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An American M48 Pershing tank - then the mainstay of U.S. armored forces - with Vampire night-vision system moving up to take its place on the line in preparation for the assault.

"Operation Coca-Cola" - known to the Russians as Наступление 1960 (Nastupleniye 1960), "the Offensive of 1960" - was an American strategic offensive in the opening months of 1960, part of the wider Operation Redbeard: the invasion of Russia's Alaska Colony.

Operation Coca-Cola was a double-enveloping maneuver conducted by the IX Field Army, part of the Army of Northern Virginia, in the small Alaskan province of New Prokhorovka, around the city of Kutuzov.

BackgroundEdit

USS Wahoo (SS-565)

USS Wahoo (SS-565), a U.S. Navy Tang-class Submarine, under-weigh during U.S.N. commerce interdiction operations in the Bering Sea

Operation Redbeard, the U.S. invasion by land of Russian Alaska, began on April 29th, 1958. American forces steadily pushed their under-prepared Russian foes back, while the superiority of the U.S. Navy's vast Pacific Fleet over its Imperial counterparts - the Siberian Militiry Flotilla, Far East Submarine Flotilla and the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Pacific Squadrons - ensured the flow of supplies and manpower to the embattled Imperial forces was inconsistent. Losses of shipping from U.S.N. interdiction operations were extremely high. American submarines, equipped with enormous arrays of advanced batteries and survivability upgrades from the GUPPY Program, could stay submerged for days by running entirely on their huge stores of electric power, only emerging for a couple of hours to recharge their batteries (the sole function of their Diesel engines). They operated in groups, or "Wolfpacks", using revolutionary new tactics developed by America's ally, Germany, and destroyed thousands of tonnes of Russian military shipping with impunity. Meanwhile, B-34 Razorback bombers and P-56 Screaming Eagle fighters, operating out of western Canada or from the decks of America's numerous Aircraft Carriers and armed with torpedoes, slagged anything that slipped through their net.

However, Supreme Command Northwest (NOWCOM) - a U.S. Army General Headquarters responsible for Operation Redbeard - and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had vastly underestimated the amount of manpower being fielded by the Imperial military, although American forces on the ground at the time did not realize it. Alaska's underdeveloped infrastructure, extreme climate and the general haphazardly-motorized nature of much of Russia's ground forces severely limited the ability of the Tsar's forces to properly bring their numerical superiority to bear in a timely manner, making the balance of numbers appear relatively even to the attacking American forces.

U.S. units attempted to continue their relentlessly-successful offensives through the winter of 1958-'59. Yet, while the supply of winter uniforms was plentiful, most American vehicles had not been properly engineered or upgraded to cope with the frigid temperatures of the Arctic Circle. Thus the Army of Northern Virginia made only moderate gains and wore itself out, reducing their ability to press on as Spring and Summer rolled around.

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The Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of the U.S. IX Field Army

By the time Winter came again in 1959, U.S. forces occupied and area almost twice the size of California. Their supply lines - unlike those of their Russian counterparts - were secure, if over-stretched. Learning from their mistakes, the Americans dug in to recouperate and properly Winterize their vehicles. The Russians, meanwhile, used the lull in the fighting to bring up their vast reserves, concealing their movements through complicated deception tactics (Russian: "Maskirovska" - literally, "disguise"). American medium bombers hammered Russian rail lines, road ways and supply dumps, so the Imperials simply moved their forces by horse, the old-fashioned way.

As 1960 rolled around, the Russians held a prominent bulge - the small province of Prokhorovka - in the American lines, garrisoning it with hundreds of thousands fresh troops, artillery and armored fighting vehicles. NOWCOM directed General Mark W. Clark, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, to take this bulge before the snows melted in preparation for renewing the general offensive along the entire strategic front.

American Battle PlanEdit

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Painting of General Mark Wayne Clark - CinC, Army of Northern Virginia - in semi-formal "Service Dress"

The primary formation of the Army of Northern Virginia in the south, around Prokhorovka, was the IX Field Army under the command of General Edwin Anderson Walker. The XLVI.z Mechanized Corps, led by Major General of Armor Enrst Nason Harmon, was attached to Walker's command specifically for the operation. The Divisions of Harmon's Mechanized Corps had just received the new M60 Pershing tanks. Also attached to the IX Field Army was the "President's Own Field Corps", an elite unit of soldiers from the Presidential Escort Corps: comprising the President's Own Armored Division and I. & II. President's Own Grenadier Divisions. They were also equipped with M60s.
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Generic Diagram of a double-envelopment, or pincer, maneuver. The red arms would represent the American forces in this case.

