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    Not Connard Sage

    During the Cold War much was made of the Soviet’s armoured vehicles abilities to swim, wade, or snorkel with minimum preparation so as not to slow the momentum of the attack.

    Has Russia given up on the idea, or was it all cobblers?




    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.


    I ceased to keep my knowledge of all things Soviet/Russian up to date once I left the military in 1981.  What follows, therefore, may very well be cobblers.

    A lot changed after 1989, and as the frontier between NATO and the Warsaw Pact/Russia moved further east, what was the purpose of the Kremlin’s tank formations?  They certainly couldn’t reach the Rhine in a week from where they now are.  Perhaps the emphasis changed to defence?  Putin certainly seems to see existential threats everywhere.  So if that’s your military posture you won’t really need hordes of PT-76s sweeping majestically across the North German Plain.

    Hopefully Mr Salt will be along to provide a real answer in due course.

    Play is what makes life bearable - Michael Rosen

    Guy Farrish

    No doubt Mr Picky :^) will arrive with the precise answers.

    In the meantime, reading what Lester Grau thought:

    Snorkelling Russian tanks

    it would appear to not be ‘complete’ cobblers but was a lot more restricted in where it was possible and  far more time consuming than some training/propaganda videos made it look.


    Having served in the Royal Navy for a long period of time, like “Deephorse” when I left the forces I gave up my interest in all thing Soviet.  Though looking occasionally at the sad events in Ukraine from my perspective it seems the Russian military have been trying to reinvent the wheel from round to square and back again and not doing a good job of it.  I saw this happen many times in the Royal Navy as the “up and comers” think they have brilliant ideas how to change everything for the better or ditching what they perceive as out dated ideas.  Certain military things work and apart from modernising equipment due to technology advancement, maybe the old tried and tested ways work best.  Russian commanders are ham strung by indecision and fear of making a mistake, thus bad leaders, leads to bad decision.

    John D Salt

    Unfortunately that rude little man Putin does not keep me up to date with the latest developments in Russian doctrine. I was going to point to the rather good paper Guy posted; Lester Grau knows what he’s talking about.

    From the reasonable profusion of not-too-old Youtube videos showing Russian tanks going for a quick snorkel (not always with total success), I would imagine that the doctrine and equipment is much as it was during the Cold War.



    The Russians have long been noted for the quality of their rafting and bridging equipment, and when the Egyptian Army made a professionally competent job of crossing the Suez Canal in 1973 the US was, I seem to recall, sufficiently impressed to reverse-engineer a couple of items of Russian river-crossing kit.

    Exactly as in the old days, there are lots of problems to snorkelling across rivers that seem unlikely to go away. The nature of the banks on each side of the river is critical, it is probably helpful to have some preparation for the surface the tank is to drive over submerged, and the buoyancy of the air-filled tank means that steering is a much more squirrelly affair for the driver than driving on dry land. Note that, in all the videos listed above, the crossing point has obviously been well prepared. Even then, things sometimes go wrong.

    Still, it seems to me that the Russians have maintained a fairly constant emphasis on the importance of river-crossing over the decades. This is in stark contrast to the British attitude of blowing hot and cold about flotation collars, in recent times deciding our ferrying capability can be shared with the Germans, and, back when I was working on TRACER/FSCS, coming up with some frankly bloody stupid arguments to dismiss the importance of river amphibiosity.

    So I don’t think the Russians have given up on the idea, and prefer the term “technically challenging” to “cobblers” (although the terms are sometimes used synonymously in defence analysis, e.g. “I think you might find, Colonel, that the idea of shooting down hypersonic missiles using 12-bore shotguns equipped with special sights is technically challenging”). Nor do I think they have been attempting to reinvent any wheels. The rivers are still there. I think there is a simpler explanation: they are just suffering one of those bouts of blithering incompetence that have affected Russian leadership at intervals over the centuries, which is why they have just had an entire tank battalion biffed out of existence by the Ukrainians against whom they attempted a river crossing.

    Back in the 1990s, when I worked in Saudi Arabia, one of my work colleagues was an interesting chap called Big Dennis, who had done his national service as a sigint specialist in the Czech army. When the First Chechen War kicked off, Big Dennis was openly incredulous about the dismal performance the Russian Army turned in, wondering out loud why they were apparently totally ignoring their own well-established FIBUA doctrine. I think we are seeing much the same thing now — it doesn’t matter how good your doctrine or your kit if you are just going to make a tri-service joint and combined clusterfudge of the whole thing.

    I also like to think this might be partly attributable to the endearing Russian national characteristic of fighting like demons in defence of the motherland, but being a bit crap when it comes to invading other countries.

    All the best,


    Not Connard Sage

    Excellent summary John. Thanks.

    …but does that mean my 80s Cold War equivalent of a BTG can still cross rivers as though they aren’t there? 🙂

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.


    As John says, you can have all the kit and doctrine in the world, but actually crossing big rivers without the use of a bridge is always going to be an affair with considerable friction involved.

    You’d have to pay me very good money indeed to get into a submersible tank or a floating APC, especially one one with a dubious maintenance history.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke


    Thanks John an excellent and eloquent explanation.

    Not Connard Sage

    Most of what I know about Soviet weapons, tactics and doctrine comes from Isby’s ‘Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army’, which is 40 years out of date.

    I wasn’t aware that there were so many support units involved a wet river crossing, which is going to make things a bit tricky in the assault I’d imagine.

    However, given that BMP 3s are amphibious with water jet propulsion, it might seem sensible to get your infantry delivered to the other side first with artillery and air support.

    Of course increased satellite and drone surveillance is something of a game changer.

