Friday 14 May 2021

Heavy Tank Brigades

 "Report by the Commander of Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Red Army

To the People's Commissar of Defense I.V. Stalin on the equipment of a heavy IS tank brigade

November 20th, 1944

I report that:

As per your orders, one heavy IS tank brigade with two regiments of 21 IS tanks each and one regiment of 21 ISU-122 will be ready by December 5th of this year.

There are 65 combat vehicles in the brigade in total.

There is a possibility of organizing 4 more tank brigades in December in order to obtain improved and reliable methods of combat against enemy heavy tanks.

This means that by January 1st, 1945, the Stavka is going to have 5 heavy IS tank brigades with 15 regiments in total in its reserve.

I ask for your decision on this matter

Commander of Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Red Army, Marshal of the Armoured Forces, Ya. Fedorenko
Member of the Military Council, Colonel General of the Tank Forces, N. Biryukov

CAMD RF F.38 Op.11355 D.1280 L.115


  1. I had always read a heavy tank brigade contained 65 IS-2 tanks, in three regiments of 21 tanks apiece (I guess the other two are separate, command tanks)--not a mix of two heavy tank regiments and one heavy SP regiment.

    Was this the real organization, or was it supplanted later?

    BTW, to my mind this organization was long overdue. The German Tiger tanks were similarly organized into heavy tank battalions, but it seems they always seemed to get broken up into nickel-and-dime formations, diluting their effect.

    1. TBF the Germans, like all armies, spent the vast majority of their time fighting an endless succession of small "outpost warfare" skirmishes between the relatively scarce major set-piece operations. Such limited actions needed armoured support as much as anything else but using whole heavy battalions for them would have been obviously silly, so the heavies were duly dispersed to assist as necessary when not required to operate in larger concentrations.

      Judging by many of the reports and citations posted here this was also routine enough in the Red Army, no doubt for much the same reasons - commanders met immediate tactical needs with whatever was actually available and Devil take formal doctrinal theory.

    2. Then again, think of Guderian's aphorism: "Boot 'em, don't spatter them".

      Part of the German problem was a side result their much-praised ability to break up formal organizations into Kampgruppen to achieve certain tactical or operational objectives. This undoubtedly was helpful on a small-scale, but was it always helpful on a larger scale? In war, everyone is screaming that *THEY* should be the ones to get whatever assets are available, but someone has to be responsible to making the decision on who gets what based on the larger strategic/grand operational situation. Breaking up an asset like a Tiger battalion into small pieces may satisfy everyone's who's crying for help a bit, but it may also insure that the now-diluted asset will have little effect on the overall course of a battle. (Or course, another reason why Tigers showed up in few numbers at any one location might be a combination of cumulative losses due to combat and breakdowns).

      Even before the Soviets formed their tank brigades, the IS and ISU regiments were allocated to fronts based on STAVKA decisions. Building tank heavy tank brigades to "boot 'em' with greater effect was only a logical next step. The Soviets late in the war also created SU-100 brigades again to provide focused AT capability where it thought was needed.

    3. Penny packeting was definitely an issue in the Red Army, more so in the early days but the practice survived in some places until the end of the war. Infantry commanders often misunderstood the value of concentrated force and preferred to spread out their big guns rather than strike with a single fist.

    4. Most of the "penny packeting" I've read in the Red Army are the result of losses that reduced formations down to a few vehicles.

      Even when that happened, I think you still had more of a focus on concentrated force in the Red Army than the German. That's why, I think, you read accounts of Soviet tank forces in mid-war and later which were a hodgepodge of AFV not normally used together. As an example, I recall an instance with the 1452 SPG regiment in the Crimea from November 1943-spring 1944, which was weird mix containing KV-85s, KV-1s, T-34s, and SU-152s. I suspect the explanation for this hodgepodge was that an independent tank regiment of T-34s had been bled down to a few tanks, ditto with a heavy tank regiment of KV-1s and KV-85s, and these were added to a heavy SPG regiment of SU-152s that had also been bled down so that a respectable AFV force would still be in operation. Rather than end up with a 3 or 4 separate units each with a handful of AFVs, they pooled their assets into one unit.

      Makes sense, as tactically speaking, AFV best operate at least in pairs, if not in teams of three or more.

    5. KV-85, KV-1S, SU-152 is at least one type of chassis. Up on the Leningrad Front you could find BT-2s and T-26es running around as late as 1944. These tanks would be pushing a decade of service by that point, the people who kept them running are real heroes.