These two attached formations were to spearhead the offensive. The XLVI. Mechanized, backed up by the XIII. & XIX. Army Corps (Mj. Generals of Infantry John Bayard Anderson & James Alward van Fleet commanding, respectively), was to form the northern pincer of the envelopment. Their portion of the operation was codenamed "Blowtorch". The President's Own Field Corps, under the inexperienced but enthusiastic and relatively unknown General Joseph Maxwell Piper, led the southern attack (codename "Boxcutter"), supported by the XII. Army Corps (Mj. General Joseph "Lightning Joe" Lawton Collins) and VII. Army Corps (Mj. General Troy Houston Middleton). This latter thrust was to be the main attacking maneuver, with most of General Walker's attached heavy armor being concentrated among Piper's forces. Finally, the V. Army Corps under Mj. General Alvan Cullon Gillem, Jr. was to dig in on the eastern border of Prokhorovka and hold the Russians in place - codename "Bowling Ball". Three Divisions were pulled from other Armies along the front and relocated to serve as an operational reserve, while National Guard units were brought up to temporarily strengthen the Army of Northern Virginia's other positions in case Imperial forces attampted an offensive somewhere else along the line.

Imperial PlansEdit

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Russian soldiers preparing for battle

The Imperial Army - under the personal command of General Field Marshal Ivan Stepanovich Konev (Commander-in-Chief, Russian Amerika Front; i.e. the ranking officer controlling all Imperial forces in Russian Alaska) - had had ample time to prepare for the assault and vastly outnumbered the American attackers. Although they'd received no actual prior warning of the American offensive, being unable to break the U.S.'s codes, Konev and his superior, Generalissimus (i.e. Supreme Commander) Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, had correctly anticipated the offensive. Plans for holding the Prokhorovka Salient, codenamed "Polkovodets Rumyantsev" (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) after an 18th Century Imperial field marshal, were completely drafted as early as Fall of 1959, when American offensive operations were winding down and the Russian High Command could confidently expect little further changes in the battle lines until the next year.
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Massed Russian T-55s await their movement orders.

The Russians constructed a number of forward operating fields for their V.V.S. (the "Military Air Forces", one of Russia's two Air Forces) and filled them with multiple units of fighters, ground attack craft and twin-engine bombers. Nearly all artillery that could be spared from other parts of the front were relocated to within the bulge, and the Imperial forces, aided by thousands of conscripted laborers, dug a massive network of in-depth defenses in preparation for the anticipated battle.

Two main defensive rings were constructed, carefully concealed from American reconnaissance flights as part of the general "Maskirovska". Before each, an intricate and exhaustive layer of mines, anti-tank ditches, prepared ambush positions, barbed wire and so forth was thrown up. A second pair of lines was built behind the first as fallback positions, left fully-manned and unconcealed until the opening stages of the battle in order to give the U.S. the impression that they were the main body of fortifications. In total, the Russian force holding the salient comprised some half-a-million combat personnel: an entire Army Group. Unbeknownst to the Americans, as it became increasingly clear to the Russians that the Prokhorovka bulge was the intended point of attack, somewhat more than half of the entire military force defending Alaska would be packed into the province, leaving little in the way of defense along the rest of the line. Some of Konev's commanders voiced their concerns that the American preparation could be a ruse but, in the end, his gamble would pay off.

Attack CommencesEdit

Opening MovesEdit

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Mine Flail

American operations began on the morning of February 5th, 1960. Advanced screening forces - Light Infantry battalions of the Infantry Regiments - moved forward under cover of darkness. After bypassing the outer layers of barbed wire and tank traps, they quickly discovered the minefields. Specialist M48 tanks equipped with mine flails advanced, supported by Pioneer (combat engineer) battalions. Russian armor counter-attacked almost immediately, but American forces continued
Images

A-1 Skyraider ground attack aircraft equipped with "Zuni" 127mm / 5" rockets

their advance. U.S. aircraft attacked with rockets, inflicting substantial losses on the Imperial armor. Konev ordered his tanks to withdraw.

USAAF A-34 Razorbacks - the ground attack variant of the B-34 - pursued the retreating Imperial armor. Frantic reports exploded on the radio as they came under unexpected flak fire: the concealed Russian defensive lines had let them have it.

BlowtorchEdit

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U.S. Infantry and an M77A2 half-track advancing through the smoke.

Major General Ernst N. Harmon's XLVI. Mechanized began their primary assault first, approximately 30 minutes before Boxcutter.

The 11th Armored Division - comprising the 11th & 25th Armored Regiments, 16th Armored Infantry Regiment and 11th Armored Artillery Regiment, plus various other support units - under Brigadier General Edwin Morrel was the tip of Harmon's spear.

