Tank battles between Soviet and German tankers in October 1941 near Mtsensk with the use of T-34 tanks, according to the recognition of German General Müller-Hillebrand, radically changed the tactics of the German tank forces. What so influenced the opinion of the “invincible” German generals?
Failures of Soviet tankmen at the beginning of the war
T-34 tanks fought from the first days of the war, 1227 tanks were produced before the war, and they primarily equipped mechanized corps deployed near the western border, and they immediately had to engage in battle with the Germans and suffer heavy losses. The Germans were familiar with this machine, but then praised reviews about it were not heard. On the contrary, General Guderian wrote:
“The Soviet T-34 tank is a typical example of backward Bolshevik technology. This tank can not be compared with the best examples of our tanks, made by us and repeatedly proved their advantage. "
German generals very soon had to admit they were wrong, and Colonel Katukov, commander of the 4th Tank Brigade, helped them in this. Building tactics on the indisputable advantages of the T-34, he clearly demonstrated that, in addition to owning good equipment, you must be able to use it correctly.
In the border battles of the first weeks of the war, almost all Soviet mechanized corps and tank divisions were defeated, and equipment was destroyed by the enemy or abandoned by the retreating troops. This was mainly due to the inept and illiterate use of large mechanized formations, misses by the Soviet command and the German use of the blitzkrieg strategy, in which large tank units of the Wehrmacht, after breaking through the front, went deep into the rear of the Soviet troops, took them to the "ticks" and destroyed in boilers.
Tank brigade Katukova
By the fall of 1941, tank troops were created almost anew and began with tank brigades. In late August, Katukov, the commander of the 20th Panzer Division, who lost all tanks in the battles near Dubno, was summoned to Moscow and appointed commander of the 4th Panzer Brigade, which was being formed in Stalingrad.
The personnel of the brigade was mainly composed of tankers of the 15th Panzer Division, who participated in border battles and appreciated the equipment and tactics of the Germans. Under the leadership of Katukov, the tankmen exchanged opinions, analyzed the enemy’s actions and worked out the tactics of future battles.
Against German tactics involving reconnaissance of motorized infantry by fighting, detecting firing points, delivering an artillery or air strike and breaking through a ruined defense with a tank strike, Katukov’s tankers developed tactics of a false front edge, organizing tank ambushes and launching unexpected flank attacks on advancing enemy tanks.
In addition, the crew of the brigade participated in the assembly of T-34 tanks in the shops of the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, perfectly knew their design and objectively assessed the strengths and weaknesses of these vehicles.
Katukov’s brigade arrived at the front with a well-coordinated tank unit, manned with combat experience, armed with advanced tanks, well-mastered by crews and worked out tactics of fighting the enemy. So the lesson was taught to the Germans by well-trained commanders and tankers who longed for revenge for the lost battles at the beginning of the war. The brigade included 61 tanks, including 7 KV-1,22 T-34, 32 BT-7, that is, half of the tanks were light BT-7.
The brigade arrived in Mtsensk on October 3 with the task of moving to the defense of the Eagle. By this time, the 2nd Panzer Group of Colonel-General Guderian broke through the Soviet front on September 30, and on October 3 the 4th Tank Division of the Wehrmacht, under the command of General Langerman, captured the Eagle, which there was no one to defend. Guderian then planned to go to Serpukhov and Moscow, not expecting strong resistance from the Soviet troops. As of September 10, the 4th Panzer Division had 162 tanks, including 8 Pz-I, 34 Pz-II, 83 Pz-III, 16 Pz-IV and 21 commander tanks. More than half were medium tanks Pz-III and Pz-IV, which were supposed to compete with the T-34.
Which tanks opposed each other
The Soviet T-34 tank at that time was the most advanced tank, had good protection with an armor thickness of 45 mm, located at rational angles of inclination, a long-barrel 76,2 mm gun and a powerful diesel engine (500 hp). At the same time, the T-34 had a significant drawback, the tank had very poor visibility due to imperfect observation and aiming devices, an unsuccessful layout of the commander’s place and the absence of a commander’s turret.
