Monday 26 May 2014

Soviet Tank Tactics, 1945

CAMD RF 233-2356-776 contains a record of experience of the 1st Belorussian Front in 1945, including a wealth of information on fighting in Berlin and on its approaches. The full document is hundreds of pages long, so I will skip the parts that don't have to do with tanks. There is still plenty left!

"Each infantry battalion was reinforced with a SU-76 battery, a SU-152 battery, a company of sappers, and was supported by one mortar regiment, the division's artillery regiment, which included all the division's mortars, 76 mm and 45 mm guns firing directly from the front lines, one burst from the division's rocket artillery, and howitzer batteries.

Penalty companies deployed at the flanks were each reinforced with a SU-76 battery, a platoon of sappers, and were supported by [same artillery support as above]"

"The penetration of enemy defenses in the Berlin operation was done with five infantry divisions reinforced by 12 SPG and tank regiments (240 units of armour), across a 7 km front with the average density of 265 artillery and mortar barrels per kilometer of front."

"During artillery barrages, infantry, with submachinegun companies in the front lines, reinforced with SPGs and engineering tanks, and IS tanks in the second line, took up positions 150-200 meters from the objectives and opened fire from all infantry weapons at the enemy's front trenches, reinforcing the fire when the artillery barrage ended."

"The following is the recommended composition of an assault group: 1-2 mounted machinegun units, 1-2 DShK machineguns, 1-2 sapper units, 3-8 flamethrowers, 2-3 chemists with smokescreens and incendiary chemicals, an anti-tank rifle unit, 3-4 guns of all types (45, 76, 122 mm, and sometimes even 152 mm), and 2-3 tanks and SPGs"

"Late battles are characterized by a large amount of "Faust" grenade launchers, used not only against tanks, but also against infantry and artillery."

"From experience gathered in Poznan, buildings that were reinforced by the enemy were captured in cooperation with infantry. Tanks opened fire at hardpoints and upper floors, while the infantry cleared the first floor and basement. In some cases, tanks used their hulls to cover machinegun nests and allow infantry to run across streets and squares, protecting it from artillery and rifle fire.

In this manner, on January 1st, 1945, when capturing a building at Object 64, an was assault group composed of 15 infantrymen, two chemists with flamethrowers, two T-34 tanks and one SU-152. Under the cover of tank and SPG fire, the infantry and flamethrower chemists entered the first floor of the building, set it on fire, and entirely destroyed the enemy inside.

When capturing or blocking forts, tanks and SPGs opened fire at the portholes, while assault groups rushed forward, and then destroyed or forced the fort to surrender. In this manner, on February 10th, 1945, when blocking fort #5, an assault group composed of three high power guns, two T-34 tanks, a platoon of infantry, a platoon of sappers, and a unit of flamethrower chemists was used. The assault happened like so: after the guns opened fire at the top floors, the sappers and chemists approached the walls, and tanks with a sapper unit approached the gates. Chemists threw smoke bombs and grenades across the walls, covered the moat with smoke, and the infantry and tanks suppressed the upper floors while the sappers blew the exterior and central gates. A reserve platoon of submachinegunners was then used to fight inside the fort.

When clearing the city of Zoloch, the main unit during street fighting was an assault group, supported by three SU-152s. The group included a battalion of infantry and other reinforcements. Battles in cities and settlements make it impossible to build a wide front and reduce the mobility of tanks and SPGs. In battles for Poznan, the following formations were used (see diagram 1-v and 2-v).

Based on experience in large cities, keep the following in mind:

