A bit of history
A tank on the battlefields appeared in World War I as a response to a positional dead end, on the one hand, and as a result of technological development, on the other. In fact, the idea tank hovered over the battlefields from ancient times, but its implementation was hampered by the lack of an appropriate technical base. That is, I wanted something, I wanted it, both before Leonardo da Vinci and after him, but it could not. Although heavy, fully armored cavalry, or walk-cities, this is a quasi-realization of this idea at the “that” level. That is, a combination of mobility and shock (fire) power is something that commanders have long sought. And at the very end of the WWII, it still appeared on the battlefields. That same new weapon. In general, the tanks showed a good performance, although they did not fully justify the tasks assigned to them (unlike aviationwhich exceeded these expectations).
But the birth of tank troops has already taken place. Their finest hour will come a little later, on the battlefields of World War II. And then it was the tank troops that far exceeded all expectations and calculations. New ideas penetrate general’s brains with great difficulty, this simple fact can be confirmed by the fact that even after the demonstrative defeat of Poland, carried out by a combination of “tanks - tactical aviation”, the allied generals (having six months of time) did practically nothing to fundamentally change the course battles in France. But the financial and production capabilities of England and France far exceeded the German ones! However, France fell in 2 weeks.
But in the Soviet Union (unlike France), tank troops received increased attention, and the government did literally everything possible for their development (this can be said even more about Soviet aviation). Monstrous resources were thrown at solving the tasks of the Air Force of the Red Army and tank troops, and backward peasant Russia (this should be taken into account when comparing with the USA, the British Empire, France or Germany) achieved perhaps outstanding results.
And if the material part of the Soviet Air Force was still inferior both to Germany and to the Allies in terms of level (with all desire, it could not be otherwise), then in the materiel of the tank forces of the USSR it was in the lead in many ways. And the number of units of this very technique was very significant for yesterday's peasant country.
However, the experience of the summer of 1941 turned out to be very bitter for both Soviet pilots and Soviet tankers. It was not so much a war as a rout. Moreover, the most annoying thing is to note some “bright spots” in all this gloomy stories quite difficult. A lot has been written about aviation. About tank troops - a little less.
It is very confusing precisely the lack of any clear picture of what the Soviet tank troops at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War were. More truly, this very picture "floats" very strongly. At first we were told for a very long time that there were few Soviet tanks, and the “thirty-four” was a real masterpiece ... Then suddenly it turned out that there were a lot of tanks (and very different ones). Then it turned out that the “thirty-four” was not such a masterpiece. Then ... Somehow the picture floats, floats, and continuously. In order to analyze something, you need to understand the source data, but this is just a very big problem.
And in general, in such a situation there is a very bad feeling that they are trying to deceive you. Is it really so difficult to study the state of Soviet tank troops at the beginning of the war? Is there a problem with the translation of documents? Or with what? Constant “discoveries” provoke an open distrust of Soviet / Russian military-historical science as a whole. It seems that you are dealing with people who are either not entirely competent or not quite decent.
Either we have one situation in the tank troops before the war, then all of a sudden it’s completely different ... This is somehow annoying. Have you, gentlemen, for all the post-war decades, you could not figure out the state of the armored units of the Red Army on June 41st? But how were you going to fight with NATO in Europe?
In general, everything is somehow muddy in the Danish kingdom ... Information on Soviet tanks is just the sea, but somehow it cannot be structured and analyzed. Once again: research is certainly good. Discoveries, too, but here continuous discoveries and sensations on one specific and well-documented topic over the decades have raised suspicions in the qualifications and adequacy of researchers. As the saying goes, a fool makes a lot of discoveries every day.
In order to seriously move on, one must have a firm footing: a clear understanding of the state of the USSR tank forces on June 41st. Well, for the sake of completeness, the same clear understanding of the state of the Panzervaffe on June 41st. And with us, the numbers are floating in different directions, and the performance characteristics of the tanks of the opposing powers are changing with each new “study”. Don't you think this is somehow a little strange?
General sad picture
In any case, after 1991, this topic became the subject of numerous books and articles already in Russia. And the numbers (both quantity and TTX) continued to float, but the overall picture was very gloomy. It was a pogrom, otherwise you will not name. Soviet tank forces strangely did very little, having lost a huge amount of materiel. And this picture is literally mesmerizing ... Well, how so? Why?
