Studying the memoirs of the military leaders of the First and Second World Wars (both on one side and on the other), we pay special attention to the work of commanders and staffs in developing and making decisions on command and control of troops. One of the most important factors in the decision-making process is how the commander evaluates his opponent. Practice shows that in memoirs it is rather difficult to find a real characterization given to one's opponent. In this regard, the book of the major general tank Wehrmacht troops F. Melentin is an exception. It is one of the few that gives an objective and complete description of the soldiers of the Red Army. We believe that this material will be of interest to many. The material is cited from the publication: Mellentin F.V. Tank battles 1939-1945 .: Combat use of tanks in the Second World War. - M.: IL, 1957.
For reference: Mellenthin Friedrich von Wilhelm, Major General of Tank Forces. On the Eastern Front, he was Chief of Staff of the 48 tank corps, and then Chief of Staff of the Tank Army 4. Took part in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk.
Over the years, the value of the experience gained by German troops in the war with Russia will decline, and a new assessment of the Russian military capabilities will be required. Nevertheless, the character and qualities of the Russian soldier, as well as the methods of warfare typical for him, are unlikely to change significantly. Therefore, the experience of the Second World War is a reliable basis for a correct assessment of Russia's military might.
1. Psychology of a Russian soldier
It can almost be said with certainty that not a single cultural inhabitant of the West will ever understand the character and soul of the Russians. Knowledge of the Russian character can serve as a key to understanding the fighting qualities of a Russian soldier, his advantages and methods of his struggle on the battlefield. Resilience and peace of mind of a fighter have always been paramount factors in the war and often in their significance turned out to be more important than the number and equipment of the troops. This is a well-known position for the Second World War; I think it will remain valid in the future.
One can never say in advance what the Russian will undertake: as a rule, he rushes from one extreme to another. His nature is as unusual and complex as this huge and incomprehensible country itself. It is difficult to imagine the limits of his patience and endurance, he is extraordinarily bold and courageous and, nevertheless, at times shows cowardice. There were cases when the Russian units, selflessly repelled all the attacks of the Germans, suddenly ran in front of small assault groups. Sometimes the Russian infantry battalions were confused after the very first shots, and the next day the same units fought with fanatical stamina.
Russians are very inconsistent: today they show no concern about securing their flanks, and tomorrow the thought that their flanks are in danger threatens them. The Russian soldier treats generally accepted tactical principles with disdain, but, at the same time, tries to follow the letter of his charters completely.
His personality is fragile, it is easily dissolved in mass; another thing is patience and endurance - character traits that have developed over many centuries. Thanks to the natural strength of these qualities, Russians are in many ways superior to the more conscious soldier of the West.
In a crowd, he is full of hatred and unusually cruel, one - it is friendly and generous. These qualities are typical for Russians - residents of the Asian part of the country, Mongols, Turkmen and Uzbeks, as well as for the Slavs living west of the Urals.
The Russian soldier loves his "mother Russia", and therefore he fights for the communist regime, although, generally speaking, he is not a political fanatic. However, it should be borne in mind that the party and its organs have enormous influence in the Red Army. Almost all commissioners are residents of cities and people from the working class. Their courage borders on recklessness; these people are very smart and determined. They managed to create in the Russian army what it lacked in World War I — iron discipline. Such a military discipline that knows no pity — which, I am sure, no other army could have withstood — turned the unorganized crowd into an unusually powerful weapon of war. Discipline - the main trump card of communism, the driving force of the army. She was also a decisive factor in achieving the great political and military successes of Stalin.
Russian remains a good soldier everywhere and in any conditions. In the age of the atomic weapons All this can be very important. One of the main advantages of Russia will be its ability to withstand the enormous destruction and bloody battles, as well as the ability to make unusually heavy demands on the population and the army in the field.
The problem of providing troops with food for the Russian command is of secondary importance, since the Russians in fact do not need a centralized army supply. The field kitchen, almost sacred in the eyes of the soldiers of other armies, is only a pleasant surprise for the Russians, and they can do without it all day and week. A Russian soldier is completely satisfied with a handful of millet or rice, adding to them what nature gives him. Such proximity to nature explains the ability of a Russian to become, as it were, a part of the earth, literally dissolving in it.
