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"Question on Soviet Forward Artillery Observers" Topic

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1,331 hits since 30 Jan 2022
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Zinkala30 Jan 2022 3:37 p.m. PST

I'm 3D printing minis and typing an army list for a late war (1994-5) Soviet Guards Tank Corps for use with Blitzkrieg Commander. For the
TO&E I'm using information from John Tiller's East Front videogame (tons of unit organizations for all countries) and a US DOD Handbook I found online. Almost finished with the list and the printer is quickly chugging out the units.

In BKC early and mid war Soviet armies don't have FAOs so can only use preplanned bombardments. Late war they get some allowing more flexibility. My problem is I'm not finding (quickly skimming various sources) at what level would they have FAO teams and how many? Trying to figure out how many teams and would they normally be attached to battalion HQ or other units. For example would an infantry battalion have an FAO? Would the artillery regiment have X FAOs that they parcel out to the various tank or infantry units they are attached to.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2022 4:43 p.m. PST

My understanding is that the concept of a Forward Observer was not common in the Soviet forces during WW2. But that does not mean it was never present.

From my readings it appears that most frequently it was the Artillery unit commander himself, who placed himself with the HQ of the unit he was assigned to support. This is the perspective that is most often recreated in post-war Soviet / Russian war movies, at least as far as I have observed.

But … they also tried other approaches, some of which gathered favor as the war rolled on. So do not be lulled into any trope about how they didn't have forward observers. It is more a matter of they didn't have a widespread, force-wide standard model for forward observation.

Following are some excerpts from an article published in the Russian Army newspaper Red Star, that gives some appreciation of what the Red Army was capable of in forward observation methodology, even if it was not a standard that was in the doctrine and training force-wide. This article was translated and republished by the US Army in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 34, September 23, 1943. Note that for the experience described below to appear in a US translation in Sept. '43, it must have occurred at least multiple months prior. It can be found online in full here: link


Practical combat experience has proved that forward artillery observation is possible also in the case of thrusts delivered by tanks. This means that an artillery officer must be with the tanks forming part of the first wave. From this position, he will be able to judge what is holding up the advance; to call for and correct fire, and thus, although expending less ammunition, but achieving greater effect, the problem of providing fire support for advancing tanks is solved. At the same time, the possibility of shelling empty ground or one's own tanks is greatly reduced.

The experience gained by formations recently employed in the offensive on the (Russian) southern front allows for deductions of practical value.

In one case, an artillery regiment was allotted the task of supporting a tank formation which was to effect a deep breakthrough. The commander of the artillery regiment appointed one of his best officers, for liaison duty with the tank formation during the advance.

A number of valuable lessons can be learned from this experience; first, the fact that forward artillery observation in mobile formations is effective is confirmed. As a result of the radio link the commander of the artillery is at all times aware of the position of the tanks and can provide coordinated and directed fire, taking fullest advantage of the range and trajectory.

Second, it is necessary to assign two observers to avoid any interruption should the tank of one of the observers be knocked out in action; furthermore, two observers enjoy a better view of the entire field of battle.

It is emphasized that an observer should not maintain a position too far forward, from where the movement of the main mass of tanks cannot be properly followed. Observation is, furthermore, restricted, owing to the necessity of keeping the tank tightly closed.

The artillery officer is to be warned not to take too active a part as tank commander, and thereby lose sight of his main task. In pursuing individual objectives he may easily reduce his artillery to inactivity and the tanks will fail to receive support when needed. The observer's movements should be based on a careful and skillful maneuver giving him the best possible view of the field of battle, and he must remember that several dozens of guns are more effective than any one tank.

The method for calling for fire and correction is normal; by using a map previously encoded, the observer constantly pinpoints his position. On discovering a definite target he transmits by radio the nearest reference point and the relation of the target to it, at the same time indicating the type of concentration required. In adjusting the fire the observer indicates the correction in meters. The time of opening fire must be so selected as not to interfere with the movement of one's own tanks, unless these are halted in front of the target.

Hope that helps.

(aka: Mk 1)

Zinkala30 Jan 2022 8:27 p.m. PST

Helps a little but still not sure how many to assign to my Corps. It probably won't make a huge difference in game as we can just use the suggested number from the lists in the rule book.

Now I'm wondering what I should use for FAO models. When doing my Canadians I had a lot of ideas for different vehicles and men to use. Don't know nearly as much on the specifics for the Red Army. I was thinking of jeeps and men with binoculars but now think I may need a tank. Do you know if they used things like degunned tanks like the germans and canadians used or just a T-34 with a better radio?

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2022 10:37 p.m. PST

My best replies … but note, much of this is supposition.

1) There is no standard way of doing it. Don't look for the "right" way. Look for a "plausible", "justifiable" way.

2) If you are running a tank formation, then a tank for the FAO seems appropriate. Here, "formation" can be a reference to the parent organization, not necessarily the formation you are playing on the table. So for example if you are running the motorcycle battalion of a tank corps, the FAO might well be in a tank.

3) If it is a tank, then no, it's not a special tank with the gun removed or any other form of customization. At least, per the example in the write-up above, the artillery "liaison officer" was simply sent to the tank corps, and given a tank and a crew. He participated in tank combat as a tank commander. The recommendations extracted from the experience specifically warn artillery officers not to get to wrapped up on doing tank things when they should be doing artillery things, because … he was in a fully capable tank. And it did not necessarily have a better radio, although maybe it did. Command tanks would typically have two radios, one for short-range and one for longer range work. That was probably what the artillery officer got in this case. It was then a matter of assigning frequencies.

