NATO would probably lose a war against Russia

Shellback is the pseudonym of someone who started working for a NATO military structure in the Brezhnev years. He doesn’t think the Cold War was so much fun that we should try to repeat it.

Editor’s Note: The author first published this article on Russia Insider in April 2016. We are now republishing it because of its high relevance to the heightened military tension and the possibility of war between the United States and Russia. Since this article was written, the Russian armed forces have become considerably stronger. Its weapons systems have been significantly modernized, and its air force and navy have invaluable (and highly successful) combat experience in Syria.

<figcaption>Ivan Ivanovich enters Berlin</figcaption>” src=””/><figcaption>Ivan Ivanovich enters Berlin</figcaption></figure>
<p>With the hyper-aggressive resolution just passed by the US House of Representatives, we are one step closer to open warfare. So the following may be relevant. In short, the United States and NATO, accustomed to cheap and easy victories (at least in the short term – in the long term, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo are hardly victories) , will have a shattering shock if they ever fight the Russian army. Forces.</p>
<p>Early in my career, in the 1970s, I spent a few years engaged in combat simulations. Most of these drills were for staff officer training, but some were done internally to test a weapon or tactic. The scenario was generally the same: we NATO, the good guys, the Blues, would be deployed, usually in Germany; that is, on the eastern edge of West Germany. There we would be attacked by the Warsaw Pact, the bad guys, Red. (The colors, by the way, are from the very first war game, Kriegspiel; nothing to do with the communist party’s favorite color).</p>
<p>Over several years on the control team, I have noticed two things. Naturally, Red and Blue were played by our people, as interesting as it might have been to borrow Soviet officers to play Red. What always fascinated me was how quickly people playing Red started to get aggressive. Their fellow officers, on the Blue side, were very risk averse, slow and cautious. The red players rolled down the road and didn’t mind losing a tank, let alone a tank company. What was really interesting (we tested it in the office, so to speak) was that in the end, the full-speed approach resulted in fewer casualties than the cautious approach. The other – rather scary – thing was that Red always won. Still. And rather quickly.</p>
<p>I developed a great respect for Soviet war doctrine. I don’t know if it was based on traditional Russian doctrine, but it was certainly perfected during World War II, where the Soviets conducted what is probably the largest ground operation ever. Nothing could be further from the truth than the flippant Western idea that the Soviets sent waves of men against the Germans until they ran out of ammunition and were trampled by the next wave. Once the Soviets got going, they were really, really good.</p>
<p>The Soviet combat doctrine that I saw in the exercises had several characteristics. The first thing that was clear was that the Soviets knew that people are killed in wars and there is no room for hesitation; hesitation causes the war to be lost and ends up killing more people. Second, success is reinforced and failure left to fend for itself. “Viktor Suvorov”, a Soviet defector, wrote that he posed a problem for NATO officers. You have four battalions, three in attack and one in reserve; the battalion on the left has broken through easily, the one in the middle can break through with a little more effort, the one on the right is stopped. Which do you reinforce with your reserve battalion? He claimed that no NATO officer had ever given the correct answer. What was, forget the middle and right battalions, reinforce the success; the fourth battalion will help the one on the left and, in addition, you remove artillery support from the other two and give it to the battalion on the left. Soviet war doctrine divided its forces into echelons, or waves. In the above case, not only would the fourth battalion go to support the left battalion, but the follow-up regiments would also be sent there. Breakthroughs are reinforced and exploited with astonishing speed and force. General von Mellenthin mentions this in his book Panzer Battles when he says that any Soviet river crossing must be attacked immediately with whatever the defender has; any delay causes more and more Soviet soldiers to swim, wade or float. They reinforce success no matter what. The third point was the huge amount of high explosives that Soviet artillery could drop on a position. In this regard, the BM-21 Grad, about which I have already written, was particularly noteworthy, but they also had a lot of guns.</p>
