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"Ski Patrols of the Soviet Army" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on Russian ski patrols was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 16, Jan. 14, 1943.

[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.]


The following description of the operations of ski detachments is taken from the Soviet Military Manual of Winter Operations.

Although this report concerns ski patrols, it is felt that much of the training and technique involved is applicable to raiding parties generally.

a. General

Ski detachments generally operate in the enemy's rear. Existence of gaps in enemy positions, broken ground, and wooded country favor infiltration of ski detachments to the rear of the enemy.

The following tasks are assigned to these detachments:

(1) Destruction of enemy personnel and materiel;

(2) Destruction of enemy staffs and command posts;

(3) Destruction of enemy communications and transport, and the burning of depots and bases;

(4) Destruction of planes on airfields, and demolition of road and railway bridges;

(5) The capture and holding of an important objective in the rear of the enemy, for the purpose of impeding his retreat and the bringing up of his reserves.

b. Personnel of Ski Detachments

The composition and strength of a ski detachment will depend on the nature of the task, distance to the objective, length of fighting operations, likelihood of meeting the enemy, availability of air support, and the support of the ground forces. In any case ski formations must possess great mobility, and should be capable of functioning off roads and without contact with friendly forces for several days at a time.

Skiers must be exceptional men. To carry out their tasks successfully, ski troops must possess the following qualities: excellent training, great courage and initiative, excellent physique, powers of endurance, ability to find their way easily in any locality at any time of day or night and in any weather, and ability to use skis expertly.

Each skier must have great determination, must be almost foolhardy, be vigorous and yet careful, quick of movement, sharpsighted, patient, and expert in the art of concealment. He must never, under any conditions, get lost.

All ski personnel should:

(1) Be well versed in demolitions and know how to deal with enemy mines;

(2) Know how to use every means of communication, and be able to communicate with friendly troops;

(3) Be adept at first aid, and able to apply it on the field of battle;

(4) Be experienced in constructing shelters out of any materials at hand.

c. Equipment

A ski detachment must be thoroughly equipped for independent action when out of contact with its own troops for several days at a time. Skiers must be warmly equipped and carry light automatic weapons and knives. Every form of fighting equipment, rations, and supplies, including means of evacuating wounded, must be mounted on skis and sleds. It is the duty of every rifleman on skis to carry his individual rations, arms, and ammunition. Ammunition for automatic weapons and mortars, explosives, and incendiary materials are carried on ski mountings. Operations under conditions of constant frost, and nights spent in the open demand that clothing and footwear should be in perfect condition. This should be a subject of constant attention by all commanders. A sufficient number of spare socks should be provided. The regulation Red Army tent must always accompany all personnel. Ski detachments must be provided with spare skis, harnesses and poles, depending on the length of operations and on whether the ground is broken or not.

Food must be carried in a form which, while taking up the least space, has high food value and can be quickly prepared. These requirements are best met by canned products and food concentrates. Whenever possible, thermos bottles should be filled with a hot drink and all personnel should be supplied with hot-water bottles.

d. Sick and Wounded

Not a single wounded or sick man must be left to the enemy. For evacuation, the wounded and sick of ski detachments must be transported on special ski mountings and sleds. In exceptional cases one may transport wounded by tying skis together.

e. Communications

Communication between the ski detachments and their headquarters is carried out by the use of planes and sometimes by radio. Radio codes in air-ground communication must be established beforehand, and given to the commander of the ski detachment when he is assigned his mission. The periods for radio communication should be also arranged in advance. The fact that the use of radio discloses one's location to the enemy should be kept in mind and, therefore, the periods for use of radio should be arranged to coincide with an anticipated change of location.

The routes and areas of operations of a ski detachment should be studied by its commander in conjunction with the pilots of aircraft who will be detailed for communication purposes.

f. Tactics

(1) General

A ski detachment should:

(a) Avoid battle until the objective is reached;

(b) Destroy small groups of the enemy which may hinder the attainment of the main objective;

(c) Constantly and stealthily reconnoiter;

(d) Be able to estimate the situation quickly, and avoid battle when conditions are unfavorable;

(e) Always provide for all-around protection, whether at rest or on the move.

The attempt to penetrate to the rear of the enemy should be carried out by night, in fog, or during heavy snowfall, and contact with enemy detachments should be avoided.

Where, in order to reach the objective in his rear, it is impossible to avoid meeting the enemy, the basis of success is sudden, overpowering concentration of fire power and swift attack.

