The Russian Army had forced upon it in June 1941
the major portion of Germany's armored forces. The
Russians were driven back several hundred miles eastward
during the first few months of the campaign, but,
at the same time, they were studying the German tactics.
And in the fall of 1941, when the Germans made an all-out
attack for Moscow, the Soviets put into effect certain
antitank tactics that finally halted the German drive.
These tactics, in general, involve placing the various
antitank weapons in considerable depth and supporting
them with heavy artillery, infantry, and frequently with
aircraft. They are designed to break up the massed
attacks made at relatively weak points by German tanks.
2. VARIOUS METHODS EMPLOYED
a. Organization of Terrain
Selection of terrain which limits or prevents the maneuvering
of tanks is a major factor in breaking up armored
attacks. In fact, the Russians consider that denial of
maneuverability is half the battle—the enemy must not
be allowed to choose his ground or the time of attack.
The Russian defenses against armored vehicles are
based mainly on "islands of resistance" disposed in
depth. More often than not, these areas of resistance
are centered around towns and villages or other built-up
places. The Russians acquired considerable experience
in organizing defenses in towns and villages during the
revolutionary and Polish campaigns of 1918-1921. Their
facilities for such defensive activity have been increased
since that time by the systematic training of women and
children, who operate the aircraft warning system, help
to organize the defenses, and sometimes act as snipers.
To consolidate a town's defenses, armed detachments of
soldiers and civilians are disposed at strategically
important sites. Stone dwellings are used for emplacing
heavy machine guns, either on the roofs or through
windows. Antitank and antiaircraft guns are emplaced
so that they can be fired down roads or streets, along with
machine-gun fire. Tank mines and barriers are placed
along likely approaches. Barricades are constructed for
street fighting in case a penetration should occur.
Over areas selected for defense against tanks, the
Russians frequently construct thousands of X-shaped
tank obstacles by crossing three pieces of heavy steel
rails or beams, and by driving them partly into the
ground or wiring them together on top of the ground.
Tanks approaching these obstacles must either slow down
or maneuver around them. Artillery is sited to open
fire as the tanks approach the obstacles—which, therefore,
serve much the same purpose as the British minefields in North Africa.
Well in advance of their defended positions, the Russians
install thousands of prefabricated individual concrete
pillboxes. These are moved on trucks to the areas
which need them. Holes are dug into the ground
according to a planned scheme, and the pillboxes are then
dropped into the holes. The pillboxes are distributed in
great depth along the main highways. They are arranged
so that an enemy, concentrating on destroying a certain
pillbox, encounters oblique or flanking fire from others.
b. Use of Artillery
The Russians rely on artillery as their main weapon in
fighting tanks. They make particular use of an 85-mm
dual-purpose gun. Other pieces used extensively include
76-mm and 45-mm guns.
Usually the artillery opens up with long-range fire
against moving or assembling tanks. Barrages are
employed to disorganize tank combat formations, to cause
casualties, and to separate the tanks from the infantry
and accompanying artillery. In addition to stationary
guns, a mobile reserve of antitank guns is always available.
If the Germans are able to attack after the long-range
shelling, the Russians do not put their antitank system
into effect until the tanks cross their line of departure and
break through the forward positions.
How the Russians emplace their 45-mm and 76-mm
guns and fortify the areas where they are located are told
in the following article written by a Soviet artillery officer:
"Fortifying 45- and 76-mm gun positions is hard work, but it
pays large dividends in combatting German tanks. Crews are
taught not only to dig in and to camouflage quickly, but also to
mine sectors in front of their batteries. When time permits, two
or three alternate positions are dug for each gun and are used to
confuse the enemy in spotting our gun positions. Artillery fire
from these positions is also frequently imitated in order to draw enemy fire.
"Open positions are soon knocked out by enemy tanks or aircraft. Therefore,
a platform with all-around traverse is built
first. Beside it is dug a hole into which the gun may be lowered.
Ditches, 1 1/2 yards deep, for personnel and ammunition, are dug
on each side of the platform. The hole and the ditches are covered
with logs, poles, and a 1/2-yard thickness of earth to guard
against shell and bomb splinters. About 2 to 3 yards from the
emplacement, another ditch is dug—this one for reserve ammunition. In
battle, enemy tanks and planes make it very difficult to
bring up additional ammunition from the rear. At some distance
from the gun positions, dugouts 3 to 4 yards long and 2 yards
wide, with inclined entrances, are dug for the horses. These dugouts
are covered with poles, leaving a gap 1 to 1 1/2 feet wide to
admit enough light to prevent restlessness.
