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Red Army Tank Tactics

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  • A snippet concerning T-60 employment
    Headquarters of the auto-armored ad tank forces of the Kalinin Front
    Experience of battles at Rzhev demonstrated a number of effective methods of employment of technical means in combat against the enemy, for example:
    In action on 26.9.42 the atni-tank battery of the 81 Tank Brigade was towed behind T-60 tanks. The brigade operated in the second line behind the 28 Tank Brigade as a development force.
    4 T-60 tanks each towing one 45-mm gun attacked ahead of the motor rifle battalion behind the wave of heavy and medium tanks.
    Guns were towed by tanks using ropes attached to towing shackles. 6-7 ammunition boxes, each with 15 rounds were lid on each tank, total 90-105 rounds per tank. Partitions were removed from each box meant for 10 rounds and 5 rounds were additionally stored. Boxes were not fastened to tanks.
    Gun crews walked on foot in battle lines of the motor rifle battalion, each behind their guns. One crew member was riding tanks for disconnecting the gun and unloading ammunition. Guns were disconnected from tanks following a per-arranged signal of the AT battery commander. In action of 26.9.42 anti-tank guns were detached from tanks in depth of hostile positions on the line KLUSHINO, MIT'KOVO (5-6 km from the forward line) where they engaged with direct fire hostile bunkers and weapons emplacements.
    Time required for unhitching the guns, unloading ammunition and making the gun ready for combat was 1,5-2 minutes.

    1. The method of employment of 45-mm anti-tank guns towed by T-60 tanks proved its worth.
    2. When the brigade attacks organized hostile position in the first echelon, anti-tank guns should be detached in front of the forward line, after that they support tanks by fire and movement.
    3. If the brigade attacks in the second echelon and the hostile forward line is penetrated anti-tank guns should be transported to the depth of hostile positions.
    4. Anchoring of anti-tank guns to a tank needs improvement.
    5. Crews of anti-tank guns should to be trained in operation with the tank-transported gun.

    In the same combat on 26.9.42 the 81 Tank Brigade employed fire of Maxim machine guns installed on T-34 tanks for support of tank riders. Total 4 machine guns were employed.
    Conclusion: Experience demonstrated that fire of the Maxim gun from a moving tank is of little effectiveness.
    It would be expedient to dismount machine guns on a certain line for support of tank-transported infantry.

    As many pieces of information suggest employment of T-60 as improvised gun tractors was not so rare.


    • Incidental, to the point Artyom makes on the next above on the T-60 employment, there are two examples of improvisation by the brigade. In the early 1970's when I started studying in earnest the Red Army in WWII, I had read through the Department of the Army Pamphlet series written by German Officers (in the 1950's through the Army Historical division) on their experiences against the Red Army. One of the threads through their commentaries was a recognition of the Red Army's ability to improvise, despite their main line point of a rigidity in tactics. I found that a conflicting observation. That contradiction combined with the fact that the Germans had lost the war on the eastern front was raison d'etre to study the war on the eastern front in greater depth.
      Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


      • Here improvisation was not completely improvised. Pre-war book ("Tactics of tank troops",1940) described employment of tanks of that class in the following way:
        The small tank (could be amphibious) for the most part is meant for reconnaissance by combat-arms units and formations and forms tank or reinforces combined-arms reconnaissance elements.
        The small tank is also employed as a means of communication and for transporting anti-tank guns.
        In mobile types of combat small tanks can be used for reinforcement of infantry and cavalry. Their employment in attack on enemy that halted and switched to defense (except positional situation) is possible but only after the main line of defense is penetrated and with support of light cannon-armed tanks. Small tanks can also be used in various forms of defense and in river crossing.
        Yet tables of improvisation didn't provide for that type of transport, neither technical issues were completely clarified.


        • Good find and point in the pre-war manual for towing AT gun. The effort to protect desant troops on tanks with four machine guns was an interesting effort, and the experience was shared.
          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


          • Continuing a T-60 bashing: a characteristic combat episode happened in the 130 Tank Brigade on 3 March 1942 in South Ukraine. The brigade was attached to the 2 Cavalry Corps which made a secondary attack in the general offensive of the South Front (already described on one of previous pages). Despite the fact that the 130 brigade had only 8 tank operational (3 KV and 5 T-34) the offensive started on 28.2.42 with a good progress, in particular a large village of Osadchiy was captured. However, on 1 and 2 March the offensive faltered under counterattacks of superior German armor. By 3 March the 130 Brigade was reduced to merely 3 operational tanks (2 KV, 1 T-34). The 2 Cav.Corps commander general Usenko ordered to renew the attack and throw to actions newly received 13 T-60 Tanks. Although the commander of the 130 TBr protested his opinion was overridden with a written order of the 57 Army HQ. The brigade command judiciously left 9 T-60 to defend the base of operation at Osadchiy in cooperation with the brigade's motor rifle battalion.

