Friday, 26 August 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Battle at Lukhanino

The Voronezh Front, protector of the south flank of the Kursk salient, found itself in the way of a powerful German offensive. However, this scenario played out quite unlike what German commanders expected. Most problems were faced by the 48th Tank Corps, which got stuck at the first Soviet line of defense on July 5th, 1943. Even 200 Panthers, thrown into battle near Cherkasskoye where Grossdeutschland division was spinning its wheels did not improve the situation.

Only late in the evening, having joined forces with the 3rd Tank Division, the German unit managed to enter Cherkasskoye. Soviet forces were fully expelled only by the next morning. The offensive had to be developed further, along the Belgorod-Oboyan highway, right through Lukhanino.

Crossing with Teeth

The Lukhanino village spread across both shores of the Pena river with a bridge connecting the two halves. The Germans needed this bridge. Colonel I. Yakovlev's 10th Mechanized Brigade was ordered to defend it with its 8 T-70s and 29 T-34s. The brigade's infantry fortified inside the village and on its outskirts; the tanks took up positions to the east. Twelve 76 mm guns deployed behind the front lines. Soviet soldiers spent all night digging trenches for themselves and their tanks, camouflaging their materiel. Lukhanino was becoming a fortress.

One of the motorized regiments from Grossdeutschland received orders to capture the crossing in the village. It was reinforced with an impressive amount of tanks and assault guns. The Germans attempted to take Lukhanino from the march. Up to 40 tanks and SPGs participated in this attack, but soldiers from the 10th Mechanized Brigade deflected the attack, destroying several enemy vehicles.

Enemy commanders, enraged by this failure, called in artillery support and began storming the village again and again. Yakovlev's dug-in brigade proved a tough nut to crack. Motorized infantry, tankers, artillerymen, and mortar crews cooperated skilfully, inflicted losses on the enemy, and kept them out of the village. The effort put into camouflage during the previous night paid off: the Germans did not always understand where shells were coming from. Soviet T-34s that fought German tanks maneuvered on the battlefield, evading return fire. Tankers would take several shots from one position, move, and then keep firing.

During the evening of July 6th, soldiers from the 10th Mechanized Brigade deflected 8 attacks, each with up to a battalion of infantry (500 men) supported by 30-50 tanks and SPGs. No fewer than 10 enemy tanks were knocked out. Lieutenant Tutveridze and Lieutenant Godyn's crews performed particularly well, destroying three tanks each. Losses of the 10th brigade consisted of four knocked out T-34 tanks.

The Germans moved additional forces to Lukhanino, but only managed to capture the southern outskirts. A river stood between German and Soviet forces. Even during the night, the Soviets had to fight off several attacks.

Main Strike

The Germans had poor luck when fording Pena, not just in Lukhanino but also in nearby Zavidovka. Enemy commanders decided to forego a second attempt on the latter, but the 3rd Tank Division was sent to reinforce Grossdeutschland at Lukhanino. Its arrival was expected in the morning of July 7th.

Our forces noticed that a significant German tank force was forming on their left flank, regrouped, and waited. This time, the Germans attacked the village from three directions. The enemy dislodged the 10th brigade from several positions, but no significant progress was made.

The Germans concentrated their forces for a decisive offensive. About 300 tanks and SPGs attacked the defensive lines between Lukhanino and Syrtsev. At Syrtsev, the Germans managed to reach the village and hold height 230.1 to the east. The 1st and 3rd Mechanized Brigades were forced to retreat north, which exposed the left flank of the 10th brigade in Lukhanino.

Meanwhile, Yakovlev's brigade kept staunchly fighting for their "river fortress". Elements of Grossdeutschland attacked several times with up to two infantry battalions and 40-60 tanks and SPGs. Lukhanino did not budge. The commander of the German 48th Corps, von Knobelsdorf, was seriously bothered by the failures around the village. He ordered a powerful attack on its positions in the second half of the day on July 7th to suppress the brigade's resistance and take Lukhanino.

The German attack began at 14:30. Two regiments of infantry (no fewer than 3000 soldiers) and tanks from the 3rd division hit the village from the west and the center. At the same time, up to two battalions of infantry with tanks continued their offensive from the south. Another 30 tanks from Grossdeutschland attacked from height 230.1 towards Yakovlev's rear. Panthers formed the spearhead of the attack, PzIVs behind them. Warriors from the 10th Mechanized Brigade were under attack by numerically superior forces from all sides. They had to collect all their willpower and demonstrate all of their courage and skill.

