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George Collins

Was the Russian T-34 Really the Best Tank of WW2? HISTORYINSTANT ARTICLES

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Steve MacGregor writes, "Most early T-34s were not provided with radios. Only the platoon leader’s tank had a radio (approximately one tank in five). Communication during combat was intended to be by flag." Are you writing about June 1941, Steve? Actually, tank radio 71-TK-1 was installed on 3-4 of 10 RKKA tanks of all models by then. And how many Wehrmacht tanks would you say were equipped with radios at the time? I thought so...

Next, Steve writes, "According to the Armored Directorate of the Red Army, the average T-34 in World War Two lasted less than 200 kilometers (124 miles) before requiring major repair or overhaul. This means that a T-34 generally needed significant repairs before it had even used its first full tank of diesel!" Wow! But it's not clear how this failure rate is being assessed. It sure looks as the result of that "It wasn’t unknown for Soviet tank brigades to lose anything from 30% – 50% of their T-34s just traveling to the combat area." And how do you know that these were lost due to actual mechanical failures - not because the crews simply abandoned them and deserted? It is estimated that from 1 to 1.5 million RKKA personnel deserted and another from 3 to 4 million were captured as POWs in the first 6 months of the war. If during the same time period RKKA personnel managed to lose 6.3 million pieces of small arms (including some of the most reliable in the world - like Mosin rifle, TT hand-guns and Degtyarev machine-guns), it sure looks like mechanical failures had little to do with that.

If - as Steve says - "Taking all these things into account, it seems that the notion of the T-34 as the best tank of World War Two is little more than an enduring piece of Soviet propaganda," is true, so are the accounts of how exactly these thousands of tanks were abandoned in 1941. I doubt that von Kleist's and Guderian's opinion on T-34 that Steve himself quoted here was beat out of them by NKVD agents. 

Edited by George Collins

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Many recognised authorities rate the T34/85 the very best tank of WW2:-very powerful gun, heavy and well-shaped armour, and an excellent engine and drive-train. What's more, where sheer numbers mattered ,over 53,000 of all models were produced,more than any other tank:- including the Sherman.

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9 hours ago, Philip Whitehouse said:

Many recognised authorities rate the T34/85 the very best tank of WW2:-very powerful gun, heavy and well-shaped armour, and an excellent engine and drive-train. What's more, where sheer numbers mattered ,over 53,000 of all models were produced,more than any other tank:- including the Sherman.

What's most irritating about Steve's piece about T-34 is that he concludes with the "Soviet propaganda" jab, when in fact he goes along with many bits of what the said Soviet propaganda utilized to explain away the catastrophic collapse of RKKA in 1941 - particularly by minimizing and denigrating its enormous superiority in assets. Of course, if you read most of the archived field reports from the first months of the war, you would be mired in the description of countless transmission failures, broken clutches and alike explaining away rapidly melting tank regiments. But then there are these (a piece of memories of S.A.Afanasiev, a private tankman of the 8th tank regiment in the 4th tank division of the 6th mechanized corps):

"... In the morning of June 23 we were attacked by German aircrafts. We had the newest tanks, all of them T-34s and KVs. We were hiding in the forest. At that moment our battalion was under command of Captain Rassadnev, but I had not seen him since afternoon of June 23, as we used to scatter in all directions for several times that day...We retreated through roadless forests and swamps, as all the good roads were taken by the Germans. We left Volkovysk, Slonim, Baranovichi… We did not even get in contact with the enemy. I think the panic was generated by the officers themselves. They used to tear off their officer bars in soldiers' sight…We reached Smolensk this way, and the equipment we left there was just numberless! Everybody just fled, with materiel and weaponry (tanks, guns) being abandoned. I can't even tell where the combat took place as there was almost no combat. There was only one night when we had to break through the German landing force on our way; it was near Slonim or Stolbtsy… (165, page 260)"

http://www.solonin.org/en/book_june22/12

Steve should probably try to calculate how long "the average T-34 in World War Two lasted" based on accounts like this.

Edited by George Collins

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13 minutes ago, Nameless556 said:

Imagine thinking the Degtyarev guns are good. 

Good enough for the Germans and especially the Finns to use en mass when they captured them.

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6 hours ago, Nameless556 said:

Imagine thinking the Degtyarev guns are good. 

But they were. The L/54.6 version was still potent enough to cause US flyers grief in the skies over Hanoi, two-three decades after the end of WW2.

