Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Discussions on all aspects of the USSR, from the Russian Civil War till the end of the Great Patriotic War and the war against Japan. Hosted by Art.
Forum Staff
Posts: 5545
Joined: 04 Jun 2004 19:49
Location: Moscow, Russia

Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by Art » 03 Apr 2020 14:27

Below is my translation of an experience report submitted by the HQ of the Soviet 49 Army in May 1944. It mostly deals with trivial matters, however an unusually detailed and systematic character of this account makes it highly instructive.
Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system (from experience of defense of the 49 Army during the winter 1943-44).

I. General conditions and progress of defense works.
During the winter 1944-44 the 49 Army defended a broad frontage. The length of the Army’s sector until January 1944 was 56 kilometers, beginning from January – 86 kilometers. This sector was defended by the following units: until January 1944 5 rifle divisions and one fortified region (total 48 battalions), from January to February – eight rifle divisions and one fortified region (total 75 battalions), from March 1944 – four rifle divisions and one fortified region (total 39 battalions). Average length of the divisional sector was 12-15 kilometers, regimental sector – 6-7.5 kilometers.
Terrain in the area of the Army was mostly completely opened plain with no forests, intersected by ravines, valleys and streams and small rivers, the entire area was accessible for operations of large forces of all arms. The frontline except single sectors passed along banks of rivers and gullies.
Transition to positional defense was made by the Army in the course of autumn offensive operations of the last year. The forward edge of defense was determined by the line reached during the general offensive of the Army in August-September and local operations conducted in October-November 1943.
In this connection there were some sectors where terrain was unsuitable for defense. Such sectors were, for example: GORMANY, ZASTENOK YURIEV, KOZIYANSKIYE or KOZLY, LENINO, POLYASCHITSA. In this areas as a result of the autumn operations troops of the Army captured the forward edge of hostile positions and advanced to eastern slopes of high ground occupied by the enemy. These sectors presented no advantages from the point of view of defense because hostile areas there dominated our forward lines.
The experience of defense has demonstrated that in some sectors it is expedient to leave combat outposts on the line reached during the offensive, and transfer the main battle line backward to a more profitable defense position.
Lack of forests and the onset of cold season, lack of motor and draft transport in supply units for transportation of wood, insufficient supply of engineer equipment (wire, mines), small personnel strength of units (600-700 men in a regiment) and a large width of defense front – all that influenced tempo of defense works.
Works on development and improvement of defense lasted the entire winter season and are still in progress at the present moment.
Development of defense positions proceeded in the following order:
a) foxholes of rifle companies were connected into a continuous trench of full profile
b) After that shelters and dugouts for personnel were built.
c) Finally, communication trenches were constructed by orders of battalion commanders (one or two communication trenches per a battalion).
Trench shelters and niches for ammunition were built simultaneously with construction of firing positions of light and medium machine guns.
Overall volume of engineer defense works made by the army during the winter period is presented in the table in appendix 1.
Simultaneously with building the main defense position reserve positions of divisions and intermediate positions of corps and the Army were reconnoitered.
The main position was built by units of the first echelons, reserve positions – by second echelons of divisions. The rear defense lines were built by the second echelons of the corps and partly by the army replacement regiment.
The table reproduced in the appendix 1 shows that although the volume of the work was very extensive, still the plan wasn’t fully carried out. The reasons for failure to carry out the plan were:
- large shortfall of personnel in rifle units, as a result instead of 800 riflemen stipulated by the plan, only 500-600 were actually employed on construction daily;
- large number of men were distracted to clearing trenches of snow (in average this work demanded 200 men in each division daily);
- a number of local operations connected with regrouping of our forces;
- terrain devoid of forests and a need to transport wood from distant regions sometimes led to pauses in work.

II. Brief characteristic of engineer defense works
The main defense belt in most sectors consisted of two trench lines (in some sectors – of three lines) connected by communication trenches (1-2 per a battalion).
The first trench line was continuous, interrupted only by recessions (swampy hollows) which were covered by snow walls and vertical masks made of available materials (timber, soil).
The most common profile of the trench in the Army’s area was 130 centimeters deep, 90 centimeters wide at the top and 60 centimeters wide at the bottom. In some sectors by building of snow parapets the trenches were made 1.9-2.1 meters deep. Revetment of trenches was in most cases absent.
The second trench line was situated 200-400 meters from the first line.
The third trench line was not built except single sectors. The third trench line of 3 kilometers length constructed east of POLYASCHITSA (700-800 meters from the first line) was covered with snow during the winter and stays unoccupied.
Second trench line was cleared of snow only for deployment of small garrisons – battalion reserves.
The first and second trench lines were outfitted with open emplacements for all types of infantry weapons – main and alternative positions (usually 2-3 per each piece of weapons) and adapted for internal defense (machine gun emplacements for fire along trenches, adaptations for fire to the rear etc).
In most tactically important sectors platoon and company strong points and battalion centers of resistance were created. In these sectors additional works for development of combat and communication trench network were made. Such strong points can be illustrated by the BOBROVA, KOVSHICHI-BAYEVO, and MEDVEDOVKA strong points (see the appendix 2).
Defense of strongpoint was organized as all-around, anti-tank, anti-artillery and anti-air defense.
In the sector of the 154 Fortified Region strong points are reinforced with anti-tank areas.

