" 2. Tactical artillery experience
1. Enemy artillery
Unlike previous experience, this time we could not observe Russian fire control. The Russians fired precisely. A shift towards larger calibers, 122 mm and 152 mm, was noticed. Enemy action against our artillery was insufficient. If the Russians discovered our battery, they fired too few shells to destroy it. On the other hand, in many cases, the concentrated fire of mortars, light and medium batteries, and rocket artillery could weaken the advance of our motorized infantry at its initial positions and during the attack that it lacked the strength for a penetration.
Before an attack, the enemy began powerful screening fire in front of his positions that dealt heavy losses. Our forces first saw the strength of Russian artillery. Counterbattery fire, which, according to all rules from the First World War, is the key to any successful offensive against a prepared enemy, was never sufficient. The use of dive bombers against enemy artillery never gave any visible results. Russian airplanes attacked our batteries and dealt losses, but the result was only a temporary cessation of fire and not long-term disablement. Since artillery correction pilots rarely were assigned to the division and our artillery instrument reconnaissance was taken from the division and assigned to another division right before the offensive, the 4th Tank Division was left without reconnaissance measures and could not undertake anything against a dangerous enemy of motorized infantry. Counterbattery fire from the corps level never influenced the success of our division. This did not happen even in cases when we attacked in the sector of an infantry corps that, according to the local conditions, had an instrument reconnaissance squadron. The thesis that counterbattery fire should be handled at the divisional level if it needs to be precisely timed and able to follow the offensive has once again proven itself a necessity in effective combat with enemy artillery in general.
The Russians always begin their offensive with sudden, concentrated fire by all artillery and mortars that lasts from half an hour to an hour, as well as powerful strikes from the air. This barrage targets the front observation posts, initial positions, our reserves, HQs, etc. The battlefield became coated in smoke and dust, all lines of communication were broken, aimed fire became impossible and enemy infantry, following a curtain of fire, reached its first successes. The actual results of this fire were not as high as the hit to morale, but they should not be underestimated. By order of the regimental commander, screening fire began in front of likely enemy attack positions until aimed fire could be established again. This principle proved itself. Aside from practical results, it improved the morale of our troops (motorized infantry and artillery) and did not let the feeling of helplessness take hold.
2. Our artillery
a) Tactical trials of self propelled guns
The squadron had two batteries of 6 light field howitzers on the PzII chassis and one battery of 6 heavy field howitzers on the PzIV chassis. In addition, it had PzIII artillery observer tanks and 3 SdKfz 250/3 halftracks nicknamed "goats". These weapons proved themselves during offensive and defensive combat. The mix of calibers (105 and 150 mm at a ratio of 2:1) was in accordance to tactical requirements. The use of the 150 mm caliber as tank support artillery in order to match the power of 75 and 88 mm guns is undesirable at the time, if only due to the question of ammunition supply.
Currently, we must strive for cooperation between small caliber guns firing directly and indirect artillery firing at area targets. Since direct hits rarely happen, this artillery must be significantly more powerful in its caliber and fragmentation power.
The main conclusions from the SPG squadron's experience in all battles is as follows:
In motorized divisions of all types, attention should be focused on mobile batteries, acting behind armour protection and capable of providing concentrate fire while on the move, mobile observation posts, and improved radio communication.
We cannot make peace with the fact that artillery, the importance of which has been proven in recent battles, must settle for equipment and tactics that remain more or less at the level of 1918 and only improved insignificantly in firing technique.
As a consequence of a lack of manuals, the main principles of tactical use of SPGs to support tank attacks was worked out practically. This experience, in the squadron's opinion, must be used as the foundation of a tactics manual. The correctness of firing on the move could not be checked, as there was not a single instance of a successful tank penetration of enemy defenses, despite large concentrations of our tank forces in battles on July 8-10th in the Teploye sector. As a result, our squadron received the same objectives as other artillery squadrons: support of limited attacks and defense of our own positions. The mobility advantages of self propelled guns during rapid tank or infantry attacks could not be demonstrated. As a result, the task that self propelled guns were made to carry out cannot be carried out, and will not be carried out on the Eastern Front until a tank that is suitable for solving operational issues is introduced.
However, the opinion that artillery of this type is unnecessary is incorrect, because:
- On other fronts, for example when defending against enemy penetrations, or during counterattacks with tanks, the situation may play out differently.
- The advantages of widespread and invincible self propelled artillery were decisive in prior battles with a large number of tanks in the east. While other squadrons in the regiment took heavy losses, the self propelled gun squadron did not suffer thanks to its armour and the ability to quickly escape concentrated fire, despite the instructions that SPGs must take up fixed positions depending on the situation.
- In critical moments when the enemy was advancing and the batteries were covered by fire,only armoured self propelled guns could provide fire support.
- In the defense, the mobility of self propelled artillery lets it be put into battle suddenly, like Russian rocket artillery on self propelled mounts. The whole squadron, all 18 guns, can be transferred to an objective secretly or openly, perform their fire mission, change their positions quickly, before the enemy can perform counterbattery fire, and also act like migrating batteries.
The possibilities listed in paragraph 4 could not be realized in practice due to a constant crisis state where the squadron was forced to keep its weapons ready to fire at all times.
