Inside the Soviet Army (III) by Victor Suvorov (1982)
Inside the Soviet Army (III) by Victor Suvorov (1982)
The philosophy of the Soviet General Staff is no different from that of
the horsemen whom I had watched riding the desert. `If you want to stay
alive, kill your enemy. The quicker you finish him off, the less chance he
will have to use his own gun.' In essence, this is the whole theoretical
basis on which their plans for a third world war have been drawn up. The
theory is known unofficially in the General Staff as the `axe theory'. It is
stupid, say the Soviet generals, to start a fist-fight if your opponent may
use a knife. It is just as stupid to attack him with a knife if he may use
an axe. The more terrible the weapon which your opponent may use, the more decisively you must attack him, and the more quickly you must finish him
off. Any delay or hesitation in doing this will just give him a fresh
opportunity to use his axe on you. To put it briefly, you can only prevent
your enemy from using his axe if you use your own first.
The `axe theory' was put forward in all Soviet manuals and handbooks to
be read at regimental level and higher. In each of these one of the main
sections was headed `Evading the blow'. These handbooks advocated, most insistently, the delivery of a massive pre-emptive attack on the enemy, as
the best method of self-protection. This recommendation was not confined to secret manuals--non-confidential military publications carried it as well.
But this was trivial by comparison to the demonstration which the
Soviet Union gave the whole world at the beginning of the 1970s, with the
official publication of data about the Soviet anti-missile defence system.
This whole system was, in reality, totally inadequate, but the idea behind
it provides an excellent illustration of the Soviet philosophy on nuclear
war. By contrast to the United States, the Soviet Union had no thought of
protecting its strategic rockets with an anti-missile system. The best
protection for rockets in a war is to use them immediately. Could any one
devise a more effective way of defending them?
In addition to such elementary military logic, there are political and
economic reasons which would quite simply compel the Soviet command to make use of the overwhelming proportion of its nuclear armoury within the first few minutes of a war.
From the political point of view, the turning point must be reached
within the first few minutes. What alternative could there be? In peacetime
Soviet soldiers desert to the West by the hundred, their sailors jump off
ships in Western ports, their pilots try to break through the West's
anti-aircraft defences in their aircraft. Even in peacetime, the problems
involved in keeping the population in chains are almost insoluble. The
problems are already as acute as this when no more than a few thousand of the most trusted Soviet citizens have even a theoretical chance of escaping. In wartime tens of millions of soldiers would have an opportunity to
desert--and they would take it! In order to prevent this, every soldier must
realise quite clearly that, from the very first moments of a war, there is
no sanctuary for him at the other side of the nuclear desert. Otherwise the
whole Communist house of cards will collapse.
From an economic point of view, too, the war must be as short as
possible. Socialism is unable to feed itself from its own resources. The
Soviet variety is no exception to this general rule. Before the revolution,
Russia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia all exported foodstuffs.
Nowadays they have not enough reserves to hold out from one harvest to the next. Yet shortage of food leads very quickly to manifestations of
discontent, to food-riots and to revolution. Remember what happened in
Novocherkassk in 1962, throughout the Soviet Union in 1964 and in Poland in 1970 and 1980. If socialism is unable to feed itself in peacetime, when the whole army is used to bring in the harvest, what will happen when the whole army is thrown into battle and when all the men and vehicles at present used for agriculture are mobilised for war?
For these reasons, the Communists are forced to plan any adventures
they have in mind for the second part of the year, for the period when the
harvest has already been brought in, and to try to finish them as quickly as
possible. Before the next season for work in the fields comes round.
The Strategic Offensive
Soviet generals believe, quite correctly, that the best kind of
defensive operation is an offensive. Accordingly, no practical or
theoretical work on purely defensive operations is carried out at Army level
or higher. In order that they should take the offensive, Soviet generals are
taught how to attack. In order that they should defend themselves
successfully, they are also taught how to attack. Therefore, when we talk of
a large-scale operation--one conducted by a Front or a Strategic
Direction--we can talk only of an offensive.
The philosophy behind the offensive is simple. It is easy to tear up a
pack of cards if you take them one by one. If you put a dozen cards together it is very difficult to tear them up. If you try to tear up the whole pack
at once you will be unsuccessful: you will not be able to tear them all up,
and, furthermore, not a single card in the pack will be torn. Similarly,
Soviet generals attack only with enormous masses of troops, using their
cards only as a whole pack. In this way, the pack protects the cards which
make it up.
Observing this principle of concentration of resources, in any future
war the Soviet Army will only carry out operations by single Fronts in
certain isolated sectors. In most cases it will carry out strategic
operations--that is to say operations by groups of Fronts working together
in the same sector.
The scenario for a strategic offensive operation is a standard one, in
all cases. Let us take the Western Strategic Direction as an example. We
already know that this has a minimum of three Fronts in its first echelon,
one more in its second echelon, and a Group of Tank Armies in its third. The Baltic Fleet operates on its flank. Each of its Fronts has one Tank Army,
one Air Army and two All-Arms Armies. In addition, the Commander-in-Chief has at his disposal a Corps from the Strategic Rocket Forces, a Corps from the Long-Range Air Force, three airborne divisions and the entire forces of
Military Transport Aviation. The rear areas of the Strategic Direction are
protected by three Armies from the National Air Defence Forces. A strategic offensive is divided into five stages:
The first stage, or initial nuclear strike, lasts for half an hour.
Taking part in this strike are all the rocket formations which can be used
at that stage, including the Corps from the Strategic Rocket Forces, the
rocket brigades of the Fronts and Armies, the rocket battalions of the first
division echelon and all the nuclear artillery which has reached the forward edge of the battle area. The initial nuclear strike has as its targets:
Command posts and command centres, administrative and political
centres, lines of communication and communications centres--in other words, the brain and nerve-centres of a state and of its armies.
Rocket bases, stores for nuclear weapons, bases for nuclear submarines
and for bomber aircraft. These targets must be knocked out in order to
reduce Soviet losses at the hands of the enemy to the absolute minimum.
Airfields, anti-aircraft positions, radar stations, to ensure the
success of the offensive breaks in the enemy's defenses, must be made for Soviet aircraft. The main groupings of the enemy's forces. Why fight them if
they can be destroyed before a battle can begin?
In addition to the forces directly under the command of the C-in-C of
the Strategic Direction, units of the Strategic Rocket Forces will also play
a supporting role in the initial nuclear strike. These will concern
themselves in particular with attacks on the enemy's principal ports, in
order to prevent the enemy from bringing up reinforcements and in order to isolate the European continent.
Soviet generals consider, with good reason, that an initial nuclear
strike must be unexpected, of short duration and of the greatest possible
intensity. If it is delayed by as much as an hour, the situation of the
Soviet Union will deteriorate sharply. Many of the enemy's fighting units
may move from their permanent locations, his aircraft may be dispersed on to motorways; divisions of his land forces may leave their barracks, his senior leaders may move, with their cabinets, to underground shelters or to
air-borne command posts and the task of annihilating them will become
extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is why the maximum possible
number of nuclear weapons will be used to deliver an initial nuclear strike.
The second stage follows immediately upon the first. It lasts between
90 and 120 minutes. It consists of a mass air attack by the Air Armies of
all the Fronts and by all the Long-Range Air Force units at the disposal of
the C-in-C of the Strategic Direction.
This attack is carried out as a series of waves. The first wave
consists of all the available reconnaissance aircraft--not only those of the
reconnaissance regiments but also the squadrons of fighters and fighter
bombers which have been trained in reconnaissance. In all, more than a
thousand reconnaissance aircraft from the Strategic Direction will join this
wave; they will be assisted by several hundred pilotless reconnaissance
aircraft. The primary tasks of the aircraft in this wave are to assess the
effectiveness of the initial nuclear strike and to identify any objectives
which have not been destroyed.
Immediately behind these aircraft comes the main wave, made up of all
the Air Armies and Corps. Nuclear weapons are carried by those aircraft
whose crews have been trained to deliver a nuclear strike. The targets of
this wave are in the same categories as those of the rockets which delivered the initial nuclear attack. But, unlike the rockets, these aircraft attack
mobile rather than stationary targets. They follow up after the rockets,
finishing off whatever the latter were unable to destroy. Among the first of
their mobile targets are: tank columns which have managed to leave their
barracks, groups of aircraft which have succeeded in taking off from their
permanent airfields and in reaching dispersal points on motorways, and
mobile anti-aircraft weapons.
The Soviet commanders believe that this massive air activity can be
carried out without heavy losses, since the enemy's radars will have been
destroyed, many of his computer systems and lines of communication will have been disrupted and his aircrews and anti-aircraft forces will have been demoralised.
While these massive air operations are taking place all staff personnel
will be working at top speed on evaluation of the information which is
coming in about the results of the initial nuclear strike. Meanwhile, all
the rocket launchers which took part in the initial nuclear strike will be
reloading. At the same time, too, the rocket battalions of the divisions and
the rocket brigades of the Armies and Fronts, which did not take part in the
initial strike because they were too far behind the front line, will move up
to the forward edge of the battle area at the maximum possible speed.
All aircraft will then return to their bases and the third stage will
The third stage, like the first, will last only half an hour. Taking
part in it will be even more rocket launchers than those involved in the
first stage, since many will have moved up from the rear areas. The thinking behind this plan is simple: in battle the enemy's prime concern will be to
hunt out and destroy all Soviet rocket launchers; each of these should
therefore inflict the maximum possible damage on the enemy before this
happens. The aim is to destroy all those targets which survived the first
and second stages, and to put the maximum possible number of the enemy's troops and equipment, especially his nuclear weapons, out of action.
