Military Historical Library
"The War in Korea 1950-1953"
Chief Editor N. L. Volkovskiy
Editor I. V. Petrova
OOO Izdatel'stvoPoligon, Saint Petersburg 2000;928 pp.
Chapter 7. Use of Tanks and Self-Propelled Artillery Mounts
1. Armored Forces of the Korean Peoples' Army and Chinese Volunteer Forces
Changes in the organization of the armored formations and units. During the course of combat operations in Korea, and based on the availability of the material component in the KPA forces, additional new tank and mechanized formations were created, but these were subject to change.
At the end of July and in August 1950, beside the noted 1 05th Guards Tank Division, there was the additional formation of the 1st, 16th and 17th Tank Brigades.
With a goal of reinforcing infantry formations with tanks, in September 1950 eight independent tank regiments and two independent tank battalions were formed. Along with that, the 17th Tank Brigade was converted into the 17th Mechanized Division.
As can be seen, at that time the KPA had an insufficient number of specialists in its tank troops, training for which had been given time limits (from 15 days to 3 months) and that denied them the ability to create any sort of combat readiness in their units and formations.
As they again formed tank regiments and battalions, as well as the 1st and 16th Tank Brigades, which were committed to combat during the second stage of the war, under the extremely difficult situation nearly all of the combat technology was lost during the withdrawal and in point of fact caused commensurate changes: the 17th Mechanized Division, having lost most of its technology during the retreat, became the 17th Mechanized Brigade in October 1950.
Starting with the third stage of the war and up to the spring of 1951, once again two independent tank battalions and 12 battalions of self-propelled artillery weapons were formed. The 105th Tank Division was reorganized as the 105th Mechanized Division, but the 17th Mechanized Brigade was once again changed into the 17th Mechanized Division. Each mechanized division had one tank and two mechanized regiments, a battalion of self-propelled artillery weapons (SU-76), a 120mm mortar battalion, a signals battalion, and an engineer-sapper battalion.
For that reason, even by April 1951 the armored forces of the KPA included two mechanized divisions (the 17th and 105th), the 208th Tank Training Regiment, the 103rd and 104th Independent Tank Battalions, and 12 independent self-propelled artillery battalions. But at the same time all tank formations and units were greatly understrength in tanks and self-propelled guns. Overall, all of the tank formations and units numbered 77 tanks and 63 SP guns (SU-76). At the end of the third stage of the war the 10th Infantry Division began to reorganize into the 10th Mechanized Division, but in the interim it never received any armored vehicles.
At the beginning of the fourth stage of the war the armored forces had two mechanized divisions (17th and 105th) which were equipped with 40-50% of their necessary tank strength, four independent tank battalions, and two independent tank companies.
In December 1951 the 17th Mechanized Division was disestablished, and its technology transferred to the 105th Mechanized Division, and once again work was carried out to form the 10th Mechanized Division. As a result the number of tanks in these designated divisions reached 55.
As conditions at the front stabilized, the command of the Korean Peoples' Army decided in 1952 to disestablish the 105th Mechanized Division and four independent tank battalions, and the 10th Mechanized Division was redesignated as an infantry division. The disestablished divisions were used as the basis to create six independent tank/self- propelled gun regiments.
At the end of 1952 the four tank/self-propelled gun regiments were included as part of the field army and two regiments were placed in the Reserve of the High Command. In 1953 an independent mechanized regiment was formed, which was also part of the Reserve. By the end of the war all tank/self-propelled gun regiments were cut from the army and placed in the Reserve. At that time they numbered 255 T-34 tanks and 127 SU-76 guns.
At the beginning of their involvement in the war, the Chinese Volunteers had no armored forces. During the course of combat operations during the war they received both T-34 and IS-2 tanks, which were used to create independent tank units and formations. On 1 June 1951 the CPV had the ls' Tank Division, consisting of two tank regiments, and an independent tank regiment.
By the end of 1952 they had created two more independent tank regiments.
In the first six months of 1953 the CPV armored forces were significantly boosted in the number of armored vehicles they held, and by the end of the war had 278 T-34 tanks, 38 IS-2 tanks, 27 SU-122 and 48 SU-76 self-propelled weapons, numbering 391 armored vehicles in all.
Combat use of tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts in the offensive. In offensive operations, KPA tank units and formations were used on the axis of the main strike. They normally were attached to infantry divisions in the first echelon and used for immediate fire support to the infantry. When exploiting success tank units and formations were frequently used independently and use to exploit success, pursue the retreating enemy, seize major settlements and other objects in the depth of the enemy's defense, as well as to hold these objects until ~:he arrival of the main body of the advancing formations and for carrying out other mission tasks.
When rupturing the well-prepared defenses along the 38th Parallel on 25 June 1950, the 105th Tank Brigade, operating as part of the strike force grouping, was allocated among the infantry divisions. In this case, all of the regiments of the brigade advanced with the first echelon and were used for escorting the infantry throughout the entire depth of the defenses of the South Korean forces.
When rupturing successively occupied enemy defenses, tanks were used as immediate fire support to the infantry as well as independently breaking through the defenses as part of the tank formation. Thus, when exploiting success on 27 June 1950 the 105th Tank Brigade ran into organized opposition near Uidengpo moving out of Seoul in the form of the enemy reserves, which had occupied successive defensive positions during the night. In this situation, the brigade, cooperating with units of the 4th Infantry ivision as part of the first echelon, attacked the resisting enemy, forced them from their positions, and continued to exploit success in the drive towards Seoul. In this the brigade (minus the 203rd Tank Regiment, which was operating on another direction) fought in a two-echelon deployment, with the 109th Tank Regiment in the first echelon, moving along the roads in convoy, and the motorcycle regiment, advancing across rice paddies on both sides of the road. The second echelon consisted of the 107th Tank Regiment, also moving in a column formation.
When tank regiments advanced together with infantry divisions or regiments, beside the mission of immediate fire support to the infantry they were normally tasked with exploiting the success that was achieved as a result of the combined operation. For example, on 4 July 1950, after forcing the Han River the lO5th Tank Division supported the advance of the 3r~ and 4th Infantry Divisions, which were making the main strike towards Suwon, Taejong, and a supplementary attack against Inchon. The tank regiments of the division in this battle moved with the first echelon, and the motorcycle regiment with the second echelon. Beside immediate fire support to the infantry, after rupturing the defense the regiments of the tank division had the task of exploiting the success in the direction of Suwon and Chyonan.
