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TRN-137 The tank battles at the Eastern front. Part I book
TRN-137 The tank battles at the Eastern front. Part I book
The tank battles that took place at the Eastern front during the Second World War, were the most important, beyond any doubts, in the history of the mankind. As if the Western allies won because of their air superiority, then the Russian Army was victorious over German because of their tanks supremacy. During the four years of the war some changes occured that seem to be not so evident at the first sight but has influenced on the war course very noticeably. Those changes appeared to be the developing of the pre-war ideas.
When Germany attacked the USSR both parties had very similar tank troops and confessed the similar views on the tank using. Both armies had the same significant tank quantity that was clearly dominated on the other vehicles amount. The self-propelled artillery was not numerous and morally outmoded. The antitank artillery was consisted of towing guns of the small caliber (37 and 45 mm). By the beginning of war both armies had only one type of armored troop-carrier and Germany had time to produce relatively a few vehicles. The Soviet Union has not started the repetition work of such type of vehicles (B-3).
Both armies assumed to use the tanks due the sample that was created by the theorists even in the middle of thirties. However, Germany had the experience of two successful blitzkriegs, that's why it used their tanks more successfully.
During the operation of summer of 1941, the German divisions acted by separation in different military groups that united the tank, antitank, antiaircraft, infantry and other units. Although the majority of those formations obtained only the towing cannons and minimum of the trucks and caterpillar towing vehicles, the German troops was able to win regarding the well-thought tactics of Panzervaffe. The success of the German army in summer of 1941 was explained by the fact that the ideas of blitzkrieg were able to introduce into life in spite of all obstacles.
The situation in Red Army was different in summer of 1941. Although the German idea of blitzkrieg for the Russian party was not a secret, so the wish to proclaime it the military doctrine failed. So the cause is not in the so called "Purges" that took place in the end of thirtieth. The "purges" was the political but not the military action. Though the beginning of the repetition work of the new types of an armament was delayed for two or three years because of them but the military efficiency of Red Army did not become worse. The reason was in the Workers and Peasants' nature of Red Army that determined its organization.
Although the Red Army command undertook multiple measures to bring the Army into accord with the modern requirements but the organization of Revolutionary Red Army (RKKA) was stil on the same primitive level. For instance, though the Soviet armored troops had the significant amount of tanks, but the vehicles did not have the radio stations that's why it was difficult to control the tank formations. The serious weak points of the Soviet armored troops were the weakness of the rear service on the hardware. Besides, many military commanders did not realize the idea that the tank divisions and corps should be formed by the complementary formations of different types not only by the tank ones. For example, in 1941 the Red Army obtained the several tens of artillery brigades. In the same time the tank divisions wanted more prime movers and guns. That's why it became possible for Germans to crash tank and antitank units with the help of aviation and in the same time the antiaircraft brigades acted separately on the other sections of front. The brigades of antitank artillery were the strongest units but they did not have the protection from the side of infantry, artillery and tank formations. That's why they were not mobile and suffered losses.
In 1941 all those small and significant defects of RKKA were the result of the pre-war ideas about the tanks' places on the battle field. Initially, the idea that the tanks were only the instrument that was held by infantry, prevailed. The infantry divisions strengthen by the tanks had to run the front. After that the ordinary infantry divisions formed the new front line. In other words tanks worked to support the infantry. But even in 1942 the Soviet tank armies started to act in a different way. The first fiddle started to play tanks and infantry only supported the actions of the tank units. The tanks started to act with the support by the self-propelled artillery, motorized infantry and motorized heavy artillery. The infantry divisions obtained the tank units, many of them had the companies the self-propelled destroyers of tanks on track chassis. Those tank destroyers supported the infantry actions during offensive.
In 1943 the tactics of the Soviet tank troops was changed one more time. At the first time the battle was driven by the strong army groups but the constant front line was absent. The Soviet and German mobile units tried to turn each other while the infantry played only the auxiliary role. Only the caterpillar vehicles were in the shock troops. The infantry was too slow and weak and the wheeled transportation was too defenceless and not too mobile. The military actions took place in a very complicated environment, the spring and autumn seasons of bad roads, the winter snowdrifts, the summer heat and dust forced both parties to act in a modern way.
The experience of the combat action at the Eastern front also showed the type of tanks to be produced. In the beginning of the war the qualitative superiority was at the Russian side without any doubts. T-34 tank was an excellent vehicle and the enthusiastic characteristic that was given to it by General Gouderian, raised T-34 on the top of the glory. T-34 tank did surpassed the old German tanks in all respects. But in its armament and armored aspects it was nearly the same as the new modifications of German tanks PzKpwf III and PzKpfw IV and only slightly exceeded them. In 1943 the German army obtained the new models PzKpfw V and PzKpfw VI and won the competition in the quality superiority. But the Soviet tanks were more practically feasible and aimed for the repetition work. That's why the Red Army had got more tanks at the front then the opponent. Any losses were reimbursed. Due the numerical superiority the Soviet tanks acted in those places where the German party did not have ones.
But even in the beginning of 1944 the T-34-85 and IC-2 tanks were supplied for the Red Army. The Soviet 85-mm cannon could not reach the level of the German 88-mm cannon and was the similar to American 90-mm cannon. The 122-mm cannon of IC-2 tank was the same as 88-mm cannon due its armour penetration qualities (and even exceeded it while shooting the high-explosive shells). Although it had the lower rate of fire.
And one more time the Soviet tanks were more practically feasible and more simple in production then German ones. Only in 1944 RKKA received 6,400 antitank cannons, 17,300 cannons of 76,2 mm calibre (mainly ZiC-3), and also 34,700 tanks and self-propelled mounts. At the same time the German Army fighting at two fronts simultaneously received only 14,000 tanks and self-propelled mounts. By 1944 the most experienced staff of PanzerVaffe was killed in battles that's why the German tankmen started to yield to the Soviet ones in the field of the training level. The German aviation also had the heavy losses in the points of aircrafts and people and had no possibility to protect tanks from the Soviet bomb and attack planes' raids. Besides, the communications with the rear were broken and many German tanks were left because of the lack of petrol or the absence of possibility to provide the minimum repair. So in the end of the war the German Army was caught in the same situation as the Soviet Army was in the beginning.
So the initial directions of the Soviet command to provide the numerical superiority entirely justified itself. After the problems with the communications and rear supplying were eliminated the Soviet armored troops proved itself at its full capacity. As if PanzerVaffe won in a tactical field, then the Soviet party had the superiority in tanks at the strategic field. And it fully predetermined the final of the war.
62 pages, 180 photos, 16 colored illustrations
1. Two soldiers of Luftvaffe that were taken a photograph against a background of padded T-34 tank, the sample of 1940, from the 4th mechanized corps
2. The commander T-28 tank that was left because of the mechanical faultiness
3. PzKpfw 35(t), the staff company of the second batalion of tank region of the 6th tank division, Baltic Republic, summer of 1941
4. 203-mm B-4 howitzer, the release of it started in 1931
5. T-28, the unknown formation, Leningrad front, summer of 1942/43