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Red Army Tank Tactics

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  • In US parlance there is direct support which means the assets are given to the div commander for how he wants to use them. Indirect support is the unit can be called for by division but the release and how to fight the unit is the Army commander's decision. It's a control issue; Zhukov's directive is quite clear. The tanks were not to be diluted by attaching them to infantry divisions for further subdividing with the regiments, but rather keep the tank brigade as a whole reserve to be used by the army commander for a strong counterattack or attack in the offensive--maybe necessary in the inf div or elsewhere. the tk brigade will be fought as a whole. It is definitely two schools of thought. At that point in the course of the war and the war experience, the choice is very situational.
    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


    • And related piece of tactical analysis from an unlikely source
      Military prosecutor of the South Front
      27 March 1942
      No. 02282

      To the Military Council of the South Front

      According the front’s military council’s decision of 24 February the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the South Front investigated facts of violation of the People’s Commissar’s for Defense order No. 057 in the 2, 3, and 54 Tank Brigades. Investigation has established the following:
      In combat at Petrovskoye from 7 to 15 February 3 Tank Brigade abandoned on hostile territory 7 KV and 5 T-34 tanks. 2 Tank Brigade took part in operations at Petrovskoye on 15 February together with 3 Tank Brigade. During the battle 2 Tank Brigade had 2 KV and 3 T-34 knocked out by hostile artillery fire. These vehicles were evacuated from battlefield. 54 Tank Brigade as a part of the Kamkov’s operational group took part in combat near Vesyoloye village and lost 10 tanks.

      Tanks of the 3 Tank Brigade were lost in the following circumstances:

      According to the order of the 37 Army, 3 Tank Brigade, being assigned a mission to support the 14 Guards Rifle Division, started attack on Petrovskoye village on 7 February. During this attack contrary to the order No.057, 3 Tank Brigade employed only one company, although these were all its forces available – 7 T-34 tanks.
      Small strength of the tank group was not the only reason for failure of combat operation on 7 February. Before entering combat the 3 Tank Brigade didn’t have any reliable information on location of system of hostile anti-tank defense. The attack wasn’t preceded by an appropriate artillery preparation. Support guns assigned to the tank company were absent. As a result of all these factors the company suffered heavy losses. At a distance of 300 meters from Petrovskoya the enemy sent 2 tank on fire. The third tank was knocked out by several direct hits.
      The remaining 4 tanks, after bypassing Petrovskoye from the north-west to the south-east occupied the Hill 196. Here they spent the remainder of the day of 7 February and the entire 8 February.
      A blatant violation of the order No.057 took place on the night from 8 to 9 February. Commander of the 43 Rifle Regiment/14 Guards Rifle Division captain Dubina intended to capture the village on that night. Without approval of the command of the 3 TBr captain Dubina by deceit and physical threats ordered to the commander of the tank company Pinchuk to sent tanks to night frontal attack on Petrovskoye over unreconnoitered and strongly crossed terrain. Company commander, being separated from the brigade command and having no communications with it, had to comply with this absurd order.
      At 3.00 AM tanks set off to the village. The enemy opened strong cannon fire against two leading tanks. The tank turned back. One vehicle stuck in a ditch. Commander of the second tank tried to assist and tow the incapacitated vehicle but his stuck as well. Company commissar arrived with his tank to rescue. During towing his tank was hit by a round which killed a gunner. The commissar withdrew his tank behind a hillock. Two tanks that stuck in a ditch were shot by the enemy from a distance of 100-150 meters.
      Thus, only 2 tanks remained to a rallying point from a company of 7 tanks.

      On the morning of 9 February 3 TBr tried to attack Petrovskoye again, but this time with a weak group of 4 KV tanks (all available operational tanks of the brigade). Just like in previous cases artillery was poorly cooperating with tanks. There wee not support guns.
      One KV tank entered the village and started to suppress hostile weapons. Here in the village it was knocked out and set on fire by a HEAT round. Another tank was set on fire while approaching the village. The remaining two tanks bypassed the village and engaged it with fire from the Hill 174.7. However, infantry elements of the 14 Guards Rifle Division, which like in previous attack had to occupy the village, failed to carry out their mission. Tanks returned to a rallying point. Of the crews of two knocked out tanks nobody had returned.
      The third tank attack on Petrovskoye was undertaken on 15 February.