After Light Infantry and Pioneer forces had cleared the initial mine belt, Morrel's men engaged the Russians outside the first defensive line. Following the mauling of their initial air support by concealed flak gun positions, the remainder of the "Blowtorch" force was deployed earlier than planned. To compensate for this, additional aerial forces were committed: squadrons of smaller A-26 Invaders, capable of flying low directly in support of ground forces where heavy flak guns could not easily hit them.

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Colorized photograph of an A-26 "Invader" flight undergoing combat preparations.

Russian 100mm T-12 anti-tank guns - along with the smaller, older D-48 85mms - let loose on the American advance. D-20 152mm gun-howitzers and 122mm D-74 field guns opened up, only to come under fire in turn from American M114s & M117s. A large scale artillery duel ensued, with the advancing U.S. tanks and Half-tracks caught up in the middle. Casualties were extremely high. Every available aircraft in position to support the Blowtorch advance was thrown at the defensive line despite heavy AA counter-fire.

Losses among the Americans - particularly the 11th Armored Division - were extraordinarly high, forcing General Walker to commit his strategic rserves far sooner than anticipated. The 99th Infantry Division was brought up to reinforce Blowtorch for its push on into the 2nd defensive line, but would not arrive for several hours. Mj. General Harmon's forces could do nothing but wait while their supporting artillery banged away at Russian positions on the edge of the horizon.

BoxcutterEdit

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A grim-looking General Joseph Piper just before the onset of Boxcutter's assault

Piper's "President's Own" Corps would begin moving forward approximately 30 minutes after Harmon. As such, he had been informed in advance of the situation and requested the support of additional troops from Walker's Strategic Reserve.  However, Russian aircraft and the unforgiving winter terrain complicated their re-deployment, and Piper's reinforcements did not arrive in time for the atack despite his delay.

Boxcutter's advance was preceeded by massed artillery fire from all available guns and howitzers. M117 or older M114 towed howitzers, their M150 self-propelled counterparts, heavy M107 175mm self-propelled guns & the even larger M110 self-propelled 203mm howitzers bombarded the Russians with everything they had. The supporting USAAF squadrons, meanwhile, took a more cautious approach: Russian Yak fighters and anti-aircraft artillery had already badly mauled the over-confident, technologically superior American air forces on the other side of the salient.

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A pensive American tank commander - 2nd lt. Michael Draper - of Heavy Tank Battalion 508, attached to the President's Own Field Corps, looks on pensively as artillery pounds the Russian lines. He would not survive the battle.

The meticulous Piper logged the time of his order to advance at 632 hours. His élite troops, along with three of the six total Heavy Tank Battalions attached to the XII. & VII. Army Corps (one battalion being attached to each division) and two Heavy Assault Gun Battalions of then-brand-new M70 Heavy Assault Guns, rolled forward.

Several of the new heavy armored fighting vehicles - the M70s & M155 heavy tanks - were lost in the rough ground. This was especially true of the massive M70s, which weighed a colossal 91 metric tonnes (100 short tons). The older, more proven - but decidedly-less useful - M103 heavy tanks faired better, but their underpowered powerplants still caused problems. In the end, the sluggish M103s were simply left behind to serve as a rear guard.

Piper's advance through the minefields was much more rapid, as shellfire had already cleared out large chunks of the buried explosives. The Boxcutter forces advanced behind a creeping screen of artillery fire that swept the mines from their path and obscured them from the preying Russian anti-tank guns. However, his aggressive drive also cost him several armored fighting vehicles: lost to mines that the shells, Pioneers and flail-equipped vanguard tanks had failed to clear.

This time, the Russians' own armor did not emerge to challenge them. They cleared the first defensive line quite rapidly. By this point, however, most of the infantry had dismounted their half-tracks to deal with the various Russian entrenchments - yet Boxcutter's aggressive push did not slow. Around 1200 hours, Piper radioed Walker to inform him that the first ring had been breeched and requested air support to continue his drive. He was initially refused, until he reported signs of tanks in the distance.

Russian T-55s, IS-3s and IS-10s had been massing behind the second mine field, under the cover of the AT guns along the second defensive line. As the elements of Boxcutter emerged into visual range, a huge tank battle ensued that would last for several hours and cost much in the way of men & materiél for both sides. In the end, however, Konev was once again forced to order the withdrawal of his tanks rather than have them annhilated.

The Fighting PausesEdit

By 1700 hours, when the reinforcing 99th Infantry Division finally arrived, the remainder of Harmon's Blowtorch force had settled in to recouperate & reorganize from its beatings and begun the process of neutralizing the second mind belt. However, they had received the news of Piper's great tank battle less than an hour prior and were ordered to hold their positions.