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On 12/5/2018 at 10:31 AM, George Collins said:

Good enough for the Germans and especially the Finns to use en mass when they captured them.

well yeah, by the end of 1942 to the end of the war the Germans and fins used anything they could get there hands on. 

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4 hours ago, Nameless556 said:

well yeah, by the end of 1942 to the end of the war the Germans and fins used anything they could get there hands on. 

You probably should - but you don't apparently - know that the German arms production really started to accelerate only by 1942 and dropped off only toward the second half of 1944. In particular, assault gun production in 1943 was almost 6 times higher than that in 1941.

 https://ww2-weapons.com/german-arms-production/

Edited by George Collins

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On 12/6/2018 at 5:21 PM, George Collins said:

You probably should - but you don't apparently - know that the German arms production really started to accelerate only by 1942 and dropped off only toward the second half of 1944. In particular, assault gun production in 1943 was almost 6 times higher than that in 1941.

 https://ww2-weapons.com/german-arms-production/

well yeah I know it really picked up during 1943-1944. In 1944 alone they produced 18,900 tanks, more then any other time in the war.    But in between they still used almost anything they could get there hands on. Such as during Stalingrad when they used the PPSH and DP-27. But they were still poor guns, with the RPM being far too low ( 550 )  And the Pan magazine was prone to damage, the Bipod could break if not handled carefully.  The recoil spring's location near the barrel led also  to overheating

Edited by Nameless556

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16 hours ago, George Collins said:

In between? whatever...🙄

Who cares about a grammatical error, My point being the DP was not a very good weapon. While not being as bad as the cachuat but no where near as good as the MG34 orM1919A6 browning.                     

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1 hour ago, Nameless556 said:

Who cares about a grammatical error,       

Grammatical error? How about making common sense? You're saying that the German war production picked up in 43-44, but "in between" "such as at Stalingrad when they used the PPSH and DP-27"... What? Firstly, the 6th Army at Stalingrad was sacked at the end of November of 1942, with only a few weeks to go in the year. Secondly, once sacked, they would not get many of anything to get their hands on. Thirdly, my original point was not to compare Degtyarev to "MG34 or M1919A6 browning" or anything else. The point was that RKKA obviously lost 6.3 units of small arms for a distinctly other reason than whether Degtyarev's "RPM being far too low ( 550 )" or not. This argument is ludicrous on its face.

Edited by George Collins

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19 hours ago, George Collins said:

Grammatical error? How about making common sense? You're saying that the German war production picked up in 43-44, but "in between" "such as at Stalingrad when they used the PPSH and DP-27"... What? Firstly, the 6th Army at Stalingrad was sacked at the end of November of 1942, with only a few weeks to go in the year. Secondly, once sacked, they would not get many of anything to get their hands on. Thirdly, my original point was not to compare Degtyarev to "MG34 or M1919A6 browning" or anything else. The point was that RKKA obviously lost 6.3 units of small arms for a distinctly other reason than whether Degtyarev's "RPM being far too low ( 550 )" or not. This argument is ludicrous on its face.

Please quote where you said not to compare it to the M1919 or MG34. And Not just the rpm being too low. I have stated thee recoil spring was located too close to the barrel, which  led to overheating.  And the pan drum being far to large and bulky, AND being awkward to load. Also I am  saying  that they could use anything they could get there hands on, You saying your self the Germans and fins used them en mass.  

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1 hour ago, Nameless556 said:

Please quote where you said not to compare it to the M1919 or MG34. 

Excuse me? My point had nothing to do with M1919 or MG34 to begin with - you brought those up, and now you demand that I prove a negative? Are you raised on marxist dialectics or something? 

1 hour ago, Nameless556 said:

I have stated thee recoil spring was located too close to the barrel, which  led to overheating.  And the pan drum being far to large and bulky, AND being awkward to load. 

And I've already stated that I have no idea what does it have anything to do with RKKA losing 6.3 million pieces of small arms in 1941. Certainly not because they were overpowered by the said M1919 or MG34, simply because Wehrmacht infantry invaded Russia with comparatively small number of machine guns to begin with. They were overwhelmingly armed with rifles.  

Edited by George Collins

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2 hours ago, George Collins said:

Excuse me? My point had nothing to do with M1919 or MG34 to begin with - you brought those up, and now you demand that I prove a negative? Are you raised on marxist dialectics or something? 

And I've already stated that I have no idea what does it have anything to do with RKKA losing 6.3 million pieces of small arms in 1941. Certainly not because they were overpowered by the said M1919 or MG34, simply because Wehrmacht infantry invaded Russia with comparatively small number of machine guns to begin with. They were overwhelmingly armed with rifles.  

