April 21, 2015

1943. Russian Tank Desant

Танкодесантники
Soviet infantry on the 2nd Ukrainian Front under cover of a T-34 tank during the Red Army advance to Budapest. December 1944 (Sovfoto)
The parentheses indicate portions that did not pass Soviet censors for military or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 5, 1943

This morning's communiqué for the first time mentions a Red Army drive south of Rzhev as well as the Soviet advance southwest of the city in the direction of Smolensk. Both these advances have moved ahead over the ravined forest and steppe country at the rate of between three-to-six miles in a single night.

All in all, in the fighting south and southwest of Rzhev, the Russian troops have captured 52 inhabited points (along with prisoners and booty. Ten of these points were occupied in the region south of Olenino, which was taken yesterday.)

This Red Army advance south of Rzhev is of extreme importance. There is a large railroad line leading into the Vyazma bulge, and it is in this bulge that German troops were last reported only a little over one hundred miles directly west of Moscow. (The Red Army's advance down the German base at Vyazma is a serious flank threat to this bulge. The Russian troops this morning are only some fifty miles away from Vyazma itself.) And it must be remembered that Vyazma lies on the main railroad from Moscow to Smolensk. The capture of Vyazma would allow the Russian troops to concentrate with those operating southwestward from Rzhev in a two-pronged attack on Smolensk.

(For the past week, there has been little news of fighting in the Donbass. The Red Army offensive here has been decidedly slowed. The Germans are making counterattacks and throwing in large reserves.)

(However, this morning the Soviet high command announced a Red Army advance in the strong German fortifications which have stalled the Soviet drive west of Rostov. The Soviet commanders have brought up strong artillery forces on this sector, and last night they turned loose a powerful barrage that enabled the Russian infantry to capture an entire line of enemy trenches. The Germans tried to retake these positions by a counterattack with infantry supported by tanks. This attempt failed. In the past twenty-four hours in this fighting west of Rostov, the Germans have lost 800 men.)

This morning the army newspaper Red Star revealed another detail of this amazing winter offensive which partly explains the ingenuity of the Red Army attack which has brought it such success.

This is the formation of groups of "hitchhike troops" specially trained to operate mobile tank forces (which have acted as spearheads for the Russian drive westward). Officially, in the words of the Soviet Union's military experts, these combined tank and infantry operations are known as "tank desants."

What this tactic really boils down to is that a group of Tommy gunners and riflemen are piled on to a tank, hanging onto anything they can grab and riding into the battle in style. This is not a particularly new idea. It was used in last winter's fighting by the Germans as well as the Russians.

What is new is that the Russian command developed its hitchhiking fighting units into highly trained groups who make combined tank and infantry raids a science.

In the early days, the hitchhiking infantry just piled on and hoped for the best. Today, every man has his place. The men ride into battle until the going gets too hot for the safety of the operation. Then, at the command of the officer in charge, they roll off together.

It used to be that the tank would then roll on ahead, and the Tommy gunners and riflemen would keep up as best they could.

This is not true today. The tank either slows down so that it can cover hitchhike troops, or else lines are attached to the back of the tank and the men run along behind being pulled at a gallop by their tank. If they are equipped with skis, the going is just that much easier and faster.

These tank-borne troops often direct the fire of the tank. And if it is a night operation, they act as scouts, going ahead of the tank to protect it against ambushes.

Finally, when an objective is taken, it is the job of the hitchhikers to hold the place until the main infantry forces can arrive.

These tank-infantry forces have played a great part in the Red Army advance west of Stalingrad, and today are operating from Rzhev and Kursk.