July 6, 2015

Soviet Artillery Counter-Preparation in the Battle of Kursk

203mm Howitzer B-4


A translated Russian article explains the importance of artillery counter-preparation in repulsing the German offensive at Kursk.


122mm Field Gun A-19
2. 122mm Field Gun A-19.
Experience has shown that repulsing the first large scale enemy attack is repulsing the offensive in general. Counter-preparation is perhaps the decisive factor in disrupting the opponent's attack.

In preparing to repulse the German offensive on the Orel-Kursk sector, we were fully convinced that the artillery in the counter-preparation would first and foremost neutralize the enemy artillery and mortars. Certainly, troop concentrations, troop headquarters, and road-junctions should also be kept under fire. However, these problems were considered as supplemental problems. It was necessary to take into consideration the fact that in the event our artillery thoroughly neutralized the German artillery and mortars, the enemy infantry and tanks would be without fire support, and his attack would be greatly weakened. In accordance with this project, a plan of artillery counter-preparation was drawn up in the artillery units long before the beginning of the engagement. This plan was distributed to the battery commanders who prepared details pertaining to their sectors.
152mm Howitzer ML-20
3. 152mm Howitzer ML-20.

The positions of the enemy's artillery and mortars were placed on each battery commander's map. The commander knew that at a definite signal his battery was to fire at a specific target for a given length of time, with a definite number of rounds.

It stands to reason that this plan was flexible and that it was modified according to our knowledge of the disposition of the enemy installations. Particular care, for instance, was taken in the evaluation of the opponent's firing positions in order to distinguish between main, secondary and dummy positions.

It is not enough to prepare a detailed plan for artillery counter-preparation; it is necessary to determine the exact time of commencement. The artillery counter-preparation that is too early or too late will not give the desired effect. The commander must have exact information as to the beginning of the enemy offensive. On the Orel-Kursk sector the time was determined on the basis of reconnaissance data, confirmed by examination of prisoners of war. Based on this information the signal was given for the artillery counter-preparation.

The order in which the firing was to be carried out was as follows:
  • To begin with, all the guns fired a five-minute preparation on the enemy batteries. The target, rate of fire and number of rounds was definitely agreed upon beforehand. 
  • Immediately following this, a twenty-minute concentration was placed on the same objective by a considerable part of the artillery. 
  • Finally, another five-minute concentration was fired.

During this period fire was placed on assemblies of enemy infantry and tanks. Our bombers raided the enemy headquarters, communication centers and tanks. The result was that a large number of artillery batteries and observation posts were neutralized. This, of course; was reflected in the German artillery-preparation; it was light and disorganized. The activity of those German batteries which had not been destroyed was disrupted.
152mm Field Gun BR-2
4. 152mm Field Gun BR-2.

Despite large forces of tanks and planes; the latter of which operated against our front line in groups of 10 to 15 the Germans were unable to pierce our front, because their artillery at the very beginning of the offensive had been neutralized and was unable to support the attacking troops.

As practice shows, it is chiefly artillery that disorganizes the defending system of fire. Because of our artillery counter-preparation, the Germans were unable in any way to disrupt our system of fire and the defenders confidently met the enemy tank and infantry. Once more it was confirmed that a fortified zone can never be breached with success with weak artillery, despite the fact that large concentrations of tanks and planes take part. Therefore, the primary object of the defending force during the first period of the battle is the neutralizing of the enemy's artillery.
203mm Howitzer B-4
5. 203mm Howitzer B-4.

The effectiveness of the artillery counter-preparation depends primarily upon how well the reconnaissance of the opponent's artillery has been carried out. On the Orel-Kursk sector our reconnaissance succeeded in correctly determining the dispositions of the enemy artillery and relaying the information in time. This gave the opportunity of modifying the plan of artillery counter-preparation so that it was most effective when finally carried out.

This successful artillery counter-preparation compelled the enemy to modify his tactics to his disadvantage. Thus, since the German artillery and mortars had been neutralized early and thoroughly they were forced to use their bomber planes as a substitute for artillery preparation. This reduced the activity of the German air force in our rear and allowed us to maneuver with more success.

It is imperative to keep in mind the fact that it may be impossible to anticipate the enemy artillery-preparation and we will have to commence our counter-preparations under enemy fire. There should be special signals and a specific plan for such an eventuality. It must be emphasized that the greatest number of artillery and mortar batteries should be used in order to make the counter-preparation definitely successful”.


Source
Military Intelligence Division, War Department. Tactical and Technical Trends No. 36. Washington, D.C.: October 21, 1943.


Photos attribution
1. http://www.rsva.ru/, via Wikimedia Commons
2. Gigolt, CC0,via Wikimedia Commons
3. Peter Zelizňák, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons
4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/
5. Mark Pellegrini, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons