Military Organization > Soviet Union > ​​Soviet Tank Company (1980s)

Soviet Tank Company (1980s) 

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The following was the organization of the Tank Company (Танковая рота) of the Soviet Army from the 1980s. The Tank Troops were one of the two basic types of combat units in the Soviet Army, the other being the Motorized Rifles (mechanized infantry).

 

There were two types of Tank Company organizations: the one for Tank Battalions in Motorized Rifle Regiments and the one for Tank Battalions in Tank Regiments. This article will cover both.

The Tank Company was the principle combat element of the Tank Battalion, which consisted of a Battalion HQ, 3 Tank Companies, 1 Communication Platoon, 1 Supply Platoon (included maintenance, vehicle recovery, refueling and mess sections) and 1 Medical Detachment.

Contents:

  1. Organization (in Tank Regiments)

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 3 Platoons (3 Tanks Each)

  2. Organization (in Mot. Rifle Regiments)

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 3 Platoons (4 Tanks Each)

  3. Discussion

    • Tank Models

    • Combined Arms Warfare

  4. Sources

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3 tank platoon tank company-01-01.png
 

Organization (in Tank Regiment)

  • Type: Tank Company

  • Origin: Soviet Army (Soviet Union)

  • Time Frame: Late Cold War

  • Personnel: 6 Officers and 27 Enlisted

  • Vehicles: 10 Main Battle Tanks*, 1 Truck

Company Headquarters (3 Officers and 3 Enlisted)

→ Tank*

  • 1× Company Commander, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Yefreytor (OR-4), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Administrative Personnel**

  • 1× Deputy Company Commander for Personnel, Senior Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 AKS-74 Rifle and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Deputy Company Commander for Armaments, Senior Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 AKS-74 Rifle and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Company Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer (OR-9), armed with 1 AKS-74 Rifle and 1 PM Pistol

3× Platoons (1 Officer and 8 Enlisted each)

→ Tank 1

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Tank 2

  • 1× Deputy Platoon Commander, Senior Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Tank 3

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol


* T-80/T-72/T-64 tanks were ideally allotted to companies in the Tank Regiments. T-62/T-55/T-54s were also fielded in low readiness units. T-80s were most deployed to Germany in more limited numbers. Battalions would not deploy companies with different tanks.
** Administrative personnel in the Company HQ did not travel with the company during attacks and typically stayed back with Battalion supporting elements.

4 tank platoon tank company-01.png

Organization (in Motorized Rifle Regiment)

  • Type: Tank Company

  • Origin: Soviet Army (Soviet Union)

  • Time Frame: Late Cold War

  • Personnel: 6 Officers and 49 Enlisted

  • Personnel: 13 Main Battle Tanks*, 1 Truck

Company Headquarters (3 Officers and 4 Enlisted)

→ Tank*

  • 1× Company Commander, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Yefreytor (OR-4), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Administrative Personnel**

  • 1× Deputy Company Commander for Personnel, Senior Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 AKS-74 Rifle and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Deputy Company Commander for Armaments, Senior Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 AKS-74 Rifle and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Company Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer (OR-9), armed with 1 AKS-74 Rifle and 1 PM Pistol

3× Platoons (1 Officer and 15 Enlisted each)

→ Tank 1

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Tank 2

  • 1× Deputy Platoon Commander, Senior Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Tank 3

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

→ Tank 4

  • 1× Tank Commander, Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 AKS-74U Carbine and 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Gunner-Operator, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Loader, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol

  • 1× Senior Mechanic-Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 PM Pistol


* Tank Companies in Motorized Rifle Regiments were typically outfitted with T-62/T-55s as opposed to the newer models. Battalions would not deploy companies with different tanks.

** Administrative personnel in the Company HQ did not travel with the company during attacks and typically stayed back with Battalion supporting elements.

 
 

Discussion

The Tank Company (Танковая рота) was subordinated to the Tank Battalions in Tank Regiments and Motorized Rifle Regiments. They and Motorized Rifle Companies were the basic company-sized units of the Soviet Army's combined arms approach. The Tank Company consisted of a Company HQ and 3 Tank Platoons. Tank Companies were numbered. In Tank Regiments, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Tank Companies being in the 1st Tank Battalion of a regiment; 4th, 5th and 6th in the 2nd Battalion; and 7th, 8th and 9th in the 3rd Battalion.