The offensive against Suwon began at 1000 hours on 4 July 1950. The opposing enemy forces were quickly overcome, and the regiments completed their missions by 1700 hours. The speed of movement on the second day was slower as a consequence of the KPA forces running up against American formations whose operations were heavily supported by aviation. But at the same time, the Korean tankers quickly learned the operating tactics of the American forces and in cooperating with the advancing infantry managed to successfully crush them in their first battle, and then advanced along the subsequent direction of Chyonan.
The structure of the combat order of the tank units and formations was determined by the actual conditions of complex situations. The tank and mechanized divisions (brigades), and on occasion regiments, advanced in one or two echelons. The two- echelon structure was used in conditions of mountain-wooded terrain as it provided more reliable protection to the flanks and rear of the combat order of the advancing units and formations, subsequently providing the ability to place the strength on the main direction and exploit any successes achieved by the introduction of the second echelon into battle.
On terrain that was tank accessible and when the enemy was not sufficiently well deployed, the combat order of the tank subunits was frequently placed in line with one end forward and one end at the rear. When there was a threat to one of their flanks the combat order of the advancing unit could then commensurately swing either right or left. On terrain that was not easily accessible to tanks, tank units and subunits, as is correct, advanced along roads in battalion columns. Infantry or motorized infantry moved along both sides of the road which, beside attacking the enemy from areas that were inaccessible to tanks, also provided flank security to the advancing tanks.
Tanks and mechanized units and formations maintained a relatively short depth, just as the enemy would concentrate a massive air strike on those directions were they thought the KPA and CPV were achieving success, halted their movement and strove themselves to break off with their own forces and occupy defenses along a line favorable to them.
Avoiding the enemy in mountain-wooded terrain conditions was not always possible.
A significant obstacle to the tanks and SP weapons pursuing the enemy were the numerous rivers, swampy valleys, and settlements that were for the most part located along the roads through the mountains or on mountain slopes, which permitted the enemy to rapidly change over to the defense. As an example of these operations, take the maneuvers performed by the 105th Tank Division which was cooperating with the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions; at dawn on 8 July 1950 they began forcing a crossing of the Anjio- sen River south of Pyongtaek, rupture the defenses of the South Korean forces in this area, and then move to pursue them, with the subsequent result of moving into Pyongtaek, having covered a distance of 25 kilometers and then moving to fight for the city. Holding Pyongtaek gave the enemy time enough to organized his defenses south of this city and halt further pursuit.
On occasion the pursuit was carried out by the tanks along with a considerable amount of infantry. Nevertheless, the enemy, making use of advantageous lines, halted the pursuing forces. For example, the 17th Mechanized Brigade, defending a line south of Charengwan, with the approach of the Chinese Volunteers, managed to launch a counterstrike together with them against the advancing enemy on 3 November 1950. As a result of that counterstrike, the enemy, abandoning his combat technology and trucks, began to withdraw in a southerly direction. Units of the 17th Mechanized Brigade and Chinese Volunteers, pursuing the enemy, forced him from the line he occupied, made forced crossings of a number of insignificant river obstacles, and moved to follow the withdrawal of the enemy along a parallel route. Overall they covered 80 kilometers with an average speed of movement of 20-25 kilometers per day. But at the same time, when the enemy crossed the Chonchongan River, which was not possible for tanks to ford, the pursuit was terminated. The enemy received an opportunity to set up a sturdy defense of this river line, brought up his reserves and changed over to active operations against the pursuing forces.
Forcing water obstacles with tank and mechanized units and formations of the KPA and CPV was carried out using dikes built for that purpose and establishing bridges and fords for them. As a consequence of running up against a river, the tanks units normally had to wait for the infantry formations in order to get their help in crossing the water obstacle.
Infantry units, as is correct, force a water obstacle with portable means, seize a bridgehead, and support the building of crossings for the tanks, as even the relatively shallow rivers of Korea had fast flowing currents and usually uneven beds, and that frequently meant a significant amount of work in leveling and firming the stream bed in order to make a ford for tanks, for which the deep pits in the river bed had to be filled with sandbags filled with rice hulls and packed down with rocks.
For crossing deep and fully flooded rivers, special dikes had to be built by use of the same rice hull filled sandbags, packed down with rocks, and destroyed bridges had to be restored. The dikes were built on the bottom of the river up to a height that was sufficient to allow the tanks to ford across the river. The dike was normally about 8 meters wide. In this case the river was first forced by infantry using portable means. The tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts would use their fires to support the infantry in their crossing, the seizure, enlarging and securing of the bridgehead on the opposing shore, and building the crossing. Only after all this was done would they cross.
On occasion tanks would cross rivers using railway bridges that had been blown up by the enemy during his retreat. Thus, during the withdrawal from Seoul on 28 June 1950 the bridges over the Han River were blown up and a defense occupied on its south bank. The 105th Tank Division, moving to seize Seoul, crossed its own motorized rifle regiment on the night of the 29'h by portable means to begin forcing the Han River. After crossing the river under darkness, the motorized rifle regiment went over to the offensive at dawn, enlarged the bridgehead and together with the 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions who were crossing at that time strengthened the bridge to provide a crossing for the tanks.
Tank crossings that corresponded with railway bridges showed that they were usually blown up in only one place close to the opposite bank where the depth of the river was around I .5 meters. The damaged bridge span was resting on a pier at one end and the other end, which had been blown up, was usually resting in the water. The river bed in this place was understood to be covered with rock and gravel, so that tanks moving off the bridge in that spot could continue to cross as if using a ford. Therefore prior to making the attempt a paved area was created for the tanks to use as an exit into the water. The tanks on this area were moved along the bridge to the railway platform by hand, and then moved onto the paved area and from that into the water, making the remaining part of the crossing as if it were a ford.
Over the course of two nights this method was used to cross 42 tanks of the 109th Tank Regiment and 16 self-propelled artillery mounts of the 203rd Tank Regiment.
