Monday, 20 June 2016

The First Blows

In a previous post, I talked about how a Canadian Battlegroup could make its mark felt in Europe once again.
In order to show how it could possibly make its mark felt by the Russians, I present here a fictional account of a battle.  After all, let's face it: you do not deploy troops unless you are fully intended to use them in combat.  This is how the very first blows of combat could happen, and in spite of the outcome presented here, it could very well turn out differently.


The 1st of August was the day that the Russians decided to end all diplomacy with NATO and resort to military operations.   Of course, it would take time to launch their divisions, but not so long that they would lose all advantages over the meagre NATO force in the Baltics.
Their aim was simple: overwhelm the forces in place and split the Baltic states from Poland.  Then, once in a position of strength, they could then revert to negotiations and end the sanctions against her that were really starting to take hold.
Up in Latvia, the Canadian Battlegroup, for this rotation it was The Royal Canadian Dragoons with an attached company from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, a squadron of Engineers and all supported with direct support from a battery of towed M 777 howitzers from 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, who were augmented by two troops of Air Defence.  The Air Defence wasn’t much, it was all hand-held missiles as back in Canada the government was frantically trying to find some SHORAD and VSHORAD Air Defence.  Alas, it was too late.  The Battlegroup was already in country and soon moved to its battle positions along the border with Belarus and Russia. 

The battle group had a very simple order: it was to destroy the first echelon of a Russian Tank Brigade that was assessed to be in the area of Polatsk, Belarus.  NATO intelligence assessed that this Tank Brigade was to drive to Riga in order to split the Baltics as well as to deny NATO its main port south of Talinn.  This Brigade was assessed to probably use two main routes: the A 6 to the south and the E 22 to the north.  These two routes joined at Jekabpils.  As such, this was the Battlegroup’s Vital Ground.  In other words, if the Russians gained control of this place, then the Canadian defence would be untenable. 
The battle group commander’s plan was relatively straightforward.  The deployment would see two squadrons forward with one in depth at Jekabpils.  The forward squadrons were to each destroy a tank battalion each before moving back through Jekabpils to further operations near Riga.  A Squadron was left, or North, and B Squadron was right, or south.  Each of the squadrons was attached a platoon of infantry.
B Squadron Combat Team 

The Squadron was responsible for the A6 in the area of Daugavpils.  Assessing the ground, the Squadron Commander came up with a simple plan.  He would put two troops forward that would engage the enemy formations, shaping them into a killing zone just north of the A6.  The plan was to make it look like the obvious routes were blocked, and leaving a secondary route relatively unguarded.  It was in there that the squadron would make its mark felt on the T 90s of the advancing tank battalion.