Tanks and infantry coming from height 230.1 was met with fire from T-34s and artillery. After a swift battle, at least 10 burning German tanks, including Panthers, littered the battlefield. The German attack rolled back to the hill.

Meanwhile, on the northern side of Lukhanino, the infantry battle became a fierce deadlock, periodically turning into a hand-to-hand melee. Soldiers fought over every house, the Germans widely used flamethrowers, both sides pelted each other with grenades. Numerical superiority allowed the Germans to take one half of Lukhanino and even form a foothold on the northern Soviet shore, but they were unable to exploit that breakthrough. Our artillery and mortars quickly pummeled any groups of enemy infantry.

Soviet Il-2 aircraft made a timely appearance in the skies above Lukhanino, carrying out several successful attacks against the enemy in the village. German infantry, caught in a rain of shells and bombs, was forces to cease their offensive and even pull out from their foothold back on the southern shore. Soviet infantry took back the northern part of Lukhanino.

The battle calmed by evening. Colonel Yakovlev's soldiers fought off 11 enemy attacks and held their ground. Another section of the Kursk salient held out, and Operation Citadel skipped another beat.

Original article by Aleksandr Tomzov.

4 comments:

  1. Dayly loss reports for the germans indicate that losses on 5th and 6th were worst for the whole campaign, which is understandable in view of the fact that they were attempting to penetrate the strongest and best prepared soviet anti tank defenses in this period.

    Tank Regiment "Großdeutschland" had no more than 135 tanks servicable -and no PANTHERs among them.

    But problems were not only present in the disposition but also due to personalities and lack of battlefield experience in several commanding key positions, or outright incompetence.

    An example for the problem is that the command of PzBrig.10 -equipped with PANTHER tanks in PzBat 51 & PzBat52 was relegated from Decker to Strachwitz on July 6th.
    Strachwitz, however, was ill suited to take command for the attack. Unlike Decker, Strachwitz had a tendency to attack ruthlessly -and in particular -without giving thought to flank protection, while attacking a well prepared defense.

    Repeatedly, he mislead the brigade into mine fields or prepared ambushes where tanks were immobilized or taken out from side attack and then, caught off guard, he frequently failed to order a timely way out.

    It didn´t help that Strachwitz and Decker didn´t like each others decision and often expressed openly their criticism in front of other officers. This joint conflict in effect stalled the staff of the brigade as noted by Guderians visit on july 10th.

    One of the two PANTHER tank battalions, PzAtb. 52 temporarely lost it´s commanding officer to an accident, which required a hospital leave just before the battle and in effect was lead through the operation instead by a string of inexperienced commanders with no battlefield experience, messing up the general operation of the unit. i.e. the commanders replacement failed by passing general informing to his company commanders before the attack about the tactical situation, intellegence and intent or conduct of attack. During an exposure to soviet artillery attack on july 6th, he finally lost nerves and had to be relieved from command. Command was then entrusted to a senior company chief, whose tank was shortly thereafter taken out by anti tank guns in ambush after only two hours in combat.
    OKH send replacement to command PzAbt52, but the person committed had no experience in conduct of tactical operations and initially was present only to report about technical issues with the new tank. He was not up to the task to command a major tank formation at all and was soon relieved from command. It took until july 22nd, that the original commander of the unit returned and resumed command and restored full functionality of the unit.

    However, the misguidance on a tactical level by the Battallion was reinforced by a skilled soviet defensive and Strachwitz´s ruthless handling on the higher brigade level. The number of servicable PANTHERs dropped from 198 to 20 after two days of attack in this sector but it should be kept in mind, too, that the number of servicable tanks in Großdeutschland (no PANTHERs) dropped similarely from a high of 135 to only 32 after two days. Most of the tanks were only lightly damaged (immobilized) and could be recovered and returned to service but the number of total write offs was a significant component, indicating poow execution of command on behalf of Strachwitz, as confirmed later by Guderian, stating that basic principles of tank warfare were not followed under Strachwitz.

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    1. I find curious when I see people trying to justify German defeats at WWII as mostly a German fail and not an enemy win. It seems enemy is never skilled and they don't deserve the same justificating effort for the same type of defeats.

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  2. If You think, my memo was a justification, or could be assumed as such, I am sorry. That is not my intent. I do not judge history. Historical events stand by themselve, we can describe them to the best of what the sources expose. In this regard, all factors need to be included. As You might have noticed, the memo is quite critical about and in fact highlights deficits in german command structure. I thought that would be worth sharing, as it goes some way to be relevant to the event under discussion.

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    1. thanks i confirm it did worth sharing :)

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