Soviet Spetsnaz Tactics - Dagger and Cloak

Friday, 21 September 2007

Soviet Spetsnaz Tactics

Before spetsnaz units can begin active operations behind the enemy's lines they have to get there. The Soviet high command has the choice of either sending spetsnaz troops behind the enemy's lines before the outbreak of war, or sending them there after war has broken out. In the first case the enemy may discover them, realise that war has already begun and possibly press the buttons to start a nuclear war — pre-empting the Soviet Union. But if spetsnaz troops are sent in after the outbreak of war, it may be too late. The enemy may already have activated its nuclear capability, and then there will be nothing to put out of action in the enemy's rear: the missiles will be on their way to Soviet territory. One potential solution to the dilemma is that the better, smaller part of spetsnaz -the professional athletes — arrives before all-out war starts, taking extreme measures not to be discovered, while the standard units penetrate behind enemy lines after war has started.

In every Soviet embassy there are two secret organisations — the KGB rezidentura and the GRU rezidentura. The embassy and the KGB rezidentura are guarded by officers of the KGB frontier troops, but in cases where the GRU rezidentura has a complement of more than ten officers, it has its own internal spetsnaz guard. Before the outbreak of a war, in some cases several months previously, the number of spetsnaz officers in a Soviet embassy may be substantially increased, to the point where practically all the auxiliary personnel in the embassy, performing the duties of guards, cleaners, radio-operators, cooks and mechanics, will be spetsnaz athletes. With them, as their 'wives', women athletes from spetsnaz may turn up in the embassy. Similar changes of staff may take place in the many other Soviet bodies — the consulate, the commercial representation, the offices of Aeroflot, Intourist, TASS, Novosti and so forth.

The advantages of this arrangement are obvious, but it is not without its dangers. The principal danger lies in the fact that these new terrorist groups are based right in the centre of the country's capital city, uncomfortably close to government offices and surveillance. But within days, possibly within hours, before the outbreak of war they can, with care, make contact with the spetsnaz agent network and start a real war in the very centre of the city, using hiding places already prepared.

Part of their support will come from other spetsnaz groups which have recently arrived in the country in the guise of tourists, teams of sportsmen and various delegations. And at the very last moment large groups of fighting men may suddenly appear out of Aeroflot planes, ships in port, trains and Soviet long-distance road transport ('Sovtransavto'). Simultaneously there may be a secret landing of spetsnaz troops from Soviet submarines and surface vessels, both naval and merchant. (Small fishing vessels make an excellent means of transport for spetsnaz. They naturally spend long periods in the coastal waters of foreign states and do not arouse suspicion, so spetsnaz groups can spend a long time aboard and can easily return home if they do not get an order to make a landing). At the critical moment, on receipt of a signal, they can make a landing on the coast using aqualungs and small boats. Spetsnaz groups arriving by Aeroflot can adopt much the same tactics. In a period of tension, a system of regular watches may be introduced. This means that among the passengers on every plane there will be a group of commandos. Having arrived at their intended airport and not having been given a signal, they can remain aboard the aircraft (An aircraft is considered to be part of the territory of the country to which it belongs, and the pilot's cabin and the interior of the plane are not subject to foreign supervision.) and go back on the next flight. Next day another group will make the trip, and so on. One day the signal will come, and the group will leave the plane and start fighting right in the country's main airport. Their main task is to capture the airport for the benefit of a fresh wave of spetsnaz troops or airborne units (VDV).

It is a well-known fact that the 'liberation' of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 began with the arrival at Prague airport of Soviet military transport planes with VDV troops on board. The airborne troops did not need parachutes; the planes simply landed at the airport. Before the troops disembarked there was a moment when both the aircraft and their passengers were completely defenceless. Was the Soviet high command not taking a risk? No, because the fact is that by the time the planes landed, Prague airport had already been largely paralysed by a group of 'tourists' who had arrived earlier.

Spetsnaz groups may turn up in the territory of an enemy from the territory of neutral states. Before the outbreak of war or during a war spetsnaz groups may penetrate secretly into the territory of neutral states and wait there for an agreed signal or until a previously agreed time. One of the advantages of this is that the enemy does not watch over his frontiers with neutral countries as carefully as he does over his frontiers with Communist countries. The arrival of a spetsnaz group from a neutral state may pass unnoticed both by the enemy and the neutral state.