  1. The operation of tanks and SPGs in large cities is more difficult due to limited maneuverability, cramped spaces, separation of units, and difficulty in commanding them.
  2. Tanks and SPGs are mainly used in assault squads (reinforced infantry platoon, company, or an assault group up to a reinforced battalion). An assault squad uses 2-3 tanks or SPGs. An assault group can have a company of tanks or a battery of SPGs.
  3. Tanks and SPGs follow its assault unit and support it with fire across streets or at windows and enemy emplacements.
    Aside from the tankers' main task, to support their infantry and destroy the emplacements that impede it, the tankers successfully fought enemy tanks. On January 28th, 1945, a tank company captured sectors 133, 137, 126 (Poznan), and using the wide Gurna-Vilda street to move two platoons abreast, approached their objective, but met an ambush of 7 tanks. The company commander placed one platoon on the eastern outskirts of 118 and the other on the northern outskirts of 125. From 200 meters, the platoons opened fire at the enemy simultaneously. As a result, 6 enemy tanks were burned, one escaped.
    Tanks were also used to transport infantry and sappers in order to capture areas. In the morning of January 29th, a platoon of tanks carrying infantry from the 2nd Battalion 226th Guards Infantry Regiment, with the support of two SU-152s reached the north outskirts of 103, where the infantry dismounted and fought in the houses of that sector, while the tanks opened fire at enemy concentrations impeding the advance of infantry.
    When infantry reached north outskirts of sectors 104 and 105, the tank platoon entered sector 81 (city stadium) and allowed 2/226 Guards Infantry to fortify. As a result, one enemy tank was destroyed, and up to 300 vehicles were captured.
    Special attention should be paid to massed machinegun fire. The distance between vehicles moving through the city should be such that every vehicle must be able to protect the one in front of it from being hit with grenades, incendiary bottles, and "Faust" rounds from the upper floors. This distance is about 75-100 meters. Tanks and SPGs should never move in a line. If one tank moves on the right side of the street, it must aim at the houses on the left side, and the next tank should move on the left side, aiming at the right houses. All hatches of tanks and SPGs should be closed.
  4. When moving tanks through streets, parks and squares, the possibility of hidden holes, traps, and basements must be considered. Tanks and SPGs must move carefully, observing the vehicles in front of them. Tanks stuck in a hole or a trap must be protected by infantry and other tanks. Keep a unit of infantry, tanks, and sappers in reserve to free stuck tanks.
  5. AT guns are destroyed by tanks and SPGs with frontal fire from cover. If there is a way to flank an AT gun, it must be used. Houses of medium robustness and barricades can be destroyed with tank guns and SPGs (76 or 85 mm). Extra robust buildings must be destroyed with ISU-122 and ISU-152 SPGs, as well as IS-2 heavy tanks. Flamethrower tanks may be used, under the cover of artillery and regular tanks, to burn out garrisons of bunkers, pillboxes, or buildings.
  6. A tank company or a battery may be assigned to a battalion, company, or reinforced platoon of infantry. Organization of cooperation when assaulting large buildings is very important. It is very important to study approaches to objectives. Taking the Object 63 fortress was preceded by reconnaissance of the area by the tank company and infantry company commanders, followed by reconnaissance by tank and SPG commanders.
    From 9:00 on February 1st to 20:00 February 2nd, four tanks and two SU-152 SPGs (in turn, one tank supported one SPG) approached the alley on the north-eastern side of Object 60 and opened fire to knock a path for infantry through buildings. Two passages were made, one in the front wall (where there were three doors blocked with barricades) and one in half-basement windows to the left. The passages were meant for sappers and infantry to enter the fortress.
    From 20:00, tanks transported sappers and submachinegunners to the openings. The second SU-152 supported this operation with fire.
  7. When organizing city battles, a tank unit commander must:
    1. Study the layout of the anti-tank defenses on the perimeter and inside the city.
    2. Study, with subordinates, up to the most minute detail (using terrain, a map, a schematic, air photos, by questioning locals) the layout of the city, its streets, squares, gardens, important buildings, constructions, the type of buildings, especially in the direction of the unit's movement. Have a precise map with street names.
    3. Distribute tanks among assault squads and groups, based on either previous decisions or an order from the combined arms commander, handing out objectives of supporting infantry and controlling given sectors and objects.
    4. Prepare and distribute methods for overcoming obstructions.
    5. Carefully study issues of cooperation:
      1. Mark lines, objects, attack directions, and determine cooperation signals with infantry.
      2. Determine signals for starting and stopping artillery fire.
    6. Organize supplies and repairs for tanks.
  8. Keep in mind that a city battle is split into individual battles for buildings and sectors, and avoid giving large-scale objectives. The overall objective should be split up into sequential precise objectives of capturing given objects.
  9. When fighting in the city, keep in mind that the individual actions of tank and SPG units decide success in their sectors, and the most important preparations for battle are done at the crew/platoon level.
  10. Careful reconnaissance and observation has a decisive effect in city battles. Commanders at all levels should aim to have close contact with infantry, which will mark targets impeding its progress for tanks. Assault groups should include scouts from tank units. Intelligence data should be constantly updated with observations from tanks and SPGs in order to open fire independently, without prior requests from infantry.
    As a result, tanks and SPGs should not just randomly move forward, but towards the suppression and destruction of specific targets.
  11. When organizing cooperation, carefully establish signals that infantry will give upon reaching an objective, and constant connection with infantry. In street fighting, proven methods of communication are coloured flares, bursts of tracer bullets in the direction of spotted targets. Communication using couriers and communications officers is very important in the city.
  12. Each tank should have a group of 4-5 submachinegunners constantly attached to it in order to guard the tank and protect it from enemy tank hunters armed with "Faust" grenade launchers.
  13. When deciding to use tanks or SPG units in city battles, keep the following in mind:
    1. Assign SU-76 and SU-85 regiments to infantry divisions and regiments for distribution between assault groups and squads. The norm is an SPG regiment, not an infantry regiment.
    2. Independent heavy tank or SPG regiments (IS, ISU-122, ISU-152) are assigned to infantry divisions in order to reinforce assault groups in more difficult and important sectors.
      Heavy tanks and SPGs are tasked with destroying buildings and tanks that cannot be destroyed with 76 or 85 mm guns.