The tank and mechanized units and formations, when developing the offensive, were frequently used for seizing major settlements and cities. Under the conditions found in Korea, advancing tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts moved towards major settlements and cities primarily on a front, since in the mountains they were not able to use these formations. Therefore tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts during the period of cooperation with advancing infantry subunits normally had to move along main roads to the center of the city or major settlement, but the infantry formations could advance along terrain which was difficult for tanks to use in their approach to the cities. This method was used by the tanks and infantry of the Korean Peoples' Army in their offensives and found its place in the liberation of Seoul on 28 June 1950 (figure 9), Taejon on 20 July 1950, and other major settlements.
When possible the entrance into a major settlement would occupied by the tanks, who would then wait for the enemy to attack from the depths of his rear area, and then, cooperating with the infantry, attack from the front.
Combat use of tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts in the defense. In defensive operations and battles, tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts became a powerful combat tool in strengthening the defenses of infantry formations both in the central section of the country as well as on the coastal sections.
Tank formations and units possess by the KPA and CPV forces were never used at full strength, but were allocated to the infantry formations and used to support infantry operations in small groups (3-4 tanks in each) and, as is correct, at night or in periods of limited visibility.
Tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts in the CPV were especially widely used for ambushes. When defending mountain passes, where the terrain along the road was inaccessible to tanks, permitted them to establish ambushes of 2-3 vehicles in a group in some areas. As experience showed, such a use of tanks gave promising results: they provided flanking fire against the enemy and simultaneously provided fire support from those same tanks.
In tank accessible terrain units of tanks and self-propelled artillery weapons were allocated to operate from ambush, but the majority of them were kept as a reserve to carry out a counterattack to stiffen the defense against the enemy.
Tanks deployed for ambush operated with surprise, but they only opened fire on advancing enemy tanks at close range to their bunkered positions. Such tactics of operation by tanks under conditions of enemy air superiority completely validated themselves.
When enemy tanks were advancing along roads in columns, the first and last tanks were the first to be engaged. Knocking out these tanks, the tankers could then shift their fire to engage the rest of the tanks in the column. Such and order of the conduct of fire was most effective when the first and last tanks were knocked out, as it made it difficult for the rest of the tanks in the column to maneuver, and that simplified their destruction.
The characteristic picture of tanks used in the defense was the wide use of them as firing from concealed positions against observed targets. Firing from concealed positions was carried out by tanks in groups of 2-3 vehicles. Fire was conducted, as is correct, at preset ranges for the tank guns and used for the most part against enemy artillery. But at the same time, the effectiveness of firing tank guns from concealed positions was not very high, due primarily to the low level of training of the crews for using this method.
Under conditions of enemy air supremacy camouflage of tanks and self-propelled artillery weapons had an exclusively important significance. Tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts were not deployed near settlements and in individual groves of trees, but among the mountains or dispersed in the best concealing terrain. A deep bunker covered with wood and earth 0.5 meters thick provided protection from fragmentation bombs, machine gun fire, and napalm. Tunnel type shelters were dug for tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts only when there was sufficient time.
KPA tanks and self-propelled artillery weapons were also used for defending the seacoasts.
From the summer of 1951 onward S tank/self-propelled artillery regiments were formed for coastal defense, of which three were located on the west coast near Nampo, Anju, and Sinuiju, and two were used for defending the east coast in the area of Wonsan and Hamhung.
In defending seacoasts tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts basically operated as part of combined arms formations and were used to defend road junctions, in ambushes, as roving guns or as a mobile reserve for commanders.
Thus, for example, the 102nd Tank/Self-Propelled Regiment of the 4th Army was used in the defensive belt of the 5th Infantry Division, defending the Nampo area. (See figure 10.)
In this case up to a company of tanks from the regiment were deployed in dugouts in the area of the port of Nampo and used as firing points that had the mission of functioning as artillery and not permitting enemy assaults to land on the beach. Up to a company of tanks were deployed in ambush positions at a distance of 5-6 kilometers from the beach, and the task given to them was to not permit the enemy to break through into the depths of the defense. The main force of the tank/self-propelled regiment provided a mobile reserve for the army commander, deployed as the second echelon of a division and defending along the two most probable directions from which enemy assault landings would approach at a distance of 25 kilometers from the beach, where they could establish the ability to conduct a counterattack.
Before launching a counterattack tanks had to move out into a standby area, and then move to the deployment line in order to strike the landing enemy forces in the flank. Beside that, the tank regiment had the mission of destroying an enemy air assault in case it made a jump.
Tank regiments allocated to defense the east coast in the areas of Wonsan and Hamhung were used in the same manner and with the same principles as those tank units operating on the west coast (see figures 11 and 12).
When it was not possible to precisely determine the place where the enemy landing would take place and the defense had to be set up across a broad front, the main force of tanks (up to 2/3 of available strength) would be used, as is correct, as a tank reserve, but part of the tanks (up to 1/3 of the force) would be placed in ambush along the main roads leading to the depths of the defense, and on the directions of probable operations by the tanks landed by the enemy. During the course of combat operations KPA tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts, under conditions of a shortage of coastal artillery, would take an active part in the fight against enemy warships.
On the east coast, in order to combat enemy warships and repulse enemy assault landings, 13 tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts were located around the port of Wonsan and 7 others in the Hamhung area.
On the west coast, 12 captured American tanks were used in the summer of 1951 to combat enemy warships and repulse enemy assault landings between Nampo and Anju, which were sited in bunkers along the beach.
When defending Wonsan the tanks allocated for combating enemy warships were deployed in areas that had tunnel-type concealment, which had been built long before the war during the period of Japanese occupation.
This concealment had specially constructed sections for personnel living, cooking, working and storage where a number of type of military goods could be kept. The sections were connected to each other by communications ways. A layer of earth over the caves of around 30-50 meters thick provided reliable protection to the tanks and personnel from enemy naval artillery fire and air strikes.
In case an enemy warship was spotted, the observation post sent a signal to the tank crews who would then quickly occupy their combat positions and prepare to open fire. In order to fire against ships from concealed positions, a specially prepared firing table was prepared for gunnery out to 12 kilometers.
When ships were more than 5 kilometers from the beach orientation was carried out by using islands in the sea whose distances were long established. The precise determination of the range to target was not possible as the tank gun sights only permitted accurate fire up to 5 kilometers.
The tank and self-propelled artillery mounts initially selected their targets independently and fired at them individually. Ultimately such fires were carried only against small enemy vessels and at close range, but medium and large vessels were taken under fire with controlled fire from groups of tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts. Fire adjustment was carried out by the observation post as well as the driver-mechanic via the use of binoculars.