The fourth stage lasts between 10 and 20 days. It can be broken down
into offensive operations by individual Fronts. Each Front concentrates all
its efforts on ensuring success for its Tank Army. To achieve this the
All-Arms Army attacks the enemy's defences and the Front Commander directs the Tank Army to the point at which a breakthrough has been achieved. At the same time, the entire resources of the Front's artillery division are used
to clear a path for the Tank Army. The rocket brigades lay down a nuclear
carpet ahead of the Tank Army, and the Air Army covers its breakthrough
operation. The Front's anti-tank brigades cover the Tank Army's flanks, the
air-borne assault brigade seizes bridges and crossing points for its use,
and the diversionary brigade, operating ahead of and on the flanks of the
Tank Army, does everything possible to provide it with favourable operating conditions.
The Tank Army is brought up to a breach in the enemy defences only when a real breakthrough has been achieved and once the Front's forces have room for manoeuvre. The Tank Army pushes forward at maximum possible speed to the greatest depth it can reach. It avoids prolonged engagements, it keeps clear of pockets of resistance and it often becomes separated by considerable distances from the other components of the Front. Its task, its aim, is to deliver a blow like that from a sword or an axe: the deeper it cuts, the better.
An All-Arms Army advances more slowly than a Tank Army, destroying all
the pockets of resistance in its path and any groups of enemy troops which have been surrounded, clearing up the area as it moves forward.
A Tank Army is like a rushing flood, tearing its way through a gap in a
dyke, smashing and destroying everything in its path. By contrast an
All-Arms Army is a quiet, stagnant sheet of water, flooding a whole area,
drowning enemy islands and slowly undermining buildings and other structures until they collapse.
During the first few hours or days of a war, one or all of the Fronts
may suffer enormous losses. But it should not be assumed that the C-in-C of a Strategic Direction will use his second echelon Front to strengthen or
take the place of the Front which has suffered most. The second echelon
Front is brought into action at the point where the greatest success has
been achieved, where the dyke has really been breached or where at least a very dangerous crack can be seen developing.
The fifth stage lasts 7-8 days. It may begin at any time during the
fourth stage. As soon as the C-in-C is sure that one of his Fronts has
really broken through, he moves up his second echelon Front and, if this
manages to push through the opening, he brings his striking force, his Group of Tank Armies, into action. This operation by the Group against the enemy's rear defences represents the fifth stage of a strategic offensive.
This Group of Tank Armies consists of two Tank Armies. However, by this time the Tank Armies of the Fronts may already be in action against the enemy's rear defences. These Tank Armies may be taken away from the Front Commanders, at the decision of the C-in-C, and incorporated in the Group of Tank Armies. Towards the end of the action there may be five or even six Tank Armies in the Group, bringing its establishment up to as much as 10,000 tanks. If during a breakthrough half or even two thirds of these are lost, the Group still will be of impressive strength.
However, the Soviet General Staff hopes that losses will not be as
large as this. Our pack of cards effect should manifest itself. Moreover,
the operations of the Group of Tank Armies will be supported by all the
resources available to the C-in-C of the Strategic Direction. All his rocket
and air forces will be attacking the enemy with nuclear weapons, his
airborne divisions will be dropped to help the Group to advance. Lastly, the
whole Baltic Fleet will be supporting the Group. If the Group manages to
advance, the whole of the forces available to the State, up to and including
the Supreme Commander himself, can be massed to support it.
The strategic offensive has one alternative form. This is sometimes
known as a `Friday evening' offensive. It differs from the normal version
only in dispensing with the first three stages described above. The
operation therefore begins at the fourth stage--with a surprise attack by a
group of Fronts against one or more countries.
In practice, what happened in Czechoslovakia was an operation by a
group of Fronts, carried out swiftly and without warning. Significantly this
operation caught the Czechs off guard--profiting by the Friday evening
relaxation of the State apparatus after a working week. Because of the small
size of Czechoslovakia and the evident disinclination of the Czech army to
defend its country, the C-in-C did not bring his Group of Tank Armies
forward from Byelorussia and the Front commanders did not push their Tank
Armies into Czechoslovakia. Only a very small number of tanks took part in
the operation--some 9,000 in all, drawn from the tank battalions of the
regiments involved, the tank regiments of the divisions and the tank
divisions of the Armies.
The success of the Czech operation produced a new optimism in various
other countries in Europe, which realised that they could hope to be
similarly liberated in the course of a few hours.
The terrible epidemic of pacification which subsequently swept through
Western Europe aroused new hopes of success through a bloodless revolution
in the hearts of the Soviet General Staff.
In the winter of 1940, the Red Army broke through the `Mannerheim
Line'. No one knows what price it paid for this victory, but, time and
again, demographers have come up with the same figure--a total of 1,500,000
human lives. Whether this is accurate or not, the losses were so staggering,
even by Soviet standards, that the advance was halted the very moment
Finnish resistance was broken.
The following summer Soviet tanks were rumbling through the streets of
three sovereign states--Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Since then, Soviet
tanks have visited Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bucharest, Budapest,
Sofia, Belgrade, Pyongyang and even Peking. But they never dared to enter
Finland is the only country which has fought a war against Soviet
aggression without ever having allowed Soviet tanks to enter its capital.
It is therefore surprising that it is Finland which has become the
symbol of submission to Communist expansion. Halted by the valour with which
this brave country defended itself, the communists changed their tactics. If
they could not bring the Finns to their knees by fighting, they decided they
would do it by peaceful methods. Their new weapon turned out to be more
powerful than tanks. Soviet tanks entered Yugoslavia and Romania but both
countries are independent today. They never reached Helsinki, but Finland
This result surprised even the Soviet Communists themselves and it took
them a long time to appreciate the power of the weapon which had fallen so
unexpectedly into their hands. When they finally realised its effectiveness,
they put it to immediate use against the remaining countries of Western
Europe. Its effects are to be seen everywhere around us. The Communists knew
that they could never seize Western Europe so long as it was capable of
defending itself, and this is why they concentrated their attacks on Western
European determination to stand up to them.
Pacifism is sweeping through the West. It is doing the same in the
Soviet Union. In the West, though, it is uncontrolled while in the USSR it
is encouraged from above. However, both movements have a common aim. Western
pacifists are fighting to stop the installation of new rockets in Western
Europe. Soviet pacifists speak out for the same cause--against the
installation of rockets in Western Europe.
When I lecture to Western officers on tactics in the Soviet Army, I
often close my talk by putting a question to them--always the same one--in
order to be sure that they have understood me correctly. The question is
trivial and elementary. Three Soviet motor-rifle companies are on the move
in the same sector. The first has come under murderous fire and its attack
has crumbled, the second is advancing slowly, with heavy losses, the third
has suffered an enemy counter-attack and, having lost all its command
personnel, is retreating. The commander of the regiment to which these
companies belong has three tank companies and three artillery batteries in
reserve. Try and guess, I say, how this regimental commander uses his
reserves to support his three companies. `You are to guess,' I say, `what
steps a Soviet regimental commander would take, not a Western one but a
Soviet, a Soviet, a Soviet one.'
I have never yet received the correct reply.
Yet in this situation there is only one possible answer. From the
platoon level to that of the Supreme Commander all would agree that there is
only one possible decision: all three tank companies and all three artillery
batteries must be used to strengthen the company which is moving ahead,
however slowly. The others, which are suffering losses, certainly do not
qualify for help. If the regimental commander, in a state of drunkenness or
from sheer stupidity, were to make any other decision he would, of course,
be immediately relieved of his command, reduced to the ranks and sent to pay
for his mistake with his own blood, in a penal battalion.
My audiences ask, with surprise, how it can be that two company
commanders, whose men are suffering heavy casualties, can ask for help
without receiving any? `That's the way it is,' I reply, calmly. `How can
there be any doubt about it?'
`What happens,' ask the Western officers, `if a Soviet platoon or
company commander asks for artillery support. Does he get it?'
`He has no right to ask for it,' I say.
`And if a company commander asks for air support--does he get it?'
`He has no right to ask for support of any sort, let alone air
support.' My audience smiles--they believe they have found the Achilles heel
of Soviet tactics. But I am always irritated--for this is not weakness, but
How is it possible not to be irritated? A situation in which every
platoon commander can ask for artillery support is one in which the
divisional commander is unable to concentrate the full strength of his
artillery in the decisive sector--a platoon commander cannot know which this
is. A situation in which every company commander can call for air support is
one in which the Commander of a Group of Armies is unable to bring together
all his aircraft as a single striking force. To a military man this
represents something quite unthinkable--the dispersal of resources.
The tactics used by Jenghiz Khan were primitive, in the extreme. His
Mongolian horsemen would never engage in a single combat in any of the
countries which his hordes overran. The training for battle which they
received consisted solely of instruction in maintaining formation and in the
observance of a disciplinary code which was enforced in the most barbarous
During a battle Jenghiz Khan would keep a close watch on the situation
from a nearby hill. As soon as the slightest sign of success was visible at
any point, he would concentrate all his forces there, sometimes even
throwing in his own personal guard. Having broken through the enemy's line
at a single point he would push irresistibly ahead and the enemy army, split
in two, would disintegrate. It is worth recording that he never lost a
battle in his life. Centuries passed and new weapons appeared. It seemed
that this ancient principle of war was dead and buried. That at least was
how it seemed to the French armies at Toulon. But then the young Bonaparte
appeared, mustered all the artillery at the decisive spot and won his first
brilliant victory with lightning speed. Subsequently he always concentrated
his artillery and his cavalry in large numbers. In consequence, his junior
commanders were deprived of both artillery and cavalry. Despite this, for
decades his armies won every battle. At Waterloo he paid the penalty for
abandoning the principle of concentrating his forces in the most important
sector. His defeat there was the price he paid for dispersing his resources.
