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Old 03-14-2010, 09:56 PM
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Default Tank Corps


Tank Corps


Something that doesn't show up in the various Soviet vehicle guides but which was undergoing trials in the late 80's and early 90's is the tank corps. By the late 1980's, the Soviets had begun to feel that the high density of NATO ATGM and other anti-tank systems would result in a bogging down of a standard mechanized assault. Without going into great detail on Soviet doctrine, the idea was that motor rifle divisions in the lead would find or create gaps in the enemy's defenses. The motor rifle troops would hold open the gap while tank divisions moved through the gap and into the enemy's operational rear for what the Soviets considered real maneuver warfare.

However, by the late 1980's, the Soviets came to believe that the motor rifle divisions lacked the moxie to get the job done. The motor rifle divisions would lead off the attack with their tank regiment or a separate tank battalion, and the motor rifle troops would come up behind to asssault bypassed enemy positions with an emphasis on eliminating ATGM teams. The increased firepower and accuracy of NATO MBTs, ATGM, attack helicopter weapons, and artillery firing ammunition like DPICM presented the Soviets with the possibility that a rapid response to the initial penetration by the leading tanks might be annihilated early on, thus leading to the breakdown of the whole maneuver warfare scheme. In an effort to correct this problem, the Soviets reintroduced the WW2-era tank corps.

The tank corps falls between the tank division and tank army in numbers and combat power. Regiments are reorganized into brigades, which are more-or-less the equivalent of two regiments. Then three to five brigades are assembled into a formation that is exceptionally strong in tanks without having the bulk of a tank army. In theory, this dense concentration of armor should be able to blast by sheer weight of numbers into the enemy's operational rear.

I think we would have seen a lot of this in China, especially in 1996. I think the Soviets would have concluded prior to the 1996 Spring Offensive that their new challenge was to destroy such a large portion of the PLA that the Chinese would sue for peace. The key to doing this would be to destroy the Chinese heavy divisions, which would still only comprise a fraction of the overall manpower of the PLA. Destruction of the heavy divisions in North China would leave the Soviets in a position to isolate the infantry forces in pockets ringed by more mobile and powerful Soviet divisions. Then the Soviets would turn on the pockets one-by-one and annihilate them with superior firepower. At least this is how the theory would go.

Getting the leading forces through what would be exceptionally dense infantry defenses in front of the Chinese heavy divisions would require a lot of artillery, a lot of combat engineers, and a slew of tanks. (Infantry would be useful in selected locations, but to fight a major infantry battle would be to play to the Chinese strengths) Who better to do this than a tank corps?

Unfortunately for the Soviets, the Chinese combined new Western hardware with old-fashioned Chinese resilience. Though the Soviets made good initial progress, the loss rate was just too high for them to sustain. Drawing from a population more than four times as great as that of the USSR, the Chinese could field infantry using American-made Javelins and Chinese-made RPGs in truly prodigious quantities. The Soviet plan, though good, could not make up for the disparity in numbers against an enemy who had had all winter to prepare his defenses.

I'm thinking that in my next draft of The Storm in Germany, I'm going to have to create at least one tank corps. This may help me get around some of the numbers problems I'm having, too.




Would this Tank Corps be the same thing as an Operational Maneuver Group?



As I understand it, the OMG is an exploitation force. A tank army blasting through the enemy's operational rear area is a good example of this. In Desert Storm, VII Corps performed a role essentially like that of the OMG by maneuvering into position to hit the Iraqis' center of gravity and most powerful maneuver force, the Republican Guard. Granted, VII Corps didn't go through a hole opened by someone else, but the Soviets would have sent their exploitation force around an open flank if the opportunity had presented itself.

The tank corps, on the other hand, creates the opportunity for exploitation. They make the hole through which the follow-on forces move. If, as Hussein supposed it would be, Coalition forces were required to stay in close proximity to the coast for navigation purposes, we would have required someone to open the door for our exploitation force. In that case, we would have needed someone to do the job of the tank corps to enable VII Corps to get into the Iraqi operational rear.

It is entirely possible that a tank corps that breaks into the enemy's rear may become an OMG. Whether this happens depends on the condition of the corps when it breaks through the enemy's defenses. No one has seen the tank corps in action since WW2, when tactical circumstances were quite different, so some things are pure conjecture.