            The attack from Osadchiy was launched on the morning of 3 March with 2 KV, 1 T-34, and 4 T-60, heavy and medium tanks being employed in the first line, and light T-60s in the second lien behind them. This tank group supporting the 62 Cavalry Division made some progress but then ran into a German counterattack with a dozen of medium and heavy tanks. Soviet cavalry started to retreat, tanks had to enter a tank-vs-tank combat despite numerical inferiority in order to cover its withdrawal. Already in the first minutes of combat all 4 T-60s were knocked out. KVs and T-34s were not (an evidence of their superior armor) however their weapons and optics were incapacitated in combat and they had to retreat to Osadchiy. At the same time the village was attacked by another group of 6 tanks with infantry. T-60s deployed in the village opened fire on them but were all soon knocked out. German troops captured the village and inflicted heavy losses to the infantry of the 130 Brigade. All the remaining tanks of the brigade could do was to cover a retreat to the north.

            The battle on 3 March was a real calamity. 130 Tank Brigade had all its operational tanks incapacitated, 12 T-60 and 1 T-34 (previously immobilized and abandoned at Osadchiy) became total write-offs. Two cavalry divisions of the 2 Corps (62nd and 64th) ceased to exist as battle-worthy units. Corps commander major general Usenko was removed from command and court-martialed:

            As the brigade after-action report concluded:
            Employment of T-60 tanks in this operation was ill-advised:
            1) Due to deep snow cover they lost their maneuverability
            2) Due to hostile superiority in the number of tanks on this sector of the front
            3) The enemy had only medium and heavy tanks. Combat versus hostile medium and heavy tanks was beyond capabilities of T-60 tanks.

            It is expedient to employ T-60s in combination with heavy and medium tanks in terrain devoid of deep snow.

            Other noteworthy points:
            1) General Usenko decision to continue the attack against superior German armor strength was clearly ill-thought and inadequate
            2) Vulnerability of Soviet infantry/cavalry to German armor attacks was confirmed once again. It was reinforced by a small number of anti-tank weapons (the cops had only 18 anti-tank guns, plus 76-mm field guns and no anti-tank rifles).
            3) Accordingly the value of KV and T-34 as anti-tank weapons was very salient.
            4) Weakness of early-1942 tank brigades was demonstrated again: the brigade was reduced to a handful of tanks which couldn't produce considerable effect.
            5) Different survivability of T-60s and heavy/medium tanks.
            Attached Files


            • I like the Soviet schematic sketches and symbols; they convey more information. The reports conclusions and noteworthy points would be similar for a panzer unit with its PzII's. I've seen photos of PzII's following PzIV's. I don't know how the PzII's performed in snow.

              In the invasion of France, the Germans tackled the Char B by hitting their tracks. The Pz I and II's were held back, or used to simulate an attack on the French flanks.
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


              • Analysis of tank and mechanized combat experience during the first period of the war (Jun '41-Nov '41) allowed the Soviet leadership to refine the tactical and operational use of these formations. The Western front model from experience in August 1942 led to higher directives on armor use. New principles were directed in the People's Defense Commissar (NKO) Order No. 325, dated 16 October 1942. According to the order, separate tank brigades and regiments were designated for direct infantry support. Direct infantry support tank units were to advance with the infantry to assist in making the initial tactical penetration for a breakthrough operation. Tank attrition in these units was understandably high. Tank and mechanized corps were the Front and army means, to be utilized on main axes as the echelon to develop success by inflicting powerful strikes to split up and encircle large enemy groupings. The armored corps were to be committed after the penetration of the tactical defense in order to be at full strength for engagements with the German reserves in the depths of the defense. However, often in the mid to late war periods, the penetration tank corps would send a forward detachment to help the first echelon create the penetration-which gives the tank corps in part a tactical mission. What was key in the order, tank corps were not to be broken down into brigades and parceled out to divisions or army rifle corps which occurred with one of the tank corps at Kharkov.

                The commanders of the 1941 tank brigades led corps in 1942 and provided a core of combat-hardened, experienced leadership. The placement and relative stability of armored unit leaders proved crucial for implementing changes. Losik in his study on the formation and combat use of tank troops in WWII explained, "...that in 1941-1942 a certain part of the command personnel and staffs did not have enough experience in organizing and conducting meeting engagements and battles."