But what happens if the group is discovered on neutral territory? The answer is simple: the group will go into action in the same way as in enemy territory — avoid being followed, kill any witnesses, use force and cunning to halt any pursuers. They will make every effort to ensure that nobody from the group gets into the hands of their pursuers and not to leave any evidence about to show that the group belongs to the armed forces of the USSR. If the group should be captured by the authorities of the neutral state, Soviet diplomacy has enormous experience and some well-tried counter-moves. It may admit its mistake, make an official apology and offer compensation for any damage caused; it may declare that the group lost its way and thought it was already in enemy territory; or it may accuse the neutral state of having deliberately seized a group of members of the Soviet armed forces on Soviet territory for provocative purposes, and demand explanations, apologies and compensation, accompanied by open threats.

Experience has shown that this last plan is the most reliable. The reader should not dismiss it lightly. Soviet official publications wrote at the beginning of December 1939 that war was being waged against Finland in order to establish a Communist regime there, and a Communist government of 'people's Finland' had already been formed. Thirty years later Soviet marshals were writing that it was not at all like that: the Soviet Union was simply acting in self-defence. The war against Finland, which was waged from the first to the last day on Finnish territory, is now described as 'repelling Finnish aggression' (Marshal K. A. Meretskov, Na Sluzhbe na rodu (In the Service of the People), 1968.) and even as 'fulfilling the plan for protecting our frontiers.' (Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky, Delo Vselgesnle (A Life's Work), 1968.)

The Soviet Union is always innocent: it only repels perfidious aggressors. On other people's territory.

The principal way of delivering the main body of spetsnaz to the enemy's rear after the outbreak of war is to drop them by parachute. In the course of his two years' service every spetsnaz soldier makes thirty-five to forty parachute jumps. Spetsnaz professionals and officers have much greater experience with parachutes; some have thousands of jumps to their credit.

The parachute is not just a weapon and a form of transport. It also acts as a filter which courageous soldiers will pass through, but weak and cowardly men will not. The Soviet Government spends enormous sums on the development of parachute jumping as a sport. This is the main base from which the airborne troops and spetsnaz are built up. On 1 January 1985 the FAI had recorded sixty-three world records in parachute jumping, of which forty-eight are held by Soviet sportsmen (which means the Soviet Army). The Soviet military athlete Yuri Baranov was the first man in the world to exceed 13,000 jumps. Among Soviet women the champion in the number of jumps is Aleksandra Shvachko — she has made 8,200 jumps. The parachute psychosis continues.

In peacetime military transport planes are used for making parachute drops. But this is done largely to prevent the fact of the existence of spetsnaz from spreading. In wartime military transports would be used for dropping spetsnaz groups only in exceptional circumstances. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, the whole fleet of military transport planes would be taken up with transporting the airborne forces (VDV), of which there are an enormous number. Apart from which, military aviation would have other difficult missions to perform, such as the transport of troops within the country from passive, less important sectors to the areas where the main fighting was taking place. Secondly, the majority of military transports are enormous aircraft, built for moving people and equipment on a large scale, which do not suit the purposes of spetsnaz. It needs small planes that do not present large targets and carry no more than twenty or thirty people. They must also be able to fly at very low level without much noise. In some cases even smaller aircraft that take eight to ten, or down to three or four parachutists, are needed.

However, the official term 'civil aviation', which is the source of most spetsnaz transport in wartime, is a substantial misnomer. The minister for civil aviation bears, quite officially, the rank of air chief marshal in the Air Force. His deputies bear the rank of generals. The whole of Aeroflot's flying personnel have the ranks of officers of the reserve. In the event of war Aeroflot simply merges with the Soviet Air Force, and the reserve officers then become regular officers with the same rank.

It has more than enough small aircraft for the business of transporting and supplying spetsnaz units. The best of them are the Yakovlev-42 and the Yakovlev-40, very manoeuvrable, reliable, low-noise planes capable of flying at very low altitudes. They have one very important construction feature — passengers embark and disembark through a hatch at the bottom and rear of the aircraft. If need be, the hatch cover can be removed altogether, giving the parachutists an exit as on a military transport plane, which makes it possible to drop them in complete safety. Another plane that has great possibilities for spetsnaz is the Antonov-72 — an exact copy of the American YC-14 of which the plans were stolen by GRU spies.

But how can spetsnaz parachutists use ordinary civil jet-propelled aircraft, which passengers enter and leave by side doors? The doors cannot be opened in flight. And if they were made to open inwards instead of outwards, it would be exceptionally dangerous for a parachutist to leave the plane, because the force of the current of air would press the man back against the body of the plane. He might be killed either from the force with which he bounced back against the plane, or through interference with the opening of his parachute.

