Monday, 17 June 2013

Ramming Speed!

Tank ramming is occasionally mentioned in discussions of tank combat. Several times, I have seen the claim that tanks, due to the inability to penetrate the armour of the enemy, resorted to ramming them en masse. That assertion is, of course, laughable.

Tank rams, despite the beliefs of some, were not a very common occurrence. They happened in exceptional cases, where the gun was damaged or out of ammunition, or the two tanks found themselves unexpectedly close. Various sources count 52-160 tank-on-tank ram maneuvers being performed during all of WWII, in total. Let's take a look at some recorded ramming maneuvers, in roughly chronological order.

The first recorded tank ram happened before WWII, during the Spanish Civil War. As is well known, the USSR was supplying T-26 tanks and volunteers to the Republican army. One of these volunteers, Lieutenant Osadchiy, used his T-26 tank to shove an Ansaldo tankette into a valley. 

The first tank ram of WWII happened on the day of the attack on the Soviet Union. Lieutenant Gudzya's KV-1 tank rammed several German PzIIIs and an APC. 

Another KV-1 ram is described by Lieutenant-General Popel in his memoirs. "In the heat of battle, the KV commanded by deputy political chief Zhegan went for a ram. The fascist tank was destroyed. From the impact, the engine of the KV stalled, and Zhegan and his driver, Ustinov, lost consciousness. Only the gunner, Mihailov, continued fire while he had shells. The Germans spotted a Russian tank, alone on their flank. Infantry crawled up, climbed up on the tank, started kicking the turret. Zhegan was awakened by this noise. Ustinov was already fiddling with the engine, but could not get it started. The Germans decided to tow the KV with the crew still in it. A PzIV pulled up, and the crew hooked tow cables on the KV. The tank did not move. Another try. The KV started moving. This movement allowed the engine to restart. Ustinov grabbed his levers. Who would win? Our engine was stronger, our tank was heavier. The fascists jumped out of their tank as it moved. The KV is here, right in front of us."

Interestingly enough, another similar incident occurred. Boris Polevoy, a field reporter, wrote: "The KV stalled. The fascists were interested in the new vehicle. They decided to tow the tank away. Two tanks were attached to it with steel cables. The driver, Grigoryev, was ready. He turned on the spare gas tanks and reversed. The powerful vehicle dragged the two enemy tanks. Grigoryev delivered the two tanks to his unit. For his courage, he was made a Hero of the Soviet Union."

While Zhegan's KV took quite a bit of damage from that ram, it did not always happen that way. The KV and T-34 were very heavy, well armoured, sturdy tanks, with powerful engines, making them very good at ramming. The crew commanded by Hero of the Soviet Union Bosov performed 4 tank rams during the Battle of Moscow. KV driver Tomashevich performed 3 rams in one battle on July 12th, 1941. I. Rogozin performed 3 rams at Krivoy Rog, and Lieutenant I. Butenko and Senior Lieutenant P. Zaharchenko performed two rams. 

On June 26th, 1941, Captain Arhipov rammed PzII and PzIII tanks that stopped to refuel. His tanks and crews were in good enough condition to take prisoners. Ramming was chosen in this case due to the operation being carried out at nightfall, and well-aimed gunfire being impossible.

A unique ram was performed on July 7th, 1941. The situation is described by three different sources. From the German side: "7th company of the 1st tank regiment and 2nd company of the 1st motorized regiment stopped and formed a defensive perimeter at an intersection north of Letovo. A fierce tank battle broke out. Around 17:00, the 1st platoon of the 7th company (Lieutenant Fromme) that was guarding the north side received a message about enemy tanks moving in to the crossroads. The company commander, Hauptmann von Falkenberg, saw that a Christie tank that Fromme destroyed rammed his tank (#711) at full speed. The next tank did the same. The enemy crews attempted to escape. Lieutenant Fromme climbed out of his tank and took them prisoner. However, due to reloading his pistol slowly, he had to defend himself with an ax against enemy infantry. He was forced back into his tank with light wounds. After that, more enemy tanks arrived, which tried to pass through the intersection at high speeds."

From the Soviet side: "A curious situation arose in the vicinity of village S. German tanks attacked our infantry. A platoon commanded by Junior Lieutenant Kozulenko received a mission to counterattack and break up the offensive. The only possible route to counterattack was through a bottleneck, where only one tank could pass, and it was currently occupied by a fascist tank. Kozulenko rammed it, knocked it off, and guided his platoon through the bottleneck. The fascists, stunned by this courageous push, turned around and retreated."

