One can either approach the enemy with armor cover or in armor, or alternatively without such cover. The first case covers approaching both onboard AFV or directly behind them.
APROACH UNDER COVER OF ARMOR OR ABOARD AFV
Movement on board AFVs (whether APCs or IFVs) reduces the physical burden of the soldier, as he needs to walk less. This form of movement protects from artillery and mortar shrapnel (when a shell hits the vehicle directly, it is damaged or destroyed), as well as from frontal-arc fire from small arms and fire from low-power small arms to the vehicle’s sides.
One has to remember that anti-tank weapons – ATGMs, LAWs, HEAP and HE mortars – will destroy all contents of an AFV on impact, with the enclosed space playing its lethal role. When armor enters the range of OPFOR HEAP weaponry, it is more dangerous to be inside the vehicle than outside it. It is not possible to abandon the vehicle rapidly. Furthermore, the side armor of IFVs and APCs is vulnerable not only to heavy machinegun fire, but even to the fire of ordinary company-level machineguns, and sniper rifles firing AP rounds from close range.
It is possible to place a machinegunner on the armor, behind the turret, so that he could fire on the opponent. However, he must have hearing protection – the sound of the cannon or heavy machinegun is ear-shattering. In practice the machinegunner will only be able to fire when the vehicle is stopped – during movement his entire attention will be dedicated to avoiding falling under the tracks.
AFVs should be seen as mobile firing positions, not a means of movement during battle. The statements seen in Soviet-era manuals regarding assaults by mounted infantry, reflect the lessons of WW2, when the low concentration of AT means allowed the infantry to attack without getting out of their vehicles.
This does not mean that one should never attack aboard AFVs and fire from them. In some tactical situations, when the opponent does not possess effective AT weapons, is stunned by a surprise attack, or otherwise incapable to fire effectively at the AFVs, such a tactic is entirely permissible. Your decision should depend on the specific situation.
MOVING ON FOOT BEHIND AFVS
This method protects from frontal fire. One must remember, however, that, should the tank covering the infantry be damaged, the explosion of its ammunition can kill the infantrymen.
OPFOR fire that fails to penetrate a vehicle’s armor can still endanger the infantry with ricochets or shrapnel. Furthermore, infantry following AFVs cannot cover the entire distance to the opponent’s position. At some point the AFVs will have to stop, and the infantrymen emerging from behind the armor will become excellent targets.
It is useful to remember that only one side of the vehicle is protected from fire. Infantry can still be engaged by indirect-fire weapons or flanking fire. The fact the infantry concentrates behind the armor may attract the opponent’s attention to destroying it. The armor also possesses the quality of “attracting” OPFOR fire, which means that the infantry is best served moving at a certain distance from AFVs.
APPROACHING WITHOUT ARMOR COVER
As we have already said, AFVs can attract fire, as they are a visible, clear target. The AFVs in this case must act like infantry – move in rapid bursts of movement, from cover to cover, using their machineguns and cannon to support the infantry out in front.
That said, having vehicles fire overhead affects one’s own men psychologically, forcing them close to the ground. Furthermore, if a cannon is overheated, worn out or a shell is flawed, it is possible for the range of the gun to be cut short, resulting in friendly fire. If possible, it is best to fire in gaps between the infantry units.
When an AFV moves from cover to cover, it should not abandon cover by moving forward – this will expose its vulnerable belly to AT fire. It is best to reverse and bypass the cover from the side in a shallow, preferably in a direction that will surprise the opponent.
When armor cover is not available, movement can be carried out either walking or running without crouching, crouching, in brief bursts of running or crawling in various crawls. The rule is simple: the more intensive the fire, the closer you are to the enemy, the lower you must be. But one must not become too carried away with crawling. While it seems the safest form of movement, this is not always the case. Crawling wears out the men and is also very slow. One should not use it for moving from cover to cover, as it lengthens the time spent under fire, and the opponent will be able to literally dig up the front slope of the cover – the one on which the soldier will be crawling – with his fire. This increases the likelihood one will be hit.
We should pause to discuss a common tactical maneuver: creating no-fire corridors during artillery preparations. The corridor will be about 150 meters wide, leading from the attackers’ position to the opponents’ trench line. Along the center of this corridor, far enough away from shells detonating on each side, the attacker can approach the enemy positions, and sometimes even capture them.
The no-fire corridor
APPROACH FORMATIONS FOR INFANTRY
The general rule is the closer one is to the opponent, the smaller and more dispersed (as compared to the marching column) the groups of infantry must be. The reason is obvious – dispersed targets are harder to engage. Of course wide formations are harder to control, but dispersion is necessary to reduce casualties from the opponent’s fire. This can be delayed if one can arrange for support fire over one’s formation. However, retraining the marching column during an offensive is dangerous as it allows the entire column to be eradicated with frontal small arms fire. For a machinegunner looking at the column from the front it becomes an excellent compact target, where each bullet can hit something.
Battalion, company, and platoon columns unfold into one or two lines, generally known as echelons. Soviet-era regulations books are based on a single-echelon formation. This has its own basis, but one must not look at this as the only solution. Generally, all types of formations can be summed up as the following three:
- Forming equal echelongs
- The front echelon is weaker
- The front echelon is stronger
The advantage of a single-echelon formation is its firepower – all the weapons can be turned on the opponent. In a dual-echelon formation the second echelon is often practically uninvolved in many combat situations as it cannot fire over the first echelon, while long-ranged opponent fire forces it to move with the same difficulties, speed, and losses as the first echelon. In a sense a two-echelon formation effectively weakens itself by half.
The main principle of two-echelon formation where the first echelon is stronger is allowing a certain depth to your formation when the opponent counterattacks from the front or flank, carrying out auxiliary combat tasks such as ammunition resupply and evacuation of the wounded, as well as forming a reserve to replenish front-echelon losses.
A formation where front echelon is weaker and the rear echelon is stronger is utilized in order to have the front echelon carry out a preliminary reconnaissance, to draw out OPFOR fire and to reduce overall losses in order to preserve the main forces of the opponent for further actions.
The formation can be in a line, a range of wave-shaped lines, a wedge, a reverse wedge, a rhomboid, a square, a cross, a diagonal line or a left or right-facing slope. To evaluate the various formations one must remember the following rule – the wider the formation, the more fire you can deliver across your front line, but the lower the speed and controllability.
MOVEMENT METHODS FOR DISPERSED INFANTRY
This is based on the following principles. As we already noted in past articles, a simple rule exists: if other weapons cannot suppress the opponent’s fire effectively, the infantry must do it itself.
For this purpose, a fire-suppression group is deployed, known as a support group or fire group, so that the other group, known as the mobile group, will advance. This is a method called one foot on the ground. This works simply: the support group opens fire, suppressing the enemy while the other group advances, then the mobile group stops and the two groups trade places.
There can be variations – for example, one group can be kept constantly in the lead, with the other pulling up to support it, or the groups can trade it. The second method is more fair to the troops as they share the risk, while the first method is considered more correct, as it allows the lead group to better study the area out front when they stop and wait for the other group to pull up, therefore better preparing for the offensive.
In principle, one can use two fire groups or more to support the maneuver group, but one must remember, and avoid, the temptation to replace maneuver with fire with a pure fire battle, which can cause the offensive to fail.
The groups may be different in size. First they can be platoons – one covering the others. As groups approach they can separate – first to detachments, then to fireteams of two or three men, and eventually to individual men in fireteams.
Our next article will cover movement in groups of 2, 3, and individual men.
Translated by MicroBalrog from the site of the Tula City Spetznaz Veterans’ Community Organization