      Compared with previous attacks it was far better prepared. To capture the village two tank brigades – 2nd and 3rd were assigned to support the 14 Guards, 150, and 99 Rifle Divisions. 3rd Tank Brigade had 16 tanks, 2nd Tank Brigade – 12 tanks. The operation was commanded by the deputy commander of the 37 Army colonel Lobanov. A carefully designed plan provided for powerful artillery preparation and aerial bombardment.
      According to intelligence data Petrovskoye was defended by 5-6 anti-tank guns, 2-3 tanks and 2 infantry companies. Having a vast manifold superiority in personnel and equipment our command was sure of complete success of the operation, and not without a good reason. Contrary to expectation this attack failed.
      As revealed by the investigation the failure laid in the very preparation.
      The days of 13 and 14 February were occupied by joint planning. On these days question of combined action of tank brigades and rifle divisions and artillery support of the tank attack were clarified. But combat reconnaissance - the basic element of offensive preparation – wasn’t paid due attention on these day. As demonstrated by collected testimonies rifle divisions conducted no engineer reconnaissance. In particular the 14 Guards Rifle Division, on whose sector tanks were to be employed, didn’t use its sappers to reconnoiter and clear probable areas of minefields. 2nd and 3rd also didn’t reconnoiter probable minefields on their expected routes to Petrovskoye.
      Attack on Petrovskoye started with a powerful artillery strike. As further events demonstrated, artillery fire, conducted from closed positions and on areas rather than on exact targets, was only powerful in amount of ammunition expended, but not in its effect and failed to neutralize the enemy.
      Immediately after the end of the artillery strike as written in the plan tank of both brigades launched attack. Tanks of the 3rd Tank Brigade advanced in the first echelon. Tanks of the 2nd Tank Brigade were behind it on the right. The tanks advanced along the same route where they attacked on the morning of 9 February.
      The enemy expected repeated tank attacks and laid mines on the place where our tanks passed on 9 February. Command of the 3 Tank Brigade didn’t take it into account and carelessly unleashed tanks along the same route as on 9 February. This route happened to be disastrous for tanks which determined in essence the failure of the operation.
      The leading KV tank managed to pass the minefield. When it reached the village it destroyed 5 anti-tank guns by fire and ramming. 3 KV tanks that advanced behind it deployed along a line ran into mines and were damaged. Mines damaged only tank chassis and tanks continued firefight from standing positions. The fourth KV while searching for a pass ran into a mine as well. Despite being damaged it continued to move but was set on fire by hostile HEAT round. After having noticed four immobilized tank behind and seeing in melted snow mines all around the leading tanks retreated from the village along its tracks.
      Another two KV tank entered the village itself but ran into a heavy gun deep inside it. One tank was set on fire by a shot from a close range. The other tank noticed a house with an anti-tank gun camouflaged inside it and rolled over it. The wall of the destroyed house jammed the barrel of the tank gun. The commander, who hadn’t noticed it, made a shot and the gun was incapacitated. The tank had to retreat from the village.
      Attacking tanks were accompanied by sappers. Their tasks included support of the tank attacks. Some sappers managed to pick several mines, but the bulk of sappers, suffering heavy losses, failed to carry out their tasks. In this operation there was no clearly defined cooperation between sappers and tanks. For example, sapper Dmitrievich spotted hostile anti-tank mines, stopped a tank and defused 14 mines under hostile fire. The tank commander was constantly hurrying him and by movement of his tank interfered in Dmitrievich’s work. The sapper stopped all attempts of the tank to move forward. However, despite a warning, the tank crew decided to drive their tank forward and the tank ran into a mine.
      Despite heavy losses of the 3 Tank Brigade the outcome of the battle hasn’t been decided yet. Resolute actions of the 2nd Tank Brigade and 14 Guards Rifle Division could result in capturing the village and subsequent evacuation of the damaged tanks of the 3 TBr.
      Tanks of the 2nd Tank Brigade despite opportunities for maneuver stopped on the Hill 210.0 and spent there several hours. Following examples of tanks the infantry didn’t advance either. The enemy by fire against the hill inflicted heavy losses on infantry and tanks which were further increased by airstrike by “Messerschmitts”. But nether staff officers sent to the tanks of the 2nd TBr from the CP of colonel Lobanov nor chief of staff of the 3rd TBr lieutenant colonel Sviridov or chief of staff of the 2nd TBr lieutenant colonel Burdeiniy managed to induce tanks and infantry to move forward. Passive actions of the 2nd Tank Brigade and infantry determined a failure of battle for Petrovskoye.
      Altogether 2nd and 3rd TBr lost 15 tanks on 15 February. Of them, as described above, 2nd TBr had 5 KV and 3 T-34 knocked out by hostile fire and evacuated. 3rd TBr had 6 tanks damaged but retreating in moving conditions, 5 KVs were left on hostile territory.
      At Petrovskoye serious losses were suffered by our personnel as well. 3rd TBr had 56 men killed and 79 wounded, 2nd TBr – 5 killed and 52 wounded. Enemy losses haven’t been determined. True, the command of the 2nd TBr reported 11 guns, 3 mortars, 5 machine guns nests, 2 trucks, 200 enemy personnel destroyed, but since tanks and motor infantry didn’t enter the village and made not count of hostile losses, there are serious reasons to view this report with doubt.
