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

Friday, 10 October 2014

TTP - Soviet Breakthrough Attacks


Whilst there are a lot of references on how the Soviets conducted offensive operations a number of these present quite a confusing view as the different components tend to be presented together.  This post looks specifically at the Breakthrough attack and how it was conducted at the various levels of command.  This enables a range of games and forces for games to be considered that sit within the context of such opperations which makes structuring the opposing forces easier given the lack of historical example.   

The Soviet Army of the Cold War classified the offence into three different types of engagement.
  • The Meeting Engagement
  • The Breakthrough
  • The Pursuit
The meeting engagement and the pursuit were both conceived to deal with fluid situations in the abcence of a formed defence and would be led by the more mobile elements of the force primarily the Tank and BMP equiped Motor Rifle units and formations operating in close cooperation with forward detachments and heliborne forces of the DShV. These operations in the context of the NATO defence plan would initialy be conducted against the covering force and once the main defence had been breached. 



The Breakthrough was the least favoured of the three types of engagement from the Soviet perspective. It would be used when a formed defence was encountered with depth that could not be defeated by manoeuvre. The principal goal of the breakthrough was to create a gap and in their words restore a flank that allowed manoeuvre operations to once again commence.  



FM 100-2-1 has a variable number of armies in a front and the image below shows 5, the model I am using has 2 Combined Arms Armies, 1 Tank Army and 1 Air Army. A Front depending on its posture, size and the composition of its echelons could attack on a frontage of between 150km - 350km.   At 350km this would place all of the fronts Armies in the first echelon this would leave no 2nd Echelon, Reserve or exploitation force although elements to create these capabilities could be withdrawn from the armies.  At 150km this would see two armies in the first echelon leaving one Army to cover the other roles.   The Diagram below shows the variable frontage of the armies dependent on their role in the operation and illustrates how those with a deeper envelopment role would attack on a narrower front and be supported by Air and Aviation to achieve their goals.



The Breakthrough engagement was an operational level activity that would be planned and coordinated by an Army or a Front.  I assume therefore that either a Front or an Army had to be denied the oppourtunity of manoeuvre in order to trigger the action.  This would require a solid defence across a frontage of between 80km - 150 km as a minimum and probably anchored on some fairly difficult terrain.  If the Front were denied freedom of manouver then the Beakthrough opperation would be deemed to be strategic and would gain significantly more support from Front Artillery, Air, Aviation and other assets. If only the Army were denied freedom of movement then the level of support available from Front might reasonably be expected to be much less.



At Army level only one Breakthrough opperation would be conducted at a time this allowed a significant level of Force concentration in terms of Armour, Artillery, Air and Logistic assets.   The most likly force to be considered for such an action would be a combined Arms Army.  This concentration of force created an effective target for nuclear or conventional fire strikes hence its growing unpopularity as a method of conducting buisness.  As an example of the concentration required the Artillery density needed in for a Breakthrough I have seen variously expressed as 60 - 100 tubes per km or 350 tubes for the Breakthrough Division.  Whilst the overall frontage of that division may be 10-15km the attacks would be heavily echeloned and delivered over a much reduced frontage.



The level of concentration would be dependent on the depth and level of preparation of the enemys defence.  So a prepared defence in depth with obstical belts, prepared field and anti tank defences would be met with the more extreme levels of force



The Breakthrough operation doctrinaly would be conducted by a single Division on a 4km frontage attacking with two regiments in the Divisional first echelon each of which would be likely to constitute itself with two battalions in the first echelon and one in the second their would be a variety of options for the regimental and divisional reserves. Unlike the diagram below the first echelon would probably use the BTR regiments.  It is likly that at least one of the Army's other Division's would be engaged in an economy of force action holding the remainder of the Army's front and mounting diversionary attacks.  The armies total frontage could be as little as 45-50km, the Division conducting economy of force and diversionary operations covering over 2/3rds of that.


The level of support from Army in the holding sector would be much less than the Assault sector though sufficient to achieve the aim and deceive the enemy as to the Army Commanders intent. As such it would need to portray the right signature in terms of equipment and activity.  It seems likley that this Division would be reinforced by units from the Army and Front level Anti Tank Regiments in order to help cover its extended frontage but would receive lower allocations of other assets such as Artillery, Engineers and Chemical Troops.



As well as seeking to pin a proportion of the defending force it might also seek to draw the enemy reserve away from the main operation.  What is clear is that the missions and attacking force structures of units in this sector would be very different to those in the Breakthrough sector.  The Army conducting the break through operation would have a much reduced frontage but would be expected to break through to the operational depth of the enemy.



In the model of the Breakthrough I am developing for my scenarios the remaining three divisions would:

  • Form a second Echelon of two MRDs 
  • Form an exploitation force based on a tank division 
  • Form a reserve which might be based on the divisional anti tank Regiment and the independent tank Regiment. 
The precise nature of the echelonment would change to suit enemy and terrain and did not have to be consistent at all levels of command so considerable variety exists here.  Second echelon forces would be fed into the attack to maintain momentum and develop the gap.



