Deep Battle: Soviet Doctrine for Operational Level Warfare

Everybody knows about the German’s Blitzkrieg style of warfare. But I was surprised to discover the Soviets had a similar approach to warfare called “Deep Operations” or “Deep Battle”. This was a well defined doctrine for Operational Level Warfare, was invented during the 1920s, and deliberately applied during WW2. Admittedly Deep Battle had mixed success during the war, but this was probably more to do with the previous purge of Soviet military leadership than with any fundamental flaw in the doctrine. Soviet doctrine in the Cold War period is still based on Deep Battle.

In the interests of getting this post out I’ll just quote from others…

Wikipedia: Deep operation:

Deep operation (Russian: Глубокая операция, glubokaya operatsiya), also known as Soviet Deep Battle

Dr Huw J. Davies and Dr Robert T. Foley
The Operational Level of War and the Operational Art.

Indeed, by the early 1930s, the concept of glubokaya operatsiya, or deep operations, had become enshrined in Soviet doctrine and training. Tying new emerging technologies of aircraft, tanks, and motorization together with the idea of using large-scale mobile forces (Fronts) on separate axes of operations in the enemy’s rear, deep operations looked to disrupt rather than simply destroy the enemy’s defence. The Soviets put this doctrine to good use, particularly in 1944 and 1945. Faced with large-scale offensives on widely separated fronts, the Germans were unable to be strong at every point, and the cohesion of the overall German defence broke down.

Wikipedia: Deep operation:

Deep operations had two phases; the tactical deep battle, followed by the exploitation of tactical success, known as the conduct of deep battle operations. Deep battle envisaged the breaking of the enemy’s forward defenses, or tactical zones, through combined arms assaults, which would be followed up by fresh uncommitted mobile operational reserves sent to exploit the strategic depth of an enemy front. The goal of a deep operation was to inflict a decisive strategic defeat on the enemy’s logistical abilities and render the defence of their front more difficult, impossible—or, indeed, irrelevant. Unlike most other doctrines, deep battle stressed combined arms cooperation at all levels: strategic, operational, and tactical.

Operation Uranus - Successful Deep Battle -Eastern Front 1942-11 to 1943-03
Operation Uranus, a Successful Deep Battle on the Eastern Front 1942-11 to 1943-03

Attribution: Gdr at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Glantz, D. M. & House, J. (1995). When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, pp. 135. Lawrence: Kansas University Press.

Sounds interesting so I’m going to look up the books on this …

Glantz, D. M. (1991). Soviet Military Operational Art: In Pursuit of Deep Battle (Soviet Russian Military Theory and Practice).

Isserson, G. S., and Menning B. W. (Trans). (2013). The Evolution of Operational Art.
Combat Studies Institute Press US Army Combined Arms Center Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Brigade Commander Georgii Samoilovich Isserson was a Soviet military thinker and one of the originators of the Deep Battle concept.

20 thoughts on “Deep Battle: Soviet Doctrine for Operational Level Warfare”

  1. Steven

    If you want to follow this up in the Cold War period I would highly recommend David C. Isby’s ‘Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army’ which covers tactics in attack and defence in great detail.

    It’s over twenty years since I read it but I remember one particular feature of Soviet attack doctrine was to commit a third of the attacking force while the other two-thirds attempted to bypass the defenders. This held true at every level.

    I put this doctrine to good to use in an epic wargame club campaign which was one of the all-time highlights of my wargaming career.


  2. Another interesting book on operational art is Race to the Swift: Thoughts on Twenty-First Century Warfare, by Richard Simpkin. This is a book published in 1985, so it is a bit dated. Simpkin, a former British tank officer, is pretty perceptive on a wide range of military issues.

    If you are a glutton for OPART, you can find a copy of Joint Operational Warfare Theory and Practice, by the US Naval War College’s Milan Vego. This is exhaustive on many topics on this aspect of military theory.

    As for the Soviet theorists, it helps to be a friend of Stalin when the purges are going on. It hurts to advocate a military theory that is not dependent on the state sponsored ideology.

      • Wow, expensive. I’ve ordered Simpkin. But the Vego book ranges from £293 to £900, second hand. Ouch.

        • I’m now half way through the Simpkin book and I’ve grazed inside the Vego book (thanks panzercdr). Both are valuable. The Vego book is a monster store of information. Nearly 1,500 pages! Wow.

  3. Glantz, “Soviet Military Operational Art” is an excellent analysis of the development of deep operations and cannot be recommended highly enough.

    • I find I keep going back to Glantz. So far, in my opinion, this is the best single source of information on the Soviet Operational Art.

  4. Here are some nice stuff to read about soviet operational warfare. It is a really interessing topic.

    Tactical Deep Battle – The missing link:

    Russian Deep Operational Maneuver:

    The Soviet Army – Operations and Tactics:

    Key-Element in the Deep Battle/Operational Doctrine – Forward Detachments
    Spearhead of the Attack:

    Soviet Forward Detachments:

    Wargaming Stuff:

  5. I remember reading the “Soviet Blitzkrieg Theory” by P. H. Vigor two decades ago. From what I recall, it does not address the operational level of warfare so much as it emphasizes the need for communication infrastructure control. Two chapters caught my attention then: one in which the authors describes the Winter War as a complete success, and an other prospective chapter about what a blitzkrieg invasion of Europe in the 1980s would look like in terms of objectives and troop movement. Might not be worth buying, but it might still be found at a local library.
    The blitzkrieg theory emphasised in this book came back to my mind in 2014, when the Russians were able to take control of Crimea in a matter of days. I remember reading in the news afterwards how the NATO command was terrified, because they knew they could never have mounted an operation of this scale in such a short notice.

  6. Thank you Steven and all you warriors. This is a whole new world to me and believe me I can’t get enough of it! Due to restrictions on resources, I’ll be in touch only seldom but as often as I can I’ll shoot the odd rookie question or two.

  7. This Army Field Manual is very good, there is a link to the download following the review, this ones in the category of “if you read nothing else”, Simpkins good, Glanz is a bit dry

    also try the Voroshilov academy lectures, covers a lot of the more practical aspects particularly in respect to cold war

    variety of links and downloads off this.

    The title of this one is misleading, Its by David Glanz, its all about forward detachments, a fairly critical concept within Soviet thinking on operational maneuver

    Hope that helps

  8. I am working on a set of 1 base = 1 company rules for use in double blind games, and I had intende to call the Deep Battle. I may switch to deep operations instead. I’ll be comsum8ng your posts this weekend, but they are very thoughtful.

  9. One thing, but I wouldn’t say Soviet Deep Battle theory is similar to Blitzkrieg. It is actually very different.


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