Combat role of Defense Army’s military unit 23524 in April 2016 War
Combat role of Defense Army’s military unit 23524 in April 2016 War

Combat role of Defense Army’s military unit 23524 in April 2016 War

 

Starting from 02:30-03:00 on April 2, Azerbaijani forces launched large-scale attacks against the Defense Army of the Artsakh Republic, focused on the frontline posts of the 6th Defense Region (Mataghis) and the 9th Defense Region (Jabrail). Already that morning, Azerbaijani forces captured a number of frontline Armenian posts. In some areas, Azerbaijan also engaged elements of its air force. At the same time, in addition to bombardment of frontline areas, Azerbaijani forces fired at Armenian military barracks. Armenian military units were given the task of preventing further advances by Azerbaijani forces and returning the lost frontline posts.

Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan, commander of the Defense Army’s military unit 23524

To accomplish these tasks in the 9th Defense Region, Defense Army’s 1st deputy commander Gen. Mikael Arzumanyan and 18th Infantry Division’s deputy commander Col. Ararat Melkumyan were put in overall command of operations in this direction. The army command involved, among other units, the Varanda (Fizuli)-based armored battalion (military unit 23524), comprising two armored and one mechanized infantry companies[1]. The unit was put on high alert at 06:30 on April 2, subsequently mobilizing and moving out of its base. Led by its commander Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan and his deputy for logistics Maj. Artur Hovsepyan, the unit came under artillery fire while moving towards the frontline[2]. As a result, one of the tanks was damaged with its commander Razmik Zakaryan and gunner Andranik Atalyan wounded. After reaching the area of combat operations in the 9th Defense Region, military unit 23524 began implementing the task of preventing further enemy advances in Jebrail direction.

The unit’s 2nd armored company, led by Lt. Col. Jhangiryan, engaged in combat operations intended to prevent further enemy advances from the captured frontline military posts 112 to 118. The 1st armored company, performing the same task, was led by Maj. Hovsepyan[3].

Captured frontline military posts 112-118, in front of which the armored battalion took position

Having captured the frontline positions, the enemy intended to move deeper into the area of Armenian defense. Personnel of the Armenian armored unit observed concentration of enemy engineering equipment intended to breach anti-tank barriers[4], as well as concentration of personnel[5]. Led by Maj. Hovsepyan, the 1st armored company commander Capt. Arman Adamyan and commander of the 3rd platoon of the 2nd company Sr. Lt. Roman Adamyan, successfully targeted enemy personnel and equipment. According to Maj. Hovsepyan

Maj. Artur Hovsepyan

“In the beginning there was a lot of infantry movement inside the trenches. At once, we opened fire in their direction. Soon, no enemy personnel could be observed, having partly withdrawn and partly likely destroyed. Later, five enemy tanks appeared. At that time, we still had only one tank engaged (with the crew of Hovsepyan and Adamyan brothers – E.E.). We were able to hit one of those five tanks. After that, we pulled back, taking cover. We dismounted from the tank, took cover in the trench and began observing the enemy movement.  These tanks were firing at us, but their shells were flying over our heads. I told platoon commander Adamyan: “Quick, let’s get into the open,” knowing that we had time before they corrected fire. In the end, the enemy left two tanks on the battlefield, with three retreating.[6]” 

At noon the same day, the armored battalion was tasked with preventing enemy advance to the left of the captured frontline posts, towards military post 119[7].

At 14:00, after reviewing the tactical situation, the Armenian command ordered a counterattack to return the captured frontline posts. The counterattack was to proceed towards the position known as “300,” recapturing posts 117 and 115, located some 800 meters northeast of Varazatumb[8], encircling the enemy and forcing it to retreat from positions captured in the morning[9].