There are a lot of books on this subject, and the picture there is quite paradoxical: the initial superiority of the Red Army in tanks ... and the subsequent demonstrative defeat. And so on and on. And somehow it's weird. Moreover, especially at the initial stage of the war, the Red Army had enough artillery and aviation. It seems like there was something to support.
That is, the question is not even that the Soviet tanks did not defeat Hitler in the summer of 41, no, the question is that everything was so merged. No critical losses for the German side. Some kind of paradox. Upon learning how there were tanks at the Red Army at the beginning of the battles with the Wehrmacht, you involuntarily wonder: what did they all do in the summer of 41?
I don’t even want to refute the myth of “suddenness of impact”. Tactically - it is possible, but strategically waiting for the war, preparing for war, and the tanks were preparing just for defense from the west. Poor technical condition of equipment, re-equipment ... What else can you tell? No, if the tanks were transported on platforms, and then there was war and bombing, then everything seems to be understandable, but there were situations when Soviet tankmen left their places of permanent deployment ... and they died just as mediocre from the point of view of disrupting the German invasion.
That is, it turned out that there were large own losses with the non-obviousness of the results achieved. No, well, at least a couple of major battles to win, to chase the Germans, and then be in a strategic environment or stand up due to lack of fuel - is not so offensive. But in June-July of the 41st, “chasing the Germans” somehow did not work out very well. And even in certain sections of the front. But, actually, why?
Legends and myths about the “super-powerful Wehrmacht” have not been questioned for a long time: since Hitler “conquered all of Europe” and killed tens of millions in the USSR, then an extra-powerful army stood behind him. Then it gradually became clear that this was "not quite so." And the situation with the Panzervaffe materiel at the beginning of the war with the USSR looked especially ridiculous. Somehow it was a pity everything was miserable. The “backlash” had the Me-109, the Kriegsmarine “Bismarck”, the German tankers had nothing ... worthy of mention.
And it was to be fought on land. Understanding the transcendent insanity of this situation, Soviet historians described the Panzervaffe materiel without a breakdown by years. Hence the smart talk about the Tigers, Panthers, and other Elephants with Ferdinand. But these brave guys in black tank uniforms invaded the Soviet Union in fact with bare ambitions. As a result, a “historical line” has already arisen for the glorification of Pz-III, Pz-IV. Say, they were devilishly powerful and dangerous tanks ... and they were just to hell.
You know, sometimes it becomes somehow embarrassing for yourself, for those around you, for Russian historical science as a whole. Just because of your age, you remember very well how Soviet-Russian “tank science” science was changing, and somehow it’s very unpleasantly done. Not every merchant from the central market shows such a spinal flexibility. The truth that was yesterday is no longer true, but the one that was the day before yesterday is almost completely forgotten.
- What do you remember?
- I remember the war, the German tanks ...
- What tanks?
- Big ones, black, with crosses ...
- Or maybe the other way around?
- Maybe, and vice versa, the tanks are white, and the crosses are black ...
Theory and practice
There is a normal scientific approach when facts are collected, systematized, studied, laws established, on the basis of which a certain theory is created that describes reality ... It lives for a while, then is replaced by a new one. But there is another, more progressive approach: when a theory is composed, and then facts and results of laboratory experiments are adjusted to fit it.
It is clear that the history of WWII was politicized to the limit in the USSR. It is clear that the results of "scientific research" were determined in advance and at the very top, it is clear that the course of events for the Red Army and especially tank units in the summer of the 41st is absolutely disastrous. All this is understandable.
As a result, as a matter of fact, it was precisely this, the most striking period of military history that fell completely out of the attention of researchers, because it was categorically impossible to investigate something there. It is enough to recall the last scandal with publications on the battle of Prokhorovka and the “alternative” point of view on it. And it was taken literally with hostility. Although it seems to be how many years have passed. How many winters. This is all already - a gray-haired story, you can hit the "alternative", but no, you can not. But the Battle of Kursk as a whole was a defeat for the Wehrmacht. And it was all far from burning in the summer of the 41st. But no, only a canonical version of the story.
Therefore, depending on the political requirements of the moment, the views on the state of the tank units of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the war are radically changing, respectively, the technical characteristics and the number of units of those same “shells” begin to “float”. That is, the domestic “tank science” science does not go from facts to theory, but exactly the opposite ... And strictly in accordance with the requirements of the moment. And she can prove anything at all.