The soldier of the Russian army is an unsurpassed master of disguise and self-digging, as well as field fortification. He digs into the ground with incredible speed and so skillfully adapts to the terrain that it is almost impossible to detect. The Russian soldier, skillfully entrenched and well disguised, clings tightly to Mother Earth and, therefore, is doubly dangerous as an enemy. Often, even a long and careful observation is unsuccessful - the position of the Russians cannot be found. Therefore, extreme caution should be exercised, even if the terrain is known to be free from enemy.
The industrialization of the Soviet Union gave the Red Army new equipment and a large number of highly qualified specialists. The Russians quickly learned to use new types of weapons and, oddly enough, proved themselves capable of conducting combat operations using sophisticated military equipment.
Carefully selected specialists helped the rank and file to master modern military equipment, and it must be said that the Russians had achieved great success, especially in the communications troops. The longer the war dragged on, the better the Russian signalmen worked, the more skillfully they used radio interception, interfered and transmitted false messages.
To some extent, the high fighting qualities of the Russians are reduced by their natural laziness. However, during the war, the Russians constantly improved, and their top commanders and staffs received a lot of useful information by studying the experience of the combat operations of their troops and the German army. They learned to react quickly to any changes in the situation, to act energetically and resolutely.
Certainly, in the person of Zhukov, Konev, Vatutin and Vasilevsky, Russia had highly gifted commanders of armies and fronts. Junior commanders and often middle managers still suffered from sluggishness and inability to make independent decisions - because of the harsh disciplinary actions, they were afraid to take responsibility. A pattern in the training of commanders of small units led to the fact that they were accustomed not to go beyond the charters and instructions and were deprived of initiative and individuality, which is very important for a good commander. Russian soldiers and junior commanders were instinctively aware that, if left to their own devices, they would die. In this instinct, one can see the roots of both panic and the greatest heroism and self-sacrifice.
Despite these shortcomings, the Russian as a whole is certainly an excellent soldier and, with skillful leadership, is a dangerous adversary. It would be a serious mistake to underestimate him, although he, of course, does not fully meet the requirements of the soldiers of modern war. The strength of the soldier of the West lies in his personal qualities, high level of mental and spiritual development and the ability to act independently. It is difficult for veterans of World War II to believe that an ordinary Russian soldier will be capable of independent action. However, Russian is so full of contradictions that it would be a mistake not to take into account even this quality, which, quite possibly, is in its latent state.
The skillful and persistent work of the Communists has led to the fact that since 1917, Russia has changed in the most amazing way. There can be no doubt that the Russian is increasingly developing the skill of independent actions, and his level of education is constantly growing. It is possible that over a long period of preparation in a peaceful environment, he will develop a personal initiative.
Military leaders will certainly contribute in every way to such an evolution. The Russian high command knows its business better than the command of any other army. It is fully aware of the weaknesses of its armed forces and will do everything possible to eliminate the existing shortcomings. There is reason to assume that, at present, the methods of military training in Russia are aimed at developing the skills of independent actions of a single soldier and at educating younger officers of creative initiative. Of course, developing independence and critical thinking is dangerous for the communist regime, and therefore it is difficult to link this tendency with ruthless and unquestioning discipline. But, given the long period of peaceful development, it can be assumed that the Red Army, in all likelihood, will be able to find a compromise solution.
2. Russian tactics
The conduct of military operations by the Russians, especially in the offensive, is characterized by the use of a large number of manpower and equipment, which the command often introduces recklessly and stubbornly into battle, but achieves success.
Russians have always been famous for their contempt for death; the communist regime has further developed this quality, and now massive Russian attacks are more effective than ever before. Twice attempted attack will be repeated for the third and fourth time, despite the losses suffered, and the third and fourth attacks will be carried out with the same stubbornness and composure.
Until the very end of the war, the Russians, not paying attention to the huge losses, threw the infantry into the attack almost in close formation. Due to the superiority in numbers, this method has achieved many major successes. However, experience shows that such massive attacks can be sustained if the defenders are well prepared, have enough weapons and operate under the guidance of determined commanders.
