July 24, 2014

The Fedorenko Order: Don't Split the Armor!

Yakov Nikolayevich Fedorenko
The Russians realized the superiority of the T-34 tank early in the war and converted their plant facilities to the sole production of this one model. During their first winter in Russia the Germans encountered enemy tanks either singly or in small groups. This scarcity of armor came about because the production of new tanks was low and because many of those which did become available were used far behind the front to train crews on the latest tactical doctrine. With the improvement in optical and radio equipment, the Russian command was finally able to organize large armored formations and employ them in far-reaching operations.

Although the Russian military had reason to be satisfied with the local successes achieved during the winter of 1941-42, it was nevertheless fully aware of the deficiencies still inherent in the tactics of large armored formations. It thus felt obliged to intervene in armored affairs at the end of June 1942, and did so by issuing a new directive, which was particularly important because its author, Yakov Nikolayevich Fedorenko (Chief Marshal of Tanks and Mechanized Forces and Deputy Commander of Defense), drew the right inference from previous mistakes.

The Order
 Soviet tanks in training
2. Soviet tanks in training, 1942.

An analysis of the combat operations of several armored corps in May 1942 indicates that commanders of armored forces at front headquarters (Russian equivalent of an army group, subsequently referred to as such) and at army headquarters lack comprehension of the basic principles governing the employment of major armored formations in modern warfare. The XII Armored Corps, for instance, committed on the right of a force attacking in the direction of Kharkov, was split up into single brigades and employed piecemeal, with the result that the commander of armored forces at the superior army group headquarters was unable to conduct the operations of the corps. The XXI and XXII Armored Corps on the left of the attack force were identified by the enemy long before their commitment in battle. Once again, the commander of armored forces at army group headquarters had no control whatsoever over his subordinate corps.

Until the official regulations for the employment of armored troops are approved and issued by the People's Commissar for Defense, the following orders will be observed:
A T-34 of the 122nd Tank Brigade
3. A T-34 of the 122nd Tank Brigade. 

1. The armored corps is a basic unit and will be reserved for the execution of strategic missions.

2. The armored corps is subordinate to the army group headquarters and will be committed for the execution of strategic missions in conjunction with other troop formations of the army group.

3. It is forbidden to place armored corps under, the command of armies and to split them up for the purpose of reinforcing the infantry. An armored corps committed within the area of an army will operate in conjunction with that army for the duration of a designated operation, while simultaneously maintaining contact with army group headquarters.
Soviet tanks and infantry
4. Soviet tanks and infantry advances on Kalac, 
November 1942.

4. In an offensive operation conducted by an army group, an armored corps has the mission of massing its forces for a deep thrust, enveloping the enemy's main forces, encircling them, and destroying them in co-operation with the air force and with other ground units.

5. In order to preserve the striking power of an armored corps for a strategic envelopment and the ensuing struggle deep in the enemy's rear, it is forbidden to employ armored corps for breaking through fortified positions. However, when reinforced by artillery, tactical air force, infantry, and engineers, an armored corps may be committed for a frontal breakthrough attempt against prepared enemy positions.

6. An armored corps may drive ahead of the other friendly forces and penetrate the enemy sector to a depth of 25 to 30 miles, provided that a second wave is sent through the gap. The situation will often require that, immediately after a breakthrough of the hostile positions, the enemy's main forces—located 10 to 15 miles behind the Main Line of Resistance (MLR)—are enveloped, encircled, and annihilated with the assistance of other formations.
Soviet troops advance in the area of Boguchar
5. Soviet troops advance in the area of Boguchar. 
South-Western front.

7. The armored corps is considered to be capable of 72-96 hours of uninterrupted commitment.

8. The accomplishment of an armored corps' mission depends essentially upon the training and esprit de corps of its personnel, on air support, and on proper coordination with the artillery, tactical air force units, engineers, and other arms and services.

9. Once it has achieved a strategic envelopment, an armored corps will establish contact with airlanded troops and partisan units.

10. During defensive operations an armored corps will be committed in counterattacks against any enemy forces that have broken through the friendly MLR or have enveloped the flanks, especially if these forces consist of armored and motorized units. In such instances the counterthrust will not be executed as a frontal maneuver, but will be delivered against the enemy's flank or rear.
Red Army on the offensive
6. Red Army on the offensive near Bryansk.

11. In any event, surprise is of the essence in committing an armored corps. For this reason the assembly or regrouping of forces will always be carried out by night. Should a regrouping during the day become inevitable, it will be carried out in groups of no more than three to five tanks.

12. Terrain factors must be given foremost consideration in selecting the direction for an armored corps attack. They must be favorable for the mass commitment of armor.

13. If intact rail facilities are available, the cross-country movement of tanks over distances exceeding 30 miles is forbidden.

14. In planning the commitment of an armored corps, especially in a strategic envelopment, adequate supplies of fuel, ammunition, rations, and spare parts must be prepared for the entire duration of the operation, and the tank recovery service must be appropriately organized. The following quantities of supply will normally be carried by the combat trains:

Fuel—Equivalent of three times the vehicle's capacity.
Ammunition—Two to three basic issues.
Rations—Five daily.

The tank crews will carry the following additional rations: two to three tins of canned meat or hard sausage, canned ham, soup concentrates in cubes, bread, zwieback, sugar, and tea or water in vacuum bottles.

15. The armored corps commanders and the armored forces commanders, as well as the military council of the army group, will be held responsible for the proper employment of the armored corps in combat as well as for their logistical and technical support.
Crew of a T-34 tank
7. Crew of a T-34 tank, during operation “Uranus”.


The effect of the Fedorenko Order was not immediately noticeable. In the summer of 1942 the Germans once more seized the initiative on most sectors of the Russian front. The Russians, still handicapped by a shortage of up-to-date tanks, were forced to use their slower and less maneuverable heavies in conjunction with the T34's. They resorted to a number of ruses and ambushes in an effort to gain a maximum of time at the loss of a minimum of space. Backed by a steadily mounting tank production, they made every effort to ward off the German onslaught by skillful defensive maneuvers. In November 1942 they were ready.

Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-269. "Small Unit Actions During the German Campaign in Russia." Historical Study. 1953. 

Photos attribution
1. http://rusplt.ru/
2., 4., 7. fotoreporter sovietico sconosciuto, via Wikimedia Commons
3. https://reibert.info/, via Wikimedia Commons
5. RIA Novosti archive, image #607047/Arkadyi Shaikhet/CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
6. RIA Novosti archive, image #613694/Shagin/CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons