Home Forums WWII Soviet infantry tactics, 1925

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #108508
    John D Salt

    The following is my translation of a piece I found on-line, but the forum will not let me post the URL.

    I found it interesting for its clear understanding of covering fire tactics and the importance of MG (including LMG) fire. It seemed a bit weird that the otherwise clear-thinking Tukhachevsky seemed to be having an off day with, I thought, some pretty odd ideas about the employment of MMGs, and misjudging the flexibility of German command and control.

    The only other place I can think of where such low-level use of MMGs occurs (apart from the “Crossfire” rules) is Marshall’s account of ChiCom infantry tactics in Korea, where MMGs are brought up to what I would consider insanely short ranges in the attack.

    All the best,


    – – – – – – – – – – – cut here – – – – – – – – – – –

    Questions of Infantry Organisation and Tactics
    Translation of Вопросы организации и тактики пехоты by Tukhachevsky, in: “Vystrel” (“The Shot”) No. 2, pp. 7-17, 1925.
    This article does not claim to consider or study the matter of the organization and tactics of infantry in its entirety. I will try to concentrate on the main points that are now particularly important for us. Although last summer we all had to think a lot about the issues of organization and infantry tactics, still it will now be useful to highlight a few details and cases that were little discussed in the summer debate.
    New infantry tactics have arisen, mainly due to the development of weapons during the Imperialist War, towards the end of which companies were equipped with a large number of light machine guns; this was required both in defensive and offensive conditions. The powerful development of artillery fire, complete neutralization and the destruction of the forward line compelled the defending infantry to leave the minimum number of troops in the forward localities, withdrawing their main forces to the rear, where they could organize defensive fire and an energetic counter attack with concentrated forces against an enemy that had broken through.
    It is quite clear that isolated riflemen, no matter how well they shot, could not achieve the task of holding the attacking enemy after a solid artillery preparation. We had to seek a lighter weapon that would allow individuals hiding in shell craters to independently produce sufficiently powerful fire to be able to stop a significant attacking mass of the enemy. The medium machine gun, of course, was highly suitable for such a purpose, but not in all cases, since one person cannot operate it alone, changing position is extremely difficult for him, and it is difficult to adapt it to the ground at close ranges. It was necessary to look for a lighter machine gun, which could be handled by one infantryman, which would not make it difficult for the infantryman to change positions, and which would not unmask him even at the closest ranges. The light machine gun proved to be just such a new device, and it was distributed in large numbers to rifle infantry units, right down to squads. With the help of these machine guns, combining their fire with the fire of heavy machine guns, it was indeed possible to create dispersed, deep fortified zones offering a difficult target for both enemy artillery and machine-gun fire. The enemy would suffer severe losses and disruption breaking through it, and reach the second line of resistance much battered and with reduced impetus, where the main infantry strength lay in wait.
    Light machine guns played an even greater role in the attack. The medium machine gun, heavy and slow-moving, was hard to use in the difficult conditions of breaking through fortified zones at the end of a positional war. Solid fields of craters, wire obstacles, scattered about even if destroyed, multiple lines of communication, etc. – all this made movement of the mounted machine gun very difficult unless it was disassembled. It is quite natural that in such conditions light machine guns were the best weapons for forward infantry units, which, acting against the enemy’s weapon nests, naturally had to be divided into separate groups with significant fire power capable of performing independent tasks. This method of attack has fully justified itself: first, it is the most expedient way to act against scattered machine-gun nests; second, it allows the widest use of the terrain and all means of camouflage, and, finally, it incurs lighter losses from artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire. The Germans, using this novel approach to operations for the first time in the spring of 1918, went further along the path of developing the independence of small infantry units armed with light machine guns.
    Of course, infantry tactics are originally developed by trial and error, as the occasion permits, time being lacking for a firm theoretical grounding. Only at the end of the war was the experience of 1918 beginning to be generally put into effect; it became quite obvious that the ratio of firepower in the infantry company between riflemen and machine guns did not favour the riflemen. Machine guns, though fewer in number, produced much more firepower. At the same time, these weapons and their machine gunners did not differ in appearance from ordinary riflemen, and therefore did not attract special attention from the enemy. The question naturally arose of switching the main effort of the fire fight from the medium to the light machine guns. What did this accomplish? First of all, firepower was not weakened, but the order of battle was thinned significantly, and this made it possible for light machine guns not just to engage individual targets, but to echelon them in depth with interlocking fire covering the intervals between neighbours. Thanks to this subdivision of advancing fire units, both along the front and in depth, significant concealment of our entire offensive movement was achieved. Of course, the riflemen and bombers must attack in the same way, but since they do not have the task of producing mass fire, they need not always be in open skirmish lines, but, rather, have the task of reaching the start line in the freshest possible condition, in most cases it is more profitable for riflemen to move from cover to cover, rather than from skirmish line to skirmish line. These rushes are made under the massed covering fire of light machine guns, supported by medium machine gun fire.
    In defence, the main effort falls to the interlocking fire of light and heavy machine guns centred on the front and in depth. The riflemen are located on the reverse slopes and in reserve, and fire by unit in support of the integrated fire of the machine-guns.
    It must be said that the principles of the new tactics certainly account for the characteristics of automatic weapons, the characteristics of small arms, and the demands of the bayonet assault. But here it is necessary to stipulate that this whole thing, undoubtedly a living picture of the new deep tactics, has not been created without giving rise to a highly theoretical and harmful delusion. The creation of a clear sharp line between riflemen and machine guns, and the new deep tactics that have proceeded from it, have led to a further progression, not so much on the basis of combat experience, but on the basis of a formal, logically correct analogy of form. The most important delusion is that the medium machine gun, since it is not as mobile as a light machine gun, since it must be operated by several people, since it exposes itself to open fire and takes time to change position, should not be seen as a weapon for forward localities, and that the medium machine gun, for accuracy, should be equipped with optical sights, etc. Development of the above considerations led to the conclusion that it was more advantageous to use a heavy machine gun to shoot over the heads of advancing infantry, mainly at long range and no closer than medium. At distances closest to the attack, it is as if the machine gun has no real use, and serves to connect the troops rather than to push them forward.
