Saturday 3 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Unscheduled Tank Battle

In history books, war is like a mosaic: split into operations with precise start and end dates. Sometimes there is an impression that nothing happens between them, the front remains static, soldiers rest, commanders plan for the future. However, this impression is not always correct. Here is one such instance.

On April 17th, 1944, the Dniepr-Carpathian Offensive Operation concluded successfully. Soviet forces liberated a significant part of the Ukraine and reached Romanian territory. The commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front, G.K. Zhukov, wanted to continue the offensive towards Stanislawow (modern day Ivano-Frankovsk). The Germans were preparing for a counteroffensive. Both sides were exhausted and worn out from the battles. The question was who would be the first to pull up some kind of reserves. The Germans managed to do it a little faster.

As a result, April 19th, 1944, was a difficult day for the Red Army. A powerful German infantry force with about 80 tanks delivered a strike from the west and north-west, pushing back the Soviets to the Zhivachuv-Khotsimezh line (the names of these settlements and subsequent names are from 1944 maps). In order to strengthen defenses and stop the enemy, the 11th Guards Tank Corps made up of T-34-85s, 399th Heavy SPG Regiment (16 ISU-152s) and 72nd Guards Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment (14 combat ready IS-2 tanks) were transferred to the crisis zone on the night between April 19th and April 20th.

Armoured cat graveyard

On the morning of April 20th, nine T-34-85 tanks and an AT regiment that arrived to reinforce them were located at Zhivachuv and Podvertse villages. ISU-152 SPGs positioned themselves south of Podverbtse, several kilometers away from the medium tank positions. IS tanks from the 72nd regiment arrived some time later.

The Germans sent about 70 tanks into battle, supported by infantry. 25 Tigers and 15 PzIVs came at the T-34-85s from Isakow and Oleshi (other accounts say it was only 5 PzIVs, the rest were Marders and StuGs). At the same time, 30 Panthers advanced from Ezhezhan, along the western outskirts of Zhivachuv.

The group coming from Isakow was fired upon by the T-34s, with no losses. The Tigers turned and drove at the ISU-152s. After a difficult fight, the regiment lost 10 SPGs, trading them for 13 German tanks.

The Panthers had an even more difficult time. One of the companies hit a minefield, where several tanks were immobilized. T-34-85s and 57 mm AT guns opened fire on this group and had some success, but it is difficult to ascertain how many tanks could be credited to them, since the Germans were about to face the heavy guns of 10 IS tanks that approached Gerasimov and entered the battle.

The breakthrough regiment, skilfully hiding behind terrain and houses of a nameless farmstead, opened fire at the Germans from 1.5 kilometers. The IS-2's gun was powerful enough to destroy even well protected Panthers from this distance. The enemy attack stalled, his tanks retreated, and did not return that day. According to German sources, no less than 20 Panthers were lost that day, 15 of those were irreparable. The 72nd regiment lost one IS-2 and another one was knocked out.

122 mm gun solo

On April 21st, the Germans gathered their tank fist once more. It looked a lot less impressive than the day before. Only 5 Tigers remained in the 506th battalion, and only 14 Panthers could be gathered.

Overnight, the IS tanks moved from Gerasimov to Zhabokruki, taking positions with infantry cover and some AT guns. Tanks took up ambush positions once more. This was the most effective way to use heavy tanks, as the IS-2 was not suitable for maneuver combat.

On that day, the IS-2s dealt with Germans independently, without help from SPGs or T-34s. Letting the Tigers and Panthers approach to 1.5 kilometers, Soviet tanks opened heavy fire. Stunned by such a sudden onslaught, the Germans lost precious minutes, took heavy losses, and were forced to retreat.

According to Soviet documents, the Germans lost 10 tanks. German sources confirm the loss of 5 Tigers and 4 Panthers. Infantry and remaining tanks took cover behind nearby farmsteads and showed little activity throughout the day. The enemy did not risk another attack. It is not surprising, as in only two days, the group lost most of its best tanks. By April 23rd, the German 17th Tank Division and its assigned units had only 9 combat-ready vehicles left.

A number of tankers fighting in the Stanislawow direction were awarded. Here are some of them.

Guards Lieutenant M.Ya. Titorenko 

Scored four tank kills, destroyed a mortar battery, burned up an APC. The award order describes a Ferdinand SPG, but this is a typical mistake from Soviet reports. The Germans only had a few Ferdinands, about 90, and they fought on small portions of the front. The problem was that they earned a name for themselves, and any German SPG had a chance of being recorded as a Ferdinand.

Guards Captain G.F. Khristich

Held the defense of Gerasimov and Zhabokurow, commanding a company of five heavy tanks. Over two days, the IS tanks destroyed six German tanks and knocked out five. Perhaps the real numbers were less, as the front line was small and the entire regiment was firing at the enemy, but there is no doubt of Khristich's bravery and combat mastery.

Guards Lieutenant N.S. Semyonov

Not only participated in defensive battle, but in a raid behind enemy lines in a heavy and not particularly fast vehicle. Driving stealthily to the forest near Zelena farmstead, Semenov discovered a group of seven enemy tanks. Without engaging, Semyonov retreated, and the tanks were fired upon by other tanks of the regiment. Sadly, the result of this bombardment is absent from documents.

Guards Lieutenant V.D. Lubimchenko

Destroyed two German tanks and about 30 soldiers and officers. His commander remarked on his calmness in battle, courage, vigour, and tactical competence. An excellent characteristic for an experienced soldier: Lubimchenko has been in combat since 1942 in the Steppe, 2nd Ukrainian, and 1st Ukrainian Fronts.

Guards Junior Lieutenant V.V. Shvetsov

Destroyed two Tigers and a Ferdinand (actually a Marder or StuG) near Gerasimov, as well as an APC and a mortar battery. Destroyed an observation post and a dugout. Demonstrated himself a decisive and tactically competent officer.

Guards Lieutenant Z.S. Almukhamedov

Showed himself a skilled and calm fighter. In battles between April 20th and April 22nd, he claimed 2 knocked out and 2 destroyed Tigers, a car towing a gun, an observation post, and 20 soldiers and officers. It is worth noticing that he corrected fire while outside his vehicle. The Lieutenant traded his safety for improved visibility and improved precision.

Original article available here.

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