Tank Troops

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tank Troops


an arm of the ground forces. Tank troops are found in the armed forces of various countries. They consist of tank subunits, units, and large units; in addition, they include motorized rifle (mechanized), missile, artillery, and antiaircraft subunits and units, as well as engineer, signal, motor-vehicle, and other subunits and units of special troops. Tank troops are equipped with tanks, self-propelled artillery, armored personnel carriers, infantry combat vehicles, helicopters, and other equipment.

Tank troops have great firepower and striking force, high mobility, and effective armor protection. Operating en masse on the main axes, they are able, independently or in cooperation with other combat arms, to overcome the enemy defense, carry out highly mobile actions, advance to great depth, wipe out enemy reserves, capture and hold important lines, and ensure swift attainment of the objectives of the battle and operation. The powerful armor makes tanks comparatively invulnerable to artillery fire and the destructive effects of nuclear weapons, sharply reduces the degree of crew contamination by penetrating radiation, and makes it possible to wage combat successfully where the enemy has used nuclear weapons.

Tanks first appeared during World War I (1914–18) in response to the need to solve the problem of breaking through a static defense that was entrenched and well-supplied with artillery, machine guns, and mortars. The first tanks, 32 of them, were used by the British in the operation on the Somme River in 1916. In 1917 in the Cambrai area, British forces used 378 tanks en masse. The further development of tanks demonstrated that they were a new, promising weapon capable of being used with infantry and artillery to overcome a static defense and to develop a tactical success into an operational one.

In the Soviet armed forces the forerunners of tank troops were armored forces consisting of automotive armored detachments that used armored vehicles and trains; during the Civil War of 1918–20 the country did not as yet have tanks. In January 1918 the Council of Armored Units (Tsentrobron’) was formed; in August 1918 it became the Central Armor Directorate and later became the Main Armor Directorate. In December 1920 the Red Army received the first Soviet light tanks from the Sormovo Plant. Production of the MS-1 small, close-support tanks began in 1928.

The Central Directorate of Mechanization and Motorization of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was set up in 1929. Tanks became part of mechanized troops. In 1930 the 1st Mechanized Brigade had a tank regiment with 110 tanks, and in 1932 the I Mechanized Corps had more than 500 tanks. The Military Academy of Mechanization and Motorization of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army (today the Marshal of the Soviet Union R. Ia. Malinovskii Military Academy of Armored Troops) was founded in 1932. Soviet military theorists, such as V. K. Triandafillov and K. B. Kalinovskii, worked out the fundamentals for the use of armored troops in battle, envisioning massed use of tanks on key axes in cooperation with other combat arms. This was reflected in the mid-1930’s in the theory of the deep operation and the deep battle.

During the period 1931–35, the Red Army acquired light, medium, and later heavy tanks of various types. By the beginning of 1936, the army had four mechanized corps, six separate mechanized brigades, six separate tank regiments, 15 mechanized regiments within cavalry divisions, and a significant number of tank battalions and companies. Separate tank battalions within rifle divisions were designed to reinforce rifle units and large units breaking through the enemy defense. The tanks, called tanks for close infantry support, were supposed to operate together with the infantry and were not supposed to get far removed from infantry formations.

The creation of mechanized and tank units marked the beginning of a new combat arm that came to be called automotive armored troops. The Central Directorate of Mechanization and Motorization was renamed the Automotive Armored Directorate in 1937 (later called the Main Automotive Armored Directorate). The automotive armored troops received some battle experience in fighting at Lake Khasan in 1938, on the Khalkhin-Gol River in 1939, and in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939–40. As a result of the experience acquired, new tanks with more powerful armor and weapons (the T-34 medium tank and the KV heavy tank) were developed and deployed by 1940 in the Soviet armed forces.

By 1939, Soviet automotive armored troops included tank battalions within the rifle divisions and tank regiments within cavalry divisions, as well as reserve units of the Supreme Command (regiments and brigades of medium and heavy tanks) and separate large units (tank brigades and corps). In November 1939, owing to an incorrect assessment of the experience with tanks in Spain, the existing four mechanized corps were disbanded. At the same time, a new type of large unit, the motorized division, was introduced. By May 1940, four motorized divisions, with 257 tanks each, and separate tank and armor brigades had been formed. In June 1940 a decision was made to restore the mechanized corps with two tank divisions, one motorized division, a motorcycle regiment, a separate signal battalion, a separate motorized engineer battalion, and an air squadron. The corps was to have more than 36,000 men and 1,031 tanks. At first, nine corps were formed in 1940, and 20 more corps were formed in February-March 1941. However, industry at that time could produce only one third of the tanks needed by the large units being formed, and there was also a shortage of middle-level and junior command personnel.

At the beginning of World War 11 (1939–15)., the tank troops of fascist Germany consisted of tank and motorized divisions joined into tank (motorized) corps and, from 1940, into tank groups (Panzergruppen) that were renamed tank armies (Panzerarmeen) during the period October 1941-January 1942. The fascist Germans had T-I and T-II light tanks, T-III and T-IV medium tanks, and, from 1943, Tiger (T-VI) and Panzer (T-V) heavy tanks and Ferdinand assault guns. Tanks were used en masse, usually in the first echelons and chiefly on the axes of the main effort.