Layout of firing positions
Trenches of the first and second lines were outfitted with open emplacements for all types of infantry weapons – main and alternative emplacement (2-3 per each firing position). In many cases emplacements are of universal type which can be adapted for all types of weapons (medium and light machine guns, anti-tank rifles, light mortars). Overhead cover made of one layer of logs is made above some emplacements where terrain permits and good camouflage can be made. Up to 30% of emplacements are equipped with revetment.
All main and alternative firing emplacements are adapted for flanking and oblique fire and only single emplacements have a frontal field of fire, mostly for fire along ravines and hollows. In those cases where machine gun emplacement embedded in a trench doesn’t provide flanking fire it is advanced forward and connected with the combat trench by a communication trench 5-8 meters long.
Experience of defense suggests effectiveness of firing positions of so-called “redan” type, when the weapon emplacement is protected from the front by high parapet and has open sectors on sides for flanking fire along the front. Employment of this type of firing positions requires especially elaborated system of fire. It is necessary to have a position for frontal fire at 8-10 meters from such a position.
For internal defense of trenches 2-3 “hedgehogs” made of wire or cheval-de-frise braided with wire are prepared at the rear parapet near every weapons emplacement which can be dropped rapidly into a trench.
In the first and partly in the second trench lines there are up to 40-60 rifle pits, 4-5 main and 5-10 alternative machine gun positions per every kilometer of front. For sheltering of the gun and storage of ammunition each weapon emplacement has a niche, and there are also trench shelters for crews with overhead cover of 1-2 layers of logs and personnel shelters for 8-12 men.
Firing positions of batteries consists of a combination of the following elements: gun emplacement, circular parapet, shelter for the crew and for 45-50-mm guns, ammunition bunkers – at the firing position itself and at a distance of 50-75 meters from it, living shelters for personnel, and shelters for draught.
In view of employment of battalion and regimental guns for direct fire their firing positions were built in close proximity to combat trenches (depending on natural defilades at a distance from 200 to 500 meters) and connected with them via communication trenches. Firing positions of guns were connected with shelters for crews via trenches.
A large part of anti-tank guns was positioned between the first and the second trench lines, having 2-3 alternative positions for point-blank fire in the most important sectors.
Firing positions of 82-mm mortars are situated behind the second trench line (sometimes by batteries of 4 mortars), on reverse slopes and in hollows and consist of trenches, ammunition pits and shelters for personnel. Each mortar has 2-3 positions. Living shelters for personnel are built in close proximity to firing positions.
Communication trenches.
In the defense system of the Army a network of communication trenches was developed in all directions. Full-profile communication trenches connect combat trenches of the first, second and third lines, and also main, alternative and additional emplacements for weapons, living shelters, ammunition pits, observation and firing positions of artillery and mortars.
The most common profile of communication trench has a depth of 110 centimeters, width at the top – 90 centimeters, width at the bottom – 60 centimeters.
A branched network of communication trenches enables hidden maneuver of weapons and personnel, conduct of combat, protection of personnel from small arms fire and shell splinters, hidden delivery of food and ammunition to the first line etc. In some sectors dimensions of communication trenches differ from normal to the smaller values. In these sectors maneuver of weapons is limited. In some sectors communication trenches connected with terrain defilades (ravines) provide hidden communications from command posts of battalion and regimental commanders, thus staff officers can be present at the decisive point in combat. Some sections of communication trenches are adapted for fire in a requisite direction (fire on approaches to combat trenches, defense of flanks and junctures, fire to the rear etc).
Observation and command posts.
Observation posts of platoon and company commanders are situated in the first trench, some 5-10 meters from their living shelters. In most cases they are opened pits for a paired picket. Only the small part of them has overhead cover or shields. In some sectors (154 Fortified Region) OP of company commanders are situated 200-300 meters behind the first trench line and are equipped with dug-outs having an overhead protection of 3-4 log layers.
OP of battalion commanders are usually situated 300-400 meters from the first trench line. OP of rifle and artillery battalion commanders are more strongly constructed and equipped with shelters, and in some places with work and rest spaces.
Communication between platoon OP and platoon commanders is carried out in most cases by sound signaling, mostly using a rope or wire connected with an empty case installed in the commander’s shelter, or by tolling a case installed on the observation post.
Communications between company or battalion observation post and company or battalion command post – mainly by telephone and runners.
Most company and battalion OPs are supplied with scout periscopes and partly with binoculars. Artillery OPs have stereoscopic periscopes.
A liaison sergeant or officer from a supporting battery is placed at the company observation post with schemes and tables of prepared fires in the company sector.
In most cases OPs of rifle battalion and artillery battalion commanders are collocated.
Artillery OPs (battery, battalion) are connected with OPs of infantry commanders (company, battalion) by telephone lines.
Altogether not counting platoon and company OPs there are in average four observation posts per 1 kilometer of the front.
Command posts of battalions and regiments are equipped with dugouts having anti-splinter overhead cover and are situated: battalion CPs – 1-1.5 kilometers, regiment CPs – up to 2 kilometers, division CPs – 5-6 kilometers from the forward line.
Sanitary and utility facilities in trenches.
Dugout shelters are built to provide rest to personnel manning the forward line. There situated in close proximity to firing positions (5-10 meters) and can accommodate one section (in the fortified region - 1-2 weapons squads). Shelters have overhead cover of 3-4 log layers, revetment of walls, most have floors and all of them – furnaces.
In trenches there are water supply wells, sinkholes and latrines. In the area of command posts – field bathes, and gas cameras.

In general the trench system built in the Army’s area is the only possible means in open terrain to provide protection for troops, camouflage of fire system, and owing to extensive system of communication trenches it enables hidden maneuver of personnel and weapons, command and control of troops and their supply and sanitary servicing.
Experience of building the trench system and its maintenance in winter conditions provides the following conclusions:
1) The trench system should be built on the basis of the commander’s decision. In practice this elementary proviso of manuals frequently wasn’t followed. Often trenches were built on lines reached as a result of combat by connecting open foxhole, and the depth of the defense was developed from combat formations built in the process of offensive.
Therefore, construction of defense works should be preceded by a tactical decision of commanders of regiments, battalions, companies, and platoon. In accordance with this decision weapons and personnel should be distributed both along the front and in depth. Only after that construction of trenches should be proceeded with.
2) If defense positions were occupied in autumn, all the principal defense works should be completed before snowfall. A combination of continuing construction of fortifications with snow clearance is beyond capabilities of units, which have a large shortfall of personnel, and troops hardly have enough time to clear the first line of trenches of snow.
To equip the defense positions with shelters and dugouts under conditions of deficit of woods in the Army’s area, it is efficient to procure elements (doors, frames, furnaces) in a centralized fashion on the level of the army (corps, division) and supply units with standard sets.
3). Experience has demonstrated that intensive hostile fire on the forward line of our defense demands engineer reinforcement of artillery observation posts and firing positions, first of all – those situated on the forward line and in close proximity. For example, in the sector of the fortified region such reinforcement of artillery OP and FP was made by deepening them by 60-90 centimeters, constructing stronger parapet (30-40 centimeters high and 3,5-4 meters wide), constructing ammunition pits and Г-shaped shelters, increasing thickness of overhead cover in pits and shelters to 4-5 layers of logs, and laying mines on approaches to the observation posts.
4) In case of deep snow cover it is expedient to employ snow walls using them as combat and communication trenches, which strongly reduce volume of defense works.
5) Local civilians should be employed for clearing trenches of snow.
to be continued
Translated from:

