Defending a City
G.. Ionin, Professor of Military Science, Colonel (Ret.), Hero of the Russian Federation
B. V. Schitikov, Ph.D. of Military Science, Colonel (Ret.)
Analysis of local wars and armed conflicts seen after the end of the 2nd World War, shows that ground forces fight in the field less and less, focusing ever more on fighting for cities . In this context it would be remiss not to look at the experience of the Great Patriotic War and use that, as well as contemporary views on the means of city capture to learn the specific features of preparing and conducting city defense operations.
Foreign military specialists believe that city capture offensives will be fairly common in modern war and will be an inherent part of combat and operations for ground units in any theater of war. One of the most important methods of capturing a city is the assault, whih requires careful preparation of an offensive from a situation of constant contact with the defender. The regulatory documents of many foreign militaries define the combat goal of a division assaulting a city as the destruction of the enemy and the capture either of a complete city or its major part, to include the administrative center and the most important economic and political-administrative points. Its offensive width may reach up to 10 kilometers,while that of the brigade and battalion 3-5 and 1-2 kilometers respectively. Naturally, force density during an urban offensive may be 1.5-3 times higher than normally. During a city offensive, the main role is played by infantry and mechanized infantry, normally acting on foot as part of assault teams, company and battalion level tactical groups. It is expected to mostly use tanks to reinforce these groups.
A major part of combat action in city capture is the formation and use of several small aerial or air-mobile insertion teams for capture of major objects. To attack base points from the rear one may utilize the method of infiltrating small groups or teams using underground communications and house roofs into the defenders' rear. To suppress OPFOR and destroy weapons in defended positions, especially in basements, as well as to force personnel out of positions, the use of both portable and heavy (self-propelled) flame throwers is recommended, as well as the use of FAE munitions.
Therefore we believe that a major role in the Russian art of war must be played by city defenses
, which is confirmed by the experience of the Great Patriotic War. From its first days, fighting for cities became an issue of importance for both sides and was done with exceptional tenacity, as cities were important as economic, political, cultural, and communications centers, holding a variety of resources and valuables. In modern war forces may engage in city defense operations deliberately, long before war begins, or as it has already commenced. This may be an intentional or necessary city defensive.A deliberate transition to the city defensive
in peacetime is typical of preparations to repel enemy aggressions in a situation where combat is presaged by a brief or long period of mutual alert. A teachable moment of this kind is the defensive of Sevastopol (30.10.41 04.30.42) for which the preparations were ordered before the war. This is a method practiced when it profitable to prepare and take up defensive positions on menaced directions before fighting begins, and then use the prepared points to stop and bind his force groups. An example of successful actions of this type on the approach to Moscow is the defense of Tula (October-November 1941).A necessary transition to city defensive
during combat is normally a result of a disadvantageous tactical-operational situation, deflecting the attacks of superior enemy forces, the results of meeeting engagements, and a lack of strength for an offensive. The experience of the Great Patriotic War teaches us that these operations are influenced not only by the actions of OPFOR, but also terrain conditions near and in the city, the state of tactically-placed buildings, the placement or lack of neighboring units, weather and time of day and year. These factors must be taken into account by planning commanders and their headquarters.
Modern combined arms units are normally assigned a defensive line (sector) taking up a city in its entirety or a part thereof. The width of the defensive line must be 1.5 less than in ordinary conditions, as the OPFOR offensive width reduces by the same factor.
To hold its assigned defensive line (sector) the unit deploys into an order of battle, broadly similar to that used in ordinary combat, with some exceptions. For example, the combined arms reserve
is normally formed in one-echelon orders of battle to prepare defensive positions in the area of deployment and solve tasks that are formed during battle. However, research shows that such reserves are also needed in two-echelon formations. This is because OPFOR will be making every effort to create an active front in the depth of our defenses not only through the use of landing airborne and air mobile troops, but also with infiltrators. The anti-landing reserve [of the currently defined size R. K. ] will not be will not be enough, making it necessary to form a combined arms reserve. If it is absent we will have to use the second echelon for purposes for which it is not intended. One of the most important tasks for the OPFOR acting in our rear is to bind the second echelon, dismember the order of battle, and thus create conditions that lead to the routing of defending forces in detail.Artillery
should be assigned to mechanized infantry battalions of the first echelons and used for direct fire. Artillery groups should be formed only on the direction of main OPFOR offensives, while unit commanders should be left only with one battalion, mostly of rocket artillery or howitzers, under their command.Anti-tank reserves
on various levels can be smaller than normally, as the possibilities for massed armored offensives in urban combat are limited. These reserves should be best placed on the city outskirts, or if needed deep in the city near road crossings with the capacity of maneuvering both along streets and along yards and alleyways. There can be several of these. The same applies also to mobile blocking units.Anti-landing reserves
are intended, as we well know, to destroy enemy airborne and air mobile groups. As assaulting forces will probably use several small groups at once, this reserve should be split along several areas near likely potential landing areas, which will reduce reaction time.