More time passed, tanks, aircraft and machine-guns made their
appearance. The principles of Jenghiz Khan and Bonaparte were completely
forgotten in France. In 1940 the Allies had more tanks than the Germans.
They were evenly distributed among infantry sub-units, whose commanders were
proud to have tanks directly under their command. Their German opposite
numbers had no such grounds for pride, and this was the reason why Germany's
victory was so rapid and so decisive. The German tanks were not dispersed
but were concentrated in what, by the standards of 1940, were huge groups.
The Allied tanks were scattered, like widely-spread fingers, which could not
be clenched to make a fist. The German tanks struck, as a fist, unexpectedly
and at the weakest point. The Germans' success has gone down in history as a
victory which was won by their tanks.
Soviet tactics are of the utmost simplicity; they can be condensed into
a single phrase--the maximum concentration of forces in the decisive sector.
Anyone who was found responsible for dispersing forces of divisional
strength or above during the war was shot without further ado. At lower
levels the usual penalty for wasting resources in this way was reduction to
the ranks and a posting to a penal battalion, which would also lead to
death, though not always immediately, it is true.
Every Soviet operation, from Stalingrad onwards, developed in the way
water breaks through a concrete dam: a single drop seeps through a
microscopic crack, and is followed immediately by a dozen more drops, after
which first hundreds and then thousands of litres pour through at ever
increasing speed, becoming a cataract of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of
Here is one entirely typical example of such a breakthrough, carried
out by the 16th Guards Rifle Corps of the 2nd Guards Army at Kursk in 1943.
During an offensive by nine forward battalions only one managed to make any
ground. Immediately, the commander of the regiment to which this battalion
belonged concentrated all his resources at that point, on a front one
kilometre wide. His divisional commander thereupon threw all his forces into
this sector. The breach slowly became deeper and wider and within half an
hour the corps commander's reserves began to arrive. Within three hours, 27
of the 36 battalions belonging to the corps had been brought in to fight in
the narrow sector, which was by now 7 kilometres wide. 1,087 of the 1,176
guns belonging to the corps, and all its tanks, were assembled in the
breakthrough sector. Naturally, the battalion commanders who had been unable
to penetrate the enemy's defences not only received no reinforcements, but
had everything under their command taken away from them. And this was
entirely as it should have been!
As the breach was widened, more and more forces were concentrated
there. As soon as he was informed of the breakthrough the Commander of the
Central Front, General Rokossovskiy, rushed an entire Army to the spot, with
an Air Army to cover the operations. A few days later the Supreme Commander
added his own reserve army, the 4th Tank Army, to the forces breaking
through. Such a massive concentration of forces could not, of course, be
withstood by the German commanders. Several hundred kilometres of their
front disintegrated simultaneously and a hasty withdrawal began. The last
big offensive mounted by the German army in World War II had collapsed.
After this, the Germans never again launched a single large-scale attack,
confining themselves to smaller operations, such as those at Balaton or in
the Ardennes. The moral of this story is clear. If every platoon commander
had had the right to call for fire support for his unit, the corps commander
would have been unable to concentrate his reserves in the breach and the
Front would never have broken through. Without this, there could have been
Modern Soviet tactics, then, follow in the footprints of Jenghiz Khan,
Bonaparte, the German generals who won the battle for France and the Soviet
generals in the war against Germany.
Nuclear weapons have changed the face of war, as did artillery in the
middle ages, the machine gun in the First World War and the tank in the
Second. The principles of military science have not been affected by these
changes, for they are immutable--disperse your forces and you will lose,
concentrate them and you will win.
The only amendment which needs to be made to these ancient principles
in the nuclear age is that a commander must concentrate his nuclear forces,
too, in the main sector, together with the artillery, aircraft, and tanks
which he assembles there. The threat of a nuclear response, too, plays a
role in tactics. The concentration of forces can be completed very rapidly
today, and they are then a target for the enemy's nuclear weapons, whereas
earlier he was unable to use them during the comparatively long time they
took to assemble. Otherwise everything remains as it was. If a single
company breaks through the battalion commander supports it with his whole
mortar battery, leaving the other companies to fend for themselves. Informed
of the success of the company, the commander of the regiment orders his tank
battalions to the sector and arranges for his artillery to provide
concentrated fire support, then the divisional commander moves in his tank
regiment and he too brings in his entire artillery reserves; in addition, he
may arrange to have nuclear strikes carried out ahead of his troops. Then,
flooding through like the torrent, rushing through the broken dam, come all
the tanks and artillery of the Army, all the tanks, aircraft, artillery and
rockets of the Front, of the Strategic Direction, of the Soviet Union and of
One further misunderstanding needs clarification. Although a platoon or
company commander is not entitled to summon up aircraft or the divisional
artillery, this certainly does not mean that Soviet forces operate without
fire support. The commander of a Soviet motor-rifle battalion (400 men) has
6 120mm mortars at his disposal. The commander of an American battalion (900
men) has only 4 106mm mortars. The commander of a Soviet regiment (2,100
men) has a battalion of 18 122mm howitzers and a battery of 6 Grad P
multi-barrelled rocket launchers. The commander of an American brigade
(4,000-5,000 men) has no fire weapons at all. Commanders of Soviet and
American divisions have approximately the same quantity of fire weapons.
Commanders of Soviet battalions and regiments, not being entitled to
call on their divisional commanders for help have enough fire weapons under
their command to follow up successes achieved by any of their platoons,
companies or battalions. Since they are equipped with these weapons, the
divisional commander is free to make use of the full weight of his
divisional artillery wherever he decides it is needed.
Many Western specialists believe that in order to carry out an
operation of the sort described it would be necessary to assemble a massive
concentration of material resources and that the Soviet command would
encounter extreme difficulty in providing its enormous forces with the
supplies they would need. This delusion is based on typical Western concepts
of the organisation of the supply and replenishment of military forces.
The Soviet Army has a completely different approach to the problems of
supply from that adopted in the West--one which avoids many headaches. Let
us start from the fact that a Soviet soldier is not issued with a sleeping
bag, and does not need one. He can be left unfed for several days. All that
he needs is ammunition and this solves many problems. The problem of
supplying Soviet troops in battle is thus confined to the provision of
ammunition. We already know that each commander has transport sub-units at
his disposal; every regiment has a company which can transport loads of 200
tons, every division a battalion with a capacity of 1,000 tons, every Army a
transport regiment, and so forth. All this capacity is used solely to move
up ammunition for advancing forces. Each commander allocates a large
proportion of this ammunition to the sector which is achieving success--the
remainder suffer accordingly.
No less important during a rapid advance is fuel--the life-blood of
war. A basic approach has been taken to the problem of fuel-supply. As a
condition for its acceptance by the armed Services, every type of Soviet
combat vehicle--tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery prime movers,
etc.--must have sufficient fuel capacity to take it at least 600 kilometres.
Thus, Soviet Fronts would be able to make a dash across Western Germany
without refuelling. Thereafter, the pipe-laying battalion of each Army would
lay a line to the Front's main pipeline which would have been laid by the
Front's pipe-laying regiment. The Front's pipelines would be linked with
secret underground main lines which had been laid down in Eastern Europe in
peacetime. In addition, the C-in-C of a Strategic Direction has under his
command a pipe-laying brigade, which can be used to assist the Fronts. At
the terminals of the pipelines the pipe-layers set up a number of refuelling
centres, each of which can simultaneously refuel a battalion or even a
regiment. In addition, the Soviet Army is at present evolving techniques for
using helicopters for fuel resupply. Let us take a division which is
advancing. One of its tank battalions has stopped, on orders from the
divisional commander, and is left behind by the other battalions. In a field
by the road, on which the battalion has halted, a V-12 helicopter lands,
carrying 40 or more tons of fuel. Within ten minutes it has refuelled all
the tanks and taken off again. The battalion sets off for the front again,
replacing another which halts to refuel. A single V-12 helicopter flying at
low altitude at a speed of 250 kilometres an hour, can refuel a whole
division in one day. It is not particularly vulnerable, since it is flying
over its own rear areas, which are protected by the Air Defence Troops of
the Land Forces. If trucks were used to supply a division hundreds of them
would be needed, travelling on damaged, overloaded roads and presenting an
excellent target. The destruction of a single bridge could bring them all to
a halt. While a single truck carrying ten tons would take twenty-four hours
to make a particular journey, a helicopter could do the same job in one
hour. Even if helicopters were more vulnerable than endless convoys of
trucks, Soviet generals would still use them, for time is far more precious
than money during a war.
Provisions, spare parts, etc. are, quite simply, not supplied.
Now let us see how this works in practice. A division which is up to
full strength, fully equipped, fed and fuelled, with more than 2,000 tons of
ammunition, is moving up into action from the second echelon. This division
can spend from three to five days in action, without rest for either its
soldiers or its officers. The wounded are evacuated to the rear by the
medical battalion, after first aid has been given.