Boxcutter, meanwhile, upon driving off the Russian armor, was likewise ordered to stay put and dig-in. A furious Piper reportedly spent the better part of half an hour raging from the exposed position of his M60's commander's hatch, before his loader pulled him down inside as a group of Russian Yak fighters roared overhead.

All the while, however, a battle for air supremacy was raging. The Americans, after losing a large number of A-34s to the ambushing Russian flak artillery, had shifted priorities. But the skies were by no means clear. Russian Yak-3 & La-7 single-engine fighters and Tu-9 twin-engine heavy fighters dueled with USAAF P-56 Screaming Eagles for control of the air. The exhausted American soldiers sat and watched.

In the evening, around 1900 hours, U.S. B-50 four-engine strategic bombers arrived from far off airfields and began unleashing their 9,000 kg / 20,000 lb bomb-loads on the Imperial positions. The air combat continued, with fluctuating levels of intensity.  Sporadic fighting occurred throught the rest of the night, with groups of Russian Infantry or Il-10 "Sturmovik II" ground attack aircraft raiding the stationary U.S. forces. The Americans, with their Vampire night-vision systems, easily drove the harassing Imperial troops off as they worked to clear the minefields.

Day Two - Advance ResumesEdit

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U.S. Infantry moving up toward the front pass the burnt-out wreck of a disabled M70 Heavy Assault Gun

This time, Piper's force - being the more intact - was the first to move. Reserves of fuel, ammunition and even some fresh troops had been painstakingly brought up for both American assault forces under the predatory gaze of swooping enemy aircraft. Boxcutter's straggling M103s had also linked up with them during the lull, further adding to their striking power. Meanwhile, Elements of the V. Army Corps, which was performing the holding action along Prokhorovka's eastern flank, had been quietly pulled off the line by Walker and moved to reinforce the depleted Blowtorch force. The American artillery bombardment - which had continued only at a slackened pace throughout the latter part of the first day - picked up renewed intensity.

By this point, the aerial battle had turned decisively in the favor of the Americans, despite enormous losses. The Russian artillery, having been silent for most of the night for fear of giving its positions away to enemy aircraft, began pounding Blowtorch & Boxcutter once again. Meanwhile, the remaining Imperial fighters were scrambled in a final effort to hold off the USAAF so that the guns could inflict as much damage as possible before they were silenced.

As Piper's men went forward, Harmon continued to sit and await the arrival of these fresh troops. Marshal Konev, however, was aware that the Americans would likely weaken their eastern perimeter to reinforce the thrusts and so repositioned his own men: moving many of his troops off the head of the bulge to man the back-up defenses along the southern flank in the path of Boxcutter's advance. At the same time, he deployed the remainder of his armored reserves north to engage Harmon.

The renewed Russian artillery attack forced Blowtorch into a premature advance before its reinforcements had fully arrived. They were promptly met by enemy armor, and the second great tank battle of the Operation commenced. General Walker responded by committing the majority of the USAAF's remaining ground attack assets.

Piper, meanwhile, drove his forces toward the second Russian defensive line. In a few short hours, they punched a hole through the fortifications and pressed on. A fully-manned and prepared auxillary perimeter greeted them.

EndgameEdit

By 1400 hours, Harmon's force was - for all intents and purposes - neutered. Even with the reinforcements (which by this time had fully arrived), Blowtorch was in no position to take their portion of the second line and the Russian tanks showed no signs of falling back. Now Konev was playing to win.

At 1435, Harmon ordered his men to begin a withdrawal. To his surprise, however, the enemy armor did not pursue. Instead, they returned to the safety of their anti-aircraft artillery, where they would link up with the Russian reserves and face Boxcutter.

Now unknowingly facing the full brunt of everything the enemy had left, Piper pushed on into the secondary perimeter. His armor broke through the weaker defenses with relative ease, but the infantry - by now almost completely divested of their armored carriers - fell woefully behind: tied up admidst a forest of barbed wire, pillboxes and machine gun nests.

Marshal Konev would now play his final card. The whole of the remaining Russian reserves, composed almost entirely of infantry, charged Boxcutter's tanks. Without infantry support and caught on open ground, the American armor was forced to backpedal. Many vehicles were lost to point-blank RPG shots, well-placed grenades and incendiary cocktails. At 1705, Piper received General Walker's orders to fall back.

The brunt once again would fall upon Boxcutter's over-stretched infantry, who had only just begun to conquer the defenses when the armor returned and ordered them to pull out. Many of them, however, were pinned by machine gun nests, bunkers or dug-outs. The tanks attempted to help them, but there simply wasn't sufficient time to exract them all. Many a soldier was left behind to the mercies of the oncoming Russian infantry. 

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