December 15, 2016

1943. Soviet General Pavel Belov Talks German Tank Tactics

The Soviet Offensive Pushes Through the Mud Season in Ukraine
Commander Pavel Belov (center) inspecting the I Guards Cavalry Corps, January 15, 1942 (SPUTNIK/Alamy)
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 1, 1943

The Red Army's advance has been slowed in the Ukraine. For the past week, it has been a tough, mile-by-mile—sometimes yard-by-yard—advance. Right now it appears that the German command is making a desperate attempt to take the initiative away from the Red Army. Strong reinforcements have been rushed to the Kramatorskaya district, and these reinforcements are counterattacking. It is the same story west of Voroshilovgrad and west of Rostov.

There is another reason why the Soviet offensive has been slowed. It's the thaw. Right now in the Ukraine, the weather is blowing hot and cold. There will be a warm sun in the day time, and then at night it will freeze. At the present moment, this type of weather has favored the Germans. It is the kind that allows the movement of reinforcements up to a fortified point, but it is also the kind that hampers the maneuver of an attacking army in the field.

I flew over the northern part of the Ukraine last weekend and got an idea of just what the spring thaw is going to mean down there. As you know, most of Russia comprises the original wide open spaces, and the Ukraine is no exception. Mile upon mile of absolutely flat table-land divided once in a while by a ravine or a plateau.

There hasn't been much snow this winter—only a foot or so. But even this light snowfall, when it starts melting, is going to cause a mess. There is simply no place for the water to drain off. It just goes straight down to form a foot or so of sticky goo.

I walked through some of the Ukrainian mud even before the complete thaw set in. It's the kind that slapstick comedians in the movies always manage to fall into. It's alright for a Hollywood laugh, but it's definitely not the kind of stuff in which to fight a war.

When I was in Kharkov, I talked with Major General Belov, (who is commander of the Red Army's Kharkov garrison.) General Belov is an experienced tank commander in this war, and we discussed the German tank tactics that they are now using in the Ukraine.

General Belov said that, basically, the Germans have not changed their tank strategy since the beginning of the war. He said the Nazi tank divisions are not as good now as they were when they invaded Russia. Mostly this is because they have lost most of their best and most experienced men.

The only major change in tank warfare, as the Germans fight it, is in the number of tanks employed in a single battle. Early in the war, in the fighting around the (Polish) city of Lutsk, the Red Army and the Wehrmacht engaged in a gigantic tank battle in which four thousand tanks were used.

Later, the tank engagements involved only one hundred tanks at a time. And now the Germans are using only thirty to fifty tanks in a single engagement.

The General said that the Red Army combats these tank attacks with artillery, mortars, and antitank rifles. The general policy of the Russian command is to use the Soviet tanks against the enemy infantry and motorized units. The Germans are mostly relying on their medium tanks.

General Belov said that he had as yet not had any experience with the American tanks which have been shipped to Russia under Lend-Lease. He said, however, that he had commanded British medium tanks. His comment on them was: "The British tanks, in capable hands, achieve their objective."