Deep Battle – The Vision of Marshall Tukhachevskii
11 June 1937: Charged by Iosif Stalin as part of a “Trotskyite-Zinovievite” conspiracy with the Germans to overthrow the Soviet Government; Marshall Mikhail Tukhachevskii, a veteran of the Revolution, the Civil War and the Russo-Polish War, and previously armaments chief, Army Chief of Staff, and Deputy Minister for Defense, is executed. With him dies his “Deep Battle “ doctrine, along with other revolutionary military concepts. “Deep Battle” will remain buried in the pages of history until it is resurrected by a modern Red Army in 1970, in response to theater defense and other offensive operational doctrine. Possibly drawing on Deep Battle as well, NATO forces develop first the Follow-On Forces Attack doctrine, and later the AirLand Battle doctrine. While questions remain as to whether Tukhachevskii and other Soviet officers colluded with Reinhard Heydrich’s SD, or whether Heydrich was engaged in an operation to discredit Tukhachevskii and other senior Soviet officers is still open to debate. What is certain, though, is that Tukhachevskii was a brilliantly visionary strategist and theorist, ahead of his time in military thought.
“We now have at our disposal resources like aviation . . . which can make deep sallies. In this way, the enemy should be pinned down over the entire depth of his dispositions, encircled, and destroyed.”
- Marshall M.N. Tukhachevskii, 1934
Mikhail Tukhachevskii was born into an aristocratic family of Polish origin in 1893. Graduating from the Aleksandrovskoe Military Academy in 1914, he became a Guard’s officer in the tsarist army. Captured in 1915, he was held in the same prison that held Charles DeGaulle. Upon his release, he joined the Bolsheviks, fighting in the Civil War and the Russo-Polish War. In 1918, he was charged with the defense of Moscow. He was subsequently given command of the 5th Army, defeating Aleksandr Kolchak in Siberia (1920) and Anton Denikin in the Crimea (1920). He aided in suppressing the Kronshtadt Rebellion in 1921, and was also involved in the Battle of Warsaw, where he first met Iosif Stalin. Each blamed the other for the defeat, and this animosity endured into the 1930s.
The roots of Tukhachevskii’s Deep Battle doctrine have their roots in the bloody, grinding attrition warfare of the First World War. He likely also drew upon the 1920 article by General A.A. Svechin, “Strategy’. Svechin defines the concept of “operational art”, and introduces the theory of war as a series of successive engagements rather than a single decisive battle (as seen in WWI). The enemy’s strength is seen not only as the tactical formations on the perimeter, but all agencies and units that support the front lines. With this in mind, Svechin seeks to use the broad expanse of the Soviet Union to his best advantage. In addition, this is the first attempt to define a linkage between the strategic and tactical levels of war. The prime difference between Svechin and Tukhachevskii is that Svechin plans a largely defensive posture, using the vastness of the Soviet Union to overextend the logistical ‘tail’ of the enemy force.
Soldiers in the Trenches – WWI
During his short tenure as Minister of Defense (January-October 1925), M.V. Frunze seeks to modernize the Soviet Armed Forces, based on doctrine that is offensive in nature, and that utilizes advances in armor and aviation. Tukhachevskii, Triandafillov and Isserson develop concepts and doctrine. Supporting offensive mechanized armor and mechanized attacks deep into enemy formations, Deep Battle is adopted in 1936, and formalized in Soviet Field Regulation PU-36, co-authored by Tukhachevskii and Triandafillov. After Tukhachevskii’s execution, Deep Battle was discarded due to lack of proper leadership, materiel or training.
Conventional wisdom at the time PU-36 is adopted views battle as an engagement between armies arranged in linear frontage focused on positional warfare. According to this plan, the object is to defeat the enemy formation either through sheer force of attrition or by maneuver to assailable flanks. Modernization of weapons such as artillery and machineguns gave a definitive advantage to the defense, where the attacker was forced to fight through a relentless storm of direct and indirect fires. Deep Battle breaks the linear defense, returning the initiative to the offense. The effect of Deep Battle was to create operational shock upon the leadership and supporting forces, causing tactical units to resign even after minimal reduction of materials.
Tukhachevskii’s Deep Battle theory has five elements:
1) Tactical units are instruments to support operational maneuver;
2) The application of pressure across the maximum area denies the enemy’s ability to maneuver in response to a penetration;
3) The greater depth and speed that can be achieved by operational forces increases the lethality and shock to the enemy;
4) Both firepower and ground maneuver can be used interchangeably to increase depth as technology progresses;
5) The depth of the battlefield must be viewed as one continuous operation to insure the commander sees and plans for the final battle both in time and space as well as he plans for the first battle.
“The fundamental condition of successful maneuver is speed in movement. Once operational maneuver is achieved the offensive initiative must not be surrendered. Loss of speed allowed the possibility for the enemy to recover. Speed is developed in relation to the enemy. Given a physical direction in relation to the enemy, speed becomes velocity. Ability to achieve and maintain superior speed to that of they enemy is essential to Deep Battle theory.”
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