Posts: 212
Joined: 04 Mar 2012 09:19

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by OldBill » 04 Apr 2020 03:33

Thanks for this Art, interesting stuff!

Forum Staff
Posts: 5545
Joined: 04 Jun 2004 19:49
Location: Moscow, Russia

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by Art » 04 Apr 2020 10:08

The second part
III. Brief characteristic of engineer obstacles

Engineer obstacles in the Army’s sector of defense featured considerable density. That is particularly true in regard to mine obstacles laid along the entire forward line. The density of anti-tank minefields was 860 mines per kilometer, the density of anti-personnel mines – 1662 mines per kilometer.
Massed minelaying before the forward line lasted for almost two months. Employed in this work were 8 divisional sapper battalions and up to ten front and army engineer battalions.
Anti-tank minefields were laid in tank-threatened sectors having no natural obstacles, and in the most important sectors – even natural obstacles were present. The depth of anti-tank minefields is 100-120 meters. Anti-tank minefields and landmines were also laid in tactical depth, mostly in front of positions of divisional reserves (on probable routes of hostile advance), and to a much lesser extent – in front of the second trench line. In the operational depth bridges, road culverts and a section of the railroad ORSHA-KRICHEV were prepared for demolition.
Anti-tank minefields are not only swept by flanking and oblique fire of small arms (from main and alternative firing positions) but are also covered in most sectors by fire of anti-tank rifles, anti-tank guns and artillery from closed positions.
Experience has shown that in winter time pull-type mines retain their effectiveness to the highest extent. At the same type pressure-type mines (PMD-6 and PMD-7) under deep and dense snow cover become ineffective (they do not explode) and require relaying.
Anti-personnel minefields in front of the forward line have a depth of 10-20 meters. Anti-personnel mines either overlap with anti-tank minefields or are laid separately in front of wire obstacles – 40-50 meters from the first trench line. In some sectors anti-personnel mines are protected by high-voltage wire obstacles or wire traps. Anti-personnel mines of pull-type are the most effective in winter conditions but they require relaying with onset of snowmelt.
Anti-personnel minefields are swept by effective flanking and oblique small arms fire.
Experience demonstrates that laying of mines or remotely controlled landmines and hand grenades in front of firing positions of machine guns and other weapons is an effective means to prevent hostile scouts from approaching our weapons emplacements.

Wire obstacles protect up to 90% of the forward line, of them 50% are electrical obstacles, which are installed mainly in the most important sectors and on approaches to the forward line. Of wire obstacles the most effective in winter conditions are razor wire and cheval-de-frise, wire barriers and wire traps are less effective.
Experience suggests that the best combination of wire and engineer obstacles in front of the forward line is as follows: wire obstacles 30-40 meters in front of the first trench line, reinforced pull-type anti-personnel mines, and anti-tank minefield in front of the wire (on the hostile side).

Practice of defense confirmed large effectiveness of electrical obstacles, especially in winter with little snow. Their durability and reliable action firmly secures strength of defense. During the winter we had a number of examples of effectiveness of electrical obstacles. Thus, in December 1943 in the sector of the fortified region hostile scouts ran into electrical obstacle when attacking our trench, as a result 12 hostile soldiers were killed by electric current. It was noticed that in sectors where electrical obstacles were installed the enemy, after reconnoitering their positions, never tried to approach them but bypassed them or approached them only after destroying them with mortar fire. As a shortcoming of employment of electrical obstacles one should refer to difficulty of concealment of electric network operations, as operation of motors is easily detected by telephones. Consequently, the most important precondition for effective employment of electrical obstacles on the forward line is a well thought and approved by a divisional commander scheme of control of electrical network which enables instant activation when enemy troops appears. For the maximal flexibility of electrical network control it is necessary to have at least one electric station per rifle battalion connected by a telephone line with the battalion commander. In this case the power to activate network can be given to company commanders as well. When there is one electric station per two or more rifle units the power to activate network (to avoid harm to own soldiers working in front of the forward line) should be given to the higher commander.
“Roving” electrical obstacles, which were periodically transferred from one sector to another, were employed successfully to deceive the enemy regarding actual positions of electrical obstacles and also to cover the most important directions (for example, junctures) in conditions of dry winter.

Such types of obstacles as trap-holes and escarpments were almost never employed due to deficit of workforce.

Experience of employment of engineer obstacles gives the following conclusions:
1) System of engineer obstacles should complement fire system and in all cases should be swept by fire of all types of weapons
2) Obstacles should be installed not only in front of the forward line but also in depth, in particular in front of the second and third trench lines and provide all-around defense of units.
3) In winter conditions with deep snow cover pull-type mines are most effective.
4) In winter conditions snow cover should be widely used as anti-tank obstacle. For this end it is needed to build artificial snow walls, impassible for tanks, lay ice on river banks and slopes etc.