As experience showed, tanks deployed along the beach in tunnel-type concealment were relatively safe from naval artillery fire and enemy aviation. The defense of Wonsan stands as an example of this. During the period of coastal defense in this area they fired on and damaged around 45 small and medium size vessels. The naval artillery fire only damaged two tanks, which were repaired in place.
The experience of combat against enemy ships shows that tanks in comparison to the self-propelled artillery mounts had a greater ability of maneuver by fire and could rapidly shift onto the desired direction.
Use of tanks and self-propelled artillery during retreat and withdrawal. When withdrawing and retreating tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts were used mainly for covering the exit from combat and withdrawal of their own infantry to the subsequent occupation of the next defensive line. The primary means of operation by tanks in the retreat and withdrawal were operating from ambush, as fixed firing points, as well as short counterattacks against the advancing enemy.
Beside that, tanks were used for defense of road junctions, mountain passes and holding major settlements located along the route of the advancing enemy.
Under conditions of enemy air supremacy tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts found in the defense strove to avoid letting themselves be acquired. They would close to short range against the advancing American forces and suddenly open fire.
Tank-technical support. Troop level repair and evacuation of tanks under combat conditions was carried out by technical support companies (RTO) which were never fully equipped with mobile, epair shops during the entire period of combat operations in Korea, as well as sulTering from a great shortage of spare parts and components.
Training of specialists for repair was carried out by the tank training regiment, but after 1952 there were centralized courses in armored vehicle and engine repair carried out at the centrally subordinate tank repair base.
Repair units paid a great deal of attention to restoration and making spare parts, as well as removing useful spare parts from destroyed vehicles. Thus, for example, during 1952 over 150 metric tons of spare parts and components were removed and taken from tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts that had been knocked out.
A great deal of work was carried out by repair and evacuation units and subunits during 1952-1953 in the restoration of tanks that had been damaged and left on the battlefield during the temporary occupation of territory and stripped of parts during the offensive of 1950-1951. In 1952 254 tanks and self-propelled guns were repaired, including 170 which needed running repairs, 79 which needed medium rebuilding and 5 which needed capital rebuilding. In 1953 72 tanks and self-propelled guns were repaired, of which 48 needed running repairs, 20 medium rebuilding and 4 capital rebuilding.
Brief conclusions. Ignoring the peculiarities of the region of combat operations, which made operations by the tank and mechanized forces of the KPA and CPV difficult, experience was acquired in the practical possibilities for the use of tanks in offensive and defensive combat and operations in wooded mountain terrain.
The presence of tanks increased the striking and firepower of advancing forces, permitting them to move at a high rate to shatter the enemy defenses and give them the ability to be used as rapid pursuit forces, not permitting the enemy the chance to organize a defense along lines in his rear area.
In the defense tanks reinforced the antitank defenses of combined arms formations, providing them with powerful, highly mobile means in the hands of the commanders to carry out a counterattack. Tanks were widely used for defense of coastal areas, where they effectively fired on enemy warships and naval assault vessels.
For conducting combat operations in relatively inaccessible terrain, which limited the maneuver of tanks, the disposition of tanks to infantry subunits was felt to be more advantageous, especially when rupturing prepared enemy defenses. The use of tanks as a mobile group in the zone of advance of one infantry division was seen to be advantageous when the enemy there was shattered by a combined tank and infantry force which then went over to the pursuit battle.
The experience of the use of tanks by the Peoples' Army and the Chinese Volunteers validated the need to be particularly careful in organizing and establishing the cooperation among tanks, infantry and artillery. Rifle subunits, by advancing along roads and destroying enemy troops and fire support means on the heights alongside the roads, used the tanks to guard against enemy fire from the flanks. When together with the tanks, by destroying the enemy and increasing the speed of the pursuit the success of infantry operations was guaranteed.
The wooded mountain area of combat operations and, massive enemy bombing strikes that made use of such means as napalm brought out the importance of engineer support to tank units operations. When operating under these conditions they showed the necessity of equipping engineer sapper subunits attached to tank units with technical means (special cranes) for preparing the roads for use by tanks, as well as clearing damaged tanks and vehicles from the roads. The presence of swampy sectors of terrain required tanks with increased mobility.
The experience of combat showed the great significance of organizing antiaircraft defense for tank units.
The nature of the area of combat operations and the character of the enemy defensive structure underscored the necessity to carefully organize the continuous conduct of reconnaissance in the interests of more effectively using tank subunits and units.
The simultaneous formation in the KPA of several mechanized formations, independent tank and self-propelled artillery weapon units and subunits during the course of the war under conditions of a shortage of tank armaments led to the dissipation of tank and self-propelled artillery mounts and limited the ability to make use of them.
2. Armored Forces of the American and South Korean Armies
Changes in the makeup of armored forces. In their pre-war regulations the US Army felt that under conditions of wooded mountainous terrain and with the presence of swampy rice paddies in the valleys tanks would only be able to carry out a limited number of tasks. Therefore at the start of the war there were no tanks available for initial reinforcement of infantry divisions and regiments, nor any independent tank units and subunits.
The decisive actions by the KPA tankers and their deep penetrations into the combat order were unexpected, caused panic and tank fear in American and South Korean forces, and forced the American command to reexamine their views on the use of tanks and immediately began to transfer tanks to Korea.
Initially the tank units sent to Korea were those that were available in Japan. The armament of these subunits was predominantly composed of M24 Chaffee light tanks and M4A3 Sherman medium tanks, which were inferior to the KPA tanks in both firepower and other tactical-technical data. Subsequently the Americans were forced to send over their new M26 Pershing and M46 Patton tanks from the USA.
From September 1950 onward to the end of the war American troops operated with 5-6 infantry divisions (1), one Marine division (2), and 3-4 independent tank battalions. The largest tank subunits used by the American Army in Korea were tank battalions consisting of three or four companies.
The organic tank battalion of an infantry division had a three-company structure and held 69 medium and 2 light tanks. A four-company battalion structure was sent to Korea from the structure of armored divisions. They were frequently included in the structure of infantry divisions that were sent to Korea without their organic tank battalions, and also frequently operated as independent tank battalions. According to their organic structure these battalions had 80 tanks, of which 78 were mediums and 2 were lights. In Korea these battalions had 72 tanks, of which 70 were mediums and 2 were lights. Tank battalions, beside the 140th and 245th, were equipped with either the Pershing or Patton, or the Sherman. The 140th and 245th were only equipped with M46 Patton tanks. By percentages, the American tanks in Korea in early 1952 were as follows: M46 Patton - 25%; M4A3 Sherman - s0%, M26 Pershing and M24 Chaffee- 25%.
The South Korean Army had no tank forces. During offensives their divisions on vital directions would be reinforced with American tank companies and on occasion tank battalions.
Combat use of tanks in the offense. Beginning with the second stage of the war, the American command made wide use of tanks when conducting an offensive. During the war in Korea the Americans lost over 1,700 tanks and armored vehicles.
In the offensive tanks were used in the main to operate together with infantry, as tanks provided immediate support to the infantry when rupturing the enemy defenses and were used as part of temporary infantry-tank groups (forward detachments) (3) for exploiting success as well as for conducting reconnaissance.
Beside that, in the offense tanks were used to provide fire support to the infantry with the conduct of direct fire as an escort weapon or from concealed positions as field artillery. On occasion tanks were used to combat partisans and for escorting transport convoys. In tank accessible terrain, as is correct, infantry would not advance without tanks.
For immediate infantry support one tank company would be attached to an infantry regiment and a tank battalion to an infantry division. On occasion infantry divisions, when operating on the main direction, would be additionally reinforced with an independent tank battalion from the reserve of the high command. Thus, for example, the 3rd Infantry Division, operating in early February 1951 in the Honkiori area, beside its organic tank battalion had use of the 64th Independent Tank Battalion from the reserve of the high command. When the American forces were advancing in the area north of Sungyen the 1st Cavalry Division, beside its own 71st Tank Battalion, received reinforcement from the 70th Tank Battalion from the reserve of the high command. As a result the offensive by the 1st Cavalry Division had the support of 210 tanks, and that of the 3rd Infantry Division 190 tanks. But at the same time it follows to stress that frequently the overall combat density of tanks was not very high, as the units and formations were normally advancing over a broad front. Tank battalions in infantry divisions frequently used them as decentralized reinforcements for their infantry regiments and battalions. Thus, for example, the 6th Tank Battalion of the 24th Infantry Division operating in the area of Seoul in 1951 was attached to the 19th Infantry Regiment, advancing along the main direction in the first echelon of the division, but the attached tank battalion was used to reinforce infantry battalions. Each infantry battalion in the first and second echelon of the regiment had two attached tank companies and the third echelon battalion had the single tank company belonging to the regiment.
In the majority of cases, infantry regiments when conducting offensive operations, and beside their organic tank companies, received one reinforcing tank company from the divisional tank battalion. The battalions of infantry regiments were reinforced with tanks based upon the level of reinforcement of the regiment; they normally received from a platoon to a company of tanks. The attached tanks were allocated among the infantry subunits down to company, platoon, or even squad.
The mountainous nature of the terrain with its swampy valleys and rice paddies forced tanks to have to operate along roads or in tank accessible valleys. But at the same time, there were cases when the tanks would have to operate in the mountains. Thus, for example, the subunits of the 70th Tank Battalion advanced together with the infantry that were operating directly in the mountains. Based upon the nature of the terrain and the complicating conditions of the situation the tanks operated in front of the infantry or behind them. When the American troops met no resistance from KPA or CPV forces, they moved in convoys with the tanks in front, followed by the infantry and artillery.
When preparing for combat tank subunits normally gathered in an assembly area. The distance of the assembly area from the forward edge of the defense was based on the makeup of the tank subunit, its mission, the depth of the neutral zone between the two sides, and could reach up to 15 kilometers. In the assembly area tanks were prepared for the upcoming battle.
The Americans paid particular attention to the disposition of tanks in the assembly areas under the conditions in Korea, so that the tanks would be ready at anytime to organize to move into combat and fend off surprise attacks by Korean partisans or probes into the rear by the Chinese Volunteers. Therefore their tanks were frequently deployed in a circle or in a diamond.
In these formations the command and control organs of the tank subunits were operationally collocated with the infantry subunits, and located in the center of the deployment. Security was organized in conjunction with the infantry subunit via small patrols out to a distance of 300-500 meters from the tanks. This deployment of tanks was used especially frequently when there was suspicion of an attack by the KPA or when the assembly area occupied by the tanks was not far from the forward edge of the defense, or when partisans were known to be operating nearby.
2-3 hours prior to the start of the offensive the tanks moved from the assembly area to their starting positions, located 1-3 kilometers from the forward edge of the defense.
At the starting positions, w here the tanks did not wait more than one hour, the tankers refined the questions of cooperating and checked their communications. If the nature of the terrain did not lend itself to selecting starting positions, then the tank subunits would move directly into the attack from the assembly area. In that case the tanks and infantry would simultaneously attack from a designated starting (adjustment) line, which the tank subunits crossed at the designated time per an established signal.
With the movement to the attack, after the artillery shifted fires to the depth of the enemy defenses the tanks would move in the combat order of the infantry and suppress firing points used by the defending forces. On occasion after the end of the artillery preparation the tanks would move to firing positions located 500-700 meters from the forward edge of the defense and use direct fire to eliminate any enemy firing positions inferring with the advance of the infantry. In those measure the infantry would move 50 meters ahead of the tanks that were following behind. After firing 3-5 rounds from one line, the tanks would move forward to the next line, providing support in this manner for the infantry to complete its advance into the depths of the defense of the opposing forces.
The basic combat formations used by tank subunits were "line" and "column". The "line" combat order was used by the Americans in tank-accessible terrain. When operating in wooded mountain tertain or when advancing along a road bounded with rice paddies full of water, the tanks moved in column with intervals of 40-50 meters between them and fired upon the firing points of the defenders located in the observable sectors to the sides of the road.
When advancing in hilly terrain, settlements, or on occasion in the mountains, tank subunits used their own combat order with a refused right flank, refused left flank, wedge forward or wedge rear. These combat formations were used to ensure the ability to protect their flanks and the possibility that the majority of the tanks could participate in a firefight.