Yes but I compared the DP-27 with M1919 and MG34. I just used them to compare. You said that the soviets had managed to lose some 6.3 Million small arms." And among them some of the best in the world    No im not a marxist. I am just saying that the DP-27 was not a very good gun. Especially compared to other machine guns.  And yes the Germans and Fins used them.

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45 minutes ago, Nameless556 said:

You said that the soviets had managed to lose some 6.3 Million small arms." And among them some of the best in the world

Actually, that's not what I've said - and your misreading of it muddies the point. This is what I wrote (look it up):

"RKKA personnel managed to lose 6.3 million pieces of small arms (including some of the most reliable in the world - like Mosin rifle, TT hand-guns and Degtyarev machine-guns)". 

The point is that they did not lose these pieces because they were jamming or blowing up or not firing, etc, etc. They lost them because they were on the run. Just like T-34 crews did not lose hundreds of tanks due to the alleged mechanical failures - which is what the article in question is about. Rather, they alleged mechanical failures to excuse themselves from losing the tanks. Seriously, what does it have anything to do with M1919? 

Edited by George Collins

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9 minutes ago, George Collins said:

Actually, that's not what I've said - and your misreading of it muddies the point. This is what I wrote (look it up):

"RKKA personnel managed to lose 6.3 million pieces of small arms (including some of the most reliable in the world - like Mosin rifle, TT hand-guns and Degtyarev machine-guns)". 

The point is that they did not lose these pieces because they were jamming or blowing up or not firing, etc, etc. They lost them because they were on the run. Just like T-34 crews did not lose hundreds of tanks due to the alleged mechanical failures - which is what the article in question is about. Rather, they alleged mechanical failures to excuse themselves from losing the tanks. Seriously, what does it have anything to do with M1919? 

My bad M1919A6. oh yeah they were reliable for sure, but my point saying that the DP was not a very good gun. but look at my first comment,

 

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14 minutes ago, Nameless556 said:

My bad M1919A6. oh yeah they were reliable for sure, but my point saying that the DP was not a very good gun. but look at my first comment,

Your first comment was, "Imagine thinking the Degtyarev guns are good," which in the context of your body of work here appears to ridicule my first comment ...and incidentally misses my point by a mile. 

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Are we not straying from the thread a little ?

The proposition concerned whether the best tank in WW2 was the T-34 or not.

I would content it was- as would a lot of people- but we seem to be debating the properties of an MG.

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23 hours ago, George Collins said:

Your first comment was, "Imagine thinking the Degtyarev guns are good," which in the context of your body of work here appears to ridicule my first comment ...and incidentally misses my point by a mile. 

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It’s always good to see discussion about an article and, for what it’s worth, let me add to what I wrote in the original article.

By the time of the German invasion of Russia in 1941, I believe that virtually all German Panzer III and IV tanks were provided with radios. Not all were two-way radios – many tanks had radio sets capable only of receiving, not transmitting, but there was very little requirement for visual signalling in combat.

The poor reliability of the T-34/76 is a matter of historical record. A ‘Stalin Order’ issued in the summer of 1942 noted: ‘Our armored forces and their units frequently suffer greater losses through mechanical breakdowns than they do in battle.’ In September 1942 the People’s Commissar of the Tank Industry, Major General Kotin, gave an address at a conference at a tank factory in the Urals in which he said: ‘Now ... there are a lot of complaints about the T-34. You all know the reasons for flaws in the tanks.’ ‘Our machines are better, but have a disadvantage: after 50 or 80 kilometers march they require repair.’ A T-34/76 was provided for evaluation by US Army engineers at the Aberdeen proving ground in 1943. It became inoperable when its engine failed after covering less than 350 Kilometers. A German unit which used captured T-43 Model 43 (Beute-Panzer) noted in a report in 1944 that: ‘It can be stated that the Russian tanks are not suitable for long road marches and high speeds. It is also necessary on marches to halt every half hour for at least 15 to 20 minutes to let the machine cool down. Difficulties and breakdowns of the steering clutches have occurred with all the new Beute-Panzer.’

Many of the reliability problems were caused by rushed production undertaken by semi-skilled or unskilled workers and things like a lack of effective heat treatment on components such as gearbox parts. I am sure that losses of T-34s were compounded by desertion and deliberate sabotage by their crews, but I believe it is still reasonable to say that the T-34/76 in service was notably less reliable than its American or German counterparts (with the exception of early versions of the German Panther which also suffered from reliability issues).

