Saturday, 9 March 2013

World of Tanks History Section: Dancing with Tigers

January 12, 1943. The Red Army begins a wide offensive, codenamed "Spark". The operation involved forces from the Leningrad and Volhov fronts. The goal of the operation was to destroy the enemy forces at Mginsk and Sinayvino, and remove the blockade of Leningrad.

Despite fierce resistance, the offensive was progressing successfully  By January 15th, the forces of the two fronts met at Workers' Village #5. They were separated by a strip of land about one kilometer thick. On this strip, the Germans fought literally for every inch of land, constantly counterattacking.

Among many others, Major-General N.P. Simonyak's 136th infantry division fought in this battle, with a battalion of T-60 tanks. This was a mobile, lightly armoured tank, weighing 7 tons, and armed with a 20 mm ShVAK autocannon. Originally intended for aircraft, its shells had a very high velocity, and were effective against lightly armoured vehicles. PzIII and PzIV tanks could only be penetrated at point blank, and even then, only in the side. Heavy tanks were invincible for the T-60. However, on January 16th (or 18th, in some sources), a unique battle occurred, where a T-60 was victorious against two Tiger tanks.

In early 1943, the Tiger still held on to the claim of the most powerful tank in the world. Few guns could penetrate its 100 mm of front armour. The Tiger's gun, based on the 8.8 cm FlaK 18/36/37 could potentially penetrate any Soviet tank at up to 1000 meters.

It would appear that the weight categories of the Tiger and T-60 are incompatible. However, the T-60's advantage, its speed, was used brilliantly by its crew.

The commander of the tank was Senior Lieutenant Dmitri Osatyuk. The driver was Starshina Ivan Makarenkov. In his hands, the T-60 practically danced on the battlefield. A highly experienced driver was key to the survival of the Soviet "metal flea".

Soviet infantry began its assault on Workers' Village #5. Osatyuk, leading the attack, discovered that two Tigers were headed for the flank. Knowing that there is an artillery battery in a nearby forest, the lieutenant ordered Makarenkov to get the Tigers' attention. The tank charged. The Germans only spotted it when it was very close. Osatyuk opened fire. He did not expect to cause any serious damage, but, by aiming at the viewports, he hoped to blind and deafen the Germans. The Tiger's metal hide flashed with sparks. Makarenko turned suddenly, escaping the German gun. Soon, another burst of 20 mm shells struck the enemy. One Tiger turned its turret towards the bothersome bug, but the T-60, moving in complicated loops, avoided enemy gunners. First one Tiger, then the other, turned to pursue the T-60. Of course, the T-60 was incapable of harming them, but the Soviet bug had to be squashed!

The pirouettes of this deadly dance led the enemy further and further into the forest. Near the battery, the T-60 took a sharp turn. The Tiger turned its hull to follow, and was hit by the already aiming artillery. The shell penetrated the engine, and the Tiger burned. In a few minutes, the second Tiger entered artillery range. It was incapacitated by hits to the turret and suspension.

The battle was observed by the commander of the tank brigade. Due to this, it did not become a legend, but a confirmed event. Osatyuk and Makarenkov became Heroes of the Soviet Union, and their dance with Tigers became the peak of the T-60's combat performance.

Note: Yuri Pasholok writes that, while two Tigers (#100 and #121) were sent to Workers' Village #5, #121 broke down, and #100 fell into a hole and got stuck. Both were recovered by the Soviets after the battle, more or less intact. The "heavy tanks" in Osatyuk's report were likely PzIIIs. From the point of view of a T-60, however, a PzIII is just as dangerous an opponent, with the added higher speed and maneuverability. However, I have kept the article as close as possible to the original, leaving the Tigers in.

Original article available here.

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