[Lone Sentry: www.LoneSentry.com] [Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
"Russian Antitank Tactics" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   An intelligence report on Russian antitank tactics including deployment of the antitank rifle, from the Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



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.


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 vehicles.

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 battle.

". . . 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 antitank rifles.

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 sector commander.

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.

[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Copyright 2003-2005, LoneSentry.com. All Rights Reserved. Contact: info@lonesentry.com.  

Web LoneSentry.com