Sunday, April 28, 2013

Soviet Squad Tactics in WWII: Of Guides and Good Shots (Iron Front Liberation)

The basic squad tactics do not differ that much among the major powers that fought in WWII. Achieve fire superiority, fix/suppress and assault (preferably in the flanks of the enemy). However, training, weapons and just plain cultural differences sometimes are interesting details to explore.

I am reading "Soviet Infantry Tactics in World War II", by Charles Sharp (available from and trying to polish up my tactics in Iron Front. Part 3 of this book is about the rifle squad and a translation of "Combat Instructions for the Infantry of the Red Army" (circa 1942). Off course the two year difference between the document and the game's time frame will be the source of some discrepancies, but I think the book is worth a look for an Iron Front player.

For starters, a thing that surprised me a bit in the Soviet doctrine was the gradual use of fire upon an enemy position. In Sharp's translation, paragraph 71 reads (bold is mine):

If the advance is pinned down by unsuppressed enemy weapons, the squad leader places fire oh them himself or on order from the platoon leader with the light machine gun opening fire at 800 meters, the best shots (among the riflemen) at 600 meters, and at 400 meters - all the soldiers.

I can only imagine that for the men under the command of a doctrine-conscious Soviet squad leader, those 400 meters must have felt like kilometers ...

The second "curiosity", if you allow me the term, is the use of a guide ("provodnik") when contact with the enemy was almost imminent. This guide was a man with very good soldiering skills and sometimes also named an "observer". He would be on point when ordered by the squad leader right up until an assault position was chosen. He was to make and maintain visual contact with the enemy and then return to his role as a squad member during the assault.

The TOE of the Soviet infantry squad in Iron Front is a bit different than the Soviet rifle squad of 1942. The 1942 Soviet rifle squad had only riflemen and a sub-machine gunner. In Iron Front we have AT soldiers who carry sub machine guns/pistols. Nonetheless, I wanted to try the two particulars mentioned above in the game.

The mission is to take a village that is under the control of a German infantry squad. I divided my Soviet infantry squad as follows.

Squad member number 2 is my guide. I set this soldier's skill to 75% within the editor.
Team red: the light machine gunner and a sub machine gunner as an assistant/ammo carrier. Skill level for both of these soldiers was set to 40% with the editor.
Team blue: all my riflemen. Half of these men have been set to 50% skill with the editor, all the others to the default (~10%?).

Team green: two sub machine gunners (I think they are actually AT soldiers) with default (low) skill. My virtual character is in the foreground.
The main screenshot shows a panorama of our area of operations. We are in open terrain in front of the enemy-held village in the far background. I sent my guide (diamond green marker crossing a plodded field, background). A few minutes later, my guide (lone red circle icon in the map insert at the top left) makes contact with the enemy (blue circle icons). 
I advance the rest of my squad forward. Surprisingly, the riflemen (team blue) opened fire before the sub machine gunners (team green). The light machine-gunner opened fire some 30 meters behind this position.
The blue team (riflemen, to the right in this picture) sustained a not so great rate of fire, but the shots had silenced many of the enemy guns. The green team (sub machine gunners, right behind me) starting firing some timid shots at this point. 
A few dozen yards from the objective (village in the treeline, background), I bring the light machine gun (red team) as much as I can to the front. Team green (sub machine gunners) and me will be making the last bound towards the objective.
Team green and me closing in towards the objective. We found just three German infantry men hiding in the crops.

All the squad was then ordered forward into the objective for re-grouping and consolidation. No casualties! Any day you get your men unscathed from the ferocious rate of fire of the German MG42 is a good day.
I am not claiming a perfect replica of the real drill. But this is the first time I have my best men at front (guide during pre-contact) and at the rear (riflemen during the assault) of my squad formation.



Anonymous said...

The 1942 Soviet rifle squad had only riflemen and a sub-machine gunner.

In TOE 04/201 Rifle regiment from 1942 there are 4 DP light machine guns per infantry platoon, 1 mg gunner per squad. 3 platoons per company, 3 companies per battalion.
Also there is an MG company, with 4 platoons, 4 Maxims each. And an SMG company, 4 platoons.

In the book you mentioned, Combat Instructions for the Infantry of the Red Army / Боевой устав пехоты Красной армии, from 1942 on the page 42, paragraph 63:
"Ручной пулемет меняет позицию по указанию командира отделения: передвигается на новую позицию первым под прикрытием огня стрелков отделения и соседей или поддерживает огнем перебежку бойцов с прежней огневой позиции."
This would roughly translate as:"LMG change positions by squad leader orders: moves to a new position first under covering fire provided by squads riflemen or supports riflemen moving from previous position."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, not editable if posted under Anonymous.
4 platoons per company of course. :)

Anonymous said...

Combat Instructions for the Infantry of the Red Army / Боевой устав пехоты Красной армии, 1938:
"Ручной пулемет - основное оружие стрелкового отделения для поражения настильным огнем открытых груповых и важных одиночных целей на дистанциях до 800 м и для поражения самолетов на удалении до 500 м."
"LMG - rifle squad's primary weapon for engaging area and single targets at the distances up to 800 meters and planes up to 500 meters."
On that picture you can see circles with Н and ПН inside. Н stands for Наводчик, MG gunner. ПН is Помощник Наводчика - MG assistant. Those are standard roles of 2 man LMG crew. OС - отличный стрелок - marksman. С - стрелок - rifleman. Picture can be found at page 40 of Combat Instructions for the Infantry of the Red Army / Боевой устав пехоты Красной армии, 1942.

JC said...

That's great information. Do you have access to regulations published later in the war (like 1944)?


Anonymous said...

If i am not mistaken, Combat Instructions for the Infantry of the Red Army / Боевой устав пехоты Красной армии, 1942 was in use till the end of the war. In 1944 there were published FM for armour and another one for cavalry. I am not sure if there are english translations of them available. You can easily find them in russian on the Internet.
For more info on TOE check out "Red Army Handbook 1939-1945" by Zaloga and Ness.

JC said...

Thanks! I can't read russian, but I will check Zaloga's book.


midcyber said...

Keep in mind that during first years of war, there weren't enough man to fill 4th squad of platoon, and there were short supply of SMG/LMG. So don't forget to reduce numbers from present on paper.