Chapter 12. Control and Combined Operations

If we describe the modern infantryman in battle and leave it at that, then, however accurate the description, the picture will be incomplete. The modern infantryman should never just be described independently, because he never operates independently. He operates in the closest co-operation with tanks; his way forward is laid by sappers; the artillery and air force work in his interests; he may be helped in his fighting by helicopter gunships; ahead of him there are reconnaissance and parachute units; and behind him is an enormous organisation to support and service him, from supplying ammunition to evacuating the wounded quickly.

To understand the strength of spetsnaz one has to remember that spetsnaz is primarily reconnaissance, forces which gather and transmit information to their commanders to which their commanders immediately react. The strength of those reconaissance forces lies in the fact that they have behind them the whole of the nuclear might of the USSR. It may be that before the appearance of spetsnaz on enemy territory, a nuclear blow will already have been made, and despite the attendant dangers, this greatly improves the position of the fighting groups, because the enemy is clearly not going to bother with them. In other circumstances the groups will appear on enemy territory and obtain information required by the Soviet command or amplify it, enabling an immediate nuclear strike to follow. A nuclear strike close to where a spetsnaz group is operating is theoretically regarded as the salvation of the group. When there are ruins and fires all round, a state of panic and the usual links and standards have broken down, a group can operate almost openly without any fear of capture.

Similarly, Soviet command may choose to deploy other weapons before spetsnaz begins operations or immediately after a group makes its landing: chemical weapons, air attacks or bombardment of the coastline with naval artillery. There is a co-operative principle at work here. Such actions will give the spetsnaz groups enormous moral and physical support. And the reverse is also true — the operations of a group in a particular area and the information it provides will make the strike by Soviet forces more accurate and effective.

In the course of a war direct co-operation is the most dependable form of co-operation. For example, the military commander of a front has learnt through his network of agents (the second department of the 2nd Directorate at front headquarters) or from other sources that there is in a certain area a very important but mobile target which keeps changing its position. He appoints one of his air force divisions to destroy the target. A spetsnaz group (or groups) is appointed to direct the division to the target. The liaison between the groups and the air force division is better not conducted through the front headquarters, but directly. The air division commander is told very briefly what the groups are capable of, and they are then handed over to his command. They are dropped behind enemy lines and, while they are carrying out the operation, they maintain direct contact with their divisional headquarters. After the strike on the target the spetsnaz group — if it has survived -returns immediately to the direct control of the front headquarters, to remain there until it needs to be put under the command of some other force as decided by the front commander.

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Direct co-operation is a cornerstone of Soviet strategy and practised widely on manoeuvres, especially at the strategic level (See Appendix D for the organisation of spetsnaz at strategic level.), when spetsnaz groups from regiments of professional athletes are subordinated to commanders of, for example, the strategic missile troops or the strategic (long-range) aviation.

For the main principle governing Soviet strategy is the concentration of colossal forces against the enemy's most vulnerable spot. Soviet troops will strike a super-powerful, sudden blow and then force their way rapidly ahead. In this situation, or immediately before it, a mass drop of spetsnaz units will be carried out ahead of and on the flanks of the advancing force, or in places that have to be neutralised for the success of the operation on the main line of advance.

Spetsnaz units at army level (See Appendix A), on the other hand, are dropped in the areas of operations of their own armies at a depth of 100 to 500 kilometres; and spetsnaz units under the command of the fronts (See Appendix B) are dropped in the area of operations of their fronts at a depth of between 500 and 1000 kilometres.

The headquarters to which the group is subordinated tries not to interfere in the operations of the spetsnaz group, reckoning that the commander on the spot can see and understand the situation better than can people at headquarters far from where the events are taking place. The headquarters will intervene if it becomes necessary to redirect it to attack a more important target or if a strike is to take place where it is located. But a warning may not be given if the group is not going to have time to get away from the strike area, since all such warnings carry the risk of revealing Soviet intentions to the enemy.

