Monday 13 April 2015

Tank Brigade Tactics

"Directions for offensive action of tank brigades when attacking an enemy defensive line in cooperation with infantry, artillery, and aircraft

Modern characteristics of German defenses include:
  1. Transformation of settlements into strongholds, buildings and basements into pillboxes.
  2. Minefields on approaches to these strongholds.
  3. Fire support from one stronghold to another.
  4. Strongholds in depth and reserve strongholds in case of a retreat.
  5. 360 degree defensive lines.
  6. Saturation of the defensive line with dugouts and pillboxes.
  7. Creation of an obstacle belt in front of strongholds.
  8. Creation of maneuver groups for conducting counterattacks.
Prolonged presence at one place allowed the enemy to complete significant engineering work, dig supply trenches, create anti-tank and anti-infantry obstacles, range in on landmarks. 

Capture of front lines and performance of deep penetrations must now be organized as a gradual and planned offensive with close cooperation by all army branches. At first, the crushing firepower of tanks must be used to break up the defensive system and to give the opportunity for infantry to penetrate into enemy defenses for close combat with the objective of destroying enemy personnel and vehicles.

These directions, based on experience in battle, are meant to answer the main questions that must be asked when planning upcoming offensive operations.
  1. Overall directions:
    1. The tank brigade must be used in its entirety in the direction of the main attack with the first infantry echelon.
    2. The width of the front is 1200-1800 meters.
    3. Assemble the brigade in the following way:
      1. First echelon: 8-10 KV tanks. An infantry group (assault group) follows each tank, consisting of an infantry platoon with submachinegunners, an AT gun, a mounted machinegun, one or two handheld machineguns, grenadiers, an anti-tank rifle, 6-10 sappers with explosives and mine detectors.
      2. Second echelon: 15-20 T-34 tanks, 300-400 meters behind the first echelon.
      3. Third echelon: 8 T-60 tanks with a motorized infantry battalion, 100-200 meters behind the second regiment. Can be reinforced with medium tanks for tank rider transport.
      4. Fourth echelon: 8 T-60 tanks directly supporting the second infantry echelon.
        The overall depth of the offensive is 1000-1500 meters.
    4. Tasks of the tank echelons:
      1. The first echelon, 8-10 KV tanks with assault infantry groups, supported by all artillery, rapidly moves forward, crushing pillboxes, dugouts, and enemy strongholds. Aircraft, constantly present above the battlefield, destroys mortar and artillery batteries and anti-tank guns. When enemy tanks appear, aircraft must suppress them with all its might and notify our tanks of their appearance.
      2. The second echelon, 15-20 T-34 tanks with the first echelon of infantry and supporting guns firing in place or from short stops supports the first echelon with fire, prioritizing anti-tank guns and enemy concentrations that impede infantry. T-34 tanks must not cross the limits of the fist echelon, and aid the progress of the first echelon of KV tanks and infantry assault groups.
      3. The third echelon, motorized infantry battalion with 8 T-60 tanks destroys anti-tank guns with its 20 mm cannons, protecting the tanks of the first and second echelons.
        Special attention must be paid to flanking enemy concentrations. The third echelon may be reinforced with medium tanks by decreasing the amount of medium tanks in the second echelon.
      4. The fourth echelon, 8 T-60 tanks along with the second infantry echelon, finishes off the work of the first two tank echelons and the first infantry echelon, with the task of being constantly ready to deflect counterattacks.
      5. The brigade lines up by battalion. The first echelon is a company of KV tanks (5 tanks), the second echelon is a company of T-34 tanks (10 tanks), T-60 companies are spread out as follows: one company of tanks in 4-tank groups behind each tank battalion, and a company of T-60s from the second battalion with a motorized infantry battalion in the fourth echelon (with the infantry regiment forming the second infantry echelon).
      6. If two tank brigades are present in the army, they are lined up in the same sequence, but in parallel, increasing the front to 3-4 km.
        If there is a third brigade, it remains in the commander's reserve to develop successes with one of the infantry divisions of the second echelon. It acts according to the same principles as the first two brigades. It can be used to independently deflect an enemy counterattack. In this case, the brigade destroys enemy tanks from an ambush, and then, leaving behind a small group of tanks, strikes the flank or rear of the enemy and destroys their remaining tanks. The last step should be executed in close cooperation with our ground attack and fighter aircraft. 
      7. The tank brigade, in offensive battle, must always be ready to deflect enemy counterattacks. When small groups of tanks appear, they are destroyed in place or from short stops. The combat mission is not changed. When significant amounts of tanks appear (30-50 or more), the tank brigade, without breaking ranks, makes it its primary objective to destroy enemy tanks. Tanks are put in ambush to achieved this, and all artillery is called upon to fire at enemy tanks. Infantry uses all of its measures: anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles, rifle grenades, and incendiary bottles. Aircraft cooperates with other forces to rapidly destroy the tanks. After tanks are destroyed, the offensive is renewed. Tanks return to their infantry, make contact, and lead it forward.
