Sunday 14 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Victorious '45

Soviet tank armies were at their peak in 1945, a powerful fighting instrument. Each unit could contain up to a thousand tanks and SPGs, and that's not including artillery, infantry, wheeled vehicles, and auxiliary units. At the start of the war, it was unthinkable for a tank army to penetrate 500-700 kilometers into enemy defenses in mere days, surrounding and crushing his forces, pursuing those that retreated and not letting them take up favourable positions. At the end of the war, this was reality.

A fist, not a palm

Combat experience taught Soviet armoured forces to fight with more than gun caliber and armour thickness. Reconnaissance, communication, and cooperation became the cornerstones of successful operations. The army joined its spread out fingers into a single mighty fist.

Sufficient time was dedicated to planning each offensive, from two weeks to a month and a half. During this time, details would be covered for each level of forces, from tank armies to battalions. HQ staff worked with enormous amounts of information: maps, aerial photos, city plans, radio intercepts, information obtained from local civilians and prisoners.

Due to increased reliability of vehicles and improved driver skills, it became possible to gather up forces in regions far from the front lines. Tank armies moved out in secrecy, usually at night. Special roads were designated for tank units, use by all other types of forces was forbidden.

When tanks were in position a few tens of kilometers from the front line, officers studied enemy defenses and negotiated cooperation with other types of forces. Tankers, pilots, infantrymen, artillerymen all shared their experience, furthering their understanding of their colleagues. After such discussions, they even recognized each other over the radio.

Tanks approached their starting positions as late as possible, usually when hundreds of thousands of artillery shells were already falling on their enemies. In theory, tank armies were supposed to enter a "clean" breach, retaining their strength for operations in the enemy rear. In reality, it was the tank attack that helped break through enemy defenses.

In the final battles of the Great Patriotic War, tank armies were covered from the air by a large amount of fighters, ground attackers, and bombers. In the summer of 1945, during the war with Japan, the 6th Guards Tank Army even received their own air reconnaissance squadron.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

Towards the end of the war, a lot of attention was dedicated to preparing units that were small in number, but complex in organization. They were composed of tanks, SPGs, submachinegunners on all terrain vehicles, machineguns, mortars, and powerful army level  radios. These groups burst into cities, blocked roads, crushed unsuspecting enemy columns, captured key positions. For instance, in April of 1945, only 20 tanks and SPGs with a company of submachinegunners and air support burst into the center Vienna and held on until the arrival of main forces.

Soviet tanks appeared in the German rear so quickly that the enemy had no time to react, and often confused them for his own. Here, creativity helped. A regular bucket attached to the barrel of a T-34's gun looked a lot like a muzzle brake used on a German tank. While the enemy was confused, precious seconds were gained.

During the start of the war, German tankers provided their propaganda ministry with great amounts of footage and photographs of their lightning fast breakthroughs. In 1945, the situation was reversed. Now, it was the Soviet media that had ample materials. German vehicles, abandoned without fuel or suddenly captured when being loaded off a train, stacks of trophies and endless columns of prisoners. The Soviet people who were waiting for victory had a lot to look at.

Soviet tankers rushed forward, filling up their tanks with captured fuel and continuing on, crushing any resistance.

American M17 AA SPGs became an excellent method of covering tanks in cities. A torrent of bullets from four machineguns swept away the infantry that was trying to fire at tanks. Domestic large caliber DShK machineguns were also valued by tankers.

Power in unity

All types of forces tried to help out each other. Forward observers called in artillery fire from radio-equipped tanks. Artillery covered the flanks of breakthroughs. Aircraft impeded enemies that tried to discover and attack tank columns, delivered fuel, airmen were assigned to ground forces to guide airplanes on target. In return, tankers sent special squads to capture airstrips, where technicians immediately began to work on cleaning up the base for Soviet aircraft.

Berlin barricades, several meters thick, could withstand a hit from a tank shell. Sappers came to the aid of tankers, blowing up barricades with explosive charges or AT mines.

Holding initiative, Soviet forces could restore knocked out tanks left on the battlefield, as well as recover the wounded. Tanks were repaired so quickly that 90% of reinforcements came from repaired tanks, not from factories. Medics returned two thirds of all casualties to the front lines. In these conditions, no wonder weapon the Germans dreamt of could save the Third Reich, nor could their rapidly dwindling tank aces.

In 1945, the Red Army had six tank armies. All of them had the title of Guards, a title not given easily. Soviet tankers earned them in thousands of battles on all fronts from Germany to the Far East. These were the elites of the Red Army, one of the most powerful in the 20th century.

Original article available here.

1 comment:

  1. "6th Guards Tank Army even for their own air reconnaissance squadron."

    even for their ?!?

    I guess its even flew their own.