Saturday 21 November 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Thunder Over Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad was coming to an end. Heavy fighting continued inside the city, the Germans nearly reached the Volga. The Soviets sent meagre reinforcements into the city, while at the same time saving up strength for a counteroffensive, scheduled for November 19th, 1942.

The weather was poor, with fog and rain, and snowfall began on the day of the offensive. In these conditions, aircraft could do little to help the attackers. It was up to tank and artillery to make a path for infantry.

A Fuse for Uranus

Three Soviet Fronts, Don, South-West, and Stalingrad, expected to put up 20,000 guns and mortars. This meant that for every kilometer in the breakthrough region there were 70 or more barrels aiming at the Germans. An artillery barrage of this caliber was unheard of on the Soviet-German front. In order for it to be successful, an enormous amount of preparations must be completed.

A countless number of guns and mortars were towed through the few roads and through the steppe. There weren't enough horses or tractors, and the latter broke down. There were cases where on the way to the front, up to half of the already miserly tank park went out of commission. Most artillery regiments had to ferry their cannons in two or three trips.

The positions were prepared in advance, especially for reinforcement units. The Red Army had a dire shortage of vehicles, fuel for trucks, and food for horses, and logistics suffered as a result, especially for attacking units. Nevertheless, every battery had to have a day worth of rations (aside from the emergency reserve), and a reserve of fuel.

Guns and mortars need ammunition, lots of ammunition. At the beginning of Operation Uranus, artillery units received 1.5 to 3 ammunition loads. The numbers for the whole operation are even more impressive: 122 mm guns and 152 mm howitzers of the Don Front had over 9 ammunition loads.

In order for the ammunition that was delivered through such hard labour to not go to waste, Soviet units performed recce in force two days before the offensive to discover the true location of enemy units. The chief of artillery of the Don Front, Vasiliy Ivanovich Kazakov, wrote: "Without proper reconnaissance and correctly processed information, the only thing you can do is make a pretty looking plan and, having fired off thousands of shells, still not reached your goal."

This "orchestra" of many thousands needed careful direction. Five minutes before the barrage, a command was given on all channels: "Operation!", meaning that all communication must cease. Soon after, the Soviet god of war began its careful destructive work. Every minute on the Don Front alone, five or six thousand shots were fired.

The Soviet offensive began on November 19th, and after only four days the forces of the Stalingrad and South-West Fronts joined up at Kalach-on-the-Don. The Germans at Stalingrad were surrounded, and they would not break out.

Soviet artillery was learning the difficult science of war, and Kazakov, carefully summarizing combat experience, taught his artillery how to fight.

God of War's Hammer

During preparations, fire was only planned for discovered targets. Ammunition would not be wasted on unknown regions. The most attention was directed to pillboxes, which were a thorn in the side in many past battles. Every pillbox and dugout had a card associated with it that detailed when it was discovered, its design, how many firing ports it has, and where they are aimed. All targets were marked on a panoramic photo.

Commanders paid great attention to cooperation between artillery, tanks, and infantry, as well as direct fire. Each company commander received cooperation tables. Each battery commander was shown lines and targets at which he would be shooting. For additional reliability, all communication cables had a backup, and were buried in the snow.

The first barrage was spread out over the whole depth of the German defense. The fuses of the shells were set for fragmentation, for maximum damage against the unsuspecting German infantry. After that, the artillery spent half an hour methodically destroying the German defenses. Each battery was working on one specific target.

After that came the suppression period. At this time, the barrage is aimed at the front lines, then shifts in depth for ten minutes, then moves back to the front line for five minutes. During this barrage, the fuses are set for explosive action, in order to reliably destroy fortifications.

Now, Soviet tanks and infantry could start attacking. The artillery kept up their work, supporting the attacking units with their wave of fire. A special group of guns and mortars was used for this task.

The first target was located 200-280 meters away from the front line, after which the barrage moved up in increments of 100 meters. Main lines were designated every 200-300 meters, and the artillery would focus on them for 2-3 minutes. On average, for every 100 meters of target line, 9 76 mm shells, half as many 122 mm shells, and one third as many 152 mm shells fell every minute. If infantry moved too fast, a signal was sent, and the barrage would move along. If the infantry stalled, then the volume of artillery fire at their targets would double. Intermediate targets were fired on for two minutes, and then the barrage would move without a signal from infantry. For this stage, the fuses were set for fragmentation.

While infantry and tanks moved after the barrage, the main group continued its work on the enemy's main defenses.

Mortars were first used in the barrage, then moved up after the infantry. Katyusha launchers aimed their first strike at the front line. During the second round, they fired in depth, up to 400 meters from the front lines. Their third burst was timed to coincide with the last barrage. After that, the Katyusha rockets were aimed at ravines and reverse slopes in depth of the German defenses.

Vasiliy Ivanovich Kazakov will make it through the entire war. His artillerymen, gathering up experience, will crush the German tanks on the north side of the Kursk salient, cover the crossings over the Dnieper, crush enemy fortifications in Belarus and Poland, from Vitebsk to Poznan. After the war, Kazakov will become the commander of artillery of the Soviet Occupational Force in Germany, Marshal of Artillery, and the first Chief of Land AA Artillery, showing himself a true master of the art of war. But his first step towards glory was here, at Stalingrad.

Original article available here.

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