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T-34 - Great Patriotic War

The German general von Runstedt called the T-34 the "best tank in the world" and von Kleist said it was the "finest in the world." An excellent weapon, the T-34, introduced in the early stages of the Great Patriotic War, firmly established Russia's prominent position in tank development.

Germany entered the Great Patriotic War with an army that was startlingly unprepared to defend against an armored attack. The appearance of the T-34 in 1941 caused a crisis for German antitank forces. Existing antitank guns were nearly impotent against the new Russian tank, while antiaircraft and artillery pieces, though successful when pressed into action, were insufficiently mobile to accompany mechanized forces. The German Army Ordnance Office, the Heereswaffenamt, was responsible for development of new weapons and would be responsible for countering the threat of Russian armor. The Heereswaffenamt would need to not only counter the T-34, but also do so in an environment of shifting political relationships and with an increasingly stressed industrial system.

Low, fast, heavily armed and armored, T-34s in their dark green summer or whitewash winter camouflage ranged across the battlefields of the Eastern Front in mounting numbers as the war waged on. First presenting isolated but stubborn pockets of resistance to the German invader, then stemming the enemy’s advances at the gates of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk, before finally carrying the Red Army banner into the streets of Berlin, the T-34 became a symbol of Russian armored might.

As of June 1, 1941, the Red Army tank fleet numbered 23,106 tanks, 18,691 of them combat-ready. From May 31 to June 22, 41 KB, 138 T-34 and 27 T-40, that is, 206 more tanks, arrived in these districts. These were mainly T-26 and BT. There were 549 and 1105 new KB and T-34 tanks, respectively. The commanders of the corps and divisions were for the most part recently formed or still emerging formations, mostly coming from cavalry or infantry units, having no experience in managing mechanized formations. The older tanks, for the most part, required repair, and had a limited service life. Therefore, the tanks for the most part were not very combat-ready. It is understandable for a short period (several months) it was practically impossible to form such a large number of mechanized corps. For these and other reasons, in the battles of the first days of the war, Soviet tank units suffered heavy and irreparable losses. In August, for example, the 6th, 11th, 13th, and 14th MK, which were part of the Western Front, lost about 2,100 tanks, i.e. 100 percent available cars. Many tanks were blown up by their crews, since they could not move due to a malfunction or lack of fuel.

From June 22 and 23, the 3rd, 6th, 11th, 12th. The 14th and 22nd mechanized corps of the Red Army entered into heavy fighting in the area of Saulayay, Grodno and Brest. A little later, eight more mechanized corps went into battle. Our tankers not only defended, but also counterattacked. From 23 to 29 June in the area of Lutsk-Rivne-Brody, they fought a fierce oncoming tank battle against the 1st tank group of General E. Kleist. On the left, the 9th and 19th Mechanized Corps were struck from Lutsk, and the 8th and 15th from Brody from the south. Thousands of tanks participated in the battle. The T-34 and KB of the 8th Mechanized Corps strongly battered the 3rd German motorized corps. And although the counterstrike did not reach the goal to stop the enemy beyond the state border, the enemy’s advance slowed down. He suffered heavy losses - by July 10, they amounted to 41% of the initial number of tanks. But the enemy was advancing wrecked tanks remained in his hands, and very efficiently operating German repair units quickly brought them back into service.

On 16 December 1941 Soviet troops launched an offensive. The front of the Germans was broken through and 4 Soviet tank corps entered the breakthrough. The famous Tatsinsky raid of the 24th Tank Corps (which had 32 T-34s and 21 T-70s in each tank brigade) deserves mention: for 5 days it traveled 240 km and attacked the German garrison of the village Tatsinskaya and an air base near it.

On July 5, 1943, Operation "The Citadel" began (the code name of the long-awaited German Wehrmacht offensive on the so-called Kursk salient). For the Soviet command, it did not come as a surprise. The German command of this operation hoped to wrest the initiative from the hands of the Red Army. It threw into the battle about 900,000 soldiers, up to 2770 tanks and assault guns. 1336 thousand fighters, 3444 tanks and self-propelled guns were waiting for them on the Soviet side.

The Battle of Kursk (Kursk Defensive: July 5-23. Oryol Offensive: July 12 - August 18, Belgorod-Kharkiv Offensive: August 2-23, Operations) lasted 50 days. In addition to heavy casualties, the enemy lost about 1,500 tanks and assault guns. He failed to turn the course of the war in his favor. But our losses, in particular, in armored vehicles were great. They amounted to more than 6 thousand tanks and SU. New German tanks in battle turned out to be "hard nuts" to crack.

About 70% of the Soviet tanks were T-34s. The rest of the heavy KV-1, KB-1C, light T-70, a number of tanks, obtained under the lend-lease from the allies (Shermans, Churchilli) and new self-propelled artillery units SU-76, SU-122, SU 152, recently began to enter service. It was the latter two who had a share in the struggle with the new German heavy tanks.

On July 12, 1943, in the area of the village of Prokhorovka, the greatest tank battle of the Second World War broke out. It was attended by up to 1,200 tanks and self-propelled units on both sides. Here the German tank ram came across a counterstroke of the 5th Guards Tank Army of General P. A. Rotmistrov. The T-34 attack was so impetuous that they cut through the enemy’s entire order of battle. The menacing "Tigers" and "Panthers" in the melee could not use their advantage in armament. It was the better maneuverability of the T-34 that helped them win this fight. By the end of the day the German tank group, consisting of the best divisions of the Wehrmacht: "Great Germany", "Adolf Hitler", "Reich", "Death's Head", were defeated and retreated. 400 vehicles were left on the field. More on the southern face the enemy did not advance.

Utilizing lessons from the bitterly contested battlefields of western Russia, the Heereswaffenamt developed a tank destroyer, the Jagdpazer IV, using the existing chassis of the Panzer IV tank, and the guns of both the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The Jagdpanzer IV, known by its crews as Guderian's Duck, proved to be a capable tank killer against both the T-34 threat of 1941 and 1942, as well as the improved versions of 1943 and 1944.

Then there was the Belarusian offensive operation (June-August 1944), the Vistula-Oder, which was attended by more than 7,000 tanks and SU (January 1945). In this last Soviet tanks, in 20 days, 600-700 km were fought. And finally, the Berlin operation (April 1945 '), in which only from the Soviet side participated 6250 tanks.




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Page last modified: 05-03-2019 18:34:12 ZULU