 

However, there was a distinction made between Tank Companies/Tank Battalions in the Motorized Rifle Regiments and those in Tank Regiments. Companies in the Tank Regiments fielded platoons of 3 tanks for a total of 10 tanks per company. Each company was typically supported by a platoon of Motorized Rifles from the Regiment-level. They were also the battalions to field the newer T-80/T-72/T-64 tanks (featuring 3-man crews), although the older T-62/T-55/T-54 were collectively more common. This was especially true for low-readiness units and units in military districts that didn't border NATO. Meanwhile, companies in Motorized Rifle Regiments fielded platoons of 4 tanks each for a total of 13 tanks per company, and also more commonly fielded the older T-62/T-55/T-54 tanks (featuring 4-man crews due to the lack of an autoloader). They differed from the Tank Regiments, in that these Tank Companies would be attached to Motorized Rifle Battalions rather than the other way around in support of the infantry.

 

This is likely part of the reason why these Tank Companies had 4 tanks, as 4 tanks can be more readily split into 2 even sections of 2 tanks each when deployed with infantry. Meanwhile, 3-tank platoons (and odd-numbered platoons in general) were more suitable for tank combat and mutual support, as well as allowing for the mobilization of more battalions by reducing the total number of tanks required.

 

For context, here is the divisional/regimental breakdown of the motorized rifle and tank troops (excluding other supporting elements):

  • Motorized Rifle Division

    • 1× Independent Tank Battalion—3× companies, 13 tanks per company after 1981; 5× companies, 10 tanks per company before 1981

    • 1× Tank Regiment

      • 3× Tank Battalions​—3× companies each, 10 tanks per company

      • 1× Motorized Rifle Battalion (BMP)

    • 3× Motorized Rifle Regiments (2 BTR, 1 BMP)

      • 1× Tank Battalion​—3× companies, 13 tanks per company

      • 3× Motorized Rifle Battalions

  • Tank Division

    • 3× Tank Regiment

      • 3× Tank Battalions​—3× companies each, 10 tanks per company

      • 1× Motorized Rifle Battalion (BMP)

    • 1× Motorized Rifle Regiment (BMP)

      • 1× Tank Battalion3× companies, 13 tanks per company

      • 3× Motorized Rifle Battalions

 

For companies with the newer T-80/T-72/T-64 line of main battle tanks, each tank had a crew of 3 (1 commander, 1 mechanic-driver, 1 gunner-operator). In 1 tank, the commander was also the Platoon Commander, while the 2nd tank's was the Deputy Platoon Commander. Meanwhile, the remaining tanks would be commanded by Tank Commanders of the rank of Sergeant. For companies with the older T-62/T-55/T-54, each tank would also have a Loader. By the mid- to late-1980s, each tank would typically have 1 AKS-74U carbine (presumably for use by the Tank Commander when necessary) while all other personnel got pistols. Some sources state that other crew members received AKS-74Us as well. 

As the AKS-74U was largely ineffective as a rifle and more unreliable than other Kalashnikov variants, with its saving grace being the short length, personnel not assigned to a tank would be armed with the AKS-74 (and indeed the AKS-74 or AKMS would sometimes be used in lieu of the AKS-74U). This basically meant the deputy company commanders and Praporshchik (Company Sergeant Major/Warrant Officer/First Sergeant) in the Company HQ who weren't mounted in a tank. These personnel would have been mounted in other types of command vehicles, but typically stayed with the battalion supporting elements rather than moving with the company in an attack.