Its companies, battalions and regiments waste no time waiting for spare
parts for equipment which has been damaged. They simply throw it aside. The
repair and refitting battalion mends whatever it can, cannibalising one tank
to repair two or three others, removing its engine, tracks, turret and
anything else which is needed. Any piece of equipment which is seriously
damaged is left for removal to the rear by the Army's or the Front's mobile
tank repair workshop.
In action, the division fights with great determination, but its
numbers dwindle. Some of its fighting equipment is returned after repair,
but not a great deal. After three to five days of hard fighting, the
survivors are sent back to the second echelon, their place being taken by a
fresh division which has been well fed and fully rested. From the remnants
of the old division, a new one is quickly put together. Combat equipment is
provided by the tank repair workshops. The fact that it belonged to some
other division only the day before is immaterial. Reinforcements reach the
new division from the hospitals--whether these soldiers and officers
formerly belonged to other divisions, Armies or Fronts is also immaterial.
With them arrive equipment from the factories and reservists--some of whom
are older, others still very young boys. The division shakes down, exercises
and allows its soldiers to get all the sleep they need. Then, after five
days, it moves up into action, fully fed and fuelled, with 2,000 tons of
Often, while it is reforming, a division receives entirely new
equipment, straight from the factory, but it may also be issued with older
material taken from store, while its own, or what remains of it, is taken
from it for some other division which is also re-forming, not far away.
Frequently, after a particularly punishing series of battles, a
division cannot be re-formed. In this event all its commanders from company
level upwards are withdrawn and what is left of the division is administered
by the deputies to the battalion and regimental commanders and by the deputy
divisional commander. This remnant will continue to fight, to the last man,
while the divisional commander and his subordinates are in the rear,
receiving new equipment and new soldiers. Within a short period of time they
return to the battle in which what was left of their former division
perished so recently.
One most important element needed for the rebuilding of a new division
is its old colours. A fresh division can be set up very quickly around the
old colours. But if the colours are lost--that is the end of the division.
If such a thing should happen, all its former commanders are sent to penal
battalions, where they expiate their guilt with blood, while their division
is disbanded and used to bring others up to strength.
Here is an example from the history of the 24th Samara-Ulyanovsk Iron
Division, with which I entered Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The division was established in 1918 and was one of the best in the Red
Army. Lenin corresponded personally with some of its soldiers. It was active
in the war against Germany from the very beginning of hostilities and
distinguished itself in the fighting near Minsk until, as part of the 13th
Army, it found itself encircled. Part of the division managed to break out
but its colours were lost. Despite its past achievements, the division was
disbanded and its various officers were tried by military tribunals. In
1944, when the Red Army once again reached and then crossed the Soviet
frontiers, a special commission began questioning local inhabitants in an
attempt to discover where Soviet officers and soldiers who had been killed
in action during the first days of the war were buried. A peasant, D. N.
Tyapin, told the commission how he had found the body of a Soviet officer,
wrapped in a flag, and how he had buried the body, with the flag. The grave
was immediately opened and the colours of the 24th Iron Division were found.
The flag was immediately sent away for restoration and, just as quickly, a
new division was formed and given the old colours, the battle honours and
the title of the old division. Today the 24th Iron Division is one of the
most famous in the Soviet Army. However, despite the fact that it
distinguished itself in the battle which ended the war, it was never made a
Guards division. It was not forgiven for the loss of its colours.
What Sort of Weapons?
I adore weapons. Of every sort. I love military equipment and military
uniforms. One day I shall open a small museum, and the first exhibit which I
shall buy for my museum will be an American jeep. This is a real miracle
weapon. It was designed before the Second World War and it served from the
first day to the last, like a faithful soldier. It was dropped by parachute,
it was soaked in salt water, it smashed its wheels on the stony deserts of
Libya and sank into swamps on tropical islands. It served honourably in the
mountains of Norway and of the Caucasus, in the Alps and the Ardennes. And,
since the war, can any other military vehicle have seen so many
battles--Korea, Vietnam, Sinai, Africa, the Arctic, South America,
Indonesia, India, Pakistan? And is there any sort of weapon which has not
been installed on a jeep? Recoilless guns, anti-tank rockets, machine guns.
And it has worked on reconnaissance duties, as an ambulance, a patrol
vehicle, a commander and an ordinary military workhorse.
And how many types of tanks, guns, aircraft, rockets have come and gone
in the time of the jeep? They were important and impressive, the jeep was
grey and undistinguished. But they have gone and the jeep is still there.
And how many times have they tried to replace the jeep? But it is
indispensable. In the desert, more reliable than a camel, in the grasslands
faster than a leopard, in the Arctic hardier than a Polar bear.
Another exhibit in my museum will be a Kalashnikov automatic assault
rifle. Not one of those the terrorists used to kill the Olympic athletes or
the one I had with me in Czechoslovakia or one of those the Communists
killed doctors with in Cambodia. No, it will be one of the thousands
captured by the American marines in Vietnam and used in their desperate
attempt to halt Communism and to avert the calamity which threatened the
American soldiers in Vietnam often mistrusted their own weapons and
preferred to use their Kalashnikov trophies. This was not so simple, for
they could hardly expect to be supplied with the proper rounds for these
weapons but they used them nevertheless, capturing more ammunition as they
fought. What is the secret of the Kalashnikov? It is uncomplicated and
reliable, like a comrade-in-arms, and these are the two qualities of
greatest importance in a battle.
My museum will have weapons from everywhere--from Germany and Britain,
France and Japan. But the greatest number will come from the Soviet Union. I
hate the Communists, but I love Soviet weapons. The fact is that Soviet
designers realised, decades ago, the simple truth that only uncomplicated
and reliable equipment can be successful in war. This is as true as the fact
that the only plans which will succeed are those which are simple and easily
understood and that the best battledress is the simplest and most hard
Soviet requirements from a weapon are that it must be easy to produce
and simple in construction, which makes it easier to teach soldiers to use
it and simpler to maintain and repair.
Although the Soviet Union produced the same amount of steel as Germany,
it built a much greater number of tanks. Moreover, because of the simplicity
of their construction, it proved possible to repair tens of thousands of
these tanks and to return them to battle two or even three times.
General Guderian admired Soviet tanks and wrote about them,
enthusiastically and at length. He was insistent in urging that Germany
should copy the T-34. The design of this Soviet tank was taken as a basis
for the `Panzer' and shortly afterwards for the `Tiger-König'. But the
German designers were unable to meet the most important
requirement--simplicity of construction. As a result only 4,815 Panzer tanks
were built in all, while no more than 484 `Tiger-König' tanks were ever
produced. In the same period the Soviet Union built 102,000 tanks, 70,000 of
which were T-34s.
In considering these figures it should be remembered that, while most
German tank factories were subjected to bombing, many Soviet factories were
lost altogether--the Kharkov plant was captured by the Germans in the first
months of the war, and this was the largest Soviet factory and the
birthplace of the T-34; the Stalingrad tank factory was the setting for the
fiercest fighting it is possible to imagine. Leningrad was besieged, but,
despite being without steel or coal, the tank factory there, which was
subjected to constant artillery bombardment, continued to repair tanks for
three years. On some occasions tanks which still were under repair had to be
used to fire through gaps in the walls at advancing groups of German
soldiers. The only factory that was left was in the Urals and it was to this
that the machinery was taken and set up, virtually in the open air, to
produce the world's simplest and most reliable tank.
It should not be thought that Soviet equipment suffers any harmful
effects because of its simplicity of design. Quite the reverse. In its time,
the T-34 was not only the simplest but also the most powerful tank in the
When a MIG-25 landed in Japan, the Western experts who examined it
marvelled at the simplicity of its design. Naturally, for propaganda
purposes, the fighting qualities of this excellent aircraft were disparaged.
One not particularly perceptive specialist even commented, `We had thought
it was made of titanium but it turns out to be nothing but steel.' It is, in
fact, impossible to reach the speeds of which the MIG-25 is capable using
titanium: yet the Soviet designers had managed to build this, the fastest
combat aircraft in the world, from ordinary steel.
This is a most significant fact. It means that this remarkable aircraft
can be built without especially complicated machine tools or the help of
highly skilled specialists, and that its mass-production in wartime would be
unaffected by shortages of important materials. Furthermore, this aircraft
is exceedingly cheap to produce and could therefore be built in very great
numbers if this were necessary. This is its most important characteristic;
the fact that for two decades it has been the fastest interceptor aircraft
in the world, with the highest rate of climb, is of secondary significance.
Technology is developing and each year equipment becomes more and more
complex. But this does not conflict with the overall philosophy of Soviet
designers. Of course, decades ago, their predecessors used the latest
equipment available in their combat vehicles and aircraft and this equipment
must then have been considered very complex. But the iron, unbreakable
principle observed by Soviet designers retains its force. Whenever a new
piece of equipment is being developed, making the use of highly complex
tools and techniques unavoidable, there is always a choice of hundreds, even
thousands of possible technical procedures. The designers will always select
the very simplest possible of all the choices open to them. It would, of
course, be feasible to produce an automatic transmission system for a jeep,
but it is possible to get by with an ordinary one. This being so, there can
be only one Soviet choice--the ordinary transmission.