Russian divisions, which had a very large composition, attacked, as a rule, on a narrow front. The terrain before the front of the defenders in the blink of an eye was suddenly filled with Russians. They appeared as if from under the ground, and it seemed impossible to contain the oncoming avalanche. The huge gaps from our fire were immediately filled; waves of infantry rolled one after another, and only when the human reserves were running out could they roll back. Infrequently, they did not retreat, but uncontrollably rushed forward. The reflection of this kind of attack depends not so much on the availability of technology, but rather on whether the nerves will survive.
Only battle-hardened soldiers were able to overcome the fear that encompassed everyone. Only a soldier who is aware of his duty and believes in himself, only those who have learned to act relying on themselves will be able to withstand the terrible tension of a Russian massive attack,
After 1941, masses of tanks added to the masses of Russians. It was, of course, much harder to repel such attacks, and it cost much more nervous tension.
Although the Russians, it seems to me, are not too strong in the art of creating improvised units, they understand how important it is at any time to have new troops in readiness to replace broken and battered units, and in general know how to do it. They replaced their bloodless parts with surprising speed.
Russian true masters of trickle - a form of warfare in which they have no equal. I also paid attention to their persistent desire to create bridgeheads or any other positions advanced. I must emphasize that if you even reconcile with the capture of the bridgehead by the Russians for a while, this can lead to fatal consequences. More and more new infantry units, tanks and artillery will approach the bridgehead, and this will continue until the offensive finally begins with it.
Russian prefer to make the movement of their troops at night and show with great art. However, they do not like to spend broad offensive actions at night - apparently, they understand that junior commanders are not sufficiently prepared for this. But night attacks with a limited goal (to restore the lost position or to facilitate the planned for the daytime offensive) they carry out.
In the fight against the Russians, it is necessary to get used to the new forms of hostilities. They must be ruthless, quick and flexible. You should never be complacent. Everyone should be prepared for any surprises, as anything can happen. It is not enough to fight in accordance with well-proven tactical positions, because no one can say with any certainty what the Russian response will be. It is impossible to predict how the Russians will react to their environment, a sudden attack, military cunning, etc.
In many cases, Russians rely on their innate instinct more than on existing tactical principles, and it must be recognized that instinct often brings them more benefits than training in many academies could provide. At first glance, their actions may seem incomprehensible, but they often fully justify themselves.
The Russians had one tactical mistake, which they could not eradicate, despite the brutal lessons. I mean their almost superstitious belief in the importance of mastering the highlands. They attacked at any height and fought for it with great tenacity, without attaching importance to its tactical value. It happened many times that mastering such a height was not dictated by tactical necessity, but the Russians never understood this and suffered heavy losses.
3.Characteristics of different types of troops
My remarks so far concerned mainly the actions of the Russian infantry, which during the Second World War fully preserved the great traditions of Suvorov and Skobelev.
Despite the enormous progress of military equipment, the Russian infantryman still remains one of the most important military factors in the world. This power of the Russian soldier is explained by his extreme closeness to nature. There are simply no natural obstacles for him: in an impassable forest, swamps and swamps, in a roadless steppe - everywhere he feels at home. It crosses wide rivers on the most elemental means at hand, it can pave roads everywhere. In a few days the Russians build many kilometers of gati across impassable swamps; in winter, columns of one hundred rows of ten people each are sent into the forest with deep snow cover; in half an hour, a new thousand comes to replace these people, and in a few hours on the terrain that we have in the West would be considered impassable, a trodden road appears. An unlimited number of soldiers allows the transfer of heavy guns and other military equipment to any terrain without any vehicles.
In addition, the technical equipment of Russian troops meets their needs. Cars have a minimum weight, and their dimensions are minimized. Horses in the Russian army are hardy and do not require much care. Russians do not need to carry with them the huge reserves that fetter the actions of the troops in all Western armies.
Russian infantry has good weapons, especially many anti-tank weapons: sometimes you think that every infantryman has an anti-tank rifle or anti-tank gun. Russian very skillfully dispose of these funds, and it seems there is no place where they are not. In addition, the Russian anti-tank gun with its flat trajectory and great accuracy of shooting is convenient for any kind of combat.