In order to accomplish this task, Maj. Hovsepyan involved four tanks, including the T-72 crew no. 321 with its commander Sr. Lt. Beniamin Yeghoyan, gunner Pvt. Vladimir Alikhanyan and driver Pvt. Tigran Abgaryan. One of the best in the unit in terms of combat readiness, no. 321 crew[10] was a natural choice for the task. Maj. Hovsepyan assigned the task of returning the captured post 117[11]. At the same time, considering the likely presence of enemy infantry in the post, Maj. Hovsepyan ordered the crew not to enter the post itself.

The tank no. 321 has hit an Azerbaijani combat armor unit. Its fire can be seen on this screenshot.

Approaching within 50 meters of the captured post, the tank crew successfully fulfilled the military task, going further, entering the military post and running over the enemy flag. This is how Lt. Col. Jhangiryan described that fight: “Having entered the area of that captured post, the crew moved quickly running over the flag installed in the morning and fired another shell towards the enemy. They then got in touch with me, reporting “Commander, we accomplished the task.[12] Upon returning to its starting position, the crew received praise and encouraging words from their commanding officers. At the same time, Maj. Hovsepyan warned Yeghoyan that by entering the post, they were exposing the tank to enemy infantry’s anti-tank fire[13].

Military unit’s dislocation in the area of combat operations

After the armored unit successfully accomplished its combat task, commander Lt. Col. Jhangiryan faced another problem of protecting the recaptured position from fresh enemy efforts with the help of infantrymen[14]. Regrettably, Defense Army’s military unit 59703 (Jebrail) responsible for defending the posts did not fulfill this task. It can be supposed that the heavy losses the Jebrail unit’s command suffered in the early morning on Varazatumb, when it lost five officers, including deputy commander for combat operations Lt. Col. Aleksan Arakelyan had to some extent contributed to this failure.

At around 22:00 on April 2, considering the dangers of night-time ambush, the tanks of unit 23524 pulled back to the second line of defense[15].

On April 3, fighting continued in similar vein. Enemy forces attempted to expand the area of their control and advance inside the Armenian defense area. Our armored units continued to fire at the enemy forces, pushing them back, approaching their positions to between 50-100 meters[16]. It is noteworthy that the military unit was suffering an objective difficulty of conducting tank operations in an unfamiliar and unfitted territory, thus having to carry out engineering works at night on their own[17].

Around 16:00[18] on April 3, while performing a combat mission, tank no. 321 was hit by the enemy. Just seconds before being hit, the Bars Media documentary film crew recorded[19] how the tank goes up the elevated mound to open fire and then begins to pull back. At this moment, the tank was hit by a Spike anti-tank guided missile[20]. The tank crew were killed as a result.

Kirill Romanovsky from Russian Federal News Agency RIAFAN, who reported from location on April 7, after the return to cease-fire, pointing to the remains of the tank, said: “Holding back the [Azerbaijani] attack on April 3, south of Hadrut, the tank crew were “working” Azerbaijani forces from behind the mound, on the second line of Armenian defense. The other side fired an ATGM. Possibly noticing the missile launch, T-72 rolled back down hill to take cover. It was too late. Tank exploded over the hills. Parts of the tank flew as far as 100 meters. Together with the chassis. Turret flew to a neighboring hill… Because of the exploding ammunition of course…  The guys fought bravely. They will not be forgotten.”[21]

Summarizing the role of military unit 23524 during the April 2016 war, it should be noted that its combat elements succeeded in fulfilling the combat task of preventing the enemy from expanding their area of control beyond the first line of defense of the 9th Defense Region. During combat operations, the unit suffered a total loss of one tank with its 3-person crew with further one tank damaged[22] and two of its crew wounded. Of the two wounded, Zakaryan recovered and returned to military service, Atalyan received an early discharge from the military because of his injuries.

Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan being awarded by the president of Armenia Serj Sargsyan

According to commander Lt. Col. Jhangiryan, during April 2-3 combat operations his unit succeeded in destroying 8 combat armor and engineering units of the enemy[23].  According to the commander and Maj. Mikael Movsisyan, during April 2-3 tank no. 321 hit 3 enemy tanks and 1 armored personnel carrier (BMP)[24]. According to official report honoring the unit’s servicemen, two more enemy tanks were destroyed by Maj. Hovsepyan’s crew.

