The creation of Soviet armaments

By MSW Add a Comment 9 Min Read


The T-27A saw action on the outer edges of the Soviet Empire when it was used by NKVD security troops in operations against the Basmachi bandits of the Karak desert on the borders with Afghanistan. By the time production ceased in 1933, some 2540 had been built. The tankettes were still in service in 1941, though by this time they were no longer used as machine gun carriers, but rather as tractors for pulling 37mm (1.46in) and 45mm (1.77in) antitank guns.

The most direct influences on the creation of Soviet armaments came from Germany. After World War I Germany, like the Soviet Union, was something of an international pariah. Cooperation between these two isolated nations germinated from the peculiarities of each other’s predicaments that closely intertwined. In short, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles the 100,000-man Reichswehr was permitted no planes or tanks. To the German High Command, the Soviet Union, with its vast space and closed borders, was the ideal place to secretly develop tanks and aircraft. To the Soviets, the benefit of access to German technical and· military personnel and ideas was obvious. This mutually beneficial relationship began briefly in 1924, before several internal German political problems terminated the agreement. The attractions for the armed forces of both sides proved too great, however, and in the late 1920s cooperation resumed, which was to last until Hitler came to power in January 1933.

In 1926, the Germans established a “Panzerschule” named “Kama” in Kazan. It was to teach both the practical and the theoretical. By 1929, the basic infrastructure had been built at the base and the first “Panzers” started arriving; six 23-ton tanks (BMW engines; 75mm main gun) and three 12-ton tanks armed with 37mm guns. The Soviet Army gave the Reichswehr a number of British Carden-Lloyd light tanks. In return for those, Germany provided the Soviet Union with a number of industrial and manufacturing tools the Soviets were not yet capable of fabricating. General Lutz of the Reichswehr was the Commanding Officer of the “Motor Transport Inspection Nr. 6”. One of the schools most famous teachers was Heinz Guderian. No German uniforms were worn; only civilian clothing was permitted – though on occasion, the Soviets who trained there as well let the Germans “borrow” their uniforms for a while.

In 1926 the Germans established a tank development school in the Soviet Union at Kazan, referred to as the Heavy Vehicle Experimental and Test Station. Despite the obvious advantages to both sides, agreement was not achieved without some internal wranglings. Elements of the Soviet General Staff were opposed for military and ideological reasons. In 1928 the Kazan school was made operational with the arrival of 10 German prototypes, weighing 18.28 tonnes (18 tons) each, designed by Krupps and Rheinmetall. German aircraft were also tested at Lipetsk, near Moscow. Equally as important as military cooperation was the assistance received from German designers and technicians in many areas of the Soviet armaments industry. The exchange of ideas and acquiring of techniques were, at times, quite close. In 1932 a Soviet team which was headed by the German engineer Grotte, developed the TG-1 Heavy Breakthrough tank as part of the wider mechanization of the Red Army, and the Soviets also purchased and built under licence the Rheinmetall 37mm (1.46in) antitank gun.

The relationship between the Reichswehr and Red Army was also one of distrust. Some senior Soviet officers such as J.P. Uborevich studied at the German War College, and a small number of more junior officers did attend German training courses at Kazan. In general, Defence Commissar K.V. Voroshilov preferred to train Soviet tank officers at the Red Army Armour Centre at Voronezh. The importance of these limited but invaluable exchanges on the development of each army’s ideas on the combat employment of tanks is difficult to assess. Both looked extensively to the British Army’s successful experience in World War I as well as its developments during the post-war period

As would be expected during any period of change in military affairs, German and Soviet military texts and articles at this point were translated and studied closely by both sides. But so were those of a wide number of other combative nations. Many of the conclusions about tactics which were reached during this era by the Reichswehr and the Red Army had strong parallels, but it stands to reason that they are so manifestly logical that it would be fruitless to try and argue which nation’s designers and engineers inspired the other.

What can be said with some certainty about this period is that between 1920 and 1930, the Red Army was a vibrant and imaginative organization that was busily engaged in developing its own unique ideas about the combat employment of tanks. These ideas were not a pale imitation of Germany’s, or of other nations. In fact, in some areas, the Soviets were to prove startlingly original.

Heinkel D 17


Germany’s first efforts in working with Moscow resulted in the construction of the Junkers factory in Fili (near Moscow). Negotiations dragged on for nearly a year before the Germans and the Soviets could agree on a signed document (October 1921 to December 1922). 300 metal-skinned a/c were supposed to be built at the plant per year; never reached. Politics interceded (on both sides), though the Soviets also stole many items from the plant and that did not make the Germans happy campers. In the end, the Junkers concession in Fili was liquidated.
In 1924, the Germans established a flight-school in Lipetsk (complementing the one they opened up in Italy); all equipment and operating costs to be covered by Germany. For nearly 10 years, the German school operated under the cover of the Soviet Fourth Air Squadron. At its inception, the German flight school contained close to 60 aircraft; mostly Fokker variants. By 1931, more modern aircraft types became available (at Soviet insistence because the Germans were dragging their feet here somewhat). That same year, high-altitude flights were also experimented with. During the summer of 1931, German and Soviet squadrons participated in mock attacks against daylight bombers – devising the most optimal attack and defense techniques. The Germans never wore uniforms, they always wore civilian clothing. By 1933, over 1,200 Luftwaffe pilots had been trained at Lipetsk. Of note is that many of the early R&D efforts of the Ju-87 were carried out at Lipetsk.

Chemical Warfare (CW)

Code-named “Tomka”, this base was located near Podosinky (Ivshchenkovo) in 1926 (in the Samara Region of the Volga). The location was not by chance. The base would need to draw on German speaking individuals for many support functions – thus, regions close to German colonies in the Soviet Union were always high on the site-selection list of the Reichswehr. During the months of August and September of 1923, the German company of GEFU (Gesellschaft für Förderung gewerblicher Unternehmungen) created a joint-venture company with its Soviet counterpart, Bersol. The Germans brought in many chemical warfare experts and established a very comprehensive CW program there. In May of 1926, the first batch of gas (diphosgene) was ready. Large-scale tests were conducted near Luga. Within a short period of time, many other types of gasses were also being produced at Tomka (coded yellow cross, blue cross, green cross, etc.)

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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