German tanks in all respects were inferior to the T-34. All were equipped with gasoline engines. Light tanks Pz-I and Pz-II had weak armor, only 13,0-14,5 mm, on the Pz-I the armament consisted of two machine guns, and on the Pz-II from a small-caliber 20-mm gun. Medium tanks Pz-III and Pz-IV were also weakly armored. The thickness of the armor was only 15 mm, on the Pz-III the armament consisted of a 37 mm gun, and on the Pz-IV there was a 75 mm short-barreled gun with low muzzle energy. All German tanks were not designed to fight enemy tanks, the T-34 was a cut above German tanks and, when used correctly, easily hit them from great distances. The tankers of Katukov took advantage of these advantages.
Tank battles near Mtsensk
On the afternoon of October 3, the brigade commander sent six T-34 tanks and two KV-1s for reconnaissance in Oryol, which disappeared there. After the Germans captured Orel, Katukov received an order to prevent the Germans from breaking through to Mtsensk before the arrival of General Lelyushenko’s corps. Without engaging in military contact with the enemy, he lost eight tanks in Oryol and ordered the brigade to defend along the Optukha River five kilometers northeast of Orel, equipping a false front line of defense.
On the night of October 3, the brigade defeated German columns moving to Moscow on the highway near the village of Ivanovo, destroying 14 Germans light and medium tanks.
In connection with the autumn mud and mud on the roads, the 4th Langerman tank division, deprived of the possibility of maneuver, was moving on October 5 along the highway to Mtsensk in anticipation of a collision with the prepared defense of the Soviet troops.
Having discovered a false leading edge, the Germans brought down all the power of artillery and aviation and after that they launched tanks. At the command of Katukov, our tankers launched a flank attack on the advancing tanks, working in groups and concentrating their fire on one target. German tankers were not prepared for tank dueling, their tanks were destroyed one after the other with targeted fire of the “thirty-fours”. The light German tanks Pz-I and P -II were especially defenseless before the T-34. Having lost 18 tanks, the Germans retreated from the battlefield.
On the evening of October 5, the brigade changed the positions discovered by the Germans and retreated to the village of First Warrior. The village had a good position for tanks, a number of heights provided good visibility from the German offensive, and rugged terrain with ravines, groves and shrubs provided good camouflage of the tanks.
On the morning of October 6, German tanks began to advance to one of the heights and practically took it, but suddenly four T-34s of senior lieutenant Lavrinenko emerged from the grove and hit the flank of the advancing German tanks. Then they hid in a ravine and went behind the Germans and dealt a concentrated blow to the tanks. Having lost 15 tanks in a few minutes, the Germans retreated.
The Lavrinenko group showed the Germans a new type of battle of tanks against tanks, when tanks strike from an ambush and quickly hide in the folds of the terrain. This was a complete surprise for the Germans, for them tanks were a means of deep breakthroughs and actions in the rear of the enemy. Their armaments and defenses were not designed to deal with enemy tanks, and for such battles the German tankers were technically and tactically not ready and suffered significant losses.
On the morning of October 9, German stormtroopers ironed the empty trenches of Katukov’s false front edge, and then attacked Sheino, trying to get around the brigade’s defense from the flank. Near Shein, the T-34 group under the command of Lavrinenko and the company of BT-7 tanks under the command of Lieutenant Samokhin were in ambush.
To help them, Katukov sent an additional group of tanks, they quietly bypassed the Germans from the flank and hit German tanks. Caught in crossfire, the Germans lost 11 tanks and retreated again.
Without taking Sheino, the Germans bypassed the tankers on the right and broke into the Bolkhovskoye Highway, creating a threat to the environment of the defending troops. In the evening, Katukov gave the order to take a new line of defense already on the southern outskirts of Mtsensk.
