The “obsolete” Soviet medium T-28 and heavy T-35 tanks far surpassed every other tank outside of the Soviet Union. The Soviet T-34 tank is widely regarded as one of the best tanks of all time. The Soviet KV tank was the most powerful tank in the world during the first half of World War II. How can tanks be obsolete when there is nothing else of comparable quality anywhere else in the world?
Editors Comment: Continuing from Germany’s Incredible Courage: How Hitler’s Invasion Surprised Stalin, this series of articles explores the staggering scale of preparations by the Soviet Union from 1927 to build the greatest offensive army ever known. The Soviet 5 Year Plans were effective for this purpose and implemented with barbaric cruelty. Under the terms of the Soviet universal military draft, ratified on September 1, 1939, the Soviet Army grew five-fold, from 1.1 million to 5.5 million. Stalin knew when he established the draft that in two years, in the summer of 1941, the Soviet Union must enter into a major war.
It is worth noting that far from being the conqueror of Europe, Adolf Hitler saved it from Stalin. Therefore it is unsurprising that the historical narrative was both intentionally and grossly distorted to portray Stalin and the Soviet Union as the victims of German aggression:
[In 1945] … a stringent taboo was in force prohibiting all mention of the Great Purge, which, at the time it was carried out, had aroused worldwide surprise, consternation and horror, especially in those Leftist circles in Britain and the United States which regarded the Russian Revolution as a great landmark in the course of human progress…
When Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941 transformed Stalin from a confederate of Hitler into an ally of Britain, it became imperative to expunge from public memory all recollection of what was known concerning him and the grim police state which he had established in Russia. This was successfully accomplished by the invention of the Great Stalin Myth… there was held up for public admiration the benign figure of “Uncle Joe Stalin”, the champion of liberty and lover of all mankind, the loyal ally who was inspired by the same lofty ideals as Churchill and Roosevelt. To preserve public belief in the Stalin Myth it was absolutely imperative that no mention of any kind should be made of the Great Purge.
Stalin’s Preparations For An Offensive War: Technologically Advanced & Mass-Produced Soviet Tanks
Tanks were planned to be the spearhead for the Soviet offensive against Europe. Stalin built and mass-produced the best tanks in the world as he built Soviet industry. The Red Army produced the T-28 tank in 1933. Not a single German, British, American, French, or Japanese tank from the 1930s could match the T-28 in terms of weapons, armor, engine power, or the ability to cross water barriers underwater.
The Germans started producing the Pz-IVA, the most powerful German tank of the first half of World War II, at the end of 1937. The T-28 tank was superior to the German tank in all respects except one: the T-28 fired shells with an initial speed of 381 m/s, while the German Pz-IVA tank fired shells with an initial speed of 385 m/s. In response, starting in 1938, the Soviet T-28 tanks were produced with a new L-10 gun that fired shells with an initial speed of 555 m/s. The L-10 Soviet tank gun was unrivaled in Germany or anywhere else in the world. Despite being outstanding in comparison with all foreign tanks, after the war Soviet historians and generals called the T-28 tank obsolete.
On December 19, 1939, the Red Army introduced the T-34 tank. Entire volumes of rave reviews of the T-34 tank have been published; its debut caused a sensation at the beginning of the war. The T-34 surpassed any German tank in all parameters: speed, acceleration ability, cross-country ability, tank gun, ideal body shape, powerful diesel engine, and wide caterpillar tracks. In addition, unlike other tanks, the T-34 could be easily mass produced. Any large-scale automobile factory could be converted to produce this tank. Also, the production of the T-34 tank did not require a highly qualified workforce.
Communist historians acknowledge the remarkable qualities of the T-34, but attempt to show the unpreparedness of the Soviet Union by stating that only 967 T-34s existed in June 1941 at the time of the German invasion. However, Suvorov shows that the Soviet Union had 1,400 T-34s at the time of invasion. During the second half of 1941, Soviet industry produced another 1,789 T-34 tanks. More importantly, in 1942 the Soviet Union produced 12,520 T-34 tanks, while in Germany the production of an analogous tank had not begun. The mass production of the T-34 provided the Soviet Union with major advantages over Germany in tank warfare during World War II.
The German equivalent of the T-34 was the Panther, which first appeared in the summer of 1943 during the tank battle at Kursk. The Panther had design flaws compared to the T-34. First, the T-34 had a diesel engine, while the Panther had a carburetor engine. A diesel engine is more economical and less susceptible to fire. Second, the Panther did not have the engine and transmission located in the rear of the tank. As a result, the Panther was too large and weighed 44.8 tons when it was supposed to weigh 30 tons. With its dimensions and weight, the Panther was easier to hit, had weaker armor protection, and could not compete with the T-34 in anything related to mobility. The T-34 surpassed the Panther in maneuverability, acceleration, and cross-country mobility, which are all parameters needed for offense.