I once saw a film comparing a Soviet and an American tank. A driver was
given both models to drive and he was then asked--`Which is the better?' The
American one, of course,' said the driver. `It has automatic transmission,
whereas in the Soviet tank you have to change gear, which is not easy in a
heavy machine.' He was quite right--if you see war as a pleasant outing. But
Soviet designers realise that any future war will be anything but this. They
consider, quite correctly, that, if there are mass bombing attacks, if whole
industrial areas are destroyed, if long-distance communications break down,
mass production of tanks with automatic transmission would be out of the
question. Equally it would be impossible to repair or service tanks of this
sort which had been produced before the war. Accordingly, there can be only
one choice--the ordinary, non-automatic transmission. This may be hard on
the tank driver--he will get tired. But it will be easier for industry and
for the whole country, which will continue to produce tanks by the ten
thousand on machines which have been set up virtually in the open air.
The simplicity of Soviet weapons surprises everyone. But each type of
equipment which is produced is turned out in two variants--the normal one
and the `monkey-model'.
The `monkey-model' is a weapon which has been simplified in every
conceivable way and which is intended for production in wartime only.
For instance, the T-62 tank is one of the simplest fighting vehicles in
the world. But as it was being designed, a still simpler version was also
being developed, for wartime use. The `monkey-model' of the T-62 does not
have a stabilised gun, carries simplified radio and optical equipment, the
night-vision equipment uses an infra-red light source to illuminate targets
(a method which is twenty years old), the gun is raised and turned manually,
steel rather than wolfram or uranium is used for the armour-plating piercing
caps of its shells.
Soviet generals consider, justifiably, that it is better to have tanks
like these in a war than none at all. It is intended that the `monkey-model'
approach will be used not only for building tanks, but for all other sorts
of equipment--rockets, guns, aircraft, radio sets, etc. In peacetime these
variants are turned out in large quantities, but they are only issued to
countries friendly to the Soviet Union. I have seen two variants of the
BMP-1 infantry combat vehicle--one which is issued to the Soviet army and
another which is intended for the Soviet Union's Arab friends. I counted
sixty-three simplifications which made the second `monkey-model' different
from the original version. Among the most important of these were: The 73mm
gun has no loading or round selection equipment. Whereas in the Soviet
version the gunnerjust presses the appropriate buttons and the round which
he requires slides into the barrel, in the simplified model all of this has
to be done by hand, and furthermore, the gun is not stabilised. The turret
is rotated and the gun is raised mechanically. In the Soviet version this is
done electrically--the mechanical system is there only as a back-up. The
`export' version is armed with the Malyutka rocket, the Soviet one with the
`Malyutka-M', which differs from the other model in having an automatic
target guidance system. The `monkey-model' is without the lead internal
lining on the walls, which protects the crew against penetrating radiation
and against flying fragments of armour in the event of a direct hit. The
optical system is greatly simplified, as is the communications equipment,
there is no automatic radiation or gas detector, there is neither an
automatic hermetic sealing system nor an air filtration system, for use in
conditions of very heavy contamination, no automatic topographical fixation
system is fitted and many other systems are missing.
When one of these `monkey-models' fell into the hands of Western
specialists, they naturally gained a completely false impression of the true
combat capabilities of the BMP-1 and of Soviet tanks. For what they were
looking at was no more than a casing, or a container, like an empty money
box which is of no value without its contents.
The Soviet Union is currently making deliveries abroad of T-72 tanks,
MIG-23 fighters and TU-22 bombers. But these are different from the models
with which the Soviet Army has armed itself. When one of a man's pockets
contains banknotes and the other simply holds pieces of paper, it is quite
impossible to tell which is which from the outside.
The current Soviet policy concerning equipment is a wise one--to amass
first-class but very simple equipment in quantities sufficient for the first
few weeks of a war. If the war continues, equipment will be produced on an
enormous scale, but in variants which have been simplified to the greatest
possible extent. Experience of producing both standard and `monkey' models
is being gained in peacetime; the simpler variants are being sold to the
`brothers' and `friends' of the USSR as the very latest equipment available.
Learning from Mistakes
The winter of 1969 was an exceptionally bitter one in the Soviet Far
East. When the first clashes with the Chinese took place on the river
Ussuri, and before combat divisions reached the area, the pressure exerted
by the enemy was borne by the KGB frontier troops. After the clash was over,
the General Staff held a careful investigation into all the mistakes and
oversights which had occurred. It was quickly discovered that several KGB
soldiers had frozen to death in the snow, simply because they had never
received elementary instruction in sleeping out in temperatures below zero.
This was alarming news. A commission from the General Staff immediately
carried out experiments with three divisions, chosen at random, and came to
a depressing conclusion. Wartime experience had been irrevocably lost and
the modern Soviet soldier had not been taught how he could sleep in the
snow. Naturally he was not allowed a sleeping bag and of course he was
forbidden to light a fire. Normally a soldier would spend nights when the
temperature was below freezing-point in his vehicle. But what was he to do
if the vehicle was put out of action?
The chiefs of staff of all divisions were immediately summoned to
Moscow. They were given a day's instruction in the technique of sleeping out
in snow at freezing temperatures, using only a greatcoat. Then each of them
was required to convince himself that this was possible, by sleeping in the
snow for three nights. (It should be remembered that March in
Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow, is a hard month, with snow on the ground and
temperatures below zero.) Then the chiefs of staff returned to their
divisions and immediately the entire Soviet Army was put to a very hard
test--that of spending a night in the open in numbing cold and without any
extra clothing. It seemed as if those who were stationed in deserts in the
south were in luck. But no--they were sent by turns to either Siberia or the
north to be put through the same tough training. Thereafter, spending a
night in the snow became a part of all military training programmes.
Two years before this, following the shameful defeats in Sinai, when it
had become clear how much Arab soldiers fear tanks and napalm, urgent orders
had been issued, making it compulsory for all Soviet soldiers and officers,
up to the rank of general, to jump through roaring flames, and to shelter in
shallow pits as tanks clattered by just above their heads, or, if they could
not find even this protection, to lie on the ground between the tracks of
the roaring vehicles.
The Soviet Army re-learned its lessons within a single day. I have felt
napalm on my own skin, I have crouched in a pit as a tank crashed by
overhead, and I have spent terrible nights in the snow.
At the beginning of the war, the Red Army had no idea how to organise
the defence of the country or, particularly, of the large towns. It had
never been taught how to do this. It had only learned how to attack and how
to `carry the war on to the enemy's territory'. However, the war began in
accordance with the plans of the German General Staff rather than of their
Soviet opponents. One catastrophe followed another. Attempts to defend Minsk
lasted for three days, to hold Kiev for two days. Everyone was at their
wits' end to know how to organise things better. Kiev fell at the end of
September and by October Guderian was approaching Moscow. Suddenly,
something quite astonishing happened. Soviet defences became impenetrable,
specifically those around Moscow, Tula and Tver'. For the first time in the
course of the Second World War, the German military machine was brought to a
standstill. It is said that freezing weather played its part in turning the
tide. This was true enough in November and December, but in October the
weather was sunny. Something had happened; a radical change had occurred.
The next year, the battle for Stalingrad took place--the city was defended
throughout the summer, and frosts played no part in the outcome. This
campaign will go down in history as a model for the defence of a large city.
A second such model is the defence of Leningrad which held out for almost
three years, during which one and a half million of its citizens lost their
lives. It was under attack for two winters and three summers. Freezing
temperatures played no role here either--the city could have been taken
during any season in these three years.
In the Soviet Army the dividing line between inability to perform a
particular role and the capacity to carry it out with great professional
skill is almost indiscernible. Transitions from one to the other occur
almost instantaneously, not only in tactics, strategy and the training of
personnel but also in equipment programmes.
At the beginning of the 1960s a discussion developed in the Western
military journals about the need for a new infantry combat vehicle: this
must be amphibious, well armoured, and highly manoeuvrable, and must have
considerable fire-power. The Soviet military press responded only with a
deathly silence. The discussion gathered strength, there was much argument
for and against the proposition, intensive tests were carried out... the
Soviet Union remained silent.
One night towards the end of 1966 heavy transporters arrived at our
military academy carrying unusual vehicles of some sort, which were covered
in tarpaulins. These were BMP-1s--amphibious, fiendishly manoeuvrable,
well-armoured and heavily armed. By 1967 this vehicle was being produced in
great numbers: meanwhile the discussion in the West continued. Only West
Germany took any positive steps, by building the `Marder'--which was an
excellent vehicle, but was not amphibious and carried almost the same
armament as previous German armoured personnel carriers. Sadly, it was also
exceptionally complicated in design.
In the early 1980s, the discussion is still in progress in the West;
the first tentative steps have been taken, but at present, as before, the
United States has armoured personnel carriers which are armed only with
machine-guns. Of course, Western specialists have found many faults in the
construction of the BMP-1. But this is yesterday's product--and the `monkey
model' of it at that. The Soviet Union has been producing a second
generation of BMPs in massive quantities for a long time now while, in the
West, discussion continues.
The same has happened with military helicopters, self-propelled
artillery, automatic mortars and many other types of equipment.
When will we be able to dispense with the tank?
One day, in Paris, I bought a book, published in 1927, on the problems
of a future war. The author was sober-minded and reasonable. His logic was
sound, his analysis was shrewd and his arguments unassailable. After
analysing the way military equipment had developed in his lifetime, the
author concluded by declaring that the proper place for the tank was in the
museum, next to the dinosaur skeletons. His argument was simple and logical:
anti-tank guns had been developed to the point at which they would bring
massive formations of tanks to a complete halt in any future war, just as
machine guns had completely stopped the cavalry in the First World War.
