Mechanised / infantry mix in NE Europe

My recent critique of American brigade designs in the European context was mild only on the (de facto) tank brigades, and scathing on the brigades which have an emphasis on dismounted combat.
I'd like to elaborate on this to avoid a wrong impression:

NE Europe has much woodland and many swamps. It's not 'classic' tank-friendly terrain (though things maybe complicated and may change).

A sensible force mix for NE European collective defence sure needs much infantry because of NE European terrain features. The question is how to organise it. The Americans did quite the same mistake as did West Germany with Jägerbrigaden (1970-1981); they attempted to create infantry-heavy brigades, and that makes no sense. Even more nonsensical were the historical mountain infantry divisions. 

Think about the mountain infantry division example, as it exposes the wrong thinking the clearest:
Mountain infantry is best for high altitudes, at least 2,000+ m. Regular infantry can meet the tasks in the valleys even in the Alps. It makes no sense to have mountain infantry divisions, for the sectors in which dedicated mountain infantry makes sense aren't large enough for such a formation size. Patches of mountain infantry of company or battalion size are needed instead, intermingled with regular infantry forces. 
Mountain infantry was also popular (because of its infantry-centrism and easily movable equipment) for swamps and woodland, but again other than in the Pripyat marshes area there was rarely a sector large enough to justify the employment of an entire mountain infantry division.
There's no good case for a mountain division if there's hardly ever an opportunity to correctly employ it as a coherent division, but usually many opportunities for employment of individual battalions or regiments.
Yet there were mountain infantry divisions and brigades, not only independent regiments and battalions - I suppose the planners were simply stuck (used to) the divisional system and later the brigade system. They squeezed both mounted combat and dismounted combat doctrines into the same template level.

It would be much more sensible to set up infantry regiments as administrative bodies (for economies of scale) only, and to have infantry battalions for relatively autonomous line of sight missions in infantry friendly terrain.* The full range of support (AFVs, artillery) would not be necessary, for such infantry battalions could hope to receive arty support from the mechanised forces when intermingled with them. This allows them to have no support-hungry AFVs and no supplies-hungry 155 mm arty at all.
The optimal mix between mechanised and infantry strength would not need to be cast into a brigade design. This never succeeds anyway.
Instead, infantry forces could be deployed as needed, and hopefully with enough CO self-discipline to favour depth of the occupied zone over density of its occupation with infantry. The infantry would mostly raid/probe, delay, deny routes and report targets for the arty, after all. There's no need to mass infantry most of the time.

I expect two main criticisms;

(1) A reflex about cannon fodder, assuming that such infantry battalions would be spent.
Well, what exactly do you expect infantry to be then? Men who begin a European great powers' war as infantrymen survive the war either as POWs or as cripples, period**. To push them into a brigade format with organic arty doesn't change this, particularly if said arty isn't survivable itself. To add organic tank units will deceive superior HQs into believing that this formation may be suitable for additional (bloody) mission types instead of focusing them on the best missions for infantry. Such infantry battalions could still team up with a detached tank company or an armoured recce unit for combined arms at the battalion level if that's really needed.
Keep the peace if you want to keep infantrymen alive!

(2) A disbelief that mechanised forces nearby would lend the fire support required.
Well, this is about doctrine. I didn't write much about this, but I don't see mechanised battlegroups or brigades as forces that manoeuvre around much at all. They merely manoeuvre and shoot up stuff very much for short times when an opportunity appears or was created (and evade/relocate for safety somewhat more often than that). A mechanised force with a 'fleet in being' role may deter offensive actions of hostile mechanised forces by its presence (in conjunction with other forces). It would have both the relatively orderly supplies flow and the time it needs to lend arty support to infantry battalions in contact. The astonishing increase in effective artillery range (30 km for SPGs and 40 km for MRLs in 1990, now 40 km with SPGs and moderately exotic munitions (RAP; fully exotic would be VULCANO and other glide munitions), 80-100 km for MRL with guided or trajectory-corrected munitions) adds to this. An infantry battalion would typically have one or two mechanised brigades close enough for support.***

The American model creates a simplistic heavy/medium/light mix all on the same level (de facto "brigade combat teams"), instead of finding the best level of organisation for each. I suppose the infantry-centric forces should not be organised in brigades, but in independent battalions or independent battalion clusters with a "regimental" HQ for administrative efficiency.****
This way they wouldn't have the organic arty firepower or AT strength for conventional war, but they would fit well into a corps design and corps deployment that could have both as a whole.


