Tactics in the Winter
The Finnish and Soviet "by the book"
Before the Winter War, the Finnish and Soviet tactics had one thing
in common. Both were strongly emphasizing the attack, aiming for the
encirclement and destruction of enemy forces.
The Soviet tactics were, of course, much more demanding in this respect,
as were their resources bigger for executing such attacks.
After all, while the wartime mission of the Soviet Red Army was officially
the defense of the "Socialist state of the peasants and workers",
it had adopted the policy of "moving every enemy attack from
Soviet soil to the aggressors land". This way of thinking, combined
with gigantic resources (both in men and equipment), a fast growing
war industry, propaganda and the communist dream of worldwide revolution,
it really was the most fearsome attack-oriented army in the world
(before the German lightning campaign in France).
The Finnish Field regulations and battle manuals gave only guidelines
and advises to various situations while the Soviet Field regulations
were more strict and demanding. In other words, to the Finnish officers
a high degree of personal initiative and independence was given and
to the Soviet officers it was said to be given.
In the use of artillery, the Finns followed a strict policy of concentrating
available artillery and the Red Army believed in the policy of dispersing
available artillery to several units (at least all regimental and
divisional organic artillery).
Winter and forest were regarded as allies by the Finns, whereas the
Soviets regarded them to be hindrance for their operations.
Of course, while the actual/practical tactic on the battlefield usually
evolves by unofficial literacy, experience, and by individual thinking
and initiative, outside the official Field regulations, the leading
principles remain. Even when radical changes are made during a war,
the peace time "by the book" rehearsals have a prolonged
effect in tactics.
Schematic displays of "by the book" attack
formations and defenses
||Finnish regiment defends
1) forward posts (mission: prevent recon
& delay attack)
2) forward strongpoints (in key terrain points)
3) The front-line of the "Main defense line"
4) front-line company reserve
5) barrier line (to contain a breakthrough)
6) battalion reserve on the support line (company)
7) artillery support groups (battalion)
8) regimental reserve (battalion)
9) general artillery support group (as needed)
Soviet division attacks
1) supporting tank group (supports
Attack Group battalions)
2) Attack Group battalions (with artillery sub-support
groups, regiments side by side, battalions deployed in 2 or 3
3) Long-range tank group (advances to enemy rear)
4) The Support Group (engages the enemy)
5) divisional reserve (one battalion)
6) artillery attack-support group (supports attacking regiments)
7) Long-range artillery support group (targets: counter
battery fire, enemy reserves, HQ's, road junctions, AA-positions,
destroys enemy fortifications)
||Soviet regiment defends
1) the sapper - chemical obstacle area (small
infantry detachments with artillery support, max. 12 km from the
2) Security zone (channels enemy advances & deceives)
3) The main defense line (MDF, see 1) above)
4) Battalion defense perimeter (all around defense, width
1,5 - 2,5 km, depth 1,5 - 2 km, no gap between perimeters)
5) artillery support (battalion)
6) Regiment defense zone (width 3 - 5 km, depth 2,5 - 3 km)
7) Attack group (attacks any breakthrough or weakened enemy)
8) Artillery support group (as needed)
9) Long-range support group (counter battery and counter
preparation fire, barrages on advancing enemy)
Finnish division attacks
1) the combat elements of the attacking regiment
2) reserve of the attacking regiment
3) artillery support groups
4) regiment engaging enemy (one battalion on reserve)
5) divisional reserve (one regiment, advances through the
breach in the defenses or strengthens the attack)
6) general support group (as needed)
Back to Top !
The unique characteristic of the Red Army
-the political officers-
What was truly unique for the Red Army, was "the political work,
ensuring the effectiveness of the troops".
This was performed mainly by a special political officer, the "commissar",
but also every commander was expected to participate also.
The goal of this work was:
- to strengthen and raise the spirit and fighting ability of the Red
Army, and to gather it's soldiers into a tight group around the Party
of Lenin and Stalin, and the government of the Republic of Soviet
- to increase the patriotism in every commander, leader and soldier
of the Red Army and teach them to always be ready to do their sacred
duty of defending the State
- to strengthen discipline, courage, self-sacrifice, initiative and
determination in every soldier, leader and commander, make them unfailing
in battle and ready to endure all hardship in combat.
"The political officers were to be always, everywhere and in
everything, be the models of strong political knowledge, enlightenment,
discipline, firmness, courage, initiative and determination. It was
also their duty to supervise the flow of supplies, the well-being
of the men, the flow of the mail, prevent espionage and rumors etc.
They were also responsible to provide the men entertainment shows,
where the own stars of the Red Army, musicians and dancers would perform".
Also, to a certain degree, "political work should be done among
captured Prisoners of War".
In addition to their political propaganda role commissars
were authorized to interfere in commanding troops. While controlling
the loyalty of commanders they had the authority to change or even
cancel the commanders orders.
A commander could simply be arrested after a commissar's
denunciation. Such situation came from the Civil War in Russia of
1918-1921 when Red commissars sometimes shot Red commanders without
a trial for a true or supposed disloyalty to the Soviet power. Same
type of executions took place in the Red Army both in the Winter
War and in the Great Patriotic War. The example of commissars was
followed by officers of the Peoples' Commissariat of Home Affairs
(the Russian contraction is NKVD) and counter-intelligence officers.
As an example, in the Great Motti of Kitilä
in December 1939 a counter-intelligence officer shot the commander
of the 1st Battalion/34th Tank Brigade, 56th Rifle Corps, Captain
Ryazanov as "a coward and a panic-monger". The level of
guilt of the Captain had indeed been formidable: he had offered
to break out to friendly lines instead of waiting for the Finns
the eliminate the motti.
The control of the commissars, a constant threat
to be arrested or executed, hung over the Red Army commanders as
the sword of Damocles and greatly suppressed their initiative. This
in its turn led often to poor performance, bitter defeats and terrible
1. Sovietsko-finskaya voyna 1939-1940 (Soviet-Finnish War 1939-1940)
(which I have referred to before).
2. Uniforma Krasnoy Armii i vermahta (The Uniform of the Red Army
and the Wehrmacht) P.B. Lipatov, 1995, Moscow, Tekhnika - Molodezhi
Information provided by:
St. Petersburg, Russia
(According to the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of
the USSR of 9th October 1942 the institute of the political officers
was abolished and an undivided authority of the army commanders
was at last restored. The commissars returned to their direct duties
- political propaganda. It is remarkable that hence the Red Army
had no major defeats or retreats.)
For more detailed information: