A Little Something about “Jägare”

While the Finnish and Swedish armed forces in general are rather similar, the languages they speak differ. And not only in the obvious difference between Swedish and Finnish (and Swedish), but key words and phrases differ as well. While the difference between engineers (ingenjörer) and pioneers (pioneerit) is largely quaint and shouldn’t cause too much trouble, the word jaeger (jägare/jääkäri) is another matter completely. In the Finnish Defence Forces the word has several different, sometimes slightly contradictory meanings. My personal rank is that of a jääkäri, which simply translates to private. But it is also used to describe different kinds of infantry, such as mechanised (panssarijääkäri), rangers (erikoisrajajääkäri), or urban (kaartinjääkäri). Historically, it has also described the original Finnish jääkärit trained in Germany during WWI.

In Swedish the word has much narrower use, describing ranger-style army special forces. However, there has also been a significant shift in both the mission and tactics used compared to the pre-2000 Swedish jägare, so when Swedish defence blogger Jägarchefen wrote a post describing the modern Arméns Jägarbataljon, I asked for permission to run the translated version as a guest post.

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An interesting discussion took place on Twitter 10FEB2018, a discussion I followed from the side. Part of the discussion came to focus on how airmobile and ranger units could be used in an armed conflict. Airmobile units I will happily leave to the professional officers of the 31. Battalion to recount. However, it might be suitable to describe how today’s, sole, ranger battalion would operate in, i.e. Arméns Jägarbataljon (AJB, the Swedish Army Ranger Battalion), the wartime 193. Ranger Battalion.

The, unfortunately, stubborn picture in the Swedish Defence Forces in general and in the Army in particular regarding how the rangers fight is based on how the Norrlandsjägarbataljon’s (NjBat’s) and Jägarbataljon syd (Jbat Syd) would have fought during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Their battle would take the form of direct action followed by a decisive battle behind enemy lines. In other words, the battalions were given a geographical area, which was further divided into company-, platoon-, and squad areas. Within these the so called direct action would take place, simply put different forms of ambushes against predetermined targets such as supply vehicles during a prolonged time. The battle would then transform to interdiction once the divisions of the Swedish Army would launch their all-out offensive aimed at destroying the enemy formations. During this interdiction-phase the ranger battalion would stop all enemy movements within their given area, and thereby support the main corps-level effort.

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A ranger squad from the Ranger Battalion in terrain typical to Northern Sweden. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

The overarching thought with NJbat and Jbat Syd was partly to ‘tax’ the predetermined targets, and partly to create a threat that the enemy would need to allocate resources to counter, thereby reducing the units available at the actual frontline. Together, this would allow for own combat units to, possibly, achieve numerical superiority in their battles.

This idea is unfortunately very much alive in schools, centras, and commands. In different kinds of wargames the symbol for ranger battalion is often placed in a number of squares on the map, where it then spends the rest of the time while the tactics is played out elsewhere. In principle this is correct for the tactics of days gone by, but in no way corresponding to today’s sole ranger battalion. Today’s ranger battalion is in no way tied to a certain geographical area as NjBat or Jbat Syd were, but is instead used where the capabilities of the unit provides the greatest benefit to the common fight.

How does the operations then benefit the common fight? Before solving more complex missions, i.e. those on high tactical, operational, or strategic levels, a thorough analysis of the coming enemy is always conducted. Own vulnerabilities are always identified, so that they can be protected, but also the vulnerabilities of the adversary is mapped out. These include so called critical vulnerabilities, which might have to be influenced. Obviously, the adversary will in some cases, like us, be aware of his vulnerabilities, while in other cases, like us, he will be unaware of these. If he is aware of his critical vulnerabilities, he will naturaly allocate resources to protect these.

If these critical vulnerabilities are influenced they will create ripples, which makes other parts of the enemy vulnerable. An interesting fact, which often but not always hold true, is that the critical vulnerabilities found deep within terrain held by the opposing force usually create bigger ripple effects if influenced than those closer to the frontline. It is these targets, critical vulnerabilities deep behind enemy lines, that today’s Swedish Ranger Battalion is set to work against. This also means that the targets might be highly prioritised, and that the enemy might allocate sophisticated and sometimes extensive resources to their protection.

As such, today’s sole ranger battalion is miles apart from its predecessors. The unit isn’t tied to specific geographic areas, but is used deep behind enemy lines against the critical vulnerabilities that have been identified as having the potential to affect the outcome of the battle. How the battle is fought and with what unit size is not defined in set doctrinal rules, but rather decided on the basis of the specific target in question (the critical vulnerability). It follows that the unit isn’t meant to be used in the role it’s often wargamed in in schools, centras, and commands, i.e. direct action along roads during prolonged times.

