Attack waves (tactics)


The Russian (and before that Soviet) misuse of attack wave tactics in land warfare should not mislead my readers into thinking that attack waves are a bad idea in general.

The Russians do attack waves wrong.

Wrong way of using attack waves:

Superior orders an attack, that atatck fails, subordinate officer is urged to keep pressing and orders another wave that fails as well (as it has even less element of surprise), another wave, another wave ... German reports from the Eastern Front in 1941-1942 mentioned such very stupid behaviour. The success rate of the follow-up waves is near zero, but the subordinate officer can report that he did his duty by ordering repeated attacks.

Correct way of using attack waves:

The first wave assaults and occupies the first line of defence (preferably with element of surprise and a good combined arms effort), but is then somewhat exhausted, disorganised and probably weakened by suffering wounded and killed personnel. They might press on, but would soon exceed the culminating point of their attack and risk disaster when a counterattack strikes. So instead of pressing on, the first wave prepares to receive a counterattack.

The second wave was already part of the original breakthrough plan; it's meant to push through where the first wave succeeded and to use its good order and freshness to assault and overwhelm the second line of defensive positions.

Same with the third wave, if necessary. It might also be a wave meant for instant exploitation of a breakthrough through a two-line defensive system.

A fourth wave should be unnecessary, as the first wave's troops should be able to follow up on the third wave if needed (or become a reserve).





  1. What was the doctrinal response if the first wave did fail?

    1. The competent approach would be to seek a different point to attack, with renewed surprise effect. Alternatively, the 1st wave is still in contact when the 2nd wave reinforces it, as there's little delay between them.
      Competent leadership can be expected to almost always achieve break-in with the first wave, though. The bigger question is whether a defence-in-depth can be penetrated before hostile reserves intervene.

    2. I think a noteworthy aspect of "competent leadership" in this context is knowledge of the enemy positions.
      E.g. where the weak points may be, most suitable terrain to use, current weather etc. (And understa ding of own forces)

      In Ukraine, it seems attack is decided high up without hindrance from such detailed factors.
      Moreover, complete failure to acknowledge 'new' technologies like air deployed minefields.
      Bizarre to see infantry assaults towards trenches.

      But IF those stupid, incompetent attack waves had been aimed at the actual weakest points, Russia might well have been succesfull.
      This is a country with dedicated spy satellites (though many cold war era), multiple intelligence agencies,...

      I think here one can see nicely having strong rivalries inside and between military units, command officers and intelligence, paralyzed in a nice maffia system, is not a good recipe.