Matt Wiser

A good idea-a couple of WW III novels (Red Army and Red Storm Rising) use it-a corps of 4-5 tank brigades, a MR brigade, plus AD, Arty, etc., was its TO if I remember (Clancy doesn't refer to it as a Tank Corps, but an OMG).

Matt Wiser

Jason Weiser


I remember some musing about that in back issues of Armor in the 1980s. But here is one thing we might want to keep in mind. The reason the Tank Corps were created was because the Soviets had a real problem in the early stages of their involvment in WWII with controlling large mech formations (as a matter of fact, it was something that until 1943, they tended to make a real hash out of). So, why would recreating them, from a Soviet perspective, make any more sense than the current solution?

I am not poo-poohing your idea Webstral, simply asking what the Russians would see as an advantage of this over the older system (Though the Russian Army has gotten wedded to theoretical advantages before, look at the changes to doctrine involving the use of BMPs before and after the Yom Kippur War)?

My idea, say it was a creation of STAVKA during one of their more "innovative" days, and they only created one in the Far East to a) keep it away from the prying eyes of NATO, and 2) to really take advantage of the manuver space available for training. This will put the formation in the Far East, and it will achieve your purpose, but why only one? Simple, perhaps the sponsor of the concept fell out of favor once reality met the pages of Red Star. Or, perhaps the Soviets couldn't figure out just what the hell to do with it?

Jason Weiser


The Soviets did have a terrible time controlling their forces at the beginning of WW2. Incidetally, they had little in the way of armor-pure formations at the start of the Nazi invasion. One of the lessons they learned from the Spanish Civil War was that large-scale tank formations couldn't accomplish anything on their own. Poor devils.

Anyway, the point of the tank corps is not the address any troop handling issues. Whatever its historical origins, the tank corps was ressurected to provide the kind of overwhelming concentration of armor that the Soviets believed they would need to crack NATO defenses in the late 1980's. No finesse here. Just hundreds of tanks on a narrow frontage that would storm through the NATO tanks and ATGM regardless of losses. With the gap opened, follow-on motor rifle divisions could do their job of keeping the gap open, and so forth.




Chinese use of Javlins ????


Webstral wrote;
Unfortunately for the Soviets, the Chinese combined new Western hardware with old-fashioned Chinese resilience. Though the Soviets made good initial progress, the loss rate was just too high for them to sustain. Drawing from a population more than four times as great as that of the USSR, the Chinese could field infantry using American-made Javelins and Chinese-made RPGs in truly prodigious quantities. The Soviet plan, though good, could not make up for the disparity in numbers against an enemy who had had all winter to prepare his defenses.

Robert responds
Since the Javelin came out in 93-95 timeframe, which is close to the war, I would not think the US Military would give it to the Chinese.
I understand about how you are writing up this alternate history (Which is VERY good, better than the GDW timeline in my book), but I really think the US Military would not give there top line, just introduced anti-tank missile to save the Chinese.

Especially when production is just starting and the US Military would fill the US Arsenal first over Red China.
The thing to remember is that the Taiwanese would have a cow over any plans to give War supply to Red China. To make amends I would think that the US Government would give the Taiwanese better equipment (basically for free) so calm things down to allow the massive surge of war stock to the Chinese government.

So I offer a alternate explanation, have the US dump, er lean-lease the old Dragons to the Chinese. This would empty the War stock of the older missiles and help fill the reserves. In this vein the Taiwanese are given the full Javelin launcher and missile systems.
Another option is to give the Chinese a much simpler Launcher-Command module (which is a small portable Thermal sight and a ruggedized Computer, technology that I think the US would not like to give up). A smaller, simple one use command module would be one way to send over the Javelin missile to the Chinese so that ‘operational’ testing can commence. The Taiwanese would be given the full set-up to satisfy their concerns.

In all reality I would think the Chinese would replay the same successes the Chechens had against the Russians. The Russian Tank Corp concept would have successes in open terrain, but in close terrain of the high hills and low mountains, I would think the Russians would find themselves losing many tanks in the close terrain, in a similar fashion of the Chechen war.
THUS gain valuable information for the future conflict. Where the problems of the T-64/72/80 series tanks (ammo storage) would be fixed in time to confront the West.
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