Category: Term of the day
Tank desant is a military combined arms tactic, where infantry soldiers ride into an attack on tanks, then dismount to fight on foot in the final phase of the assault. Desant is the Russian word for airborne or parachute drops, but it can be used more generally, describing amphibious landings or "tank desant".
The tactic was institutionalized by the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War. Tank desant troops (tankodesantniki) were specialist infantry, trained in the technique. From WWII until the 1970s, Soviet tanks were built with hand-holds for this purpose. In the northern winter, similar tactics were used by Soviet infantry riding the skids of aerosans, or towed behind them on skis.
Riding on tanks during actual combat is very dangerous; soldiers are very vulnerable to machine gun and high explosive fire, and the high silhouette of most tanks would draw enemy fire. Smoke and covering fire may be used to reduce the hazards, but this tactic is mostly used by forces with a shortage of motor transport or armoured personnel carriers, as it enables troops to move about the battlefield faster than on foot.
Today, tank desant is considered a wasteful and human-costly improvisation, adopted by the Soviets because they failed to appreciate the problem of tank–infantry co-operation. Almost universal mechanization has rendered this tactic mostly obsolete, with infantry riding special-purpose armoured personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles into battle. The use of explosive reactive armor, which creates a danger zone around an armoured vehicle by detonating an explosive charge when the tank suffers a serious hit, makes tank desant impossible.
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