IV. Battle formations

During the winter 1943-44 the Army defended a broad frontage. In this connection battle formations of the army most of time consisted of:
a) battle formations of rifle divisions deployed in line (abreast)
b) army artillery group on the most probable directions of hostile actins
c) sometimes – rifle formations of the second echelon
d) mobile anti-tank reserve
In the first period of defense – November-December 1943 the Army’s battle formations consisted of
a) 62 Rifle Corps with two rifle divisions
b) 113 Rifle Corps with three rifle divisions
d) 154 Fortified Region with seven machine gun battalions
d) mobile anti-tank reserve composed of one anti-tank artillery brigade and one tank brigade (without tanks)
Army artillery group (one cannon artillery regiment, two mortar regiments, one anti-tank artillery regiment) was subordinated to commanders of combined-arms formations.
In the second period – January-February 1944 the Army’s battle formations consisted of:
a) 61 Rifle Corps with three rifle divisions
b) 62 Rifle Corps with three rifle divisions
c) 113 Rifle Corps with two rifle divisions
d) 154 Fortified Region
e) army artillery group (five cannon battalions and one mortar regiment)
f) mobile anti-tank reserve consisting of one anti-tank artillery brigade
61 and 62 Rifle Corps had one rifle division in the second echelon.
In the third period – beginning from March 1944 Army’s battle formations consisted of:
a) two rifle divisions directly subordinated to the Army’s commander
b) 113 Rifle Corps with two rifle divisions
c) 154 Fortified Region
All formations were deployed in one line.
Army artillery group (one cannon artillery regiment, one mortar regiment and one anti-tank regiment); regiments were subordinated to commander of combined-arms formations.
Army reserves were absent.

Such a configuration of battle formations when all principal forces were deployed in the first line is explained by:
a) Broad width of the army defense frontage (56-86 kilometers)
b) small number of rifle units and reinforcing units and their large shortfall in personnel
c) hostile active actions were not expected in the Army’s sector

The same factors determined battle formations of rifle divisions. Usually each rifle divisions had one rifle regiment in reserve (one machine gun battalion in the fortified region). These reserve rifle regiments constituted tactical depth of the Army’s defense. Other two rifle regiments in each division held defense each in the sector up to 7 kilometers wide, and naturally they didn’t have enough forces to organize a manual-type defense of the forward line. Regiments and battalion (with their weapons) were deployed in the first trench line, only small units were allocated to reserve of battalion and regimental commanders (platoon or company). The second trench line, in view of said above, for the most part of defense period was not occupied by the Army’s troops and remained a reserve line ready to be occupied by reserve units or regiments of the divisions’ second echelons.
The third trench line built in the most threatened sectors was just like the second line designated as a reserve line.

Fall-back positions of the main defense belt were built in the entire sector of the Army at 5-7 kilometers from the first trench line. These positions were usually occupied by regiments of the divisions’ second echelons and divisional reserves (usually ski battalions and training companies).
Anti-tank reserve was created in every rifle division; it consisted of one or two batteries of the divisional anti-tank battalion, sapper units (platoon or company) with a stock of 500 anti-tank and 500 anti-personnel mines.

Such a composition of battle formations, when divisions had rifle regiments in their second echelons, and the Army didn’t have any second echelons were justified by peculiar conditions of the winter defense. The Army defended a broad frontage. Terrain in the Army’s area was mostly open. The road network was not sufficiently developed and even available roads became impassible due to frequent snowdrifts. Under these conditions maneuver over long distances was problematic. Consequently, the main thrust of defense was in the firm possession of positions of the main defense belt.

Forum Staff
Posts: 5545
Joined: 04 Jun 2004 19:49
Location: Moscow, Russia

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by Art » 05 Apr 2020 11:17

V. Organization of the system of fire

System of infantry fire
Defense on a broad front with limited strength in personnel and weapons required a well-thought layout of fire system.
As a rule, positions of weapons were determined after a carful reconnaissance. Here the main attention was paid to:
- creation of an impenetrable zone swept by 2-3 layers of flaking and oblique fire in front of the forward line.
- combination of infantry fire system with system of artillery and mortar fire
- protection of junctures between units
- mutual cooperation between weapons
- having the forward line, depth of defense and sectors in front of neighbors swept by fire
System of fire was laid on the spot and in most cases by combined actions of infantry and artillery commanders. That produced positive results: the system of infantry fire was closely coordinated with system of artillery and mortar fire, the last complemented and reinforced fire of infantry weapons (long ranges, dead spaces, overlap with infantry fire in the most important approaches to our forward line).
Firing positions of light and medium machine guns were situated from 100 to 250-300 meters from each other. Rifle trenches were placed between machine gun emplacements at intervals from 30 to 60 meters.
Machine gun positions and rifle trenches were mutually supporting each other.
Except single sectors the first trench allowed keeping the area lying in front of it under fire up to a range of 400 meters.
Density of infantry fire was in average as high as 4 bullets per 1 meter per minute.
In a number of sectors the depth of weapons positions was obviously too small. For example, in the second trench line there were not more than 1-2 machine guns per battalion, which didn’t provide for all-around defense. Due to insufficient density of weapons on the first trench line in many cases when one weapon positions was incapacitated the entire system of fire was disrupted and zones not swept by fire were created.
The machine gun fire was as a rule of flanking and oblique actions. Only in single places for fire along ravines and hollows frontal machine gun fire from alternative and supplementary position was employed.
Flanking and oblique machine gun fire was built in most cases with consideration of having two or three layers of fire. Fire support of weapons positions was secured by overlap of the zones of fire, and it also made possible to keep the trenches and close approaches to them (parapets) under fire from alternative and supplementary positions.
Fire of medium machine guns (and company mortars) was also employed in barrages, thus increasing density of barrage fire in front of the forward line.
Actions of roving machine guns were widely employed to deceive the enemy regarding our system of fire and for more effective actions against the enemy.
Fire from machine guns was mostly delivered from alternative positions at day, and from main positions at night. Experience shows that alternative positions should be switched frequently, otherwise they are spotted and knocked out by the enemy.
Anti-tank rifles were positioned on tank-threatened directions. Sometimes massed fire from anti-tank rifles was used against hostile weapon emplacements, which usually produced good effect.

