Home Forums WWII German Inf vs. Russian Infantry

This topic contains 23 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by Allen Curtis Allen Curtis 5 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #5046
    quidveritas
    quidveritas
    Participant

    Opinion question:

    In your wargaming opinion, how should a German infantry squad of ’42 or ’43 differ from a Russian squad of ’44 or ’45?

    Which would be more skilled tactically?

    Which would be more likely to advance in the face of adversity?

    Which would be more likely to survive a difficult encounter (all things being equal)?

    Which would have better leadership?

    Which would exhibit greater heroism?

     

    Of course if you would care to share your reasoning that would be great as well?

     

    #5066

    dave
    Participant

    Germans might have better leadership, and may be more skilled tactically for me

    #5071
    Northern Monkey
    Northern Monkey
    Participant

    1. Germans – better trained and given more  individual freedom in decision making

    2. Depends on the person rather than the nationality IMO

    3. Germans see 1 plus better equipped in general

    4. Def. Germans, individual initiative at Junior leader lvl would IMO surpass the Russians

    5. see 2 above

    My attempt at a Blog: http://ablogofwar.blogspot.co.uk/

    #5152
    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen
    Participant

    Opinion question: In your wargaming opinion, how should a German infantry squad of ’42 or ’43 differ from a Russian squad of ’44 or ’45? Which would be more skilled tactically? Which would be more likely to advance in the face of adversity? Which would be more likely to survive a difficult encounter (all things being equal)? Which would have better leadership? Which would exhibit greater heroism? Of course if you would care to share your reasoning that would be great as well?

    I’ve slowly been coming around to the “A soldier is a soldier” view of things, especially in skirmish gaming.

    The problem is that both armies exhibit a wide range of performance: A battle hardened squad will outperform a squad with no experience at all regardless of nationality. Likewise, battles tend to come down to all the things going on around the squad.

     

    In general, Germans can rely on very good squad leaders through most of the war, particularly since the roles were a bit different. While the Red Army didn’t crush initiative quite in the way gamers like to imagine, in the end, the squad leader was there to direct the squad to where it was supposed to be, whereas the German leader was expected and encouraged to show greater initiative.

    In that vein, it seems German squads were a bit more likely to disperse out into two teams, while Soviet squads tended to stick closer together.

    Depending on rules used, give the Germans some sort of bonus to initiative or their ability to act unexpectedly. For simpler games, just give them a small bonus to morale/leadership.

    As far as heroism, that’s purely individual. 1 in 6 chance per game of some one pulling off a heroic action.

    Advancing in the face of adversity? Both armies were largely offensive-minded, so I think this would be quite equal.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by Ivan Sorensen Ivan Sorensen.

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    #5319
    Drang
    Drang
    Participant

    Comparing a German squad of ’42/’43 to a Russian one of ’44/’45?

     

    Functionally identical. The Germans have a better GPMG, but the entire squad is based around it. The Russians have far more SMGs and battle rifles.

    The Nefarious Fu Manchu....In SPAAAACE

    #5396
    Sparker
    Sparker
    Participant

    It all comes down to squad leadership. If in doubt (and who isn’t once in combat!) the German squad leader will know his Commander’s Commander’s intent (his 2 – up), and he will also know he will be praised, indeed expected, to use his initiative. Whereas the Russian sergeant, will be lucky if he knows what his platoon commander’s intent is, let alone his company commanders! Should he exercises his initiative, which he will never have been trained to do, he can expect suspicion if he is successful, and punishment if he is not. His default position, which has gotten him his present rank, is to stick doggedly to his orders, no matter how invalid they may have become. If in doubt, go to ground and await further orders. If its important, someone will come….

    That’s not to say there is evidence that at the higher echelons – division, corps and army command, the Russians were starting to permit, even encourage initiative and mission-orientated orders from 1943, but I don’t think this ever filtered down to squad level…

    As for the rest, as said above, the Germans have more firepower. As for adversity and courage, well, as Dennis Showalter explains brilliantly in his Blood and Armour there’s not much to choose between both armies’ individuals soldiers realising their best chance of survival is to stick to each other and fight it out…

     

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by Sparker Sparker.

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    #5398
    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen
    Participant

    From what I’ve read, it’s not quite as severe as that. Though the roles were certainly different: To an extent, the red army NCO was there to direct the men where to go and what to fire at, rather than come up with plans on their own.

    But when you look at people who were given awards and medals, many of them were for independent action. As long as you win, noone is going to complain how you got there 🙂

     

     

    Someone said it long ago, but it’s a nice rule of thumb in these questions: In equal numbers, Germans get +1, Yanks and Commonwealth get +0 and Reds get -1 on 1D6. High roll wins.