Tank Models

It is generally understood that tank battalions did not field companies with different models of tanks, but might have had an ad hoc company with older and more available models (like the T-55) for training and mobilization purposes. The T-80, although the most modern of the Soviet tanks and much more mobile than its predecessors, was impractical to become the common standard tank due to its heavy fuel consumption, high cost and high maintenance requirements. While T-72s and T-64s were more common, T-80Bs were deployed to Germany, well suited for a notional dash to the English Channel due to its speed. Older models like the T-62/T-55/T-54 were collectively far more common than the T-72/T-64 in 1979 everywhere besides Germany where they were about equal. It is generally understood that the Soviet 40th Army of the Turkestan Military District that fought during the Soviet-Afghan War fielded the older T-62 and T-55s. The 40th Army had Motorized Rifle Divisions and an Airborne Division during the invasion of Afghanistan, but no Tank Divisions. Of the Motorized Rifle Divisions, they were mostly Category III units (the lowest readiness level at 10-33% personnel strength before mobilization) as well. For Mobilization Units (cadre-only formations below CAT III in readiness), it is likely that T-54 or earlier tanks would have been brought out of storage for the mobilization. However, as noted by Isby, it wasn't uncommon to see newer equipment in CAT III units and older equipment in CAT I units (the highest readiness) for example.

Combined Arms Warfare

The Soviets had adopted the concept of combined arms regiments early on, oufitting its mechanized infantry regiments with an integral tank battalion in the 1940s and fully mechanizing its infantry force in the 1950s. From the early days of this concept, the Soviets organized their tank battalions different depending on if they were in tank regiments or motorized rifle regiments to reflect their roles. For example, the tank battalion as it was in a 1950s motorized rifle regiment had 2 tank companies and 1 122mm assault gun company. Into the 1980s (and up to today with the Russian Brigades), each Tank and Motorized Rifle Regiment had the capacity to field both tanks and mechanized infantry in support of one another. In practice, battalions—especially Motorized Rifle Battalions—functioned as combined arms units with supporting elements directly attached from higher up and subordinated to the commander of the unit that they were attached to.

 

In, Grau's 1989 analysis of Soviet military exercises covered in newspapers, it was found that a motorized rifle company was attached to tank battalions 44% of the time. By contrast, a tank company was attached to motorized rifle battalions 80% of the time and 2 tank companies 5% of the time. There were few instances where a battalion acted alone (although air assault missions and operations in mountainous terrain would be among these cases). Even in instances where tanks weren't directly attached to a motorized rifle battalion in the defense from the regiment, the tanks would support the motorized rifles with a counter-attack.

As per doctrine, battalion-sized formations would attack with regiment-level attachments. For example, a Motorized Rifle Regiment had enough tanks to attach 1 Tank Company to each Motorized Rifle Battalion, while each Tank Regiment had enough infantry to attach 1 Motorized Rifle Platoon to each Tank Company.

 

In the case of a Motorized Rifle Battalion Assault, this would be the depth of the battalion attacking in two echelons along a 1,500 meter frontage (as per Isby):

  • Front

    • 2× Tank Platoons in a Skirmish Line—8 Tanks (up to 100-150 meters between tanks)

  • 300 meters back

    • 2× Motorized Rifle Companies in a Skirmish Line (up to 500 meters between companies)

  • 300 to 1,300 meters back

    • 1× Motorized Rifle Battalion Headquarters

    • 1× Tank Company Headquarters​

  • 1,300 to 2,300 meters back

    • 1× Anti-Tank Platoon​

    • 1× Mortar Platoon

    • 1× Regimental Engineering Section

  • 2,300 to 4,300 meters back(Second Echelon)

    • 1× Motorized Rifle Company

    • 1× Tank Platoon

Meanwhile, in a Tank Battalion Assault, each Tank Company on the line would have 1 Motorized Rifle Platoon of BMPs (3 vehicles) attached to it, about 100-300 meters behind the main advance. Whereas in a Motorized Rifle Battalion assault where the infantry maneuvered with support from tanks leading the advance, a Tank Battalion assault was the tanks maneuvering with support from trai

 

On the march, Tank Companies would travel with 1 BMP-mounted Motorized Rifle Platoon at its rear. Additionally, at the battalion-level, things like 122mm self-propelled guns would be subordinated to the battalion commander from the regiment to be used as they saw fit.

It should be noted that this style of attack from a skirmish line was used across open country. If an urban area could not be taken by surprise from the march, the first echelon units would bypass it and leave it for the second echelon. If bypassing was impossible, artillery and air bombardment would be executed, followed by a slow attack by reinforced motorized rifle units. Given the emphasis on speed in Soviet doctrine, urban fighting would never have been preferred.

Sources

 

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious."

      - Marcus Aurelius

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