Co-operation between different groups of spetsnaz is carried out by means of a distribution of territories for operations by different groups, so that simultaneous blows can be struck in different areas if need be. Co-operation can also be carried out by forward headquarters at battalion, regiment and brigade level, dropped behind the lines to co-ordinate major spetsnaz forces in an area. Because spetsnaz organisation is so flexible, a group which has landed by chance in another group's operational area can quickly be brought under the latter's command by an order from a superior headquarters.

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In the course of a war other Soviet units apart from spetsnaz will be operating in enemy territory:

Deep reconnaissance companies from the reconnaissance battalions of the motor-rifle and tank divisions. Both in their function and the tactics they adopt, these companies are practically indistinguishable from regular spetsnaz. The difference lies in the fact that these companies do not use parachutes but penetrate behind the enemy's lines in helicopters, jeeps and armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Deep reconnaissance units do not usually co-operate with spetsnaz. But their operations, up to 100 kilometres behind the front line, make it possible to concentrate spetsnaz activity deeper in the enemy's rear without having to divert it to operations in the zone nearer the front.

Air-assault brigades at front level operate independently, but in some cases spetsnaz units may direct the combat helicopters to their targets. It is sometimes possible to have joint operations conducted by men dropped from helicopters and to use helicopters from an air-assault brigade for evacuating the wounded and prisoners.

Airborne divisions operate in accordance with the plans of the commander-in-chief. If difficulties arise with the delivery of supplies to their units, they switch to partisan combat tactics. Co-operation between airborne divisions and spetsnaz units is not normally organised, although large-scale drops in the enemy's rear create a favourable situation for operations by all spetsnaz units.

Naval infantry are commanded by the same commander as naval spetsnaz: every fleet commander has one brigade of the latter and a brigade (or regiment) of infantry. Consequently these two formations, both intended for operations in the enemy's rear, co-operate very closely. Normally when the naval infantry makes a landing on an enemy coastline, their operation is preceded by, or accompanied by, spetsnaz operations in the same area. Groups of naval spetsnaz can, of course, operate independently of the naval infantry if they need to, especially in cases where the operations are expected to be in remote areas requiring special skills of survival or concealment.

There are two specific sets of circumstances in which superior headquarters organises direct co-operation between all units operating in the enemy rear. The first is when a combined attack offers the only possibility of destroying or capturing the target, and the second is when Soviet units in the enemy rear have suffered substantial losses and the Soviet command decides to make up improvised groups out of the remnants of the ragged units that are left.

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In the course of an advance spetsnaz groups, as might be expected, co-operate very closely with the forward detachments.

A Soviet advance — a sudden break through the defences of the enemy in several places and the rapid forward movement of masses of troops, supported by an equal mass of aircraft and helicopters -is always co-ordinated with a simultaneous strike in the rear of the enemy by spetsnaz forces, airborne troops and naval infantry.

In other armies different criteria are applied to measure a commander's success — for example, what percentage of the enemy's forces have been destroyed by his troops. In the Soviet Army this is of secondary importance, and may be of no importance at all, because a commander's value is judged by one criterion only: the speed with which his troops advance.

To take the speed of advance as the sole measure of a commander's abilities is not so stupid as it might seem at first glance. As a guiding principle it forces all commanders to seek, find and exploit the weakest spots in the enemy's defences. It obliges the commander to turn the enemy's flank and to avoid getting caught up in unnecessary skirmishes. It also makes commanders make use of theoretically impassable areas to get to the rear of the enemy, instead of battering at his defences.

