Mechanised forces and flat woodland

Woodland is largely considered to be no good terrain for tanks, but that's only partially true. Tank forces made much use of woodland (including the famous dash through the Ardennes in 1940) for resting, as marshalling areas and for concealment. ATGMs are no threat in woodland, for example.

Flat woodland with young trees offer little resistance to tanks 30+ tons heavy with 400+ hp power - particularly if the roots are deep. Flat roots may push upwards to the belly and cause trouble while deep roots stay in the ground when a tank rams the tree.

T-34 passing through woodland, 1945

These training  videos show tests (mostly done with Leopard 1 tanks) about the ability of MBTs to pass through woodland, including the effect of slopes:

Stronger trees tend to grow with greater spacing, and often allow tanks to pass in between. Only a few of them would need be cut down to allow passage for MBTs or even cars.

Typical German forest aisle
Eastern European woodland is very different from Central European woodland, with greatly different consequences for mechanised forces' manoeuvres.
Central European woodland is often very hilly (typical German woodland is on hill top and crests), has many unpaved forestry roads and to limit fire hazards there are many forest aisles.

Eastern European woodland meanwhile is largely flat, and as the videos above showed, this makes a huge difference. There are different trees as well, but I'm not well-informed on which exactly.

So the relevance of Eastern European woodland as obstacles may differ greatly from Central European ones'.* I'm not aware of any doctrinal or equipment adaptation to this on part of the German army. Maybe we should pay much attention. The following video is interesting:

There is actually such a thing as a forestry mower.
A kind of lawn mower on steroids, to cut through woodland:

It is imaginable that armoured engineers could cut through most Eastern European woodland at a walking pace or more, leaving behind an unpaved (or even paved!) road for combat and supply motor vehicles of all sorts. Even plain tank battalions might be quipped to move at a bicycle's speed through woodland with stems of up to 30 cm diameter (deep roots).
Such efforts would be loud and may attract artillery fires, but they're nevertheless really bad news for everyone who hopes to gain any defensive effect from woodland in the Baltic countries, for example.

Maybe the tank and engineer troops in NATO countries should be equipped and trained differently in order to adapt to Eastern European woodland characteristics, but this might take a long time. The West German army's requirement for a mine sweeping tank (using a technology improvised in 1942!) took almost 35 years to produce an operational capability and that need was much more self-evident.


*: Similar with rivers and lakes: Those tend to freeze over and allow even vehicles to pass much more in Northeastern Europe than in Central Europe.


  1. I have found the following Swedish resource to be useful when explaining how tanks cross various terrains. From 1951, Stridsvagnars framkomlighet, but being so old things have changed slightly. Not the basic principles though, for which the film is an excellent illustration as it uses such historically well known types. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmXEly5_u38

    With regards to wooded terrain, the Russians have a deal of experience moving armoured formations through it, of course of WW2 vintage. At one point they put a tank battalion through a swamp to unhinge a German defence since the Germans were convinced that the ground was impassible to tanks. This is contained in "Fighting in Hell" as edited by Tsouras; a collection of papers from German generals 1945-1947 written to explain the RKKA to the Americans.

    In the East, forests are sometimes also bogs. We have "centers of excellence" that are favourably predisposed to us; the Finns have a great deal of experience operating armour in Eastern conditions representative of the terrains of Baltic NATO members. The Swedes also. Of the two, the Swedes have to play political grab-ass with the Russians less, so it may be easier for NATO to formally access their knowledge than with Finland who may need to maintain the illusion of third party-ness despite recent agreements signed to permit NATO basing "in a circumstance requiring it."

    Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian, some Baltic (Estonian, Lithuanian. Dunno about Latvian.) forests still tend towards primeval. There's a lot of stuff on the ground that probably wouldn't hinder an MBT or an IFV but would impede the passage of CS and CSS echelons. This can be overcome with suitable equipment.

    Attempts to gap forests as obstacles would, I should think, be very evident to UAV surveillance which is - from the Russo-Ukrainian experience - to be considered omnipresent. This would result in some effective area fires being put down on the attempted route. I am not sure how to conceal this, but being canalized on one of these routes and subject to Russian MRL seems less than wonderful. But it is still a valuable capacity: linking assembly areas, enabling different logistics routes (bypasses) and so on.

    1. "somewhat" more recent trials:

      Finland is in the EU, the EU treaty has a collective defence article - I don't see why they shouldn't share. The problem is not them or the Baltics' or Poles, but that the rest of NATO only recently began to pay attention to the deterrence and defence job again.

      I plan to write about the bog and more in general soft soil problem in Eastern Europe later.

  2. Another thing I don't see being discussed very often is the line of sight. Franz uhle wettler mentioned this in a critique of weapons systems used by NATO, which would be used in NATOs central region: 'Statistics provided by the west german office of military geography show that 55% of the LOS are shorter than 500 mt, 17% are longer than 1500 mt, 10% are longer than 2000 mt, and 6% are longer than 2500 mt. These distances are clearly shorter than NATOs constant clamor for long range weaponry would suggest.'

    1. That's a point where NATO habits actually fit better to Eastern Europe than to Central Europe, though.
      related: http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2010/12/tanks-thoughts-on-blank-sheet.html

      The Russian (Soviet) neglect of maximum gun depression angles (useful for exploiting terrain) fits better than the Western toelrance for higher tanks (bigger silhouettes) in favour of greater gun depression angles. I hesitate to recommend adopting the Russian approach, though. It's enough to not go to extreme legths in pursuit of further improved gun depression (there were concepts for this).

  3. dude, why do you suggest nato needs to adapt to eastern european terrain when your military stance is defensive (and pro liberty :-)) and nato is a defensive block?

    1. NATO extends into Eastern Europe nowadays.

    2. so you plan to "defensively" mow down baltic forests for armored advance? local patriots in the baltics love their forests (as do the people in belarus). they plan "sniping and ATGMing the russians" from those forests, not "clearing vehicle supply lines" for whatever purposes you may have in mind.

    3. My main intentionw as actually to communicate that Baltic woodland would not serve as much of an obstacle to an invader, or to mobile warfare in the region in general.

    4. Were woodlands an obstacle to any invasion in the past 2000 years?

    5. Steppe people didn't do well in woodland-dominated areas obviusly. Recently, the New Guinea campaign and the failed Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 come to mind.

      Relevant is that many people tend to think of woodland (and rivers, lakes) as terrain that inhibits mechanised movements and thus restricts the movement choices of opposing (and friendly) forces. This is very different in Eastern Europe, there woodland is not associated with impassable slopes as in much of Germany and there rivers and lakes regularly freeze over for weeks or months every year.

      NATO has to adapt to this different terrain, instead it spent attention on (marginally) adapting to Arab and Afghan terrains.