I would like to clarify: telling in detail about individual (interesting) examples of armored vehicles is one thing, but to give a general picture of the balance of power is a little different, and if we have no problems with the first, then the second task is somehow fundamentally unsolvable ( one gets the impression).
Unique German Blitzkrieg
But yes, Adolf Hitler really captured most of continental Europe, from the Atlantic to the Volga, and he did it mainly with tanks. And, the most offensive, he did it quite easily and confidently. And each time, that in Poland, that in France, that in Ukraine, the enemy’s front collapsed, and its units found themselves in a hopeless situation, being surrounded (kessel shlaht). And this happened over and over again, like on a conveyor belt.
And each time tanks went forward. Of which, frankly, Hitler had very few, and their quality left much to be desired. You know, blaming Hitler’s opponents for not paying attention to tanks is quite difficult. To say that France was much inferior to Germany in terms of quantity and quality of materiel means frankly crocheting. Reproaches to Stalin and the Soviet marshals in the preference for a “horse that breathes” against the background of the data that are now open look generally a mockery.
We have been told for so long about German militarism and the German military machine that familiarization with the real state of affairs in the field of providing the invincible Wehrmacht with tanks on September 1 of the 39th year can cause nothing but surprise. Everything is so sad and hopeless. We must start with the fact that such miracles of military-technical thought as Pz-I and Pz-II were used with might and main.
A kind of "brilliance and poverty" of the Nazi Panzervaffe in one bottle. Is it precisely with these “armored horsemen of the Apocalypse” that the villain Adolf planned to conquer the planet Earth? Imagine yourself a high-level Soviet military intelligence in the 39th year. All the data on the capabilities and equipment of the German tank divisions are on your table. And why should you be afraid?
On September 1, 1939 (the beginning of World War II), the Wehrmacht had 3190 tanks, of which Pz Kpfw I - 1145, Pz Kpfw II - 1223, Pz Kpfw 35 (t) - 219, Pz Kpfw 38 (t) - 76, Pz Kpfw III - 98, Pz Kpfw IV - 211, 215 - commander, 3 - flamethrower, 5 assault guns. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panzervaffe.
Nevertheless, a blitzkrieg in Poland took place. A little later, a blitzkrieg took place in France, where affairs with the Panzervaffe match were not much better.
PzKpfw I - 643 units, PzKpfw II - 880 units, PzKpfw III - 349 units, PzKpfw IV - 281 units, Pz.Kpfw.35 (t) - 128 units, Pz.Kpfw.38 (t) - 207 units.
Somehow not very impressive. Especially if you take a closer look at these same "panzerkampfvagenami".
That is, it becomes absolutely incomprehensible the ratio of the results and the original numbers. But how so? As a matter of fact, this is precisely why Soviet historians didn’t dig into the figures, but rested on the “anti-human ideology of fascism”. Nazi parades still liked to show on TV. No doubt, filmed pathetic. In the sense of the parade and speech of the Fuhrer. The trouble is that as soon as we begin to "dig deep", namely to study the armored vehicles of the Third Reich, the impression immediately spoils.
Somehow frankly "not impressive." It does not scare or frighten. After all, Imperial Japan, which was preparing a naval blitzkrieg, had Yamato and aircraft carriers. There was something to be afraid of. In general, the fleet is very, very good. And aviation fleet. And what was the Wehrmacht? What was there to be afraid of?
Put yourself in the place of the head of Soviet military intelligence in the prewar period. You need to scare Stalin with the Wehrmacht. What will be the ideas? Show photos of the Pz-I column? Or scroll through the film recording the speech of the Fuhrer? Now, if you remove Adolf’s public tantrums and muffle the pathos of military marches ... it quickly becomes clear that there’s nothing to scare.
Today we know what will happen in the summer of 41, but it is impossible to categorically extrapolate this from the data of the 39-40th for the tank units of the USSR and Germany. German tank units did the unthinkable. Based on the state of their equipment (quality and quantity).
German-Japanese "quality" approach to the creation of the army
In the new European history, the idea of universal appeal comes from revolutionary France. "Citizens, the fatherland is in danger!" These words are written in gold letters in world history. It was then that, not being able to rely on the well-trained royal units (which were already not so reliable, and most of their officers were hostile to the ideas of the revolution), revolutionary generals and commissars actively began to use the masses of poorly trained patriots with the support of traditionally powerful French artillery. And there was no other choice.