The Panther’s main flaw, however, was that its complex design made it unfit for mass production. Only 5,976 tanks of this model were produced during the war. The Soviet Union produced nine T-34s for every Panther Germany produced. In fact, the Soviet Union produced more T-34 tanks during World War II than tanks of all types were produced in Great Britain, Germany, and Japan put together.
The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to produce a heavy tank. The first Soviet heavy tank, the T-35, was produced in series and entered the ranks of the troops in 1933. In 1941, no other tank outside the Soviet Union could even approximately compare with the heavy T-35. The T-35 surpassed every other tank outside the Soviet Union in terms of weapons, armor, and engine power. Moreover, the T-35 exerted much less pressure on the ground than the German tanks, which meant that it had greater mobility and did not sink in snow, mud, or soft ground. Despite being in a class by itself compared to all other foreign tanks, Western and Soviet historians declared the T-35 tank to be obsolete and did not mention it in statistics.
The T-35 tank was replaced by the KV-1 and KV-2 heavy tanks, which weighed 47 and 52 tons, respectively. The KV was the first tank in the world with a true anti-shell armor. The wide caterpillar tracks of the KV allowed it to fight on almost any terrain in any weather condition, and its 600-horsepower diesel engine surpassed all foreign tanks in power, reliability, and economy. The tank guns of the KV far exceeded the capacity of any other tank produced outside the Soviet Union. The KV later turned into the IS-1 and then the IS-2, the most powerful tank of World War II.
Designers of the Soviet heavy tanks accomplished a technological feat: they almost doubled the thickness of the armor and installed a gun that was three times more powerful, while staying in the same weight class of the heavy tank. Stalin had a remarkable pair of tanks: the most powerful heavy tank by far in the world, and an excellent mass-produced medium T-34 tank. The availability of tens of thousands of T-34 tanks allowed them to be used anywhere. The availability of the heavy tanks supported the battle capabilities of the medium T-34 tanks. The crews of the T-34 could fight confidently, knowing that they had the support of a powerful KV or IS tank behind them.
The German failure to design a good tank for mass production inevitably led to defeat in World War II. Gen. Heinz Guderian wrote after the war:
“…The Russians would have won the war even without the help of their Western allies and would have occupied the whole of Europe. No power on earth could have stopped them.”
The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 resulted in the destruction or abandonment of thousands of Soviet tanks. The Communist historians explained this catastrophe very simply: the tanks were obsolete and therefore useless. Suvorov states that this explanation is nonsense. The “obsolete” Soviet medium T-28 and heavy T-35 tanks far surpassed every other tank outside of the Soviet Union. The Soviet T-34 tank is widely regarded as one of the best tanks of all time. The Soviet KV tank was the most powerful tank in the world during the first half of World War II. How can tanks be obsolete when there is nothing else of comparable quality anywhere else in the world?
The Soviet Union also built an entire family of BT tanks—the BT-2, BT-5, BT-7, BT-7A, and BT-7M. BT stands for bystrokhodnyi (high-speed) tank. At the beginning of World War II, the Red Army had 6,456 BT tanks, as many as all other operational tanks in the rest of the world. The BT tanks were well designed, heavily armed for their times, had standard bullet-proof armor, and used a diesel engine which made the tanks far less vulnerable to fires. The first BTs had a speed of 69 mph; today most tanks would still be envious of such high speeds. Nevertheless, Soviet historians categorized these tanks among the obsolete models, so obsolete that until 1991 they were not even included in statistics.
The disadvantage of BT tanks is that they could only be used in aggressive warfare on good roads such as the autobahn in Germany. The BT tank’s most important characteristic–its speed–was achieved through the use of its wheels. The wheels of the BT tank made it impossible to use the BT tank successfully off the roads, or on the bad roads of the Soviet Union. In the battles fought on Soviet territory, thousands of BT tanks were abandoned. Historians say that Stalin’s BT tanks were not ready for war. This statement is not true. The BT tank was ready for an offensive war on German territory, but not in a defensive war fought on its own territory.
