Russian Tactics

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

In Panzer Battles, von Mellenthin describes the Russian tactics he faced on the Eastern Front:

The Russian form of fighting — particularly in the attack — is characterized by the employment of masses of men and material, often thrown in unintelligently and without variations, but been so frequently effective. Russians have always been renowned for their contempt for death; the Communist regime has exploited this quality and Russian mass attacks are now more effective than ever before. An attack delivered twice will be repeated a third and a fourth time irrespective of losses, and the third or fourth attack will come in with the same stolid coolness as the first or second. Such ruthless methods represent the most inhuman and at the same time the most expensive way of fighting.

Right up to the end of the war the Russians did not bother to loosen up their attacking waves and sent them forward almost shoulder to shoulder. The herd instinct and the inability of lower commanders to act for themselves always resulted in densely packed attacks. Thanks to superiority in numbers, many great and important successes were achieved by this method. However, experience shows that it is quite possible to smash these massed attacks if they are faced by adequate weapons handled by trained men under determined commanders.

The Russians attacked with divisions, very strong numerically and on very narrow sectors. In no time the terrain in front of the defenders was teeming with Russians; they appeared to spring from the soil, it seemed impossible to stem the oncoming tide, and huge gaps made by our fire were closed automatically.

It sounds a lot like the Red Chinese storming American positions in the Korean War.

Once Russian industry ramped up, the Russians added masses of tanks to their masses of infantry:

Such onslaughts were of course far more difficult to stop, and nervous strain was proportionally increased.

The way the Russians could replace whole units simply by conscripting another whole town amazed von Mellenthin. Less backhanded are his compliments for their genius for infiltration and their passion for bridgeheads. He ends though with a tactical error they never gave up:

I mean their almost religious belief in the importance of high ground. They made for any height and fought for it with the utmost stubbornness, quite regardless of it tactical importance. It frequently happens that the occupation of high ground is not tactically desirable, but the Russians never understood this and suffered accordingly.


  1. Borepatch says:

    Actually, it was the North Koreans who used Soviet doctrine, and who suffered immense losses doing it. The Chinese used infiltration tactics which caused much more trouble for the American Army.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Was it obvious when we were facing Red Chinese and when we were facing North Koreans?

    Anyway, the second-hand stories I’d heard involved firing machine-guns at hordes of Red Chinese until the guns overheated, then calling in “danger close” artillery and air support, while praying for the best.

  3. Buckethead says:

    Borepatch, one of Isegoria’s earlier excerpts says that the Soviets were masters at infiltration. So which of our opponents were using Soviet doctrine?

    My uncle was a Marine machine gunner who did exactly that against the Chinese. I think the real distinction between the NoKos and the ChiComs is that the Chinese had more troops. Their infiltration at the very start was significant — with strategic surprise — but less so afterwards.

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