The T-34/76 also had a number of basic design flaws, the most significant being its two-man turret (others included very cramped interior space, side fuel cells and weak final drive components). By 1941, most nations had recognized that requiring a tank commander to act also as gunner placed too high a workload on a single person, which was why all comparable German tanks and many Allied tanks had three-man turrets with a commander, gunner and loader. This was compounded by the lack of a turret basket and poor visibility from the T-34/76 – the same German unit which commented on the poor reliability of captured T-34s noted that safe driving and effective command ‘can't be achieved with the hatches closed.’

The later T-34/85 was notably better and directly addressed many of these problems, but the majority of T-34s which saw service during the war were the earlier model. Taking these things together, I have grave doubts about calling the T-34 the best tank of World War Two though that is, of course, a personal and subjective assessment.

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On 12/16/2018 at 2:05 AM, Steve Mac said:

Taking these things together, I have grave doubts about calling the T-34 the best tank of World War Two though that is, of course, a personal and subjective assessment.

That's a perfectly reasonable position, Steve, and it only underscores the need for critical view of many snippets you're using here.

On 12/16/2018 at 2:05 AM, Steve Mac said:

By the time of the German invasion of Russia in 1941, I believe that virtually all German Panzer III and IV tanks were provided with radios. Not all were two-way radios – many tanks had radio sets capable only of receiving, not transmitting, but there was very little requirement for visual signalling in combat.

I must say that this is a rather irrelevant statement, all things considered. First of all, it does not pertain to a tank design, per se. Secondly, I've already quoted Solonin about from 30 to 40 percent of RKKA tanks of ALL models being equipped with the radios by June 1941, which means that most if not all T-34 and KV tanks (brand new at the time) were. And if you in any way are implying that Pz-III and Pz-IV were in any way better than T-34, you are not being serious. The Pzs' only comparable feature was 75 mm gun on some (not all) of Pz-IV tanks. Diesel engines powered T-34s faster, farther, and in worse conditions compared to highly flammable gasoline powered Wehrmacht tanks at the time. 

On 12/16/2018 at 2:05 AM, Steve Mac said:

The poor reliability of the T-34/76 is a matter of historical record. A ‘Stalin Order’ issued in the summer of 1942 noted: ‘Our armored forces and their units frequently suffer greater losses through mechanical breakdowns than they do in battle.

A ‘Stalin Order’ is a very poor sourcing format, Steve. There were hundreds of "Stalin Orders", so you might want to be more specific about the number, the date and the context. Something tells me that you're using a second hand account here, without specifying what it is. 

On 12/16/2018 at 2:05 AM, Steve Mac said:

A German unit which used captured T-43 Model 43 (Beute-Panzer) noted in a report in 1944 that: ‘It can be stated that the Russian tanks are not suitable for long road marches and high speeds. It is also necessary on marches to halt every half hour for at least 15 to 20 minutes to let the machine cool down. Difficulties and breakdowns of the steering clutches have occurred with all the new Beute-Panzer.’

I assume you inadvertently transposed 3 and 4 here, but more to the point is that I can fetch many anecdotal accounts by Wehrmacht personnel of all ranks complaining about their immobilized tanks in vast wilderness of Russia - there is no shortage of that, quite obviously. Yet, one of the foremost authorities on all things WWII, Müller-Hillebrand, wrote, "The appearance of  T-34 tank was an unpleasant surprise... Due to its speed, all-terrain travel capability, reinforced armor and armament, especially the extended 76 mm gun providing for improved accuracy and piercing power at unreachable before distances, [T-34] represented an entirely new type of tanks." (Das Heer 1933-1945).  

Lastly, when you write,  "I believe it is still reasonable to say that the T-34/76 in service was notably less reliable than its American or German counterparts (with the exception of early versions of the German Panther which also suffered from reliability issues)", you kind of contradict your own argument. Why would you compare early versions of T-34 to later versions of its "counterparts", if vice versa is not acceptable?

Edited by George Collins

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Surely the T-34/85 rectified all of the short-comings of the earlier model: a better gun, a larger turret, (allowing another crew member) thicker armour, and (at last!) radios.

Compared to (say) the Sherman, it had: a  lower silhouette, far better gun,better armour -and sloping- fast and reliable.

It might be argued that the T34/85 was a game-changer in that it introduced the concept of the Main Battle Tank (MBT), one platform that did it all, replacing Light ,medium and heavy tanks in a single vehicle.

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