    Of course, this conclusion is absolutely not viable. True, it would be harmful to deny the ability of the medium machine gun to operate en masse and effectively strike distant targets; but it is downright absurd to argue that the machine gun has no place in infantry close combat and is an encumbrance to infantry manoeuvre. Practical combat experience in a war of movement has demonstrated quite clearly that the mounted machine gun, even one as heavy as the brassbound Maxim, was always the most trustworthy friend of the infantry fighting line and never lagged behind. True, during the both the Imperialist and Civil wars, we note that medium machine guns consolidated into machine-gun brigades or companies, were not accustomed to acting in small elements as part of minor infantry units. On the other hand, lower infantry commanders also knew little of the handling of machine guns, or their technical and tactical characteristics. Such harmful conditions, of course, always signified the inappropriate use of medium machine guns. But after all, despite this, the infantry always held on to the Maxim, never letting it away from the forward units. It would seem that this experience is not concerned with those abstract conclusions that I mentioned above, but rather that small infantry units were inadequately trained in the employment of medium machine guns. It would seem that the soundest way out of this situation would be the well-known decentralization of machine guns, their introduction into smaller units, and their close tactical proximity even in peacetime, so that in wartime we would work with full liaison and understanding of each other.
    Let us now turn to various armies and see what organized response they made to the new conditions imposed by tactics.
    France, followed by Poland, took the path of simplifying infantry manoeuvre as much as possible. The French infantry platoon has four combat groups, each of split into two teams: machine-gun and grenadier-voltigeur. For the French, the combat group, and for the Poles, the squad is the lowest indivisible tactical sub-unit. Combat groups have considerable autonomy during the advance and the attack. We see that the execution of the main infantry manoeuvre is entrusted to the leader of such a group; he must co-ordinate the advance of his grenadiers for the bayonet and grenade assault with the fire of his machine-gun section. It should be noted that of course this is no easy business, made so by the following circumstances. First, recognizing that rifle fire can only be single-shot, and unable to contend with the enemy’s machine gun fire, it has to be admitted that the advance of the light machine gun is not seriously supported by anyone in the combat group. If the LMG really gets the grenadiers forward, then the latter cannot, in turn, see the LMG forward when needed. Obviously, the help of neighbouring combat groups will be required, which, in all likelihood, will be a matter of private initiative of the latter, since, having delegated the freedom to organize manoeuvre, platoon commanders are unlikely to be able to take control in the heat of battle. On the one hand, the platoon commander is, under the Franco-Polish infantry system, in the full sense of the word, a bellhop commander. In other words, he does not have at his disposal any particular means by which he could regulate the manoeuvre of his combat groups, as all the sources of fire are in the hands of the latter. On the other hand, the combat groups, as already indicated above, are not fully capable of manoeuvre, since it is necessary to have at least two fighting units. Obviously, in the sense of manoeuvring, it would be more correct to organize a combat group so that it had two light machine guns and one grenadier section, but it seems that in the French view such an organization would constitute undue reliance on technology for the infantry.
    Secondly, it must be borne in mind that the non-commissioned officer cadre, who will lead the combat groups, are unlikely to be prepared to meet in full all the demands made on the commander in modern, complex infantry manoeuvre. It may be that the cadre of long-service non-commissioned officers will cope with this task, but non-commissioned officers who have come from the reserve, and the non-commissioned officer cadre that will remain by the end of a war, are unlikely to cope well with this task. It is rather risky to shift the main tactical leadership from officers to non-commissioned officers. There is no doubt that, whatever the measures taken by the French military administration as to the costs of training non-commissioned officers, it is unlikely to be able to match those at the officer level. The Polish government will be even less able to handle such a task.
    Romania, in all likelihood due to the lack of light machine guns, adopted a somewhat curtailed French organization. The Romanian infantry platoon has three combat groups, of which two are organized on the French model, but with a large number of riflemen, and the third is a purely rifle element lacking a light machine gun. At first glance it may seem that the organization of fire and movement in the Romanian infantry has been handed over to the platoon commander, who pushes the two combat groups forward alternately with machine gun fire and leads his third assault section to the asault line under the cover of their fire. However, a more careful study of the Romanian structure shows that it is only a way out of the lack of light machine guns. The machine gun combat groups are overburdened with riflemen, and at the same time these combat groups, having, like the French, two sections of machine guns and grenadiers, must organize manoeuvre within themselves. Therefore it is natural that the fire of light machine guns will really always be used in the interests of the combat group itself, not those of the whole platoon. Thanks to this, the influence of the platoon commander will be as insignificant as in the case of the French organization, with the only difference being that the third assault group will reach the assault line with greater difficulty than the French or Polish infantry.
    Germany, despite the fact that it established a 12-year term of army service under the Treaty of Versailles and so seemingly could prepare truly reliable non-commissioned officers, did not follow the French organizational path, but rather its own, in which the control of fire and movement lies not with the group, but with the platoon. The German platoon has two machine-gun groups and two or three rifle groups. Covered by the rolling fire of the light machine gun groups, infantry works up to their jump-off positions for an attack. Perhaps a consideration that played a role in this question for Germany is the fact that, under the Versailles Treaty, they were not permitted to have more weapons and, therefore, like us, had to go to such an organization. But it is thought that even so the main reason is the tactical consideration that the centre of gravity for an infantry tactic cannot be removed from an officer and passed down to a non-commissioned officer.
