Tracking Down Soviet Tactical Markings

The Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army has a well documented tactical marking scheme, or so I thought. After many hours scouring the Internet for additional photos and writing out possible solutions, these are my best deductions.

Tracking Down Soviet Tactical Markings

I've been hard at work painting my Flames of War Soviet Late-War IS-2 list for the Belgian GT 18/19 November, 2023. While I was at it, I thought I might as well get rid of my Soviet box-of-shame. A long time ago I bought a large box of miscellaneous Soviet sprues second hand, which included 6 ISU-Xs, 5 SU-Xs, and 8 T-34s. Compared to my German and American piles/boxes-of-shame, this isn't too bad, but that also means it's a managable project.

I wanted to keep the project scoped to a single unit, which normally would mean a division although in the Soviet case meant an entire army. I chose the 1st Guards Tank Army because it:

  1. Fought alongside the 8th Guards Army (of which my 7th Gd. Tank Brigade was a part of).
  2. Has photos of all the vehicles I had assembled (3 × ISU-122, 3 × ISU-152, 5 × SU-85M, 8 × T-34/85s).
  3. Has a (by Soviet standards) well documented tactical marking/numbering scheme. Or so I thought.

That last point is what prompted me to write this. At first glance, "solving" the scheme appeared straightforward. I had a dozen photos of vehicles with white rhombus markings on them and 2 numbers separated by a horizontal line. The top numbers were clearly the vehicles' unit numbers (e.g. 45 for the 45th Guards Tank Brigade). Upon closer inspection, the bottom numbers seem to vary a lot, from single to triple digits. Even with a dozen photos from the 1st Gd. Tank Army, deducing the pattern within a brigade from a single photo is very difficult. Additionally, some vehicles had tactical numbers which seem to bear no relation to their rhombus. So after many hours scouring the Internet for additional photos and writing out possible solutions, these are my best deductions.

8th Gd. Mech. Corps

T-34/85s 69|?? and ??|25 of the 8th Guards Mechanized Corps

In general, the tank regiments within the mechanized corps appear to all use the "inverted" tactical marking, with the vehicle's unit as the top number (i.e. 67, 68, 69). Not enough photos could be found to infer further information.

11th Gd. Tank Corps

T-34/85s 44|38, 45|28 / 207 and 45| of the 11th Guards Tank Corps

Several photos of tanks from the 40th, 44th, and 45th brigades exist, identifiable by the stripes on the gun mantlet. However there are only three clearly visible tactical markings: 44|38, 45|28, and 45|.

As usual, the top number is the unit's number. The bottom number is likely the vehicle number within the unit (65 total for a brigade). It could also be a combination of the battalion number (1-3) and vehicle number (1-21). However the turret number of 45|28 seems to answer this: it is either 207 or 203, but definitely not 208. 207 would make sense if read as 2nd, battalion, 7th vehicle, which would be #28 within the brigade, and match the tactical marking. 45| is likely one of the 2 brigade HQ tanks, although its unclear what the cooresponding turret number would be, or why 64 and 65 were not used for the bottom number. An additional missing detail is whether the battalion command tank is #1 or #21.

1454th S.P. Artillery Regiment

SU-85M 1454|4 and SU-85(possibly M) 1454|5 of the 1454th S.P. Artillery Regiment

Two clearly readable tactical markings exist: 1454|4 and 1454|5. This suggests that the top number is the unit number, and the bottom number is the vehicle number within the unit (1-21). Again, it's unclear if the regimental command vehicle is #1 or #21, and if the company command vehicle is the first or fifth.

11th Gd. Ind. Tank Regiment

IS-2s 11|11 and 11|32 of the 11th Guards Independent Tank Regiment

Photos of two tactical markings exist: 11|11 and 11|32. The top number is, as usual, the unit number. The unit only had 21 vehicles which suggests that the lower number is a combination of the company number (1-4) and vehicle number (1-5). It's unclear what the regiment HQ tank's bottom number would be, possibly blank.

64th Gd. Ind. Tank Brigade

T-34/85s 64|42, 64|120, and 64|2?? of the 64th Guards Independent Tank Brigade

At least three tactical markings for this unit are documented. They all have the additional white circle around the rhombus. They are: 64|42, 64|120, and 64|2??. The first is dificult to read and the last as well, although the first digit is clearly a 2 and the number has 3 digits.

A clear answer cannot be found here. The 3 digit numbers suggest a combination of battalion (1-3) plus vehicle (1-21), however there is no 4th battalion to explain #42. Furthermore, the man posing in front of the tank is Sr. Lt. Vasily Fedorovich Shkil, the commander of 1st battalion, so 64|42 may be the command tank of 1st battalion. Given the above, it would likely be 64|1, 64|101, or perhaps 64|100. Again, no clear answer is visible here.

362nd & 399th Gd. Heavy S.P. Artillery Regiments

ISU-122 64|212, ISU-122S 64|44 / 245, and ISU-152 64|227 / 336

Despite having several photos with tactical markings, it is not clear what unit the vehicles are from or how the tactical numbers are derived. The following exists:

  • 64|212, #316 (not visible in photo, but mentioned in the original caption)
  • 64|44, #245
  • 64|227, #336

Certainly neither unit is #64, unless they were attached to the 64th Gd. Ind. Tank Brigade. This could explain the mix of ISU-122 and ISU-152 with #64. Thus the top component is a mystery. The lower component could possibly refer to the company (1-4) and vehicle number (1-21) but the resulting #27 contradicts this. Similarly there is no 6th vehicle in an ISU company, nor a 36th vehicle in an ISU regiment. I'm at a loss with this one...

Thank you for reading!