The armies of the Soviet Union had many weapons at their disposal to counteract the threat of German armoured formations – from orthodox anti-tank rifles, oddball 'Molotov Cocktail’ throwers and the unconventional use of dogs as living anti-tank mines.
Like the soldiers they commanded, many Soviet officers were inexperienced and lacked training at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Stalin’s ruthless purge of officers of the Red Army in 1937 had denuded the organisation of leadership and left deep scars in the survivors’ minds.
Like the soldiers they commanded, many Soviet officers were inexperienced and lacked training at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Stalin’s ruthless purge of the officers of the Red Army in 1937 had denuded the organization of leadership and left deep scars in the survivors’ minds. Throughout the war, showing initiative was seen as a dangerous trait, and most Soviet officers would follow their orders to the letter even if they meant marching their men to certain death.
The T-34/76 first saw action in late 1941, and was a significant leap forward in tank design – a rugged, no-nonsense anatomy and wide tracks enabled it to cope with the mud and snow of the Eastern Front. It married the perfect combination of thick, sloped armour and an efficient gun, along with extreme sturdiness, reliability, ease of manufacturing and maintenance.
The T-34 series, with its sloping armour, changed the principles of tank design during the war. The sloping, angular layout of the T-34 increased the effective armour thickness and also saw a larger proportion of shells deflected away than penetrated its armour. The introduction of the T-34 into action saw German tank design follow suit with similarly angled armour on the likes of the Panther and King Tiger. As German tank design came to the fore, the Soviet war machine once again raised the bar with the T-34/85.
What do you do when you are told to upgrade an already giant metal monster that took a whole new generation of tank to actually deal with? You make it bigger and make it louder. The IS-2 is that very same beast, made as a competent replacement for the KV series and it was a far better designed machine than its predecessor.
The KV-1 is a huge monster of a vehicle weighing at 45 tonnes it was one of Russia’s first heavy breed of tanks used within the second world war, it was famed for it’s near impregnability. The German anti-tank weaponry of the time had nearly no way of penetrating its armour, only the lack of training and manoeuvrability allowing it to fall foul of superior German tactics.
The Soviets were visionaries in the development of airborne troops and tactics, first forming a brigade-sized airborne unit after successful trials in December 1932. More units followed and by June 1941 five Airborne Corps existed in the Soviet order of battle, undoubtedly the strongest airborne force in the world. However in the desperate fighting of the early campaign these formations were pressed into service as regular infantry and virtually consumed.
‘Popular regimentation’ or the ‘people’s militia’ (Narodnoe Opolcheniye or Opolchenie) is a Russian tradition dating back to the 16th century and a powerful part of the national heritage. In times of emergency, a militia was selected from volunteers to serve alongside the regular army and defend their homes.
In 1941 the Soviet Union’s fortified borders were manned by units of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). These units were almost entirely destroyed in the first weeks of the campaign. After this, NKVD troops were chiefly used for internal security, but could potentially fight on the frontline as they did at Stalingrad in 1942 and during the Crimean Offensive in 1944.
Shortages meant that Soviet formations were sparsely served when it came to transport and rear-echelon support. Pioneer detachments were a notable exception. Their expertise was too essential to do without: bridge-building, demolitions, fortification construction and minefield placement and clearance. These all required skills the conscripted masses did not have. Assault engineers were specialists tasked with liquidating enemy strongpoints during an advance and clearing obstacles to allow tank units to breakthrough. This was extremely dangerous work with a high casualty rate (even by Red Army standards) and assault engineer units were sometimes equipped with SN-42 body armour to give them a fighting chance.
When the German army crashed over the Russian border in 1941, Hitler was confident of a short, sharp campaign. He nearly got one, but heroic defence by the massive Soviet armies slowed the Nazi advance. It was done by the simple private soldier, „Ivan” as the Germans called him. Brave, solid, and loyal, these soldiers endured dreadful battle conditions. Their equipment was unsophisticated but functional, much like the troops themselves.