    Medium machine guns in all armies are combined into machine-gun companies and assigned to battalions and regiments. Not a single Western European army has embarked on the path of decentralization of medium machine-guns, so keeping them aloof from direct participation in the cauldron of infantry close combat.
    Our organization is in many ways similar to the German organization, not, of course, because we rely heavily on German combat experience and abilities, but because, first, we could not stay with the flashy old organization due to the lack of light and medium machine guns, and, second, because, due to a number of circumstances connected to the abolition of the one-year command course, we had to switch our infantry commanders from company to platoon. If earlier everyone completing the courses had to take on the task of company commander, then the transition to a normal three-year infantry course forced us to refuse this and start the commander’s service with a small platoon. These are the two main circumstances that made us follow the path of the new organization, although, of course, there were a number of other considerations that encouraged us to do so.
    In our rifle platoon the idea of combining fire and movement is very clearly emphasized. Everything it is possible to have in a rifle platoon we put into the rifle squad. Machine-gun squads are only firing units and have the number of people needed for the full service of light machine guns. The thought has often been expressed that it would be useful to fill out our rifle squads, with 11-13 men. Of course, this would increase the assault power of the platoon, but, first, it would lower the concentration of machine guns in the infantry, and, second, it would make it harder for the machine guns located in depth to produce interlocking fire covering intervals between the rifle squads when they attack in formations other than columns (blobs, lines). These considerations forced us to stop at three sections of 9 men each. With this solution, another doubt arose: is the number of subordinate elements too much of a burden for the platoon leader? Going by the experience of all foreign armies, we see that the platoon commander has at least four units subordinate to him. Thus, for us the subordination of five sub-units is not just a bad idea in itself, but a sharp jump from three to five. Of course, there is a slight drawback to this case, if not in the first days of the war, then later, when the quality of our commanders decreases. But one should not forget that, first, the platoon commander can use the third rifle section as his command element. Even in the old platoon, the commander always used messengers and had at least four of them; in modern combat, when control has become much more difficult, this number will never suffice for the platoon commander, and so, leading whole infantry squads, the platoon commander will have greater control opportunities than with the previous four elements. However, this element will not be able to move to the assault line and go in with bayonets. At the same time, the benefit will be that the platoon commander will not violate the organization of the subordinate units, summoning individuals from their composition. Finally, the platoon commander has an assistant, to whom he can always entrust the unification of two or even three elements. Sometimes, according to the situation, he will be able to combine the action of rifle squads, sometimes machine guns, and, in any case, in this matter the platoon leader will always have broad scope for tactical creativity.
    A completely independent decision in our organization is the sharp decentralization of medium machine gun arrangements: we introduced medium machine guns into the company and even platoon. True, we have recently replaced them with light machine guns, but this is a big step forward. Under these conditions, we will certainly teach our company and platoon commanders the tactical use of medium machine guns in peacetime, which in wartime would no longer be possible. We often hear that the machine gun makes the platoon heavier, makes it impossible to manoeuvre, and the main drawback of including a heavy machine gun in the platoon is that our junior commanders cannot cope with such a complex weapon. It seems to me that these arguments speak positively in favour of the new organization. After all, even the most ardent supporters of the centralization of medium machine guns still admit that in battle, medium machine guns will constantly have to be in the front line. Since this is so, once it becomes necessary, it is surely not done just to encumber our advanced units, but in order to help them move forward. Second, if we believe that our junior commanders will not be able to use medium machine guns now, how can we give them to them in a war, in actual combat? After all, then they will not be able to cope with this complex and difficult matter. It is obvious that only by including medium machine guns in our lower infantry units will we be able to teach both our middle and junior command personnel the appropriate use of medium machine guns and the clear interaction between them, light machine guns and riflemen. Our rifle platoon is a very flexible sub-unit, it has two firing elements, one of them with medium machine guns, the other with light machine guns. This allows the platoon commander the most extensive and diverse tactical combinations. Even if we assume that on completely flat terrain, unable to successfully apply the Maxim machine gun to the area, the platoon commander will have difficulty advancing the latter, which, in any case, may be no further than 500-600 meters, then under the cover of the medium machine gun the platoon commander always manages to push his light machine gun to the final firing line and, under the cover of the fire of both machine guns, to advance the riflemen. If even in the end the machine gun has to stop its fire, the light machine gun will take on this task and be able to ensure the further advance of the rifles. Even in this worst case that you can imagine, with the medium machine gun of the platoon deprived of the opportunity to act, immediately after the attack and breakthrough, it will be the best way to secure the occupied space and allow the platoon, without stopping its rapid offensive and not weakening its personnel, firmly and finally to secure the occupied locality. There is no doubt that during the battle the platoon commander will receive another medium machine gun in support from his company commander, and, of course, he will never refuse him.
    Of course, one has to admit that the medium machine gun is very heavy; it would be desirable to lighten it in every possible way, for which, of course, there are possibilities. But this circumstance, that is, the heavy weight of the machine gun of today, is not at all a reason to throw out the medium machine gun from the game of close combat.
    Overall, we must certainly recognize that our new organization of infantry is fully in line with modern requirements of infantry tactics. In this regard, we are not lagging behind the Western European armies, but in the field of medium machine gunnery we certainly surpass them, since we sharply broke away from the principle of centralization and mixed medium machine-guns into both the company and the platoon.