- Mobile SPGs can defend themselves against infantry and armour penetrations. This can be decisive in the east. 4th battery took heavy fire north-east of Znamenskoye (50 km north-west of Orel) from 8 tanks that penetrated to the right of the positions. Since enemy tanks were visible on open terrain, the battery opened fire from 1500 meters with contact fused HE and HEAT rounds. Thanks to rapid fire from self propelled guns, enemy tanks turned back and went in another direction. Hits were not obtained by either side.
- Placement of 2-3 batteries in a narrow sector in order to achieve high concentration of fire is possible due to the invulnerability of SPGs. As experience showed, the concentration of fire can be reached as quickly and perfectly as with any stationary position.
- Rapid re-armament and further development of self propelled artillery would give a significant advantage over the enemy and makes instrumental reconnaissance and counterbattery fire an impossible task.
- The advantages of armoured mobile artillery observers were also demonstrated during infantry support on the offensive and defensive. Armour protects the observation posts from fire of all types aside from anti-tank guns and tank guns. The periscope allows observation from cover, without moving the tank out to a high place where it serves as a target for AT guns (the current 1.3 meter long periscope could be improved if lengthened to 2 meters). When enemy tanks or AT guns or the overall situation forces us to use tanks for observation, the observer and his assistant exited the tank, picked an observation point, laid a telephone line and used the 30 Watt radio telephone. During an offensive and on the defense, stationary observation points (with telephones or radios) are also necessary. Mobile and stationary observation points complement each other.
However, advantages of mobile armoured observation posts include the ability of the commander to personally be present in dangerous situations and constantly have a line of communication with infantry commanders to constantly coordinate artillery objectives with the intent of the infantry commander.
The squadron commander had no fixed command post. Depending on the situation, he was with the infantry regiment commander, battalion commander, company commander, at an observation post of the battery commander or within infantry ranks, controlling artillery fire by radio. This manner of control turned out to be sensible in offensive and defensive battles. It gives the squadron commander the ability to personally observe the situation at various points of the battle and give correct orders. On the other hand, battery commanders stayed in one place, while powerful fire often forces tanks to move to a different place, and AT gun fire forces observers to exit tanks and take up prepared observation positions. Forward units were assigned special dismounted observers. The lack of new type K radio stations was a disadvantage, so direct communication through the 30 Watt radio in the tank was not possible.
b) Technical evaluation of new vehicles
1. Overall evaluation
Despite all pessimistic opinions about the quality of SPGs, it turned out that, despite the lack of possibility over 6 weeks to even once carefully inspect the vehicles, the self propelled squadron turned out to be one of the most battle-ready units in the regiment.
2. Out of the 105 mm Wespe guns, 5 or even 6, rarely 4, guns were ready for battle. The 4th battery (Wespe) were sadly taken out of the squadron from July 17th to August 3rd and attached as an army reserve to a group operating near Karachev. That battery was left without any technical supervision. Despite that fact, 5 guns, aside from small, easily corrected problems, remained suitable for use in battle. The sixth gun hit a mine on the first day of battle and is still not repaired. The departure of 4th battery decreased the squadron's firepower by one third.
The required support of an infantry regiment, necessary in the defense of offense, count hardly be performed by observers from only two batteries. Since there was a shortage of ammunition for heavy guns, all observers wanted to service the light gun battery.
Picking apart the self propelled gun squadron is undesirable, both from a tactical and a technical point of view.
The tactical drawback of Wespe type SPGs is in their slow off-road speed and rapid overheating in hot weather. Nonstop support of tank attacks is very difficult. In addition, the ammunition capacity of the PzII chassis (32 rounds) is low. A more suitable chassis is the PzIV chassis. Twice as much ammunition could be carried by them.
3. The 150 mm Hummel howitzer proved itself worse. Since two barrels burst for an unknown reason, the battery was only left with 4 guns on July 22nd (the chassis remained undamaged).
Due to weak final drives, these guns often broke down during off-road driving or while driving during short periods of muddy roads. The six-gun battery often only had 2 or 3 guns in service.
The amount of ammunition available (20) is insufficient. The Panther tank is a more suitable chassis for heavy field howitzers.
4. Armoured 150 mm ammunition carriers on the Hummel chassis were only delivered towards the end of the fighting and could not be tested in practice.
5. Artillery observer tanks on the PzIII chassis did not prove themselves technically, as they appear to be old PzIII tanks built from spare parts. They broke down one after another, and by the end of the fighting, the squadron had 2 half-working tanks out of 9. They were used as a place for radio stations for observation posts, while mobile observers used light 250/3 halftracks. So the valuable radio did not go to waste, they were removed from the two tanks and put on a "15" car, which was further used as a radio vehicle by observers. This replacement proved itself well. The PzIV tank can also be proposed as a chassis for artillery observation vehicles. In many cases, observers picked the light 250/3 halftrack due to its speed and mobility, but there are cases when observer positions can only hold out from well protected tanks. Motorized infantry should have three 250/3 halftracks per battery, due to its excellent 30 Watt radio without which reliable fire control is impossible, and the advantage of having a mobile artillery observation post."