Thursday, 5 June 2014

54th Army, Fall-Winter 1941

"To the Deputy Commissar of Defense, Lieutenant-General Fedorenko

I present to you the report of the combat actions of the Armoured and Motorized Forces of the 54th Army through the months of October-December.

1. The following combat-ready vehicles were present in the 54th Army as of October 1st, 1941:

Vehicle type
122 TBr
16 TBr
Total
KV
1
7
8
T-34
4
5
9
T-40
11
0
11
BT
0
25
25
T-26
0
0
0
Damaged, at the repair base
KV
1
0
1
T-34
3
6
9
T-40
7
0
7
BT
0
6
6
T-26
0
1
1

Motorized infantry battalions and other subordinate units of the tank brigades, as well as armoured train #60 were combat ready on October 1st and did not suffer many losses.

2. The area was heavily forested, with poor visibility, large amounts of swamps, marshes, and wet fields, very limited roads available. In November, the temperature reached -15 degrees, down to -33 in December. There was much precipitation in December, 35-40 cm of snow. An especially difficult region for tank fighting was the area around Moluks, where tanks had to get to through forest clearings, as well as a moss covered swampy region south of Gontavaya Lipka and Workers' Village #7.

Crews had to work for 12 hours a day on average, and combat took place during the entire day when there was light. The most difficult time was in December, during harsh colds and in deep snow, with no heated living quarters aside from dugouts.

Rivers on in this area such as Chernaya, Nazia, and the Goluboy creek are impassable for tanks without special overpasses.

In general tanks were confined to roads in the swampy forest terrain in the fall and December, with no ability to maneuver, and sometimes not even to turn around and attack enemy hardpoints.

3. The tank brigades were not involved in independent offensive action during this time. There was independent defensive action by the 16th Tank Brigade at a wide front across Chernetskoye, Voskresensk, and Belaya. 122nd Tank Brigade defended at Shum, Greater and Lesser Vloya, and Purovo.

The second half of October, all of November, and the first half of December was occupied with draining defensive fighting and deflecting enemy attacks to Volhov, Boybokalo and the Tihvin-Volhov railroad branch. In October, the 122nd TBr used tanks and a motorized infantry battalion as a part of the 3rd Guards Division in the direction of Estonian Village and Village #7. 16th TBr was involved in an offensive, first attached to 4th Guards, then to the 310th Infantry Division in the direction of Tortolovo and Gontovoaya Lipka. Tank unit and subordinate unit commanders did not always have concrete battle orders, and when they did, they were inexact and frequently the strength of enemy concentrations was underestimated (Maluksa, "Krasniy Oktyabr" farm). Usually, orders consisted of "suppress the encountered enemy and escort infantry to Apraksin substation" or "escort infantry to the western outskirts of Gontovaya Lipka". As infantry was not advancing very quickly in forested areas, tanks had to go ahead and then return to "lead infantry". This meant that the tanks spent all day under enemy fire, causing heavy losses for the tank brigade. Armoured train #60 was used to cover forces when retreating from Kirishi and to support infantry defending close to the railroad station. Using tanks in defensive roles consisted of short counterattacks and using dug-in in tanks as bunkers.

In general, due to the assistance of tanks, some divisions held, and some even managed to retake settlements lost earlier.

When the army moved to attack on December 17th, tankers crushed the main enemy strongpoint at the "Krasniy Oktyabr" farm, after which the enemy defenses in the Shum-Boybokalsk direction collapsed. After the battle for "Krasniy Oktyabr", the tankers first heard praise from infantry commanders.

4. Battle results

Irrecoverable losses:
  1. KV tanks: 4
  2. T-34 tanks: 13
  3. T-40 tanks: 12
  4. BT tanks: 30
  5. T-26 tanks: 1

Total: 60

Over the three months, the following have been destroyed or captured:
  1. Tanks: 122
  2. Armoured cars: 13
  3. Staff cars: 6
  4. Transport trucks: 32
  5. Tractors: 2
  6. Guns (various): 145
  7. Mortars: 86
  8. AT rifles: 19
  9. Machineguns: 173
  10. Rifles: 233
  11. Hand grenades: 650
  12. Rifle rounds: 65,000
  13. Radios: 8
  14. Bunkers destroyed: 6
  15. Motorcycles: 12
  16. Bicycles: 5
  17. Aircraft: 6
  18. Ammunition warehouses destroyed: 7
  19. Enemy soldiers and officers killed: 3230
Still in working order:
  1. KV tanks: 3
  2. T-34 tanks: 3
  3. T-26 tanks: 3
  4. BT tanks: 2
  5. T-40 tanks: 2
  6. Captured tanks: 1
  7. BA-10 armoured cars: 8
  8. BA-20 armoured cars: 13
At the repair base:
  1. KV tanks: 1
  2. T-34 tanks: 3
  3. BT tanks: 1
  4. T-26 tanks: 2
  5. BA-10 amoured cars: 3
  6. BA-20 armoured cars: 2
Conclusions:
  1. The most dangerous enemy of a tank are minefields, very often our own (Chernaya river, Moluks, Lyudba). Scouting out minefields, roads, and directions should be very thorough. Each tank should be guarded by infantry in an attack.
  2. The most effective use of tanks in battle is on terrain that allows them to maneuver and move quickly ("Krasniy Oktyabr" farm). 
  3. It can be confidently said that the T-34 and KV tanks can traverse any swamp as long as there are wooden covers placed every meter.
  4. Less tanks are lost when advancing through forests when they advance in line with infantry or behind it, opening fire through clearings or over top of friendly infantry.
Chief of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the 54th Army, Colonel Starokoshko
Operations chief of the infantry unit, Senior Lieutenant Feish"
From L.V Gorchakov's collection.

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