During the Great Patriotic War, especially at Stalingrad, the main element of orders of battle were the assault groups, low in number, flexible in maneuver, effective in capturing specific objects. They closed on the enemy, penetrated through basements and wall breaches into enemy formations, delivered blows from surprising directions, forcing him into rapid close combat. Active assault group counteroffensives, - wrote Chuikov, - Where the defensive force that constantly held the opponent in tension. They often forced him to leave buildings even the basepoints themselves. In modern combat this can be done by second-echelon forces. Orders of battle can also be augmented by EW units and flamethrower reserves.
A special attention in the defensive system is to be paid to establishing an all-around defense to include internal defensive rings, defensive strongpoints and basepoints. Their amount and configuration depends on the size and layout of the city, the position of major buildings and main streets.
The front line of the first defensive position depending on terrain and building type can lie on the outskirts of a city or be slightly removed from them. The second defensive line should lie closer than normal to the first, so that they should maintain reliable fire support. The same principle applies to other defensive lines and their depth. One must first prepare for the defensive the hardies buildings, positioned advantageously for example in street crossings, squares, near bridges and along major streets. The doors and windows especially in basements and on first floors must be blocked off, and firing slits and positions created around the entire perimeter to assure all-around defense. Basement and semi-basement rooms of especially hardy buildings must be prepared as shelters for personnel to protect them from enemy weapons and especially FAE. Every building prepared for a defensive must have at least two possible exits, prepared in mutually opposed directions outside the zone of potential destruction. Hardy stone fences may serve as defensive walls equipped with firing slits, grenade-throwing and firing steps, and protective shelters from shrapnel. Behind them, trenches and covered trenches are to be dug.
In basepoints located in sparsely built-up areas - parks, gardens, city squares and boulevard one can dig detachment trenches, communication trenches, shelters, prepare for defenses existing channels, dams, railroad and road breastworks, as well as bomb craters. For tanks, APCs, IFVs and self-propelled ATGM vehicle one may prepare positions in semi-basement or first floors or trenches behind strong fences with prepared firing slits.
To connect basepoints and buildings one can use existing underground communications or build covered trenches. Wall and floor breaches can be used for movement inside buildings. It must be taken into account that underground communications may also b used by OPFOR. This is why, where they are not held by friendly forces, they are to be mined or prepared for demolitions. In some cases they can be flooded. Manholes of the water, sewage, and communications infrastructure can be used as the Great Patriotic War taught us to install pop-up firing positions or firing positions with armored domes of steel or reinforced concrete.
It must be stressed that defensive areas and basepoints in city conditions must be designed to block off main streets, boulevards, city squares, bridges . For this one should use the hardiest buildings, especially those on corners, their semi-basement and basement rooms. It is important to have every base point of the company/battalion prepared for all-around defense and mutual fire support with other base points in the battalion defensive area. Between positions one must place locations or areas for cut-off positions, main and reserve positions for artillery and AA units, main and secondary areas for the combined arms, anti-tank, and anti-landing reserve, the mobile blocking groups and command poists.The system of complex fire engagement
is generally similar to what is seen normally. It combines flanking fire and cross-fire from infantry and tank units with artillery fire from closed positions, air strikes, engineering obstacles and ECM. A priority task is the struggle against OPFOR guided weapons
as they are being deployed and prepared for the assault. In this area the guided artillery shell is most effective. It is to be used normally up until the actual enemy assault. In street combat, however, the effectiveness of these means will generally depend on a range of factors.
First, accurate target engagement depends on their timely and persistent highlight with laser designators. However, in urban combat the limited sight range makes it difficult to carry out visual reconnaissance, which also makes it impossible to highlight enemy targets by the usual means. This can be resolved by creating in artillery units reconnaissance and fire correction teams
with the needed equipment. An artillery battalion may have about three such units, depending on the decision taken by the commander.