      Almost simultaneously with the attack of the 2nd and 3rd TBr on the other sector of the front 20 kilometers from Petrovskoye the 54 Tank Brigade started attacks on Vesyoloye. Just like at Petrovskoye our command had a vast manifold superiority in weapons and personnel. One hostile battalion defense area was attacked by our three divisions and the 54 Tank Brigade with attached 62 Separate Tank Battalion, total 33 heavy, medium and light tanks operational. At this point the success of the operation seemed guaranteed too. However, as it is known, the operation resulted in filature.
      The operational directive of the army group of major general Kamkov was received by the 54 TBr on 12 February. The operation was planned on 15 February, consequently the brigade had enough time for preparation. Despite this fact the 54 Tank Brigade had 8 tanks lost to technical breakdowns even before it occupied attack positions.
      Just like at Petrovskoye the tank attack wasn’t supported by a proper artillery preparation. Already on a briefing at the group commander major general Kamkov the commander rejected the proposal of the 54 Tank Brigade’s commander major Martynov to concentrate fire of all available artillery on the moment of the tank attack. The brigade attacked supported by very sparse and weak artillery fire. Just like at Petrovskoye the system and location of hostile anti-tank weapons wasn’t precisely determined and they were not neutralized before the attack.
      Just like at Petrovskoye sufficient reconnaissance wasn’t performed. For example, the brigade command was surprised by the fact that the stream running through Vesyoloye-Belogorovka became impassible for tanks due to the thaw. As a result the direction of attack on Vesyoloye was changed from south to north, which was an unfavourable direction where tank were shot by hostile flanking fire.
      In the first day of combat the 54 TBr attacked Vesyoloye twice in cooperation with the 295 Rifle Division. Once in cooperation with the 15 Rifle Division it repulsed a hostile counterattack. Since infantry units subjected to strong flanking artillery and mortar fire failed to carry out their tasks to occupy Veseyoloye – tanks despite a partial success had to return to starting positions. On this day 15 February the 54 TBr suffered no losses in tanks.
      On 16 February the brigade was assigned a task: acting in two echelons with tank riders launch an independent attack and occupy Vesyoloye. The 54 TBr started this attack having 17 operational tanks.
      Strong anti-tank fire from Vesyoloye forced tank riders, who suffered heavy losses, to dismount. Elements of the 15 Rifle Division which followed behind tanks were separated by flanking mortar and machine gun fire and hit the ground and didn’t advance anymore. Two tanks which tried to cross the stream running from Vesyoloye to Belogorovka stuck there. The commander of the tank battalion facing this unforeseen obstacle changed the direction of attack as already described above from southern edge of the village to the northern edge. Here from a distance of 200-300 meters the enemy captured attacking troops in a fire sack.
      Despite hostile fire two T-34 and 1 KV entered the village. Here they destroyed 3 anti-tank guns and up to a platoon of Germans, but having no support from our infantry had to leave the village. By the end of the day, after losing 10 tanks, the brigades returned to initial positions.
      Deputy commander of the 37 Army colonel Lobanov, commander of the 3rd Tank Brigade colonel Novikov, commander of the 2nd Tank Brigade Gachenkov, and commander of the 54 Tank Brigade major Martynov in their explanation of the failure put the main blame on our infantry. Infantry hits the ground and don’t advance – here is the principal motif of tank commanders. This far-fledged accusation isn’t actually supported by any substance. Indeed infantry lagged behind tanks but that just means that its actual capabilities were not taken into account during planning and preparation of offensive. Combined-arms commanders during combat for Petrovskoye and Vesyoloye instead of making deployment at night and starting attacks at daybreak from a close distance (200 meters as recommended by our combat manual) completed deployment by 8-9 AM and started a joint attack of tanks and infantry at a distance of 800-900 meters from a hostile forward line. Under such conditions, especially considering that hostile weapons were not neutralized before the attack, infantry naturally couldn’t keep up with armored vehicles. It was separated from them and suffering heavy losses couldn’t attain its objectives.
      Thus, as established by the investigation, in combat employment of 2, 3, and 54 Tank Brigades in operations at Petrovskoye and Vesyoloye a number of violations of the PCD Order No. 057 were committed, namely: insufficient prior reconnaissance of terrain, hostile positions and fire system, tank attacks were poorly supported by our artillery fire, support guns were not employed, cooperation between tank units and infantry was poorly organized.
      However, considering large natural obstacles on approaches to Petrovskoye and Vesyoloye, strong anti-tank defenses and inherent risk and unavoidable losses in attacks on strongly defended hostile resistance nests, and also considering that deputy commander of the 37 Army colonel Lobanov has been already reprimanded by the Military Council for poor preparation of Petrovskoye operation, commander of the 2nd Tank Brigade colonel Gachenkov was warned about poor state of discipline in his brigade by the Military Council on 16 March, that commander of the 3rd Tank Brigade colonel Novikov has many merits in fights against the German Fascism, and that investigation didn’t reveal glaring tactical mistakes in actions of the 54 Tank Brigade’s commander major Martynov I don’t find it necessary to initiate prosecution against colonels Lobanov, Novikov, Gachenkov and major Martynov.
      I report all described herein for your consideration.

