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Soviet Tanks in the Great Patriotic War

  • IS Tank Series
  • KV Tank Series
  • NI Tank
  • Obiekt 217
  • OT-34
  • OT-34-85
  • SMK
  • T-34-76
  • T-34-85
  • T-40
  • T-43
  • T-44
  • T-50
  • T-60
  • T-70
  • T-80 (Light Tank)
  • The Red Army possessed the world's largest tank force in 1941. As was the case 50 years later, the Soviet tank inventory of 1941 was larger than that of the rest of the world combined, numbering some 23,106 tanks (the US tank force at this time was about 2,000 tanks). The German tank force in June 1941 had 5,262, tanks of which 3,671 were committed to the invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941.

    The bulk of the Soviet tank force was made up of two basic types: the T-26 light tank and the BT fast tank. In total about 8,300 BT tanks and 12,000 T-26 tanks were manufactured from 1933 to 1940. This followed the British and French pattern of developing two distinctly different tanks for two roles a slow infantry tank for close support of foot soldiers and a fast tank, variously called a cavalry tank or cruiser tank, for exploitation and other maneuver missions. The remainder of the 1941 tank force included light amphibious scout tanks, including the T-37 (2,400 produced); T-38 (1,200 produced) and the new T-40 (222 produced). There were very small numbers of older medium and heavy tanks, including the archaic T-28 (600) and T-35 (40).

    The main Soviet tanks of World War II were the T-34-85 medium tank and the KV1 heavy tank. The T-34-85 weighed 32 tons, had a five-man crew, and carried an 85-mm cannon and two 7.62mm machine guns. The KV1 weighed 47.5 tons, had a five-man crew, and carried a 76mm cannon and four 7.62mm machine guns.

    The set-backs suffered by large tank forces in Spain (1937-38) and the Soviet Army's difficulty employing large formations of mechanized forces in eastern Poland in September 1939 resulted in the elimination of the large corps. The tank corps were then replaced with smaller motorized divisions and a shift in doctrine favoring smaller and more easily controllable formations followed.

    The Soviets did not stress the use of armor until after they had fallen victim to a devastating German blitzkrieg in the early years of World War II. The blitzkrieg tactics used by Hitler's forces were thought to herald a new form of warfare. Based on Germany's success with armor units, the Soviets realized they had drawn incorrect conclusions on the employment of armor, and set about trying to rectify the situation by frantically rebuilding their tank force. But the Russians learned quickly, modeled their organizations after those of their assailants, and came roaring back in some of history's most spectacular armor exploitations.

    While in 1941 the Germans swept across the Russian countryside, individual Soviet units had put up stubborn defenses. When faced with Russian T-34 and KV-1 tanks, whether in the advance or in and encirclement, the Germans found themselves outgunned and insufficiently armored.

    During World War II, it was determined that tank designs incorporating two or more traversing turrets were impractical. As a result designs for tanks and other armoured vehicles only feature "a single traversing turret". Even the Soviet T-28 medium tank carried a 76.2mm cannon and four 7.62mm machine guns. These over-equipped tanks did not survive the early days of World War II.

    The main Soviet tanks of World War II were the T-34-85 medium tank and the KV1 heavy tank. The T-34-85 weighed 32 tons, had a five-man crew, and carried an 85-mm cannon and two 7.62mm machine guns. The KV-1 weighed 47.5 tons, had a five-man crew, and carried a 76mm cannon and four 7.62mm machine guns. The KV-1 Soviet heavy tank took the Wehrmacht's soldiers and officers by surprise. The tank was heavily armored, impenetrable by any German anti-tank gun of that period. But the KV's were very heavy, immobile, suffering from an incredibly poor transmission, and that meant un-manuverable. And they were fitted with the same 76mm gun as T-34s.

    The competion with new German armor and the lessons of Kursk stimulated the designing of the new modifications of KV, which finally resulted in IS family of tanks. In 1943 the work on the new Soviet heavy tank Iosif Stalin were completed. A small number of new JS-1 (named for Josef Stalin) heavy tanks were built. The IS-2 was produced in 5000 pieces. The heavy tank Joseph Stalin, with its 122mm gun was clearly superior to the German Tigers.

    The Soviets followed Stalingrad with the introduction of a new Front Mobile Group at Kursk in July, 1943 -- again with great operational level success. Then, in August 1943, the Soviet's 5th Guards Army and 5th Guards Tank Army, once again under front control, defeated the German LII Army Corps northwest of Belgorod.

    People's Commissar of the tank industry V.A.Malyshev wrote September 8, 1943: "Today, Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Beria, Shcherbakov examined in the Kremlin new tanks and artillery ships of the IS, KV-85, SU-152, SU-85, C-76. Tov. Stalin himself climbed onto the tank IS, SU-152 and SU-85 (for the first time comrade. Stalin climbed onto the tanks). I carefully asked about the advantages of the new tanks, especially the IP and SU-85. I made a reproach that the SU-152 self-propelled vehicle did not deliver a fan in the fighting compartment. I promised that in 7 days we will bet. I asked why with thicker armor and a more powerful gun, the weight of the IS tank is no more than KB, I showed comrade.

    Stalin fell on both tanks and drew his attention to the fact that the dimensions of the IC tank were smaller than the KB, and said that due to this, the weight was reduced. Tov. Stalin said: "This is good." About the car SU-85 said that we need more of these machines. Its an easy, mobile car, it jumps well and it will be good to beat the German Tigers and Ferdinands, comrade said. Stalin. It struck me that Comrade. Stalin in his years so easily climbed into the tanks without help. He asked drivers and gunners whether it was convenient to work, whether it was not crowded, whether they were not choking gases, etc."

    In 1944 the Soviet's conducted the largest operational level action of the war to date. Named, "Operation Bagration," the Soviets simultaneously maneuvered four fronts against very deep objectives. The result of "Operation Bagration" was not only the encirclement of 36 German divisions, but Soviet forces on the East Prussian borders of Germany by July 1944. Operational warfighting had thus come full circle in the Soviet military.

    In 1944, during the Bessarabia-Moravia campaign, they drove armor spearheads deep into organized German defense areas, where the terrain consisted of heavily wooded areas and thawing swampy ground. The Japanese, too, were treated to a display of Soviet armor power. In the amazing dash through Japanese-held Manchuria, some armored units were reputed to have covered 700 miles in five days. During these campaigns, the Soviets quickly learned that the combined arms team of tanks, infantry, and artillery could be decisive.

    In the last year of the war, analysis and correction of the JS-2's weaknesses resulted in the JS-3, which introduced an improved hull design known as the "Pike Nose" and a reshaped "frying pan" turret, though retaining the JS-2s 122-millimeter gun. It is questionable whether or not the JS-3 saw service during the war. The JS-3 represented an entirely new concept in tank construction. The angling of forward armor in both the horizontal and vertical planes was a quantum leap ahead in armored vehicle design, as was the "frying pan" turret. The T-34-85 and IS-2 were the last significant tanks to enter Red Army service during the war years. In the end, neither tank was as effective as its comparable German opponent (the Panther and Tiger I) in terms of armor, firepower or mobility. But the technological disparity was not great enough to substantially affect battlefield performance in any meaningful way.

    To their credit, the Soviet tanks were considerably simpler and cheaper to produce, allowing the Soviet Union to continue to build up a substantial quantitive advantage over the German armored forces from 1944 to 1945. In 1943, the Germans had been able to maintain a combat equilibrium on the Eastern Front by offsetting their numerical weakness by modest technological advantages and superior crew and unit performance. In 1943, they were still destroying about four Soviet tanks for every one of their own lost, thereby dulling the impact of Soviet numerical advantages.

    However, in 1944, the Germans were not able to maintain the equilibrium because of a revival in Soviet tank design, substantial armor transfers to western Europe in the spring of 1944 to deal with the forthcoming Allied invasion, and a diminishing disparity in German vs Soviet tank crew tactical skills. It is worth pondering whether the German industrial policy to manufacture small quantites of high quality tanks was not one of the root causes for the German's reverses from 1943 to 1944.

    Clearly the Soviet lesson was that modest technological disadvantages were acceptable when counterbalanced by numerical superiority. While the Soviets were always loathe to admit it, significant quantitative advantages and near parity in weapons technology remained a neccessity to defeat Western armies.

    Soviet Tanks in the Great Patriotic War

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    Page last modified: 19-08-2019 16:29:36 ZULU