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Austin 3rd series, 7th Armored Car Detachment, Moghilev, 1920. The name Voro , .,, may be Sparrow or Raven. The 7th fought the Poles in 1920. (Deryabin)

Austin 3rd series, 7th Armored Car Detachment, Moghilev, 1920. The name Voro , .,, may be Sparrow or Raven. The 7th fought the Poles in 1920. (Deryabin)

The Reds chose the Sormovo Works in Nizhny Novgorod as the location for future tank design and production on 10 August 1919. The original FT-17 used for experimentation in Moscow arrived at Sormovo on 29 September. Specialists of every hue arrived in November under orders firom the Soviet Military Industry Department. This team operated under the oversight of the Chief Military Engineering Directorate. Commissar I. Z. Gaogelem supervised the production of tanks and assembly began in December. Seven more Renaults captured from the Poles arrived at Sormovo during 1920.

The Sormovo workers dubbed the first completed tank in August 1920 the Freedom Fighter Comrade Lettin and gave it as a present to Trotsky. Painted in olive drab with white letters, the tank sported a 37mm gun. All tanks were finished by summer 1921. Three were aimed with the 37mm, eight carried the 37mm and an additional Hotchkiss machine gun (both inside the already cramped turret), while three or four received no arms.

The names of these tanks, known in Soviet documents throughout the 1920s and 1930s simply as "Russian Renos," were:

No, 1 Freedom Fighter Comrade Lenin

No. 2 Parisian Commune

No. 3 Karl Marx

No. 4 Leon Trotsky

No, 5 Lieutenant Schmidt

No. 6 Karl Liebknecht

No. 7 Red Fighter

No. 8 Red Star

No. 9 Proletarian

No. 10 Free Russia

No, 11 Black Sea (no armament)

No. 12 unknown, possibly Ilya Mouromets (no armament) No. 13 Stoiin (no armament) No. 14 Kerch No. 15 Victory

Despite subsequent Soviet hagiography and the natural desire of young revolutionaries to have produced something unique, much doubt may be cast on the originality of this industrial achievement. Photos reveal these "Russian Renos" to be identical copies of the French Renault FT-17, except for new Fiat engines and the addition of the machine gun in several tanks. Since the Bolsheviks did not possess the industrial potential to create original tanks until the MS-l/T-18 of 1927, there are only two possible answers to this mystery. Either these tanks were cleverly hand-tooled copies, or the French left behind the majority of their tanks during their hurried evacuation of Odessa in April 1919.

American Renaults in the Red Army

Ten Renault tanks from the United States arrived in Vladivostok in March 1920 to reinforce Kolchak's Whites in Siberia. However, pro-Bolshevik railway workers diverted this shipment to Red partisans near Biagoveschensk.

By summer 1920, the tanks had been outfitted with either 37mm guns or Maxim or Hotchkiss machine guns (two tanks had Japanese 37mm quick filing rifled guns). The tanks, each with a crew of three, were assigned to the 1 st Amiirsk Heavy Tank Division:

1st Platoon No. 9254 (Bezposhchadnt) and No. 9141 (International) 2nd Platoon No. 4320 (Sivuch) and No. 9108 (¡Vigilant) 3rd Platoon No. 9446 (Laza) and No. unknown (Muzhin) 4rh Platoon No. 9092 (Revolutionary) and No. 1871 (Thunderstorm) 5th Platoon No. 1930 (Amurets) and No. 9096 (Avenger)

Elements of the divizion fought against remaining White forces in the Russian Far East from summer through autumn 1920. Only a few tanks could operate at one time due to a shortage of munitions and a lack of spare parts. Commander N. Shamray's orders contained a realistic appreciation of his unit's limitations. According to these orders, the approach toward the enemy would he kept short to avoid unnecessary-wear and tear and no tank would be sent into battle alone. Indeed, the maximum number of operable tanks would be used to create the greatest impression on enemy morale.

On 19 October 1920. 3rd Platoon supported the attack of the 5di Amursk Brigade on Stanitsa Urttlga. The Whites defended with artillery and machine guns, but after a spirited engagement withdrew before the advance of the tanks. Sporadic fighting occurred throughout 1921, but by the end of the year the tanks were largely worn out and retired from service. Only 2nd Platoon remained to fight in ¡922. On 10 February, the last of the working tanks, the Vigil-ant, advanced with the Special Amuisk Regiment against the Whites dug in at Volochaevki. The White armored train Kappelevets hit the Vigilant two times and the crew blew up the tank with grenades, thereby ending the Red Army's adventure with American tanks in the Far East.

(Lett) Commander of Mark V tank in non-regulation gymnastiorka, red collar, center stripe and cuffs, Smolensk, summer 1920. (Right) Commander of Motor Transport Depot, Western Front. The 1st Tank Detachment originally formed in Moscow in May and included two Mark Vs and one Mark A, No. A322 Stenka Razin (see plate D). Note tight green/olive green camouflage. Superimposed on the red star on the front horn is the early "hammer and plough1' symbol in white. (Deryabin)

One of two Mark V composite tanks on display in Lugansk (former Voroshilovgrad), southeastern Ukraine. The tanks are marked with graffiti and need restoration, 17 civil war tanks remained on the books in 1938, 15 Mark Vs and two Renos. People's Defense Commissar Voroshilov ordered 14 of these to be placed in museums. Two tanks each were sent to Kharkov, Leningrad, Kiev, Archangel, Rostov-on-Don, Smolensk and Voroshilovgrad. Six have survived: two Mark Vs in Lugansk, one Mark V and one Reno at the Tank Museum, Kubinka (near Moscow) and one Mark V each at Archangel and Kharkov. (Bullock)

British tanks in the Red Army

According to Soviet sources, tine Red Army captured or recovered 59 Mark Vs (heavy), J7 Mark As (medium) and 1 Mark B (medium) tank from 1919 to 1921(see New Vanguard 83 for technical details). All but possibly one of ¡lie Mark Vs were "composites." These were captured from the following fronts: Soutliern(all Mark As, 56 Mark Vs), Northern (one Mark V, one Mark B), conquest of Georgia (two Mark Vs). Not all of these were in working condition: a few were battle-scarred hulks and several needed extensive repair.

Fifty Mark Vs and Mark As, often referred to by the Russians respectively as the "Ricardo" and the "Teylor" due to the manufacturer's imprints on the engines, had been taken after the defeat of Denikin's Armed Forces of South Russia. The organization of these assets began in April-May 1920. 81 men staffed a tank detachment: 41 for combat, 23 for maintenance and 17 for security.

R P. Vershin, commissar for 9th Army's armored units in the north Caucasus region, assembled a 136-ln course of training for new tank personnel at Ekaterinodar. Eight officers captured from Denikin's Russian Tank Corps and a German expatriate and former tank commander from the Western Front provided practical instruction.

The first tanks were assembled by mid-May into two detachments, No. 1 and No. 2, each of which theoretically contained three tanks, two armored care and 50 personnel These were assigned to 9th Army. .Already, in April, two tanks had been dispatched to Moscow and formed into the 1st Tank Detachment attached to the Reserve Armored Car Brigade.

The 1st Tank Detachment moved west to Smolensk in mid-May where a Center for Tank Detachments had been established. Here. Commander G. K. Sorokin-Razhev, Chief of Armored Units Western Front, supervised the testing of the tanks over open terrain and set the composition of a detachment at three machines. Two further units, the 2nd and 3rd Tank Detachments, arrived from Ekaterinodar in Moscow in late May and early June.

Meanwhile, the Poles had attacked the Bolsheviks in the northwestern Ukraine on 25 April 1920. One Mark A, No. A322, Stenka Renin, 1st Tank Detachment, saw action on 4 June. Stenka Rnzin advanced against Polish positions at Stolpshch in an attempt to assist two retreating Red armored car detachments that had been badly mauled. Polish artillery commenced firing on the tank while aircraft dropped bombs that damaged the left motor.

The 2nd Tank Detachment (three Mark Vs), under Commander A. Morgulenko, transferred into action against the Poles on die Western Front and engaged near Zvahki on 4 July. The Poles had dug in at an isthmus between lakes along the Polotsk-Molodechno road and railway.

A combined armor force of the 2nd Tank Detachment, armored train No, 8 Liberator and the 14th Armored Car Detachment supported 15th Army's infantry against two trench lines reinforced by four rows of barbed wire. While artillery and the armored train laid down suppressing fire, the tanks and infantry advanced to clear the wire entanglements. Armored cars and cavalry poised to exploit the breakthrough.

The Links were hampered by Polish artillery and one bogged down during the approach over soft ground. The other two veered onto the road to avoid die same fate, but this only made them more predictable targets. A mechanical breakdown halted a second tank while the third lumbered on alone, tearing its way through the first wire. As tlit: general advance approached the first trench, die Poles withdrew. Red cavalry had broken through to the north and had threatened to envelop the defenders.

Based on this experience, the Reds decided to change the composition of their detachments from three tanks to four (of the same type), two tanks to a platoon, nvo platoons to a detachment. Theoretically, this would increase the overall firepower of a detachment; further, two platoons would offer greater tactical options. Moreover, if one machine in a platoon became disabled it could be towed to safety bv the other.

The staffing of tank detachments became official on 5 August 1920:

Mark V detachments: 113 personnel (59 infantry, 34 maintenance,

20 security).

Mark A detachments: 109 personnel (55 infantry, 34 maintenance,

20 security).

Renault detachments: 89 personnel (35 infantry, 34 maintenance,

20 security).

