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Red Army Assault Groups

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  • Red Army Assault Groups

    Translated from a Russian article by Major D. Zaitzev, Red Army, in Krasnaya Zvezda G January 1944.

    The principles of technique and organization of assault have always depended upon the character of the defense. This is illustrated by the variety of methods now used in the operations against timber-and¬earth emplacements and permanent pillboxes. These defensive structures have made the attacker develop special forms of assault carried out by the assault group.
    The following are the most typical cases of employment of assault groups:
    (1) operations against the forward edge of enemy defenses containing permanent emplacements such as pillboxes, etc.;
    (2) operations against separate fire emplacements and whole Strong-points impeding the advance of our infantry units;
    (3) operations against fire emplacements and strongpoints by-passed by our advancing troops;
    (4) operations against enemy fire emplacements suddenly coming to life on the flanks of our advancing units.
    It should be noted that the assault groups play an important role in the battles for populated places where the enemy, making use of separate buildings and entire blocks, organizes a formidable defense. It is obvious that in all cases the organization of the assault groups—their composition and equipment—is taken care of beforehand. Special attention is paid to their thorough training, for these groups are called upon to carry out very complicated and difficult tasks.
    The tactics of assault groups are basically the same as those of small units. However, there are some important differences. Assault groups attacking or blockading firing emplacements use artillery more often and on an incomparably larger scale. The same may be said of the other fire means. In addition to this, the assault groups use engineer equipment very extensively. It should also be taken into account that assault groups are better adapted for repulsing counterattacks undertaken by the enemy from without or by the forces of the 'strongpoint. The assault group, properly organized and supplied, can repulse tank and infantry counterattacks by means of mortar and antitank fires and by incendiary equipment.
    The assault groups have no special tables of organization. They are formed as needed from infantry, engineer, and artillery units, as well as from submachine-gun groups. Here are examples of the composition of two assault groups which participated in the engagements near Melitopol.
    One group consisted of a squad of submachine gunners, two squads of antitank riflemen, one squad of sappers, and one 37mm gun. The other group was made up of a squad of sappers, two rifle squads, and two squads of antitank riflemen. It also had one 45mm gun, three heavy machine guns, and four light machine guns. Both groups, in addition to the above weapons, had submachine guns, hand grenades (including antitank), and assault knives. The sappers carried charges of explosives and blasting caps. The sapper carrying the charges carried the caps as well.
    The assault groups, in addition to submachine guns, need rifles with bayonets, as they often engage in hand-to-hand battles. In some cases, paired snipers for firing at the embrasures are included in the assault groups.
    The assault group is divided into subgroups. If an objective protected by obstacles is attacked, a special subgroup to take care of the obstacles is created. It makes passages through minefields and wire obstacles. This subgroup consists of two or three sappers, sometimes a squad of sappers, equipped with mine detectors, rods, shears for cutting wire, and, in some cases, explosives.
    While operating against a large building, an assault group encountered a stone fence which was covered by a strong machine-gun fire. It was impossible to climb over the fence. Then a special subgroup was formed composed of one junior officer and two sappers. They had two explosive charges, each weighing twenty-two kilograms. The work of these sappers was covered by the artillery which was included in the assault group, and also by submachine guns. The sappers crawled up to the fence, set the charges, and blew it up. Two breaches, each six meters wide, were formed. These passages secured the success of the entire assault group.
    Such subgroups are often used for engineer reconnaissance for the assault group. They have to find out where the obstacles are located and start at once the construction of passages through them.
    Assault groups also include demolition subgroups. Those subgroups are usually made up of sappers. Under cover of fire, they crawl up to the emplacement and block its embrasures with stones, bricks, bags of earth, etc. They also blow up the objective, throw explosive charges and antitank grenades into the emplacements, or blind the garrison by the use of incendiary bottles.
