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date of publication: 23-02-2013


Soviet Forces

STALIN'S PURGES (continuation)

However, the German troops were able to withdraw, and in the summer of 1943 at Kursk, Hitler attempted a counterattack against the shoulders of a salient which had been formed in the fighting of February 1943. It was not an example of the deep armoured thrusts that had characterized the two summer offensives of 1941 and 1942. The Germans faced five fronts or army groups that had already been alerted to the date and direction of the attack. On this occasion, the German attack was stopped for the loss of 500,000 men, 1500 tanks, 3000 artillery pieces and over 3700 aircraft. The Soviet West, Bryansk, Voronezh and South Western Fronts then proceeded to swing onto the offensive.

Soviet Tank T-62

A defining feature of all subsequent Soviet attacks was the intensity of the preliminary bombardments: the weight of high explosive that crashed onto the German positions would not have been imagined by Tukachevsky or any of the armoured theorists of the mid-1930s. The autumn offensive broke through the German 'East Wall' or 'Panther' line and, halted only by local counterattacks, rolled on to the old pre-war borders of Poland. The Soviet forces were equipped with formidable tanks like the and backed up by numerous US-supplied trucks that gave them tactical mobility.

Writing after the war, Generaloberst Erhard Rauss asserted, 'The German could never assume that the Russian would be held back by terrain normally considered impassable. It was in just such places that his appearance, and frequently his attack, had to be expected.'

The Soviet winter offensive of 1944 saw the 1st Ukrainian Front under General Vatutin advance over 400km (250 miles) in two months against stiff opposition from Army Croup South. Consolidating on these gains in the spring offensive, the western Ukraine was liberated, and in this fighting the First Tank Army was trapped in a huge pocket to the east of the Dniestr on 28 March by the 1st Ukrainian Front under Zhukov, and Konev's 2nd Ukrainian Front. It only began to break free on 30 March and it reached safety on 7 April. Konev was a survivor of .

OPERATION 'BAGRATION'

The climax of armoured campaigns in the west was the 1944 summer offensive, Operation 'Bagration'. Between 22 June and 31 August, the attacks destroyed Army Croup Centre and took the Soviet forces to the borders of the Third Reich and, in the south, the key Romanian oilfields of Ploesti. In this campaign, Hitler's intransigence caused German forces to be trapped in pockets all along the front; this was Deep Barrie with a vengeance.

The autumn offensive of 1944 reached Warsaw and Budapest, and in the spring or 1945. Zhukov, Rokossovsky (another purge survivor) and Konev drove west to Berlin. Berlin was encircled on 25 April 1945 and fell on 2 May. In the Allied victory parade British and American officers saw for the first time the awesome Iosef Stalin IS-3 Shchuka or 'Pike'. The superbly angled armour and 122mm (4.8 in) gun made it a formidable vehicle. The IS heavy tank series would develop through the IS-4 and end with the T-10, or IS-8.

Soviet Tank T-54/55

The final demonstration of Battle took place in Manchuria in August 1945. Veteran Soviet troops wcre transferred to the Far East and moved up to the border of Japanese-held Manchuria. Their old enemies, the 600,000-strong Kwantung Army, under General Yawada, were attacked by the Trans -Baikal Front under General Radian Malinovsky, the 1st Far East From under General Kiril Meretskov, and the 2nd Far East Front under General Purkayev.

At dawn on 9 August, the well equipped and experienced - with a three to two superioriry in men, five to one in guns and tanks, and two to one in aircraft - punched across the border. They reached Harbin on 20 August and had pushed on to Port Arthur by 22 August. The Sixth Guards Tank Army, of the Trans-Baikal Front, had taken the Japanese by surprise by crossing two major obstacles: the Greater Khingan Mountains and 435km (270 miles) of desert, and was now in position to cross the plains of central Manchuria.

The aftermath of this campaign was a divided Korea: the north in the Communist orbit, and the south with the United States, split at the 38th Parallel. In the war of 1950-1953, the North Koreans attacked with the weapons and tactics that had been honed in World War II. In Vietnam, tactics appeared aga in when North Vietnamese T-54 and T-55 tanks, under General Dung, rolled south between 1974 and 1975, and captured Saigon on 30 April 1975.