Russian Urban Tactics: Lessons from the Battle for Grozny

By Grau, Lester W. | Strategic Forum, July 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

Russian Urban Tactics: Lessons from the Battle for Grozny


Grau, Lester W., Strategic Forum


Initial Troubles. When the Chechen troubles began, the Russian Army had been operating with little money and bare bones logistical support. It had not conducted a regiment- or division-scale field training exercise in over two years, and its battalions were lucky to conduct field training once a year. Most battalions were manned at 55% or less. Approximately 85% of Russian youth were exempt or deferred from the draft, forcing the army to accept conscripts with criminal records, health problems or mental incapacity. The Russian Army lacked housing for its officers and had trouble adequately feeding and paying its soldiers. It invaded Chechnya with a rag-tag collection of various units, without an adequate support base. When the Chechens stood their ground, the sorry state of the Russian Army became apparent to the world.

Before invading with regular forces, the Russians had trained and supplied the rebel Chechen forces that were hostile to the incumbent Chechen government. A force of 5,000 Chechen rebels and 85 Russian soldiers with 170 Russian tanks attempted to overthrow the Chechen government with a coup de main by capturing Grozny "from the march" as they had in years past captured Prague and Kabul. They failed and lost 67 tanks in city fighting.

A Second Mistake. Instead of regrouping and waiting to regain surprise, Russian leaders ordered the army into Chechnya with no fully ready divisions. The Russian Army was forced to combine small units and send them to fight. Infantry fighting vehicles went to war with their crews, but with little or no infantry on board. In some cases, officers drove because soldiers were not available. Intelligence on the situation in Grozny was inadequate. Only a few large-scale maps were available, and there were no maps available to tactical commanders. To make matters worse, because the city was not surrounded and cut off, the Chechen government was able to reinforce its forces throughout the battle.

When the Russians first attempted to seize Grozny the last day of 1994, they tried to do it with tanks and personnel carriers but without enough supporting infantry. The available infantry had just been thrown together, and many did not know even the last names of their fellow soldiers. They were told that they were part of a police action. Some did not have weapons. Many were sleeping in the carriers even as the columns rolled into Grozny. Tank crews had no machine gun ammunition. Lax preparation for this assault reflected the attitude of the defense minister, General Pavel Grachev, who had boasted earlier that month that he could seize Grozny in two hours with one parachute regiment. So the Russians drove into Grozny expecting to capture the city center and seat of government with only token resistance.

But, tanks and personnel carriers, in the city without dismounted infantry support, were easy targets to antitank gunners firing from the flanks or from above. The initial Russian armored columns were swallowed up in the city streets and destroyed by Chechen gunners.

After losing 105 of 120 tanks and personnel carriers the Russians fell back to consolidate for the long, building-by-building battle.

Planning for Urban Combat. Russian intelligence missed the rapid construction of robust Chechen defenses in Grozny. The Russian columns, moving on parallel but nonsupporting axes, were cut off and destroyed by Chechen forces. Russian planners concluded that high-tempo mounted thrusts to seize defended cities are both ineffective and unjustified in terms of the attrition of personnel and equipment. They concluded that contemporary urban combat requires the following steps.

1. All approaches to the city must be sealed off while detailed reconnaissance proceeds.

2. Key installations and buildings on the outskirts of the city must be taken once artillery has suppressed defenders and assault positions have been occupied.

3. …

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