When operating in the depths of the defenses of the KPA and CPV, when they lost immediate close contact with the infantry subunits, the Americans would frequently adopt combat operations by tanks in two groups; one group would attack the objective directly with the infantry, and the other part, usually of platoon strength, would form a fire support group that took up firing positions 700-900 meters from the objective of the attack and took it under direct fire supporting the movement of the first group and suppressing firing points that were inferring with the advance of the infantry. With the crossing of a predetermined line by the first group the second group would then proceed to leapfrog forward, taking up a line in front of the first group. The first group would then provide fire support for the advance of the second group.
Advancing by this method the Americans would never be more than 400 meters away from their infantry. Communications between the infantry and the tanks was provided by radio sets held in the infantry platoons and via a telephone carried in a contact box mounted on the rear of the hull of every tank.
When encountering defending units of the KPA and CPV on terrain that was not conducive to the movement of tanks off the roads, American infantry would deploy and advance to the side of the road, and the tanks would continue to advance in column down the road.
In Korea the Americans made wide use of tanks as part of forward detachments. Normally forward detachments were from a single company to two infantry battalions in strength, and also contained up to a battalion of tanks. On rare occasions the main force of the forward detachment was formed solely of tanks.
During the pursuit forward detachments were formed based on, as is correct, providing the tanks with a tank dismount team of infantry. The Americans stressed that infantry dismount team operations from tanks were only possible thanks to the conditions of absolute air supremacy.
Drawing on the experience of forward detachments in Korea, the Americans felt that infantry as part of these detachments must operate not just as tank dismount teams, but from armored personnel carriers. In their opinion, this would increase the speed of movement, and the use of infantry weapons from armored personnel carriers also would serve to retain captured objectives-without tanks.
Tanks were likewise used to join up with air and naval assault landings as well as units that had fallen into encirclement. With this goal in mind, mobile detachments of infantry and tank subunits were formed.
Thus, for example, during the air assault landing northwest of Seoul on 23 March 1951 mobile detachments were used to join up with this assault, primarily consisting of tanks. The detachments operated mainly along the roads. One of them consisted of the tank battalion from the 3r Infantry Division, reinforced with infantry and artillery, and which launched its strike along the road north of Seoul. This detachment joined up with the air assault north of Uidengpo and together they moved to the offensive north to the 38th Parallel; on this day they fought over a distance of 25 kilometers. A second mobile detachment, consisting of tanks and infantry, moved in a northwesterly direction from Seoul and joined with the air assault in the area of Munsan, having fought over a distance of 30 kilometers on the day.
When forcing water obstacles the Americans normally used tanks as the initial fire support for the infantry via direct fire against the opposite shore. After the infantry seized a bridgehead the tanks were swum across to the opposite bank, and supported their operations to enlarge and secure the bridgehead. During this crossing the tanks used both floating bridges as well as ferries.
Thus, for example, when the 24th Infantry Division forced a crossing of the Naktong River on 19 September 1950, the tanks provided initial fire support via direct fire with a goal of supporting the forced crossing of the river by the infantry subunits, and after they seized a bridgehead several tanks were crossed on ferries with a capacity of 45 tons, assembled from the M4A2 bridging park, but the rest of the tanks and heavy trucks had to cross on a floating bridge assembled from the M2 bridging park in the area south of the city of Uikwan.
In combat for settlements the Americans would normally use tanks for immediate support of the infantry with the task of surrounding the settlement and preventing the advance of reserves and the withdrawal of troops defending the settlement, as well as the rupture of the external defense and advance into the settlement itself.
When advancing into settlements the Americans, as is correct, did not operate with the infantry forward, but only when the advancing infantry was supported by fire against those positions assessed by the infantry to contain forces of the KPA and CPV. But at the same time, there were instances when the infantry went into the settlements ahead of the tanks, especially when the tanks had trouble entering the settlement. In those cases, after the infantry had gone into the settlement and seized its outskirts, the tanks, covering each other with their fire, would move into the area at high speed. If they ran into any resistance from the defending forces, then the infantry would move up to the tanks and use the tanks' fire to support their movement.
When tanks were present with the defending forces in the settlements the American tank subunits and units -would strive to move away from them. Thus, for example, when the Americans were advancing on Pyongyang in October 1950 the American tanks and infantry ran into 15 T-34 tanks defending in the outskirts of the city. The Americans moved around the Pyongyang region to the east, where there were no tanks with the defenders.
In naval landing operations the Americans used a significant number of tanks. Thus, for example, during the Inchon operation (September 1950) more than 300 tanks took part.
When landing a naval assault, operations by the infantry to seize a beachhead were supported by amphibious tanks that swam into the beach as part of the combat order of the first wave. When the coastal area was secure medium tanks would be landed, which were used together with the infantry to broaden the beachhead and seize the most important objectives and lines.
During the course of combat operations in Korea the Americans made wide use of tanks to conduct reconnaissance and diversionary raids. With this goal in mind, they created patrols consisting of tank and infantry subunits. The most typical of these consisted of a tank platoon and a platoon of infantry. The depth of penetration of the patrols was limited to the primary defensive area of the first echelon battalions of KPA and CPV units. The operations by these patrols normally was supported by artillery fire, as the tanks composing the patrol, as is correct, would be used to destroy firing points interfering with the movement of the infantry and for destruction of wood-and-earth firing positions.
In a number of cases the patrols operated by the method of tank raids with infantry dismount teams against individual strong points of the defenders. With this goal in mind the tanks and the infantry dismount teams would move up to the strong point at dawn, after which the infantry would dismount and under the covering fire of the tanks move to shatter the position.
Tanks were likewise used to destroy wood-and-earth fortifications, observation posts, trenches, communications paths, and the destruction of antitank weapons and crew- served automatic small arms.
In those cases when the tank company was used to destroy firing positions deployed in the depth of the defenses at distances of greater than I kilometer observation posts were established for fire control of the company.
On occasion an additional tank company from the infantry division's tank battalion would be allocated to infantry regiments for the destruction of observation posts, trenches, communications paths, and the destruction of antitank weapons and crew- served automatic small arms. In this each company was given a zone for conducting fire, but in the companies the sectors of fire responsibility were allocated down to each tank. Execution of the mission in some cases began with concentrated fire by the tanks of the entire company against a previously selected target in the area of responsibility, and then each tank would fire in its own assigned sector.
