Thursday, 2 April 2015

Winter War Tank Discussion, Part 1

After the conclusion of the Winter War, it was clear that application of tank forces in the Red Army needs to be reviewed. Here are some excerpts from a meeting of VKP(b) bigwigs discussing the effectiveness of the tanks and suggesting changes to how they are used, from archives. I will also include some interesting parts that characterize the army as a whole.

"Semenov (Brigade Commissar, Military Commissar of the 50th Infantry Corps): ... We did not study Finland during peacetime enough, we did not study it properly. During wargames, we reached Vyborg in no time at all, with a break for lunch. The White Finn tactics are based on close combat, with an organized system of rifle and mortar fire, with light ski units. Our units turned out to not be ready to fight on skis, they were bound to roads, and their supply lines dragged 10 km behind. We were only saved due to a shortage of Finnish aircraft. For instance, the 123rd and 84th infantry divisions, 1st, 13th, 15th, 35th, and 20th tank brigades, and elements of the 90th Division were all stuck on one narrow road. Many people had to work for several days to untangle this traffic jam."

"Pshennikov (Brigade Commander, 142nd Infantry Division): ... Next issue, the use of tanks. When we were fighting in no man's land, despite my division advancing along a wide front, there was a lack of roads. I had a tank brigade that operated on a front of one regiment with only one road. What happened? The tank brigade clogged up the road and I had nothing to feed that regiment with. All carts had to be stopped and supplies carried to the regiment on foot. In future wars, tank units need their own roads. If there is no other road, don't reinforce the division with tanks, or maybe with just one battalion.
I also think that it is necessary to review tank division compositions, as T-37 and T-38 tanks did not show themselves well. Divisions need to have T-26 tanks. Even those have a drawback, their tracks slip off. That is their greatest weakness, and it must be resolved."

"Sinitsin (Regimental Commissar, Military Commissar of the Front Armoured Forces): Comrades, I consider it my duty to raise some issues on the use of armoured forces in Western Ukraine and against the White Finns. Comrades that spoke before me correctly brought up on the poor cooperation between tanks and infantry. I've been in tank forces for a while, but I have never seen proper cooperation between tanks and infantry in training. If we want to have proper cooperation between tanks and infantry, we need to include a tank brigade in each infantry corps and force the commander to train tanks and infantry together. This will have an effect.
I think that tank battalions with 15 T-26es and several T-38s worked poorly, since there was no repair bases for them, and the vague directions given by combined arms commanders, as a rule, resulted in their disablement. Spreading tanks out without proper orders does not achieve anything. Tank battalions should not be included in infantry divisions.
There is no tank master in the region, front, or army. ABTU is no more or less than an inspectorate. In this condition, we cannot prepare tank forces properly, as nobody is really responsible for training or control. I think that ABTU and tank force directorates should be organized like the VVS. This will increase responsibility for actions, create a centralized training center, and military councils and commanders will have someone to hold responsible for the state of tank forces. Some words on tankers: it is known how important tanks are in any battle, but we have problems with finding qualified crewmen. For instance, there is a regular captain in the Leningrad district who is in charge of assigning tank unit commanders. Where does he know them from? He doesn't, nobody studies these issues, and there is chaos going on with our crews. I think it is necessary to have training and assignments under control of the armoured forces chief. This will make things more reasonable.

The next issue is about the types of tanks. It is sad that a regular 37 mm shell penetrates our tanks, not to mention larger calibers. I think that we need to move to tanks armed with larger calibers and thicker armour due to enemy anti-tank artillery.
Stalin: Is 45 mm enough for T-26es?
Sinitsin: It is enough, but the KV is a new type of tank, and 45 mm is not enough.
Stalin: Is 75 mm enough?
Sinitsin: Yes, that is enough. We need to make more tanks like this and quickly. My next issue is discipline. We talk too much, but the state of affairs is poor. We need to stop talking and prepare our forces properly. I will give you an example. In the 13th Army, I saw a soldier that was lightly wounded in the arm, led to the rear by 3-4 men led by a political chief to take care of him, and then this group sticks around the rear instead of going back and fighting.
It is also necessary to improve training in military academies. We have young lieutenants that just finished the academy, and they don't know how to shoot their pistols. I must make a remark about political workers, there are many comrades with a very low level of military knowledge. We need to end this now and train our commanders and political workers better."

Continued in part 2.

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