      8. Tank readiness to deflect the enemy must be maintained by special signals and organization of combined arms, aircraft, and tank reconnaissance. 
      9. Tanks must be labelled with pre-arranged markings to mark them for friendly aircraft. A table of these markings will be known to the tank brigade during the preparation period. Each tank brigade must ready the proper amount of chalk, soot, and brushes to apply markings to each tank. Tanks without markings may be considered hostile and bombed by friendly aircraft.
      10. Actions of the brigade must be accompanied by concealment and feints.
        1. Tracks left by tanks must be destroyed.
        2. Tanks should not make sudden turns when travelling.
        3. Tanks should conceal themselves using terrain features.
        4. Create false concentrations of tanks using fake tanks made from available materials (boards, logs, dirt, plywood, etc). Before battle, put up fake tanks only with permission from the army commander, and during battle, with permission of the tank brigade commander. The largest amount of these fake tanks needs to be present when tanks are gathering up after an attack.
          If the brigade gathers before nightfall and this gathering is seen by the enemy, construct fake tanks during the night. The tank brigade must immediately move away 1-2 km, hide their tanks, and prepare to fire at enemy aircraft. When aircraft appear in the morning, destroy them and prevent further attacks during that day.
        5. When moving into position during the night, hide the noise with artillery fire, U-2 flights with bombs, and noises made by tractors from neighbouring divisions.
        6. In order to disorient the enemy, send out 2-3 tanks or tractors without mufflers.
        7. After a successful ambush, change positions of the tank units.
        8. If tanks must retreat to refuel and restock, never take back all tanks at once without alerting infantry. Make sure that some tanks always stay behind. In order to achieve this, move supplies forward instead of moving tanks back when possible. If that is not possible, some tanks must stay behind and only go to resupply when other tanks have returned.
      11. 10-12 days before the start of the offensive, form 18-20 assault groups in the infantry division cooperating with the brigade, and perform practical exercises to increase cohesion when blocking pillboxes and dugouts with tanks. For this, choose two infantry battalions that will fight in the second and third echelons. Other parts of the division will perform general exercises with the tank brigade.
      12. Tank brigades are attached to infantry divisions, not subordinate to them. They act according to orders from the army commander, completing tasks in the interest of the division. Each tank brigade gets one sapper company for the duration of the offensive. The objective of the sappers is to discover minefields in the path of the brigade, defusing mines, preparing routes for tanks, and creating fake tank concentrations in the depth of enemy defenses.
  2. Period of preparation:
    1. Scout out the routes of the brigade to the starting positions. Find optimal routes (bridges, dams, detours, etc). Commanders must study these routes.
    2. Observe the routes to the starting positions from current positions.
    3. Establish personal communications between the brigade commanders and the commanders of the infantry regiment that is fighting with the first echelon of the brigade. The commander of the tank brigade must know the commanders of the regiment, battalions, and companies.
    4. Perform joint exercises with infantry, tank, and artillery commanders, carefully work through cooperation in the upcoming battle so each knows what the others are capable of, what can be asked of them, and how they can be helped in battle. Demand that infantry commanders know precisely what the tank brigades and battalions will do. Familiarize them with tanks, teach them how to fight enemy tanks.
    5. Solve practical issues of how brigade and division HQs will operate regarding controlling the battle, sharing information, reports, and communication with command points.
    6. Tank brigade and infantry HQs must carefully study the terrain of the upcoming battle together.
    7. Organize observation groups in the region where the tank brigade will operate. These groups must study the enemy front lines throughout the preparation period so that the commanders of the tank brigade, battalions, companies, and platoons have detailed knowledge of the enemy defenses and anti-tank obstacles. This knowledge will ease the task of establishing objectives, aiming tanks, and controlling the battle. Uncover all changes made by the enemy to their defenses during this period.
    8. Check the materiel, weapons, prepare two refills of fuel and ammunition.
    9. Prepare measures for increasing the off-road performance of tanks and cars. Use sappers from the infantry division and army. Prepare logs, boards, and fascines, put them next to difficult terrain. Keep in mind that not following this simple rule has already led to heavy losses in our theater. Tanks sink in swamps, rivers and streams, as a result of which they are lost, and their actions lead to reasonable complaints from combined arms commanders.