To find the enemy's weak spots a commander will send reconnaissance groups ahead, and forward detachments which he has assembled for the duration of the advance. Every commander of a regiment, division, army and, in some cases, of a front will form his own forward detachment. In a regiment the detachment normally includes a motor-rifle company with a tank platoon (or a tank company with a motor-rifle platoon); a battery of self-propelled howitzers; an anti-aircraft platoon; and an anti-tank platoon and sapper and chemical warfare units. In a division it will consist of a motor-rifle or tank battalion, with a tank or motor-rifle company as appropriate; an artillery battalion; anti-aircraft and anti-tank batteries; and a company of sappers and some support units. In an army the scale is correspondingly greater: two or three motor-rifle battalions; one or two tank battalions; two or three artillery battalions, a battalion of multi-barrelled rocket launchers; a few anti-aircraft batteries; an anti-tank battalion; and sappers and chemical warfare troops. Where a front makes up its own forward detachment it will consist of several regiments, most of them tank regiments. The success of each general (i.e. the speed at which he advances) is determined by the speed of his very best units. In practice this means that it is determined by the operations of the forward detachment which he sends into battle. Thus every general assembles his best units for that crucial detachment, puts his most determined officers in command, and puts at their disposal a large slice of his reinforcements. All this makes the forward detachment into a concentration of the strength of the main forces.

It often happens that very high-ranking generals are put in command of relatively small detachments. For example, the forward detachment of the 3rd Guards Tank Army in the Prague operation was commanded by General I. G. Ziberov, who was deputy chief of staff. (The detachment consisted of the 69th mechanised brigade, the 16th self-propelled artillery brigade, the 50th motorcycle regiment, and the 253rd independent penal company).

Every forward detachment is certainly very vulnerable. Let us imagine what the first day of a war in Europe would be like, when the main concentration of Soviet troops has succeeded in some places in making very small breaches in the defences of the forces of the Western powers. Taking advantage of these breaches, and of any other opportunities offered — blunders by the enemy, unoccupied sectors and the like — about a hundred forward detachments of regiments, about twenty-five more powerful forward detachments of divisions, and about eight even more powerful forward detachments from armies have penetrated into the rear of the NATO forces. None of them has got involved in the fighting. They are not in the least concerned about their rear or their flanks. They are simply racing ahead without looking back.

This is very similar to the Vistula-Oder operation of 1945, on the eve of which Marshal G. K. Zhukov assembled all sixty-seven commanders of the forward detachments and demanded of each one: 100 kilometres forward progress on the first day of the operation. A hundred kilometres, irrespective of how the main forces were operating, and irrespective of whether the main forces succeeded in breaking through the enemy's defences. Every commander who advanced a hundred kilometres on the first day or averaged seventy kilometres a day for the first four days would receive the highest award — the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union. Everybody in the detachment would receive a decoration, and all the men undergoing punishment (every forward detachment has on its strength anything from a company to a battalion's worth of such men riding on the outside of the tanks) would have their offences struck out.

Say what you like about the lack of initiative in Soviet soldiers and officers. Just imagine giving men from a penal battalion such a task. If you succeed in not getting involved in the fighting, and if you manage to outflank the enemy and keep moving, we will strike out all your offences. Get involved in fighting and you will not only shed your blood, you will die a criminal too.

Operations by Soviet forward detachments are not restrained by any limitations. 'The operations of forward detachments must be independent and not restricted by the dividing lines,' the Soviet Military Encyclopaedia declares. The fact that the forward detachments may be cut off from the main force should not deter them. For example, on the advance in Manchuria in 1945 the 6th Guards Tank Army advanced rapidly towards the ocean, having crossed the desert, the apparently impregnable Khingan mountain range and the rice fields, and covering 810 kilometres in eleven days. But ahead of it were forward detachments, operating continually, which had rushed 150 to 200 kilometres ahead of the main force. When the officer in command of the front learnt of this spurt ahead (by quite unprotected detachments, which really had not a single support vehicle with them), he did not order the detachments to slow down; on the contrary, he ordered them to increase their speed still further, and not to worry about the distance separating them, however great it was. The more the forward detachments were separated from the main force, the better. The more unsuspected and strange the appearance of Soviet troops seems to the enemy, the greater the panic and the more successful the operations of both the forward detachments and the main Soviet troops.