*: In addition to organic infantry / dismounted combat battalions in the mechanised brigades.
**: Or their army drops out of the war real quick.
***: Such thoughts lead to a mechanised brigade design that's heavy on support compared to its light on line of sight combat power. On the one hand this fits to the recipe of LOS forces being spotters for the arty much of the time, on the other hand it further leads to LOS-troops heavy battalion battlegroups doing the manoeuvring and a support group with mere LOS self-defence capability staying 'behind' when the manoeuvring has to be very agile. This separation on occasion untethers the LOS combat and manoeuvre forces (from the support forces), making them more nimble and less concerned about the support's security.
****: Relieving the Bn COs of administrative tasks including barracks-level management, and representative tasks (a German base CO spends several days per year with civilian-military relations tasks alone).


  1. There was an interesting article in our local (Estonian) military magazine about the experiences of Canadian amoured forces. As it turns out, the biggest benefit wasn't necessarily the big gun but rather the mobility. Tanks could creat pathways through places that would otherwise be impassable. This made the Canadian forces much less predictable to Taliban insurgents and thus much more effective.

    Just a little sidenote on this whole topic.

    1. The TB aren't exactly a good representation of what you would face in Europe.
      A German insight from Spain was that a 20 mm tank gun would suffice to kill T-26 tanks...

  2. Regarding Artillery:

    The 70% (in ww2) was due to fragmentation weapons. So no matter if it is 105mm, air bomb, hand grenade, mortar round or gun round it would count as fragmentation weapons.

    Mortars were particularly giving the big guns a run for the casualties infliction.
    A lot of those items are not artillery, or would not be part of the artillery group.

    Now that artillery has become more accurate it might be different, but without direct action very little casualties were inflicted by barrages. Hitting the enemy on the move would produce effects, but an opponent that is entrenched with proper fake positions and dispersion would need combat for artillery fire to have an impression.

    Mountain divisions made sense in so much if you needed higher fitness requirements and a logistically lighter force.
    The Wehrmacht did have special high attitude battalions, that got attached to the mountain divisions before being dissolved.

    But I agree that the weakness in the artillery was a trade off that was not worth it.

    1. Fitness elite forces may or may not make sense, but there was simply no reason for organising such troops in divisions.

    2. There was one, after the Anschluss the very fine Austrian army fell into the Wehrmacht lap with a high level of mountain troops in the west part of Austria.

      The first mountain division was formed from a brigade of Bavarians and another of Austrians, while the 2nd 3rd (and latter the 5th) where formed from the Austrian army in the Tyrol Wehrkreis.
      At that time, Italy was a possible opponent, and the invasion of Switzerland an option. After the invasion of USSR only a few units that were mountain troops were formed.
      Instead from 1942 the Wehrmacht formed Jager divisions, for difficult (but not to difficult) terrain.
      The mountain divisions were either fighting in Norway or Balkans, in both cases being well suited for the missions.

      So while not very useful for a Baltic case now, they had they justifications from 1938 to 1940, when the bulk was created and then could be employed as divisions latter.

    3. Look at the history of the positional warfare in the Alps 1915-1918. There was no need for entire mountain divisions. Mountain and regular infantry battalions intermingled always makes more sense.
      The 3,000+ m regions didn't need be defended or attacked, for advancing through such areas without capturing passes or valleys was impossible logistically.

      BTW, the Jäger Divisions of 1942 were formed in anticipation of a Caucasus campaign...

  3. I'm somewhat confused based on your posts over the years. When you say mechanized forces are you referring to tanks, HAPCs and APC infantry organized together under a brigade HQS? So, let's say all "light infantry" would be organized in separate battalions and attached to mechanized brigades when and where needed?

    1. mechanied Bde/Div = strong tracked AFV component ("mechanised infantry Bde", "tank bde", "Armored BCT" etc.)

      motorised Bde/Div = fully motorised, possibly many wheeled AFV but no or very few tracked AFVs.
      The Soviet-style MRD was just below of what I call "mechanised": https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm100-2-3.pdf

      There's another interpretation in which even merely motorised formations without any protected vehicles would be called "mechanized", but that's rather colloquial.

    2. Thank you for the reply.

    3. So, how does the above post jive with your posts on German armored forces - an armored battalion consisting of tanks/HAPC/RFCV and a second battalion of infantry mounted in Boxer vehicles? I guess my point is how would you organize the armored brigade or is it irrelevant?

    4. A brigade should have its dismount strength be determined with its mission profile(s)n material and personnel availability considerations and likely terrain in mind. There should be "enough" infantry and dismounted scouts to accomplish several typical dismounted combat and security missions for which no support by an infantry Rgt or Bn could be expected.

      In my opinion this includes a small infantry force directly with the MBTs at all times (in HAPCs), a larger fully offroad-capable infantry force (in APCs) that is available immediately whenever the battlegroup or brigade switches to mostly dismounted combat such as clearing a village and finally an infantry detachment that serves as infantry reserves and as security force for the support elements (in standard lorries turned into cheap APCs).

      We're actually almost close to this at the divisional level, since both of our divisions combine 1-2 mechanised brigades with 1-2 infantry-centric brigades. The current army uses IFVs instead of the HAPC+tracked APC combo, though.