The Soviet Union also built an outstanding family of amphibious tanks: the T-37A, T-38, and T-40. By June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union had over 4,000 amphibious tanks in its arsenal. By comparison, to this day Germany has never built any amphibious tanks. Amphibious tanks are useful in offensive operations to cross rivers and seize bridges before the enemy can blow the bridges up when threatened with a takeover. If there are no remaining enemy bridges, amphibious tanks allow an army to cross the river and establish a bridgehead on the other side of the river. Amphibious tanks are useful in offensive operations; they are of little use in a defensive war.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, it had a total of 3,350 tanks on the Eastern Front, all of them inferior to the Soviet tanks and none of them amphibious. Yet historians called the Soviet amphibious tanks obsolete. The Soviet amphibious tanks in 1941 became unnecessary and played no role in the war. But the question remains: Why were the amphibious tanks developed and built? Why did Stalin need 4,000 amphibious tanks which could not be used in a defensive war? The obvious answer is that Stalin planned to use the amphibious tanks in a massive military invasion of Europe.
Tank Images: http://wio.ru/tank/ww2tank.htm
 Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008, p. 41.
 Ibid., pp. 42-44.
 Ibid., pp. 44-45.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Ibid., pp. 46-47.
 Ibid., pp. 48-49.
 Guderian, Heinz, Panzer Leader, New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1952, p. 283.
 Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008, pp. 50, 56.
 Ibid., pp. 51-52.
 Ibid., pp. 52-53.
 Ibid., pp. 55-57.
except the soviets had little to no maintenance for the tanks, the tank crews were poorly trained, divisions were poorly formed, the tanks wouldn’t even operate properly. The T35 was scrapped because of the technical failures of the tanks.
The T-35 tank was not nearly as important to the Soviet war effort as the T-34 tank. Also, the Soviet Army was in an offensive mode when Germany attacked on June 22, 1941. The Soviets were prepared for offensive war but not for defensive war.
As stated in the above article, “More importantly, in 1942 the Soviet Union produced 12,520 T-34 tanks, while in Germany the production of an analogous tank had not begun. The mass production of the T-34 provided the Soviet Union with major advantages over Germany in tank warfare during World War II.”
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yes, but what about the logistics of them? They were poorly maintained and their crew were in poor shape.
Have you read Viktor Suvorov’s book “The Chief Culprit”? Suvorov provides ample documentation that the Soviet Army was much better prepared than traditional historians want us to believe.
Rex, there is a thing called Soviet Arrogance in which that they think they can win battles on numbers alone. That is partially true, they did win the war because of a overwhelming number of soldiers rushing towards the enemy line. But they would lack the proper maintenance and training as you said which it would be huge, take Stalingrad for example, half of the soldiers who rushed into the German line near the Volga didn’t even have a weapon at hand. Add to that, after the purge that happened back in the 30s, the competent officers were replaced with inexperienced commanders who thinks just going in wave after wave thinking numbers would win it out. We all can see how it ended with Finland, Stalin wanted to take all of Finland but they only took parts of it.
Furthermore, the a soviet tank, particularly the KV, backed up by a couple of infantry squads, can hold off an large German formation I remember a soviet tanker that held off an entire battalion with his KV tank
John, I think another reason why the Soviets were being being steamrolled was because the Russian army didn’t want to fight for Stalin so they willingly surrendered to the Germans without a fight.
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“Stalingrad : Battle Against T34 Tank in the Snow (HQ) 6min excellent reproduction of a dire situation and you get to feel you are ‘right in there’ with the Germans facing the T34s. Brings tank warfare to life.
“Killer Tanks The T34 Tank” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK4HV56Qj_E
Interesting documentary – at 6.16min mark he refers to ‘O-ffensive’ use.
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Sorry, I omitted the link to the re-enactment of the Stalingrad Battle, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVvoo1qFPDo
Well worth watching (6 mins of intense living!)
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rex – Victor Suvorov is not the only author to say that Stalin was going to invade Germany in 1941.
There is a growing number of them –
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As I said, print the book in Deutsch and I will get it.
Lovely. How much will it cost?
Reblogged this on THE FOURTH REICH CENTURY.
Another writer to consult on the Stalin-era strategy is R.C. Raack, a professor of Slavic studies.
When I first read Suvorov I was spellbound. The Germans, in my final assessment on the tragedy of the Soviet Union, were ultimately at fault for losing Operation Barbarossa by their inability to incorporate anti-Soviet feeling amongst the conquered minorities. Considering the multi- ethnic character of the Waffen SS it is amazing someone couldn’t “get to” Hitler about how the Ukrainians were an anti-Soviet Army-in-place, ripe for the conversion to anti-Soviet action. But Hitler was unable to shed his extreme anti-Slavic feeling. A remnant of his Austrian background?
Whatever, Germany lost. And here we are now, trying to deal with an Asian landmass hostile to Western thinking and interests, and seemingly hell-bent on pay back for the losses of WW2, and for the century of humiliation. No wonder we are spending trillions on military armaments and fighting an endless war on drugs insidiously produced in Chinese labs.