    10. Prepare evacuation measures (cables, chains, shovels).
    11. Practice towing guns with tanks.
  3. Preparing for the offensive:
    1. While training with infantry and artillery, establish:
      1. The locations where infantry will gather for attacks.
      2. The locations where support artillery will deploy.
      3. The locations of the divisional commander and first echelon commander HQs.
      4. Split up objectives based on locations and times, determine which will be completed by whom and when, who fires at what target, who assists whom.
      5. Tell the commander of the sapper company what his company will be doing on the front lines and what objectives they will accomplish after penetration into enemy defenses.
      6. Establish signals and locations for reinforcements or replacements of blocking groups in the first echelon with the tanks.
      7. Establish and check methods of communications and backups in the ranks of the brigade with brigade HQ, division HQ, and first infantry echelon HQ.
      8. Paint aircraft identification markings on tanks.
      9. Mark crossings for tanks in minefields, check how the defusing will be done.
      10. Train tanks and gun crews in towing the guns. Demand that the guns accompany tanks through the whole depth of the offensive, task all tanks to fire at enemy aircraft when they attack. Check shrapnel shot and set detonators to 1000-1500 and 2000 meters.
  4. Reaching and taking up initial positions:
    1. Carefully investigate the paths to initial positions, determine a precise place for each tank. The commanders and drivers need to see the position before driving to it. Perform reconnaissance with commanders and drivers one platoon or company at a time. Establish references for shooting at enemy aircraft with tank weapons.
    2. Take up positions one platoon at a time at night. Tanks that arrive should be immediately placed in position. Avoid excess movement. Tanks should be camouflaged. Do not walk about. After the company or battalion are in position, hide all tracks.
    3. Check armament, ammunition, fuel, and emergency rations before leaving for initial positions.
    4. Infantry and artillery units need to be notified in advance if tank units are moving through their positions. Notification is done through their HQ.
    5. Having taken up initial positions, immediately establish communications with infantry and artillery commanders of cooperating units.
    6. Organize and check the following in the brigade HQ:
      1. Telephone.
      2. Knowledge of the attack signal by all personnel.
      3. Whether or not tank commanders synchronized their watches will combined arms commanders.
      4. Readiness and backups for communications, communication with combined arms commanders.
      5. Presence of blocking units and tank support artillery.
      6. Fuel supplies, technical conditions of tanks, knowledge of objectives by tank crews.
        Remove all spare fuel tanks from tanks.
  5. Attacking the enemy front lines:
    1. The first echelon of KV tanks, under the cover of artillery of all calibers, support artillery, and T-34s from the second echelon, moves up to the front lines with assault groups and destroys enemy artillery and anti-tank guns that reveal themselves. Moving up further, KV tanks target pillboxes and dugouts that need to be destroyed. Attack groups, under the cover of tank hulls and their guns, move up to enemy fortifications and open fire, binding the enemy, which allows the first echelon of infantry to approach. The movement of the first tank echelon and assault groups must be as fast as possible. When they approach the first line of defense, they must give the signal for artillery to start firing at the second line.
    2. Second echelon tanks and first echelon infantry move forward, destroying the most dangerous enemy strongholds that impede the advance of tanks and infantry. The fire and tracks of tanks create a rapid path for infantry to the front lines of the enemy defenses. Each KV tank from the first echelon is supported by the fire of two T-34 tanks from the second echelon. T-60 tanks fire their ShVAK guns from the third echelon and destroy the crews of anti-tank weapons and machineguns that impede the blocking of pillboxes and dugouts, assisted by third echelon medium tanks and motorized infantry riders. T-60 tanks in the fourth echelon with their motorized infantry battalion follow the second echelon of the infantry division to be ready to defeat enemy tank and infantry counterattacks.
    3. All actions of the tank brigade must concentrate on making sure that the infantry that accompanies them takes minimal losses as they roll over the front lines of the enemy defenses.
    4. The cooperation of the first and second echelon must be such that if a KV tank is immobilized or stuck, a T-34 tank from the second echelon may take its place. For this, T-34 tanks must know in advance which KV they are supporting and which T-34 will be the first to replace it. All KV tanks must carry numeric markings, visible from a distance.
    5. It is acceptable to deviate from the attack objective with the aim of later returning to your infantry if an impassable obstacle is seen: a powerful anti-tank region or a minefield. The tank must only retreat in reverse gear, without ceasing fire. It is forbidden to turn around and show your side or rear.
