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

Saturday, 26 January 2013

TTP - Forward Detachments and Tactical Air Assault

The Soviet Army had a doctrine of creating forward detachments to support ground manoeuvre and supporting these with Air Assault capability. Each division in the first echelon of an Army might establish one battalion as a forward detachment drawn from a unit in its second echelon in addition each army might supply a regiment for the same purpose from one of the second echelon Divisions On the main axis of advance it would be quite conceivable to find multiple forward detachments deployed across a Divisions frontage.

Their focus was on acheiving critical missions in order to maintain the momentum of the advance rather than in engaging all enemy met as such they would seek to avoid combat prior to their objective. Each Forward detachment would be task organised to allow it to operate independently of the parent formation and to achieve its objectives, objectives could typically be 30-35km beyond the forward line of own troops. This could only be achieved in relatively fluid situations following breakthroughs, during meeting engagements or in the enemy covering force zone and with appropriate task organisation and support by air aviation and depth fire assets.

Objectives would be focused on allowing the parent formation to maintain momentum towards its objective and as such could be focused on the ground or the enemy, typically these might include: 
  • Securing River Crossings 
  • Securing Defiles and Junctions
  • Seizing and holding key objectives
  • acheiving surprise through rapidity of manoeuvre
  • Disruption of enemy defensive preparations and the cohesion of the defence
  • penetration of hastily prepared positions
  • Attack of Enemy HQs
  • Blocking enemy counter attacks
The principal deduction is that a Combined Arms Army operating on a two division frontage could create 5 such battalions whilst on a three division frontage 6. 

DShV Units would routinly be task organised to support the forward detachments and on occasion act as forward detachments in their own right.  The DShV missions would be conducted primarily at company and battalion level as discussed in the Orbat Air Assault posts. Given that each BTR equiped MRD  could deploy 3 Companies capable of air assault (9 total in the Army)  and the army had 3 Companies in its Air Assault Battalion and the Front had 9 in the Air Assault Brigade the doctrine of supporting the ground forward detachments with Air Assault capability seems well resourced with regard to the combat assets.   Without Drawing on front level assets an Army could easily constitute 12 Air Assault Companies one of which could be BMD equipped.

The impact of this would be that the second echelon Battalions in each MRR would be minus a company, and the second echelon MRR would be short a battalion.  The First Echelon would be composed of fully formed regiments.

The role of the DShV elements in these operations would be to facilitate the forward detachment in the seizing of its objective, allowing it to maintain a high tempo of operations, this could include all the missions outlined above.  In esscance the Air Assault companies would support the manoeuvre of the forward detachments and or act as forward detachments in their own right.  In turn the forward detachments would facilitate the manouver of the regiments and divisions by clearing the path in front them or preventing enemy interference with their manoeuvre, allowing a high tempo of advance to be sustained on the principal axis of advance.  Critical to achieving this was the appropriate task organisation of the group to achieve the assigned mission which to my mind is the appeal of these organisations in wargaming.

Task Organisation

Lester Grau in his work the Soviet Combined Arms Battalion, Reorginisation for tacticle flexibility 1989, analised a variety of Soviet post war exercises and Military articles in order to construct a view of likly force composition.  In only 12 exercises of the 551 examined was task organisation absent, though what is not clear was the level of the exercise.  For Tank units attached to a Motor Rifle Battalion he noted the following:

  • 1 Tank Company 80% 
  • 2 Tank Companies 5%
  • 1 Tank Battalion .2%
  • 2 Tank Platoons 1%
  • 1 Tank Platoon .7%
  • No armour 11% Most likly in defence and mountainous terrain

Attachments of Motor Rifle Troops to tank battalions only occured 59% of the time with 44% being the attachment of 1 Company and the remainder being 1 or 2 Platoons. On 1 Occasion 2 Companies were attached attachments also included individual squads.

Motor Rifle Battalions frequently included attached Artillery battalions:

  • 2 Battalions 0.5%
  • 1 Battalion + 1 Battery 5%
  • 1 Battalion 34%
  • 2 Batteries 5%
  • 1 Battery 21%

additional supporting artillery fire could be applied on top of this.

He provides similar statistics for engineers reconnaissance air defence and anti tank assets.  He noted that the most common grouping was an MR battalion grouped with a tank company, Artillery battalion and an engineer platoon and that this task organisation was most likly when the unit had been tasked to act as a forward detachment or advanced guard the attachments grew in number and size from 1975.  However the detail of the task organisation is always mission dependent and as can be seen there was significant latitude in the boundaries applied.

What this evidences is a Soviet doctrine of significant flexibility in task organisation particularly for the forward detachments,  it evidences a greater degree of flexibility than represented elsewhere and in some respects a more flexable approach than a number of NATO armies though to some extent the Soviet approach to command and control of Artillery made some of this inevitable .  David Glantz in The Conduct of Tactical Manouver extends the concepts covered in this paper to include the support of air assault components the detail of the task organisation of these assets can be found in Soviet Air Assault Capability Part 2

The Doctrine of employment of Forward Detachments offers significant potential for some very interesting games and our next game "Storming the Waidhaus Gap" looks at the interaction of these two soviet elements in the context of engageing the NATO covering force.


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