      Military Prosecutor of the South Front
      Divisional military jurist Ankudinov
      Last edited by Artyom_A; 01 Apr 20, 08:20.


      • For illustration of the previous messages. A scheme of operation of the 54 Tank Brigade on 15 February 1942 (from the after-action report):

        54 TBr 15.2.42.jpg
        Operations on 16 February 1942
        54 TBr 16.2.42.jpg
        Situation in the sector of the 37 Army as of 12.2.42
        37A 12.2.42.jpg

        As these maps demonstrate the attack was launched from a relatively limited salient beyond a railroad embankment (a natural anti-tank obstacle) which was already surrounded by German positions from three sides. The attack was made on a narrow frontage and directed east-west along a valley overlooked by hills north and south of it. Unsurprisingly the offensive was choked by flanking fire directed from these hills. In addition a stream running along the valley was swollen after a thaw and proved to be a serious obstacle for tanks. I would say that the basic reason of failure was laid in the plan which ignored terrain factors. Also a similar attack with tanks was made in the same area and in the same direction a week ago, hence a lack of surprise (admittedly the railroad embankment made a tank attack elsewhere in this area almost impossible).

        Another curious point of analysis is the different methods employed within a short operation. On 15 February the tanks attacked bound to infantry, and the attack was stopped when infantry was not able to advance. On 16 February the Kamkov's group (probably out of desperation) ordered an independent tank attack. Isolated tanks reached the village but were powerless to do anything with it. A quite similar pattern was repeated in many other episodes. So neither of the two methods was very successful. Finally, once again transportation of personnel on tanks proved to be impractical under strong hostile fire.


        • Great stuff!! Additionally to poor planning, in the early stage of the war, intelligence collection was weak to non-existent at all levels.
          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


          • Pay attention to "attachment vs. support" thing (paragraph 2)
            Report on combat operations of the 121 Tank Brigade to the Chief of the Red Army’s Armor Directorate general Fedorenko

            1. A need for an armor HQ.
            When several tank brigades operate in the same area there is a need for coordination. The present armor section of the field army HQ mostly carries out functions of supply apparatus, which is especially true in the 57 Army. In 1.5 months the brigade was never visited by its representatives. The only questions of operation they are concerned with are periodic situation reports. When four tank brigades were employed in the operation of the 57 Army liaison and coordination with neighbors was organized by their own initiative without any assistance from the army. Conclusion: control of tank operations should be given to an appropriately organized HQ on the army of front level.

            2. A tank brigade supports a rifle division but is not attached to it.
            Usual wording of orders is “X rifle division with Y tank brigade” which leads to confusion. Divisional commanders understand it as a complete subordination. For example, commander of the 137 RD ordered to give a radio to one regiment and 10 trucks to another. Naturally, this order wasn’t complied with and a conflict ensued. Also when a brigade is bound to a sector of one division its maneuver is limited. Frequently it is profitable to launch attack from a sector of a neighbor division. Conclusion: to promote initiative of the tank brigade commander and staff the brigade shouldn’t be attached to a division but should be placed in support of it.

            3. Combat orders.
            57 Army HQ doesn’t send full combat orders to the brigade, but only short excerpts from them. As a result the brigade doesn’t have a complete idea of the battle plan, situation of planed actions of other units. Conclusion: full combat orders should be given to the brigade. There is also a need for dissemination of daily situation and intelligence reports of the Army HQ.

            4. Tank-transported infantry
            Practice of transporting infantry on tanks proved to be effective especially in attacks on villages. After a preliminary reconnaissance tanks rushed into a village and simultaneously enveloped it from flanks. Tank-borne infantry dismounted on the village’s edge and engaged hostile personnel until our foot infantry came up. Tanks passed through the village at high speed setting houses on fire with flamethrowers (if available) or shelling them from their cannons. Thereafter it was necessary to return to dismounted infantry to carry the bravest men to the opposite side of the village. Usually in such cases the enemy fled in panic abandoning all equipment and materials. Taking control of the opposite side and roads leading to a village is mandatory, otherwise the enemy normally brings his tank reinforcements to an attacked village. Tanks occupying the opposite side should be ready to repulse hostile tanks using artillery support, in this case 3 own tanks can defeat 10 hostile tanks.
            Tank-borne infantry is usually armed with automatic weapons (submachine guns and light machine guns), hand grenades and incendiary charges [1]. T-34 or KV tank should carry not more than 3-4 men. From experience in this case losses of tank-borne infantry are small, since they have a protection of the tank turret from the front and they can engage enemy on sides and behind tanks with their weapons. There were cases when infantrymen made the entire way through the village riding on tanks and spraying the enemy right and left with automatic weapons. Replacement magazines were taken from a tank turret hatch.
            The brigade should include a dedicated company of tank riders (about 100-200 men with submachine guns). At the present time they are detached from the motor rifle battalion, which disperses its forces. Tank riders should be trained for actions with tanks. Infantry without special training suffers large casualties when employed as tank riders.