    This is looking increasingly like Challenger 2000 rather than WRG…


    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.


    Very interesting thread.

    I would be very unhappy to be in such a vehicle without knowing if the river bottom is hard enough.

    The Romans built paved fords for safe crossing…


    Guy Farrish

    The old Army Field Manual Vol II Part 3 Soviet Tactics suggested Soviet doctrine emphasised crossing a river was ‘a routine operation of war, that should be carried out from the line of march, without pausing before the obstacle or in the bridgehead and with little slackening of offensive impetus.’

    It does point out they had trouble achieving this even in training exercises, and that a failure of a crossing from the line of march will lead to a slower more extensively planned assault crossing.

    As with Grau, (unsurprisingly) it points out that while all equipment has swimming/wading/snorkelling capabilities in reality the bank gradient and quality and the river bed conditions limit this from the line of march ability.

    Crossings should be attempted at multiple crossing points simultaneously to avoid vulnerable concentrations.

    The 1991 revision (oops! bit late) of AFM Vol II Part III Soviet Tactics used to be available online but at the moment I can’t find it.

    I does look as if that ‘found this to be a difficult task’ was the takeaway lesson 31 years later. Maybe they didn’t have a copy of AFM Vol II Part III?

    Not Connard Sage

    Makes you wonder about the Warsaw Pact’s блицкриг that was so talked about during the Cold War – the Channel in a week.

    I imagine NBC would have been on the menu if the attack seemed like stalling.

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Guy Farrish

    There is quite a lot of declassified information about what we thought they would do at various periods of the Cold War (it changed quite considerably) but not so much accurate information about what they actually planned on doing.

    e.g. The Soviet Offensive Chemical Warfare Threat to NATO

    heavily redacted in parts


    DIA Soviet Chemical Weapons Threat

    From an intelligence assessment that everything would be drenched in chemicals from day one of war breaking out, analysis changed to seeing a graduated use depending on how the advance was going.

    A few slow river crossings and the west suspected the opposed bridgeheads would get a good dosing.

    As far as I know the doctrine changed post Cold War and Russian doctrine did not include offensive chemical warfare drills. But everyone tended to disbelieve them, especially as all sorts of false starts on chemical disarmament were made in the Yeltsin era. In 1997 they signed the Chemical Weapons Convention which began to have positive effects through the 2000s but for whatever reason (diplomacy and politics beyond the remit of a wargames site) Russia decided not to renew the Co-Operative Threat Reduction programme in 2012 and in public at least no-one is too sure where we stand now. All this is way past Cold War’s bedtime of course.


    Pre- 1991 we are left wondering how NBC threats are linked – if your defensive positions are hit with VX do you retaliate with tactical nukes on the assembly points? As NATO later on had destroyed its chemical weapons supplies, hadn’t it? :^), and couldn’t retaliate in kind.

    I suspect how far conventional Soviet attacks would have got would have depended on exactly when they would have taken place – there was a time in the early 80s when the mix of equipment, doctrine and numbers would have probably been their best shot. As tripwire and crust defense changed to more defence in depth and newer NATO kit came on line I suspect the Rhine in a week was unlikely never mind the channel without chemical and possibly tactical nuclear weapon assistance and then there would have been nothing to fight for anyway.



    Not Connard Sage

    As far as tanks go, I think once M1 and Challenger came into service a conventional ground war in Germany became…slightly difficult for the Warsaw Pact.

    The Russians really ought to do themselves a favour and design a tank without a feckin’ autoloader, improve ammunition stowage and think about crew survivability.

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Guy Farrish

    Hard to shrug off that ‘there’ll be another Kazakh along in a minute’ hangover from WWII.

    The T-14 Armata (if it’s not purely mythological) is supposed to have an autoloader AND improved crew survivability. They’re all in a different protected capsule from the fully auto loading/firing guns which are remotely controlled from within the capsule. Supposedly.

    They keep postponing full production runs -which may be cost issues or may be due to ‘teething troubles’ with the myriad hi tech systems which always look good in brochures but seldom work in the first few iterations when at the ‘cutting edge’ end of military technology.

    Maybe they’ve worked out there are limits to their reserve manpower/personnel pool?

    Darkest Star Games

    They keep postponing full production runs -which may be cost issues or may be due to ‘teething troubles’ with the myriad hi tech systems which always look good in brochures but seldom work in the first few iterations when at the ‘cutting edge’ end of military technology.

      If they’re looking at the current conflict they are in then I believe they’ll seriously want to change up some items on their new tank designs.  For the expense of the Armata they may want to make it more survivable against infantry AT weapons, like the NLAW.  Or, you know, put actual reactive expulsive in their reactive armor instead of egg crate.  And there’s that amphibious thing, may want that added back in since the pontoon bridges haven’t been working out for them lately.

    And of course, the biggest change they need to make is to go back to the old doctrine of “do not reinforce failure”!

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    Guy Farrish

    The Armata isn’t involved as far as I know.

    The Jordanians (with South African technical help) produced the Falcon turret – like the Armata’s remotely controlled from within the main hull of the tank. The idea being to better protect the crew and produce a lower profile. It was supposed to go on their Challenger 1s. It is being made available for other tanks.

    Maybe modern attack profile atgws will change things.

    You are right of course; at some stage there will have to be  proper analysis of what, if anything, has changed for future prospects of armoured warfare. Best not throw the baby out with the bathwater until we know what has actually happened.

    I suspect that is a whole other discussion for another day, perhaps on anther forum. Mike’s already suggested current conflicts aren’t really appropriate.

    Blitzkrieg looked unstoppable in  1940. Not so much after a thorough look afterwards. Indeed some people reckon its just a word and never actually happened.

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