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"Tanks in Night Action" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following translated Russian article on the use of tanks at night was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 15, Dec. 31, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The following report is from an article by two Russian officers in Red Star, an official Russian newspaper. It describes how a German regiment was dislodged from a strong position during night fighting.

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Until very recently the extent of night tank action on the front has been limited to night marches, negotiation of water obstacles, and movement to jump-off positions for attack. On the field of battle, the tanks participated only from dawn to dusk. The opinion prevailed that at night the tanks were blind and would therefore lose direction, bog down in natural and artificial tank obstacles, and would not be able to conduct aimed fire. However, recent battles on one sector have shown that the effectiveness of night tank action is well worth the difficult preparations involved. The following is a report on one night action.

An enemy regiment had defended two important hills for some time. From these hills, he had good observation of our positions, which were on the far side of a river. Our positions were continually kept under effective fire. The attempts of the Soviet infantry to capture the hills were in vain.

The commander decided to attack at night. Under cover of darkness, a tank unit was ferried across the river, and concealed in a grove. The following day was spent in reconnaissance, and coordination and establishment of communications. The commander decided to send the tanks on a flanking movement from the south and the southwest, in order that the impression would be created in the enemy that they were surrounded by a large force.

The tanks were echeloned in depth. The heavy tanks were in the first echelon, the light tanks with "desyanti" (infantry mounted on tanks -- see this publication, No. 3, p. 44) were in the second echelon, and in the third echelon were tanks hauling guns. The shells for the gun were carried on the tanks.

Three minutes before the attack, the artillery fired an intensive preparation on the front lines of the enemy, and then shifted to the rear, concentrating on the possible avenues of retreat. Zero hour was 30 minutes before dark. In these 30 minutes the tanks moved from the jump-off positions, reached the Soviet infantry positions, and moved out.

A full moon aided observation. After crossing the line of their own infantry, our tanks opened fire. The flashes of the enemy guns, and flares discharged by Soviet infantry aided fire direction.

The enemy artillery conducted unaimed, disorderly fire, and often shelled their own infantry. Pressed from both the flanks and the front, the enemy started a disorderly retreat. In 4 hours of battle, our tanks and infantry took full possession of the enemy strongpoint. After that the tanks maneuvered along the south and southwestern slopes of the hills, enabling our infantry to consolidate their positions. When it became evident that the hills were securely occupied by our infantry, the tanks returned to a grove to refuel, take on more ammunition and be inspected.

The German dead, the equipment left on the field of battle, and the prisoners captured that night gave proof that the night attack was a complete surprise to the Germans. The impression of complete encirclement was created, and enemy officers and men scattered in all directions. The enemy attempted a few counterattacks, but they were all beaten back.

In the following days, a few more night attacks were made on this and other sectors of the front. They were all successful and resulted in very few losses in Soviet tanks.

From the experience of these battles, the following conclusions can be drawn.

(a) The attacks must be made on moonlit nights, when the infantry can orient itself and give the tanks the signals necessary for them to maintain direction.

(b) The tanks must be used in echelons. This allows movement on a comparatively narrow front, and creates an exaggerated idea as to the number of tanks in battle.

(c) Having occupied a certain line, the tanks must continue their maneuver so as to enable the infantry to consolidate its positions.

(d) During the attack, the tanks must under no circumstances be separated from the infantry. The tanks need the help of the infantry at night more than in the daytime.


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