    Late war, the reds are no longer -1 and not all the Germans are +1.

     

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by Ivan Sorensen Ivan Sorensen.

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    #5413
    quidveritas
    quidveritas
    Participant

    Thank you all, your differing perspectives were very helpful to me.

    I tend to agree with some of you that a battle hardened squad is going to out perform others no matter what the nationality.

    IMO there is a lot of misinformation about the Russians — especially late in the war.  This having to do with propaganda pumped out by both the Soviets and the Allies.

    It appears to me that the Soviet infantry came in many flavors and trying to make them all vanilla is a mistake. They range from penal units to draftees from occupied areas (human wave material), to inexperienced trained troops, to battle hardened veterans to politically motivated fanatics.

    Accounts of small unit actions tend to support a view of an experienced Russian rifleman who knows his business well and is equally adept  at taking ground and holding it.  The proof is in the pudding.

    I do think German leaders were expected to utilize initiative if and when the opportunity presented.

    In game terms I think this means the German player may have options where the Russian player will be constrained in a similar situation.

    Arguments about fire power, given the examples may be specious.  Late war experienced Russians were armed at least as well as their opponents.  Often with German equipment!

    #5434

    Guy Bowers
    Participant

     

    You have to compare like with like, so the 1944 German squad may have had some local advantages against a similar Soviet one but given the extreme losses in manpower and experience, their only main advantage is the natural one of defending.

    Given the support available to the 1944 Soviet squad, I’ll go with them. Viewing things in isolation is one thing, as a whole another entirely. Compare German and Russian artillery doctrines for a start – or their tank doctrines (is the tank a weapon for breaking through the enemy lines or there to fight other tanks?).

    Ok, if we play Devil’s advocate just for a bit… 1942 German squad will probably be more tactically flexible but after being hit by a concentrated Soviet barrage (perfected by 1944) and having no Panzerfausts, they had better have an excellent defensible position.

    Guy

    #5800
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    When considering the balance of firepower, don’t forget that many Russian sections had two LMGs, and 6 LMGs per platoon was not vastly unusual. An MG-34 or -42 is clearly a better bet than a DP, but I doubt it has the edge over two DPs.

    Tactics-wise, the Sovs are on paper more sophisticated, using formations such as arrowhead, whereas the Germans only bother with file and line. I strongly doubt that this makes any practical difference.

    I suspect that any Soviet junior leader who took the attitude “if in doubt, go to ground and wait for orders” would be straight off to a shtrafbat. As Zhukov is supposed to have said, it takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army. And if an attack was driven to ground, the Soviet rule, same as in the Tsar’s army, was not to wait for orders, but to renew the attack on the next whole hour.

    All the best,

    John.

    #5813
    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen
    Participant

    To be fair, Panzergrenadier types often had 2 MG as well, though I don’t think that was until late war. At close quarters, the Soviets are likely to have far more sub machine guns. Self-loading rifles are probably about equal.

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    #5838
    Truscott Trotter
    Truscott Trotter
    Participant

    IIRC PG’d always had 2 LMG – one with the squad/cection and one dismounted from the Halftrack (the rear AAMG)

    #5841
    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen
    Participant

    Out of curiosity, would that be the case for truck mounted troops as well? Never quite enough half tracks to go around.

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    #5843
    Allen Curtis
    Allen Curtis
    Participant

    IIRC PG’d always had 2 LMG – one with the squad/cection and one dismounted from the Halftrack (the rear AAMG)

     

    Yarp.  Actually more that the second squad MG could be mounted on the back of the halftrack in a gepanzerte squad, since motorized Panzergrenadiers also had two MG (at least in 1940 and after), but no HT!

    See all the detail anyone could want at:

    http://www.bayonetstrength.150m.com/German/Gepanzert/armoured_panzer_grenadier_battalion.htm

    http://www.bayonetstrength.150m.com/German/Motorizert/motorized_panzer_grenadier_battalion.htm

    Allen

    #5844
    Allen Curtis
    Allen Curtis
    Participant

    By the way, I ran across this the other day when I was having problems logging in.  This would be the typical landser’s last view of a Soviet strelkovyy in late 1944:

    http://media.englishrussia.com/newimages/sovietsoldiers-5.jpg

    Thing is, his squad wouldn’t have been fighting a Soviet squad.  It would have been overrun by the tank riders of a company of T-34/85s after being shocked into senselessness by a bombardment of HE from tube artillery or Katyushas. 

    Allen

    #5871

    dave
    Participant

    Get a Forbidden to that link Allen.