Interestingly, the Russian infantry soldier is not distinguished by inquisitiveness, and therefore his intelligence usually does not give good results. Possessing the natural qualities of a scout, he makes little use of his abilities. Perhaps the reason lies in his aversion to independent action and in the inability to generalize and report in an understandable form the results of his observations.
Russian artillery, like infantry, is also used massively. As a rule, artillery preparation preceded the attacks of the Russian infantry, but the Russians did not attach great importance to short and sudden fire attacks. They had guns and shells, and they loved to spend these shells. In case of large offensive, the Russians usually had 200 trunks for each kilometer of the front. Sometimes, in special cases, this number increased to 300, but there was never less than 150. Artillery preparation usually lasted two hours, and during this time Russian artillerymen spent a daily or a half-day rate of ammunition.
Such a concentrated fire quickly destroyed the German positions that did not have great depth. No matter how carefully covered machine guns, mortars and especially anti-tank guns, they were soon destroyed by the enemy. Following this, the dense mass of infantry and tanks broke into the destroyed German positions. In the presence of mobile reserves, it was relatively easy to restore the situation, but, as a rule, we did not have such reserves. Thus, the brunt of the battle fell on the shoulders of the surviving soldiers at the forefront.
Russian artillery also destroyed headquarters and command posts in the depths of the defense. According to the intensity of artillery fire, it was often difficult to determine the direction of the main attack of the Russians, since the shelling was carried out with equal force along the whole front. However, the Russian artillery had shortcomings. For example, the inflexibility of fire plans was sometimes just astounding. The interaction of artillery with infantry and tanks was not well organized. The guns moved forward too slowly and often even remained in their original firing positions, as a result of which the advancing infantry, which advanced far into the defense, did not have artillery support for a long time.
Therefore, the desire of the German command to persistently hold the flanks with large incursions and breakthroughs of the Russians was a serious mistake, which was often fatal for the defenders. Usually our troops received orders to hold these flanks at any cost so that hastily tightened reserves could counterattack right into the flank of the Russians who had broken through and cut them off at the base of the wedge. It is clear that the reserves, which are concentrated on the flanks of the enemy’s breakthrough, came under the blow of all Russian artillery and after a while could no longer conduct any hostilities. Thus, the lack of maneuverability of the Russian artillery due to vicious German tactics turned into an advantage. Flank strikes against the Russian wedge should have been chosen deeper in the rear and beyond the reach of the Russian artillery. Instead of conducting bloody battles on the flanks, it was necessary to withdraw troops from them. Sometimes this was successfully carried out, despite orders from above, which required firmly holding the flanks; in such cases it was possible to stop the Russian infantry and tank units that were attacking without artillery support and create a new defensive line. The Russians were forced to develop a new fire plan and look for new positions for their artillery, which allowed the defenders to gain time.
The best means against the massive use of Russian artillery is an immediate counter-battery fight, and the consumption of ammunition should not be limited. It took a lot of time for the Russians to deploy a huge amount of artillery and to create large stocks of ammunition, in some cases it took several weeks. Despite the enemy’s excellent camouflage, we were usually able to detect Russian preparations for the offensive and monitor its development thanks to our aerial reconnaissance and aerial photography. Every night the Russians have more and more firing positions. They are empty for several days, and then one fine morning you find artillery on some of them, and about two nights before the start of the planned offensive, all the guns will be installed in their positions. In those very few cases when we had enough artillery and ammunition, we achieved excellent results with systematic counter-battery fire, which began at the very moment when the Russians were deploying their artillery. Air strikes also proved to be an effective means; sometimes ours aviation even managed to completely disrupt the deployment of Russian artillery.
During the war, the Russians improved and developed artillery tactics in the offensive. Their artillery preparation turned into a real squall of destructive fire. In particular, they used a cease-fire in very narrow areas, sometimes no more than a hundred meters wide, firing on the rest of the front with the same intensity. This gave the impression that the artillery preparation was still going on everywhere, whereas in reality the enemy infantry was already conducting their attack, moving along this narrow corridor.
Despite the known shortcomings, the Russian artillery is a very formidable branch of the military and fully deserves the appreciation that Stalin gave it. During the war, the Red Army used more heavy guns than the army of any other belligerent country.
