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"Aircraft Against Tanks" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following translated Russian report on aircraft tactics against tanks was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 38, November 18, 1943.

[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.]


Lessons concerning the employment of aircraft against tanks, as learned by the Russians in the Orel-Kursk and Belgorod battles, were outlined in an article published recently in the Red Star. The article is reprinted herewith.

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Our [Russian] aviation assists the ground forces by destroying tanks on the battlefield and in the enemy rear where other antitank means cannot be used. Activity of aircraft against tanks is particularly successful when the enemy sends large masses of tanks into battle, as was the case on the Orel-Kursk and Belgorod sectors.

Combat experience on both sectors showed that thorough and systematic aerial reconnaissance is of particular value in aiding aircraft in fighting tanks. At times, this type of reconnaissance is the only one that permits the detection of enemy concentrations of tanks. Air observation by aerial photograph must be made of areas of possible concentrations, especially on the flanks of our units. Survey of the vicinity (ravines, woods and its outskirts, branching roads, etc.) may be done by night as well as by day. Raids and bombings that make the enemy "speak up" and disclose well-camouflaged and concealed positions are very helpful.

In examining and collating aerial reconnaissance reports and photographs, the commander should not confine himself to verifying only the presence of tank concentrations. It is also necessary to determine the number of tanks, their different types, their arrangement, the location of fueling trucks, transports, available cover, and antiaircraft weapons.

Enemy tanks detected by reconnaissance may be attacked immediately or later, depending upon strategic conditions. Stormoviks give the best results; they should not, however, be used according to a wornout pattern, but as concrete conditions dictate, since definite conditions of fire (distance, direction, caliber of armor-piercing shells) are required in striking armored targets.

The fire of our Ilyushin-2 Stormoviks, which have large-caliber cannon, is effective against the main types of enemy tanks. The most advantageous attacking positions for aircraft are from the rear or the side of the tank; and when diving, at an angle of not more than 30 degrees. Cannon fire against cars and carriers with 10- to 14-mm armor usually is effective. The majority of German armored personnel carriers do not have tops and are furnished with low visors on the sides. Thus, when diving, even machine-gun fire of a Stormovik may destroy the personnel. Medium-caliber instantaneous bombs are most expedient against tanks. The hit can be either direct or in the immediate vicinity of the tank.

Action against tanks should depend on the armament of the plane in relation to the targets' armor. Thus, large-caliber armament is used against tanks and other heavily armored targets; smaller caliber, against personnel and various supply equipment.

The method of attack depends upon the position of the target (tanks in columns, initial position, places of concentration, and in combat formation). For example, an attack on tanks in column should be from the rear and side. Since tanks, when moving, are spread out, each subdivision of Stormoviks should be given a definite target and should not be permitted to scatter their fire power. Some of the planes should be assigned to neutralize enemy antiaircraft fire.

In addition to the use of cannon fire, it is well to drop bombs when enemy tanks are found in places of concentration. At the same time, the commander should pay special attention to the disposition of enemy equipment including fuel and ammunition dumps.

Because of good armor protection, our Stormoviks may be used with success against enemy tanks on the battlefield. Combat experience indicates that the closed circle over the tanks is an advantageous formation to use. Since the targets are scattered, this formation gives each pilot the chance of picking out the target and of attacking it several times. The attack is made from the rear for the following reasons:

(1) It permits fire on the most vulnerable parts of the tank;

(2) The tanks are unable to counter our attacks, since their guns are pointed in the direction of our ground forces;

(3) In case of a hit made by antiaircraft guns, the plane may glide within its own lines.

Disabled tanks which the Germans dig into the ground and use as static fire points during defense operations should not be attacked by Stormoviks or fighters. The ground forces attack such tanks. The chief attention of the pilots should be devoted to mobile tanks and especially those that are out of antitank artillery range.

The success of a raid depends largely on how well the pilots know the different types of tanks and how well they can distinguish them from the air. It is also necessary to be able to fire with precision.


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