Forward detachments were of enormous importance in the last war. The speed at which our troops advanced reached at times eighty to a hundred kilometres a day. Such a speed of advance in operations on such an enormous scale causes surprise even today. But it must always be remembered that this terrible rate of advance was to a great extent made possible by the operations of the forward detachments'. These are the words of Army-General I.I. Gusakovsky, the same general who from January to April 1945, from the Vistula to Berlin itself, commanded the forward detachment of the 11th Guards Tank Corps and the whole of the 1st Guards Tank Army.

In the last war the forward detachments pierced the enemy's defences with dozens of spearheads at the same time, and the main body of troops followed in their tracks. The forward detachments then destroyed in the enemy's rear only targets that were easy to destroy, and in many cases moved forward quickly enough to capture bridges before they were blown up. The reason the enemy had not blown them up was because his main forces were still wholly engaged against the main forces of the Red Army.

The role played by forward detachments has greatly increased in modern warfare. All Soviet military exercises are aimed at improving the operations of forward detachments. There are two very good reasons why the role of the forward detachments has grown in importance. The first is, predictably, that war has acquired a nuclear dimension. Nuclear weapons (and other modern means of fighting) need to be discovered and destroyed at the earliest possible opportunity. And the more Soviet troops there are on enemy territories, the less likelihood there is of their being destroyed by nuclear weapons. It will always be difficult for the enemy to make a nuclear strike against his own rear where not only are his own forces operating, and which are inhabited but where a strike would also be against his own civilian population.

A forward detachment, rushing far ahead and seeking out and destroying missile batteries, airfields, headquarters and communication lines resembles spetsnaz both in character and in spirit. It usually has no transport vehicles at all. It carries only what can be found room for in the tanks and armoured transporters, and its operations may last only a short time, until the fuel in the tanks gives out. All the same, the daring and dashing actions of the detachments will break up the enemy's defences, producing chaos and panic in his rear, and creating conditions in which the main force can operate with far greater chances of success.

In principle spetsnaz does exactly the same. The difference is that spetsnaz groups have greater opportunities for discovering important targets, whereas forward detachments have greater opportunities than spetsnaz for destroying them. Which is why the forward detachment of each regiment is closely linked up with the regiment's reconnaissance company secretly operating deep inside the enemy's defences. Similarly, the forward detachments of divisions are linked directly with divisional reconnaissance battalions, receiving a great deal of information from them and, by their swift reactions, creating better operating conditions for the reconnaissance battalions.

The forward detachment of an army, usually led by the deputy army commander, will be operating at the same time as the army's spetsnaz groups who will have been dropped 100 to 500 kilometres ahead. This means that the forward detachment may find itself in the same operational area as the army's spetsnaz groups as early as forty-eight hours after the start of the operation. At that point the deputy army commander will establish direct contact with the spetsnaz groups, receiving information from them, sometimes redirecting groups to more important targets and areas, helping the groups and receiving help from them. The spetsnaz group may, for example, capture a bridge and hold it for a very short time. The forward detachment simply has to be able to move fast enough to get to the bridge and take over with some of its men. The spetsnaz group will stay at the bridge, while the forward detachment runs ahead, and then, after the main body of Soviet forces has arrived at the bridge the spetsnaz group will again, after briefing, be dropped by parachute far ahead.

Sometimes spetsnaz at the front level will operate in the interests of the army's forward detachments, in which case the army's own spetsnaz will turn its attention to the most successful forward detachments of the army's divisions.

Forward detachments are a very powerful weapon in the hands of the Soviet commanders, who have great experience in deploying them. They are in reality the best units of the Soviet Army and in the course of an advance will operate not only in a similar way to spetsnaz, but in very close collaboration with it too. The success of operations by spetsnaz groups in strategic warfare depends ultimately on the skill and fighting ability of dozens of forward detachments which carry out lightning operations to overturn the enemy's plans and frustrate his attempts to locate and destroy the spetsnaz groups.