    6. If one tank made it through the minefield, other tanks must try and follow its path. This is most important for second, third, and fourth echelon tanks.
    7. Every effort must be taken to ensure that the enemy does not separate tanks and infantry. Support the progress of infantry with fire and maneuver.
  6. Guidelines inside enemy defenses:
    1. Once the first layer of defense has been penetrated, and pillboxes and dugouts blocked, tanks must crush strongholds that impede the progress of infantry into the depth of the defenses, into the trenches, to destroy the enemy personnel in close combat.
    2. Be ready to stop enemy counterattacks. It is most advantageous to meet enemy counterattacks firing in place from ambushes, and only then attack actively. If enemy tanks approach from the flank, immediately form a defensive line with anti-tank guns and fourth echelon tanks.
    3. Establish a universal signal for tanks and infantry that means enemy tanks are coming. Aside from the signal, communicate using all available means information regarding the numbers, direction of attack, etc.
    4. Commanders of all ranks must take care that the enemy does not gather up enough forces to counterattack and threaten our infantry. The best method of fighting enemy reserves is aircraft, which is tasked with destroying them with ground attackers or bombers.
    5. In order to strike at settlements where enemy reserves may gather, use tank riders composed of motorized infantry or general infantry. Keep prepared riders in reserve, and always have tanks attached to an infantry unit that is ready to counter enemy counterattacks.
    6. When fighting for a settlement, do not rush tanks into the streets, but aim to strike from the flanks, rear, or outskirts. It is important to control the entrances and exits into the settlement. When fighting for a settlement, infantry must move in front of tanks, under the cover of buildings, bushes, and ravines. Never leave tanks without infantry. The enemy frequently lets tanks pass, suppresses the infantry, and then aims to destroy tanks and infantry separately. 
    7. When attacking settlements, always have a tank reserve. The reserve is tasked with destroying enemy counterattacks and its tanks.
    8. The tanks of each tank is to cover its infantry if it comes under fire from the enemy. Small wooden buildings may be destroyed by ramming.
    9. Having taken control of a settlement, immediately examine each house and structure to ensure that it is clear of submachinegunners.
  7. Guidelines when at intermediate or final gathering points and regrouping locations:
    1. The brigade must do the following at gathering points or regrouping locations:
      1. Individual tanks take up positions to observe.
      2. Until the point is guarded, nobody leaves their tank.
      3. All exits from the gathering point must be scouted, and each tank crew needs to know possible directions for exit.
      4. Designate special tanks and form a course of action in the event of a sudden enemy attack.
      5. Choose motorized infantry to guard the point.
      6. Establish ambushes in directions from which attacks are most likely.
      7. Camouflage tanks, be ready to fire at enemy aircraft.
    2. Do not bunch up fuel and ammunition for resupplies.
    3. Keep reliable communications with combined arms HQ, commanders, artillery, and aircraft.
    4. Have a functional battle alert signal.
    5. Establish a plan of action when the alert signal is sounded.
  8. Guidelines for crossing a water hazard:
    1. When the tank brigade reaches a water hazard, the opposite shore must be captured by infantry. A portion of light tanks (T-60) may cross on pontoons after the shore is captured. Using these tanks, the infantry widens their foothold and enables the setup of a bridge.
    2. Main forces of the brigade wait in a designated region. The forces cross after a bridge has been built.
    3. The order of crossing depends on the situation.
    4. The paths taken by tanks to the crossing must be precisely designated.
    5. Individual tanks cross the bridge, moving out from cover.
    6. Do not bunch up tanks before the bridge.
    7. Towing equipment must be set up to tow tanks that stop on their way to the crossing.
    8. Before tanks cross, a motorized infantry battalion must cross in order to defend the crossing.
    9. Tanks that cross first head to a meeting point and take up defensive positions.
    10. In order to orient tanks on the bridge better, make a lime carbonate path in the middle and mark the edges.
    11. After the tank brigade crosses, the tank brigade lines up in echelons and re-establishes ranks.
    12. In individual cases where the river has several good places to ford and the defense is not strong, a large group of T-34 tanks (5-6) with infantry riders is allowed to cross with T-60 tanks in order to achieve a faster capture of the defensive region."
Collection of Combat Documents from the Great Patriotic War, vol. 21, doc. 14.


  1. Very, very interesting and will come in useful for future wargames scenarios.

  2. The references to T-60s... was this issued in 1942? Were any changes made when light tanks were removed from most Soviet tank formations and assault guns added?

    1. Yes, the are from 1942. Soviet tank brigades underwent a significant refactoring from a heterogeneous makeup like you see here to just one type of vehicle, so tactics changed significantly. Assault guns were a part of SPG regiments/batteries, so they would not be covered by a tank brigade manual.