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.
* * * *
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
(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.