    #5882
    Sparker
    Sparker
    Participant

    I suspect that any Soviet junior leader who took the attitude “if in doubt, go to ground and wait for orders” would be straight off to a shtrafbat.

    Taking my quote out of context, and following it with Stalin’s quote, doesn’t really help the debate. If you look at the context, I meant when in doubt, ie the original objective taken or circumstances changed. Going to ground when in receipt of clear attack orders would lead to trouble for our NCO in any army!

    What is more useful in gauging the likely level of initiative of Russian NCOs is the immediate post war studies conducted by the US Army in 1947-8 in interrogating German Officers who had served on the Eastern front. Whilst of course like any interrogation, the motives and recollection of these Germans has to be borne in mind, they had very close hand knowledge of the subject!

    “the Russian soldier…possesses neither the judgement nor the ability to think independently….There still remained an appreciable residue of dullness, inflexibility and apathy which has not yet been overcome…Most of the time a Russian who has to stand on his own feet does not know what to do….

    The flexibility demonstrated by the higher commands was not evident at lower levels….The Russian small unit commander’s fear of doing something wrong and being called to account for it was greater than the urge to take advantage of a situation. “

    Russian Command Methods in WW2 German Report Series, pp. 3-7.

    But lets also consult a more modern and sympathetic source, David M Glantz:

    “In contrast to the German belief in subordinate initiative, the purges and other ideological and systemic constraints convinced Red Army officers that any show of independent judgement was hazardous to their personal health.”

    Operation Barbarossa, p.21.

    If true of officers, how much more so for NCOs! No, if in doubt, wait for orders!

    Concerning the number of LMGs in a squad, yes, a Russian Rifle platoon had 2 heavy squads and 2 light. The heavy squads had 2 each, the lights 1 each, for a total of 6 in the platoon, according to the December 1942 T0 04/552. Red Army Handbook, p.23.

    Personally I’d happily trade the lot in for the 3 MG42s held by the equivalent German platoon! (So long as the ammo supply was good….)

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 1 month ago by Sparker Sparker.

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    #5908
    Allen Curtis
    Allen Curtis
    Participant

    Get a Forbidden to that link Allen.

    Better?

    I think a great deal of Dave Glantz (although not his pipe tobacco).  At Leavenworth, I used to trek across post to pick his brain, along with those of the other guys at the Soviet Army Studies Office.  They all smoked pipes; the atmosphere was thick.  Heck, Dave even agreed to be on my KU thesis committee.  But he will be the first to acknowledge that he simply does not focus at the tactical level.  He is a master of the analysis of German and Soviet operational maps.  The nuts and bolts of low-level tactics don’t much interest him.

    What he wrote on Barbarossa is not misleading for Barbarossa, in the initial period of the Great Patriotic War.  There’s a reason he titled his volume on the Red Army at the beginning of the war Stumbling Colossus.  But if you follow through with his When Titans Clashed and Colossus Reborn, you’ll see a shifting picture emerging.  This is especially apparent with his two CSI studies on August Storm in Manchuria, 1945.   Here’s the more “tactical” one:

    http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/LP8_AugustStormSovietTacticalAndOperationalCombatInManchuria_1945.pdf

    If nothing else, it’s good to review the Conclusions chapter, pp. 187-192.

    By 1944, a dramatic change had occurred.  It simply was not 1941 any more.  As Alexander Hill sums up in his The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, 1941-45: A Documentary Reader (on Manchuria, and referring to Glantz’s studies–Hill is one of the same circle of Soviet specialists): “At the tactical level, Soviet forces used ‘small, task-oriented assault groups with heavy engineer and firepower support’ rather than the human waves which had characterized Soviet tactics at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, and where possible probed, bypassed, and penetrated through the cracks of even more dense defenses rather than hurling themselves against them.  Relying more on machines than human lives, Soviet commanders exercised initiative much further down the chain of command than they had done earlier in the war.”

    As Glantz says (August Storm, p.192), the Soviets ended the war with “…an imaginative and flexible… approach to the conduct of combat, a World War II lesson often lost to Western military analysts.”  That’s no surprise.  We paid for our pet German generals to write the histories of the Eastern Front after the war; we were darned sure going to take their word for it.  But then, they lost the war, and didn’t have to pay the price of the dead landser in the snow.

    Allen

    P.S.  Full disclosure: the wintry photo is actually from the Leningrad Front, taken on 21 December 1943, showing Soviets from the 168th Infantry Division.  So it’s a little early for 1944, but makes the point.  http://visualrian.ru/ru/site/gallery/#633054

     

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 1 month ago by Allen Curtis Allen Curtis.
    #5934

    dave
    Participant

    Great! And great link thanks.

