Monday 19 May 2014

Tank Stakeouts

The story of the single KV of Raseiniai that stopped Kampfgruppe Raus is well known. However similar incidents occurred occasionally, even if they didn't become as widely known as Raseiniai.


Today, another Republican tank crew was saved, out of the three that were stuck in fascist territory near Saragosse. The miracle did not happen by itself, it happened as a result of boundless heroism of the soldiers, their stubbornness and belief in their abilities.
The brave trio just got to the front lines of government officials. We honour them, scratched up and singed. They slowly tell their story, exhausted, but happy.

The tank was immobilized with several shells. It was surrounded by fascists. The crew shot back for twelve hours, but, after showering the tank with grenades, the fascists closed in. The crew locked themselves in, and decided to not give up alive. The fascists climbed up on the tank and called to the crew. The crew did not answer. 
The Italians and rebels decided to open the tank. They climbed all over it with mallets and crowbars. The tank was closed up like a safe. The bolts held. 
After several hours, the fascists were tired, and decided to have dinner right on the tank. After dinner, they took a nap. One of the crewmembers moved. The rebels heard him, rolled off the tank, and renewed their attack. 
They started throwing incendiary grenades at the bottom of the tank. Rubber started burning. "We sat still, silently, and smoked," tells the commander. "It was around 19 hours into the siege."
The fire burned for a while, and went out. It did not get to the gas tanks. The crew could hear the rebels' conversation. It was decided that they would not leave until the tankers' corpses were dragged from the tank.
The attack resumed once again. There was nothing left to hope for. The crew decided to commit suicide if the enemy gets inside. 
Suddenly, a shell exploded nearby. Then, another, a third, and yells of the wounded. Republican artillery, and other Republican tanks, established the location of the tank, and provided it with covering fire. 
The shooting stopped. The fascists ran off and hid. The decisive moment has come. This was the last chance for rescue.
The commander managed to turn the cannon and make three shots. After that, he took off the lock, and ordered the turret commander to run. The fascists opened fire. He dove behind a bump. The commander returned fire with his machine gun and ordered the driver to evacuate. He himself went last.
The rebels covered them with a rain of bullets. The trio lay close to the ground, until the fascists got tired of shooting. Another sprint, and then another, and another. Exactly 24 hours since the start of their resistance has passed.
They stand here now, drinking and smoking. They are giving precise directions to other soldiers in an armoured tractor that will recover their tank. 

Mihail Koltsov, Pravda, October 19, 1937."

A similar incident occurred during the Winter War, but with a much more valuable tank. While the Republicans didn't exactly have a surplus of T-26es, the tank in question was completely unique. During the Winter War, it was not yet decided which of the three new heavy tanks, the KV, T-100, or SMK, was the best. All three prototypes were sent into battle.

"The SMK tank was leading the column, and took a lot of fire. One of the shots jammed the main turret, and silenced the gun. The tank made it to the road. At the Kameri-Wyborg fork, the driver must have missed the stack of crates, and drove on to it. An explosion roared, and covered the area in thick brown smoke. The tank stopped. After the smoke cleared, Lieutenant Petin got out to investigate. The SMK stood next to a massive crater. The explosion destroyed the track and idler, and damaged transmission bolts. The electrical system was damaged, the bottom of the tank was bent. Even though there was a 40 degree frost, the snow surrounding the tank has melted. 

The driver, V. I. Ignatiev, was stunned by the explosion, and temporarily lost consciousness. The crew did not leave the tank. The T-100 and KV approached, and stopped nearby. The T-100 crew was made of volunteer testers. One of them, E. I. Roshin, wrote: "Our vehicles approached the damaged SMK, and covered it with our armour. The T-100 was in the front and to the right, the KV was in front and to the left, forming a triangular fortress. We stood like this for several hours, trying to repair the tracks of the SMK. We were dressed well, in new coats, boots, wool helmets, gloves. We could endure the bitter cold, but the damage was too heavy. The road wheels were damaged, as well as the tracks, and we could not get the heavy vehicle to move."
Lieutenant Toropov's engineering team tried to tow the tank using a 25-ton T-28 tank. They worked at night, under enemy fire, but could not tow the massive tank, firmly lodged in the crater. The damaged track and idler made it necessary to leave it in no man's land.

The Finns tried to tow away the SMK, but our artillery protected the tank. Finnish scouts managed to crawl up to it and steal a hatch cover. Kotin, when retelling this story, mentioned a curious fact. The factory producing armour for the SMK was behind schedule. The Kirov factory, unwilling to wait, produced their own hatch cover, using leftover low-carbon steel. The Finns stole this cover from the SMK, and, when it made its way to German labs, they decided that all Soviet tanks are made from "raw" steel.
The heavy tank remained in the crater until the end of the war. It was eventually moved with the combined forces of six T-28 tanks."

- Konstruktor Boyevih Mashin, Popov at al, Lenizdat, 1988.

A rare photograph of the SMK exists, taken by the Finns, in the process of attempting to tow it. 

Next situation is somewhat more Raseiniai-like, with a happier ending. Lieutenant Semyen Fillipovich Shmakov, company commander in the 500 independent tank battalion, received an Order of Lenin for his heroism. From his award order:
"On August 27th, 1942, at 8:00, along with the 994th infantry regiment of the 186th infantry division, on his KV-8 tank, he attacked the village of Voronovo. Escorting his company though the heavily fortified enemy lines of defense, he destroyed enemy pillboxes, and fortifications with fire from his tracks, and enemy forces with his gun and machine guns. He twice attempted to cross the river Navia. The second attempt was successful, but he was struck by heavy artillery and mortar fire, as a result of which his tank lost an idler and tore a track. The tank stopped on enemy occupied territory. From August 27th, 1942 at 9:00 to present time, Lieutenant Shmakov and his crew, without leaving the tank, courageously defended it for 198 hours while under constant artillery and mortar fire. While the tank was being sieged, it destroyed 11 pillboxes, 6 cannons, 3 machine gun nests, and up to 100 German soldiers and officers. Shmakov, despite his exceptionally difficult situation, provided care and encouragement for his crew, and was an example of courage and determination. In order to obtain water for his crew, he manually bored a hole through the radiator, allowing him to gather 1.5 canteens. He has currently managed to repair the track. As soon as he manages to lock it back on, the tank will be able to return on its own.

Commander of the 500th Independent Tank Battalion, Captain Torgilin 
Military Commissar of the 500th Independent Tank Battalion, Company Commissar Antonov"


  1. Hey what happened to the article on the M-18 hellcat?


      It didn't go anywhere.

  2. Unbeliavable stories, thankyou!

    I wish the Finns would have been able to tow that SMK away, it would probably be now at the tank museum at Parola where I would have seen that behemoth. :)