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"Russian Artillery Support in Tank Attacks" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. report on Russian artillery and tank cooperation during tank attacks consists of an article translated from the Russian Red Star. The translated report was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 34, September 23, 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.]


The following article on artillery and tank cooperation in the attack is reproduced from the Soviet newspaper "Red Star."

*          *          *

When the fringe of the enemy defense has been broken and the leading formations advance to exploit their success, forward artillery observation* is essential. Without this observation, fire from batteries in concealed positions will not be sufficiently effective to give continuous support to the advancing troops. The correct position of the artillery observer has, therefore, for some time, been with the leading elements of the infantry.

The problem, however, is to ensure powerful artillery support to mobile forces effecting a deep penetration. Single guns and gun troops accompanying these forces cannot always succeed in neutralizing enemy strongpoints of resistance. Tanks are either forced to stop or detour, with the result that the tanks are subject to serious threats from their flanks. Artillery time-tables prepared in advance, based only on reconnaissance data, are not sufficiently reliable, in view of the impossibility of discounting all the eventualities in battle.

Practical combat experience has proved that forward artillery observation is possible also in the case of thrusts delivered by tanks. This means that an artillery officer must be with the tanks forming part of the first wave. From this position, he will be able to judge what is holding up the advance; to call for and correct fire, and thus, although expending less ammunition, but achieving greater effect, the problem of providing fire support for advancing tanks is solved. At the same time, the possibility of shelling empty ground or one's own tanks is greatly reduced.

The experience gained by formations recently employed in the offensive on the (Russian) southern front allows for deductions of practical value.

In one case, an artillery regiment was allotted the task of supporting a tank formation which was to effect a deep breakthrough. The commander of the artillery regiment appointed one of his best officers, for liaison duty with the tank formation during the advance. Two days prior to the attack, this Russian officer became friendly with the tank crew allotted to him, learned how to fire the tank gun and machine gun, studied the probable course of the battle, arranged with his regiment the radio code procedure to be adopted for correction and control of fire, and checked the long and short wave lengths. From the beginning of the operation, he assumed command of the tank assigned to him.

As long as the tanks successfully dealt with targets with their own weapons the officer continued in his role of tank commander, and succeeded in destroying an enemy tank gun. Suddenly, however, the tanks came up against heavy opposition. The commander of the tank formation gave the order to move to a ravine for cover and allow time for straggling tanks to come up. The moment for fire support to assist the tanks had arrived. The artillery observation officer then transmitted his orders by radio. He directed and corrected the fire, as a result of which a concentration of two batteries succeeded in destroying the enemy points of resistance and permitted the tanks to continue their advance. Supporting fire was not restricted to opposition which was obstructing the advance of the formation to which the officer was assigned, but succeeded in providing assistance to formations advancing on his left flank which permitted the latter to fulfill their task.

A number of valuable lessons can be learned from this experience; first, the fact that forward artillery observation in mobile formations is effective is confirmed. As a result of the radio link the commander of the artillery is at all times aware of the position of the tanks and can provide coordinated and directed fire, taking fullest advantage of the range and trajectory.

This link is especially important when, due to weather, or other conditions, aircraft is unable to cooperate with mobile groups. Nevertheless, the organization of this type of forward observation required certain specific preparation. It is essential to assign as observer an experienced officer who is capable of orienting himself in any type of country.

Second, it is necessary to assign two observers to avoid any interruption should the tank of one of the observers be knocked out in action; furthermore, two observers enjoy a better view of the entire field of battle.

The position of the observer in the tank is usually beside that of the tank commander. Through him the observer can decide on various independent tasks, supplement and check the results of his personal observation and can restore communication with his artillery in the event of a break-down of his own radio set. It is emphasized that an observer should not maintain a position too far forward, from where the movement of the main mass of tanks cannot be properly followed. Observation is, furthermore, restricted, owing to the necessity of keeping the tank tightly closed.

The artillery officer is to be warned not to take too active a part as tank commander, and thereby lose sight of his main task. In pursuing individual objectives he may easily reduce his artillery to inactivity and the tanks will fail to receive support when needed. The observer's movements should be based on a careful and skillful maneuver giving him the best possible view of the field of battle, and he must remember that several dozens of guns are more effective than any one tank.

The method for calling for fire and correction is normal; by using a map previously encoded, the observer constantly pinpoints his position. On discovering a definite target he transmits by radio the nearest reference point and the relation of the target to it, at the same time indicating the type of concentration required. In adjusting the fire the observer indicates the correction in meters. The time of opening fire must be so selected as not to interfere with the movement of one's own tanks, unless these are halted in front of the target. The same principle is applied to the observer when putting down a barrage in front of his tanks or in parrying an enemy counterattack.

*See Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 28, p. 8 for a German report on Artillery Forward Observers.


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