The problem has been solved by a very simple device. The door is arranged to open inwards, and a wide tube made of strong, flexible, synthetic material is allowed to hang out. As he leaves the door the parachutist finds himself in a sort of three-metre long corridor which he slides down so that he comes away from the aircraft when he is slightly to one side and below the fuselage.

Variations on this device were first used on Ilyushin-76 military transport planes. The heavy equipment of the airborne troops was dropped out of the huge rear freight hatch, while at the same time the men were leaving the plane through flexible 'sleeves' at the side. The West has not given this simple but very clever invention its due. Its importance lies not only in the fact that the time taken to drop Soviet parachutists from transport planes has been substantially reduced, with the result that every drop is safer and that forces are much better concentrated on landing. What it also means is that practically any jet-propelled civil aircraft can now be used for dropping parachute troops.

The dropping of a spetsnaz unit can be carried out at any time of the day or night. Every time has its advantages and its problems. Night-time is the spetsnaz soldier's ally, when the appearance of a group of spetsnaz deep in the enemy's rear may not be noticed at all. Even if the enemy were aware of the group's arrival, it is never easy to organise a full-scale search at night, especially if the exact landing place is not known and may be somewhere inaccessible where there are forests and hills or mountains with few roads and no troops on the spot. But at night there are likely to be casualties among the parachutists as they land. The same problems of assembly and orientation which face the pursuit troops face the spetsnaz unit too.

During the day, obviously, there are fewer accidents on landing; but the landing will be seen. Deliberate daytime landings may sometimes be carried out for the simple reason that the enemy does not expect such brazen behaviour at such a time.

In many cases the drop will be carried out early in the morning while there are still stars in the sky and the sun has not risen. This is a very good time if large numbers of soldiers are being dropped who are expected to go straight into battle and carry out their mission by means of a really sudden attack. In that case the high command does its best to ensure that the groups have as much daylight as possible for active operations on the first, most important day of their mission.

But every spetsnaz soldier's favourite time for being dropped is at sunset. The flight is calculated so that the parachutists' drop is carried out in the last minutes before the onset of darkness. The landing then takes place in the twilight when it is still light enough to avoid landing on a church spire or a telegraph pole. In half an hour at the most darkness will conceal the men and they will have the whole night ahead of them to leave the landing area and cover their tracks.

On its own territory spetsnaz has a standard military structure: section, platoon, company, battalion, brigade; or section, platoon, company, regiment. This organisation simplifies the control, administration and battle training of spetsnaz. But this structure cannot be used on enemy territory.

The problem is, firstly, that every spetsnaz operation is individual and unlike any other; a plan is worked out for each operation, which is unlike any other. Each operation consequently requires forces organised, not in a standard fashion, but adapted to the particular plan.

Secondly, when it is on enemy territory, a spetsnaz unit is in direct communication with a major headquarters, at the very least the headquarters of an all-arm or tank army, and orders are received in many cases directly from a high-level HQ. A very long chain of command is simply not needed.

On operations a simple and flexible chain of command is used. The organisational unit on enemy territory is known officially as the reconnaissance group of spetsnaz (RGSN). A group is formed before the beginning of an operation and may contain from two to thirty men. It can operate independently or as part of a detachment (ROSN), which consists of between thirty and 300 or more men. The detachment contains groups of various sizes and for various purposes. The names 'detachment' and 'group' are used deliberately, to emphasise the temporary nature of the units. In the course of an operation groups can leave a detachment and join it again, and each group may in turn break up into several smaller groups or, conversely, come together with others into one big group. Several large groups can join up and form a detachment which can at any moment split up again. The whole process is usually planned before the operation begins. For example: the drop may take place in small groups, perhaps fifteen of them altogether. On the second day of the operation (D+1) eight of the groups will join up into one detachment for a joint raid, while the rest operate independently. On D+2 two groups are taken out of the detachment to form the basis of a new detachment and another six groups link up with the second detachment. On D+5 the first detachment splits up into groups and on D+6 the second group splits up, and so on. Before the beginning of the operation each group is informed where and when to meet up with the other groups and what to do in case the rendezvous is not kept.

Having landed in enemy territory spetsnaz may go straight into battle. Otherwise, it will hide the equipment it no longer needs -boats, parachutes, etc — by either burying them in the ground or sinking them in water. Very often it will then mine the drop area. The mines are laid where the unwanted equipment has been buried. The area is also treated with one of a number of substances which will confuse a dog's sense of smell. After that, the group (of whatever size) will break up into little sub-groups which depart quickly in different directions. A meeting of the sub-groups will take place later at a previously arranged spot or, if this proves problematic, at one of the several alternative places which have been agreed.

