Tank ramming occupies a special place among the many feats of heroism performed by Soviet tankers during the Great Patriotic War. Unfortunately, very few people know of the master-tankers who employed ramming tactics, even though tank ramming was prevalent throughout the war. One of the first tank ramming actions occurred on June 22, 1941, in a battle approximately 8 kilometers from Javorov: a KV-1 tank commanded by 2nd Lieutenant P. Goodz' rammed several German Panzer III tanks and armored half-tracks.
The practice of tank ramming became especially prevalent in 1943. For instance, during the battle of Prokhorovka on July 12, Soviet tankers engaged in approximately 20 ramming actions, while over the entire 50 days of the Kursk battle over 50 instances of tank ramming were recorded. While ramming was typically used to destroy light and medium armored vehicles, at times even the heavy Tiger and Panther tanks fell victim. A direct hit by a Soviet tank typically put German machines out of action as their armor plating ripped open, their tracks tore and their road wheels warped.
Head-on ramming was as a rule reserved for exceptional circumstances, such as when the tank exhausted its ammunition or lost its main gun while the battle was still ongoing. At times, tank ramming was resorted to during sudden encounters with enemy armor in town and village streets, as well as during especially close engagements when the Soviet tanks found themselves in the midst of enemy formations. A tanker executing a ramming maneuver typically tried to hit the enemy in the side, as this could lead to the target overturning. Oftentimes, rammed tanks exploded due to a hit on their ammunition storage or multiple fuel leaks. Such explosions typically inflicted heavy damage on the ramming tank as well.
In some instances, ramming was used as a deliberate tactic. This usually happened during poor visibility conditions (fog, rain, snow) or at night, when engaging the enemy with aimed gunfire was impossible. Ramming the German tank columns on the march proved especially effective. The sudden appearance of Soviet tanks ramming German vehicles and firing at point-blank range could cause considerable panic. This type of ramming was the height of courage and skill for tankers operating in vanguard and reconnaissance detachments. As a rule, it was also the most damaging to the enemy. There are many examples of such deliberate ramming during the war, including actions by tank commander Captain V. Bogachev (43rd Tank Division) near Dubno on June 26, 1941; Senjor Lieutenant - A. Umnikov (50th Guards Tank Brigade) near Kramatorskoje on February 7, 1943; and 2nd Lieutenant I. Kiselev (65th Tank Brigade) near the Polish town of Jusefuv on January 15, 1945. All three officers were made Heroes of the Soviet Union [Highest Soviet military honor, comparable to the Victoria Cross - Transl.] for their actions.
There are several known examples of tanks ramming enemy armored trains, for instance by the machine of 2nd Lieutenant Dmitri Komarov (15th Guards Tank Brigade) at Chernye Bory near Bobruisk on June 24, 1944, and by the tank commanded by Captain Leonid Maleev, company commander in the 45th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment, in the Sandomiers bridgehead on August 4, 1944.
When attacking enemy airfields, Soviet tankers frequently used ramming to destroy parked aircraft. For instance, during the Stalingrad counter-offensive the drivers of the 24th Tank Corps, having driven for 240 kilometers over five days, broke through to the train station Tatzinskaja on the morning of December 24, 1942. The station was the site of a German supply depot as well as two airfields basing over 300 enemy aircraft. The tankers had little ammunition left after days of constant fighting, and so resorted to ramming the German planes on the ground. Together, the 1st Battalion of the 54th Tank Brigade commanded by Captain S. Strelkov and the 2nd Battalion of the 130th Tank Brigade commanded by Captain M. Nechaiev destroyed nearly 300 aircraft on the airfields themselves as well as a further 50 entrained at Tatzinskaja. Thus, the tankers helped to sever the German air link to encircled Sixth Army in Stalingrad, and deprived Mainstein's rescue offensive of vital air support.
There are other examples of tanks ramming enemy aircraft. On January 11, 1944, tanks belonging to the 49th Tank Brigade destroyed 17 German aircraft near the Polish town of Ljubek. On March 28, 1944, the 64th Guards Tank Brigade attacked an airfield near Chernovtsy, destroying 30 enemy aircraft with gunfire and ramming. On January 17, 1945, the machine commanded by I. Kravchenko (47th Guards Tank Brigade) attacked and destroyed with gunfire and ramming 20 enemy aircraft at an airfield near Sohachev, Poland.
Tank ramming also occurred during night battles. On June 26, 1941, the tankers of the 43rd Separate Reconnaissance Battalion engaged in a night ramming action near Dubno. An enemy armored column comprised primarily of Panzer II and Panzer III tanks had halted to refuel. As darkness fell, a tank detachment commanded by Captain Arhipov fired a close-range salvo then slammed into enemy machines. The Germans suffered considerable losses, including some taken prisoner.
During assaults on enemy positions, tanks rammed artillery pieces, Nebelwerfer rocket mortars, and other stationary weapons. During the capture of Berlin, tanks rammed enemy barricades and even building walls to bypass or reduce enemy defensive positions.
Successful tank ramming in many ways depended on the level of preparedness of tank commanders and drivers. To successfully ram an enemy target, the tank crews, especially the drivers, had to possess considerable courage and technical mastery. Thus, most ramming actions were performed by veteran tank crews, confident in their machines' abilities fully prepared to sacrifice their lives in defense of the Motherland if necessary.
Most ramming actions were performed by the crews of KV and T-34 tanks. These tank types possessed substantial mass and speed as well as considerable frontal armor, which permitted them to smash the hulls of enemy tanks, assault guns and half-tracks. Sometimes the crew of a burning tank would perform a last-gasp "flaming ram" to inflict maximum damage on the enemy.
There are instances of a single tank crew performing multiple ramming actions. During the defense of Moscow in November of 1941, the KV tank commanded by Hero of the Soviet Union A. Bosov rammed 4 enemy machines, while on July 12, 1941 a KV tank driver N. Tomashevich rammed 3 German tanks in an engagement near Luga while rescuing the tank of his commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Vjaznikov. The tank of I. Rogozin rammed the enemy three times near Krivoj Rog, while machines of 2nd Lieutenant I. Butenko and 1st Lieutenant P. Zaharchenko did so twice.
Should modern tankers be taught ramming tactics? The experience of the Great Patriotic War answers that in the affirmative. During the war, a number of tank schools as well as some tank detachments deployed at the front made it a point to provide tank crews with instruction in ramming, and rightly so. Although risky, tank ramming allowed crews to sometimes emerge victorious even in the most difficult battlefield conditions while inflicting considerable damage on the enemy.
Tank ramming is a weapon of courage. It is a very calculating tactic that combines exceptional bravery with formidable skill. During the war, Soviet tankers who resorted to ramming were motivated primarily by unit camaraderie and their exceptionally high sense of duty towards the Motherland.
Author: Hero of the Soviet Union, Marshall (Tank Arm) O. Losik Translator:
Source: September 1996 issue of "Military Knowledge"