System of artillery and mortar fire
Combat operations of artillery in the winter defense of the army consisted of:
- repulse of hostile scouting groups
- neutralization and annihilation of hostile weapons and personnel on the forward line and in depth of positions
- neutralization of discovered artillery and mortar batteries
- destruction of hostile engineer installations (wire obstacles, observation posts, bunkers, dugouts and trenches)
- interdiction of hostile engineer works on the forward line and in depth
- interdiction of hostile vehicle and personnel traffic along the main approach routes to the forward line and long the front
- artillery support of reconnaissance operations of our rifle units
- registration, control and check-up of planned fires, aiming points and single targets.

Groupment of artillery
Artillery of rifle divisions and mortar batteries of rifle regiment makes up infantry support groups of rifle regiments.
Army artillery:
- cannon artillery – makes up long range artillery groups of rifle divisions and is subordinated to divisional commanders
- anti-tank artillery – mobile anti-tank reserves or in some cases anti-tank groups protecting forward line on tank-threatened directions. Subordinated to commanders of rifle divisions.
Regimental and anti-tank guns were on open anti-tank positions within battalion defense regions
Anti-tank battalions of rifle divisions partly complement deficit of artillery on the most important tank-threatened directions, in depth of battalion defense regions, and most of their forces make up mobile anti-tank reserves of rifle divisions’ commanders.

Organization of defensive barrages and fire concentrations
When planning Army’s artillery fire the following factors were taken into account:
- intelligence information on hostile fire system, engineer defense installations on the forward line and in depth of defense, artillery groupment.
- information on location of hostile staffs, signal centers and reserves
- information on terrain in front of our defensive belt and within it (probably places of concentrations, approaches to our forward line, probable directions of attacks and tank-threatened directions)
Fire of the Army’s artillery was planned as massed concentrations in front of the forward line and in depth incorporating up to 6-8 artillery battalions of divisional and army artillery. The plan provided for creation of:
Distant interdiction fires – against areas of probable concentration of hostile infantry and tanks, against areas of hostile staffs and reserves
Fire concentrations – against sectors of probable concentration and deployment of hostile personnel and tanks for attack, against hostile nests of resistance and strongpoints
Moving barrages – on direction favorable for tanks in order to prevent penetration of hostile tanks into our defense
Static barrages – along lines of probable hostile approach for attack and in front of our forward line and as blocking fire on flanks of our defense, in depth of defense – in front of fall-back positions
Schemes and tables of massed fire missions and concentrations were given to corps and divisional artillery staffs.
Artillery commanders in cooperation with combined-arms commanders (down to battalion commanders inclusively) specified this scheme of fires on the spot. In some cases location of planned fire missions was changed, new fire missions were prepared based on peculiarities of terrain and system of infantry fire. Here much attention was paid to coordination between artillery fire and fire of heavy infantry weapons.
Fire of 82-mm mortars and medium machine guns was laid overlapping with planned artillery fire.
The specified scheme of planned fire missions was disseminated to actual performers - commanders of batteries and companies, which were shown locations and lines of planned fire, also signals for calling fire missions and procedure of call were developed.
Staffs of artillery battalions calculated sights and goniometer settings corresponding to fire concentrations, determined the schedule of fire and expenditure of ammunition for each battery (based on 3-5 minute duration of one artillery strike). Prepared settings and calculations were combined into tables which were kept at staffs and observation posts of batteries and battalions, the main data were written on gin shields (the others were in tables given to commanders of guns and firing platoons).
According to changes in enemy groupment and his fire system and new intelligence data artillery staffs revised, changed or cancelled altogether planned fire missions with subsequent introduction of changes into schemes and settings tables.
In front of the forward line of our defense commanders of batteries and battalions registered on reference points and places of most important fire missions. Subsequently using control of registration and meteorological bulletins planned fire missions were systematically corrected.
Within our defense belt, as a rule, registration of planned fire missions was performed in the most important sectors of defense, own infantry was withdrawn for security during registration.
Calls of planned and unplanned fire concentration became the usual practice in routine operation of the Army’s artillery with the aim of control and training of personnel for opening fire. By this means staffs of battalions and commander of batteries achieve smooth coordination of all elements of fire control system, get practical experience in preparation of fire and practice various methods of target designation.
Cooperation between artillery and infantry is achieved by:
- mutual exchange of information on combat missions
- collocation of observation posts of commanders of rifle and artillery units
- establishment of reliable communication between cooperating units
- joint study of terrain, planned fire missions, and development of the common scheme of terrain reference points
- personal agreement on methods and procedure of calls of fire
- exchange of intelligence information

Protection of junctures
Fire protection of junctures is made by mutual agreement of neighbor units – between divisions, regiments etc.
For coordination of fire missions on juncture groups of officers of the divisional HQ including divisional artillery commander were assigned by orders of divisional commanders, these groups reconnoitered terrain in juncture areas, designated areas and lines of defensive barrages, areas of observation posts, established procedure of call of fire and methods of targets designation, all that was documented. As an example of juncture security a scheme of protection of the juncture between the 70 Rifle Division and 154 Fortified Region is given in the Appendix 3.
Communications were organized along the front from right to left between divisional staffs and adjacent artillery units.
To check readiness of artillery for protection of junctures control call of fire were made periodically.

Artillery support of counterattacks
As a result of reconnoitering of divisional defense area by the divisional commander together with regimental commanders and based on the plan of defense the procedure of fire support of counterattacks of the second echelon rifle regiment by the artillery group supporting this regiment was determined.
Positions of the artillery support group of the second echelon regiment were occupied in areas which provided observation and conduct of fire in the direction of expected counterattacks.
Counterattacking group in addition to artillery forces attached to it was also supported by long range groups and support groups of neighbor regiments. In cases when artillery positions didn’t provide for support of the counterattacking group a shift to the direction of counterattack was planned.
In these cases artillery positions regions designated for support of the counterattack were reconnoitered in advance, firing positions were chosen and surveyed and engineer works were made.
Save for operations of the reconnaissance groups the enemy didn’t undertake any offensive actions in the Army’s defense area, thus the Army doesn’t have a practical experience of artillery support of counterattacks by reserves on the present defense positions.

