1st Squadron, Squadron commander
Tactical experience of artillery in offensive and defensive battles south of the city of Orel from July 5th, 1943, to August 18th, 1943
1. Overall tactical experience
1. The battles were characterized as very fierce, with a large amount of vehicles. Both sides used powerful aircraft and tank units, and the Russians had especially powerful artillery. Neither side achieved decisive success on the offensive.
However, on the defensive, both sides managed to achieved significant success. Just as the offensive actions of the division before July 11th led to a sudden and unexpected decrease of our infantry's fighting ability, the Russians, despite their notable advantage in tank, infantry, and artillery units, took heavy losses. The cause of this, in my opinion, is because neither side had in their possession decisive offensive weapons.
At the moment, neither the PzIV with the long gun or the T-34 demonstrates an advantage over the other.
The only weapon that could be used to achieve anything was the Tiger tank, but it was not available in sufficient amounts to achieve anything but local success.
2. The Russians achieved success in not in front of tank divisions, but in front of infantry divisions. It appears that the tank defenses available were too weak to resist Russian tank attacks. Individual elements of our division, especially tanks and tank destroyers, should have been distributed evenly along the front of an infantry division such that it can prevent the breakthrough of a powerful tank unit. Our division was never put into battle all at once.
3. Rarely was a Russian tank attack stopped by towed AT guns, but more often by tank destroyers, tanks, and assault guns, even if there were more enemy tanks. Tanks, assault guns, and self propelled tank destroyers are the only effective weapons against tanks. Towed AT guns are too sensitive to enemy artillery and aircraft, and are not mobile enough to achieve decisive success. Requests to use the three aforementioned types of armoured vehicles were especially persistent during tank attacks.
4. As hard as it is to consider currently used tanks decisive weapons, it is imperative that tanks, or even better, self propelled guns, must accompany every offensive if it will have any chance of success. During the support of infantry regiments that our squadron supported it was observed that any offensive choked up if only 2-3 enemy tanks appeared at a range of 2-3 kilometers and suppressed the offensive with their wonderful guns before a towed AT gun could do anything. Self propelled guns are the only effective countermeasure and must be used in every offensive.
5. It follows that an SPG must be the foundation of front line defenses. It is not enough to use SPGs as a mobile reserve in the rear in order to counter enemy penetrations. Several SPGs on the rear slopes of hills directly behind the front line of defense could stall the offensive of tanks and infantry, as any Russian tank or infantry unit that crested a hill would come under fire.
Thanks to this tactic, even a small amount of guns achieved high effectiveness. In cases when there were no SPGs on the front lines, the enemy almost always achieved a breakthrough that could be only liquidated with great difficulty by counterattacks, since the Russians used the same tactics of anti-tank defense: let tanks crest hills and then knocked them out. These events took place almost every day starting on July 11th. This shows that the SPG can be both a decisive means of attack and a decisive means of defense against any enemy.
The commanders' fears that if they put assault guns in the defense they won't have any reserves led to tanks immediately being pulled back as soon as a penetration was liquidated.
In battles of the 8th tank destroyer battalion in Glinki, the consequence of tanks retreating after every attack was that the Russians repeated their assault after several hours, tanks broke through several times and were thrown back, but after a few days the battalion was completely destroyed. Instead, it would have been enough to have several SPGs on the front lines to prevent the enemy's breakthrough immediately.
6. The Russians used a very reasonable defenses system that our offensive broke against at Teploye on July 11th and at height 265 near Brusivets on July 29th. The front line of the enemy's defenses was on the front side of a hill. It consisted of only false positions or at the most, weak screens and forward posts. Artillery observers were positioned on the top of the hills in strongholds, protected from all sides. These observation posts were positioned 200-300 meters from each other. The real first line of defense was on the reverse slope. This line contained buried or mobile T-34 tanks. Our infantry came under fire from a large distance and took heavy losses.
The attack reached the top of the hill with such difficulty, but even our powerful tank attack was unsuccessful and stopped right before the front line of the enemy defenses. A short counterattack threw our tanks back behind the hill. Our choice of positions on forward slopes did not prove itself beneficial. They could be seen from a long way away and were shot at upon by accurately firing T-34s from 2-3 kilometers. If the enemy could achieve a penetration, which was always costly for our infantry, the latter had insignificant reserves, especially anti-tank ones. As a result, our tank unit served as a "firefighter" for a long period of time. The conclusions are as follows:
- Our infantry divisions in the first line of defense must have powerful assault gun squadrons to avoid defeat.
- As in the previous world war, the defenders have an advantage over the attackers."