4) For an infantry formation I would expect an officer and a radioman. Maybe an officer with binoculars, maybe an officer holding some paper (maps). For a defensive position maybe a field telephone operator rather than a radioman. Would they have their own vehicle? Maybe if the unit they were assigned to provided them with one. But probably not from their own artillery unit. I would be inclined to give them a small GAZ-AA truck if they get their own vehicle (one of the most common and available vehicles in the Red Army). Otherwise they hitch a ride in whatever else is going that way.

Also I do like the reference to the approach to targetting. No grids, no ad hoc calls. We have a map with identified potential targets. Call it in with bearing and distance to Target Point X or Y. Let the boys at the HQ figure out how to fire that.

At least that's how I would play it. (If I could get a game up, that is.)

(aka: Mk 1)

Martin Rapier31 Jan 2022 12:54 a.m. PST

Tbh, I wouldn't worry about it too much, one FO stand per firing battalion is plenty. It isn't like a Tank Corps has much integral artillery in any case.

My 15mm Russian FOs are either on foot or are allocated a range of transport ranging from jeeps or cars, the odd motorcycle, horses or if very lucky, a Lend Lease Bren carrier.

Zinkala31 Jan 2022 6:39 a.m. PST

Thanks. I'm not super worried about it more curious. When doing my Canadians I did a lot of research and added an example of almost everything they had in NWE to my collection. It's great having a 3D printer to make all of the options. Not as attached to the Soviets so am not planning to do the same for them. But wouldn't be against the idea of having a few more unique stands out on the table.

I'll probably add the option for an FO per battalion and make a couple tank and infantry options. Most of our games tend to be roughly 1-2 battalions and some support. That's equivalent to other lists I've seen based on OOBs. No option for FACs in the rule book for Soviets so that will be different than what I've been playing with the Canadians.

Mark, I understand about the not playing. I had a live in opponent with my oldest son but he moved away last fall. Still home most weekends but we don't squeeze in as much playing as when he was here every day. If the covid restrictions ease up I know one other person I might be able to convince to play but he likes fantasy games better.

Cement Head31 Jan 2022 6:17 p.m. PST

This link might help somewhat….maybe


Zinkala31 Jan 2022 8:05 p.m. PST

Interesting reading.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2022 9:38 p.m. PST

What a great find! Thanks Cement Head. I love Love LOVE articles like that!

(aka: Mk 1)

Barin101 Feb 2022 2:37 a.m. PST

I think we had this discussion before…I guess I've been there for too long ;)

Cement Head article was very interesting – the German author considers that a lot of fire coordination on battery and divisional level was by radios – I guess in 1941 "older" units were equipped with them. In 1941 ny grandfather was in mortar unit with the infantry, in 1942 he joined field artillery and I remember him complaining about radio shortage. We have lots of films, articles and honor awards about/for telephone operators who were constantly restoring wire lines between units and observers, so I guess it was an issue in 1942 and early 1943. Later on my granddad had no issues with communications, so probably there was enough radios for all.
Even in 1985 when I was a radio/phone unuit commander we had hundreds of miles of cable and WWII time phones along with radios.
FO in 80s was different to their WWII ancestors as they had laser range finder, the rest was very similar – commander with optics, radio operator (s), a couple of guys for guard duty or retsoring the phone line if it was deemed to be necessary, In war times granddad observers will move on their own, typically concealed and preferably at night time. FO were the first to cross rivers before the main offence.
In 80s FO will have a lorry or tracked GTT-3/MTLBv in my region.

Barin101 Feb 2022 4:24 a.m. PST


This is period sketch, and you have there an officer, phone operator and guardsman/probably "cable runner"


Zinkala01 Feb 2022 7:53 a.m. PST

Barin1, I've been here long enough to have seen many topics recycle. But my mind works like a very loose filter. Only catches the odd details until I decide to focus on a certain topic. I've found it easier to ask than to try to search myself a lot of the time. I love reading history but if it wasn't for trying to implement it into games I probably wouldn't dig into details like this even though I find them interesting.

My grandfather's best friend was involved with FOOs in the Canadian army and served from 1940 to the end of the war. But he was one of the veterans that refused to talk about it. From the couple of comments my dad was able to coerce out of him he was either a radio operator or wireman.

My wife's grandfather was in an artillery unit in 1943 somewhere near Kursk. I never met him and the little we learned from her uncle was that he served at the front for a couple of weeks, spent several years recovering from wounds and had stainless steel dentures courtesy of the Soviet government.

Starfury Rider01 Feb 2022 12:09 p.m. PST

Just a few observations on the authorised July 1942 organisation and equipment of a Rifle Division Artillery Regiment. This was based on two Battalions each of two 76-mm and one 122-mm Batteries and a third Battalion with one less 76-mm Battery.

Total 23 RB radios

1 for Regimental Staff Battery, two per Battalion, and two per firing Battery.

Total 5 switchboards (two for Regiment and one per Battalion)

Total 72 field telephones

10 for Regiment, 8 each for 1st and 2nd Battalions, 6 for the 3rd, and 5 per firing Battery.

Total 114km of cable

16 for Regiment, 12 each for 1st and 2nd Batteries, 10 for the 3rd and 8 per firing Battery.

No obvious dedicated forward observer roles are shown in the Divisional Artillery Regiment Shtats, just the normal commander, deputy commander (political) and deputy commander in each Battery HQ, and two officers in the two firing Platoons (so one per two guns). Presumably any FOOs would be drawn from the available officer staff?


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