    That is totally fascinating, many thanks!



    It would help explain their subsequent interest and enthusiasm for the widespread use of the LMG and SMG in the attack.


      Very interesting and surprising, thanks!



    Rivetting stuff.


    It seemed a bit weird that the otherwise clear-thinking Tukhachevsky seemed to be having an off day with, I thought, some pretty odd ideas about the employment of MMGs, and misjudging the flexibility of German command and control. The only other place I can think of where such low-level use of MMGs occurs (apart from the “Crossfire” rules) is Marshall’s account of ChiCom infantry tactics in Korea, where MMGs are brought up to what I would consider insanely short ranges in the attack.

    So he was effectively saying that the infantry platoon needs the firepower of a belted machinegun, regardless of the clart in lugging around the kit to achieve it?


    John D Salt

    So he was effectively saying that the infantry platoon needs the firepower of a belted machinegun, regardless of the clart in lugging around the kit to achieve it?

    Possibly — although as all the WW2 Soviet orgs I know of put the MMGs back to company level, I suspect this is just to paper over a temporary lack of LMGs. In 1925 the Red Army had only just adopted the Maxim-Tokarev, one of those few dreadful LMGs prodced by taking a perfectly good MMG, hacking off the water jacket, putting it on a bipod, and trying to pretend that it’s “light” (the Maxim 08/15 and 08/18 and the Browning M1919A6 are the only other such guns I’m aware of to be accepted for service). They were also still toying with the Avtomat Fyodorova, an idea perhaps ahead of its time, and one I’m a little disappointed Tukhachevsky doesn’t mention — surely revolutionary weapons are what the RKKA should be all about.

    Having said that I was not aware of other organisations with an MMG at platoon level, I was of course forced to eat my words the very next day while casting my eye over the German orbat for the battle of Port-en-Bessin; the KStN for a Schutzenkompanie of the 15 Welle has three platoons each with 4 gruppen each with 1 leMG, and an sMG at platoon.

    All the best,



    Great stuff, thanks John.

    The allocation of MMGs in German organisations of the 1930s and 40s is often a bit mysterious!

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

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.