Welcome to Cold War Gamer, a blog I am using to record my Cold War wargaming projects. These range from fictitious Cold War hot projects to historical conflicts that took place around the globe throughout the Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the Cold War Gamer.

My current projects include: Central Front; British & Soviet. South African Border War; Angolans and South Africans. Soviet Afghan War; Soviets and Afghans

Thursday, 11 October 2012

TTP - Soviet, Forward Detachments as a Covering Force

Soviet Defensive Doctrine called for the destruction of enemy forces in order to create the conditions for the offensive to be resumed as quickly as possible. In transitioning to a defensive posture the Soviets would create a security zone forward of the main defence in order to:
  • Attrit enemy reconnaissance and main force units.
  • Gain time to prepare the main defence.
  • Deceive as to the location and structure of the main defence.
  • Gain intelligence on the enemy.

As part of this activity they task organised Units and Sub Units to provide the covering force. These could be forward detachments based on Motor Rifle or Tank Battalions and Regiments reinforced by a range of Divisional, Army and Front Assets. Command and control of the assets would largely reside with the Combined Arms Commander in this case the Motor Rifle Battalion CO. Forward detachments would be provided from units with more able commanders, though what that meant in the cultural context of the Soviet Military I am less than clear on.

Recce. Divisional Recce would work forward of the Security Zone with Regimental, Engineer, Chemical and Artillery Recce and Locating elements working with in it, once contact with the enemy had been established these elements would pull back to the flanks and maintain contact with and monitor the enemy's activity as they moved into the security zone. In addition the recce components enabled early engagement with air aviation and indirect fire assets and continued engagement throughout the enemies depth as the battle progressed.

Engineers. Divisional and Regimental Mobile Obstical Detachments would construct the Obstical plan, enhancing natural obsticals and aiming to channel and slow the enemy as they moved through the security zone. Their efforts would be enhanced by the deployment of Scatterable mines from Mi-8s and BM - 27s. In addition the Soviets would consider the use of persistent chemical weapons as a means of enhancing the Obstical plan allowing rapid dynamic adjustment as the battle unfolded.

Each Regiment could generate a MOD and Division could generate an additional one from the independent Engineer Battalion, upto 2 MODs supporting a single Battalion deployed in this role would seem reasonable. The composition of a Mobile Obsticle Detachment is covered here.

Artillery. Routinely in this role the forward battalion would be reinforced with between one and two battalions of artillery in addition Artillery from the RAGs and DAG would deploy forward in order to provide effective fire support of the screening force and Recce elements, Given the passing forward of artillery between Division, Army and Front and the additional elements passed forward from the second echelon a representation of the Supporting Fires available would be as follows:
  • 4 Bns of 2S1 ( 1 in each of its TR and MRR), organic
  • DAG 2 Bn 2S1, 1 Bn 2S3, 1 Bn MRL BM21, organic
  • From Army 2 Bn 2S5, attached,
  • From Front 3Bn 2S3, 1Bn MRL BM 27, 1 Bn 2S4 240mm Mortar, 1 Bn 2S7 203mm Guns, attached

The detail of this would be dependent on the posture being adopted by the remaining units in the formations and where the commanders main effort lay. Most Fire Missions would be applied with a minimum of a battalion. The central control of the allocation of the fires would allow rapid concentration of significant fire where requiered, the Soviet commander could in the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius - Unleash Hell. In addition the Soviets would position artillery units to provide direct fire engagement on to routes on secondary axis and to the rear of the main strongpoints. This effectively gives Artillery a primary task of indirect fire support and a secondary task of anti tank engagement in their immediate vicinity and adding depth and density to the defence.

Motor Rifle Battalion. The Forward detachment would either be constituted from a MRB or TB depending on the situation. With an MRB the aim would be to set up a series of defended strong points supported by ambushes and fires from artillery and anti tank systems, coordinated within the context of the obstacle plan. The unit would then withdraw to its alternate positions as the attack develops with the intent on each withdrawal being to cause the enemy artillery to move. The final position is designed to convince the enemy that they have reached the main defence

The physical positions and obstacles are designed to lead the enemy into a series of fire pockets where a range of direct and indirect fire weapons can be used to best effect once the enemy has been fixed. Choice of positions will aim to exploit Natural obstacles and Company strongpoints will be situated along the most likely avenues of advance with other assets such as Artillery units, Anti Tank Units and obstacles covering the subsidiary approaches.

Tank Companies. Upto two Tank companies might be allocated to a single battalion and they are used to manoeuvre and mount counter attacks around the infantry strong points. In addition at critical stages in the battle such as the need for an in place unit to withdraw they can take over the fight from the in place force and supported by Artillery Air and Aviation assets create the conditions to enable withdrawal from the strongpoints.

