Saturday 30 August 2014

Ukraine, Russian Truck Convoys and Russian Doctrine: It Helps To Know

Pontificating from my retired officer's 'strategy' armchair, having dusted down my fading memory of Soviet military doctrine (studied professionally and in earnest some decades ago), I have a feeling it offers a handy pointer as to what may be expected in the weeks to come.

Recap: at the highest level, the GSFG was geared for a lightning strike across the whole front from the Baltic to Austria, aiming to gain as much westerly mileage as possible before NATO could mount a serious blocking action (assumed to be dependent on massive US reinforcements arriving even further to the west).  It was always recognised by the Russians that at some point NATO's position might become so poor that recourse to nuclear weapons could ensue, buggering the whole thing - a good reason why they never gave it a crack.  This said, they also reckoned that another plausible scenario would be that NATO would hold back on this provided Warsaw pact forces halted in their tracks at some point and offered to parlay.

At the next level down, Soviet doctrine for a lightning attack entailed by-passing awkward things like towns and also points of strong resistance, a very real contingency given that Soviet kit was light and easily brewed up by the well-positioned Leopard tanks and Milan missiles that existed in large numbers (manned by some very well-trained, well-led and highly motivated West Germans).  Doctrinally, strongpoints were to be fixed, enveloped and passed by, to be mopped up at leisure by second-echelon forces and/or artillery.  This enabled the first-echelon columns to make maximum forward mileage, scavenging supplies as they advanced (quite easy in W.Germany for everything except ammunition).  In order to do the by-passing, all Soviet units were very well-equipped in the field-engineeering and bridge-building departments.

The consequence of this would be that at a given moment after firing the starting-gun, the 'front line' would be a very jagged affair - a long string of irregular salients (some of them potentially very deep) broken up by the by-passed NATO strong-points and isolated towns.  If at a point in time everything was stopped in its tracks pending 'peace talks', the Russians would stop fighting, and rapidly consolidate whatever of the newly-occupied 'shape' was most easily held - some really isolated forward gains might be abandoned - with the expectation that a dazed NATO could be be satisfied with nothing more than just cessation of hostilities, i.e. no relinquishing of any consolidated new gains.

Then wait for another 20 years and try the whole thing again. 

(This doctrine was sometimes likened to attacking something with a very heavy club studded with long sharp nails.  You smash it into the target with maximum force, and it becomes embedded - very difficult subsequently to get it withdrawn.)

Now to 2014.   Such maps as we see of what's going on in Eastern Ukraine show a very amorphous 'front line' studded with all sorts of salients and embedded bits and pieces.  Nothing would be easier than for the Russians quickly to pour across the border, go as far west as they could manage in (say) 24 or maybe 48 hours (Labor Day - 1st Sept! - or Thanksgiving would be obvious dates to choose), call a halt, and declare: what we have, we hold.

Oh, and how did the Soviets prepare for their lightning attacks?  By sending tank commanders, disguised as truck drivers, on recce missions across West Germany.  They knew the lie of the land almost as well as their enemy.

Truck drivers ?  Ring any bells ?  Let's hope little Volodya is ultimately as circumspect as his Soviet predecessors.



Demetrius said...

As I recall, the "Battle Royal" exercises in 1954 talked up as a show of strength was actually all a bit of a shambles. Later exercises did nothing to change that view. A winter one in 1955 displayed that a conscript army with old equipment and dodgy comm's could fall apart in days rather than weeks. Thus was born the nuclear option but with a slight issue over fall out in that you could not tell who would get it, the boffins were not entirely sure. Interesting times.

Bill Quango MP said...

They are the same as us now Kevin.
There are protests in Moscow this week as the state attempts to restrict the sale of sexy lingerie.

And the state is really now a sort of EU nannying state. It's restricting on unhygienic grounds, not moral.

Muscovites are demanding no return to soviet "workers"pants. Women like their sexy briefs, unhygienic or not.

A twenty year old in Russia has only known westernised style living .

Sebastian Weetabix said...

This whole bloody nonsense in Ukraine just goes to prove the arseholes in charge of the EU - and by extension, our government, since they are going along with it - don't have a scooby. I see with disapproval that we may be commanding a 10,000 strong NATO force in Ukraine. Why? Do these fuckwits really want a shooting war with Russia?

