Soviet Artillery – Cold War 1970-89

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While the tank became the public and political symbol of an army’s military prowess, overshadowing other battlefield weapons systems, within armies the importance of the artillery arm remained undiminished and, despite the advent of missiles and rockets, the gun remained the weapon of choice in the tactical battle.fn1 Provided targets were within range, guns were capable of producing extremely accurate and very destructive fire at virtually any spot selected by battlefield commanders. Further, artillery command-and-control systems enabled the guns to switch targets quickly and to increase the weight of fire by bringing additional batteries into action as required.

Artillery was of great importance in the Second World War, and this continued in the many smaller wars between 1945 and 1990, when the tactical value of artillery was demonstrated repeatedly, although never more convincingly than at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu during the First Indo-China War. During that prolonged siege, which lasted from December 1953 to May 1954, Viet Minh artillery occupied the hills overlooking the French base and from there they totally dominated the battlefield, closed the airfield, cut off supplies, and eventually bludgeoned the garrison into defeat.

In the early 1950s there were only a small number of self-propelled guns, all in open mounts on converted tank chassis, which supported armoured divisions in some armies (e.g. the British and US). The great majority of guns were wheeled pieces, towed either by a specially designed artillery tractor or, in some cases, by an ordinary general-purpose truck. At a US army conference held in Washington in January 1952 it was decided that the speed of modern warfare was increasing to such an extent, particularly with the infantry planning to be mounted entirely in armoured personnel carriers, that wheeled guns would no longer be able to keep up with the speed of movement. Also, the threat of nuclear weapons made it necessary to place the crews inside closed gun-houses (turrets) for protection. Furthermore, tracked vehicles were more capable of moving into temporary fire positions, getting into and out of action quickly, since there was no need to separate the gun from its tractor and set it on a base-plate. Then, after firing, they could move out rapidly – the so-called ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactic – before enemy artillery could determine the source of the rounds and fire a counter-battery mission.

Soviet artillery had established an awesome reputation during the Second World War, but for the next two decades it experienced a conservatism unusual in the Soviet armed forces, which not only adhered to towed artillery, but also invariably deployed it in rows of six guns in uncamouflaged fire positions. Well-established Second World War guns therefore remained in service throughout the 1950s, and their replacements in the 1960s were also towed. It was only in the 1970s that self-propelled guns came into service, in which existing tracked chassis were matched to modified versions of existing guns, producing systems of 122 mm, 152 mm and 203 mm calibre. Although long overdue, these proved to be of excellent quality, with the usual Soviet combination of practical design, simplicity and long range, and caused considerable alarm in the West.

Czechoslovakia made a notable contribution to artillery design with its DANA system, which entered service in 1981. This featured a 152 mm gun in a split turret mounted on a modified 8 × 8-wheeled truck chassis. Although the wheels reduced its cross-country capability in comparison with a tracked vehicle, its performance was more than adequate for service in central Europe with its excellent road systems, and any tactical disadvantages were offset by its high road speed, long road range, considerably reduced capital cost, and ease of maintenance.

As with tankmen, gunners pursued the goal of first-round accuracy. Accuracy on target depended upon knowing the precise location of the guns, and manual methods of surveying gun positions gave way to much faster and more accurate electronic systems. In addition, movements became so frequent and time in any one position so brief that the traditional method of ascertaining meteorological conditions by visual and manual methods was no longer adequate and fully automated systems were introduced.

The introduction of SP guns with the crew housed in a turret meant that visual methods of control on the gun position were superseded by radio. Ever-expanding artillery communication systems also enabled artillery commanders to exercise much greater co-ordination and control of their units, and to respond much more rapidly to requests for fire support. Many national artillery arms were also quick to latch on to the potential of computerized fire-control systems.