            5. Artillery support and control of artillery.
            In recent operation we didn’t receive good support from artillery despite large expenditure of ammunition. The reasons are:
            1) Limited numbers (far below establishment) of radio and telephone equipment. As a result the artillery doesn’t have forward observation posts. Fire is directed by a map and doesn’t produce good effect. In many cases hostile weapons engaging our tanks were spotted by forward infantry elements but remained unpunished.
            2) KV and T-34 received as replacements recently don’t have radios and cannot call artillery support.
            In the first period (September, October 1941) coordination with artillery was organized as follows. Commanders of a rifle division and a tank brigade were on the same OP, commander of divisional artillery or artillery group was present here as well. Tanks called artillery fire via tank radios, these calls were received at the brigade commander’s OP and relayed to the artillery commander and then to a forward artillery OP which directed fire against the target.
            Conclusion: Artillery should be supplied with radio and wire equipment. A tank company should have at least two radio tanks (T-34 and KV) and not less than 4 radio T-60. All tanks should be produced with ports for antennas, so that a radio can be taken from a knocked-out tank and installed on any other. Captured radios can be used as well. At the present time tanks carrying no radios are produced with ports closed with welded plugs which cannot be opened in field conditions.

            6. “KV or T-34” or “KV and T-34”?
            Infantry commander always ask: “How many KVs do you have?”. When we answer that we don’t have KVs, only T-34s, they become upset. But according to tank crews of many brigades T-34 is our best tank. It is highly maneuverable, well armored, has a powerful armament and relatively small weight. KV is cumbersome, immobile and has an abysmal cross-country performance. Its thick armor can be penetrated owing to its immobility, and tanks produced recently have a deficient gearbox which breaks down every minute. According to captured German tank crews they are more afraid of one T-34 than of two KVs.
            Conclusion: if KV is left in tank units, they should also be supplied with “Voroshilovets” type tractors. At the present moment not all brigades have them and incapacitated KVs cannot be towed. In general it is desirable to increase production of T-34s (tank crews’ favorite tank) at the expense of KV. It is also desirable to produce flame T-34 (our brigade has them) with improved design of flame thrower.

            7. Security of offensive operation.
            Combat experience in a number of operations suggested a conclusion: in order the secure themselves from hostile counterattacks a strong jump-off position should be built and occupied by dedicated units which do not take part in offensive. Even if an offensive fails the attacker can cling to this position and repulse hostile counterattacks. That would give an attacker a psychological confidence. When own forces are not sufficient for attack it would be better to switch to active defense. Experience demonstrated that active defense, especially night actions and ruses, can inflict as many losses as offensive.

            8. Dissemination of combat experience.
            During the period of operation the brigade prepared a number of reports on experience, was visited by commissions etc. Naturally experience is important for military schools and academies, but a very necessary exchange of experience between combat units wasn’t practiced. For example, we knew about night tank attacks of the 4 Guards Tank Brigade only through accident and without full details. Own experience suggests that night attacks can produce great effect.
            Conclusion: analysis and dissemination of experience should be made in a centralized fashion by the People’s Commissariat for Defense. The most relevant experience should be disseminated to units.

            9. Instilling unit traditions.
            Tank troopers have strong feeling of unit affiliation. Wounded officers and enlisted men want to return to their units after recovery. Rear establishments don’t consider this and convalescents are sent elsewhere. Sometimes personnel are transferred to other units or needlessly repeatedly transferred from one unit to another.
            Conclusion: in order to instill unit traditions convalescent wounded should return to their units from hospitals.

            Commander of the 121 Tank Brigade colonel Radkevich

            [1] a 300 g ball made of mixture of aluminum and iron oxide.
            Last edited by Artyom_A; 02 Apr 20, 11:17.