Second, street combat and associated building demolition and fires is normally accompanied by dust and smoke interference. This will trie the effectiveness of guided weapons to the effectiveness of their deployment decisions (choice of observation point, choice of time for launch, in some difficult smoke and dust condition fire from 2-3 launchers or cannon) and on the skill of the shooters.In the anti-tank defense system
infantry units' anti-tank weapons should be used in sparsely-built up locations and arranged along streets and boulevards. In defending a specific building, ATGMs, grenade launchers and flamethrowers are to be located mostly in lower floors to allow firing along streets and squares, while attached tank units are to be used from prepared firing positions in base points. Part of the tanks are to be used in ambushes are roving weapons.The city air defense system
must guarantee the timely detection of aerial attackers and the warning of units; engagement of aircraft and especially helicopters from every direction; detection and destruction of guided missiles and aviation bombs; engaging airborne troops in flight and during their deployment, as well as fighting enemy UAVs.The system of anti-landing defense
must incorporate: a visual observation and warning system; anti-landing reserves; combined arms reserves tasked for anti-landing warfare; planned airstrikes from attached and supporting aviation and AA, including from ambushes; fire and obstacle systems in likely landing zones. The airborne troops can be engaged when getting on their aircraft, in flight, and during deployment using ordinary fire systems and AA. All units must also be assigned AORs where they can detect and engage enemy airborne troops independently. These AORs will conform with ordinary unit defense sectors.
The basis of the system of engineering obstacles
is formed by landmine obstacles, including those planted remotely. The role of non-explosive obstacles will also grow. Explosive obstacles will include minefields, mine groups, and booby traps. They will be most densely planted before the front line of defense, along the main OPFOR offensive strike direction, on street and boulevard crossing, between units and on their flanks. Obstacles will cover unit defensive areas, base points, gaps and junctions between them, deployment areas of AA weapons, artillery positions, command points, and rear-echelon units deployment areas.
The goals of the city defense are accomplished by its all-around preparation. It is a complex of measures needed to create a stable and active defense, an organize and effective utilization of the capacities of the forces, their means and resources given the conditions and city features (size, configuration, structure, building type and quality etc.). All of these preparation must be done in time frames allowing their timely completion.
As the experience of the Great Patriotic War has shown, the most important component of the defensive battle is decision making
. For example, when moving to a city defensive while in immediate contact with the opponent
the first task is to rapidly organize a stable defense on the likely direction of main offensive. Having received and comprehended the task to begin a city defensive, the commander first takes measures to entrench his forces on valuable ranges or points. If these need to be captured, he can order first-echelon units and the supporting artillery to do so. Then, having evaluated the situation, he can define the city defensive plan, issue preliminary orders, complete the decision making using a map, issue tasks to units, issue cooperation and support orders, organize command chains, and take measures to rapidly form an order of battle to follow his decision, a fire and engineering obstacles system, fortification preparation of the defensive area and the system of the air defense. Later on, when the situation allows, the commander will reconnoitre the area and correct the orders to his subordinates and their methods of cooperation.
When moving to a defense when not in enemy contact
the course of the commander's work will alter, as shown by the experience of the Great Patriotic War. He will make decisions based on his task and situation. As the process of task learning is normal, we will look at some specific features of the situation assessment
Having determined the composition and numbers of the OPFOR the commander must attempt to understand the OPFOR's plan to capture the city, the likeliest directions of the main and auxiliary offensive, the capacity of OPFOR assault group, command and control systems and information warfare means.
When evaluating friendly forces, the unit commander, apart from resolving general questions, must decide how to best utilize (given city buildings) to best deploy attached and issued artillery and its guided munitions, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, how to reinforce units, where to form non-explosive and explosive obstacles, how to mine buildings not used by friendly forces and underground structures. One must also evaluate the capacity of one's forces to reconnoitre OPFOR information systems and influence them, the stability of the C3 system, potential channels for information loss and means of preventing that.
The main subject of the terrain evaluation is, of course, the city, its environs, buildings and infrastructure. It is studied using a large-scale map, plan, military-geographers' descriptions, as well as city hall documents. Especial attention must be paid to the key city objects normally including major industrial plants, rail stations, bridges, key roads, administrative buildings, communications points, electric stations, subway stations and those buildings controlling approaches. One must first evaluate atomic and chemical industry plants, their defenses and the possible consquences of their destruction. Action must be taken to prevent these.
Further, the commander must study the sanitary-epidemiological condition of the city and the situation of its water supply, the numbers and social status of the citizenry, the capacity of the medical and firefighting system, equipment for clearing collapses and plan our rescue operations with the use of local resources.The city defense order
must include, apart from the ordinary: the areas or object which must be held to assure a stable defense; the direction and depth of the main effort; the efforts needed to prepare the line or sector of defense from an engineering perspective; minefield areas; measure to protect historically-valuable objects, as well as to fight fires; the use of underground installations and shelters to protect forces, material valuables, C3 elements; fire suppression areas; methods to cover gaps and resist enemy flanking and encirclement attempts.Defining the main cooperation tasks
, the commander will pay special attentions to coordinate the actions of various forces and means in carrying out counterassaults, made necessary by the sporadic nature of fighting and the general impossibility of concentrating major means.
