and passive. In the first case, the defender, having taken part of his troops in defensive positions, shackling the enemy on a fortified front, another part (reserve) had to go on the offensive, ending the battle with a decisive blow.
The defense was recommended to organize in the form of strong points, which were among themselves in the fire communication. It was necessary to create not a solid defensive position, but to use tactically the most promising areas of the terrain — strong points (heights, groves, etc.) defended by companies, and groups of strong points (resistance nodes) protected by battalions. The combination of such defense units formed regimental defense sites.
Memories of the participant in the Battle of Galicia characterize the Russian defensive positions at the beginning of the war, noting the lack of solid lines of trenches - they were dug dug up in the form of separate holes in which people somehow hid [Belkovich L. Parts of the VIII Army Corps in the battle of Gorodok in September 1914 // Militaryhistorical compilation. Proceedings of the military historical commission. M., 1920. S. 71].
Being on combat sites, front-line troops fought the enemy. Accordingly, the structure of the infantry combat sites included a rifle chain with private supports and reserves, in depth. The task of the latter was: 1) to support the rifle chain; 2) in conducting counterattacks against the enemy who has broken through; 3) in countering enemy coverage. The length of the front of the combat sites for the company was determined approximately in 200 - 300 steps.
The defense was to be carried out on one strong stationary position with a wide sector of shelling.
Artillery was supposed to be behind the positions of the infantry. Since at the beginning of the war the troops had a small number of machine guns, the defense during this period was based primarily on rifle and artillery fire. The chief of the combat sector decided whether to put the machine guns into the firing position immediately or to keep them in reserve.
In addition to the main defensive position, the defending forces could occupy leading positions and individual strongholds. The forward strong points were to be within the range of fire from the main position. Since such positions could lead to local defeats (this view was based on the negative experience of the Russo-Japanese War), the Field Manual did not recognize their tactical value. In this, he agreed with the English and German statutes, while the French charter attached great importance to the forward positions.
The idea of deep defense, due to the comparative weakness of infantry fire weapons (2 - 3 guns and 2 machine guns on the 4-company battalion) at the beginning of the war was not fully realized. In order to achieve a fire advantage over the attacker, all forces were put forward into the battle line. That is why the attacker could, with the help of a powerful strike, crush the defensive line - often deciding the outcome of the defense.
To be able to strike the enemy troops with a retaliatory strike, it was necessary to have available free (reserve) units that could launch a counterstrike to the attacker. It was recommended to create not a solid line of trenches, but separate resistance nodes to create these free forces. This made it possible to organize cross-shelling in front of the front of a defensive position, as well as gaps between the nodes of resistance. In the depth of such a position, strong reserves should have been located - in the direction of the enemy's probable offensive.
It turned out a vicious circle - the idea of active defense required a sufficient amount of reserves due to the weakness of infantry fire weapons. This forced to focus on the firing line all that is possible - to compensate for the lack of quality of these funds with their number. And the concentration of these forces and means in the battle line deprived the command of reserves and led to the fact that the enemy could break through the defensive line with one powerful blow - there was nothing to parry it. In many respects, this circumstance explains the fact that the defense of the Russian troops in the first period of the war is not always sufficiently stable.
When organizing defense, the commanders of combat units were instructed to study in detail the properties of the terrain, correctly distribute troops, concentrate artillery and reserves, establish communications and monitor the progress of the battle. The trenches and strongholds were to be disguised and have good sectors of fire.
Deployment in a defensive position should have been carried out unnoticed by the enemy. Particularly regulated firing from the defending units. Thus, it was stated that infantry should not be carried away by fire for long distances (first of all, in order not to find out their positions), artillery should fire if “they have lucrative targets for destruction”. Artillery and rifle fire of the defender must focus on the most successfully attacking parts of the enemy - on the edge of the main attack of the enemy. An important task of artillery was to conduct counter-battery struggle.
A serious advantage of the defensive concept of the Russian army was the desire for active defense, especially during the war of maneuver. The defending units had to take advantage of every opportunity to launch a counter-offensive. Skillful handling of reserves, the combination of fire and bayonet strike - the key to a successful defense.
So, the order command 4-th army of 18. 04. 1915 noted that when organizing the defense, the troops seek to create a continuous line of trenches - even when they were occupied in positions already prepared in engineering terms, consisting of a system of strong points located between themselves in firing links, the troops, fearing intervals, connected the strong points of the trenches - re-creating a solid line. But in a field war, such solid lines do not strengthen, but, on the contrary, weaken the defensive position of the defensive position: solid trenches absorb a large number of troops, and as a result, a thin line of defense is obtained with weak reserves. And when breaking through in one place, the whole defensive line also surrenders. In addition, in order to meet the enemy's blow with a decisive counter-attack, acting from a solid line of trenches, the fighters have to jump out of them only on the available exits. Conversely, when a position includes not solid trenches, but a number of strong points that are in close fire communication with each other, the defenders have a number of advantages. The occupation of such strongholds requires a significantly smaller number of troops - and thanks to this, powerful reserves remain. If the flank trenches and strongholds are correctly created by steps backwards, have a barrier system and reliable fire communication with crossfire in between, then the enemy’s breakthrough is actually unthinkable. A strong reserve and defense flexibility are the main advantages of this system. The advancement of reserves acting in the intervals between the strongholds, naturally, leads to a flank attack on the advancing enemy units. The order prescribed to create visors in the trenches at intervals - in order to be able to quickly go on the offensive, and every 10 steps on the backside of the ditch to make steps - to shoot the enemy on wire obstacles, and in the case when he overcame them, have time to jump out of the trenches , having met him with a bayonet. Behind the first line of fortifications in the most important combat areas it was ordered to build support nodes. [De-Lazari A.N. Active defense of the corps. M.-L., 1930. C. 11 - 12].
In the order of the commander of the 25 Army Corps, the troops of his unit were ordered to conduct an active defense - and for this, the position should not create a solid line of trenches, but form resistance nodes. The strength of the defense - in the activity of the reserves, which should be allocated as much as possible [Ibid. C. 12].
All this was of practical importance - and the troops of the 4 Army (primarily the 25 Army Corps) during the spring and summer campaign of 1915, twice brilliantly showed themselves. Applying the active defense method under Opatov in May and under Krasnik in July 1915, only in the latter case did the 10-15 have thousands of people killed and wounded and captured more than 22,5 thousand prisoners.
Il 4. Trenches.
The main thing in the active defense is the fire communication between the defensive sectors and the active response (primarily through counterattacks) to a change in the tactical situation. Distinguished counterattacks parts of the combat area and from the depth of defense. The first were carried out by company and battalion support, the second - by battalion reserves, with the support of artillery.
Charters and manuals stipulated that it is necessary to “defend every step of the internal space of a position,” and “flank and oblique fire of machine guns and artillery and attacks from ambushes of infantry and cavalry units” can not only delay and stop the enemy's onslaught, but also incline the success of the battle defender
If necessary, the possibility of withdrawal was allowed, but only in order to take a new position and rebuff the enemy on it, subsequently going over to the offensive.
To be continued
In the offensive and defense. On the tactics of the Russian infantry of the First World War. 2 part
- Oleynikov Alexey