Now I will focus on the Russian tank forces, which entered the war, having a great advantage - they had a T-34 tank, far superior to any type of German tanks. The Klim Voroshilov heavy tanks operating on the front in 1942 should not be underestimated either. Then the Russians upgraded the T-34 tank and, finally, in 1944, they built the massive tank "Joseph Stalin", which caused much trouble to our "tigers". Russian tank designers knew their business well. They focused all their attention on the main thing: the power of the tank gun, armor protection and maneuverability. During the war, their suspension system was much better than in the German tanks and in the tanks of other Western powers.
In 1941 and 1942, the tactical use of tanks by the Russians was not flexible, and the units of the tank forces were scattered across a huge front. In the summer of 1942, the Russian command, taking into account the experience of the battles, began to create whole tank armies with tank and mechanized corps. The task of the tank corps, in which there were relatively few motorized infantry and artillery, was to assist the infantry divisions that carried out the breakthrough. Mechanized corps were to develop a breakthrough in depth and pursue the enemy. Based on the nature of the tasks performed, the mechanized corps had an equal number of tanks with the tank corps, but there were no heavy machine types in them. In addition, in their organization they had a large number of motorized infantry, artillery and engineering troops. The success of the Russian armored forces is associated with this reorganization; By 1944, they became the most formidable offensive weapon of the second world war.
First, the Russian tank armies had to pay dearly for the lack of combat experience. Especially poor understanding of the methods of conducting tank battles and lack of ability to show junior and middle commanders. They lacked courage, tactical foresight, the ability to make quick decisions. The first operations of tank armies ended in complete failure. Dense masses of tanks were concentrated in front of the German defense, in their movement felt uncertainty and the absence of any plan. They interfered with each other, ran into our anti-tank guns, and in the event of a breakthrough, our positions stopped advancing and stopped, instead of developing success. These days, individual German anti-tank guns and 88-mm guns acted most efficiently: sometimes one gun damaged and incapacitated more than 30 tanks in one hour. It seemed to us that the Russians had created a tool that they would never learn to own, but already in the winter of 1942 / 43, the first signs of improvement appeared in their tactics.
1943 was the year for the Russian armored forces still a period of study. The heavy defeats suffered by the German army on the Eastern Front were explained not by the best tactical leadership of the Russians, but by the serious strategic mistakes of the German high command and the significant superiority of the enemy in the number of troops and equipment. Only in 1944, did large Russian tank and mechanized units acquire high mobility and power and became a very formidable weapon in the hands of courageous and capable commanders. Even junior officers have changed and have now shown great skill, determination and initiative. The defeat of our army group "Center" and the swift attack of Marshal Rotmistrov’s tanks from the Dnieper to the Vistula marked a new stage in stories The Red Army was a formidable warning to the West. Later, in the large-scale offensive of the Russian troops in January 1945, we also had to observe the swift and decisive actions of the Russian tanks.
The extraordinary development of Russian armored forces deserves the closest attention from those who study the experience of war. No one doubts that Russia can have its own Seydlitz, Murat or Rommel - in 1941-1945, the Russians certainly had such great commanders. However, it is not only the skillful leadership of certain gifted individuals; for the most part, people who were apathetic and ignorant, without any preparation, without any abilities, acted wisely and showed amazing composure. The tankers of the Red Army were tempered in the crucible of war, their skill grew immeasurably. Such a transformation should have required exceptionally high organization and unusually skillful planning and leadership. Similar changes can occur in other types of armed forces, such as aviation or underwater navywhose further progress is strongly encouraged by the Russian high command.
From the time of Peter the Great until the 1917 revolution, the royal armies were numerous, cumbersome and cumbersome. During the Finnish campaign and during the 1941-1942 operations, the same could be said about the Red Army. With the development of Russian armored forces, the overall picture has changed completely. At present, any real European defense plan must proceed from the fact that the air and tank armies of the Soviet Union can rush at us with such speed and fury in front of which all the operations of the Blitzkrieg of the Second World War will fade.