            • The directive essentially backs Zhukov's position. Rokossovsky wanted to give the tk brigade to the division. The situational question is 'was it more useful to do it Rok's or Zhukov's way?' Noted the date on the Directive was 31 March 1942, when the tk brigade was still the primary tank unit for armor missions. Interestingly, later in the war, tank corps and tank armies once in the attack across the forward edge of the battlefield, they could cross into adjacent friendly sectors to maintain their direction into the operational depth.
              Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 02 Apr 20, 15:32.
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


              • A supplement to 121 Tank Brigade's experience (February-April 1942)

                Method of attack on fortified villages

                Tanks attack carrying infantry riders, foot infantry follows them. Riders dismount at the attacked edge. At first 10-20 minutes tanks and tank riders capture the edge of the village and then buildings further in depth and secure advance of foot infantry to the village. When foot infantry arrives 2/3 of tanks advance to the opposite edge and block arrival of hostile reinforcements. Other 1/3 assist infantry advancing along streets. Artillery should block arrival of reinforcements keeping roads leading to the village under fire. When approached are favorable for tanks, an attack should be launched without artillery preparation to achieve surprise. With good terrain and sufficient number of tanks the settlement should be attacked from two sides.
                Employment of tank riders:
                Tank riders should have a specially designated commander. Signals (by flags, voice, gestures) should be established for dismounting and mounting tanks. Signals from riders to tanks, e.g. call for assistance (tracer, rounds, rockets). Joint actions (several variants) discussed in advance.
                Employment of captured (German) tanks
                Before employment location of hostile tanks, their color pattern, speed of movement, battle formations should be determined. After a careful reconnaissance captured tanks can be used disguised as hostile tanks. A very good coordination with [anti-tank] artillery is needed. When tanks return to positions of own troops, they should designate themselves with prearranged signals (flags, rockets). Artillery crews should know where these tanks are supposed to operate and return from combat. If captured tanks operated together with Soviet tanks they should never separate from the main group, otherwise they would be knocked out by friendly fire.
                Defense employment:
                The brigade was stretched along 15-20 kilometers frontage. In each of three settlements on the frontline there were 3-4 tanks that laid ambush in support of units of rifle division. The shock group with 7-10 tanks was at the central point always in readiness to counterattack or support any ambush. Communications with each group should be maintained by wire and duplicated by radio (which the brigade didn’t have).
                Each tank group is attached a rifle platoon for close security. Supported infantry units organize reconnaissance and report its results to the tank group commander.
                Motor rifle battalion is kept concentrated near the shock tank group.


                • Maintained by wire and duplicated by radios that they did not have. Wire would be difficult in anything happening quickly.


                  • Artyom, great details. Shows how much work-arounds Red Army units had for the lack of radios. It was easier to have and maintain wire links in the defense.
                    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


                    • Originally posted by dgfred View Post
                      Maintained by wire and duplicated by radios that they did not have. Wire would be difficult in anything happening quickly.
                      Each of two tank battalions was supposed to have a truck-installed radio which could communicate with the brigade HQ. However, they could be absent from the very outset or could be lost in action. Anyway, that wasn't sufficient to communicate with 3 or 4 separate groups. Tank-installed radios were almost completely absent on newly produced tanks during the period in question (early months of 1942), see the previous quotes. That made a problem of control of tanks, once they were committed to action, almost insurmountable.


                      • A timeline of the 131 Tank Brigade (January-March 1942, South Front, Ukraine)