Besides having tanks carry out all of the above recounted tasks, the Americans also frequently used then to conduct direct fire at night against KPA and CPV forces. This task was normally allocated to individual tanks of the infantry division tank battalion. These tanks selected their positions and prepared their firing positions during daylight, designated targets and the area for firing and prepared the necessary data for firing at night.
To support infantry advancing at night, tanks were normally not used. At that time in those rare instances where tanks were used to support a night offensive they operated up to 500 meters away from the infantry in the "line" combat formation and with intervals between tanks of 20-30 meters. In this the tanks moving behind the infantry would periodically turn on their headlights, but on occasion they had specially fitted tank searchlights that could provide support to the infantry via the primary method of direct fire. If due to the nature of the terrain the tank subunit could not deploy, then it would support the infantry operating from column formation.
At the beginning of the war cooperation between American tanks and infantry was not very skillfully organized nor conducted. Infantry commanders would only provide the missions of their units and subunits to tank subunit commanders and then send them a message saying, "The infantry is waiting for the tanks to participate in this battle." This unstable cooperation led to a significant loss of both tanks and infantry.
Therefore later on the Americans were forced to more carefully organize cooperation. Commanders of the cooperating subunits planned out the mission together, designating how the tanks would operate together with the infantry, what communications means would be used and what type of support was required for each stage of combat. The area of likely operations was studied by the infantry and tankers on maps, aerial photos, personal observations from aircraft and observation posts, and together they carried out a joint staff ride.
On occasion, prior to the start of the offensive the infantry and tank subunits would conduct joint training on terrain similar to that where the operations would take place.
Signals officers with radio sets were allocated from infantry regiments, and on occasion infantry battalions, for support during the course of combat to ensure uninterrupted cooperation.
Communications between tank subunits and infantry and subunits of other arms of service, as well as mobile means, was carried out by means of flags, light signals and telephones.
Combat use of tanks in the defense. Tanks in the defense were used to reinforce infantry positions regarding antitank means, to support counterattacking subunits, to cover breaking off combat and the subsequent withdrawal of the infantry, to strengthen artillery fires, and to provide security to objects in the rear of their own forces.
For immediate reinforcement of antitank defenses each infantry battalion in the first echelon normally received one tank platoon from the infantry regiment tank company. The rest of the tank platoons were kept as the regimental commander's reserve. In the case that the infantry battalion was defending on the main axis, it could have two tank platoons attached to it. The attachment of tanks to reinforce infantry battalions was based on the conditions of the situation, the main reason being the terrain relief located adjacent to the firing positions of the combat order of the infantry or their deployment in staging areas. For conducting fire in the areas of company strong points in the first echelon, and on occasion immediately along the forward edge of the defense along the first trench line, primary and alternate fighting positions for tanks were prepared. Particular attention was paid to deeply bunkering in the tanks and building wood-and-earth cover, protecting them with several layers of sandbags to protect against direct hits from mortar bombs or artillery shells.
Staging areas were selected and equipped in consideration of the ability to conduct fire against troops approaching the defense or behind company strong points in the second echelon. During an attack by advancing units tanks would move from the staging areas to their primary firing positions and open fire. After the battle the tanks would again return to their staging areas.
During the course of combat operations American troops made wide use of tanks to support counterattacking infantry. The infantry division tank battalions were the primary force to execute this task, as well as tank battalions from the reserve of the high command and frequently tanks allocated to move with infantry regiments that composed their reserve.
Tank subunits designated for conducting the counterattack were normally deployed in the second echelon along the axes of enemy tank threats, and would be brought in on the front line or flanks of the defending infantry.
Tank platoons constituting the reserve of the infantry regiment commander, as is correct, were deployed in the defensive area of the second echelon infantry battalion of the regiment and would move into combat together with the infantry battalion and its artillery.
Counterattacking tanks were rarely used forward of the forward line of the defense, and in most cases they were used against KPA and CPV forces attempting to drive into the depths of the American defense. Such counterattacks were conducted in the initial stage of the defense when there was a lack of a contiguous front to the defense and the Americans had a clear numerical superiority in forces and means over the forces of the KPA and CPV. Tanks in that case would operate together with security subunits or subunits detached from the main body. Counterattacks by tanks in cooperation with infantry were conducted, as is correct, with powerful air and artillery support.
Using tank guns to reinforce artillery fires took place both from open firing positions as well as from concealed firing positions, with the most common being firing from concealed firing positions.
In those cases when the tanks were used for firing from concealed positions in the defense, they did not use prepared bunkers, but earthen ramps built on the surface of the ground and used to increase the angle of elevation of the tank guns.
During a withdrawal American troops frequently used their tanks to cover the exit from combat and the subsequent withdrawal of the infantry to a new defensive line. In this case the tanks, as is correct, took up defilade positions in rough areas of terrain that would not permit the KPA and CPV forces to carry out pursuit of the withdrawing infantry units and subunits.
The infantry exit from combat was covered by tanks using direct fire who then, operating as part of the infantry subunits, functioned as rear guard covering their withdrawal.
When defending road junctions, tanks normally were deployed 10-20 meters off the sides of the road in front of the infantry trenches, and the artillery was deployed 1.5 to 2 kilometers behind the tanks.
During the course of defensive combat tanks carried out tasks involving security of rear area objects to prevent partisan attacks.
Beside that, tanks were used to support clearing any barriers to supply reaching the front, and in that they were stationed at the head, in the middle, and at the rear of transport convoys.
Tank subunits were only used to conduct night combat on those occasions when it was necessary to inflict a responsive strike against the KPA and CPV forces.
When conducting night combat operations in the defense, tanks were deployed in the infantry combat order on those axes where they were most likely to be approached by the opposing forces. With this goal in mind the most probable targets were illuminated for night combat, as well as special initial gunnery data was calculated and placed on firing cards to be used from previously chosen fighting positions.
When repelling attacks by KPA and CPV forces at night, tanks normally were deployed behind the infantry up to 500 meters and used direct fire to engage the advancing forces.
Tank-technical support. Questions of technical support to armored forces in the American Army during the course of the war were dealt with by the artillery-technical service (4) who duties included: supply, maintenance of the equipment in operating condition, and repair of all artillery-technical items including armored technology. During the first year of the war in Korea, according to the Americans themselves, the armored forces were poorly supported by the artillery-technical service.
