Monday, May 11, 2015

Soviet Armour

Soviet armor was plentiful before the German invasion on June 22, 1941, but varied greatly in quality. The 11-ton T-26 was the most numerous Soviet tank when the war broke out. T-60s weighed 6.4 tons, had a crew of two, and mounted a 20 mm gun. They were the Red Army scout tank 
equivalent of the Italian L3/35 tankette. The 10- ton T-70 was still rolling off the line in 1942. It was a death trap for its two-man crew when facing Panzers or anti-tank guns. Yet, with the main medium and heavy tank factories lost at Kharkov and surrounded at Leningrad, a critical decision was made to concentrate on producing T-60s in automobile plants while fevered completion of new tank factories was underway, notably at Chelyabinsk (“Tankograd”). Chelyabinsk became the main manufacturing center of the superb T-34 medium battle tank, the mainstay of Soviet tank armies by mid-1942. The 1940 model weighed 28.5 tons while mounting a powerful 76 mm gun. Its four-man crew could attain a battle speed of 34 mph, faster than any Panzer. The 1943 model was nearly six tons heavier; the extra weight came from additional armor. The 1943 T-34 was turned out at the extraordinary rate of 1,200 per month. The T-34-85 did not add much weight. Its great advance over earlier models was its 85 mm high velocity gun, which could smash the heaviest Panzers. Its turret was also enlarged and modified, providing better sighting and gun handling. Even with the extra weight it still attained a top speed of 34 mph. About 11,000 were built in 1944 and 18,500 in 1945. The T-44 was comparable to the T-34, but with thicker armor (3.5 inches frontal).

Alongside T-26s, T-60s, and the first T-34s, the Red Army deployed the KV-1 in 1941. Named for Kliment Voroshilov, it weighed 53 tons. It outmatched the armored protection and weight of shell of German Panzer IIIs and IVs, could withstand multiple hits, and mounted a powerful 76 mm gun of its own. Protection and firepower made up for a slow, 22 mph top speed. The KV-1 so impressed the Wehrmacht that German tank designers modeled the Panther and Tiger types on it. The Soviets introduced a new series of heavy tanks late in the war. The KV-2 weighed 57 tons and mounted a 152 mm howitzer. Capable of just 16 mph and with insufficient frontal armor, it proved highly vulnerable. The 1943 KV-5 was a 50-ton tank with an 85 mm gun. The “Joseph Stalin,” or JS II, was a variation of the KV line under a new name. It weighed over 50 tons and had a top speed of 23 mph. It mounted a 122 mm gun and had 3.5–4.7-inch frontal armor, along with a remarkable 3.5-inch side armor. The JS III weighed an additional 1.5 tons but was two mph faster. It had an exceptional 4.7–6.0 inches of frontal armor. Some 2,300 “Stalin” tanks were built in 1944, and 1,500 in 1945.

A Red Army equivalent to a Wehrmacht armored corps, or Panzerkorps . It was a new formation introduced in 1942 after three failed prewar and early wartime experiments: four enormous prewar “tank corps” were broken up in 1939; reorganization of tank brigades was tried in 1940; a dismal try out of mechanized corps failed during 1941. Command and organizational problems troubled many tank armies to the end of 1943. It was only in 1944 and 1945 that the Red Army began to resolve these problems and employ its tank armies to excellent operational effect.

An early Red Army formation comprising two armored divisions and one motorized rifle division. This organization did not survive major reforms undertaken from mid-1941 even while fighting against the German invader. Judged by the Stavka to have been too large and difficult to handle in combat, MCs were replaced over 1942 by more heavily armored tank brigades, formed in turn into tank corps and tank armies. Tank companies were also added to rifle divisions. 

A Red Army designation for hastily organized mobile armor forces assembled, but only partly equipped and trained, in the year before the German BARBAROSSA invasion of the Soviet Union began on June 22, 1941. Along with similarly poorly designed and commanded motorized rifle divisions, almost all mechanized divisions were destroyed in the first six months of fighting, losing nearly all their tanks and tracked vehicles. All but two of the original 27 MDs were converted into tank brigades and tank armies in reforms initiated by the Stavka in early 1942.

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