For long and complex maneuvers, troops are needed well-trained. Which is desirable to protect. Because how to train them is difficult, long and expensive. That is why Bonaparte from a certain moment had serious problems with German conscripts. Oddly enough, many Germans willingly joined his army (mercenaryism is a curse of the Germans, as one of the classics said). So, to be a professional soldier for a German was normal.
They just got used to the small, expensive and carefully used armies of the previous era. But revolutionary France and Napoleon Bonaparte took a completely different path ... The massive use of recruits. The massive use of artillery and cavalry. And many competent historians note the influence of the Napoleonic Wars on French demography (a separate big topic). Until the brilliant Bonaparte, soldiers were always enough for the French kings. France was famous for this, its many people.
But the brilliant Bonaparte spent them in such quantitiesThat it really became a big problem. Before him, all the French kings rested in a lack of finance in the conduct of large and protracted wars. Bonaparte was faced with a purely demographic problem. A true genius, not otherwise. Revolutionarily approached military affairs! Monument to him, a monument in full growth! At the end of the reign of Louis XIV, France faced a complete economic and financial collapse. As a result of numerous wars, of course. Bonaparte was faced with the fact that there was no one to complete the army. People are over. Horses too. But as a commander, he is brilliant!
But it was precisely the German comrades who did not argue with this ideology of the mass army. What for? They just went their own way. The quality of the training of personnel played a decisive role in the Franco-Prussian and in the First World War. I met data that during the WWII, the Germans lost 40% of the recruits, while the French lost 70%. But nothing surprising, the most well-trained army at the beginning of the war was just German. And this army had to fight for 4 years, and on two fronts.
The main secret of the high combat effectiveness of the German army during the two world wars was quite simple and lay on the surface. High level of training of personnel! And if the Soviet generals before the Second World War counted thousands of tanks and planes, the German ones painfully noted that “in the 39th we even do not have that soldier in the 14th ...”
And then, after all this, some historians ask themselves: why did the USSR not finish off Army Group North, which was blocked in Courland? And everything is simple: during the battles on the Eastern Front, this group of armies suffered the least losses (out of three), and therefore it was categorically impossible to “smash” it even in the 44th. Too good personnel, too experienced.
“In the fall of 1944, during the Memel operation, Army Group North, which at that time consisted of up to 250 thousand soldiers and officers, was pressed against the Baltic Sea and cut off from the main forces. Nevertheless, communication with Germany continued by sea. Here she held the defense until the end of the war - all the attempts of the Soviet troops to complete its defeat failed. ”
Wanting and being able to do this are slightly different things. To beat quality with quantity is sometimes a very costly undertaking, sometimes simply impossible. The famous three-digit accounts of German aces go from there. Three-digit accounts of German "expert" tankers are also from there. Of quality approach to the construction of the armed forces. That during the fighting could give opponents very unpleasant surprises. Moreover, from the number of units of armored vehicles, the thickness of the armor and the caliber of tank guns, this directly it should not (for some strange reason, we analyze only the ratio of performance characteristics and quantity).
Strictly speaking, the enchanting successes of the Japanese imperial fleet at the initial stage of the war in the Pacific Ocean come precisely from a qualitative approach to the construction of the armed forces of the empire. A kind of "hidden superiority." Deck aviation pilots were trained as astronauts, and candidates were gathered throughout the Yamato country. The best of the best. That is why Pearl Harbor became possible. That is why Ripals and Rinaun. And when these pilots with pre-war training were knocked out, aviation de facto disappeared from Japan. Although they increased the production of fighters with all their might. But the "Marian turkey hunt" once again convincingly proved that in a technically complex war, quantity is a very poor substitute for quality (meaning the quality of personnel training).
Panzer Division as a Complex System
In principle, the same Isaev, exploring the "myths" of the Great Patriotic War, quite convincingly proved to himself that the problem of Soviet tankers at the initial stage of hostilities was not "millimeters of armor and caliber" and not even "the general perfection of the tank design", but the complete imbalance is real operating tank units: that is, an excess of armored vehicles with the actual absence of artillery and infantry ... but the tanks themselves do not fight. Even the best. But that is exactly what happened at the beginning of the war. With trucks to ensure action somehow did not work out. Therefore, to bring guns and infantry to the battlefield did not work. Repair capabilities also left much to be desired. It’s better to just keep silent about providing fuel and air cover.
