As with other titles in this series, this is essentially a photo essay that contains many rare photographs from military archives. There are some familiar images that are used in most books covering WWII in Europe, but most images are published for the first time in a book available to the general public. The text is concise and adds to the images. Production quality is high.
NAME: Images of War, Russian Armour in the Second World War
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Michael Green
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, 1939-1945, technology, tactics, organization, Soviet Red Army, armour, Eastern Front
DESCRIPTION: As with other titles in this series, this is essentially a photo essay that contains many rare photographs from military archives. There are some familiar images that are used in most books covering WWII in Europe, but most images are published for the first time in a book available to the general public. The text is concise and adds to the images. Production quality is high.
The Red Army suffered greatly from Stalin’s purges in terms of senior and middle ranking officers taken prisoner and executed or sent to the labour camps in the East. The purges also affected the designers and constructors of military equipment. Very little has been published on the development of military technologies in the Soviet Union before The Great Patriotic War. This book is therefore particularly welcome because it starts with a review of armour developed and acquired from the Civil War between the Soviets and the White Russians.
Early Soviet armour was captured British and French tanks and armoured cars that were supplied to the White Russians. At the end of the civil war, the Soviets embarked on a crash industrialisation with concentration on heavy industry. That provided the means to manufacture armoured fighting vehicles but early work was heavily influenced by British designs and the work of the American Christie.
Soviet Russia faced much the same challenges militarily as the Tsars had. Russia had grown by acquisition of neighbouring territories into a vast geographic area with a multitude of different racial and cultural groups, massive natural resources, but no real industrial base. In deploying armour, there were special challenges. The winters were long and hard, providing enormous flat areas of ice that potentially made good ground for armoured vehicles, but was hostile to machinery that froze and broke. At the end of winter, the thaw created a landscape of mud and rivers. In the summer months there were huge dry prairies that stretched for ever.
It was therefore natural for the Red Army to spend a great deal of effort on small reconnaissance tanks and armoured cars that could swim. For the most part these designs derived from British and French tankettes and light tanks, where a small crew was equipped with light guns and armoured primarily against rifle calibre weapons. Turrets were usually one-man turrets where the crew member was overworked and the vehicle of limited real use in large battles.
The Red Army also spent effort in building heavy tanks with multiple turrets, following a British fashion that produced costly and heavy vehicles with generally low reliability. The Soviets never completely gave up on amphibious light tanks and armoured cars, continuing to design and build them to the collapse of the Soviet Union. They also continued to expend effort on heavy tanks, but with a conventional configuration of a single turret with gunner, loader, commander and sometimes radio operator. The shortage of radio equipment resulted in all Soviet armour equipping command tanks with radio and relying on that tank to pass necessary information to the other tanks in its unit.
Medium tanks were initially equipped with multiple turrets and a relatively light armament, but a Russian passion for the Christie designs, where large wheels could be used with or without tracks, and experimentation with early British cruiser tank designs was to result in an outstanding and iconic tank that jumped the Red Army forward and came as a very nasty shock for the invading Germans. The T-34 combined very good mobility with low ground pressure for the size of tank. Thick well-sloped armour, and an effective main gun that could penetrate most German tanks at the time of its introduction. The T-34 was often roughly finished and in some notable cases, the tanks rolled off the production lines and straight into battle within sight of the factory. The tank was so good that it caused a major rethink by the Germans in their own development program.
The T-34 was supported by the KV models and the IS heavy tanks, the IS mounting the 123mm main gun that could penetrate even the Royal Tigers of the German Army. The Red Army regarded artillery as the prime weapon on the battlefield and therefore expended much effort in building self-propelled artillery on armoured chassis, including tank destroyers with the heaviest anti-armour guns.
The fame of the T-34 has largely hidden the contribution made by British and American AFVs that were shipped to Russia in very large numbers. The Red Army liked some of these designs although many were less effective than Soviet designs in the harsh conditions encountered on the Eastern Front during WWII. The White Scout Cars and half-tracks were particularly favoured by the Red Army. One surprise was that the British Tetrarch light tank and the Universal (or Bren) Carrier were much liked. The Bren was very much in the style of the tankette with no armour over the crew, only around the sides and underneath. It made a useful personnel carrier and tow vehicle for small anti-tank guns. The Tetrarch was considered a failure by the British who intended it to be delivered by glider to provide airborne troops with light armour. It employed a novel method of track steering and also fitted into the light reconnaissance tank category that was highly favoured by the Red Army.
The book documents all of these factors with an excellent selection of images.