Shock troops

Shock troops or assault troops are infantry formations and their supporting units, intended to lead an attack. Shock troop is a loose translation of the German word Stoßtruppen. The units which contain assault troops are typically organized for mobility, with the intention that they will penetrate through enemy defenses and attack into the enemy's vulnerable rear areas.

Although the term shock troop became popular in the 20th century, the concept is not a new one, see for example the use by Napoleonic era armies of the Forlorn hope. Presently, the term is rarely used explicitly, as the strategic concepts behind it have become standard contemporary military thinking (see section After World War II).

Before World War I

Grenadiers (French for "Grenademan") were originally specialized assault soldiers for siege operations, first established as a distinct role in the mid to late 17th century. Grenadiers were soldiers who would throw grenades and storm breaches, leading the forefront of such a breakthrough. Even when the original blackpowder grenade was abandoned the grenadier companies and regiments were retained as specialist assault troops.

During the American Civil War, 1861-65, the elite Iron Brigade and Irish Brigade of the Union's Army of the Potomac, and the Texas Brigade, Stonewall Brigade and the Louisiana Zouaves (also known by their nickname,Louisiana Tigers) of the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia were considered to be shock troops.

World War I

During World War I, in response to the deadlock of trench warfare faced by all combatants, the German army developed a new set of infantry tactics known as von Hutier tactics. The von Hutier tactics (infiltration tactics) called for special infantry assault units to be detached from the main lines and sent to infiltrate enemy lines, supported by shorter and sharper (than usual for WWI) artillery fire missions targeting both the enemy front and rear, bypassing and avoiding what enemy strongpoints they could, and engaging to their best advantage when and where they were forced to, leaving decisive engagement against bypassed units to following heavier infantry. The primary goal of these detached units was to infiltrate the enemy's lines and break his cohesiveness as much as possible. These formations became known as Stosstruppen, or shock troops, and the tactics which they pioneered would lay the basis of post-WWI infantry tactics, such as the development of fire teams.

Notwithstanding the postwar status of the Storm Troopers in German service, the same sort of tactical doctrine was widely espoused in British and French service in late 1917 and 1918, with variable results. The British Army standard training manual for platoon tactics, SS 143, was used from February 1917 onwards and contained much of what was standard for German shock troops. According to Ward, the Australian and Canadian divisions deployed amongst British forces in France quickly came to be regarded as the best shock troops in the Allied ranks due to their ferocity in battle, and were employed accordingly..

However, the first successful use of this tactics in the battle take a place on Eastern front, in July 1917, applied by Czechoslovak legionaries in the Battle of Zborov. The success in battle resulted from special skills of legionaries, previously used mostly in reconnaissance actions.

World War II

During the interwar period, the fame of 'Shock' troops and tactics commended itself to several totalitarian societies. The Soviet Union embraced the idea, and also introduced 'Shock' Labour Brigades, where they threw manpower at particular construction problems. Inspired, partly, by Ernst Junger's book "Storm of Steel", the Nazis also embraced the idea of shock and storm troops

During World War II the Red Army of the Soviet Union deployed five Shock armies. Many of the units which spearheaded the Soviet offensives on the Eastern Front from the Battle of Stalingrad to the Battle of Berlin were Shock Armies. Shock Armies had high proportions of infantry, engineers and field artillery, but with less emphasis on operational mobility and sustainability. Soviet assaults which were expected to lead to very high casualties were often lead by penal battalions. Soviet Shock Armies were characterized by a higher allocation of army-level artillery units to break German defense positions by weight of fire, and often had heavy tank regiments or heavy self-propelled gun regiments to add additional direct fire support. Once a breach in the enemy tactical position was made, more mobile units such as tank and mechanized corps would be inserted through the Shock Army's positions with the mission of penetrating deep into the enemy rear area. By the end of the war, though, Soviet Guards Armies typically enjoyed superior artillery support to that of the shock armies.

Well-known Shock Armies include the 2nd Shock Army, which spearheaded several offensives in the Leningrad area, and the 3rd Shock Army, which played a key role in the Battle of Berlin.

A Soviet ad hoc combat group was a mixed arms unit of about eighty men in assault groups of six to eight men, closely supported by field artillery. These were tactical units which were able to apply the tactics of house to house fighting that the Soviets had been forced to develop and refine at each Festungsstadt (fortress city) they had encountered from Stalingrad to Berlin.

After World War II

The demands of infantry fighting in the Second World war erased much of the romance of 'shock' troops, particularly when any well-trained competent infantry had to be capable of the same tactics, particularly in a formal assault on a well-defended objective. The Soviets retained the term 'Shock' for some of their armies (permanent Corps-equivalent formations) that had distinguished themselves during the Second World War; but it remains to be seen how, for instance, 3rd Shock Army was that different in its components from 20th Guards Tank Army in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany during the Cold War years.

See also


Further reading

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