Pen & Sword- Stalin´s Armour 1941-1945
Soviet Tanks at War
Author: Anthony Tucker-Jones
Hardcover, 256 pages with 70 black and white photographs and maps
Books on Eastern armored operations in WWII have been coming out quite frequently as of late. Primarily, the focus has been on German armor and operations from Barbarossa through Kursk and the retreat has been the norm for the most part. This book shifts the perspective 180 degrees to the other side. The Soviet Army had a distinct numbers advantage leading up to the early stages of the war. However, the vast majority of the armor in the arsenal was outmatched and outgunned before battle really even began. The Soviets were bloodied in the Spanish Civil War, and WWII saw the skilled cadre of armor experience gutted through Stalin´s purges and the overall mismanagement from who was left. When the Germans invaded, they easily swept through vast numbers of tanks and aircraft and were left unchecked for the most part.
The book goes in depth in the design and development of the major players in the war-- and how the T-34s and KVs surpassed the T-26s and BT series of tanks. Even with early versions of T-34s in the mix, the skills were lacking when faced with the superior German training and tactics. The Wehrmacht´s 3200 panzers were met by the nearly 20,000 tanks facing them and the Red Army simply was not ready for what the German´s brought on top of them. The book addresses the fact that in the end, it came down to endurance. The Germans simply didn´t have the endless resources of men and tank production that were present in the Soviet Union as the war progressed. We get glimpses of the reversal of fortunes from Barbarossa through the battles at Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, Kharkov, and beyond into Hungary and Germany.
The book´s photos are limited to the centerfold section, and most of them were taken by Germans documenting Soviet tank wrecks with only a handful of them being intact specimens of T-34 examples. Most are shots I have not encountered before and there are some great pictures of tanks inundated with tank riders which would lead themselves to some interesting ideas for those looking to place their armor pieces in unique settings. The text can bog one down at times with lots of unit numbers and names-- the Soviet and German numbering systems were similar so it was easy to lose track of who was being discussed. There was a lot of dashing between pages to figure it out. The soldier accounts were welcome distractions from that though, and were interesting and informative. I still find the story of the T-34´s designer, Mikhail Koshkin, to be fascinating. To convince the higher ups of the superiority of his design, he drove the prototype of the tank 800 miles to Moscow to show it off to Stalin. His design was chosen, yet he soon after died from pneumonia contracted from the journey through cold temperatures. There´s some dedication for you.
The book concludes with a couple appendices-- a list of Soviet tank units and a thorough section on the various Soviet tanks , SPGs, and tank destroyers through the war. The descriptions are informative and include a small section on technical specs. I wish there were small photos to identify each entry-- most of them are known examples, but there were a few I had to look up. This is just a small nit-pick though.
The books seems to be quite a thorough overview of the various phases of Soviet armor through the entirety of the period leading up to and through WWII. We get a sense of the obstacles that had to be overcome and how in the end, the tenacity and courage exhibited by those in the Red Army tank arm in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. In the end, through sheer numbers and rough yet effective design, the Soviets were able to turn tables and send the Germans packing through the grueling end of the war. It is easy to get bogged down in all the details, but the book is a great reference source for those willing to push through and gain valuable insight into this David and Goliath story.
Highly Recommended for anyone interested in the story of Soviet armor in WWII.
Thanks goes out to Casemate Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Michael Reeves
If you liked this review, consider joining AMPS. Your annual membership
includes six copies of AMPS's magazine, Boresight,
and helps to support our ongoing reviews.
Click here for more information about joining AMPS