Employment of roving guns and mortars
For secondary fire missions, to deceive the enemy in regard to groupment of our artillery, to provoke him into opening fire, and to keep the enemy under constant fire action of our artillery a system of provisional and feint fire positions was developed in area of each division and fortified region. Single roving guns and firing platoons occupied these positions according to a plan developed by the divisional artillery staff and delivered fire against hostile personnel and weapons. The system of provisional and feint firing positions was quite adequate to its tasks. For example, in the beginning of March in the 154 Fortified Region during three days one gun moved to one of feint positions and delivered aimed fire. In the first day it expended 4 rounds, in the second – 8 rounds, in the third – 10. The enemy while returning fire expended: in the first day – 5 rounds, in the second – 30, in the third – up to 400 rounds in a fire strike of the battalion strength, but all on empty place, since the gun had already left.
In mid-February a hostile airplane dropped 6 light bombs on one of the feint firing positions with mock guns in the region of KAREBY.
Roving mortars were not widely employed.
In view of limited expenditure of ammunition of divisional and army artillery fire from closed firing positions was mostly delivered by single guns and batteries. Fire strikes by battalions or larger forces with expenditures corresponding to those recommended by manuals were not employed.

Employment of direct fire guns
Direct fire of battalion and regimental guns saw wide employment.
45-mm and regimental 76-mm guns having main firing positions in anti-tank regions, which remained concealed, each prepared 2-3 provisional firing positions on the forward line, from which they delivered fire by direct laying supporting actions of our scouting groups, repulsing hostile scouting groups, interdicting engineer works and movement of hostile personnel on the forward line, suppressing and destroying weapons and demolishing engineer defense installations.
Thus, during March fire of direct laying gun in four rifle divisions produced the following results:
174 Rifle Division – 70 personnel, 6 machine guns destroyed; 6 dugouts and 1 OP demolished; expenditure – 1578 45-mmand 167 76-mm rounds
62 Rifle Division – 80 personnel and 6 machine guns destroyed; 3 dugouts, 8 bunkers and 1 OP demolished; 8 machine guns suppressed; expenditure – 811 45-mm and 194 76-mm rounds
113 Rifle Corps – 115 personnel, 10 machine guns, and 8 ammunition wagons destroyed; 6 dugouts, 1 bunker and 1 OP demolished; 42 machine guns suppressed; 220 men dispersed; expenditure - 4648 45-mm and 455 76-mm rounds
Note: this expenditure includes expenditure in support of our scouting groups and repulse of hostile scouting.
Fire strike from several firing positions produced the maximal effect by spreading panic in hostile garrisons.
Security of fire missions of direct fire guns was made by assigning special support guns of the same calibers, which have the task – lay in ambush and attack those hostile weapons which engage combat positions of direct fire guns. These support guns don’t have other missions and open fire only against weapons and only by a special command.

Posts: 16
Joined: 18 Aug 2015 01:44
Location: Chicago

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by raymos » 06 Apr 2020 03:04

These are great! Thanks for sharing.


Forum Staff
Posts: 5545
Joined: 04 Jun 2004 19:49
Location: Moscow, Russia

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by Art » 06 Apr 2020 13:31

VI. Anti-tank defense
Organization of anti-tank defense provided for:
- maximal possible employment of divisional and army artillery for anti-tank defense
- grouping of anti-tank weapons on direction most threatened by tanks
- creation of deeply echeloned anti-tank defense with firm security of flanks and junctures
- preparation of massed barrages
- creation of mobile anti-tank reserves.
Divisional and army artillery made up the backbone of the anti-tank defense system. Of the total number of 20 artillery battalions concentrated on the principal tank-threatened directions were: KURTASY, LENINO – up to 7 battalions, GORKY, GORY – 6 artillery battalions.
Plan of artillery employment provided for massing of artillery fire on principal tank-threatened directions: 8-11 artillery battalions in fire concentrations and up to 9 battalions in moving barrages.
Each firing position of a battery had specially constructed anti-tank emplacements with all-around sectors of direct fire with a range of 800-1000 meters. Approaches to firing positions from the front were densely mined.
Battalion and regimental guns, divisional anti-tank battalions and anti-tank rifle units were mostly employed in the system anti-tank defense. In the defense belt of the rifle division 6-7 anti-tank regions were usually created, in the defense belt of the fortified region – 14 anti-tank regions.
Anti-tank regions were created on directions most threatened by tanks. Each region had on carefully concealed positions: two-three 76-mm regimental guns positioned for direct fire, four-six 45-mm guns, 4-10 anti-tank rifles. Each guns and anti-tank rifle had several firing positions.
Of six or seven anti-tank regions in each rifle divisions 4-5 were created on the forward line (first echelon) and 2-3 in the depth of defense.
In rifle divisions anti-tank regions were as a rule combined with battalion defense regions, in the fortified region – with company defense regions.
In the sector of the rifle regiment the anti-tank defense system was organized by the regimental commander. He designated to battalion commanders principal tank-threatened directions, location of anti-tank regions, their borders, numbers of guns and anti-tank rifles assigned to anti-tank regions.
Organization of fire system in the anti-tank regions provided for:
- the highest density of fire on the direction most threatened by tanks
- anti-tank weapons echeloned in depth
- mutual fire support by front and in depth at distanced not larger than direct fire range
- possibility of all-around defense
Approaches to firing positions of anti-tank regions were densely mined
On the principal tank-threatened direction GORKI, GORY an anti-tank nest was created and occupied by one anti-tank regiment
In each formation mobile anti-tank reserves were created, their principal mission was to destroy hostile tanks that managed to break through. Mobile anti-tank reserves usually consisted of 4-8 45-mm guns, 10-32 anti-tank rifles, platoon (company) of sappers and a reserve of 600-1000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. These reserves were situated in areas of divisional second echelons, at a distance of 4-6 kilometers from the forward line, on principal tank-threatened directions. Mobile anti-tank reserves were given direction for counterattacks and after preliminary reconnaissance prepared anti-tank regions ready for occupations. Mobile anti-tank reserves repeatedly practiced rapid movement and occupation of anti-tank regions. During reconnoitering and training the questions of cooperation both within the reserve and between the reserve and combined-arms units were settled.
Roads planned for movement of anti-tank reserves were constantly maintained in operational conditions using resources of divisional sapper battalions and regimental sapper companies.
An army mobile anti-tank reserve was created consisting of one anti-tank artillery brigade and one engineer battalion with a mine reserves of up to 6000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
Actions of the army mobile anti-tank reserves were planned as concentrated. A detailed plan of maneuver was developed. On principal tank-threatened directions anti-tank regions fully developed in engineer respects were built (total 9 regions were built and other 3 were reconnoitered. Transport means were assigned to the army mobile anti-tank reserve. The reserve systematically practiced movement and occupation of anti-tank regions and settled questions of coordination.
Exact routs were determined for movement of reserve and occupation of firing positions in anti-tank regions in every direction. Road maintenance units of the army were attached to corresponding roads, they had a task to maintain these roads in constant operational conditions.
Mine and explosive obstacles played the primary role in the system of anti-tank engineer obstacles. The entire forward line in the Army’s area was protected by anti-tank and anti-personnel minefields of sufficient density (860 anti-tank mines and 1662 anti-personnel mines per kilometer).
When laying anti-tank minefields they were coordinated with natural obstacles. The depth of anti-tank minefields in front of the forward line was 100-120 meters.
Anti-tank mines and landmines were also laid within the depth of our defense (alternative positions, first intermediate army defense positions, roads, bridges, railroads) up to 30 kilometers deep. Artillery firing positions and anti-tank regions were also protected with mines.
Anti-tank minefields were in most cases protected by fire of artillery, anti-tank rifles and machine guns.
Engineer units trained up to 7 mine layers in each artillery battery and anti-tank rifle company, which were trained in methods of mine laying (in front of own positions) and mine clearance.
Obstacles of felled trees were planned but actually made only in limited volume (1.5 kilometers length).
In single sectors obstacles made of snow (snow walls) and ice (freezing slopes etc) were partly used.
Earth anti-tank obstacles – ditches, escarpments etc were not built in view of their large demand on workforce (see the appendix 4).