As a result of the difficult situation for the Soviet armed forces at the beginning of the war, the mechanized corps were forced to wage defensive battles together with rifle troops, although their first counterstrikes had significantly weakened the offensive surge of the enemy. The large tank losses in the first weeks of hostilities and the impossibility of replacing them quickly forced the Soviet command to use tanks only in cooperation with infantry, for actions from ambush, to bolster the battle formations of rifle troops on the defense, and to carry out small-scale counterattacks. By the autumn of 1941, all the mechanized corps had been disbanded and tank brigades and separate tank battalions became the basic organizational units. The Soviet command did not have large units to conduct offensive operations.

As a result of the steps taken by the Soviet government to organize the production of tanks and the heroic efforts of workers in the rear, the number of tanks in the army in the field rose rapidly. Whereas there were only 1,730 tanks on Dec. 1, 1941, the figure had risen to 4,065 by May 1, 1942, and to 6,014 by November 1942. As early as the spring of 1942 it had again become possible to form tank corps and later mechanized corps. Two tank armies including tank, mechanized, and rifle large units were also formed.

On the basis of combat experience in 1942, the people’s commissar of defense issued an order on October 16 demanding that tank brigades and regiments be used for close infantry support and that tank and mechanized corps be used as echelons to develop success with the objective of breaking up and encircling large enemy groupings. In December 1942 the automotive armored troops were renamed armored and mechanized troops and the Directorate of the Commander of Armored and Mechanized Troops was formed. The position of commander of armored and mechanized troops was established. In 1943 self-propelled artillery guns were supplied to the troops.

Homogeneous tank armies were formed in 1943. The number of tanks in tank and mechanized corps was increased, and self-propelled artillery, mortar, and antiaircraft units were included in the corps. By the summer of 1943, five tank armies had been formed, usually with two tank corps and one mechanized corps each, as well as a large number of separated tank and mechanized corps. A tank corps had roughly 11,000 men, 209 T-34 tanks, 49 self-propelled artillery guns, 152 guns and infantry mortars, and more than 1,200 motor vehicles. The mechanized corps had 16,369 men, 246 tanks and self-propelled guns, 252 guns and infantry mortars (including a separate guards battalion of BM-13 multiple rocket launchers), and more than 1,800 motor vehicles.

The number of tanks participating in operations grew steadily throughout the war. Thus, 670 tanks took part in the battle of Moscow, 979 in the battle of Stalingrad, and 5,200 in the Byelorussian Operation, while 6,250 tanks and self-propelled guns saw action in the Berlin Operation. Armored and mechanized troops were the leading force in all the major operations of the Great Patriotic War and played the decisive part in encircling and wiping out large enemy groupings. They played a particularly large part in the battle of Stalingrad of 1942–13, the battle of Kursk of 1943, the Byelorussian Operation of 1944, the Iasi-Kishinev Operation of 1944, the Vistula-Oder Operation of 1945, and the Berlin Operation of 1945.

After the war, the position of chief of armored troops was instituted in 1953; the Directorate of the Chief of Tank Troops was formed and the position of chief of tank troops was instituted in December 1960. The tank troops have been headed by Marshals of Armored Troops Ia. N. Fedorenko (1942–47), P. S. Rybalko (1947–48), and S. I. Bogdanov (1948–53), Colonel Generals of Tank Troops A. I. Radzievskii (1953–54) and P. P. Poluboiarov (1954–69, promoted to marshal of armor troops in 1962), and by Marshal A. Kh. Babadzhanian (1966–77, promoted to chief marshal of armored troops in 1975). Colonel General Yu. M. Potapov has been chief of tank troops since February 1978.

In the armed forces of the United States and Great Britain, armored troops during World War II consisted of armored divisions that were included within army corps. The armored troops were used in army operations primarily to develop a success. Since the armored troops were distributed throughout the corps, their striking force and their role in operations were diminished.

After the war, the combat capabilities of tank troops in the armed forces of the USSR and other states were significantly broadened by the introduction of more sophisticated tanks. In many armies tanks were increasingly included in the composition of combined arms units and large units. In the US armed forces present-day armored troops are organized into armored divisions, armored cavalry (reconnaissance) regiments, tank battalions of the reserve of the chief command, and tank battalions within infantry and mechanized divisions. The US infantry division has 81 medium and light tanks, while a mechanized division has 243 and an armored division has 351. The chief models of tanks in the foreign armies are the M60A1 (United States), Chieftain (Great Britain), and Leopard (West Germany).


50 let Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR. Moscow, 1968.
Sovetskie tankovye voiska, 1941–1945. Moscow, 1973.
Nachal’nyiperiod voiny. Moscow, 1974.
Vooruzhennye sily kapitalisticheskikh gosudarstv. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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