Its structure, its operational characteristics and its performance according to the Soviet military Theory and in the practice. The practical failures of the Soviet deployments.

The structure and combat capacities of the tanks armies.

They were formidable war machines. Each one was integrated by 2 tanks corps and a mechanized corp, with all the auxiliary services and necessary supports. Having a very variable personnel, between 40 and 65 thousand men, according to the availabilities of means and workforce and the needs of the different operational plans of the Stavka.

The first unit that was according to this concept was activated in June, 1943. Previously also existed “great mobile units” like so called. But they really were conglomerates of tanks brigades reinforcing infantry divisions, generally «of the Guard». The most famous was probably the «Group Popov», commanded by the general of this surname. At the beginning of 1943 was employed against the operational rear of the Don armies group of Marshall Erich von Manstein, that operated in all the south of the USSR. It was thrown by the Southwest Front of general Vatutin in the direction Pavlograd-Zaporozhe, towards the mouth of the river Dnepr in the Black Sea. Seeking to isolate and surround all the German forces at the east of the river, in a large-scale reproduction of Stalingrado’s Soviet ring, which had just fallen down in the Red Army‘s hands. The principal counterattack thrown by Manstein against the group Popov, was in charge of 48th panzer army corp and a SS panzer corp. Both forming the 4th panzer army under the command of the colonel general Hermann Hoth, which destroyed it. Erasing it from the Soviet Battle Order, until it was reformed and re-equipped and re-trained its units.

By 1944 existed up to 26 tanks corps and 11 mechanized corps in the Soviet army, but until January was not activated the 6º tanks army. Sometimes a tanks army had 2 mechanized corps, but this was very rare, because these were the most necessary great and scanty units of the operational Soviet strategy. On the other hand, for fighting in the areas of bad or difficult “transitability” (with more conceptual wealth that only «bad ongoing»), forests, mountains and snow covered or swampy zones, the Soviets were using a combination of a mechanized corp with other of cavalry. Of these mobile horse-mechanized armies never were more than 2 or 3 in the Soviet Battle Order. These and the tanks armies could be equivalent in power, punch and operational movement capacity to the German panzer army corps. But these were always more numerous, for example, even in the year 1944 the Germans were counting with between 10 and 18 panzer corps, it is true that with very different capacity, according with the available means.

The Soviet tanks corps was equivalent to the panzer division. It was formed by 3 battalions of main battle tanks and 3 infantry battalions, supposedly mechanized or motorized. It was completed by some artillery and heavy tanks or assault cannons and other auxiliary units. It theoretically had 240 tanks and assault cannons, while the panzer division had up to 150 vehicles of these types. Nevertheless, this one was better balanced as combined arms great unit. Possessing 12% more men (up to approximately 13.300) and 20% more infantry, better mechanized (approximately 4.500 men).

The mechanized corps was the major unit «type western division» formed by the Soviets. In relation to the panzer divisions, it was possessing 26% more of men, 17% more of infantry and 152% more of tanks and assault cannons, which were partly replacing certain deficiency in artillery, which was always towed, not self-propelled. It was much more than a panzer grenadiers division and was equivalent to the major panzer divisions. But his lack of motorized transport, 19% less, was making it less consisting in his operations that the German last mentioned.

For its part, the Soviet shock armies were great units formed by infantry divisions, generally of the Guard, reinforced by some artillery divisions and several tanks brigades of (that were equivalent to the mentioned «battalion» and had approximately 65 tanks) and engineers brigades, according to the plans of the Stavka. They were destined to assault the most strengthened and defended extensive positions in the German front. And to guarantee the irruption, without taking care so much their losses.

Their operational movement capacity was very deficient.

A great handicap of the Soviet tanks armies was the absence in them of the infantry combat vehicles or of transport (carriers), lightly armored and generally roof opened in this epoch, for the supposedly mechanized infantry. Destined to accompany the tanks, across all the grounds. Forming part of the mechanized or tanks brigades, which were the tactical subunits of those.

During their advance, the infantries in occasions had for their transport North American Studebaker, very resistant trucks. And other times they had to travel very much. Though the most frequent was that the infantry battalions mounted, as unexpected riders, on the tanks of the tanks battalion of their brigade. In any case, as the missions were many and divergent, in the operational surroundings of their aim, the infantries were dismounting and covering afoot the last tens of km up to his arrangement zones. These flying columns operating in depth in the German rear that was crumbling, were systematically attacked by the German aviation, which caused large devastations in they, at least in material. In addition, when they were going towards specially sensitive aims for the Germans, in which these were concentrating their tactical aviation, the mobile groups were forced not to circulate by day.

Why could this happen with so important units Soviet units? Because the Soviet fighters, which bases and airports were staying deeply behind his lines, did not have sufficient action range to watch and protect permanently all their journeys. And neither they were always carrying in their “marching groups”, organic anti-aircraft defense means. That would complicate more their weak and meager logistics. This was stopping them in that advance without consideration to the losses, which the middle and low chiefs were using

excessively. To fulfill the severe requirements that their Superiors were marking and the political deputies were monitoring about their fulfillment. It was frequent that in the attached epigraphs of the commanders orders, specially «of combat «, was including the paragraph «I will submit to a martial court the official who does not use to the maximum his means».

(to be continued)

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Enrique Alonso nació en La Habana. Tras el establecimiento del régimen comunista se trasladó a España, licenciándose en Ciencias Químicas en la Universidad de Oviedo.

Es titulado por la Universidad Complutense en Química y Tecnología del Petroleo (dos cursos) y en Logística por la Cámara de Comercio de Madrid (un curso). Ha realizado su labor profesional durante más de 30 años en REPSOL y empresas anteriores, absorbidas posteriormente. Su trabajo se centró en la investigación de lubricantes (Centro de Investigación de la calle Embajadores), el área comercial y la logística de lubricantes (unas 100 mil Tm. al año de productos a granel y envasados, con un presupuesto total de unos 1000 millones de ptas).

Ha sido colaborador en la década de los 80, del diario Pueblo y, a través de la agencia EFE, de diversos diarios españoles e hispanoamericanos en temas de política internacional y militares.

Es autor de la novela “Operación Elefante”, publicada en 1982, que trata minuciosa y extensamente de las operaciones y tácticas de las guerrillas y contraguerrillas en la Angola socialista prosoviética de Agostinho Neto, apoyada desde 1975 por tropas cubanas. 

En 2005 publicó en inglés el ensayo “On the Nature of War”, que es una teoría de la guerra basada en el desarrollo y la aplicación práctica de 10 “sistemas operativos”.

Actualmente es colaborador permanente de la revista española War Heat International.

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