    #5955
    quidveritas
    quidveritas
    Participant

    Folks,

    Going to ground is not a permanent situation.  I strongly suspect small units frequently went to ground, displaced and began the advance anew (if so ordered).  Units catching h _ _ _ would stay down.  Certainly the presence of an enterprising officer or personal initiative by one individual can change things in the short term.  That said if the individual getting things moving again become the recipient of a posthumous medal as a result of his action, that momentum is quickly lost.

    Soviets are no exception.  The human wave attacks that many find so stereotypical were most often executed by troops of limited value (inexperienced draftees) or penal battalions.  The Soviets knew well the value of battle hardened veterans and used these troops in an appropriate manner – not unlike other armies.

    There are literally hundreds of actions involving battalion strength pinning actions launched by the Soviets following Kursk and extending to the end of the war.  These actions were never intended to succeed but rather to keep the troops to their front occupied.  A battalion that attacked at dawn would be defeated, melt away and attack again in the afternoon or evening.  This kind of activity was sustained for weeks on end on a front of 100 to 200 miles.  (’43-’44 Christmas Offensive in particular).  If you do the math, you have to conclude these attacks were intended to probe and exploit weakness if present.  If not, disengage and live to fight another day.  It is true they lost some men in these attacks but it is equally true that these losses were not so severe as to prevent the unit from resuming offensive action within a 4 to 12 hour period.  The Soviets were not merely expending bodies in these attacks.  A certain degree of sophistication undoubtedly played a part.

    #5959
    Allen Curtis
    Allen Curtis
    Participant

    That activity was often not just to pin, but as a form of reconnaissance by battle: to reveal the enemy’s disposition and fire plan.  It could be as well planned as any other attack, and could involve significant levels of artillery support.  It was part of the preparation for an operational offensive, usually.  Once the front artillery opened up for real, the enemy defenses and gun positions having been established, then it was time for the actual assaults, oriented to penetrate weak points, bypass and surround defending forces, and to destroy them.  That may be why we don’t read a lot about the final phases in many of the German accounts, due to the notable absence of survivors.

    There are often German accounts of their own cleverness in “allowing” their front-line positions to be located, then withdrawing to subsequent fighting positions while the Soviet artillery prep rained down on the vacated forward positions.  All I can say is: from the Vistula to the Oder, 300 miles and arriving within 40 miles of Berlin, crossed in 21 days–faster than the allied race across eastern France in pursuit of the shattered German forces.  Well done, Fritz!  You may not have noticed, but you probably weren’t the real target that day when you “dodged” the Red God of War.

    Allen

    #5967
    quidveritas
    quidveritas
    Participant

    Excellent points Mr. Curtis!

    #5974
    Sparker
    Sparker
    Participant

    Soviets are no exception.

    Of course not. And the arguments above that the Red Army developed and extended initiative downwards are compelling.

    I would also recommend, in returning to the wargaming context, a read of John D Salt’s excellent article on Russian Tactics here:

    http://www.wargaming.co/rules/dunnkempf/articles/russiantactics.htm

    in which John points out some obvious disconnects between Russian tactics (in this case set in the Cold War, but probably also applicable to 1944-45) and most sets of wargames rules…

    But, returning to the question in the OP, I still think, on balance, the Soviet squad will tend to show less initiative than the German one, and be in possession of less information about their 2-up’s intent. The German squad leaders are the product of an Army teaching mission orientated orders since 1918, whereas for the Russians, initiative is more likely to be just the latest slogan, the security of ‘need -to-know’ is paramount, and punishment for your actions being misinterpreted is likely to be irreversible.

    I don’t say this as a German fan-boy, just my take on the history; actually when I wargame, if given the choice I prefer to play the Soviets! Although I have to say I am rarely able to enjoy the advantages the rules should give me as stated in John’s article – you can only do so much when the dice gods laugh in your face!

    http://sparkerswargames.blogspot.com.au/
    'Blessed are the peacekeepers, for they shall need to be well 'ard'
    Matthew 5:9

    #5986
    Allen Curtis
    Allen Curtis
    Participant

    “…you can only do so much when the dice gods laugh in your face!”

    And therein lies one of the great truths of human struggle, as reflected in military maxims from “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” to “Sh** happens.”  Napoleon of course reportedly inquired concerning a general, “Est-il heureux?”

    It is the commander’s responsibility to set condition which will minimize the effects of unpredictability, chaos, random dice results, however one views it.  In my opinion, at the beginning of the war, Germans were better at managing chaos, but as the war proceeded, the Soviets got a heck of a lot better at it.

    Now excuse me, but I need to get back to playing World of Tanks in my Duck.  It is a silly thing, but epitomizes the chaotic nature of combat rather well.

    Allen

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