Friday 27 June 2014

54th Army, March 1942

From L.V. Gorchakov's collection.

"To the Deputy Commander of the Armoured and Motorized Forces of the Leningrad Front, Major-General comrade Bolotnikov

I present to you a report on the performance of the 16th, 98th, 122nd, and 124th Tank Brigades over the month of March of 1942.

The conditions faced during the month of March fully correspond to those faced in February. All experience gained in February was applied and proven in battle by tank units in March. The following needs to be said regarding combat actions for March.

1. Combat actions were organized by brigade headquarters and commanders more thoroughly. The commanders of the 124th TBr considered the deficiencies in planning during February, and made every attempt to not let them happen again in March.

The template for controlling the battle, passed on to brigades by the Army Armoured Forces HQ was applied in practice, using all types of communication: radio, telephone, radio armoured cars, couriers, and observers, and fully proved itself. However, as a rule, there was not enough time to carefully plan a battle down to the details.

A limited amount of time provided for preparation (observation, reconnaissance, preparation of combined arms cooperation) allowed by Army HQ negatively affected the quality of preparation and the actions of the tank units.

It is necessary to say that repeated attacks in one direction over the span of several days had no effect, and increased the amount of casualties, as the enemy had time to built up a thick wall of anti-tank guns. On the contrary, practice showed that hidden concentrations of tanks and then a sudden attack brings significant successes with almost no losses in materiel or manpower. 

For example, the success of the Shal operation and the decisive penetration of the enemy defenses is explained by a sudden and secret reshuffle by the 16th Tank Brigade from the Pogostin direction.

When organizing such an operation, it is necessary to take into account all elements that may influence its success. In this operation, the poor condition of roads and passages through the railroad embankment for tanks could have sabotaged the success of the operation. My personal intervention and order to send tanks not through passages, but over the embankment allowed the start of the operation to commence on time, and did not let the enemy discover our movements in time to prepare an anti-tank defense.

Tank columns used in the previous months, 3-5 tanks per column with heavy or medium tanks in the front making a path for light tanks confirmed their usefulness in the forest. In this formation, crews can look after each other, cover tanks that are ahead, and sufficiently well guard their flanks.

Motorized infantry battalions, due to their organization and armament, are a powerful combat unit and must be used in combination with tanks in order to secure their successes and cover both the brigade in general and its units on vulnerable flanks.

2. Causes of large losses, aside from those listed in February, include:
  1. Ignorance of terms from the Red Army combined arms manual, deciding tasks of infantry, artillery, and tanks.
  2. Poor skill of combined arms commanders, demanding tanks to advance without preliminary suppression of AT guns and splitting tank units into small groups.
The main deficiencies when using tanks in a way that violates NKO order #057 are as follows:
  1. Artillery support for tanks, in most cases, is absent, even though there is a point made in infantry orders about supporting tank attacks with artillery (311th, 11th, 281st, 80th infantry divisions).
    The guns directly accompanying tanks were not given enough crews, which caused them to constantly lag behind the advancing tanks.
    As a result of passive artillery, tanks had to fight enemy AT guns themselves, which were often firing thermite shells. As a result, there were large losses.
    For example, in the 122nd TBr, over several days of fighting alongside the 281st Infantry Division, 10 tanks were lost, 3 of them irreparably. 16th TBr, fighting alongside 80th Infantry Division lost a total of 6 light tanks without making any significant progress. 98th TBr was supporting the 4th GSK and over three days of battle (March 20th-22nd) lost 6 tanks permanently. 
  2. Tanks are still being used in small groups. For example, on March 24th-28th, 320th Infantry Regiment of the 11th Infantry Division used 2 tanks. March 13-14th, 1062nd Infantry Regiment in the 281st Infantry Division used 3 tanks, on March 16th, out of 8 tanks working with the 281st Infantry Division, 3 were passed on the the 11th Infantry Division. 12 tanks from the 98th TBr were assigned to the 3rd GSD and 33rd Infantry Brigade, which also split up tanks to give to its regiments. 3 tanks were assigned to support 115th Infantry Division.
    This kind of separation into small groups negatively impacts the organization of tank actions and does not achieve positive results.
    Aside from this, application of these small groups in one direction repeatedly over several days lets the enemy built up an anti-tank defense, and destroy these tanks, often irreparably.
  3. There are cases when there is not enough time to organize the use of tanks after receiving objectives from Army HQ (agreement on cooperation, tank reconnaissance, observation, etc).
    As a result of this, tank losses grow.
    For example, when the 122nd TBr fought alongside the 219th Infantry Regiment of the 11th Infantry Division, three tanks were destroyed by enemy mines and explosives, when 16th TBr fought alongside the 281th Infantry Regiment of the 80th Infantry Division, hurriedly organized combat plans, poor knowledge of infantry commanders and little time allotted for reconnaissance, two tanks were destroyed by AT guns immediately when they arrived at their positions.
  4. Lately, fearing that the infantry will retreat at night from a held position, infantry commanders leave tanks within the infantry camps overnight. As a result, tank crews spend several days in a row fighting, having no time to conduct technical inspections and preventative maintenance. This leads to excessive wear of tank parts and losses due to breakdowns.
  5. A number of combined arms commanders' attempts to use tanks incorrectly was prevented by me personally. For example, Major-General Starikov wanted to send tanks into a night attack, Major-General Berezinskiy tried to send individual vehicles into battle. In connection to this, it is important to remind combined arms commanders about NKO order #057 and warn them about using and taking care of tanks in accordance with Red Army requirements.
Assumptions and conclusions made in the previous report about repairs and evacuations are fully confirmed in March. March experience shows that uninterrupted use of tanks in battle for several days does not allow for any thorough inspection of the tanks' technical condition and timely lubrication of its components, which leads to unnecessary wear on the tanks and mechanical breakdowns.

When tanks were removed from the brigade for service, the inspection of defects was often poor, and underestimated the amount of time needed to repair the tank. This led to low quality of repairs and rapid breakdowns of tanks.

There are not enough repair resources available. A repair company only has a small platoon of repair vehicles. Repair companies had to be reinforced with 20-25 specialists from Army repair bases and brigades sent from Leningrad factories. 

Actions in swampy forests require engineering units in order to place roads immediately after advancing infantry. Without these roads, the transportation of fuel, lubricants, and ammunition for uninterrupted supply of tanks is jeopardized. 

The political and morale condition of the tank crews and unit in general is high. Crews had to fight for days with little sleep or no sleep, spending nights among the infantry where they had to resupply their tank and, if possible, perform a technical inspection. Breaks of 3-5 days in the fighting did not give any rest to the tank crews, which had to work to restore their vehicles. Despite these difficult conditions, there were no cases of low morale or cowardice. The personnel act bravely and decisively, show initiative, and cause large losses to the enemy, leading to the failure of his defensive lines (Konduya, Shala, Zenino) and our units' successfully progress forward."

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