                        The brigade was reformed at Stalingrad and was transferred to the front and arrived to Valuyki station by 18.1.42. At Valyiki it received a full complement of tanks (10 KV, 16 T-34, 20 T-60), plus other weapons and materiel. One KV was immediately returned to a factory (engine seizure). During the match from Valuyki one KV suffered a gearbox breakdown, one T-34 had piston rod broken, 1 T-60 had a gearbox failure. T-34 and T-60 were shipped for factory repair, KV was left waiting for a replacement gearbox (joined the brigade only on 1 March). That left brigade with 9 KV (8 operational), 15 T-34 and 19 T-60. On 31 January the brigade started transfer to the Svyatogorskaya station via rail. The first train arrived on 3 February, the last – on 6 February. Transfer from Valyuki to Svyatogorksya (130 kilometers) took 4 days in average. Upon arrival the brigade was assigned to the 9 Army/South Front. March to the front started on 4.2.42, roads were barely passable due to snowdrifts. Wheeled transport was left behind; T-60 couldn’t negotiate roads and were also left on half-way. Tanks had to tow sleds loaded with fuel, ammunition and other supplies. As a result of poor roads and great strain on vehicles 6 tanks dropped out during the march: 2 KVs had transmission breakdown, 3 T-34 had radiator leakage, 1 T-34 had a gearbox breakdown. All four T-34 were repaired by 8 February. KV needed replacement ball bearings and gearbox cogwheels which were absent. After securing a sanction of the armor section of the 12 Army HQ they were taken from tank sent to factory repair, both KVs were finally repaired on 12 February and went to the brigade. On 7 February only one of the two tank battalions (262 Tank Battalion) arrived to the front with 4 KVs, and 5 T-34, In combat for Troitskoye village it lost 1 T-34 damaged by anti-tank guns and 1 KV had a track torn of by a mine explosion. Both tanks were repaired on the next day. Also two tanks underwent minor repair (replacement of road wheels and tracks sections. On 8 February the 263 Tank Battalion and the motor rifle battalion arrived. The brigade didn’t take part in action on that day for a lack of fuel. On 9 February the brigade was committed to assault on Chekassskaya, Znamenka having 4 KV and 11 T-34 operational. Losses:
                        9 February: 1 KV and 3 T-34 knocked out by cannons fire, 1 T-34 burnt down. 2 T-34 and 1 KV were repaired soon. 2 men killed and 27 wounded
                        10 February: 1 KV damaged by a landmine and needs factory repair, 2 killed, 3 wounded
                        11 February: 1 T-34 burnt down by a hollow charge round, 11 men killed, 32 wounded, 8 missing
                        12 February: 2 T-34 burnt down, 12 killed, 54 wounded, 5 missing (probably picked by other units)
                        Total lost in four days: 5 T-34 were lost irreparably after hits of hollow charge rounds, of them 2 were evacuated to the brigade maintenance point. 2 T-34 and KV were strongly damaged by heavy artillery rounds, of them 2 T-34 were sent to factory repair. 1 T-34 had a suspension damage, 2 T-34 had guns damaged, 2 T-34 and 1 KV had technical breakdowns (radiator leakage, cylinder head damage). Further two KV needed replacement of road wheels, but didn’t leave combat.
                        Total 4 KV and 5 T-34 were in need of repair. The following parts were needed: barrels and recoil systems of tan guns – 3, T-34 gun mantlet – 2, KV gun mantlet -1, gearboxes – 2, radiators – 4, T-34 road wheels – 2, KV support rollers – 8, KV cylinder head gaskets – 4. The chief of the South Front armored forces general Shtevnev sanctioned taking these parts from tanks shipped to factory repair. From 11 to 16.2.42 5 KV and 6 T-34 were repaired at the brigade maintenance point (including 5 medium and 6 minor repairs), 7 tanks were evacuated to the maintenance point.
                        On 16.2.43 the brigade was transferred to the 57 Army having 6 KV and 8 T-34 operational (of them 2 T-34 were towing damaged vehicles to rail station for shipment to factories).
                        On 17-23.2.42 in action at Bezzabotovka-Ocheretino the brigade lost 3 KV and 1 T-34 as write-offs. Of them 3 were immobilized and abandoned at Ocheretino on 20.2. Knocked out but repairable were 2 KV (road wheels and control rods broken), 4 T-34 (gun damage, suspension damage, turret hatch and driver’s hatch torn off), 2 KV and 5 T-34 had technical breakdowns. Personnel losses: 75 men killed, 148 wounded, 2 missing. 3 KV and 2 T-34 were left operational on 23.2.42.
                        From 18 to 25.2.42 14 tanks were repaired (6 medium and 8 minor).
                        As of 26.2.42 the brigade had 3 KVs and 5 T-34 operational. Of them 2 T-34 were towing damaged tanks to a rail station. A special commission that inspected tanks determined that tanks were reaching the limit of their durability and would be needed a full overhaul after 30-40 hours of operation.
                        On 28.2.42 the brigade attacked Andreyevka with 3 KV and 5 T-34. 2 KV and 4 T-34 were lost: 1 KV had the right side penetrated by a heavy round and engine and radiator damaged, 1 KV had fuel and cooling system damaged by two direct hits, and 2 support wheels crashed by other hits, 1 T-34 had engine and transmission fully wrecked after a round hit the engine compartment, 1 T-34 had its right side penetrated by a round, radiator, water and lubricating system were wrecked, 1 T-34 had engine louvers hit by an airplane cannon, transmission, the main clutch and radiator were incapacitated, 1 T-34 suffered a technical breakdown (leakage of gases though gasket). One T-34 was an irrevocable loss. That left the brigade with 1 KV and 1 T-34 operational. Personnel losses: 1 man killed and 53 wounded.
                        On 2 March the remaining two tanks were committed to action at Andreyevka again, no losses suffered. Ditto on 3 March.
                        4 March – 1 KV and 1 T-34 operational. 2 T-34 are not suitable for combat due to wear of the transmission, 1 KV can only move on the 3rd gear due to gearbox breakdown. A new inspection revealed that most tanks were in need of engine replacements due to strong wear. KV tanks operated 230-240 motor hours, T-34 – 290-300 motor hours.
                        5 March: 1 KV and 2 T-34 tanks were handed over to the 15 Tank Brigade, 5 KV and 6 T-34 are shipped to factories for repair, 3 KV and 7 T-34 are irrevocable losses. Reasons of irrevocable losses:
                        5 T-34 burned down at Cherkasskoye on 9-12.2.43 after hits of hollow-charge rounds. It is said that T-34 with gasoline engine catches fire easily (*)
                        1 T-34 and 1 KV burned down after hollow charge rounds hit at Ocheretino, 2 KVs were knocked out and abandoned at Ocheretino
                        1 T-34 burned down after a hollow charge round hit at Andreyevka
                        Total 42 tank repairs were made during the period of operations (15 medium, 26 minor).
                        Total casualties: 101 killed, 295 wounded, 19 missing.

