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HOME > WAR IN THE MODERN WORLD > CHECHNYA LESSONS 2



But the Russians won, after all! (continued)

            Because the Army had closed its sniper schools in 1952, marksmen from the Interior forces, Border Guards, and Security services helped train Army snipers. Throughout, the Russians paid more attention to the capabilities of troops—e.g., recognizing that Interior soldiers weren’t suited to high-intensity combat or for calling in air and artillery support.[17]

            Time and patience. ‘And yet, my dear boy,’ said General Kutuzov to Prince Andrei, ‘there’s nothing stronger than those two warriors, patience and time’.[18] The Russians who went into Chechnya in 1994 took a rather different view: their motto was Davai! Davai!’—‘Crack on! Crack on!’[19] When they attacked Grozny on New Year’s Eve, their blockade was limited to the north and west, allowing the Chechens to reinforce, to resupply, and eventually to withdraw their fighters.[20]

The Russians knew better by 1999. A preliminary sweep through Dagestan was followed by an operational pause, while they built their troop strength to 90,000 men (two-thirds Army) and held training exercises at every command level, from Joint Force Grouping down to five-man storm teams, with special emphasis on coordinating Army and Interior units. The training day lasted 10-12 hours, including nightime. Troops were taught how to deal with ambushes, mines, snipers, and obstacles, and such Chechen tactics as attacking from the rear.[21]

Then, when they finally advanced on Grozny, the Russians settled into a four-month siege and bombardment before attempting to enter the city.

            Honoring the ‘God of War’. The 1994-95 assault on Grozny was repulsed ‘with shockingly high losses’, and two more months, 13,650 casualties, and a massive artillery bombardment were needed to capture the city.[22] In the second round, the Russians went straight to the bombardment, both air and artillery, albeit at a huge cost to the civilian population and to the city, which was essentially reduced to rubble.

            Troops up front. That initial assault on Grozny in 1994 was the world’s largest urban tank battle since the Red Army entered Berlin, nearly fifty years before.[23] It was a debacle: Chechens with RPG launchers disabled the first and last tank in a column, then killed or maimed the survivors at leisure. A US Marines study estimated that the leading armoured brigade lost 80 percent of its men, 77 percent of its tanks, and 85 percent of its troop carriers in three days’ fighting. Anatol Lieven spent a week in Grozny in February 1995: ‘only once did I see Russian soldiers on foot patrol…. The rest clung to their armoured vehicles with limpet-like strength’.[24]

            This folly was remedied in the second battle for Grozny, when battalions were reformed into company-sized storm groups, which in turn were made up of teams containing three riflemen, an RPG grenadier, and a sniper. (One observer argues that these teams were an idea borrowed from the Chechens who’d defended the city in 1994-95.)[25] The leading group advanced ‘by bounds’ in platoon-based sections, taking up to 25 metres of ground each time, supported by sappers with explosives. They were followed at about 100 metres by the command group comprising the battalion CO and his staff, sniper teams, and heavier weapons such as machine guns and Shmel  launchers for fuel-air explosive.[26] Supposedly only one Russian tank was lost in this second battle of Grozny.

            Avoiding the hug. The Chechens defending Grozny in 1994-95 proved adept at ‘hugging’ the Russians so close—50-250 metres—that the federal forces couldn’t bring air and artillery bombardment to bear on them. In the second round, the Russians used materiel prodigally and manpower sparingly by ‘fighting at maximum range’—300 metres, at least, beyond the deadliest Kalashnikov and RPG range. At least one artillery battery was assigned to each battalion, and the CO had authority to call in more. Rotary and fixed-wing aircraft (including unmanned drones and the robust, agile Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ jet) were assigned at regimental level, with a Forward Air Controller embedded in each company. Decentralized control reduced the time from target identification to putting fire on target.[27]

Before any advance the area in front of the troops was subjected to a prolonged series of artillery and air strikes until the Russian commanders felt confident that rebel resistance had been crushed. Any Chechen positions that were discovered in the course of the advance were quickly engaged by the artillery and aviation available to the company or battalion commander in whose zone of responsibility they were located. Once an area had been occupied[,] bases were occupied and fortified, with platoon-sized strongpoints and smaller checkpoints in key positions. The Russians would then begin to reconnoitre their next advance, using fixed wing aircraft, drones, ground patrols, radar and radio intercept, before beginning the process of fire destruction and advance again.’[28] 

            The Russians also generously employed smoke grenades, smoke pots and smoke generators to blind the enemy, especially when approaching buildings.[29]

continued in part 3



[17]  Jenkinson 2002, pp. 67, 85. But Oliker 2001, p. 36, says that the Army reinstituted sniper training in 1999

[18] Tolstoy 2007, p. 744

[19]  Orr 2000

[20]  Lieven 1998, p. 109

[21]  Thomas 2005

[22]  USMC 1999, p. 5

[23]  Jenkinson 2002, p. 1

[24]  Lieven 1998, p. 47. Also USMC 1999, pp. 14-15

[25]  Jenkinson 2002, p. 68; Oliker 2001, p. 45

[26]  Orr 2000. Also Thomas 2005; Oliker 2001, p. 26

[27] Jenkinson 2002, p. 72; Oliker 2001, p. 20; Hodgson 2003

[28]  Orr 2000

[29] Jenkinson 2002, p. 86