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All Swedish rangers get basic mountain warfare training, provided by the officers of the dedicated Mountain Platoon. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

A secondary effect of influencing the critical vulnerabilities is that the enemy will have to allocate resources to protect their rear areas, perhaps in even larger numbers than before. This is due to the fact that it isn’t possible to predict where and how the rangers will operate in the same way as earlier. This will indirectly tie down resources to counter the threat and create a more beneficial numerical situation along the frontline, in addition to the direct effect on the critical vulnerabilities.

I will argue that the lack of this knowledge means future higher level officers, and to a certain extent current ones, will fail to understand how a highly capable instrument should be used in their planning and in the conduct of the battle. An instrument that in my opinion can play a part in deciding the outcome of the common fight.

Finally, it should be noted that this post is written in a very general way to not disclose strengths, weaknesses, or tactics. As such, no classified information is touched upon in this post.

Have a good one! // Jägarchefen

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The Battle of Schmarden

The skirmish of Schmarden was one in a long line of battles fought along the eastern front during the First World War. Like countless other battalion-sized operations, it would probably have slipped into total obscurity, if not for the fact that the German Landwehr Bataillon that conducted the attack was reinforced by the Pionier Kompanie of the Königlich Preussisches Jägerbataillon Nr. 27.

Just south of Schmarden, today’s Smārde in central Latvia, the Russian troops had managed to create a forward line of defenses that extended close to the German lines, and a decision had been made to perform a nighttime attack to destroy this forward line. A German battalion of reserve infantry would perform the attack in two waves, with the first wave capturing the target and moving up 500 meters past it, in order to let the second wave destroy the fieldworks. After this was done, all German troops would then withdraw back to their starting position.

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The pioneer company parading during the summer of 1917. The officer riding on horseback is the German lieutenant Basse, who commanded the company during the battle at Schmarden. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Unknown

To facilitate the destruction of the fieldworks, it was decided that combat engineers were needed, and it so happened that nearby the 27th Royal Prussian Jäger Battalion had a company of engineers grouped as the battalion reserve. This unit was made up of Finnish volunteers, who had managed to leave the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland in order to reach Germany and get military training there. This was all done in anticipation of the coming War of Independence. The members of the battalion, simply called Jääkärit in Finnish, came to provide the core of the ‘White’ Finnish Army in the Finnish Civil War of 1918, and several of the key officers in the Finnish Army during the Second World War had received their training in the clandestine battalion. As such, the importance of the battalion for the development of the Finnish armed forces is hard to overstate.

In July of 1916 the infantry component of the battalion was responsible for a rather calm stretch of the frontline in today’s Latvia, but the engineers had been held in reserve and hadn’t seen any real fighting. The attack near Schmarden would be their baptism of fire. Probably due to this, the company would not operate as a whole unit, but the engineers were attached to German squads either in pairs or in small groups of three. Exactly a hundred years ago, at midnight the night between the 24 and 25 of July, the troops started moving.

While the sky was relatively dark, the tall vegetation in no-man’s land meant that the Russian sentries was alerted by the sound of troops moving, and soon the advancing forces were fired upon by not only rifles and machine guns, but heavy weapons and artillery as well. Despite this, they managed to press on, and soon reached the first line of defences. These were relatively lightly defended, but when moving up the additional 500 meters they met harder resistance in the main and rear trenches.

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A map of the the movements of the battalion during its stay at the frontline in 1916-1917. The battle of Schmarden took place at no.2. Source: Jaakko Suomalainen/Wikimedia Commons

The battle as a whole was a rather messy affair, with the advancing troops becoming split up and intermixed. It also seems like the Russian positions weren’t completely destroyed, and the withdrawal was complicated by both Russian and German artillery targeting the no-man’s land. According to the battle reports, the Finnish engineers had by and large shown great courage, and five of the sixteen Russian prisoners of war captured were captured by the Finns. However, it was also reported that in the heat of the battle some had forgot that their primary task was the demolishing of the Russian fortifications, with the Finns at times having advanced in front of the German infantry, and some even ditching their shovels to be able to keep up with the more lightly equipped infantrymen! Still, the general consensus seems to have been that the engineers performed well for being completely ‘green’, and Lt.General Wyneken is said to have thanked the Finns for their part in the fighting.

Unremarkable as Schmarden was, the total losses for the Finns were two soldiers killed in action and a further seven suffering minor wounds, it marked the first time since 1809 that a Finnish combat unit had taken part in an attack against a Russian force on the battlefield. It was also destined to remain the single major offensive operation undertaken by the 27th Jäger Battalion. Schmarden Day is today each year celebrate on the 25 of July as the service branch day of the Finnish combat engineers, so happy Schmardenin päivä to all my pioneeri readers!

The description of the battle is largely based on this text on from the homepage of the Ostrobothnian Guild of Combat Engineers.