From Kozulenko's award order: "Comrade Kozulenko, while fighting German fascists on July 7th, 1941, in defense of the city of Pskov, in the region of Solovyi-Lopatino, where it was necessary to hold against an enemy attack. Comrade Kozulenko, with disregard for his well-being, rammed a German heavy tank with his light tank. As a result, both tanks caught fire, and the path for German tanks was blocked. Comrade Kozulenko left his tank, destroyed the enemy tank crew, and returned to his unit. - Commander of the 3rd Tank Division, Colonel Andreev."

Photograph of the aftermath at the crossroads north of Letovo.

At first, the image seems perfectly normal. However, look at the turret number of the tank seen through the bridge handrail. It is #712. Fromme's tank was #711. Looks like the German report was inaccurate. Instead of both BT tanks ramming #711, one rammed #711, and the other rammed #712. Another award order confirms this: "Comrade Saprykin, during battle in the region of Lopatino-Solovyi, fearlessly destroyed fascists and their tanks. With ramming, he destroyed several enemy tanks. After his tank was immobilized and caught fire, Saprykin, with a machine gun in hand, continued to deflect enemy assaults, killing numerous fascists."

Here is another ramming photo.


I don't have any details on this one, but you can see how devastating a charging T-34 is. The StuG's drive wheel was knocked clean off. 


KV-1 after ramming an 88 mm AA gun. Destroying guns with a tank's tracks was a fairly common occurrence. 

Most of the tank rams happened during the Battle of Kursk. 50 rams were performed by Soviet tankers, 20 at Prohorovka. Mostly, smaller and lighter tanks like PzIIIs and PzIVs were victims of rams, but even heavier German tanks were immobilized when rams destroyed their tracks or wheels. Ivan Feofanovich Kamenetskiy tells the story of one of them: "...I didn't see so many tanks in the whole war, there were less of them in Berlin, I think. Our tanks went into an attack, and we rode on them, 4-5 per tank. I held my submachinegun at the ready. German tanks came up in front of us and opened fire. We dismounted. One of our tanks rammed a German steel monster. I saw how the enemy crew bailed out, and tried to run back to their side. We shot them. It was truly scary, a real slaughter. But we managed to stop the enemy and continue our advance."

Ramming, of course, is more effective against lighter targets, and also those that cannot avoid being rammed. A grounded airplane is a perfect match. Drivers of the 24th Tank Corps rammed 300 airplanes on the ground and 50 loaded on trains right before an offensive during the Battle of Stalingrad, on December 24th, 1942, at the Tanitskaya railroad station. 

Airplanes were also rammed at the airport next to the Polish city of Lubek on January 11th, 1944, where 17 planed were destroyed, and on January 17th, 1945, when 20 planes were destroyed by ramming and cannon fire. 

Soft vehicles are also perfect as targets. Viktor Mihailovich Kryat describes how two KV tanks rammed a German convoy. "At Rzhev, I saw how well our KVs fought. Two KVs against 30 German tanks. The Germans shoot, and the KVs shrug it off. The KVs got up on the highway and started ramming and crushing cars. When we got close, they had so many dents on them. No AT guns could handle us at that time, the Germans had no such shells."

A curious incident occurred on June 24th, 1944, when the crew of Lieutenant Komarov rammed an armoured train with his T-34. A shot from a German armoured train lit his tank on fire and injured him. Komarov's driver, Buhtuyev, rammed the burning tank into the German train, and overturned two train cars. Buhtuyev died, but Komarov escaped into the nearby forests, and was rescued by partisans several days later. Komarov recovered and returned to the front. For his maneuver, he was also made a Hero of the Soviet Union. Another armoured train was rammed by Captain Leonid Maleev. He received his Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously.

Svirin, in his book "Assault Gun Sturmgeshuetz III" describes an instance of a tank ram that was closer to a car accident than an intentional combat action. Three StuH 42 vehicles ran into the advance guard of the 3rd Guards Tank army, quite literally. In the fog, both sides confused the enemy for their own, and climbed out of their tanks to resolve the issue, without bringing as much as a pistol. A StuH gunner that realized that was happening fired, but with an HE shell, killing both Soviet and German tankers. Two of the StuHs managed to escape, dealing minor damage to one of the Soviet tanks. 

Of course, not only Soviet tanks performed rams during WWII. A famous photograph shows a Sherman tank and a Tiger II together. The Sherman rammed the Tiger II, knocking out both tanks.


2 comments:

  1. First story is quite hilarious.

    Oh, and crushing AT guns are quite common too in Men of War. The results are not pretty, for the guns.

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  2. These stories are definetly funny, in a kind of morbid way... Ramming 300 planes? That must have been a sight!

    ReplyDelete