The experience of the Great Patriotic War shows that to guarantee stability and continuity of command
command posts must be placed as near the front line as possible (unlike in regular combat). It is necessary to organize reliable informational protection of C3 systems
that must include ECCM, protection from SIGINT, as well as general measures to guarantee secrecy.
It is notable that preparing a city defensive can be shortened by modern technology making it esier to rapidly create engineering obstacles and systems of fire. This can be augmented by improving command work based on automating major command processes
through the use of mathematical models of city defensive combat. The experience of the Great Patriotic War shows that the fire effort of defenders is ever more concentrated towards the approaches to the front line of defense, in an attempt to weaken the opponent's strike group and weapons before he begins the assaults. Today this task is more important than ever, especially as the more technologically developed states have new self-propelled howitzers, mortars, and MLRS systems with increaased range, firepower, maneuverability, armor and survivability levels, equipped with guided and self-guided shells, mortar mines, and, for MLRS systems warheads with multiple self-guided submunitions. Today one cannot defend a cit with success without inflicting meaningful damage to the opponents weapons on the approach to a city.
The defensive battle in the city has a sporadic character to it. The main task of the defending forces is to steadfastly defend every building, even in total isolation. Actively pressuring the opponent with fire, maneuvering with reserves and AT means, one must move to do as much damage as possible to his assault teams, while weapons based on the upper stories should bar the approach of reserves.
Opponents that manage to break through must be exterminated first of all with artillery and flamethrowers, aviation and anti-tank weapons. Breaches should be sealed with anti-tank reserves and mobile blocking areas, and if needed also part of the units not tied up elsewhere. The defeat of enemy breakthroughs may be completed with counterattacks that must be presaged with a brief, powerful artillery preparation with a large fraction of the artillery.
On the other hand, an OPFOR combined arms operation, rear echelons and reserves may be weakened before the counterattack with OPFOR firepower and losses suffered while fighting against OPFOR landing forces. Thus we believe that counterattacks will be carried out from several direction, using first echelon units, neighboring units, and with limited objectives: destroying the most dangerous enemy breakthroughs, which have captured key buildings; reclaiming key buildings and breakthroughs.
When modern weapons are used en masse, maximum effect can be achieved when counterattacking at night
. This makes it easier to guarantee the approach of participants units to their deployment points, prepare artillery and aviation strikes as well as illumination. The most common form of night counterattack a sudden, rapid charge of an entire unit, fire from all weapon types, followed by point blank flamethrower use, hand-grenades and hand-to-hand combat. These assist in carrying out combat tasks in the shortest order, as seen in the experience of the Great Patriotic War. For example, during the defense of Stalingrad, at the night of 1.10.1942, the enemy brought up fresh forces and relocated over 1000 troops, and attacked at night, bursting deep into our defenses, posing a threat of cutting the defensive line of the 13th Guards Division in half. The unit commander execute a brief, powerful fire raid with his reserves (a training battalion and a company of submachinegunners of the 39th Guards Regiment of a total number about 300 men) counterattacked decisively and corrected the situation. The success of this attack can be explained by its timely execution (the enemy had not yet dug in), careful preparation, as well as the brave, decisive actions of the personnel.
A difficult task is posed by a struggle with an opponent who simultaneously breaks through at several directions into different depth, especially when the city is cut off. A counterattack, if one is necessary, is possible only against the most dangerous OPFOR formation on one of the possible direction. On other directions the enemy needs to be blocked with artillery fire from the basepoints and defensive areas still held. If the counterattack is not carried out, the second echelon or reserve much take up fire positions in the depth of the defense, using the city plan and buildings so that the opponent falls into fire ambushes and general ambushes.
Therefore, a stable city defense in the conditions of modern warfare must be based on a complex system of engagement of the advancing enemy formations on all stages of battle, holding individual buildings, city blocks, base points and defensive areas, as well as decisive counterattacks against breakthroughs even with small forces in all conditions, day or night, as well as exterminating enemy landing forces and infiltrators.
This article discusses only some issues of defensive urban combat. The suggestions outlined may, in our view, form a basis for a broader discussion of the problem.
, 1999, vol 3., p. 41
 Chuikov, V. I. The Beginning of the Road
, Moscow, 1959, p. 328Translated by Allanea from this site