On the morning of October 10, the Germans struck a distracting blow on the southern outskirts of the city, and the main blow on the left flank, and by the middle of the day broke into the city. Katukov’s tankers had to leave Mtsensk, but all bridges except the railway were captured. With the help of sappers, Katukov arranged the laying of sleepers on rails, and by morning all the tanks of the brigade had successfully left the city.
The skillful actions of the Katukov brigade thwarted the rapid advance of the 4th Panzer Division of Langerman to Moscow. In order to go 60 kilometers from Orel to Mtsensk, the division took nine days, and during this time it lost in battle, according to Soviet data, 133 tanks and up to the infantry regiment. According to German data - much less, but it should be borne in mind that the Katukov brigade all the time retreated and went to new lines of defense. The Germans remained on the battlefield, they restored the wrecked equipment and returned it to service.
Own losses of the brigade amounted to 28 tanks and 555 people killed, wounded and missing. As of October 16, there were 33 tanks in the brigade, 3 KV-1, 7 T-34, 23 BT-7.
The opinion of German generals about the October battles
Based on the results of the battles near Mtsensk, Guderian will write a report on the Soviet tank to Berlin, in which he will demand to change the entire German tank building.
“In understandable terms, I described the clear advantage of the T-34 over our T-IV and gave the appropriate conclusions that should affect our future tank construction. I concluded with an appeal to immediately send a commission to my front sector, which would consist of representatives of the artillery and technical administration, the ministry of armaments, tank designers and manufacturers of tanks ... They would be able to inspect the wrecked tanks on the battlefield ... and listen to advice ... that should be taken into account in the design of new tanks. "
In November, Guderian convened a meeting of German designers near Oryol, which was attended by Ferdinand Porsche. Guderian brought him to the battlefield at the First Warrior and offered to talk about the Soviet tanks with the tankers of the 4th division. They clearly said: make us a "thirty-four."
In his memoirs of Guderian on the events of October 6, he wrote:
“The 4th Panzer Division was stopped by Russian tanks. And she had to endure a difficult moment. For the first time, significant superiority of Russian T-34 tanks was manifested. The division suffered significant losses. The planned rapid attack on Tula had to be postponed. ”
After the war, German General Schneider wrote:
“... German tanks fully justified themselves in the first years of the war, until in early October 1941, east of Orel, Russian T-4 tanks appeared in front of the German 34th Panzer Division and showed their superiority in weaponry to our accustomed to victories , armor and maneuverability. The Russian tank was armed with a 76,2 mm cannon, the shells of which pierced the armor of German tanks from 1500-2000 m, while German tanks could hit the Russians from a distance of no more than 500 m, and even then only if the shells hit the side and the stern of the T-34. "
German General Muller-Gillebrand emphasized:
“The advent of the T-34 tanks radically changed the tactics of tank forces. If until now the tank and its armaments were required to suppress infantry and infantry-supporting means, now the main task was to demand to destroy enemy tanks as far as possible ”.
General Langerman on the October battles left a rather detailed report, which emphasized the absolute superiority of the T-34 and KV-1 over the medium tanks Pz-III and Pz-IV, noted the effective tactics of warfare by Soviet tankers and the monstrous breakdown power of the T-34 gun. He also rightly noted that on German tanks the visibility from the tank is better than on the T-34, thanks to the commander’s turret.
It’s not tanks that win, but people
Tank battles near Mtsensk forced the Germans to reconsider the tactics of using tanks and develop more advanced tanks. Already in 1942, a long-barreled 75-mm cannon was installed on the Pz-IV, the Pz-V Panther tank was developed with a powerful 75-mm cannon, which contained many ideas from the T-34, and the heavy Pz-VI Tiger tank "With an 88-mm cannon, surpassing all tanks of that period in terms of firepower and security.
So the skillful actions of the tankers of the Katukov brigade in the battles near Mtsensk made it possible to show the advantages of the T-34 tank to the maximum and once again proved that far from everything is decided by the technique, it manifests itself in the hands of real soldiers who know and know how to use it worthily.