Wednesday 19 June 2019

1942 Tactics

"Wundsdorf Tank School

March 1st, 1942

What tactics will Russian tanks use in 1942?

Throughout the Eastern campaign, the Russians did not attack according to their manuals. We must assume that this will keep happening in the future.

Russian tanks advance in tight cooperation with infantry, since they are subordinate to it. A small group of tanks (5-10) is followed by a group of infantry, which either rides the tanks or is towed on skis. In this way, the Russians do not deliver a concentrated tank strike, but are able to use tanks everywhere.

We must discard the idea that tanks will only attack in regimental-sized fronts. These small groups of tanks can get through terrain that is suboptimal for tanks (thin forest, forest clearings, dirt roads, etc). Anti-tank obstacles several hundred meters from the front lines are pointless in this case, since the tanks already have very close targets.

The German tank destroyer must realize that he is being attacked with Russian tactics, not German ones.

The attack progresses sluggishly. The Russian tanks begin to fire at long range (2000 meters or more) even at assumed targets.

When fighting tanks, they tried to fight at long distances. This is a correct tactic due to their superior weapons. The German tanks need to try and use their exploitation and observation ability to set the range of the battle. Russian tanks move slowly from front to front, covering each other with fire, even in groups of two tanks. Since the observation devices are unsatisfactory, Russians usually observe from the turret with binoculars (shoot them). The roof hatch is often open (throw grenades or shoot from trees). 

The heaviest tanks (usually a KV) will stop during a breakthrough, and lighter tanks will come from the left and right. The anti-tank guns were forced to fire. If they were discovered by the heavy tank, which did not always happen, the tank would not fire, but drive forward to crush the anti-tank guns and scatter anti-tank mines placed in front of the position.

In other cases, first the heavy tank entered the gun position, then attempted to crush the gun, at which point light tanks would attack.

Anti-tank guns that were detected were crushed with tracks. Individual tanks were immediately attacked using close combat weapons.

Reports show that Russian tanks move like they are blind. This can be explained by destruction of the driver's observation device by machinegun fire (make this a priority). 

Russians can attack at night in small groups. The use headlights with the light masked. Experience in the east and trials on proving grounds show that it is hard to hit these lights, it is best to aim at them with a sniper rifle. We must continue to expect to encounter these night tank groups. Lights are installed on tanks with very thick armour, as these tanks will draw enemy fire. Lighter tanks that are flanking it fire at anti-tank guns that reveal themselves with flashes.

If the Russians manage to track an anti-tank gun or similar target with headlights, the tank was aimed in that direction and the light turned off, to crush it blindly with tracks.

The offensive tactic of using small groups can only be defeated by cooperation between different defensive methods.

Tank destroyers: do not fire anti-tank guns one by one, as they will be detected by heavy tanks at ranges where they cannot be penetrated. It will only become a victim of a flanking light tank. It is recommended to use the 3.7 cm gun alongside 5 cm or even heavy (7.5 cm, 7.62 cm, or 8.8 cm) anti-tank guns, and, if necessary, 10.5 cm guns to suppress resistance. 

Firing at a wide area often gives negative results. The ideal field of fire is equal to the effective range. Flanking and hull down positions are very important. It is very important to keep 3.7 cm guns (constantly at night and often during the day) armed with Hl ammunition, keeping them well hidden and opening fire as late as possible, it is rare to be able to make more than one shot.

Armour: for the German tanker, knowing Russian tanks is an issue of life and death. The thickness of the armour and effectiveness of armament must be known in advance. The German tank, when meeting a more powerful opponent, must aim at the tracks and try to slow down the enemy attack to let heavy guns (7.5 cm Hl or 8.8 cm AA guns) deploy.

Riflemen and infantry: close combat is very important in this spread out way of warfare. Vision of Russian tanks is bad. All tanks have a big dead zone. The KV has an escape hatch on the bottom, the T-34 does not. To deal with the thick armour of Russian tanks, you must pick a large explosive charge (concentrated explosives, at least 3 kg).

Intelligence reports that Russians are now organizing tank battalions composed of one heavy tank company (KV), one medium (T-34) and 2 light (30 T-60 and 5 T-34). It is not known if these are formed in large numbers. The organization in this way seems likely, since it complements the way they have attacked so far in the Eastern campaign. Russian tank units have shown their strengths and weaknesses.

This material is intended for officers, not for the press. Any soldier considers the enemy's weapons better than his own, this has always been the case. At the shooting range, it is the gun's fault when the shooter misses, but the enemy on the battlefield always shoots perfectly from his weapons, this was always reported to exaggerate one's heroism. An officer must never do this and always teach his soldiers to not do this. Any such message, no matter how innocent, is dangerous. 

It is surprising that anyone who fought Russian tanks always insists that they were 52 ton tanks, if not 64, 80, or even 120 ton tanks. There are rumours that Russian tanks are armed with 3.7 or 5 cm guns. This is not true and will never be true. None of the old tanks have this armament, and the new T-60 tank does not have this armament. It is hard to believe that the T-34 and KV have it. An officer must know the enemy's tanks to ascertain their threat. Only he who knows the enemy well can overcome misinformation.

A large amount of Russian tanks is not the key to success. This was shown in the summer of 1941.

Thick armour is not the key to success. We did not lose faith and found countermeasures.

In the sense of leadership, from the tank commander to the gun commander, we have overwhelming superiority.

1942 will be the same as always. It is not the tank that will be decisive, but the men who drive it."


  1. Some of those finishing remarks, while objectively true, are deeply ironic in hindsight - most notably the one about heavy armour.

    1. My comment on those last remarks is "...and this is why Germany lost the war". :P

      Seriously, after the war, the German military tried to fob off all the blame for the loss on Hitler. But the arrogance and smug sense of superiority that those concluding remarks convey was the real reason. Von Mellethin himself confessed (on Soviet tank forces in 1942) 'we thought the Russians had created this tool that they would never learn to master'. The German military's difference with Hitler was more along the lines of a quibble than a fundamental disagreement, something like "yes, Hitler should have made this decision rather than that decision in 1941 or '42, but really, it doesn't matter in the end, because no matter how many tanks the Russians make or how good they are, those bumbling, clueless Russians will never be able to use them". Isn't that what this article is in essence concluding?

      I instead concur with the assessment of US military historians such as James Dunnigan and Al Nofi, who wrote on this topic when I was young. Russian hardware, they said, was always very good, in many if not most cases better than their German counterparts. The German edge came in their experience and training, but this was eroded away in combat as their Soviet counterparts, especially at the lower levels of command, men recently who had been in civilian work, learned the trade of handling armor, artillery, and infantry units. It was this closing of this "quality gap" is what destroyed the Germans.

      In wargaming circles, I think these points are ignored by many Wehrmacht fans, who think that they should be able to simply go out and slug it out with their Russian opponents and cry "Russian bias!" when they get their butts handed to them. But of you play that way, if you go out believing that your having Tigers or Panthers and/or Kwk43s gives you an insurmountable advantage, that's a completely historically accurate model and you SHOULD get your butt handed to you. The German player really *should* have to play smarter to win.

      Finally, I note the reference to "faith"--this is SOOOO Nazi--that wars are decided by 'faith' and 'fanaticism' rather than a sober summing up of material assets. We dare not disturb our 'triumph of the will' with any grubby materialism, right? How many times did Hitler repeat that sentiment? I wonder if this was part of the boilerplate propaganda that had to go out in all instructions to the troops, certainly German generals in 1944 or so were echoing it.