      SU-152 SPGs play a big role in city battles, as a part of assault squads or groups. With their powerful guns, they destroy enemy tanks and hardpoints, make passages in walls, destroy houses.
      On February 20th, 1945, the 394th Guards Heavy SPG Regiment had 5 SU-152s available, and the task to clear 8th, 9th, and 10th sectors directly against the south walls of the citadel (see map). SPGs acted in two groups, jointly with infantry, flamethrower T-34s, and regular T-34s. The first group was composed of three SU-152s, two T-34s, and 26 infantrymen, and was tasked with clearing sector 10. The SPG on the left flank covered the rest of the group from fire coming from sectors 8 and 9. The second group, composed of two SU-152s and three flamethrower tanks headed towards the eastern part of sectors 8 and 9. SPGs came right up to houses, destroyed enemy emplacements, made breaches in the houses so infantry could pass. On narrow streets, the SPGs were positioned so that they could help each other with crossfire.
      SPGs moved up in turns (see diagram #2). The task to clear out the sectors was completed, the SPGs cleared the way for infantry to approach the citadel with powerful fire.

      February 11th, 1945, the 394th GHSR was tasked to cooperate with 240th Guards Infantry Regiment and 74th Guards Infantry Division to take control of Object 85 (a hospital), which was a four-storey tall brick building with deep basements. After a small artillery barrage, two battalions from the 240th regiment attacked and captured the basements in Object 85. The enemy remained in the top floors, and controlled all the passages. With SMG fire and grenades, infantry was not allowed to move up to the higher floors.
      After several unsuccessful attempts, the infantry commander called in artillery fire at the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor. SPGs came within 100-150 meters, and destroyed the top floors of the building using 68 shells, allowing our infantry to capture the object.
      The most characteristic battles were the ones for the citadel. From February 21st to February 23rd, the regiment's 5 SU-152 SPGs cooperated with elements of the 74th Guards Infantry Division. The SPGs had a task: at 8:00 on February 21st, approach the wall with the central gates and fire through breaches in the wall at the first and second towers of the second wall, in order to capture the gate.
      Despite poor conditions of the approaches, SU-152s went up to the moat 10-20 meters from the wall and fired at the targets for three hours, using 200 shells. The fire of the SPGs allowed the infantry to capture the citadel.
      At dawn on February 23rd, sappers made a narrow passageway for tanks in the first wall. SPGs, tanks, and infantry moved through this passage to the center of the citadel, and captured it.
  14. Due to difficulties in controlling units split up into small groups or individual tanks, the control of the battle becomes decentralized, and tasks are given by commanders of infantry battalions and companies, regardless of rank. Tank and SPG unit commanders remained at the observation points of the infantry regiment commanders, controlling the correct use of tanks and SPGs, encouraging energetic and skilful actions of their crews, organizing reconnaissance, and providing constant material and technical supplies to the battlefield.
    In all cases, a tank commander must have a reserve (company of tanks or battery of SPGs) to deflect counterattacks and refill assault groups and squads to replace knocked out vehicles or evacuate broken down or stuck vehicles.
  15. Due to the higher than usual expenditure of ammunition in city battles, it is important to keep the tanks supplied. The commander must have the first rear echelon 1-1.5 km behind the battle zone (with repair tools, 1.5 ammunition refills and 0.5 fuel refills) in order to quickly refill and repair vehicles.
    Refuel at night or in cover. When transporting ammunition, carry it right up to the tanks. Designate a tank or SPG as an ammunition carrier for each company/battery.
    When organizing supply lines, ensure that vehicles do not get lost in the city by assigning specially trained officers that can guide the vehicles from the rear echelon to the first.
    In cases when a tank unit is split up and assigned to infantry regiments, split the first rear echelon into two groups which will then follow both infantry regiments and supply their tanks and SPGs. In all cases, strive to have the rear as close as possible to the front, taking cover from artillery fire behind buildings.
  16. The above does not cover all practical methods of city fighting, and is just an excerpt from experience gathered from fighting in cities.
Commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the 8th Guards Army, Guards Major-General Vainrub
HQ Commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces, Guards Major Pokalchuk

Confirmed: Chief of the War Experience Usage Department, Guards Lieutenant-Colonel Baranovskiy"


  1. Thanks for posting this amount of interesting data! Amazing!

  2. I've never heard before the word chemist used in that context before. Interesting as always EE. Thankyou very much for all your work, I've read most of these articles. :)