Counter-Battery fire

Every military system inevitably preys on its own, and, as artillery became more effective, so too did the duel between artillery systems (known as ‘counter-battery’ fire) intensify. In the early 1950s there were two, fairly primitive, methods of locating enemy artillery. One used analysis of craters to estimate the direction and range of the gun. The other, called ‘sound ranging’, used sensitive microphones placed along a line (the ‘sound base’) and connected by radio; the sound of gunfire was detected by operators, who used the time of detection at the different microphones to compute the point of origin.

In the 1970s, however, the scale and efficiency of Soviet artillery systems, coupled with the ever shorter time spent in any one position, forced NATO to develop more accurate, more rapid and less manpower-intensive systems, such as the US army’s Firefinder, which consisted of two radars: one to detect mortars, the other to detect guns and missile launchers. On detecting a projectile, the radars tracked it briefly and then used the trajectory to compute the point of origin, presenting the precise location of the launch site to the operator before the incoming projectile had hit the ground. The operator then passed the co-ordinates of the enemy position to the fire-direction centre, for it to be included in the counter-battery fire plan.

Artillery: NATO and Warsaw Pact

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Soviet Tactical Nuclear Surface-To-Surface Missiles

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Like those of the USA, the Soviet Union’s first post-war missile was a development of the German A-4; this led to the SS-1A (NATO = ‘Scunner’) with a range of 300 km and a 750 kg high-explosive warhead. The first nuclear battlefield missile to enter service (in 1957) was the Scud-A, which was mounted on a converted JS-3 heavy-tank chassis and carried a 50 kT warhead over a range of some 150 km. This was later supplemented by the Scud-B system, which carried a 70 kT warhead over a range of 300 km. Although Scuds were supplied to many other countries, nuclear warheads were only ever issued to the Soviet army and the system served throughout the Cold War, as plans to replace it with the SS-23 were cancelled as part of the INF Treaty.

The SS-12 (‘Scaleboard’) was a road-mobile, solid-fuelled ballistic missile, which was first fielded in 1962, followed by a modified version, the SS-12B (initially designated SS-22), in 1979. The missile had a maximum range of 900 km and a CEP of 30 m, carrying either a high-explosive or a 500 kT nuclear warhead, and system reaction time was estimated at sixty minutes. The SS-12B was withdrawn under the terms of the INF Treaty, and all missiles were destroyed.

One of the significant features of both the SS-1 and the SS-12 was that later versions were transported by 8 × 8-wheel TELs. These were highly mobile for off-road driving, were air-conditioned, accommodated the full crew and all necessary equipment, and even had an automatic tyre-pressure-regulation system. All these features enabled the missile detachment to move into a new location, set up the missile quickly, launch, and then move to a resupply point – the so-called ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactic.

All Warsaw Pact exercises made use of battlefield nuclear weapons in support of attacks. A typical scenario, used some 233 weapons in the first strike, followed by 294 in the second strike. As used in these exercises, the intended purpose was to eliminate NATO forward troops – Area B, for example, coincided with the North German Plain. Following such a strike, the Warsaw Pact tank and motor-rifle units would have been able to advance rapidly into NATO rear areas.

The Soviet equivalent of the Honest John was known to NATO as the FROG (for Free Rocket Over Ground). The last model, the FROG-7, had HE, chemical, and nuclear warheads and a range of 42 miles. The SS-1C, known to NATO as the SCUD-B, was a guided missile with a range of 180 miles. During the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi-made crude versions of the SCUD proved widely inaccurate but were a tremendous nuisance to the Coalition, especially when Iraq fired them at Israel in a failed attempt to broaden the conflict. The Soviet SS-21 guided missile was a divisional-level system with a range of only 60 miles.

The SS-23 was an army-level system with a range of 300 miles. The SS-12 was a theater-level system with a range of 540 miles. All these Soviet systems carried nuclear warheads. Under the provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States agreed to eliminate the Pershing and the Soviets agreed to eliminate the SS-12 and SS-23.