By 6 September, the Reds had formulated a series of regulations titled "Directives ort the Application of Tanks in Battle," Herein, tanks were relegated to supporting the infantry in breaking fixed positions while the artillery provided suppressing fire. Tanks would also work with the artillery, firing in coordinated patterns. Communications were to include bicycles, motorcycles, a semaphore system atid even lamps.

The Russo-Polish War ended in an armistice on ¡2 October 1920. By 22 October, four Red tank detachments had been transferred to the South Front against the Whites under General P. N. WrangeL The 1st Tank Detachment (three Mark Vs) took position at Stanitsa Belaya Krinitsa, the 2nd (four Mark Vs) at Slavgorod. the 3rd (three Mark Vs, one Mark A) at Stanitsa Kamyshevakha and the 4th (four Mark Vs) at Kharkov.

The Reds planned to use the 1st Tank Detachment in die breakout from die Kakhovka bridgehead and then at the Isthmus of Perekop to force the narrow and heavily defended entrance into die Crimea. However, the tanks were injudiciously sent on a 70-km approach overland and each, at thes end of the journey, needed repair. Additionally, on 1 November, a sudden freeze split the radiators of the tanks because die crews had drunk die antifreeze alcohol.

Having missed Kakhovka, staff from the 1st Tank Detachment made a reconnaissance and reported on die difficulty of attacking die White defenses at Perekop. The Whites had planned their defenses well. Ditches had been dug deeply enough drat the tanks would overturn before they could climb to the opposite side. Artillery commanded die narrow approach by land and a combination of minefields and soft soil precluded any use of armor on the flanks. In the end, Red infantry bad to assault the position en masse without tank support. By die end

The Mark V composite tank in Kharkov is in better condition than those in Lugansk. (Bullock}

The Mark V composite tank in Kharkov is in better condition than those in Lugansk. (Bullock}

This Mark V tank in Kharkov, still in dark olive, has original Hotchkiss machine guns in the right and left sponsons and in the rear. Note the 57mm gun in the left sponson. (Bullock)

of the campaign on 14 November, the Reds had taken 22 tanks that the Whites had sabotaged and abandoned prior to their evacuation from the Crimea.

British tanks also participated in the conquest of Georgia in February 1921. Soviet 11th Army's first assault on the Georgian capital of Tiflis had stalled on 16 February. On 24 February, the 2nd Tank Detachment (four Mark Vs) under Commander S. Tiplov, joined five armored trains, the 55th Armored Car Detachment (four machines) and supporting infantry and cavalry in a renewed assault. While the armored trains laid down suppressing fire, the tanks and infantry penetrated the Georgian positions on die Kodzhorsk Heights.

That night, snow fell thickly and a deadly cold set in the mountains. One of the tanks, while maneuvering, slid off a steep embankment into a river. Next morning, the crews inside the other three tanks were found alive, but they had been saturated with toxic fumes and had been practically frozen, their noses and throats filled with hlood.

The Georgian army, in an untenable position, withdrew. Two Mark V tanks were discovered inside Tiflis in bad repair. Six crewmen of the 2nd Tank Detachment were awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

British tanks received re pail's at Kharkov in 1920 and also in Moscow in 1921. The number of detachments, including the French tanks, peaked at 13 in October 1921 and thereafter began to decline. Tanks acted as tractors in the Volga region during the famine of 1922. 19 Mark Vs served in the 3rd Tank Regiment alongside new Soviet designs as late as 1930. By 1931, all civil war period tanks were in depots, various tank schools or academies, doing limited guard duty, or were on firing ranges.

People's Defense Commissar K. Voroshilov retired die survivors to museums or sent them to bombing ranges in 1938. However, four Mark Vs left by die Whites in Estonia in 1919 were captured during the Soviet invasion of the Baltic States in 1940. These actively served in the Soviet defense of Tallin in August 1941.

Operational Red (British} Tanks, 15 November 1920

(White/British numbers are shown beside the additional early Soviet numbering equivalent, (IB), {7B[, etc.) South Front

1st Tank Detachment (three Mark Vs, Nos. 9185 {IB}, 9085 (2B|, 9153 {1 OBJ)

2nd Tank Detachment (four Mark Vs, Nos, 9050 {9B|, 9387, and (4B, 5B|, former White/British numbers unknown)

3rd Tank Detachment (three Mark Vs, Nos. 9418 (6B), 9283 (7BJ, 9192 {8Bf, one Mark A, No. A371 Sphinx

4th Tank Detachment (four Mark Vs, Nos. 9336, 9066, 9113, 9028)

Reserve Armored Brigade, Moscow

5th Tank Detachment (two Mark As, Nos. A268. A294)

6th, 7th, 9th, 10dl Tank Detachments in Moscow for repair

Ekaterinodar

8th Tank Detachment (three Mark Vs, Nos. 9113, 9152, 9302)

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