    And here is another engagement typical for assault groups. An assault group attacked three houses fortified by the Germans (see sketch). The group consisted of two rifle squads and a squad of sappers. It was armed with one light artillery gun and two light machine guns. The operation was carried out at night. First of all, a fire emplacement in the first house had to be destroyed, permitting the infantrymen and the sappers to occupy a depression from which the other two houses could be taken care of.
    The first problem was solved by the artillery gun. It destroyed the fire nest in the nearest house, and the men moved into the depression. Then, covered by available fire means, they crawled' up to the other houses and began to throw into the windows charges of explosives, each weighing four kilograms. As a result, all the three houses were seized by the assault group.
    The following engagement is also typical. It is of special interest because of the circumstances under which it took place. The advance of an infantry unit was checked by a group of enemy tanks. These tanks had been dug into the ground and covered by a roving battery of self-propelled guns of the "Ferdinand" type and by one light gun. The tanks were dug in to the height of the tracks. Apparently they were preparing for a counterattack. It should be added that the tanks were also supported by submachine gunhers and by fire from a small hill situated to the right of them.
    Inasmuch as the basis of enemy defense was the tanks, it was necessary to knock them out first. For this purpose, assault groups were formed. The sappers of the group crawled to the tanks under cover of fire of all available fire means. Each sapper had a bundle of hand grenades and one antitank grenade. Having crawled up to the tanks, two of the sappers blew off two tank turrets as well as the barrels of their guns. The crew of the third tank ceased firing and attempted to escape, but was destroyed by the sappers of the demolition subsquad.
    Having lost their protection, the self-propelled battery left the position which it had held up to this time. As a result, our infantry unit was now able to continue its advance.
    Finally, let us consider a case where the assault group had to repulse counterattacks. It was necessary to assault a three-story building which the Germans used for defense. The garrison of the building consisted of a platoon of submachine gunners, five snipers and two light guns. The terrain in front of the building was open and well covered by fire. Our assault group consisted of a rifle platoon and two squads of sappers. It was armed with two light machine guns, three antitank rifles, and two artillery guns.
    The action developed in the following manner:
    Both guns and the three antitank rifles carried out a short fire attack. Then, under the cover of fire delivered simultaneously from three sides by the infantry platoon and the machine guns, the demolition subgroup went into action. The sappers crawled up to the building and threw hand and antitank grenades into the windows and embrasures. As a result, one enemy gun in the first story was destroyed.
    Following this the sappers broke into the building and, with the help of the supporting subgroup, destroyed a part of the enemy garrison in hand-to-hand combat. The rest of the garrison withdrew.
    The commander of the assault group thought that the enemy would attempt to recapture the tactically important building and would counterattack with the aid of tanks. In order to stop the enemy tanks, the commander sent out ahead the obstacle subgroup. This subgroup laid eighty mines on all tank approaches.
    Enemy tanks appeared a little later. Having encountered the mines, they dispersed and withdrew.
    On the next day, the enemy undertook several flank counterattacks with superior forces. The assault group was within the enemy semicircle. It continued, however, to defend itself stubbornly. Our infantry units arrived and threw the enemy back, and later defeated him completely.
    The arming of the assault group with various fire weapons and the presence in their ranks of a comparatively large number of sappers raises the question of the selection of group commanders. As a rule, infantry officers are assigned as group commanders. Experience shows, however, that it is expedient to use sapper officers as commanders. In a number of cases it is simply imperative. Thus, if combat engineer units are used to form assault groups they should be commanded by sapper officers. The operations of such groups, however, are confined to the main zone of defense.
    Thus, the task of the assault group is the operation against strong and well fortified emplacements of various types. In addition to this, they accomplish a number of other missions, such as blowing up emplacements and strongpoints. On the whole, they are intended for the breaching of strongly fortified defense zones. This, of course, is done in cooperation with the infantry and other arms.

    NOTE: I have the accompanying Sketch Map but I don’t know how to append it to the post.

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