Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front, 1941-1942

TankWarfare

This is a graphic reassessment of the greatest tank war in history. The 
research is impressive and the resulting book authoritative. There are maps and tables, 
together with an excellent photo plate section. Everything to commend this book to any 
reader with an interest in WWII

 

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NAME: Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front, 1941-1942
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
DATE: 290414
FILE: R1967
AUTHOR: Robert Forczyk
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES:  282
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Czech tanks, PkwI, PkwII, PkwIII, PkwIV, PkwV, Panther, Tiger, King Tiger, 
assault guns, SP Guns, armoured carriers, armoured cars, T34, KV2, IS, Russian tanks, 
German tanks, Stalingrad, Kursk
ISBN: 1-78159-008-7
IMAGE: B1967.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/na62Z4J
LINKS: 
DESCRIPTION: This is a graphic reassessment of the greatest tank war in history. The 
research is impressive and the resulting book authoritative. There are maps and tables, 
together with an excellent photo plate section. Everything to commend this book to any 
reader with an interest in WWII.

There is in-depth analysis of tank actions in the major campaigns, providing insight into 
tactics and weaponry. For the knowledgeable reader, there are no great surprises but 
much useful fresh insight. For readers with a lower initial knowledge there will be a 
number of surprises.

When the Germans invaded Poland, they took a surprisingly unmechanised army into 
what was to become the start of WWII. There were armoured units in the first waves, 
but guns and supplies relied still on the horse for motive power. What armour was 
available was no better than obsolescent in respect of German design and production. 
The most effective tanks were Czech designs that were well ahead of German equipment. 
These light tanks were well armoured for their class, equipped with effective canon, 
and equipped with Christie-style large road wheels and broad tracks, a design much 
favoured by the Russians and exemplified by the famous T34. 

Given that Hitler had not expected serious resistance from the Polish Army and believed 
his invasion would follow the pattern of previous territorial land grabs, it is perhaps not 
surprising that his armoured units were so weak. What will be a big surprise for many 
readers is that the German army was still heavily reliant on Czech-designed and built 
armour when the invasion of Russia began.

Early German AFVs were really reconnaissance vehicles, providing a cross country 
vehicle that was resistant to rifle calibre fire, relatively fast, able to carry radio communications,
 but very lightly armed. Cross country performance was at best average and similar to British 
light tanks and tankette performance in the early 1930s. Reliability of these designs was poor 
and there were few facilities for recovering damaged or faulty tanks from the battlefield. 
This is one more example of how Hitler seriously miscalculated and was then unable to 
respond adequately when his assumptions of Franco-British weakness were proved wrong. 
Had he been free to chose the date of the war and take his estimates of German battle capability 
at 1944, the outcome might have been different. As it was, he was committed to battle before 
the advanced ships, aircraft and tanks had been developed. When they did start to appear in the 
closing stages of the war, they were supplied in small numbers with inadequate fuel and spares, 
and without highly trained personnel.

By the time that the invasion of Russia began in June 1941, the Germans had learned much 
about the operation of combined arms formations with a highly mechanized force component. 
It had been appreciated that battlefield recovery of armoured vehicles was very important. Tank 
design had advanced significantly, but production and delivery of the new designs was still 
too slow to meet the demands of all the theatres, and particularly of the new Russian front with 
its many rivers, marshes, bitter winters and vast distances.

The Russian forces available initially were not experienced in combined arms mobile warfare 
with its armoured personnel carriers, tanks and armoured cars. Stalin had purged his officer 
corps ruthlessly and this left critical gaps in the command structure. Russian tanks included large 
numbers of light tanks, similar to the early German tanks, but designed for the wet conditions 
that made tank swimming an important requirement.  Radio communication was very rare and the 
Russian armour suffered from this lack of communication and control. They also suffered from 
the German air superiority that denied the Russians the use of close air support that was such an 
advantage to the Germans. Their greatest weakness was a lack of recovery vehicles, so that any 
Russian tank that was damaged, or had broken down, was unlikely to be recovered, so that losses 
were total and new tanks had to be obtained from factories well behind the front lines. In addition 
to many light tanks, the Russians did have some heavy tanks, including the multi-turreted designs 
that offered very poor performance in mobility or controlled firepower. The Germans were awed 
by the KV-2 heavy tank because of its massive turret and sheer size, but this proved to be a very 
poor performer and its size made it obvious to the excellent German anti-tank weapons.

What was initially lacking were the designs from the Russian cruiser tank development with its 
enthusiasm for Christie suspension. When the T-34 reached the battlefields it had a major impact 
on the Germans. With new tank factories being built behind the Urals, Russia was able to begin 
the rapid expansion of production of what was a very effective tank design, although in some 
towns, the tanks factories were in sight of German troops and some rolled into battle without 
paint, straight off the end of the production line.

Vital to the stabilization, and preparations to go over to the offensive, was the delivery to the 
Russians of many British and US armoured vehicles. The Russians took enthusiastically to the 
British Bren Gun Carrier and they also made good use of the Matilda infantry tanks. The 
importance of this supply of armour was largely played down by the Russians and some troops 
mounted on White half tracks were amazed to see US troops mounted on 'their' half tracks 
when they met eventually in Germany. In many cases, the Russians covered or removed the 
original markings and added Russian markings, in much the same way as their post-war rocket 
program used captured V2 rockets, half of which were painted and marked as Russian designs.

The author has covered the first two stages of the battle for the Eastern Front. By taking the 
invasion date in 1941 to the great battles of 1942, he has been able to take the initial German 
superiority in equipment, tactics, support and experience and then examine the Russian fight 
back. In this he has captured the epic scale of this conflict and fairly reviewed both of the 
opposing sides. This book will long be the standard against which other books on these 
subjects are measured.