During World War II, tanks often used their powerful hulls to breach street barricades and brick walls, and to bulldoze enemy vehicles, artillery pieces, and aircraft at airfields. But ramming heavy enemy tanks was something else entirely. Only the bravest and most determined crews would undertake such a death-defying tactic. And some even decided to ram an entire armored train.
The first tank ramming
The history of tank rams can be traced back to the civil war in Spain. Soviet troops fighting on the Republican side in the Iberian Peninsula were the first in the world to use this tactic.
Denfese Ministry of the Russian Federation
On October 29, 1936, a tank company under the command of Soviet Captain Pol Arman [Pols Armāns] was used against Italian tanks on the outskirts of Seseña, 30 km from Madrid. The commander’s tank, whose gun had jammed, was being hotly pursued by a CV-33 Ansaldo flamethrower tank. Arman was saved from the disaster by Lieutenant Semyon Osadchy’s T-26, which crashed into the fuselage of the enemy machine at top speed and threw it into a ravine, where it rolled over several times and finally exploded.
Ramming German tanks
Cases of tank ramming on the battlefields of World War II were recorded in the armed forces of several belligerent states, but the clear record of this belonged to the Red Army. In total, Soviet tank crews rammed enemy tanks up to several hundred times.
Ramming heavy enemy armored vehicles was considered a forced and desperate measure, resorted to in extreme circumstances – when there were no shells left or the gun was disabled. Many Soviet tank crews were trained in army schools during the war how to hit an enemy machine in order to disable it without harming themselves.
The first tank ramming incident during the war between Nazi Germany and the USSR was recorded on June 22, 1941. During fighting in western Ukraine, a heavy KV-1 under the command of Lieutenant Pavel Gudz smashed through a Pz.Kpfw III medium tank and damaged its caterpillar track, pushing the enemy machine into a ditch.
During the Battle of Moscow in the winter of the same year, the crew of a BT-7 light tank near the village of Denisikha entered combat with two German Pz.Kpfw III. The first tank was destroyed by fire, but there were no more armor-piercing rounds to deal with the second. The distance to the enemy machine was now only 200 meters and driver Pyotr Traynin decided to ram it.
“I literally remembered everything that our driving instructor taught us about the piling technique,” says the tank driver wrote in his memoirs. “I acted strictly as instructed: I geared in and out as needed and pressed what I had to press… I rammed the enemy tank squarely in the middle of the front edge of the hull – the spot where the front armor was is firmly welded to the hull bottom. I hit him head-on at a sharp angle, right on his front wheel. I left both the bike and the track in pieces, and when the shock of the impact had worn off, I revved my engine up to full revs and dragged the enemy tank in second gear for another eight to ten meters.
The crew of the Pz.Kpfw III attempted to climb out of their hatch, but the commander of the BT-7 forced them back inside with machine gun fire. The German tank suddenly began to slide down somewhere and eventually turned on its side. It turned out that Traynin pushed it up a steep riverbank covered by a snowdrift.
The BT-7 had retreated into trees with virtually no damage when another German Pz.Kpfw III appeared at the edge of the forest. At this point, the crew decided to repeat their bold tactics. As the Germans approached their comrades’ knocked-out machine, the Soviet tank shot out of the thicket of trees toward them.
“This time I knocked out the front wheel of the enemy tank so skillfully that I didn’t even feel the impact. But after the collision, my engine died and only started again on the third or fourth try. And it was good that it was rebooted! After recovering from the impact, the German crew of the crippled tank was already hastily rotating its turret,” Traynin said remind. The BT-7 meandered from side to side and successfully managed to escape enemy fire.
This double ramming of enemy tanks was not the highest achievement of Soviet tank crews. Some managed to execute the tactic three or even four times. For many, however, even a single ram into an enemy armored vehicle was the last.
Hunt for “Tiger”
The Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943 marked the heyday of tank ramming. Around 50 such cases were recorded during the course of the battle. “Here and there the shooting became a ramming contest, with tanks coming into close contact, their armor colliding, and tanks climbing on top of each other…” remind General Yevgeny Ivanovsky.
This included T-34 30-ton medium tanks attempting to ram German heavy Pz.Kpfw VI ‘Tigers’, which were 57-ton brutes. The first such episode occurred on July 12 at the Prokhorovka station, when the burning tank of Lieutenant Ivan Gusev drove into a “Tiger” at full throttle. The enemy tank burst into flames and stopped, but the Soviet tank crew died.
A crew commanded by Senior Lieutenant Afanasy Fyodorov was far luckier. On the morning of July 28, when he was one of the first to break into the Rybnitsa population center, driver Ivan Dupliy spotted a tiger at the last moment. It waited in ambush, the barrel of its gun slowly beginning to twist toward the Thirty-Four.
“Commander, there’s a ‘Tiger’ behind the corner of the brick building! Shall we ram it?” Dupliy exclaimed. “Let’s go!” ordered Lieutenant Fyodorov after a moment’s thought.
The driver accelerated as hard as he could and maneuvered toward the Tiger, whose crew didn’t have their sights on the nimble Soviet tank. The T-34 slammed into the side of the Pz.Kpfw VI at high speed, tearing off its caterpillar track. The Germans tried to get out of their damaged machine, but were immediately mown down by machine gun fire. Lieutenant Fyodorov’s tank was relatively undamaged in the battle and remained fully combat-capable.
Ramming armored trains
Many Soviet tank crews were trained to ram enemy tanks, but it never occurred to anyone to teach them how to ram an enemy armored train. Nevertheless, several episodes were recorded of Red Army tanks attacking these “fortresses on rails” at top speed during the war.
The most famous case happened on June 25, 1944 in south-east Belarus. The 2nd Tank Battalion of the 15th Guards Tank Brigade fought near the Chernyye Brody station not far from Bobruisk and an advance of the Soviet troops was effectively repelled by a German armored train.
In the heat of battle, a T-34, on fire and with a damaged main gun, rammed the German Leviathan. By this time, Lieutenant Dmitry Komarov and his driver Mikhail Bukhtuyev were the only crew members still combat-capable.
The tank, scattering the enemy infantry, climbed onto the raised track bed at top speed and plowed into the German armored train. Three flat wagons derailed along with the machine guns and artillery pieces mounted on them. Taking advantage of the enemy’s confusion, the Soviet troops broke through to the station.
Driver Mikahil Bukhtuyev was killed instantly by the impact, but Komarov amazingly survived. Bloodied, he climbed out of the T-34 and, returning fire with his pistol, managed to get into the nearest forest, where he collapsed unconscious. The lieutenant was lucky – he was found shortly afterwards by a Soviet reconnaissance troop.
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