Summit meeting between U. S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held in Moscow during 29 May–2 June 1988. It was the fourth such meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev since 1985. For Reagan, the conference coincided with congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair. Because of this, some critics speculated that the president was trying to divert attention from the scandal by creating a newsworthy achievement at the meeting. The major accomplishment of the summit was the signing of the already-ratified 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on 1 June 1988. It did not represent a breakthrough in arms control.

From the Soviet perspective, the 1988 summit greatly enhanced Gorbachev’s domestic and international prestige. This was because of the obvious close relationship between the two leaders and Reagan’s international reputation as an anticommunist hard-liner. Gorbachev’s heightened prestige gave him important political capital, which was needed as he continued to move forward with his perestroika and glasnost reforms.

The meeting was carefully crafted to focus on the INF Treaty. The treaty had been forged at the December 1987 Washington summit meeting between the two leaders and was approved by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in March 1988 and by the U. S. Senate on 29 May 1988. The treaty called for the destruction of 2,611 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with flight ranges of 300–3,400 miles. Included in the treaty were U. S. Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles as well as Soviet SS-4, SS-12, SS-20, and SS-23 missiles. It also specified very detailed on-site inspection and verification procedures. In accordance with the treaty, by 1991 both countries would have eliminated all intermediate- range nuclear missiles.

THE FATE OF THE ‘URALBOMBER’: 1943–4

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Junkers Ju89

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Dornier Do19

In May 1943 Hitler called German aviation industrialists together for a meeting. Ernst Heinkel, one of those present, recalled the Führer’s impatient demand for a high-performance bomber: ‘For three years I’ve been waiting for a long-distance bomber. I can’t bomb the convoys in the North Sea, nor can I bomb the Urals.’ A few months before, Hitler had told the air force chief of staff that the most urgent priority was a long-range heavy bomber for the Eastern Front to undertake raids by night ‘against long-distance targets which lie so far from our front that they [cannot] be reached by other aircraft types’. Hitler’s view – almost certainly correct – was that the air force made too many technical demands in the development of new aircraft and as a result produced persistent delays in providing the front line with what was strategically necessary. The Barbarossa Directive in December 1941 had anticipated a campaign against the Soviet armaments industry once the mobile war was over, but no campaign materialized, and no heavy bomber. The history of the air war against the Soviet Union would certainly have been different had an effective aircraft been available sooner and in sufficient quantities.

The story of the so-called ‘Uralbomber’ was a long one. In 1934 the then chief of the air staff, Colonel Walter Wever, was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea that in any future war a large multi-engine bomber would be needed. According to Andreas Nielsen, one of the German Air Force officers later recruited by the American Air Force to write historical studies on the war, Wever was convinced that the important target areas ‘would be Soviet industries and the outermost corners of European Russia’ and even beyond, in the Siberian regions to the east of the Urals. Two companies, Junkers and Dornier, were commissioned to produce an aircraft that soon attracted the nickname ‘Uralbomber’; the result was the Do19 and the Ju89, both of which first flew in 1936. Wever’s untimely death reduced the lobby in the Air Ministry in favour of a long-range bomber. His successor, Albert Kesselring, an army officer seconded to the air force, promoted greater army-air cooperation, and on 29 April 1937 the bomber programme was wound up. Research on bombing carried out by a special unit under the command of the future chief of staff, Hans Jeschonnek, confirmed an air force prejudice that precision bombing with highly trained crews carried out in bombers that could dive, to increase accuracy, was preferable to mass bombing with level-flying heavy aircraft. Air force technical development was led by a former fighter pilot, Ernst Udet, who understood the virtues of dive-bombing but had little sympathy for the large bomber. The Junkers Ju88, the bomber developed under Udet’s stewardship, carried a modest weight of bombs, but could dive to increase the impact of the bombs against a visible target on the ground. All bombers were supposed to be at the same time dive-bombers, whatever their size.