The way in which the battalion would be destroyed was rather novel.  The advancing Combat Recce Patrol, consisting of a Tank Platoon, some NBC and Engineer Recce elements, would be allowed to pass un touched.  The next portion, the Forward Security Element of a tank company, an infantry platoon, an artillery battery of 2S1s and a Movement Support Detachment of Engineers would then be destroyed simultaneously across the length of the advance.  At least that’s what the plan was At 0400 hours of D Day, the day of the Russian Invasion, the battlegroup stood to due to the overwhelming evidence that the Russians were on the move.  And by 0415 hours, the forward elements of the reconnaissance screen reported mass formations of helicopters and jets flying west.  These were en route to objectives in the rear of the battle group and were the concern of other NATO formations. 
At 0428, the battlegroup net crackled to life.
“Zero, this is six.  Contact, wait, out.” 
Every troop leader followed the battle along on their maps as the contacts were updated with information every few moments.  It soon became apparent that a Russian tank battalion was indeed using the A6.  Up front were elements of a recce detachment, and these were allowed to pass unmolested.  The BRDMs and BMP (recce) vehicles covered each other’s moves as they pressed Westward, pausing for about 5 minutes near the airfield at Lociki before moving along the A6.   They seemed to rely on speed as security when they moved along the densely forested highway en route to Riga. 
“C Squadron will deal with them,” thought the squadron commander as he noted that they were passing.  He did some mental math and realized that the next elements, the Brigade Reconnaissance patrols would be along in due course.  Sure enough, they were.  They were noted to spend more time at the airfield, poking around and even dismounting some troops for closer investigation.  Given that the sun would be up soon, the Squadron Commander surmised that follow on helicopter troops would be using this airfield for a staging area or even as a logistics hub. 
Soon even the brigade recce elements were moving along the path that the higher patrols had taken.  This means that the next elements would be from the tank battalion, the one with which he was tasked to destroy.  (As a note, this did not mean that he had to physically destroy each and every vehicle in that battalion, but rather just had to render that battalion non-effective.  As such, he estimated that he would have to knock out about 4 out of 9 platoons.  This would leave only about 15 or so tanks to do the job of 30 or more.  In short, that battalion would have to stop and wait for reinforcements before it could move on with its job.
As the recce elements passed, the squadron’s two front troops deployed.  1 Troop took up its positions near Stropi, blocking the A 6 itself, while 3 troop was further north, near Malinova, obstensibly blocking any flanking moves to the North.  The Leopards all moved out, 2 at a time, the other two in the troop covering the movers.  In short order, the troops were ready.  They were to engage the advancing combat recce patrol, forcing them to divert from the A6. 
“Two Niner, Two-one.  Contact, three T 90s, four APCs moving east to west along the MSR.  Am engaging, out!”

This short burst transmission alerted the squadron commander to the fact that 1 troop had spotted the Combat Recce Patrol, or “CRP” as it was known, and that they were going to start shooting.  According to plan, the enemy was at maximum range, and at most, one tank would be hit.  The idea wasn’t to trigger an enemy hasty attack, but rather to divert its advance.
After the pre dawn sky was lit up by the massive cannons of the Leopards tanks, followed by the streak of the hyper velocity shot, it was apparent that a T 90 had been hit; however, its active armour system had defeated the round and already the tanks were making smoke and moving north.  In short, the ruse had worked and soon the enemy CRP was out of sight.  This was reported on the radio net and the squadron commander nervously awaited word from 3 Troop.  2 and 4 troop, along with 6 platoon of H Company, 2 RCR, were given the code word “saddles” and were all mounted in their vehicles, ready to take up their battle positions.
In the Russian Camp, the CRP commander was shocked by the sudden gunfire from off to his left.  “Dammit!” he thought.  “They’ve blocked the A6!  We’ll have to swing north!”  He paused in some low ground as the artillery OP vehicle called for a quick mission to suppress the enemy tanks.  They were unsure if they were Latvian or Canadian, but it didn’t matter.  Their job was to get to Jekabpils by noon!
He got on his radio net after a quick look at his map.  He ordered the formation to head north and then turn West near Sparite.  Unknowingly, his path was taking the exact one his enemy was going to try to make him take.
“Two niner, this is two three.  Contact, enemy CRP advancing north.  They are heading into the gap along route CLUB.  I say again, they are heading into the gap along route CLUB.  Out.”  With this, the squadron commander realized that his plan was coming to fruition.  He ordered 3 troop to remain in place and report on the follow on formations, even as 1 Troop was falling back in an attempt to avoid the very heavy artillery that was falling amongst their tanks.  Though they were very heavily armoured, the shock of the blasts was having an effect on the troopers and it was best to leave now to avoid any damage at all to the tanks.