I do not know whether the author lived until 1940, to see the German
tanks sweeping along the Paris boulevards, past the spot at which, many
decades later, I was to buy my dusty copy of his book, its leaves yellowing
with age. The belief that the tank is reaching the end of its life is itself
surprisingly long-lived. At the beginning of the 1960s, France decided to
stop production of tanks, because their era was over. It is fortunate that
this delusion was shattered by the Israelis' old `Sherman' tanks in the
Sinai peninsula. Israel's brilliant victory showed the whole world, once
again, that no anti-tank weapon is able to stop tanks in a war, provided, of
course, that they are used skilfully.
The argument used by the tank's detractors is simple--`Just look at the
anti-tank rockets--at their accuracy and at their armour-piercing
capability!' But this argument does not hold water. The anti-tank rocket is
a defensive weapon--part of a passive system. The tank, on the other hand,
is an offensive weapon. Any defensive system involves the dispersal of
forces over a wide territory, leaving them strong in some places and weak in
others. And it is where they are weak that the tanks will appear, in
enormous concentrations. Even if it were possible to distribute resources
equally, this would mean that no one sector would have enough. Try deploying
just ten anti-tank rockets along every kilometre of the front. The tanks
will then choose one particular spot and will attack it in their hundreds,
or perhaps thousands, simultaneously. If you concentrate your anti-tank
resources, the tanks will simply by-pass them. They are an offensive weapon
and they have the initiative in battle, being able to choose when and where
to attack and how strong a force to use.
The hope that the perfection of anti-tank weapons would lead to the
death of the tank has been shown to be completely unfounded. It is like
hoping that the electronic defences of banks will become so perfect in the
future that bank robbers will die out as a breed. I assure you that bank
robbers will not become extinct. They will improve their tools, their
tactics, their information about their targets and their methods of
misleading their enemies and they will continue to carry out raids.
Sometimes these will fail, sometimes they will succeed, but they will
continue so long as banks continue to exist. The robbers have the same
advantage as tanks--they are on the offensive. They decide where, when and
how to attack and will do so only when they are confident of success, when
they have secretly discovered a weak spot in the enemy's defences, whose
existence is unknown even to the enemy himself.
Soviet generals have never been faced with problems of this sort. They
have always known that victory in a war can only be achieved by advancing.
To them defensive operations spell defeat and death. In the best case, such
operations can only produce a deadlock, and not for long, at that. Victory
can only be achieved by means of an offensive--by seizing the initiative and
raining blows on the enemy's most vulnerable areas.
Thus, to win, you must attack, you must move forward unexpectedly and
with determination, you must advance. For this you need a vehicle which can
travel anywhere to destroy the enemy, preferably remaining unscathed itself.
The one vehicle which combines movement, fire-power and armour is the tank.
Perhaps, in the future, its armour will be perfected, perhaps it will not
have tracks but will travel in some other way (there have been wheeled
tanks), perhaps it will not have a gun but be armed with something else
(there have been tanks armed solely with rockets), perhaps all sorts of
things will be changed, but its most important characteristics--its ability
to move, to shoot and to defend itself--will remain. As long as there are
wars, as long as the desire for victory lasts, the tank will exist. Nuclear
war has not only not written it off, but has given it a new lease of
life--nothing is so suited to nuclear war as a tank. To survive a nuclear
war you must put your money on these steel boxes.
The Flying Tank
Drive a tank on to an airfield and park it near a military aircraft.
Next put a helicopter between the tank and the aircraft. Now, look at each
of them and then answer the question--which does the helicopter resemble
more--the tank or the aircraft?
I know what your opinion will be. You don't need to tell me. But the
Soviet generals believe that to all intents and purposes the helicopter is a
tank. In fact they find it difficult to distinguish between the two.
Certainly there is very little in common between the helicopter and the
aircraft. Small details, like the ability to fly, but nothing more.
Of course, they are right. The helicopter is related to the tank, not
to the aircraft. The reasoning behind this is simple enough--in battle a
tank can seize enemy territory and a helicopter can do the same. But an
aircraft cannot. An aircraft can destroy everything on the surface and deep
below it, but it can not seize and hold territory.
For this reason, the Soviet Army sees the helicopter as a tank--one
which is capable of high speeds and unrestricted cross-country performance,
but is only lightly armoured. It also has approximately the same fire-power
as a tank.
The tactics employed in the use of helicopters and tanks are strikingly
similar. An aircraft is vulnerable because in most cases it can only operate
from an airfield. Both the helicopter and the tank operate in open ground.
An aircraft is vulnerable because it flies above the enemy. A helicopter and
a tank both see the enemy in front of them. To attack, a helicopter does not
need to fly over the enemy or to get close to him.
The introduction of the helicopter was not greeted with any particular
enthusiasm by the Air Forces, but the Land Forces were jubilant--here was a
tank with a rotor instead of tracks, which need not fear minefields or
rivers or mountains.
It is therefore not surprising that the airborne assault brigades
(which are carried by helicopter) form part of the complement of Tank Armies
or of Fronts, which use them for joint operations with Tank Armies.
At the present moment the Soviet MI-24 is the best combat helicopter in
the world. This is not just my personal opinion, but one which is shared by
Western military experts. Knowing the affection which Soviet Marshals have
for their helicopters, I prophesy that even better variants of these flying
tanks will appear in the next few years. Or are they, perhaps, already
flying above Saratov or somewhere, even though we have not been shown them
The Most Important Weapon
Before the Second World War each army had its own approach to questions
of defence. Drawing on their experience of the First World War, the French
considered that their main problem was to survive artillery bombardments,
which might continue for several days or even several months. The German
generals decided that they must make their forces capable of repelling
attacks by all enemy arms of service. The Soviet generals concluded that
they must avoid diluting their resources and that they must concentrate on
the most important of the arms of service. Since for them this was the tank,
they saw defence purely as defence against tanks. Their defence system could
therefore only be considered complete when their forces were asked to
repulse tank attacks. If we can only stop the enemy's tanks, the generals
reasoned, everything else will be halted, too.
They were right, as many German generals, the first of whom was
Guderian, have acknowledged. Many of the battles which took place on Soviet
territory followed a standard scenario. The German forces would launch a
very powerful tank attack, which, from the second half of 1942 onwards the
Soviet troops always succeeded in halting. This was the course of events at
Stalingrad, at Kursk and in Hungary, in the Balaton operations. From 1943
onwards, having exhausted their capacity for launching such attacks, the
German forces were ordered by Hitler to adopt a strategy of defence in
depth. But this was not the way to oppose tanks. This strategy did not
enable the German army to halt a single breakthrough by Soviet tanks.
Remembering the war, Soviet generals insist that defence must mean,
first and foremost, defence against tanks. The enemy can gain victories only
by advancing and, in the nuclear age, as before, offensive operations will
be carried out by tanks and infantry. Other forces can not carry out an
offensive: their only role is to support the tanks and the infantry. Thus,
defence is essentially a battle against tanks.
The most important weapon in achieving victory is the tank. The most
important weapon in depriving the enemy of victory is the anti-tank weapon.
The Soviet Union therefore devotes great attention to the development of
anti-tank weapons. As a result, it is frequently the first in the world with
really revolutionary technical and tactical innovations. For example, as
early as 1955, the USSR began production of the `Rapira' smoothbore
anti-tank gun, which has an astonishingly high muzzle velocity. In its
introduction of this weapon it led the West by more than a quarter of a
century. In the same year a start was also made with production of the
APNB-70 infra-red night sight, for the `Rapira'. Sights of this type were
not issued to Western armies for another ten years.
The, Soviet Army takes exceptionally strict measures to safeguard the
secrets of its anti-tank weapons. Many of these are completely unknown in
the West. The Chief Directorate of Strategic Camouflage insists that the
only anti-tank weapons which may be displayed are those which can be
exported--in other words the least effective ones. The systems which may not
be exported are never demonstrated but remain unknown from their birth,
throughout their secret life and often, even, after their death. We will say
something about these later.
Because they consider anti-tank warfare to be so important, Soviet
generals insist that every soldier and every weapon system should be capable
of attacking tanks.
Every soldier is therefore armed with a single-shot `Mukha' anti-tank
rocket launcher. These rocket launchers are issued to all motor transport
drivers and to those belonging to staff, rear-support and all other
When the BMP-1 infantry combat vehicle was being developed, the
designers suggested a 23mm gun as its armament--this would be effective
against infantry, and is simple and easy to load. But the generals opposed
this; as a first priority, the vehicle must be capable of opposing tanks; it
must have anti-tank rockets and a gun which, even though small, could be
used against tanks. The BMP-1 was therefore fitted with a 73mm automatic
gun, capable of destroying any enemy tank at ranges of up to 1,300 metres,
with anti-tank rockets which can be used over greater ranges. The fact that
20mm automatic guns are fitted to Western infantry combat vehicles is met
with friendly incomprehension by Soviet military specialists: `If such a
vehicle is not capable of taking on our tanks, why was it built?'
It is true that a light anti-aircraft gun has recently been mounted on
the BMP. But this does not indicate any alteration in its main function.
This gun is installed as an auxiliary weapon, to supplement the anti-tank
rockets and also as an anti-helicopter weapon. In other words, it is
intended for use against the flying tank. Incidentally, the decision to fit
it was taken only after the designers had been able to demonstrate that it
could also be used against conventional, earthbound tanks.
All other Soviet weapon systems, even if they are not primarily
intended as anti-tank weapons, must also be able to function as such.