Budgie said...

As SW has already said - this situation has been fomented by EU hubris. And it's getting to the point that the Russians will have nothing to lose by taking over the eastern half of Ukraine. Another round of golf, Barack?

hatfield girl said...

In his 'Fall of Berlin', his diary of taking the German heartland, Chuikov both describes and, at times devises precisely these tactics. And others, not least that of by-passing strongholds and keeping the enemy permanently off balance by the speed of advance while fortified defence points are left to be swept up by his accompanying armies.

The VIIIth Guards was at the gates of Berlin while the enemy was still expecting battle hundreds of kilometres to the east.

Chuikov also developed the 'there are times for tanks and times when they are virtually useless, particularly in urban fighting' which he distinguished sharply from guerrilla fighting and which required disciplined infantry holding building after building as 'mini-fortresses'.

If the Russians are still using his battle techniques it is very hard to imagine any NATO, let alone Ukraine, force, standing up to them. I don't think they have armies like the VIIIth Guards.

Unless the US is planning to have a second Ukrainian Chernobyl they need to recognise the notion of 'near abroads' and leave other people's alone. Certainly Ukraine is stuck in transition at the moment, for all sorts of well-understood reasons but pretending to solve this by annexing it to right-wing factions in the EU and US is getting people killed rather than providing institutional and economic restructuring and investment solutions to Ukraine's underdevelopment.

BE said...

When all this began (again) several months ago I saw a stat which put it all into context. Apparently the Ukrainian economy has not grown in real terms since 1990. Maybe Kiev feels a bit more western-European than it use to, but if your prospects have not improved in 20+ years then are you really going to be so scared of going "back" to Russia?

Raedwald said...

As a very junior weekend gentleman at the time I was told that the job of my section was to die in Germany within 48 hours of having arrived, having resisted as strongly as we could, to buy time for the propah response to develop.

Yes, it seems quite gormless in hindsight, but you have to remember that our Anglian skies were thick with the roar of low flying F4 Phantoms and A10 warthogs and our lungs were choked by the thin mist of unburnt aviation kerosene that permeated the entire atmosphere - so that one's clothes stank of it. Convoys of US olive drab Buick or UK Rhine green Bedford 4-ton trucks choked the lanes and little ROC retired schoolteachers popped up from their holes like little moles to scan the skies for missile vapour trails. At the time it was deadly serious.

I do remember one *very* pompous regular officer boasting "You'll be dead in 48 hours? Think yourself lucky! MY job is to be dead within EIGHT hours!"

hovis said...

Now I'm sure the Russian are playing games, but then so is evryone else. So in the context of the last month or so, what do we know of this alleged 'invasion'?

I havent seen the Russins acknowledge an operation as yet.
There are some grainy non military satelite photo's of vehicles in afield alleged to be Russian vehicles in the Ukraine. Also the excitable Ukrainian Government has shown b[iure sof Russina tanks which they have themselves and/or produced in their own factories until recently. Add to that they have claimed they have been invaded as Russian troops are on their territory. This however this is the fourth time in the last month they have made this claim, retracting immediately the other three times.

So the Ukrainians are desparate for us to get involved in a shooting war, they are loosing and goin bankrupt. The EU in the form of Barroso making threats ( even though he has no troops along with the viscerally anti-Russian Poles and then and mighty Lithuanian is throwing lines out that that Russin is "practically at war with Europe".

Oh add to that the security theatre of steel fences and lock downs in Cardiff over the NATO meeting and it doesnt look like its the Russians are the cause of the problems.

Nick Drew said...

HG - welcome back! Yes, Chuikov also deployed the tactic of getting so enmeshed with the enemy that superior firepower couldn't easily be deployed against one, which probably has ready application in E.Ukraine

(We will probably see ISIL trying this, when they have tired of being blasted out of the open sands)

Raedwald, welcome back, too. I recall visiting a W.German home-guard outfit close to the border, and hearing from its OC who told me the following:

when we get the get the signal, I and my son, who is my 2I/C, go down to the lock-up and issue the Milan missiles to the platoon. Then I go home and shoot my wife. Then we take up our positions, and take one T-72 with every missile, until we run out of ammunition ...

he meant it, too: you could tell