In the battle for Berlin, a large city converted by the Germans into
a fortress for a last ditch stand, the Russians used massed mechanized
units in street battles. However, Soviets do not recommend that tank
units be sent into the city, where movement is usually restricted and
channelized, barricades and obstacles easily prepared, and every building
becomes a potential strongpoint and direct-fire gun emplacement,
but the lessons learned during the battle of Berlin are worthy of attention.
Writing in "Red Star," an official Red Army publication, a Major N.
Novskov details what was found in Berlin, the difficulties encountered,
and some of the methods used to overcome the stubborn German defense.
For the battle of Berlin, the Russians organized combined assault
detachments, consisting of one tank battalion, a rifle battalion,
a company or platoon of engineers, a battalion of artillery (not less than
122-millimeter), and a platoon of flame throwers.
Fundamentally, the defense of Berlin was based on three defensive
belts, with intermediate strongpoints: the outer ring of defense
along the line of lakes and canals: the ring of defense in the outskirts and
suburbs; and an inner ring in the city proper.
The Germans had expected the assault to be made from the East
and had concentrated their defenses in that area. Soviet tank units,
however, attacked from the south, cutting off the Berlin garrison from
the southern German armies which were to have constituted its defense
in that sector. The attack in the southern sector moved swiftly, with
the Soviets by-passing the main centers of resistance and driving
quickly through the outskirts and into the suburbs.
|"Berlin shall remain German!"—that's what the sign on the wall claims, but the
crew of this Red Army 122-mm self-propelled gun had something else to say about
it. It was with artillery of this type that the Red Army fought into Berlin.
One big obstacle that had to be countered in this first phase was the
crossing of the Teltow Canal, where the Germans had demolished all
the bridges or had prepared them for demolition. After a thorough
reconnaissance, a well organized and coordinated assault was made
on the canal and a crossing effected.
In the suburbs, the tanks had a certain degree of maneuverability,
due to the larger number of gardens, squares, parks, and athletic fields. They
were able to by-pass and envelop separate centers of resistance,
to attack some defense fortifications from the rear, and to complete
enveloping movements in some cases. Once enveloped, the defense
zones in this area quickly collapsed.
In the center of the city, the nature of the fighting was quite
different from the fighting in the suburban area. Many-storied buildings
in solid masses reduced the maneuverability of tank units. The only
avenues of advance were along the streets from building to building. Maneuver
was not entirely prohibited, however, for heavily barricaded
streets and strongpoints could be enveloped by way of adjacent buildings.
During the battle for the center of the city, the tanks were used in
a supporting role to reinforce the infantry and artillery. The infantry
cleared the buildings of antitank gunners who were concealed in the
basements or in the lower floors. After the buildings had been cleared,
the tanks would advance.
It was in this battle for the center of the city that the combined
assault detachments proved their worth. The combined detachment
was able to attack with well protected flanks, and could maneuver
within the limits of two or three buildings.
A group of Soviet 152-mm self-propelled gun-howitzers halt on the side of an
avenue during the fight for Berlin. The Red Army broke into the German capital
by using detachments of tanks, assault guns, infantry, and support troops.
The general plan of operations of the assault detachments was as
follows: If the detachment met with obstructions, it by-passed the
obstruction, or the sappers would blow up the obstacle under the
cover of tank and infantry fire. At the same time, the artillery placed
fire on the buildings beyond the obstruction, thus blinding the enemy
defense and providing additional cover under which the flame throwers
set the buildings afire. After demolition of the obstruction, the tanks
then rushed forward and tried to get past the enemy defense zone,
while the infantry cleared the enemy from the zone itself. Flanks were
protected along the side streets by self-propelled mounts or by tanks.
This basic plan was, of course, subject to variation. Depending
upon a number of elements, such as the nature of the enemy fortifications,
the enemy power of resistance, and the composition of the attacking
elements, the tank battalion can attack along two or three
streets. Major Novskov asserts that it is better to attack along three
streets, keeping the reserve in the center. When the attack is successful
along any of the streets, the attacking force is then able to
maneuver and envelope the stronger portion of the defensive zone. A
tank attack along a larger number of streets leads to a dispersal of
force and a reduction in the rate of attack.
Each tank brigade ordinarily had as a main objective the envelopment
of from four to six buildings. In the accomplishment of its
mission it was found to be of special importance to have a mobile
reserve capable of commitment in the direction of the main effort.
Major Novskov states that the boldness of the tankmen played a
great role in the street battles. When artificial obstructions were not
present, the tanks, with motorized infantry dismounting at high speed,
dashed through certain buildings to intersections, squares, or parks,
where they took up positions and waited for the infantry. When the
infantry had cleared the enemy from the buildings that had been
passed by the tanks, the tanks again moved forward in the same
manner. When a defended obstacle was encountered, the tank first
tried to by-pass it. When it proved to be impossible to by-pass the
obstacle, and only when it was impossible, they would begin assault operations.
Red Army T-34 tanks rendezvous in the rubble of a Berlin square. During combat
in the city, Soviet tank battalions, supported by infantry, assault guns, and
engineers, attacked on an average front of two to three city streets wide.
An example of the action of one assault group is cited by Major
Novskov. "While attacking in the direction of the Ringbahn (loop
railroad), the tank battalion was stopped in the northern part of
Mecklenburgische Strasse by a reinforced concrete wall 8 meters wide
and 2.5 meters high. The barricade was protected by strong machine
gun and automatic fire and also by antitank grenade launchers installed
in houses at the barricade itself. There were no detours. The commander
decided to break through the obstacle. He first sent out a
group of submachine gunners whose mission was to annihilate the
grenade launchers, which was accomplished in a short period of time. Then
122-millimeter guns opened fire on the houses where the enemy
firing points were located. The tanks, advancing simultaneously with
the artillery, also opened fire on the buildings on the other side
of the barricade. Under cover of the artillery and tank fire assault engineers
climbed up to the barricade with explosives. After three explosions
in the barricade, a breach was made through which tanks and infantry
rushed. The well organized mutual support guaranteed the success of the attack."
In the case of Berlin, used as an example of a large modern city
turned into a fortress, the Russians emphasize the importance of
mobile reserves; the formation of cooperating teams of tanks, infantry,
artillery, and engineers; the importance of heavy artillery ("not less
than 122-millimeter"); and the fact that maneuver though restricted by
the channelized avenues of advance, can still be performed on a limited scale.
The Soviets further note that the use of massed tanks in the streets
of a modern city is not recommended, but that it has been done, and
tanks can be used effectively if it is done correctly.
They emphasize the importance of not dispersing the attacking force
too greatly, and of attacking on a relatively narrow front for each