Accordingly, all Soviet howitzers are supplied with anti-tank shells and
anti-aircraft guns are much used against tanks--their teams are trained for
this role and are issued with suitable ammunition.
But this is not all. The new AGS19 Plamya rocket-launcher and the
Vasilek automatic mortar can also be used against tanks, as a secondary
function. They each have a rate of fire of 120 rounds a minute and both are
capable of flat trajectory fire against advancing tanks.
Finally, the BM-21, BM-27, Grad-P and other salvo-firing rocket
launchers can fire over open sights and flood oncoming tanks with fire.
Why are Anti-tank Guns not Self-propelled?
Why does the Soviet Union not use self-propelled anti-tank guns? This
is a question which many are unable to answer. After all, a self-propelled
gun is far more mobile on the battle-field than one which is towed, and its
crew is better protected. This question has already been partially answered
in the last chapter. The Soviet Union has some excellent self-propelled
anti-tank weapon systems--but it does not put them on display. Nevertheless,
it is true that towed guns are in the majority. Why is this so? There are
Firstly: A towed anti-tank gun is many times easier to manufacture and
to use than one which is self-propelled. In wartime it might be feasible to
reduce the production of tanks; the effect of this would simply be to reduce
the intensity of offensive operations. But a drop in the production of
anti-tank weapons would be catastrophic. Whatever happens, they must be
produced in sufficient quantities. Otherwise any tank breakthrough by the
enemy could prove fatal for the whole military production programme, for the
national economy, and for the Soviet Union itself. In order to ensure that
these guns are turned out, whatever the situation, even in the midst of a
nuclear war, it is essential that they should be as simple in construction
as possible. It was no chance that the first Soviet smoothbore guns to be
produced were anti-tank guns. Smoothbore guns for Soviet tanks were brought
out considerably later. Although a smooth barrel reduces the accuracy of
fire, it enables muzzle velocity to be raised considerably, and, most
important of all, it simplifies the construction of the gun.
Secondly: A towed gun has a very low silhouette, at least half that of
a tank. In single combat with a tank, especially at maximum range, this
offers better protection than armour plate or manoeuvrability.
Thirdly: Anti-tank guns are used in two situations. In defence, when
the enemy has broken through, is advancing fast and must be stopped at any
price. And in an offensive when one's own troops have broken through and are
advancing rapidly, and the enemy tries to cut through the spearhead at its
base, with a flank attack, cutting off the advancing forces from their rear
areas. In both these situations, anti-tank guns must stop the enemy's tanks
at some pre-determined line, which he must not be allowed to cross. Towed
guns are compelled, by the weight of their construction, to fight to the
death. They are unable to manoeuvre or to move to a better position.
Certainly, their losses are always very high. That is why they are
traditionally nicknamed `Farewell, Motherland!' But by stopping the enemy on
the predetermined line, the anti-tank sub-units can save the whole division,
Army and sometimes the whole Front. This is what happened at Kursk. If the
anti-tank guns had been self-propelled, their commander would have been able
to withdraw to a more advantageous position when he came under enemy
pressure. This would have saved his small anti-tank sub-unit, but it might
have brought catastrophe to the division, the Army, the Front and perhaps to
Lest seditious thoughts should enter the head of the anti-tank
commander, and so that he should not think of pulling back in a critical
situation, his anti-tank guns have no means of propulsion. In battle their
armoured tractors are housed in shelters; they would scarcely be able to
pull the guns away from the battle, under the deadly fire of the enemy. Only
one option is available to the crews--to die on the spot, as they prevent
the enemy from crossing the line which they are holding.
During the war, one of the main reasons for the unyielding stability of
the Soviet formations was the presence among them of huge but virtually
immobile units of anti-tank guns.
The Favourite Weapon
The Soviet commander's favourite weapon is the mortar. A mortar is
simply a tube, one end of which rests on a base plate, while the other end
points skywards, supported on two legs. It would be difficult to devise a
simpler weapon, which is why it is such a favourite.
In 1942, a terrible year for the USSR, during which military production
fell to a catastrophically low level, the mortar was the one weapon which
remained available to every commander.
In three and a half years of war, the Soviet Union produced 348,000
mortars. In the same period, Germany produced 68,000. All the remaining
countries put together produced considerably less than Germany. Furthermore,
the Soviet mortars were the most powerful in the world and the number of
bombs produced for each was the highest recorded anywhere.
Soviet commanders value the mortar so highly because of its reliability
and its almost primitive simplicity, because it only takes a few minutes to
teach a soldier how to use it, and because it needs almost no
maintenance--its barrel is not even rifled! And they also like its immediate
readiness, in any situation, to fire quite heavy bombs at the enemy, even
though it lacks complete accuracy.
The pressure generated inside a mortar barrel when it fires is
relatively low and therefore a mortar, unlike a gun or a howitzer, can fire
cast-iron rather than steel bombs. This adds two further
advantages--firstly, simplicity and cheapness of production, secondly the
fact that when a cast iron bomb bursts it shatters into very small
splinters, which form a dense fragment pattern. Steel gun and howitzer
shells are not only more expensive but are more solidly constructed and
therefore produce a smaller quantity of splinters, which do not cover the
area so densely.
In France and the US, after the war, mortars were improved. They had
rifled barrels which gave them greater accuracy. As early as 1944, a Soviet
designer, B. L. Shavyrin, had suggested that Soviet mortars should be
rifled, but he was firmly rebuffed--it was simpler to make ten smoothbore
mortars than one with rifling. Even if a rifled mortar was twice as
effective as a smoothbore one, the latter would therefore still be a far
better proposition, if it was only twice as effective, but cost ten times as
much to produce, it must rate as a very poor weapon. I entirely agree with
this point of view.
But what about accuracy? you will ask. It is of no significance. Soviet
commanders have chosen a different way of approaching the problem. If you
have to pay for accuracy with complexity of design, you are following the
wrong path. Quantity is the better way to exert pressure. Since two simple,
smoothbore mortars can do the work of one rifled one we will use the two
simple ones, which will have the additional advantage of producing a lot
more noise, dust and fire than one. And this is by no means unimportant in
war. The more noise you produce, the higher the morale of your troops and
the lower that of the enemy. What is more, two mortars are harder to destroy
Yet another approach to the problem was devised. The lack of accuracy
of Soviet mortars is more than made up for by the explosive power of their
bombs. To Soviet commanders, the best mortar is a large one--the bigger it
is the better. At present the largest American mortar is their 106.7mm,
while the smallest Soviet one is 120mm. The biggest American mortar tar bomb
weighs 12.3 kilogrammes, the smallest Soviet one 16 kilogrammes. But besides
this small mortar, the Soviet Army has a 160mm version, which fires a 40
kilogramme bomb and a 240mm version which fires a 100 kilogramme bomb.
Anyone who has seen 120mm mortars firing, especially if he was near
them, will never forget the experience. I have actually seen 12 240mm
mortars in action together. These fire not 16 kilogramme but 100 kilogramme
bombs. Within twenty minutes, each mortar fired 15 bombs. This represented,
as I later calculated, a total of 18 tons of explosives and cast-iron
splinters. I found the noise absolutely staggering. It was amazing that men
could retain their sanity in the midst of it. While the firing was in
progress, one had the impression that thousands of tons of explosive were
going off each second and the whole process seemed to last an age. The
astonishing destructive power of these mortars makes up for any inaccuracy
in aiming or in dispersion. I believe that this is the correct approach.
Only one country, Israel, has had a chance to test the value of this
exceptionally cheap and effective policy. Her army has 160mm mortars. I
sincerely hope that she will progress further--she is on the right path.
The outstanding simplicity, reliability and ease of maintenance of the
240mm mortar are vital qualities, and they played a decisive role when the
moment came to decide which should be the first artillery weapon to fire
nuclear projectiles. It was the obvious choice and it is now many years
since it was selected for this role. It was also a good choice, being
comparatively small, manoeuvrable and easier to conceal than a gun. At the
same time, it has a huge calibre, which solves several technical problems.
Its muzzle velocity is considerably lower than that of a gun or a howitzer.
There is therefore no danger that the bomb will explode as it is fired or
that it will detonate accidentally. What could be better?
In 1970, a self-propelled version of the 240mm mortar was introduced.
It was installed on a tracked GMZ chassis. This greatly increased its
mobility, its ability to move across rough country and the protection
provided for the crew. This development further increased the affection
which the Soviet generals reserve for the mortar. At this period only Fronts
and General Headquarters reserves were equipped with these weapons. However,
Army and divisional commanders, as one man, implored every meeting they
attended at the Ministry of Defence to give each divisional commander a
battalion of these mortars and they also asked that each Army commander
should have at least a regiment of them. Their pleas were heard and soon
they received the mortars. And why not? It is after all, the simplest and
the most economical weapon imaginable.
It's all right for the generals, you will say, but what about the
battalion commanders? Must they be content with what their predecessors had
in the Second World War? The number of mortars in a battalion could hardly
be increased, for that would mean that half the infantry would have to be
reclassified as artillery. Nor is it possible to increase the calibre of
battalion mortars. This would make them too heavy to follow the infantry
wherever it goes.
A way out of this situation, too, has been found. In 1971 the `Vasilek'
automatic mortar was issued to battalions. Its introduction did not mean
that the insistence on simplicity had been dropped. This automatic weapon is
as uncomplicated as a Kalashnikov. When necessary, it can fire single shots.