In such circumstances, the best tanks became useless. Despite any "millimeters, revolutionary design and thousands of pieces." I understand, it's a shame. By the way, this is not a reason to professionally discredit the materiel of Soviet tank troops. Technology itself does not fight. And in itself superiority on the battlefield does not guarantee.
Battles and battles are won not by tanks and battleships, but structureswhich they enter. And the "millimeters" (armor and caliber) are certainly interesting, but they themselves do not solve anything, like the horsepower hidden in the engines. The Japanese gained dominance in the sky over the Pacific Ocean at a very modest TTX "Zero". There other factors played a role.
German tankers conquered Europe on very medium (in all senses of the word) tanks, but in general light ones. But they conquered. The Tigers, the Yagdtigers, and the Koenigtigers did not somehow succeed. Although German divisionsarmed with similar equipment look really intimidating. But they could not achieve something outstanding in terms of captures. The historical paradox. They were beaten on the Eastern Front, and actively beaten, simply because they had already learned how to fight. The first "appearance of the" Tiger "of the Red Army" was passed almost unnoticed by anyone in the latter. But Pz-I in the summer of 41 simply "burned with napalm" and terrified.
The latest offensive of the 6th SS Panzer Army near Balaton on modern technology ended in failure for many reasons, the main of which: Soviet anti-tank artillerymen laid the shell at the target from the first shot. No options. Because experience. The Americans suffered a bit earlier from the same tanks, due to the lack of such skills (well, not the same equipment!).
In technically difficult combat arms and types of troops, to compensate for the quantity by quality is often a hopeless business. The best anti-tank gun cannot be better than the calculation that serves it. Millimeters and things won’t save us, alas. They will not save anyone.
The sudden scandalous discussion around the battle of Prokhorovka (the mother of all tank battles) exposed the same problem of the insufficient qualification of Soviet tank crews of the 43rd year model (at all levels). As it turned out a lot after the war, that legendary battle for the Red Army was not too successful, so to speak. Although it seems as if the war had not begun. And it seems like not suddenness.
But the thing is that tank troops are a technically sophisticated branch of the armed forces, and qualification is crucial here. In general, the miracle did not happen, and although “reinforcements were sent,” it did not help much.
The same Isaev, analyzing the megacounts of the German megaases of the Luftwaffe, ironically remarks that this is rather “the temperature of the patient, not the girth of the biceps” and that the Soviet approach of “mass training of pilots” was better than the German bet on experts. I won’t argue about aviation (a big separate issue), but as for tankers and tank units, the conclusion is most likely not in favor of the Soviet approach of mass production of tanks and the use of low-skilled tankers.
Well, I used the Red Army tanks "massively", used from the first days of the war (when the crews were still with pre-war training) And what did she give? Where are the results, Billy? We need results ... but the results are somehow not very good. The most annoying thing is that at least to make a lasting impression on the German soldiers and especially the German tankmen with these "massive tank attacks" at the beginning of the war did not work out very well. Somehow they "did not get deposited" in memory. Yes, and the "legendary thirty-four," they noticed a little late. Far from June. Well, when they noticed, they began to "finish off" the Tiger in a hurry just to repulse the massive attacks of enemy tanks (including). But there was no “panic”.
As a matter of fact, already much later, the Arabs comrades used tanks in the most active way, and it was massive. But they also failed to throw the Israelis into the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s hard to say why. Although, based on the number of “Arab” tanks and the size of the territory “the most proud among small states,” that was how it was supposed to end.
Therefore, the traditional Soviet approach to the evaluation of tank troops through pieces, horsepower, millimeters, the author seems somewhat controversial. Any tank cannot be better than its crew, and taking into account the time and amount of resources necessary for the high-quality training of such a crew, the “mass approach” doesn’t work at all. A tank crew below average is more of a burden (a threat?) For their own. Considering the cost of materiel today and in any case a limited amount (T-90 can not be released as much as T-55), the approach to the tank units as elite and shock seems quite reasonable.
The massive use of tanks against a weak enemy is excessive, against a strong one, as practice shows, such a use of tanks (to compensate for everything else) leads to unjustified losses. And the throughput of any communication lines is slightly limited ... as is the ability of any rear to supply fuel. And the more armored vehicles you have, the more it eats fuel, and there are no more roads from this. Well, a large accumulation of tanks (the result of limited roads and fuel) is a dream for enemy aircraft and artillery.
That is, the Soviet "more than 50 thousand units of armored vehicles" - rather reinsurance "troika-generals" than a logical and practically necessary amount.