                        (*) Due to a shortage of diesel engines a part of T-34 produced in the winter 1941/42 had M-17 gasoline engines.

                        1. The brigade was completely worn down after a month of operations. That duration corresponded to actual technical lifetime of tanks.
                        2. T-60 were of no use in conditions of deep snow and didn't take any part in actions.
                        3. Further losses (combat and technical) quickly left only a handful of operational tanks in the brigade.
                        4. Large wear and technical losses despite very limited advances in battle. Reasons were:
                        - poor roads conditions (movement in deep snow at small speed)
                        - the need to tow sleds with supplies and incapacitated tanks for a lack of tractors which increased wear
                        - lack of time for preventive maintenance
                        - probably an expenditure of engine resources for heating tanks in cold weather
                        5. HEAT (hollow charge) ammunition was prominent as a cause of irrevocable losses. Heavy artillery rounds usually inflicted heavy damage but a tank was still repairable in factory conditions. A large proportion of combat losses were repairable. Only 2 reparable tanks were abandoned on hostile territory.
                        6. Recovery of damaged tanks was hindered by a lack of spare parts and absence of dedicated evacuation vehicles.
                        Last edited by Artyom_A; 08 Apr 20, 11:03.


                        • Artyom, are the conclusions yours or the report's? I know the Red and Soviet Army thought in terms of a technical limitation on the lifetime of tanks. Western armies have high maintenance and support for extending the operational readiness and duration of lifetime. Did the Red Army have the same notion with the Lend-Lease tanks, or were they maintained more with foreign advisers and greater availability of maintenance supplies and support?

                          In the first half of the war, support and sustain were real issues as noted in the reports. I suspect Conclusion 4. "-lack of time for preventive maintenance" was a polite way to avoid admitting supplies and parts were not available for good preventive maintenance.
                          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


                          • Conclusions are mine, but they are mostly either given in the report itself in somewhat different words or direct follow from its content.
                            I know the Red and Soviet Army thought in terms of a technical limitation on the lifetime of tanks. Western armies have high maintenance and support for extending the operational readiness and duration of lifetime.
                            It occurs to me that mileage of 1500 miles or something before overhaul was more or less comparable with what the Soviet army had by that moment (1945).
                            Anyway, I've never seen a fully adequate analysis of operational reliability of WW2-era tanks. Anybody just picks up some piece of data with best fits his conceptions.
                            Maintenance of LL tanks wasn't essentially different from Soviet-manufactured tanks - it was performed by crews, tank technicians, maintenance elements of combat units, separate maintenance units in the operational zone and repair factories in the rear zone.

                            It should be explained that season strongly affected technical reliability. Movement in deep snow meant low speed and hence a higher expenditure of motor hours per the same distance. Greater strain in mechanisms meant higher chances of breakdowns. The need to run engines periodically in strong cold to prevent tanks from freezing meant an expenditure of lifetime resource even when the tanks didn't move anywhere. On the other hand absence of dust common in the summer period was beneficial. From technical point of view a mild winter with little snow and good quality roads was the best possible option - exactly what the Soviet Army met in Poland and Germany in 1945.

                            Lack of time means simply a lack of time. Routine maintenance procedures included in addition to refueling and replenishment of ammunition everyday checks of principal mechanisms and necessary adjustments or minor repair if needed. More extensive technical examination had to be performed once in a week or several weeks. When tanks were constantly busy in combat or evacuation of damaged vehicles (no dedicated evacuation tractors - see above) there was little of no time to perform these procedures. Which meant higher chances of breakdowns.


                            • Interesting perspective. Subsequent to your posting, I found a website with some statistical data on WWII tank longevity based on distance and hours use. Didn't reference specific sources.
                              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


                              • Also noteworthy things:
                                - damage inflicted by heavy artillery is frequently mentioned. It is not clear if it was done by direct laying or by indirect fire of batteries
                                - similarly several cases of tank cannons incapacitated by direct hits to the barrel or cannon mantlet are mentioned. It can be suggested that more probable and far more frequent cases of hits in the turret or hull went without special mention since they didn't penetrate the armor and didn't inflict any damage. That seems to be pretty characteristic of the situation in early 1942 when numerous 37-mm Paks and other weapons were nearly powerless against KVs and T-34s.


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