Anti Tank Battalions. The MRR possess an Anti Tank Battery and the divison a battalion, additional assets may be allocated from the AT Regiments at Army and Front level allowing for upto 3 Battalions to support the forward detachment. As well as supporting the primary strong points these units can be used to cover the gaps between strongpoints and some part of the manoeuvre element. It was likly that the Anti Armour reserve would be provided by a single Anti Tank Battery.

The long range fire available from missiles either from the gun or GW batteries allowed significant concentration of fire from widely dispersed units, like their air defence the anti armour defence would be layered but in this case would be optimised to achieve maximum effect once the enemy was fixed in the fire pocket. So the MRBs anti armour weapons RPG, AT 4/5, and SPG 9 would be sited to allow them to maximise fire effect with the AT Battery and Battalion systems once the enemy had hit the obstical belts that restricted their exit from or movement through the fire pockets.

Air Defence. An air defence battery or battalion could be deployed to cover the area and supplement the battalions organic SA7 assets.

Aviation. Aviation from the Army Attack Helicopter regiment could provide significant flexibility and stopping power to deal with the main force once identified and fixed. The speed of deployment and manoeuvre allowing it to focus on the main need. The intent would be to fix and slow down with strong points and obstacles close down with artillery then clean up with anti armour systems, the range and speed of deployment of the air assets allowing rapid concentrations of fire to be built up.

Air Assault. Whilst I have no specific references siteing the use of air assault in direct conjunction with a security screen they are given blocking missions to flanks and in enemy rear it seems likely that in stabelising a fluid defensive situation they might be deployed at the forward end of the security zone to give the security zone time to establish.

The Soviets understood that in fluid situations you would have units in different states (offence, defence, transition) simultaneously and the bigger the meeting engagement the clearer this would be. I have assumed for the purposes of the Wisenberg Scenario which conceptualises an armoured brigade counter attacking into the flank of an MRD that had broken through the forward NATO divisional defence that the concepts outlined above for the security zone would apply equally to the blocking action that the Soviets would make against this threat.

This allowed me to build a Soviet hasty defence in the context of a Soviet attack and build the force structure for the Soviet element. The assumption being that the blocking force would be slightly less lavishly equipped than the task organisation described, would have less time to deploy obstacles and might have less supporting artillery available as other forces would be in contact on critical axis of advance.

The aspects of this that I find interesting is the level of force packaging done by the Soviets in this mission context which is far greater than I'd conceive for most NATO armies with the exception of possibly the Germans.


ORBAT Soviet MRR and TR, Part 1, Deployement and ORBAT
ORBAT Soviet MRR and TR, Part 3 Engineer Support
ORBAT Soviet MRR and TR, Part 4 Artillery
ORBAT Soviet Divisional Units, Part 1 MRD Anti Tank Battalion
Wargames Unit - Soviet Late 80's MRB
Wargames Unit - Soviet MRR, Anti Tank Reserve
Wargames Unit - Soviet MRD, Anti Tank Battalion
Wargames Unit - Soviet MRR, Air Defence Battery
Wargames Unit - Soviet MRR, Recce Company
Wargames Unit - Soviet MRR, Regimental Artillery Group
The Soviet Conduct of Tactical Maneuver: Spearhead of the Offensive, D Glanz
Soviet Airland Battle Tactics, WP Baxter
Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, D Isby
FM 100-2-2 Specialised Warfare and Rear Area Support, Chapter 3 Heliborn Operations
FM 100-2-3, Soviet Troop Organisation and Equipment
Defending Forward Soviet Activities in Advance of the Main Defence, DTIC 1989
Scenario - The Weissenberg Counter Attack


  1. Great post Andy. Don't often think of Soviets and "defence" but in the context of defending against a counter-attack I can see where the doctrine would apply. Cheers, Rusty.

  2. The Soviets used to reinforce Success in Attack, how would that work in Defence? It's not very often we consider the Soviet Defensive Doctorine, although I do remember back in '91 the Iraqi Republican Guard made defensive Positions in accordance with the Company Strong Points, usually in a circle resulting in some strange engagements and 3km plus MBT kills through the Rear of the vehicles , due to the shots through the position in the opposite side of the circular position....

    1. I think the saw defence as an economy of force measure, in the case of the scenario we played the intent was to delay the 12 Pz Bde Attack so that it missed its target and potentialy became subject to attack by follow on forces. In more general circumstances it was a question of stabilise slow or hold with the minimum, concentrate force then attack. The Soviet ethos embraced forward defence, ideally in France, the purpose of defence was to create the conditions for attack and that meant ultimately defending with the minimum force to do the job

  3. Wonderfully detailed posts - brilliant to see proper research into Soviet forces.