As an automatic weapon it fires 120 bombs a minute. It differs from all
earlier mortars in being capable of both high and flat trajectory fire. It
can fire both normal and anti-tank bombs. If necessary, a battalion
commander can move his whole mortar battery to a sector threatened by enemy
tanks and can shower them with 720 anti-tank bombs every minute.
The Vasilek is being produced on a self-propelled, armoured chassis and
also in a towed variant. Six of them give a battalion commander greatly
increased capability to bring concentrated fire to bear on a decisive
Why do Calibres Vary?
When the Soviet Union first displayed the BMP-1 infantry combat vehicle
in a parade, its designation and the calibre of its guns were unknown. From
careful examination of photographs, Western analysts concluded that the
calibre of the gun must be between 70 and 80mm. In this range there was only
one gun--the 76mm, which is still, as it has been for many years<,> a
standard weapon in both the Soviet Army and the Soviet Navy. This gun was
the most widely distributed of all Soviet artillery weapons before, during
and after the war and its calibre occurs again and again in designations of
Soviet equipment (e.g. T-34-76, the SU-76, the PT-76). Since this seemed a
safe deduction, Western handbooks listed the new Soviet vehicle as the
Then several BMP-1s were captured in the Middle East and carefully
examined. To the amazement of the specialists, it was established that the
calibre of the gun was 73mm. This was virtually the same as the 76mm, so why
were the Soviet designers not using this trusted calibre? Why the variation?
Meanwhile, photographs of new Soviet tanks--the T-64 and T-72--had
begun to appear in Western journals. Painstaking analysis showed that the
calibre of the gun carried by both these tanks was 125mm. But this calibre
did not exist, either in the USSR or elsewhere. Many of the experts refused
to accept the analysts' conclusion, asserting that the new tanks must have
122mm guns. 122mm--like 76mm--is a standard calibre, which has been in
continuous use since before the Revolution. The 122 howitzer is the largest
in use in the Soviet Army. Most heavy armoured vehicles had and still have
guns of this calibre--the IS-2, IS-3, T-10, T10-M, SU-122, ISU-122, IT-122
and most recently the new, self-propelled `Gvozdika' howitzer, even though
this appeared considerably later than the T-64. But then the new Soviet
tanks began to appear abroad and all doubt ended--they did have 125mm guns.
What was all this about? Why were all previous standards being abandoned?
What lay behind it all?
The switch from existing calibres was not the result of a whim; rather,
it was a carefully thought-out policy--one which has a long history. It was
initiated by Stalin himself, a few hours before Germany's surprise attack on
It was on the eve of the war that the Soviet naval and coastal
artillery were first issued with the excellent 130mm gun. This was
subsequently used as an anti-tank gun and as a field gun and finally, in a
self-propelled variant. Also just before the war, in the spring of 1941, a
highly successful rocket launcher was developed in the USSR. This was the
BM-13, which could fire 16 130mm rockets simultaneously. It later became
known to the Soviet Army as the `Katyusha' and to the Germans as the `Stalin
Organ'. Naturally, the existence of both the gun and the rocket launcher
were kept entirely secret.
In the first days of June 1941 the new rocket launcher was shown to
members of the Politburo, in Stalin's presence. However, it was not fired,
because artillery shells instead of rockets had been delivered to the test
range. The mistake was understandable, in view of the great zeal with which
secrecy was being preserved--how could the ordinance officers possibly have
known of the existence of the 130mm rockets, which bore no resemblance to
Knowing Stalin, those present assumed that everyone responsible for
this mistake would be shot immediately. However, Stalin told the Chekists
not to get involved and went back to Moscow.
The second demonstration took place on 21 June at Solnechnogorsk. This
time everything went off very well. Stalin was delighted with the rocket
launcher. Then and there, on the range, he signed an order authorising its
issue to the Soviet Army. However, he directed that henceforth, in order to
avoid confusion, the rockets should be referred to as 132mm, not as 130mm.
Accordingly, while the rocket launcher continued to be known as the
BM-13 (13cm being 130mm), the rockets were henceforth referred to, despite
their true calibre, as 132mm. That very night the war began.
During the war, projectiles of all types were fired in enormous
quantities, reaching astronomical totals. They were transported for
thousands of kilometres, under constant enemy attack. While they were being
moved they had to be trans-shipped again and again and this was done by
schoolboys, by old peasants, by convicts from prisons and camps, by German
prisoners and by Soviet soldiers who had only been in the army for two or
three days. Orders and requisitions for the rockets were passed hastily by
telephone from exchange to exchange and made all but inaudible by
interference. But there were no mistakes. Everyone could understand that `We
need 130s' was a reference to artillery shells and it was equally clear that
`1-3-2' meant rockets.
In 1942 the design of the rockets was modernised and their grouping
capability and destructive effect was improved. In the process, they became
slightly thicker, and their calibre was increased to 132mm--thus coming to
match their designation.
Stalin's decision had proved correct and, as a result, a series of
artillery weapons with unusual calibres were developed during the war. They
appeared, of course, only when an unusual shell or rocket was designed. For
instance, in 1941 a start was made with the development of a huge mortar
which was needed to fire a 40 kilogram bomb. The calibre of the mortar could
have been, for instance, 152mm, like the great majority of Soviet guns and
howitzers. Obviously, however, a howitzer shell would be unsuitable for a
mortar and vice versa. A mortar fires a particular type of projectile, which
must itself be of a certain calibre. This was the requirement which resulted
in the development of the 160mm mortar. Immediately after the war, 40mm
grenade launchers appeared. There had never before been a weapon of this
particular calibre in the Soviet Army. There were 37mm and 45mm shells. But
a grenade launcher uses its own type of projectile and a special calibre was
therefore selected for it.
Soviet designers took steps to correct past mistakes, which had been
tolerated until Stalin's sensible decision. The calibre of the standard
Soviet infantry weapon is 7.62mm. In 1930, a 7.62mm `TT' pistol was brought
into service, in addition to the existing rifles and machine-guns of this
calibre. Although their calibre is the same, the rounds for this pistol
cannot, of course, be used in either rifles or machine-guns.
In wartime, when everything is collapsing, when whole Armies and Groups
of Armies find themselves encircled, when Guderian and his tank Army are
charging around behind your own lines, when one division is fighting to the
death for a small patch of ground, and others are taking to their heels at
the first shot, when deafened switchboard operators, who have not slept for
several nights, have to shout someone else's incomprehensible orders into
telephones--in this sort of situation absolutely anything can happen.
Imagine that, at a moment such as this, a division receives ten truckloads
of 7.62mm cartridges. Suddenly, to his horror, the commander realises that
the consignment consists entirely of pistol ammunition. There is nothing for
his division's thousands of rifles and machine-guns and a quite unbelievable
amount of ammunition for the few hundred pistols with which his officers are
I do not know whether such a situation actually arose during the war,
but once it was over the `TT' pistol--though not at all a bad weapon--was
quickly withdrawn from service. The designers were told to produce a pistol
with a different calibre. Since then Soviet pistols have all been of 9mm
calibre. Why standardise calibres if this could result in fatally dangerous
Ever since then, each time an entirely new type of projectile has been
introduced, it has been given a new calibre. Naturally, shells for the BMP-1
gun are not suitable for the PT-76 tank--that was already obvious when work
on the design of the new vehicle and of its armament was begun. Therefore it
should not have a 76mm gun but something different--for instance, a 73mm
one. The shells for the new T-62 tank were of a completely new design and
would obviously not be suitable for use in the old 100mm tank guns. In that
case, the calibre here too, should be something quite different--for
instance, 115mm. The same went for the T-64 and T-72. Their shells had to be
quite different from those of the old heavy tanks. So that the old and the
new types of ammunition should not be mixed up, it was decided that the new
shells should be 125mm whereas the old ones were 122mm. There are dozens of
There are exceptions. In some cases it is essential to use a particular
calibre and no other. For example, the 122mm, 40-barrel multiple rocket
launcher must be of precisely that calibre--no more and no less. Its rockets
are therefore given a special designation; they are called `Grad' rockets.
This is the only way in which they are ever referred to--they are never
called `122mm' rockets. One makes this a habit from one's very first day.
Then, if someone orders `1-2-2' he is referring to howitzer shells, but if
he orders `Grad', he means rockets.
Western analysts find it hard to understand why the Soviet Union has
turned away from its old, well-tried standard calibres. Soviet analysts, for
their part, wonder why Western designers stick so stubbornly to old
specifications. The British have an exceptionally powerful 120mm tank gun.
An excellent weapon. They also have a useful 120mm recoilless gun. One of
them was developed some time ago, the other more recently. Obviously, they
use quite different shells. Why not use different calibres--one could be
120mm, the other 121mm? Or leave the calibres as they are; just change the
designation of one to 121mm. Why not?
The same applies to West Germany and to France. Both countries have
excellent 120mm mortars and both are working on the development of new 120mm
tank guns. Of course this works well enough in peacetime. Everything is
under control when the soldiers are professionals, who are quick to
understand a command. But what happens if, tomorrow, middle-aged reservists
and students from drama academies have to be mobilised to defend freedom?
What then? Every time 120mm shells are needed, one will have to explain that
you don't need the type which are used by recoilless guns or those which are
fired by mortars, but shells for tank guns. But be careful--there are 120mm
shells for rifled tank guns and different 120mm shells for smoothbore tank
guns. The guns are different and their shells are different. What happens if
a drama student makes a mistake?
The Soviet analysts sit and scratch their heads as they try to
understand why it is that Western calibres never alter.
Inside the Soviet Army (IV)