Forum Staff
Posts: 5545
Joined: 04 Jun 2004 19:49
Location: Moscow, Russia

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by Art » 08 Apr 2020 19:09

VII. Artillery support of our scouting groups and repulse of hostile scouting
Artillery support of our scouting groups constitutes a sizeable part of fire activity of the Army’s artillery. Employed for this task are battalion and regimental guns, artillery support groups and mortars.
The size of artillery forces allocated for support of scouting is determined based on tasks given to a scouting group and available data of artillery observation.
During a preparatory period the artillery staffs plans fire missions of direct fire guns, mortars and divisional artillery, their missions are assigned on the spot where targets to be neutralized or destroyed, areas of barrages and blocking fires are designated, the plan of the scouting operation is finalized and signals for coordination are established. Since scouting is, as a rule, performed at night, when aimed artillery fire is problematic, scouting groups are mostly supported by pre-arranged barrages and blocking fire which cover their actions and retreat, as a result the effectiveness of fire is small and results are difficult to evaluate. As a drawback in combat practice of units and formation one should note that missions to support scouting actions are frequently assigned by combined arms commanders only a short time before their start. As a result artillery officers having only a very limited daylight time perform concentrated registration of targets and planned fire missions, thus the plan of prepared scouting operations becomes disclosed and a failure is invited. Experience suggests that in most cases success of a scouting group is secured by surprise actions without preliminary artillery fire, and artillery fire should be called only to cover a withdrawal of scouts.
When observation and alerting of rifle and artillery units are well arranged, hostile scouting groups are spotted even before they reach our forward line and in many cases repulsed by small arms fire. In situation of defense on a broad front and a relatively small density of small arms on the forward line, artillery and mortar fire is frequently called to repulse scouting groups. When cooperation and communications between rifle and artillery units are well organized this fire is opened timely and produces good results.

1) System of infantry fire should be coordinated with system of artillery and mortar fire and should be arranged by infantry and artillery commanders together on the spot.
2) It is expedient to deliver fire of machine guns from alternative positions in daytime and from main positions in nighttime. Firing positions of machine guns need to be changed frequently.
3) Trenches should be equipped with open emplacements for machine guns and rifle pits for submachine gunners. They should be adapted for fire along the trenches for a contingency of hostile penetration into them.
4) System of artillery fire in defense should provide for massed concentration of fire not only in front of the forward line but also within the defense belt up to the army fall-back position inclusively.
5) In positional defense as a preparatory period for an offensive operation planning and organization of the system of fire should be made based primarily on intelligence information on hostile grouping.
6) Artillery missions should be registered in presence of rifle company and battalion commanders that are expected to call them.
7) Inclusion of a part of medium machine guns in defensive barrages is effective.
8) Extensive employment of direct fire guns (battalion and regimental) in combination with fire of infantry weapons and roving guns and machine guns fully proved its worth. Organization of fire from ambushes on direction of hostile movements spotted by reconnaissance produces great effect.
9) Difficulty of maneuver under conditions of deep snow forces us to develop a network of provisional and feint firing positions at small distance from main positions.
10) Artillery regiments of reserve divisions should be situated on most probable counterattack directions and assigned a mission to support units on the first line in early period of combat. It is expedient to organize communications and observation in advance on every probable counterattack direction. At the same time a part of observation and communications means should be kept uncommitted to secure counterattacks on other directions.

