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Battle for the Factories

In the summer of 1941, Soviet leaders faced the critical decision of whether to leave the tank factories in place and risk losing them to the advancing German forces, or halt tank production in spite of the heavy battlefield losses and move them to the safety of the Urals. Stalin gambled and ordered the factories moved, sacrificing short-term production. It was a bold, and ultimately successful, decision.

In the first months of the war, Soviet mechanized troops suffered heavy losses in armored vehicles. But this is not the worst. As long as new tanks arrived at the front from the factories, the losses could be replenished. Due to the rapid advance of the German troops into our country in August, there was a direct threat of the capture of the main centers for the production of tanks. In the summer of 1941, five factories were in prodcution, and four of them were within range of enemy aircraft and even ground forces. In Leningrad, the Kirov Plant produced heavy KV tanks. Plant number 174 to them. KE Voroshilova, completing the release of light tanks T-26, was preparing to release new light tanks T-50. In Moscow, plant number 37 produced light tanks T-40. T-34 tanks produced KhPZ and STZ. The latter had just mastered their release. And among the 1110 T-34 tanks manufactured in the first half of 1941.

On June 24-25, 1941, at a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b), the task was to create in the east of the country new centers for the production of KB, T-34, T-50 tanks and tank diesel engines. By the resolution of the GKO dated July 1, the release plan for the Kirov Plant, KhPZ and STZ was sharply raised. Production of the T-34 also had to start and plant number 112 ("Red Sormovo") in the city of Gorky. Sormovskie tanks began to arrive in the army in October 1941.

On September 11, 1941, the People's Commissariat of tank building was formed, to which a number of tractor, diesel, armored corps, etc. were handed over. factories. The Scientific and Technical Council of the USSR was headed by V. A. Malyshev. In the line of the State Defense Committee, VM Molotov was responsible for tank construction. Before the war, in the leading spheres, much was said about the need to relocate the military industry to the Urals, to Siberia, to Central Asia, i.e. areas that were inaccessible to the aviation of those times. Made, however, for this was not enough. It was a big miscalculation, which led to serious consequences.

The first in July began to evacuate to the east with the approach of enemy divisions to Leningrad tank workshops of the Kirov factory. It had dramatic effects on tank design, however, since it forced the Soviets to freeze any further qualitative improvements for more than 18 months. The main Soviet design bureau for the T-34 tank was located in Kharkov, Ukraine, as part of the Kharkov Locomotive Plant (KhPZ Zavod Number 183). At the time, the locomotive plant was the only manufacturer of the T-34, though efforts were already underway before the war to establish a second plant at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) at the site of the Stalingrad Tractor Plant.

The T-34 design bureau, headed by Aleksandr Morozov, was ordered to evacuate Kharkov along with the staff and equipment of the locomotive plant. It was reestablished in Nizhni Tagil at the site of the Urals Railcar Plant (Uralvagonzavod Number 183). This plant has since become the largest of all Soviet (and Russian) tank plants. The first T-34 tank from the new production plant was not ready until 20 December 1941. To compensate for the temporary loss of the Kharkov plant, in July 1941 the Krasnoye Sormovo plant in Gorki was ordered to begin preparing to manufacture the T-34; the first were delivered to the Moscow Front in November 1941.

Light tank design and heavy tank design was centered in Leningrad at the Kirov Plant; tank production was co-located here as well. As was the case of Kharkov, the design bureau, headed by Zhozef Kotin, and the associated production facility were ordered to Chelyabinsk in the Urals where they formed the new Tankograd (Tank City) complex.

Plans to build the T-50 infantry tank as a replacement for the old T-26s were canceled since it was almost as expensive to produce as the more effective T-34 cavalry tank. Instead, Plant Number 174 in Omsk, earmarked for T-50 production, was switched to the manufacture of T-34 components.

The T-60 light reconnaissance tank, intended to replace the overly sophisticated T-40 amphibious scout tank and the obsolete T-37 and T-38 tanks, was the third type of tank to remain in production. Production of the T-60 had begun in Moscow but was evacuated to the GAZ automotive plant in Gorki and the Plant Number 38 in Kirov. Further design of the light tanks was assigned to Nikolai Astrov's team. While the KV and T-34 required locomotive and railroad plants capable of handling very heavy subcomponents, the light tanks could be built at automotive plants with less resources.

With the Red Army barely surviving from the winter of 1941 to 1942, every effort was made to increase tank production. Efforts to improve the T-34 and KV were frozen.

The Morozov design bureau had already developed an improved T-34, called T-34M, which circumvented many of the problems mentioned before by increasing the turret size, adding a commander's vision cupola and improving the suspension by transitioning from the Christie style of springs to a torsion bar system.

The Kotin heavy tank design bureau planned a new version of the KV, the KV-3, armed with an 85mm gun. This would have given the Red Army a tank comparable in performance to the later German Tiger I, but a year earlier. Super-heavy tanks were also considered, but they did not reach prototype stage.

Instead of continuing the technology race, the tank designers were told to freeze their designs and concentrate on making the tanks easier and cheaper to manufacture. For example, the original 1941 version of the T-34 76.2mm tank gun had 861 parts; the 1942 production version had only 614. Production time of the T-34 was cut in half and the cost was driven down from 269,500 rubles in 1941 to 193,000 rubles in 1942.

While Soviet design stagnated because of production pressures, the Germans took the opposite approach and began an intensive effort to field a superior new tank. In the short term, the PzKpfw IV was rearmed with a more effective long 75mm gun making it capable of penetrating the T-34. Work on the new Tiger I heavy assault tank was accelerated, and it appeared on the Eastern Front in January 1943. The Tiger was a wild over-reaction to the tank panic that had set in after the first encounters with Soviet T-34 and KV tanks in the summer of 1941. The new Soviet tanks were impervious to most German tank and antitank guns.

The Germans set out to trump the Red Army by fielding a tank even heavier and better armed. However, the resulting Tiger was so expensive that it could never be manufactured in quantity. Only 1,354 were produced during the entire war, equal to less than a month of T-34 production. As a lower cost alternative to the Tiger I, the Germans developed the Panther, ostensibly a medium tank, but in fact nearly double the weight of the original T-34. It would be manufactured in larger numbers than the Tiger (5,976), but still not enough to entirely replace the outdated PzKpfw IV, which remained the most numerous German tank through the war.

The Soviet concentration on production paid off. The Soviet tank inventory rose from 7,700 tanks in January 1942 to 20,600 tanks at the beginning of 1943, inspite of massive combat losses in 1942 due to the inept tactical use of the new tank corps. German tank inventories also rose during the same period from 4,896 in January 1942 to 5,648 in January 1943. But discounting obsolete types, the combat-ready inventory actually fell slightly, from 4,084 at the end of 1941 to 3,939 at the end of 1942.

The year 1942 saw the German and Soviet armored forces as equal as they had ever been. The Soviet numerical advantage was slight, and its technological edge was gradually worn away by German technical improvements. The Germans continued to display a great deal more tactical finesse in the employment of armored formations and antitank defense. Soviet tank losses in 1942 were 15,000, while German losses (on all fronts) were 2,648, or an exchange ratio of over 6:1—nearly as bad as the 1941 disaster.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2019 10:16:49 ZULU