The drop area is usually the first place where casualties occur. However good the parachute training is, leg injuries and fractures are a frequent occurrence, and when the drop takes place in an unfamiliar place, in complete darkness, perhaps in fog, over a forest or mountains, they are inevitable. Even built-up areas provide their own hazards. Spetsnaz laws are simple and easy to understand. In a case of serious injury the commander cannot take the wounded man with him; doing so would greatly reduce the group's mobility and might lead to the mission having to be aborted. But the commander cannot, equally, leave the wounded man alone. Consequently a simple and logical decision is taken, to kill the wounded man. Spetsnaz has a very humane means of killing its wounded soldiers -a powerful drug known to the men as 'Blessed Death'. An injection with the drug stops the pain and quickly produces a state of blissful drowsiness. In the event that a commander decides, out of misguided humanity, to take the wounded man with him, and it looks as if this might jeopardise the mission, the deputy commander is under orders to dispatch both the wounded man and the commander. The commander is removed without recourse to drugs. It is recommended that he be seized from behind with a hand over his mouth and a knife blow to his throat. If the deputy does not deal with his commander in this situation, then not just the commander and his deputy, but the entire group may be regarded as traitors, with all the inevitable consequences.

As they leave the area of the drop the groups and sub-groups cover their tracks, using methods that have been well known for centuries: walking through water and over stones, walking in each other's footsteps, and so forth. The groups lay more mines behind them and spread more powder against dogs.

After leaving the drop zone and having made sure that they are not being followed, the commander gives orders for the organisation of a base and a reserve base, safe places concealed from the view of outsiders. Long before a war GRU officers, working abroad in the guise of diplomats, journalists, consuls and other representatives of the USSR, choose places suitable for establishing bases. The majority of GRU officers have been at some time very closely familiar with spetsnaz, or are themselves spetsnaz officers, or have worked in the Intelligence Directorate of a district or group of forces. They know what is needed for a base to be convenient and safe.

Bases can be of all sorts and kinds. The ideal base would be a hiding place beneath ground level, with a drainage system, running water, a supply of food, a radio set to pick up the local news and some simple means of transport. I have already described how spetsnaz agents, recruited locally, can establish the more elaborate bases which are used by the professional groups of athletes carrying out exceptionally important tasks. In the majority of cases the base will be somewhere like a cave, or an abandoned quarry, or an underground passage in a town, or just a secluded place among the undergrowth in a dense forest.

A spetsnaz group can leave at the base all the heavy equipment it does not need immediately. The existence of even the most rudimentary base enables it to operate without having to carry much with it in the way of equipment or supplies. The approaches to the base are always guarded and the access paths mined — the closest with ordinary mines and the more distant ones with warning mines which explode with much noise and a bright flash, alerting any people in the base of approaching danger.

When the group moves off to carry out its task, a few men normally remain behind to guard the base, choosing convenient observation points from which to keep an eye on it. In the event of its being discovered the guard leaves the location quietly and makes for the reserve base, leaving warnings of the danger to the rest of the group in an agreed place. The main group returning from its mission will visit the reserve base first and only then go to the main base. There is a double safeguard here: the group may meet the guards in the reserve base and so avoid falling into a trap; otherwise the group will see the warning signals left by the guards. The craters from exploded mines around the base may also serve as warnings of danger. If the worst comes to the worst, the guards can give warning of danger by radio.

A spetsnaz group may also have a moving base. Then it can operate at night, unhampered by heavy burdens, while the guards cart all the group's heavy equipment along by other routes. Each morning the group meets up with its mobile base. The group replenishes its supplies and then remains behind to rest or to set off on another operation, while the base moves to another place. The most unexpected places can be used by the mobile bases. I once saw a base which looked simply like a pile of grass that had been thrown down in the middle of a field. The soldiers' packs and equipment had been very carefully disguised, and the men guarding the base were a kilometre away, also in a field and camouflaged with grass. All around there were lots of convenient ravines overgrown with young trees and bushes. That was where the KGB and MVD units were looking for the spetsnaz base, and where the helicopters were circling overhead. It did not occur to anybody that a base could be right in the middle of an open field.

In some cases a spetsnaz group may capture a vehicle for transporting its mobile base. It might be an armoured personnel carrier, a truck or an ordinary car. And if a group is engaged in very intensive fighting involving frequent changes of location, then no base is organised. In the event of its being pursued the group can abandon all its heavy equipment, having first removed the safety pin from the remaining mines.

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From Viktor Suvorov, "Spetsnaz. The Story Behind the Soviet SAS" (Source)

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