4. Army without a wagon
For the Russians, it is characteristic that their tank divisions have much less motor transport than the tank formations of the Western powers. It would be wrong to explain this by the insufficient production of automobiles in the USSR, since even rifle divisions with a horse-drawn carriage have a small number of horses and carts. In addition, in terms of their numbers, any rifle regiment or division of the Russians is significantly inferior to the corresponding military units of the Western armies. However, the total strength of the combat units of any Russian unit is about the same as in the West, because the Russians have far fewer people in the rear units.
In the Red Army, the rear bodies do not have to worry about providing military units with uniforms, tents, blankets and other items that are so necessary for soldiers of the armies of the West. During the offensive, they can afford to forget about the supply of troops, even with food, as the troops are "on the grass." The main task of the supply parts is reduced to the delivery of fuel and ammunition, but even in this case, combat vehicles are often used for transportation. In a Russian motorized division, a soldier does not have any other “baggage” besides the one he has with him, and he manages to move around in cars, perched on crates of ammunition or barrels of fuel.
This lack of vehicles leads to important consequences of a tactical and psychological order. Since the number of cars in the motorized division of the Russian is much less than in the same units of the Western armies, the Russian division is more mobile. Such a division is easier to manage, easier to mask and transport by rail.
Represents the interest and psychological side of things. Any soldiers of the armies of the West. one way or another connected with the logistics services. They provide him with a livelihood and provide some amenities, which brightens his hard life. When the units are “cool”, the surviving soldiers usually gather at the camp kitchens or in the wagon train, where they are trying to find shelter and consolation. A completely different position in the Russian army. The Russian soldier has nothing but a weapon, and the rear does not attract him. There are no camp kitchens or clothing wagons. If a soldier loses his gun, tank, or machine gun, he thereby loses his sole refuge; if he goes to the rear, he is detained, and sooner or later he finds himself again at the front.
So a small number of full-time vehicles gives Russians an important advantage. The Russian High Command is well aware of the mindset of the Russian soldier and manages to exploit the shortcomings of the latter so that they become his forte.
5. Russian reaction to the bombing
Experience shows that a Russian soldier has an almost incredible ability to withstand the strongest artillery fire and powerful air strikes; At the same time, the Russian command does not pay any attention to the huge losses from the bombing and the artillery fire, and it steadily follows the previously planned plans. The insensitivity of the Russians to even the strongest shelling was again confirmed during Operation Citadel. It is possible that this is to some extent due to the following reasons.
The stoicism of the majority of Russian soldiers and their slow reaction make them almost insensitive to losses. Russian soldiers value their lives no more than the lives of their comrades. Neither bombs exploding nor projectiles blasts it.
Naturally, among Russian soldiers there are people who possess a more sensitive kind, but they are accustomed to carry out orders precisely and without the slightest hesitation. In the Russian army there is an iron discipline - unquestioning obedience has become a characteristic feature of the Russian military system.
The Russian insensitivity to artillery fire is not some kind of new quality - it manifested itself even during the First World War. We find an indication of this in Kolenkur in his description of the Battle of Borodino 1812 of the year. He says that "the enemy, who was under pressure from all sides, gathered his troops and steadfastly held, despite the enormous losses from artillery fire." He further writes that it was completely incomprehensible why so few prisoners were taken on captured redoubts and positions that the Russians defended with such stubbornness. In this regard, Kolenkur brings the following remark of the emperor: "These Russians do not surrender alive. We cannot do anything about it."
As for the Russian military leaders, it is well known that: a) they almost in any situation and in any case strictly and unswervingly adhere to orders or earlier decisions, are not considered with changes in the situation, the response of the enemy and the loss of their own troops. Naturally, there are many negative points in this, but at the same time there are well-known positive aspects; b) they had at their disposal almost inexhaustible reserves of manpower to compensate for the losses. Russian command can go to great sacrifices and therefore does not stop in front of them.
In preparation for the operation, it is necessary to take into account the reaction or, rather, the lack of reaction of the Russian troops and their command. Interaction over time, the assessment of possible success and the amount of military equipment required largely depend on this factor. It should, however, be pointed out that there were cases when Russian formations hardened in battle panicked and showed nervousness with a relatively small shelling. But such cases were very rare, so it would be a blunder to rely on them. It is much more useful to overestimate the perseverance of the Russians and you can never count on the fact that they will not survive.