Soviet Artillery Employment in WWII subject logo: MILGAM
2006-07-06
Posted by: badanov

Artillery, of the three traditional elements of maneuver warfare is the longest range of the three, but the least mobile.

At the start of WWII, Soviet army units were properly equipped with large amounts of artillery, no fewer than 36 tubes per rifle division, a battalion of corps artillery ( 18 tubes ) and whatever artillery was to be had in army and frontal units.

Barbarossa substaintially changed Soviet artillery arm, primarily because of the staggering losses the Soviet suffered in the battles of the frontiers, Minsk, Smolensk, Kiev, and Vyaz'ma, not to mention the foolish purges of the late 30s.

Rifle divisions under the new establishment rifle divisions were authorized 24 tubes, four batteries of 76.2mm Z-3 light field guns, and two batteries of 122mm howitzers.

That was book strength, but the reality was divisions were well short of even the reduced establshment.

Why was the "book strength" of divisional regiments shortened? Once Marshal Nikolai Voronov took over the main artillery directorate in the Soviet General Staff, all artillery was concentrated at higher head quarters level and much of the experienced personnel went with it. New artillery, much of it went to higher field headquarters, such as armies and fronts. The reasoning was that since the Germans were running roughshod over the Red Army, why leave their longest range advantage to the travails of maneuver battle?

Artillery is divided into two purposes: general support and direct support. For the German army this made some since since they made lavish use of radios to coordinate movement and fire, whereas, for the Red Army much of their best communications staffs were killed or captured in the great early battles of encirclement. The result was heavy reliance on the field telephone, a vulnerable means of communication when fighting an elite maneuver force like the Germans.

Anyway, the Soviets determined in the divisional and later their mobile rifles establishments, that the main means of direct support should come from mortars and regimental infantry guns. Now, to the Soviets of WWII, direct support often meant firing artillery straight from the tube without any spotting. The artillery crews themselves were part of the defensive battle for the Soviets. When such missions were too dangerous the field telephone came into use. It is critical to note that even experienced artillery officers with modern equipment consider laying artillery a very difficult task to begin with, at least that was what we were told.

A Soviet rifle regiment had its share of direct fire support means: many had 120mm M-43 mortars, one battery of four, one battery of 76.2 mm infantry guns and then the battalion mortars, one mortar battery of four per battalion. If you believe the game designer Frank Chadwick, Soviet battlaions did not get their own mortars until 1943.

So in an advance or in a maneuver battle, a Soviet operation could include dedicating all the regiment artillery toward one battlion with the others receiving far less according to their roles. A heavy mortar unit could reasonably expect to have direct communication with a battalion commander to provide direct support, i.e. killing Germans.

So, what about divisonal artillery? Soviet rifle divisional artillery were more like GHQ units. They had a role to play in battle as well and it often included counterbattery fire, as well as smoke to cover maneuver and what wargamers like to call map fire.

Map fire is a sort of direct support except that the artillery battalion commander, the primary shooter in the Soviet means of doing business, had reconned and plotted a critical road junction or marshalling point as well as softer GHQ targets ( barrracks, mess halls, etc ) Of course the mission of the division alone determined that kind of missions there would be and often those plans were made an echelon or two higher, such as army or even front headquarters.

This "top-down" means of determining fire missions seem a somewhat ponderous, except you have to remember Soviets go to the church of recon and survey. They don't order a single shell unless they know well in advance the nature of the target.

We hope this clarifies for our readers some of the elements were write when trying to describe a game.

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