Forum Staff
Posts: 5545
Joined: 04 Jun 2004 19:49
Location: Moscow, Russia

Re: Organization and conduct of defense using a trench system

Post by Art » 09 Apr 2020 11:39

IX Combat security service on the forward line.
Through a detailed study of practical organization and conduct of combat security on the forward line and analysis of a number of facts of insufficient alertness and combat readiness in some units the Army’s staff could generalize experience in a special “Instructions” on organization of security service.
These “Instructions” provide a supplement to the Infantry Battle Manual of 1942 parts 1 and 2 and are aimed at establishment of strict order, increase of alertness, increase of combat readiness, and introduction of uniform practice in organization and requirements of combat security service in defense.
(Brief content of “Instructions” would be given in the April report on battle experience.

X. Measures to increase activity of defense.
In conditions of protracted positional defense a large role is played by activity of defending troops aimed at constant harassment and pressure on the enemy so that the defense doesn’t become a mere passive security of the line.
In practical experience of the Army in winter 1943-44 employment of a number of these measures should be noted.
The most noteworthy of them is activity of snipers. By the present time there are two or three snipers trained in every company. Their training was conducted in sniper companies specially formed in divisions or at 20-days training courses of divisions.
Sniper pairs operate either separately within company defense sectors or as parts of sniper companies of divisions. Periodically they are positioned on those sectors of the front where more intensive hostile movements are observed. After the enemy as a result of losses inflicted by snipers becomes more cautious in these sectors, sniper pairs (or units) are shifted to new sectors.
Importance of sniper activity can be judged by the following facts: in the sector of the 154 Fortified Region only in the first 20 days of March fire of snipers destroyed 162 German soldiers and officers; in the sector of the 344 Rifle Division the divisional sniper party destroyed 51 German soldiers and officers in the period 8-18 March 1944.
As a kind of activity aimed at systematic harassment of the enemy one can also refer actions of roving machine guns, single direct fire guns and single guns from provisional positions, their employment produces exceptionally positive results. For example, in the sector of the 344 Rifle Division the following weapons operated from November 43 to February 1944
82-mm mortars - 6 roving and 23 from provisional positions
120-mm mortars – 3 and 8
76-mm regimental guns – 6 roving guns
76-mm divisional guns – 5 and 23
122-mm howitzers – 14 from provisional positions
152-mm howitzers – 6 from provisional positions
Actions of these mortars and guns during this period produced the following results:
Weapon emplacements – 38 destroyed and 66 suppressed
Anti-tank guns - 4/5
Dugouts – 8 destroyed
Mortars – 5 destroyed
Mortar batteries – 15 neutralized
Artillery batteries – 10 neutralized
105-mm guns – 2 neutralized
150-mm guns - 1 neutralized
Bunkers – 5 destroyed
Observation posts – 2 destroyed and 3 neutralized
Communication centers – 1 destroyed
Personnel – 312 destroyed
Horses – 7 destroyed
Wagons – 7 destroyed

In four months these guns and mortars expended:
8726 82-mm mortar rounds
569 120-mm mortar rounds
5071 76-mm divisional gun rounds
1416 122-mm howitzer rounds (including 210 smoke)
195 152-mm howitzer rounds

Roving guns also play an important role in concealment of main firing positions of artillery in defense. Experience demonstrates that as soon as a battery opens fire its position is registered by hostile sound-ranging reconnaissance and hostile counter-battery groups try to knock it out. It doesn’t imply that artillery should remain idle in defense, it implies that batteries on main firing positions should systematically disguise their activity with actions of single roving guns and single guns on provisional positions. Actions of these guns deceive the enemy about the strength of artillery and its location.
Usually firing positions of roving guns are located with sufficient precision relative to targets and targets are chosen so that fire against them attracts attention of hostile observation and provokes the enemy into engagement of the roving gun, whose position is mistaken for main battery position.
Fire of infantry weapons and artillery (especially steady fire) conducted at day and night not only against observed targets but also on expected routes of hostile movement and hostile observation posts has found extensive employment. Quotas of ammunition expenditure should be established and observed for these fire missions.
In the sector of the fortified region and some other formations fire strikes of machine guns and mortars are a common practice. In the 154 Fortified Region in each of its machine gun battalion machine guns batteries (4 machine guns) are created from reserve companies, and 1-2 closed positions are prepared for each battery. Fire of machine gun batteries is delivered by sudden strikes on small hostile groups working and moving on the forward line.
Sudden fire strikes of mortar batteries are delivered on places of probable concentrations of hostile personnel, staffs etc. In four months Army’s units made more than 200 of such strikes.
Fire strikes of machine gun and mortar batteries on unobserved localities in hostile defense positions and no-man’s land in order to “comb” these localities are also used.
A very effective means for harassing the enemy and keeping him nervous are fire ambushes of direct fire guns employed by Army’s units. Fort this end single 45-mm and 76-mm guns are positioned on the forward line on well camouflaged positions.
Surprise of opening fire by these guns which is delivered for destruction of hostile weapon emplacements on the forward line, demolition of observation posts and bunkers makes a very great effect.
Fire ambushes of groups of guns (16-26 pieces) are also employed, their surprise fire by direct laying produced even greater effect and strongly affects hostile morale.
Forays of small scouting groups (squad-platoon) systematically conducted by Army’s units aside from their primary task – reconnaissance of the enemy and capture of prisoners – are also of large significance for harassment of the enemy. Frequent actions of our scouting groups keep the enemy under constant pressure, especially at nights, in constant alertness or even anxiety. That is evidenced by intensive illumination of terrain by flares and aimless combing fire of localities in front of defense line by automatic fire.
The more is the role played by periodical forays of Army’s troops for capturing of prisoners and reconnaissance of the hostile fire system in measures for harassment of the enemy.
Experience of Army’s troops in night forays and active reconnaissance is described in much detail in other records (brief report on generalized experience No.12 of December 1943, informational study “From experience of employment of the fortified region in defense”, in our informational report No.035/op of 20.1.44 and report No.090/op of 8.2.44, in our informational leaflet No.8, in brief reports on generalized battle experience of February and March 1944).

Return to “The Soviet Union at War 1917-1945”