The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa -
Soviet versus German Armour on the Eastern Front
This book by Boris Kavalerchik, translated by Stuart Britton, is a very unusual book to be reviewed by AMPS, because basically it has very few photos, and the book is essentially text-only. With 288 pages, this 6x9" hardback is quite a read, and takes a while to get through.
This book is AWESOME!
From page one to the end, each page needs a lot of concentration, but almost every sentence is an eye-opening revelation, and time after time I was mentally saying "Crikey, I never realised that", or "Gosh, that is a new way to look at things!". The book is very well researched, and at no time did I think that the author had got something wrong; indeed, he is accurate in his identification of vehicles and descriptions of the different types. Kavalerchik is obviously a genuine expert on the tanks of 1941.
The chapters are as follows:
- The Main Factors that Determine the Design of Tanks
- The Role of Tanks
- Germany's Panzer Forces
- The Wehrmacht's Panzers
- German Panzers in Combat
- Soviet Armoured Forces
- The History of Tanks in the Red Army
- Pre-War Soviet Tanks
- Qualitative Characteristics of the Tanks
- The Survivability of Tanks and Crews
- The Tank Battle at Raseiniai, Lithuania, 1941
- The Results of the Initial Fighting
Appendix 1: Report of the long-range test march of three T-34 tanks
Appendix 2 - 4 - Technical details, cross country performance, and armaments of Soviet and German tanks
The picture above shows the effectiveness of the armaments of opposing tanks, and their safe ranges in combat conditions.
The chapters are full of superb evaluation, ranging from the theoretical principles of tank design (armament, protection, manoeuvrability) through to the details of specific tank characteristics. What is particularly interesting is the way that the author has been able to blend together specific quotes and insights from the Soviet period. This gives a lot of first-hand description of the difficulties faced by designers and manufacturers, and the ways in which the German Army of the period was able to think more carefully about ergonomics and crew comfort, as well as the finer points of construction. For example, putting the heavy transmission in the front of the hull enabled that turret to be placed in the centre of the hull. This reduces the sway on the turret, and makes it easier for the crew to acquire targets.
Getting on to the Soviet designs, it becomes almost impossible to understand how they functioned. The organisation of tank forces, without integrated infantry or artillery, created a situation where the tanks would be ineffective. The design of the tanks was so poor that even the famous T-34 went into action almost blind, and with the air-filter needing to be cleaned every ten hours or so. Without radios, cramped in the tiny turret, the commander had to do so many jobs that looking out for the tactical situation was not going to be possible. The ammo storage on bins in the floor, each one with a rubber mat and a steel lid, reduced the rate of fire to only 1 or 2 shots per minute, and even that left the loader physically exhausted. The driver was no better off, physically unable to change gears without help, and unable to get the tank out of 2nd gear in a combat situation. The hull gunner sat there almost totally blind, his only view of the world being through his MG sight....... and his DT machine gun would rapidly overheat in use, leaving him nothing much to do beside sit in the front of the tank....
The photos above are from typical pages, in this case dealing with the difficulties experienced by the driver-mechanic, who had to be assisted by the radio operator.
It is hardly surprising that the average life of a Soviet tank or SP gun was between 3 and 7 days of combat....... barely enough time to scratch the paint! And no time for any rust....... The realistic life of a T-34 or KV engine was only about 70 hours, even if the tank made it through the first few days of operation! Added to this, the Soviet armour plates were prone to cracking, and by 1940, the percentage of hulls with some cracking was 90%, dropping to only 50% in 1941. Wow!
Survivability is a key concern for tank crews, and the guys in a T-34 had very little chance, compared with the crew of a Pz.III or Pz.IV who had a hatch each....
The book winds up with an analysis of the actions around Raseiniai in the first days of Barbarossa, where the inadequacies of Soviet organisation were laid bare. While the individual tanks, and particularly the T-34 and KV, were reasonable, the lack of support and supply left the Russian tanks exposed, immobilised and surrounded. Despite some heroic deeds, the Soviets were completely outclassed and unable to deal with the German attacks.
Single photos illustrate the different tank types. Above the Soviet vehicles, below the German.
So, the book is stuffed full of interesting factual information and trivia, giving a fabulous insight into the factors affecting the opposing tank forces in mid-1941. The book is written in a very accessible and readable style, making it good bedtime reading and hard to put down. To be quite honest, I initially thought the lack of photos would be a problem, but this is not the case. The text is absorbing and for anyone who knows their vehicles, the shortage of illustrations would be no problem at all. The text is fantastic, and I would say that this book deserves to be read by anyone interested in the armour used in WW2.
Highly Recommended for all modellers with an interest in military history..
Thanks goes out to Pen & Sword for this review book.
Reviewed by Chris Lloyd-Staples, 2VP (International)
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