Repair and evacuation units and subunits ofthe artillery-technical service who were sent to Korea had poor technical training to provide practical assistance to tank units. As a result, there were frequent instances where out of the material component present for combat only 20-30% of the tanks were combat ready.
Frequently, inoperable armaments and combat vehicles evacuated to the rear were replaced by new items. Thus, for example, in the course of a year and a half seven American divisions had their equipment completely replaced twice, and the 24th Infantry Division had its equipment replaced four times.
Troop repair and repair of tanks under field conditions was carried out by the repair section of the infantry regiment tank company, the repair platoons in tank battalions, and artillery-technical supply and repair companies (battalions) in infantry divisions (corps).
The Americans sent tanks needing depot (capital) rebuilding to their rear area artillery-technical base in Japan. In early 1952 this base was restoring two M46 Patton type tanks a day.
The repair section of the tank company had one repair and evacuation vehicle (M32) and a halftrack for transporting spare parts. The repair platoons of tank battalions had two repair and evacuation vehicles (M32), two heavy emergency vehicles (M1A1), and three halftracks for transporting spare parts.
The artillery-technical repair companies had an organizational strength of 321 personnel and equipment. The company consisted of a company headquarters, two repair platoons, a supply platoon, and a divisional chief of artillery-technical services section. The repair platoons (up to 95 men each) had three sections - automotive repair, service and evacuation, and weapons repair. Each automotive repair section had up to 36 mechanics for vehicle repair. The task of the service and evacuation section (18 men) was to evacuate tanks and other vehicles from the battlefield to get them out from under enemy fire. For this purpose the section had a repair and evacuation vehicle (M32), two 4-ton and two 10-ton emergency vehicles. The weapons repair section (up to 30 men) was responsible for the repair and restoration of divisional small arms and artillery armaments. The supply platoon (44 men) was responsible for supporting their company with spare parts, materials and repair equipment.
It follows to indicate that the repair and evacuation vehicle (M32) had a number of shortcomings. Its tracks were too narrow and could not provide sufficient mobility. The engine was too underpowered to recover tanks that had become stuck, and it could only tow partially damaged tanks on hard ground surfaces.
In combat, the repair subunits of the tank companies and battalions broke into their separate subunits and carried out repair and recovery of tanks that had been knocked out.
Repair sections of tank companies carried out light repairs, and when necessary they moved them to the repair platoons of tank battalions for more complex repairs to inoperable tanks. In this, the tanks were not towed by company assets, but normally that depended upon its location and nature of its damage. Inoperable tanks were classified according to their damage: running gear, turret, engine and transmission.
Repair platoons carried out more complex repairs including replacement of individual components. In those cases when the battalion repair platoons were not able to carry out the repairs, they sent them to the artillery-technical services subunits that were normally some 32 kilometers or more to the rear of the front lines. Repair of tanks was carried out using prepared spare parts on hand.
Here is an example of the organization of repair and evacuation of tanks by IX US Corps during the offensive battles of 1950.
In order to ensure repair and evacuation of vehicles from the battlefield during the offensive, beginning on 24 November 1950 and based on the experiences of tank units, the IX US Corps artillery-technical service developed a system of repair and evacuation services that applied to local conditions. The system consisted of combining evacuation and repair assets in each division under the centralized control of a special organ called the divisional repair service. This system had to be able to coordinate for the use of all repair and evacuation assets.
Particular significance was paid to the maximum use of a mobile repair brigade for carrying out repairs in place, set up along a previously determined axis of evacuation, restoration and repair of tanks.
The operations of the mobile repair brigade had to be coordinated directly by the divisional repair service, which used radio sets and telephone to carry out this coordination. This repair and evacuation organization, in the opinion of the Americans, was the best way to fix the problem under a shortage of repair and evacuation assets. The evacuation of knocked out or damaged American tanks was carried out by the higher echelon, who sent their subordinate subunits out to a given location to find a tank and evaluate its damage. Evacuation of damaged vehicles from the battlefield in Korea was a serious problem for the Americans. By using repair and evacuation units to respond to these goals, they were responsible for preventing "traffic jams" to advancing forces moving along a single road, had a zone of operations in each division, and were used along the primary route of movement. Other difficulties in evacuating damaged tanks from the battlefield concerned the lack of crews for the damaged tanks.
Beside that, it follows to stress that evacuation of damaged American tanks of the M46 Patton type was an extreme difficulty. This tank had a hydro-mechanical transmission which made towing it difficult when it had an inoperable engine, as well as very difficult to turn.
As already pointed out, the M32 repair and evacuation vehicle did not correspond with the requirements established for a vehicle needed to carry out repair and evacuation of damaged tanks on the battlefield. Tank units frequently were forced to use one or even two tanks to evacuate a stuck or seriously damaged tank.
The serious shortcomings in regard to the question of organization of repair and evacuation services sent to Korea forced the American command to reexamine the organic structure of its repair and evacuation units and subunits and take measures to equip them with more powerful evacuation technology. It is known that after the war they created more powerful evacuation vehicles like the M74 and M75 based on the M4A3 Sherman and the T5 I based on the M48 tank.
Provision of spare parts in the infantry regiment tank companies was carried out by means of the artillery-technical service of the infantry division tank battalions and by disassembly of knocked-out tanks.
Brief conclusions. Combat operations in Korea at the beginning of the war forced the Americans to reexamine their views on the use of tanks and give up on the idea that tanks were only able to carry out a very limited number of tasks in wooded mountainous terrain and in swampy valleys covered with rice paddies. Therefore in subsequent battles, in part, during the period of the offensive from the Pusan beachhead and the assault landing at Inchon the Americans used tanks on a large scale.
The questions involving the use of tanks in the offense and defense brought out nothing new in the way of positions taken up in regulations and there was no need to change them. Attempts by the American command to use tanks to exploit success when separated from an infantry unit and to drive deep into the rear to create success were not made.
It serves to note the practice of using tanks in the defense and in the offense on tank-accessible terrain to reinforce artillery fires from concealed positions.
1.1 The organization of infantry division tank subunits is shown in Appendix 24.
2. 2 The organization of Marine division tank subunits is shown in Appendix 35.
3. 3 Subsequently temporary infantry-tank groups will be dubbed forward detachments. ((This is a Soviet term. US term is usually task force. Translator.))
4. 4 In US service Ordnance Corps units. Translator
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