<p>A particularly important point, given a common US-NATO assumption, is that the Soviets did not assume they would always have complete air superiority. The greatest shortcoming, in my opinion, of US and NATO combat doctrine is this assumption. US tactics often seem to be little more than the instruction to wait for the air to get ground forces out of trouble (perhaps this is why US-trained forces fare so poorly against determined enemies) . Indeed, when did the Americans ever have to fight without total air superiority other than, perhaps, their very first experience of World War II? The Western Allies in Italy, D-Day and Normandy and the fighting that followed could operate knowing that almost every plane in the sky belonged to them. This confident arrogance has, in fact, been reinforced since then with short wars in which the planes all come home. The Soviets never had that luxury – they always knew they would have to fight for air superiority and would have to operate in conditions where they didn’t have it. And, General Chuikov in Stalingrad “hugging the enemy”, they devised tactics that minimized the effectiveness of enemy aircraft. Russian forces have not forgotten this lesson today and that is probably why their air defense is so good.</p>
<p>NATO commanders will suffer a shattering shock as their aircraft begin to dwindle in quantity and casualties rapidly mount by the thousands upon thousands. After all, we are told that the kyiv forces have lost two-thirds of their military equipment to fighters with a fraction of Russia’s means, but with the same fighting style.</p>
<p>But back to Cold War scenarios. The NATO defense forces would be hit by an incredibly savage artillery attack, with, through the dust, a huge force of attackers pushing. NATO units that repelled their attackers would find momentary peace on their part of the battlefield while those pushed back would be immediately attacked by new forces three times larger than the first and even heavier bombardments. The situation would quickly become desperate.</p>
<p>No wonder they always won and no wonder the NATO officer playing red, following the simple instructions to press forward, reinforce success, use all your artillery all the time, would win the day .</p>
<p>I don’t want people to think I’m saying the Soviets would have<br />“arrived at the Channel in 48 hours” as the opponents liked to warn him. In fact, the Soviets had a significant Achilles heel. At the back of it all, there would have been a traffic jam of unimaginable magnitude. Follow-on echelons revving their engines as commanders tried to work out where they should be sent, thousands of trucks carrying fuel and ammunition waiting to cross bridges, giant artillery parks, concentrations of equipment from engineering never quite in the right place at the right time. And more arriving every moment. A ground attack pilot’s dream. NATO’s air-land battle doctrine being developed would have evened things out again. But it would have been an extremely destructive war, even forgetting the nuclear weapons (which would also be somewhere in the traffic jam).</p>
<p>As for the Soviets on defense, (which we didn’t play because NATO, at the time, was a defensive alliance), the Battle of Kursk is probably the model still taught today: hold the attack with layer after layer of defences, then, at the right moment, the crushing attack at the weak point. The classic attack pattern is probably Autumn Storm.</p>
<p>All of this robust, battle-tested doctrine and methodology can be found somewhere in the Russian military today. We didn’t see it in the first Chechen war – only overconfidence and incompetence. Some of them in the Second Chechen War. More of that in the Ossetian War. They recover it. And they exercise it all the time.</p>
<p>Light people in NATO or elsewhere should never forget that this is a combat doctrine that does not require absolute air superiority to succeed and knows there are no victories cheap. It is also a very, very successful with many victories under its belt. (Yes, they lost in Afghanistan but the West did no better.)</p>
<p>I seriously doubt that NATO has anything to compare: rapid air campaigns against third-rate enemies yes. This stuff, not so much.</p>
<p>Even if somehow the nukes are kept in the box.</p>
<p>To quote Field Marshal Montgomery, “Rule 1, on page 1 of the War Book, is: ‘Don’t march on Moscow.’ Several people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is not good. This is the first rule. »</p>
<p>(His second rule, by the way, was, “Don’t go fight with your ground armies in China.” While Washington’s policy brings Moscow and Beijing closer… But that’s another topic).</p>
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