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Smokescreens in the 31st Tank Corps

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"Report on the use of smokescreen by the 31st Tank Corps in January of 1945

A. Preparation of tank and SPG crews to use neutral smokescreens in battle

Strong attention to the use of smokescreens was paid during training of all types of forces in the corps. Personnel of tanks, SPGs, and motorized rifle units was taught the rules of using smoke equipment and its tactical-technical data.

The following topics were practices during tactical training exercises held in November-December 1944:

  1. The use of the RDG and DSh smoke bombs by a single tank or SPG to conceal its maneuver in combat.
  2. The use of smoke launchers by infantry and tanks to signal aircraft.
  3. Deployment of a tank battalion under the cover of a smokescreen set by an advance force.
  4. Attack by a tank battalion through a corridor in the smokescreen created by MDSh bombs lit by flanking tanks as cover from anti-tank gun fire.
  5. Concealing anti-tank obstacles in front of a defending rifle battalion with smoke to make crossing them more difficult.
All tactical training exercises in use of smoke were completed with great enthusiasm and attracted the attention of all the corps' officers. In order to promote the use of smoke, officers of the 100th TBr and 367th Guards Heavy SAP presented their experience in using smoke in previous battles. Their presentations at the officers' meetings were attended with great interest.

Before battle on January 10th, 1945, all tanks and SPGs were equipped with smoke launchers. Tank smoke bomb launchers present on tanks and SU-85 SPGs were loaded with MDSh bombs. Missing electric fuses were manufactured from white flares using a method proposed by the Chief of the Chemical Service of the 100th TBr, Senior Lieutenant Chernikov. The electric fuses made this way gave excellent results.

Each motorized rifle company had a squad with 25 RDG and 10 DSh smoke bombs for setting smokescreens. All air signal posts were equipped with smoke bombs.

B. Combat use of smokescreens

1. Use of smokescreens on the march

a) A column from the 3rd Tank Battalion, 237th Tank Brigade, was conducting a march on January 20th, 1945. The column was attacked by four enemy  Ju-87 aircraft near Lubetsko. Horse carts from the 287th Rifle Division were on the same road. The first strafing run was unsuccessful, and the aircraft returned for another run. This time, 13 tanks lit smoke bombs on orders from the commander of the 3rd Tank Battalion Captain Borisov. By the time the aircraft came in for a second run, the tanks and carts were covered in smoke. The enemy aircraft did not drop bombs on the second run and departed. The column stopped, as the tankers were afraid of crushing the carts. Once the smoke cleared, the column moved on.

b) The 1st and 4th SU-152 batteries (9 vehicles) moved from Janów to Częstochowa and were attacked by three Messerschmidt aircraft north-east of Częstochowa. The commander of the 1st battery Guards Captain Okhrey gave the order to cover the battery's SPGs in smoke. The crews threw 3-5 smoke grenades on the engine deck. The enemy ceased their attack and the batteries arrived in their target region without losses. The vehicles did not stop movement while generating smoke.

2. Use of smokescreens to cover crossings

a) On January 14th, 1945, the 1442nd SAP received the order to cross the river Nida and capture Zakrzów jointly with the 242nd Tank Brigade. The crossing over the river Nida near Kovla was under fire from enemy anti-tank artillery and tanks located in the forest west of Zakrzów and on the eastern outskirts of Zakrzów. On orders from regiment commander Guards Colonel Rasdektayev, the crossing was covered in smoke. To achieve this, a smoke launching point was chosen south-west of Kovla. The wind blew from the south-west at a force of 3. The wave of smoke covered the crossing and protected it from aimed anti-tank gun fire. The crossing was completed in 30 minutes. 11 MDSh bombs were used.

b) Four batteries of the 367th Guards Heavy SAP were crossing the river Nida on January 14th, 1945. The crossing near Kovla was under enemy tank and anti-tank gun fire. On orders from battery commanders, the regiment crossed the river under the cover of smoke. Every tank lit smoke bombs upon exiting cover (the tanks stood between the houses in Kovla), creating a moving smokescreen. The smoke that gathered over the water prevented the enemy tanks and artillery from aiming. The regiment crossed without losses. 100 DSh and 1 MDSh smoke bombs were used. The wind came from the south-west at a speed of 2.5-3 m/s.

3. Use of smokescreens to recover knocked out tanks from the battlefield

On January 13th, 1945, three tanks from the 1st tank battalion of the 237th Tank Brigade were knocked out by enemy mines. To save the tanks from complete destruction by enemy anti-tank artillery, they had to be quickly evacuated. Powerful submachine gun and mortar fire prevented the repair crews from reaching the tank. A decision was made to evacuate the tanks under the cover of smoke. Five DSh and 15 RDG were deployed from each knocked out tank. 17 DSh and 50 RDG were used in total. Under the cover of the smokescreen, the evacuation vehicles and workers could approach the tanks. Three knocked out tanks were successfully recovered without any casualties among the workers.

4. Use of smokescreens on the battlefield by individual vehicles

a) 1st battery from the 367th Guards Heavy SAP was given the order to support the 100th TBr with fire near Gross Sterlitz. The positions that the SPGs were ordered to fire from were under enemy fire. The battery commander Guards Captain Okhrey decided to send two SU-152s to the enemy flank. A smokescreen was used to hide this maneuver. One MDSh bomb was lit and dropped from the SPG. Under its cover, two SU-152s flanked the enemy and allowed for the completion of the objective.

b) On January 20th, 1945, Lieutenant Fursov's crew (237th TBr) came under heavy fire near Lubecko. The crew dropped 4 RDG and 2 smoke bombs from the evacuation hatch. The resulting smokescreen concealed the tank. The enemy stopped firing and the tank continued to carry out their objective.

c) On January 25th, 1945, near Gross Sterlitz, Guards Lieutenant Avdeev's crew (237th TBr) came under fire from enemy aircraft. Guards Lieutenant Avdeev threw two RDG bombs with black smoke onto the tank's engine deck. The enemy aircraft noticed the black smoke rising from the tank and ceased its attack.

Conclusions:
  1. The use of smokescreens extends a tank's lifespan on the battlefield.
  2. Despite a widespread use of smoke bombs in training, the use of smoke in battle is not yet widespread.
Chief of the Chemical Service of the 31st Tank Corps, Engineer-Major Shumakov
February 24th, 1945"


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