Three of the military unit’s servicemen killed in combat – Sr. Lt. Yeghoyan, Pvt. Alikhanyan and Pvt. Abgaryan – were awarded with the order of Combat Cross, 1st degree. Lt. Col. Jhangiryan, Maj. Hovsepyan, Capt. Adamyan and Sr. Lt. Adamyan received the order of Combat Cross, 2nd degree.

 

Edgar Elbakyan

 

[1] Interview by Alvina Aghababyan with Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan, commander of the Defense Army’s military unit 23524, Varanda, 8 October, 2016.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Official report honoring the servicemen awarded the state rewards of the Republic of Armenia for defending the motherland during April 2-5, 2016, 10 May 2016, https://www.facebook.com/arcrun/posts/1036756516359956 (retrieved 04.04.2017)

[4] Interview by Alvina Aghababyan with Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan.

[5] Interview by Mane Gevorgyan with Maj. Artur Hovsepyan, deputy commander of the Defense Army’s military unit 23524, Varanda, 8 October, 2016.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Interview by Alvina Aghababyan with Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan.

[8] Varazatumb is a 271.1 m (889 ft) high hill in the southeastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Karabakh frontline. It appears as “Ляля-Иляги” – transliteration from the Azerbaijani form of “Lalə İlahi” – on the military topographic maps of the General Staff (Genshtab) of the USSR. It is also known as “Lalatapa”. See the place of the hill on the Google Maps, https://goo.gl/3oGNJQ։

[9] It is worth mentioning that during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s the Armenian forces were able to capture the hill of Varazatumb applying the same tactics of avoiding direct infantry engagements, encircling the enemy on it instead․

[10] Interview by Alvina Aghababyan with Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan. See also “Nviryalnere”: short commemorating film dedicated to Beniamin Yeghoyan, Tigran Abgaryan and Vladimir Alikhanyan aired on the Armenian Public Television, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20cJi0fhImw (retrieved 26.04.2017)

[11] Interview by Mane Gevorgyan with Maj. Artur Hovsepyan.

[12] “Nviryalnere”.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] Interview by Alvina Aghababyan with Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Nviryalnere”.

[19] Bars Media Documentary Film Studio, Tanks reportage, 4 April 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ieaO3aqTQk (retrieved 19.04.2017), Bars Media Documentary Film Studio, War 2016 Compilation, 01:14-01:27, 21 April 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgOMUQ0dMq0 (retrieved 19.04.2017)։

[20] Spike utilizes an imaging infrared seeker, with automatic target tracker and special fiber-optical datalink. It is designed for deployment from helicopters in a “fire and forget” or “fire and observe” operating modes, which retain “human-in-the-loop” capability in most firing scenarios. The missile can be linked to the firing platform throughout the flight, enabling a clear view of the target as the missile closes in for the kill (Electro-Optically Guided Weapons, Defense Update issue 2-07 (May-June 2007), http://defense-update.com/features/du-2-07/helicopters_EO_missiles.htm (retrieved 19.04.2017)). Apparently, the Azerbaijani serviceman had managed to detect the elevating Armenian tank, After firing a missile he used the “fire and observe” operating mode to destroy the tank already rolling back behind the hill.

[21] Quotes are compiled from Kirill Romanovsky’s 2 separate posts about the tank: Kirill Romanovskiy, “The turret of the Armenian tank…”, 8 April  2016, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1303655129649617&set=a.492809640734174.129317.100000154284713&type=3&permPage=1 (retrieved 19.04.2017), Kirill Otter, Game over. Nagorno-Karabakh – what it was?, 9 April 2016, https://riafan.ru/515358-vremya-sobirat-tanki-nagornyi-karabah-chto-eto-bylo (retrieved 19.04.2017)։

[22] The tank was subsequently repaired and given back to the military unit.

[23] Interview by Alvina Aghababyan with Lt. Col. Martin Jhangiryan.

[24] “Nviryalnere”.