Saturday, 11 October 2014

Hatches

A number of sources, both memoirs and secondary sources founded on the memoirs, write that Soviet tank crewmen did not look out of their tanks through the hatches, which reduced their visibility on the battlefield, some going as far as claiming that it was actually forbidden. But was it? The Soviet 1944 armoured vehicle manual certainly doesn't say so. In fact, what it says is the opposite.

"154. In combat conditions, all crew members and observation posts observe the battlefield. Platoon commanders operating on flanks should pay special attention to open flanks. Before contact with the enemy is made, observation is to be performed from open hatches. The observers report anything that is observed to their commander."

"250. The crew must constantly and carefully observe the battlefield, look for landmarks, seek targets, and keep them in sight, reporting them to the tank commander. If the target is lost, it is permissable to carefully observe through an open hatch. The crew must pay attention to the platoon commander's vehicle in battle and follow his signals."

This manual is applicable to tanks (medium, heavy, and special), armoured cars (light and medium), SPGs, APCs, and special vehicles, so nearly any crew would have read it and would be obliged to follow it.

Soviet memoirs also contain instances of commanders remaining unbuttoned even during battle.
Nikonov, Ivan Sergeevich: "As soon as it dawned, the Germans attacked. I saw out of my hatch how the infantry was retreating, pushing a 45-er. Tanks appeared. I ordered my crew to let them come within 500-600 meters. The battle started, we were shooting at them, they were shooting at us. ...
I commanded the battle while out of the hatch up to my belt. I never ducked down and shut myself in my tank. What is the commander's mission? Ready the tank before battle, pick the correct target in battle, correctly judge the situation, correct the fire. Fortifications in front of me were pockmarked with shells that fell too close. A few shells flew past me..."

Ivanitskiy, Ivan Sidorovich: "Did you open hatches when you attacked?" "Of course, cracked them open by about the size of your palm. It's hard to see through the periscope, you open the hatch to get the best visibility. It's dangerous, of course. A fragment can fly in, but you can see where you're going and what's happening around you."

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the regulations you cited are likely part of the problem.

    "In combat formation (not "conditions")..." - great, at the start this paragraph is specifically made to be for a particular kind of formation. How am I supposed to observe in march formation (the "pre-combat" formation is not in the lexicon yet).

    "Before contact with the enemy is made, observation is to be performed from open hatches." - this implies once the first enemy is spotted, or if we are suddenly sniped upon (contact), everyone is to button up.

    "If the target is lost, it is permissable to carefully observe through an open hatch." - in other words, I'm in a reactive posture. I have to lose contact first, and then begrudgingly open my hatch. As for the possibility of finding new targets while in contact with the enemy through an open hatch, this implies I may not.

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