Now the battleplan depended on the Russians adhering to their own schedule.  The Squadron Commander’s plan was to hit the CRP and the Vanguard Company simultaneously.  2 troop at the end of the gap through which the CRP was advancing would hit them with massed fires just as 4 troop and 6 platoon would ambush the remainder as they entered the gap near Sparite. 
Following the battle on the radio, the squadron commander was pleased to see that the Russians were indeed following their schedule.  3 Troop reported the company of tanks advancing into the gap, albeit a bit further north, obstensibly to avoid 1 troop, which was at that very time passing through 2 troop and heading for some replenishment before occupying the squadron’s next battle position. 
Satisfied that the CRP was past the ambush position for 4 troop and 6 platoon, he ordered his squadron into position.  3 Troop would simply avoid the battle and swing round the north to the next position before heading to the next bound.  The battle was now in the hands of the troop leaders and platoon commander on the ground.  All the rehearsals would now either pay off or prove to be not good enough.
The success of the plan of attack was best illustrated by the radio traffic on the Russian net.  The Tank Battalion Commander was just passing Slutiski, about 5 kilometres away from the vanguard company when he was shocked to see the sky in front of him light up in a series of flashes.  Just then, on the radio came a number of confusing messages.  He tried to sort out if the CRP or the Vanguard was in contact.  Soon he was shocked to realize that they both were under contact, and it wasn’t clear where they were or where the enemy was.  All he knew was this: about 10 tanks, 6 APCs and 6 2S1s were up there and they were quite obviously in a close fight. 
As the intensity of the flashes waned, so too did his radio net. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but all control had been lost up front as his forces were hit from the front and both sides all at once.  They were now in survival mode, and they were only able to shoot back blindly and without even knowing if they were effective or not.
Unknown to him, what happened was this.  As the CRP exited the gap in the trees, they were hit by a volley of tank fire that targeted the T 90s.  Although the active and reactive armour saved two tanks in the initial volley, the subsequent volley finished the survivors.  The accompanying APCs simply sought cover and attempted to report, in vain, what was happening. 
Meanwhile, in the woods, the rest of the tank company along with its accompanying infantry were hit by a combination of tank, APC, rifle, machine gun and recoilless rifle fire.  The tanks suffered the most in the first volley, but as the subsequent volleys poured in, it soon became apparent that the enemy was too well hidden to shoot back to any effect.  The only meaningful fire that was returned was from the 2S1s, their 122mm shells falling amongst the Leopards.  Had they been able to see the Canadian infantry, they would have had some effect; the Leopards were just too robust.

Satisfied that the enemy company was no longer functional, the squadron commander ordered the clean break.  Supported by 155mm shells falling among the Russian survivors, the Canadians mounted upon their APCs and with the tanks covering, moved back to the relative safety further west. 
The initial battle was over and the Canadians didn’t suffer a scratch.  In 20 minutes, the enemy advance was stuttering already, and soon the first rays of sunshine would allow anyone to see the carnage that had been left behind.


  1. "First Clash" 2016 - great stuff, TV!

    I notice a lot of terms & tactics that sound familiar from the Soviet OPFOR pams I'd read in the 1980's. Do you think the Russian's would stick that closely to the old Soviet playbook on a conventional battlefield? Also, any thought to what kind of effect "local self-defence forces/polite green men" could have in the Baltics, based on the Ukraine experience?

    Thanks for sharing this stuff!

  2. Hi
    Thanks for the comment. Yes, the TTPs (etc) haven't changed that much. One thing you will note is that the current Russian formation below division is the Brigade. It is not much different from the Regiment of old. I'm not sure why they changed the nomenclature.
    As for using these tactics, they used them as lately as the war in Georgia. US Intel pundits assumed in the open press that the Russians were able to advance as fast as they did because they had already planned their operations. In fact, what happened was that the divisions were given their marching orders "as per SOP." Their TTPs at this level are simple but they maintain them because they work.
    As for the little green men (as I call them, "NotRussians"), I would like to maybe write something up on them, but they would in most likelihood avoid conventional NATO forces.
    My next installment may highlight our lack of breaching assets or AD assets, or both. I'm still undecided.

    Again, thanks for the comments!

  3. Great - thanks for this. I guess I'll have to dig up my old FM-100 pams :)

  4. Not to mention this classic: "Soviet Army Operations"

  5. All hail the Technoviking - he called it right here!!!!