"In the spring battles, the Red Army artillery was organized in
depth. The 45-mm guns were emplaced on the front lines, and
were protected by other antitank defenses. The crews were able
to set up minefields in front of the gun positions, as well as
obstacles, and also to lift the mines when necessary. In addition,
each artillery battalion and, in some cases, each artillery battery,
had a mobile reserve of 5 to 8 combat engineers equipped with
4 to 5 mines each. Their function was to mine unguarded tank
approaches after the direction of the enemy attack had been
definitely ascertained. These mines proved highly effective in
stopping and even in destroying many enemy tanks."
c. Air Support
The Russians insist on thorough air reconnaissance to
safeguard their forces—particularly infantry—from surprise
tank attacks. If there is any possibility of a clash
with enemy armor, mixed columns of infantry, artillery,
and tanks are employed, closely supported by aircraft.
Russian close-support aircraft—including the highly
respected Stormovik planes—often have achieved good
results in attacking German tanks and other armored
d. Use of Antitank Rifle
The following information about the use of the Russian
antitank rifle was originally published in the Red Star,
official Soviet Army publication:
"A Soviet artillery battery was on the march when the column
was suddenly attacked by six enemy tanks. A Red Army private
armed with an antitank rifle jumped off a caisson, took position
behind a mound, and opened fire. He inflicted sufficient damage
on the leading tank to cause the remainder of the enemy tanks to
delay their attack for a few minutes. The battery was given a
chance to deploy and open fire, and the surprise attack was beaten
off. Four of the six German tanks were put out of action.
"In many similar instances antitank rifles have proved effective
against enemy tanks. The light weight, portability, and rapid
fire power of this weapon permit its crew to go into action in so
short a time that it can cover units on the march, at rest, or in
". . . The greatest success has been attained by squads
consisting of two or three antitank rifles placed 15 to 20 yards apart.
Such units can bring effective fire to bear on a target, and have
a greater chance of putting it out of commission than fire by a
single rifle would have.
In selecting positions for antitank titles, detailed reconnaissance
of the target area should be made, in addition to the usual
local reconnaissance. Eliminating dead spots and protecting
against the most likely routes of enemy tank approach are most
important considerations. The positions should be echeloned so
as to be mutually supporting with fire from the flanks. Antitank
rifles in artillery batteries are generally grouped on the most
exposed flank of the gun positions. In all cases, the squad leader
should select his own position so as to have maximum observation
and, at the same time, personally control the actions of the
In fortifying these positions, it has proved impracticable to
construct emplacements with roofs because of increased visibility
to the enemy air force and lack of 360° traverse. The best types
of emplacements are open and circular in shape, with a diameter
large enough to permit free movement of the crew for all-around
traverse and to protect the gun and crew from being crushed by
enemy tanks. Narrow communication trenches connect the gun
positions with each other as well as with the rear. Both
emplacements and trenches are constructed without parapets; the
extra dirt is utilized in building false installations to draw enemy fire.
It is practically impossible for tanks to spot such fortifications,
and the rifles are able to fire on them for the longest possible
time. Also, protection against aerial bombardment is increased.
"In the preparation of antitank fire, the rifleman should select
five or six key reference points at different ranges, measure the
distance to them, and study the intervening terrain. When
actually firing, he should fire at stationary tanks whenever possible
and not take leads at ranges over 400 yards. Aim should always
be taken at the vulnerable parts, taking advantage of any hesitation
or exposure of the sides of the enemy tanks.
"Antitank defense must be drawn up so as to protect the antitank
rifle units fully, by means of all available obstacles, mines,
and fire power."
e. Recent Trends
Recent trends in Russian antitank tactics are discussed
in an article appearing in the "Red Star." An extract.
from this article follows:
Correctly disposed and camouflaged, antitank weapons can and
do stop the German tanks. One case of a recent battle is recorded
in which three antitank guns of the regimental artillery held off
56 German tanks in an all-day battle and destroyed 5. Another
case records 35 to 40 German tanks attempting to cross a river,
over a single bridge. One well-placed antitank gun destroyed 5
German tanks and forced the remainder to seek other means of crossing.
Communication with the chief of the artillery unit, with the
infantry commander, and with adjacent units is usually by radio.
All artillery and antitank defenses are subordinated to the
No set rule can be laid clown as to the density of antitank
weapons on any sector. The system depends upon the terrain
and the local situation. In general, there should be greater
density toward the rear. An attack by a large number of tanks
is met at the front lines by artillery and rifle fire. Then antitank
rifles and destroyer tanks come into play. If the enemy tanks
still break through, they run into tank obstacles defended by
flanking and rear antitank fire. Soviet infantry at this point
attempts to cut off the German infantry from its tank support.
The enemy tanks then continue to run into tank destroyers and
an increasing number of minefields.
Where Soviet tanks are used in the defense, they must not be
pushed out front, but must be scattered to the rear and dug in to
await a possible breakthrough, where they can do their best work.