Surprise is best achieved by taking advantage of poor visibility at night and during snowfall.

Ambushes should be widely used by ski detachments.

(2) Combat

A ski detachment engages the enemy:

(a) If surprised on the march by the enemy, and it is impossible to avoid battle;

(b) When it is impossible to attain the main objective without destroying the intervening enemy;

(c) When the enemy, having discovered the ski detachment, is attempting to surround and destroy it.

Success in battle depends on the initiative, determination, and aggressiveness of every commander and every soldier.

Each man and every platoon should be prepared, on receipt of the commander's signal, to break contact and make their way to a prearranged rendezvous by using cover of darkness and every form of concealment offered. If a ski detachment unexpectedly meets the enemy and there is no chance of avoiding action, the commander should attack with the full force of his fire power in an attempt either to destroy or to force a retreat.

At the same time, the commander must ensure that the attainment of the main objective is not lost sight of.

As a rule the attack should be carried out simultaneously on all sides, cutting off the enemy's retreat. Before the attack, telephone wires leading out of the enemy's position should be cut. Not a single enemy should be allowed to escape to communicate the news of the attack to enemy commands.

After breaking into the enemy position, ski troops should attempt a rapid decision by the fire of weapons, by hand grenades, and with the bayonet. As soon as the task is completed, a ski detachment should move as far away from the objective as possible. If the attack is unsuccessful, the detachment should retire as rapidly as possible to avoid being surrounded.

When the objective has to be held the commander of the ski detachment must:

(a) Send reconnaissance parties ahead in the more important directions;

(b) Organize an all-around defense at a distance to insure effective support by the weapons of the main force;

(c) Defense must be organized with a view to the employment of automatic weapons, so that the bulk of the personnel can be used as a striking force;

(d) There should be economy in the use of ammunition, and snipers should be employed as much as possible against single targets or small groups of the enemy;

(e) Report back the situation immediately.

g. Security, Reconnaissance, and Movements

Security elements of a ski detachment should be particularly well organized and alert. Sentries must be frequently checked at night.

It must be realized that any relaxation in security measures in the rear of the enemy may be very costly and, therefore, all security patrols should be in a constant state of readiness, with their weapons close at hand for use at any moment.

Reconnaissance by a group of battalion strength should be assigned only to the main objective. Rifle companies may be used for secondary tasks and platoons employed for reconnaissance patrols. Detachments up to a company in strength carry out reconnaissance by the use of patrols.

If the attainment of the objective makes unavoidable a move by day under conditions of good visibility, the commander should exercise particular care in selecting a well-concealed route. A route thus selected should be checked by air observation if possible.

Movement of ski detachments in the rear of the enemy as a rule should be carried out cross-country, avoiding the use of roads; special attention should be paid to preliminary planning and organization. A ski movement lengthens a column four or five times; therefore, the first consideration is to try to shorten columns. The best marching order for a company or a battalion on skis is a column of fours with a distance of 6 yards between ranks and an interval of 2 yards between skiers.

h. Bivouacs

Ski detachments operating in territory occupied by the enemy must camp in thick underbrush or woods, and only in exceptional cases in towns and villages. When stopping for rest in a town or village cannot be avoided, the following precautions should be observed:

(1) Personnel should be billeted in whole detachments in a concentrated area, preferably isolated from other buildings;

(2) Commanders should remain with their detachments;

(3) Hostages should be taken;

(4) Local inhabitants should be prevented from leaving the area and a strict curfew imposed;

(5) Roads should be strictly patrolled, guards should be placed on all roads leading out of the area, and all persons attempting to enter or leave should be detained;

(6) Strict watch on all the inhabitants should be established to prevent them from communicating with the enemy;

(7) All wires should be cut.

Troops should bivouac in tents or in specially constructed shelters; skis and ski mountings should be placed to the right of the entrance; rifles, machine guns and ammunition must remain with the men. The following security personnel must be detailed: guards within the camp area, a routine guard, orderlies in each detachment, and patrol. All personnel should know definitely what to do in case of alarm. In order to be able to repel enemy attack, trenches should be dug in the snow, and weapons kept in constant readiness to open fire immediately. To insure a state of constant preparedness for battle, as well as uninterrupted rest, provision should be made for all-around defense at a sufficient distance from the camp area to permit assembly and preparation for battle after the alarm is given. The strictest discipline in opening and maintaining fire at night should be enforced. The fire should be opened only by order of the commander. All traces of the presence of ski troops at halts and camp sites should be carefully eliminated.


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