Military History |
World War II
Armoured Infantry Tactics of WW2
Posted 4 Sep 2005
Armoured Infantry became a feature of warfare during WW2 so I thought I'd write up some notes about they fought.
The British motto was "If in doubt, dismount" (Bull, 2005, p. 54).
For most of the war the British had only the Universal and Bren carriers as armoured personnel carriers (Bull, 2005). The 13 carriers of a Carrier Platoon were used to protect flanks, reconnaissance, intercommunication, raids, and just as transport for personnel, stories or weapons. They weren't used as infantry fighting vehicles. The carriers had little trench crossing ability, were stopped by any tank obstacle, and many other obstacles besides. Nor did they offer much protection to fire. That meant when the carriers got near the enemy, the Bren teams got out.
In 1944 the British began to convert tanks and self-propelled guns into "Kangaroos", i.e. turretless fully tracked vehicles used as armoured personnel carriers (Bull, 2005; White, 2002). Their attack capability comprised a machinegun and the option to attack the enemy trenches with their tracks - which in White's opinion made them "fairly helpless" (p. 61). The idea was for the Kangaroos to drive into the enemy positions, halt, using the machine gun to provide covering fire as the infantry to dismount, the wait for the infantry to get clear (so the vehicle didn't detonate mines and endanger their colleagues). Given their vulnerability the Kangaroos were then expected to clear out as fast as possible. During Operation Blackcock 155 Brigade including the 4th Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers were transported in Canadian Kangaroos converted from Shermans and Grants. As it happened White and his platoon were dismounted as soon as there was a chance they would face German anti-tank guns, and so walked the last several kilometres. Other units of the battalion, however, continued in their vehicles and as a result lost several tanks and kangaroos to enemy tank fire.
In 1944 American made M3/5 Half Tracks were issued to some units (Bull, 2005). Each rifle platoon was allocated four half-tracks.
American Armoured infantry had the M3/5 Half Track (Bull, 2005). They were intended to advanced mounted as far as possible until either enemy fire or difficult terrain forced them to debus.
In 1944 some American infantry supporting tanks were carried on the tanks themselves (Bull, 2005). Six men could ride on a medium tank (such as a Sherman) and four on a light tank. The infantry got off before combat started.
Although some half tracks and bren/universal carriers were supplied to the Russians via the Lend Lease programme, the majority of Russian armoured infantry were tank riders.
The number of tank riders assigned to vehicles and to units as a whole seemed to vary a lot. At one point Loza's (1996) tank brigade shared only a company and a half of tank riders.
From both Loza (1996) and Bessonov (2003) it seems the tank riders almost always got off to fight.
Tank riders also got off if they were likely to have to fight. For example, Loza (1996) describes a tank getting bogged down in mud. The tank riders dismounted and took up a defensive position to cover the tank crews as they tried to extricate the bogged vehicle with the help of a second tank. In the same incident, under pressure from immensely superior numbers some of the tank riders from the bogged vehicle actually climbed inside the tanks before they were buttoned up.
On occasion tank riders did remain mounted during combat. Loza (1996) describes a surprise night time attack on a dug in German outpost (two squads plus machine guns). The seven Russian Shermans charged through, crushing the enemy trenches, but without firing. In contrast, the sub-machine gunners, still clinging to their tanks, blaze away at the defenders. Once, however, this force was in position to attack the main German positions the tank riders dismounted and accompanied the vehicles on foot.
Bessonov, E. (2003). Tank Rider: Into the Reich with the Red Army. London: Greenhill.
Bull, S. (2005). World War II Infantry Tactics: Company and Battalion [Elite 122]. Osprey.
Loza, D. (1996). Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks: The World War II memoirs of Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitriy Loza. University of Nebraska Press.
White, P. (2002). With the Jocks: A soldier's struggle for Europe 1944-45. Sutton.