                Marshal Konev in his book, "Forty-five", wrote, "The experience of war is a great thing.... In recalling the war and comparing its phases, we, it seems to me, sometimes underestimate just how far we came in mastering the art of war during the war years. In the fourth year of the war it was considered only natural to perform such combat tasks which, if they were transferred mentally back to the initial period of war, would be considered incredibly difficult, bordering on impracticable."
                Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 16 Jul 20, 11:36.
                Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


                • The offensive operation of the Southwestern Front at Kharkov in May 1942 had two tank corps (21st and 23rd), 13 separate tank brigades and 4 separate tank battalions. The tank brigades and battalions were intended for direct infantry support and the tank corps were to operate as mobile groups.

                  The offensive began on May 12. During the first two days the attack breached the German defenses and advanced 25-30 kilometers. By the end of the 3rd day of the operation, enemy resistance began to weaken and favorable conditions were created for committing the tank corps into the battle. However, the Front command abandoned its original plan of introducing the tank corps on the third day of the operation and designated a new commitment line which was 15 kilometers deeper.

                  The decision not to introduce the tank corps into the battle during the first three days of the operation and repeated changes in the deadlines for their commitment adversely affected the future course of the combat actions. It made possible for the enemy to regroup its troops, bring up the deep reserves, organize a defense on intermediate lines and finish preparations for inflicting a counter strike to the flank of the Soviet's advancing troops.

                  On the morning of May 17 (the sixth day of the operation), the tank corps were committed (instead of the third day) to the battle at a depth of 25-30 kilometers. The following day the the attack of the tank corps was essentially called to a halt to turn to a new direction to repel the enemy counterstrike. The tank corps did not achieve any operational results.

                  In July-September 1942, the new experience of using tank corps (and initial experience of tank armies) had shortcomings in the large tank formations for not fully eliminating the tactical use.

                  To be cont'd

                  Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


                  • Some of the more typical shortcomings included: poor recon during the preparation for and conduct of the offensive; poor camouflage, especially in the period of regrouping and departure by the tanks for the starting areas which resulted in the loss of surprise; the absence of artillery, air and engineer support (due to a shortage of equipment and experience); the considerable distance form the assembly (up to 30 kms) which led to the late arrival of tanks at the battle commitment line; weak saturation of the infantry with neutralizing weapons and its inability to break through enemy defenses in short periods of time without calling on the tank corps and armies for this; the weak cooperation of the tank formations with aviation; commitment of armies and corps to the battle by units without the proper massing. One can see the learning curve was still very steep through most of 1942.

                    Additionally, the deficiencies noted generally were the result of the inability of certain combined-arms commanders to use correctly large tank formations. So, the problems were more than just doctrine, force structure, specific weapon systems, it was inexperience in commanders and staffs in execution of operations.
                    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


                    • Regarding tank-towed guns - that's from a report of the battle training directorate of Red Army's artillery "On countermeasures against some hostile tactical methods" (not later than November 1942):
                      Make a practice of towing support guns in the last wave of tanks, moving them by bounds from one line to another depending on development of combat in depth [of hostile positions]
                      This report was transmitted to Soviet fronts and down the chain of command for information and guidance in November 42


                      • Another interesting document Artyom!

                        The scope and timing of the document gives several insights and raises points greater than the practice of towing support guns:

                        First, the document illustrates the delivery of war experiences relevant the artillery forces, just as we have seen for the tank forces with the transfer of lessons from one Front to others.

                        Second, is the scope of the document in counteraction measures to some of the enemy's tactical methods which were threats against offensive operations (tactical and operational levels).

                        Third, is the timing of the document. The handling dates on the document are 24 and 25 November 1942 which are in the middle of the first phase of penetrating and encircling Axis forces in the Stalingrad Counteroffensive 19-30 November 1942. Given the intensity and duration of the operations, it would raise the question if the involved Front and army staffs would have picked up and used this experience in the course of the operation. The reason I raise this point is Manstein's backhand strike against Popov's tank group's penetration in February 1943, which sent another shock wave through the Red Army to come to grips with protecting the flanks of armored forces penetrating to the operational depth. The results was another scramble to add air defense, anti-tank, artillery, and engineer mobile detachments to protect the flanks.

                        Subsequently, in 1943, there is a significant structural change in the armored forces based on the experiences in the Battle of Stalingrad and the following Winter Campaign. The tank and mech corps organized in 1942 proved themselves for limited, tactical exploitation of enemy defenses. The tank armies of 1943 were comprised of units that shared a common level of mobility and armored protection rather than the mixture of tank, cavalry and rifle units and picked up for support specialized regiments for motorcycle reconnaissance, multiple-rocket launchers, heavier howitzers, antitank weapons, and antiaircrat guns, as well as supported by aviation, signals, transportation, and maintenance units..
                        Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 20 Jul 20, 03:41.
                        Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.


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