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"Lessons in Attack" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report is based on a translated Russian article which analyzed a failed Red Army attack against a German position. The report was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 10, Oct. 22, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Certain cardinal tactical principles cannot be violated in battle with impunity. We may take, for example, the case which unfortunately occurred when a Soviet unit was ordered to capture a village and hill for the purpose of assisting the neighboring units to surround and destroy enemy troops in the vicinity. The particular village was considered important as the key to avenues of supply and evacuation. For this reason, the enemy established strong defensive fortifications there.

The first and most important mistake made by the Soviet commander was the failure to make a sufficiently detailed reconnaissance. Although the terrain was not familiar to him, he relied on information supplied by friendly troops in that area. Thus he did not know at first hand the enemy system of defense or the grouping of its units.

This mistake resulted in others. The commander had received orders to move into this region 4 days prior to that set for his attack. He was given preliminary instructions then, and the attack order on the following day. His men should have been fully ready for the attack, but were not, because the commander hesitated to make a decision. He finally made his decision and issued his attack order on the day preceding the attack. The various sections were assigned various objectives, and the artillery given widely-spread targets.

Only a few hours prior to the jump-off time, the commander, who was still in doubt due to lack of reconnaissance, issued a countermanding order. There was insufficient time to reorganize the infantry units or to obtain proper cooperation between them and the tanks and the artillery. Furthermore, the new decision did not guarantee fulfillment of the task set. Instead of making a concentrated attack, the commander decided to use small portions of his forces in several diverging attacks. Battle experience has decisively proved that frontal attacks, especially over a wide front, are made only in the most exceptional cases. Here it would have been better to have made the main attack on the right flank, thus holding the main force together and providing distribution in depth.

After an artillery preparation the Soviet infantry moved into the attack. The tanks with "desyanti" troops (infantry on tanks) moved out 30 minutes ahead. Since they were not supported by the main body of the infantry, they were easily driven away from the village by the enemy. Then the well-coordinated fire of the German infantry cut off the opposing infantry which followed.

It is thus clear that the artillery preparation had not been effective. The reasons were: they received the final order too late to conduct thorough reconnaissance and organize advance OP's properly; they did not have complete firing data; and their fire could not be properly observed. The commander did not utilize radio to reestablish lost control.

Instead of bettering his situation when he committed his reserves, he made it worse. The commander brought them into the attack prematurely and in piecemeal formation. After getting tangled up in the forest, they had to retreat to their jump-off position in the face of strong enemy fire and subsequent counterattack.

The general reasons for the failure of this attack can be attributed to:

(a) Inadequate reconnaissance;

(b) Sluggishness in making the decision and issuing the attack order;

(c) Incorrect attack order;

(d) Loss of control.

Comment: The above report was received in the form of a translation of an article written by a Colonel in the Soviet Army.


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