Elements from the Second Echelon may well be designated to provide Forward Detachments for the exploitation force and or provide task organised elements to that force which would reduce their available combat power.   Their Divisional Artillery elements would be reduced to reinforce the first echelon as would artillery assets down to divisional level in the Fronts second echelon although these assets together with Divisional Level assets of the 1st echelon would be regrouped to the 2nd echelon as it was committed.  Depending on the nature of the defence and the level at which the operation was being conducted, Front or Army the exploitation force might be provided by either an Army or Front level Operational Manoeuvre Group.



The Operational Manoeuvre Group and its associated Forward Detachments would be held ready to exploit the breakthrough once achieved this would be supported by Army Front and Potentially strategic Air Mobile and Airborne assets ranging in Strength from Bn to Brigade.




Divisional operations would be feasible but toward the end of the period these were more likely to be Brigade level operations using assets from the Airborne divisions.  It seems likely that Attack Helicopter Squadrons, DShV and Airlifted Motor Rifle Companies would initially support the Assault before transitioning to the exploitation force.


As with all Soviet offensive opperations the intent was to engage the enemy simultainiously throughout his operational depth and through out the duration of the attack.  This would mean that the Soviets would simultainiously attack in depth with:
  • Air, 
  • Aviation, 
  • Air Assault, 
  • Long Range Artillery including the Scud Brigades and Frog battalions, 
  • Reconnaissance and Descent forces including Electronic Warfare assets 

Targets for the depth assault might include:
  • Mobile Reserves
  • Reserve Positions
  • Constraints in terrain that reinforcements might have to deploy through
  • Headquaters
  • Nuclear Capable Artillery
  • Artillery concentrations
All that is a lot to fit on a war-games table particularly when you game in 20mm. From the wargaming perspective the Brakethrough attack offers the oppourtunity for a wide variety of games focused on different asspects of the operation.


Games could be linked as part of a campaign offering the opportunity to explore different aspects of the ensuing action. Setting games in such an operational context would allow scenarios to be constructed with coherent force structures and victory conditions. Ideas might include:
  • The initial Assault by a reinforced Assault Battalion supported by elements of the Regiment and its second Echelon.
  • A Break through Attack by heavily reinforced Soviet units with Air and Aviation components opperating in the Soviet and NATO rear targeting reserves 2nd echelon forces headquaters and artillery units.  Whilst NATO air could target Soviet Artillery and follow on forces.  This could be fought across multiple tables with a number of players and would make a a good big game or mini campaign.
  • The committal of the first Echelon Regiments 2nd Echelon battalions in attacks on the subsequent objectives.
  • The commital of the 2nd Echelon through the fractured 1st echelon in order to widen or deepen the breach in the NATO defences. This would place the remnants of the first echelon on table in fire support positions as a reduced strength second echelon that had given assets to the exploitation force as committed through them.  This could be played at any organisational level, Regimental Divisional or Army, the nature and type of the opposing forces would change as the attack would be commencing at varying depths of the defence.
  • The exploitation of the break through.  The comittal of the Forward detachments through the remnents of the Soviet attacking force into the depth of the NATO defence.  This effectively would be the start of the pursuit a subject that will be looked at separately.
  • Counter Attacks by NATO reserve units as the break through progress into the NATO depth.
  • Diversionary Attacks by more lightly configured Soviet Units against entrenched NATO forces with Objective targets that would trigger the committal of NATO reserves rather than the taking and holding of ground.
  • Premptive counter attacks by NATO into the more lightly held Soviet Sectors.
  • Air Assault Raids on NATO depth targets HQs and Nuclear assets.

Some of the concepts expressed in the Big Force on Force Blog around their campaign would seem to provide a useful framework in which to run a series of linked games focusing on tactical action within the overall context of an opperaional scenario where the outcomes of individual games can have an impact on subsequent games.



This would allow the Breakthrough to be looked at in some detail whilst keeping the force levels down to manageable proportions an approach which is a lot more manageable than the big game.  The linked outcomes enables NATO players to achieve effect and be given victory conditions that permit the Soviet attack to progress, victory for NATO might be more than holding the ground and would acknowledge the unbalanced nature of the scenarios created.


There are posts on The fronts in the Western TVD and Fronts against NORTHAG that give a high level view of the disposition of Warsaw pact forces into fronts and looks at the different scenarios for their commitment and the possible plans the Soviets might have used to attack NORTHAG.  The operational context for the attack on CENTAG can be found within the Wissenberg counterattack  scenario description, download and the associated scenario posts.




The advantage of setting the operational context at a level of detail is that creating realistic force compositions for the Soviet force is much easier as they are more dependent on the Army and Front operational goals and allows a more credible representation of a war that never happened.

3 comments: