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Author Topic: T-34/76 and KV-1 in Barbarossa  (Read 3728 times)
Mad Russian

« on: 14 November 2008, 03:43:35 »

T-34/76 and KV-1 in Barbarossa
By Steve "Mad Russian" Overton

"The new KV and T-34 tanks were an impressive addition to the strength of the new formations,  but even here there were problems. Due to the incompetent leadership of Marshal K. Kulik, ammunition production for the 76.2mm tank guns had been delayed and only about 12 per cent of the rounds required were available when war broke out. Most T-34 tanks went into action without any amour piercing shells, only high-explosive, while many tanks did not have even a full load of ammunition."

"Besides the technical problems with the tanks themselves, the mechanized corps were far from ready. The only corps to have seen extensive maneuvers was 4th Mechanized Corps, which conducted a special series of exercises from August to October 1940 to examine the new corps organization and tactics.

In April 1941, one of the experienced divisions, the 10th, was transferred to form the core of the new 15th Mechanized Corps, and a new division, the 32nd, had to be created. So many officers had been swept away by the purges that the corps only had between 45 and 55 per cent of it's complement.

The Red Army was so desperate for corps commanders that the roster included N.V. Feklenko with the 19th , who had been a complete failure as a rifle corps commander at Khalkin Gal, and I.N. Khabarove with the 17th who had been court-marshaled for his performance in Finland in 1940. The new corps commanders were generally younger and much less experienced than their German counterparts?

The situation was even worse with non-commissioned officers; only between 19 and 36 per cent were available across all ranks. The T-34 was so new that many tank crews received their first glimpse of it only days before the war?s outbreak. About a quarter of the troops came with the spring draft and no military training whatsoever. Most commanders felt lucky to have T-34 drivers with three to five hours of instruction."

"The outbreak of the war caught the Soviet tank forces in a sorry state. The Mechanized Corps were in the process of reforming and reequipping. Many of the older BT?s and T-26's were completely worn out and there was little chance to repair or rebuild them. Small dribbles of the new T-34?s and KV's were arriving, but transition to them was complicated and slow.

The new tank divisions were each supposed to be equipped with 210 T-34's but on 22 June 1941 when the Germans invaded, there were only 967 T-34's in all of the western military districts and only a few of them had trained crews. Of the 160 tanks in Maj. Gen. N. Feklenko's 19th Mechanized Corps, only two were T-34's. Most other units were in similar straits but a few were better off. Maj. Gen. D. Riabyshev's 8th Mechanized Corps in Lvov had 600 tanks including 170 KV's and T-34's; Maj. Gen. I.I. Karpezo's 15th Mechanized Corps had 133 T-34?s and KV's.

Soon after the invasion, these units were engaged in furious combat around Brody and Dubno in what proved to be the greatest single tank clash of the opening phase of the war. By 30 July, the Soviet units had been decimated, but had dealt opposing Wehrmacht tank units severe losses. May of the Soviet losses came when older BT's and T-26's had to be abandoned for lack of parts and fuel."

In spite of the exceptional performances of the KV tanks on many individual occasions, the overall impact of the KV tanks on the 1941 fighting was negligible. Their technical superiority could not overcome the overwhelming tactical and operational shortcomings of the Red Army in the summer of 1941.

Commanders singled out several reasons for the problems with the KV. The most serious was the general lack of training for the crews.

A report from Ukraine on 8 July noted: "There were exceptionally great losses of KV-2 tanks in the 41st Tank Division. Of the 31 tanks available to the division on 6 July 1941 only nine remain. The enemy knocked out five, 12 were blown up by their own crews, and five were sent for major repairs. The heavy losses of the KV tanks are attributable primarily to the poor technical training of the crews, by their poor knowledge of the tank systems, as well as by an absence of spare parts. When the crews were unable to eliminate malfunctions on stalled KV tanks, there were many occasions when they had to blow them up."

The relative novelty of the tank meant that few crews could carry out anything more than minor maintenance. After being subjected to long road marches particularly in the Ukraine, the tanks soon required significant maintenance at a time when their were neither the skilled crews nor spare parts to carry them out. For example, the commander of the relatively well equipped 8th Mechanized Corps, Gen. Lt. D.I. Ryabyshev reported: ?From 22-26 June 1941, we carried out movements much beyond normal forced marches without being able to observe the elementary prescribed requirements for maintaining equipment and resting personnel.

The equipment arrived at the battlefield after having covered distances of 500 km. As a result of this, 40 to 50 per cent of the tanks were broken down for technical reasons?and abandoned on the routes of march of the division. As the consequence of such rapid marches, the remaining tanks were technically unprepared for combat.? The 37th Tank Division covered 1500 km in less than two weeks, suffering  mechanical breakdowns. At the time, the average service life for new Soviet tanks was about 1000-15000 km before factory rebuilding was necessary.

The 10th Tank Division (15th Mechanized Corps) had to endure fruitless forced marches trying to catch the rapidly moving panzer columns. The 10th Tank Division lost 56 of its 63 KV?s in fighting through early August, of which 11 were knocked out in combat, 11 went missing in action, and 34 were abandoned or scuttled due to breakdowns.

It appears that this pattern occurred in most other units judging from surviving records. For example, the 8th Tank Division lost 43 of their 50 KV's: 13 in combat, two which became stuck in swamps and 28 which were abandoned or destroyed by their crews due to mechanical breakdowns.

The KV suffered a significantly higher rate of loss due to mechanical problems than other new tanks such as the T-34, according to available records. One of the main problems was the clutch and powertrains. A 1941 field report complained that ?the impact of projectiles jams the turret race and the armoured vision ports; the diesel engine has little reserve power leading to the motor becoming overworked, and the master clutch and steering often breakdown.?
A German training course at Wunsdorf in early 1942 summarized the Wehrmacht assessment of captured KVs which largely concurred with the view of Russian commanders: "Mechanically, this tank is a poor job. Gears can only be shifted and engaged at the halt, so the maximum speed of 35 km/hr is an illusion. The clutch is too lightly constructed. Almost all abandoned tanks had clutch problems."

The combat utility of the KV was also undermined by several other factors, especially poor crew layout and poor vision devices. The turret was manned by three men as on German tanks, but their functions were different. The commander sat on the right side of the gun and doubled as the loader. The third turret crewman was intended to man the rear turret MG.

The vehicle hatch was located over the machine gunner, not the commander, so that the tank commander was not able to ride with his head outside the tank surveying the terrain as was the German practice. Furthermore, Soviet vision devices were poor: the armoured  glass in the driver?s visor was sub-standard, being full of air bubbles.

The German assessment was that: "Facilities for observation are worse than in our tanks. The driver's vision is incredibly bad." The designers had recognized this problem as was evident in the KV-3 and Obiekt 220 design, but it was realised too late to have any effect on the 1941 fighting. This lack of appreciation for the tactical impact of poor turret configuration was shared with most Red Army tanks. As a result, Red Army tanks had difficulty locating and identifying the enemy. In tank combat, the KV commander was overwhelmed with duties, being forced to share his time between handling his vehicle with other tanks in the platoon as well as loading the gun. As a result, Red Army tank attacks tended to be more poor co-ordinated than German actions.


"T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941-1945" by Steven Zaloga and Peter Sarson 

"T-34 in Action" by Steven Zaloga and James Grandsen   

"KV-1-2 Heavy Tanks 1941-1945" by Steven J. Zaloga, Jim Kinnear and Peter Sarson 
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