This was not the end of the German heavy bomber, as is usually argued, but only a pause. It was understood that a new generation of high-performance aircraft would be needed in the 1940s and that this should at least include a modern large bomber to supersede the obsolescent Do17 and He111 on which the force currently relied. On 2 June 1937, only weeks after the cancellation of the ‘Uralbomber’, the Ernst Heinkel works was given the contract to develop Project 1041 for a multi-engine long-range bomber. The aircraft was given the designation He177 and the prototype flew for the first time on 20 November 1939. By then it was already included in long-range planning for output from 1942 onwards, as successor to the ageing generation of medium bombers. It was intended to produce 350–450 bombers in 1942, rising to 900 in 1943 and over 1,500 in 1944. The new bomber had a limited performance compared with the new generation of British and American aircraft, the Avro Lancaster and the B-29 ‘Superfortress’ then under development. With a full load of 6,000 lbs of bombs the He177 had an operational range of only 745 miles, which would not take it to the Urals and back. The greatest handicap for the new long-range bomber was the requirement that despite its great bulk and weight, it should have the capacity to perform a shallow dive as well, a requirement entirely at odds with the size of the aircraft and its strategic purpose. Heinkel solved the problem by coupling two pairs of Daimler Benz DB-606 engines together, giving the aircraft four engines but only two nacelles, to reduce the drag during a dive. The engine configuration was not the only difficulty experienced with the aircraft – there were 56 files on modifications and technical problems on the He177 in Heinkel’s office – but it was the principal one. The aircraft as a result was prone to engine failure and engine fires, so much so that crews nicknamed it the Luftwaffenfeuerzeug, the ‘air force lighter’, and disliked having to fly it.

The slow pace of development of the He177 dictated by problems of design mattered less in the early part of the war when quick victories could be achieved with the prevailing technology. The German Air Force nevertheless expected that it would be their replacement bomber and by 1942, with the Soviet war prolonged beyond the first phase of fast-moving mobile warfare, the necessity for a bomber with greater bomblift and longer range became obvious. The strategic gap that this opened up for the air force was exacerbated by the insistent demands of the army for close support and the low level of serviceability and supply for the eastern theatre. An air force study written in late 1943 claimed that air force commanders had wanted to bomb Soviet industry from at least the autumn of 1941, but found that army requirements left the air force ‘completely harnessed to close support’ throughout the campaign. Although Hitler deplored the absence of a heavy bomber, his role as commander-in-chief of the army, assumed in December 1941, inclined him to place priority on air support for ground operations when these faced crisis. The main handicap, however, was the failure of the He177 to fulfil its early promise.

The sorry story of the He177 reflected more profound problems in the technical evolution of the air force. Uncertainty about the course of the war or the reliability of the aircraft had led to two cancellations, only for the model to be reinstated months later. Decision-making at a technical level was hampered by the interference of both Udet and Göring, neither of whom understood the nature of technical planning or grasped the extent to which industrial rivalry encouraged Heinkel to shield the seriousness of the design problems from fear that the heavy bomber would be placed with another company. Only in August 1942 did the chief of the air force development and testing office supply Göring with a comprehensive survey of all the faults of the He177, with the conclusion that the model could only be introduced successfully into combat by March 1944 at the earliest. Erhard Milch, Göring’s deputy, reflected that ‘one could weep’ over the failure of the air force’s one available strategic bomber. When Hitler was finally informed in May 1943 that the coupled engine was the explanation for the failure to get the He177 into combat he is supposed to have retorted: ‘But that’s madness … is it possible that there could be so many idiots?’ The air force technical branch had already arrived at the same conclusion and other bomber models were now in the pipeline, though years away from large-scale operation. Heinkel was ordered to convert the bomber to four regular but different engines (the DB-610) and the model was renamed the He277. It was ready for testing only by July 1944, by which time the bomber programme had been wound up in favour of fighters. Until then plans continued to produce the ill-starred He177 at the rate of 100 a month.

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The crisis of the German field army in the Soviet Union from Stalingrad onwards prompted the air force to argue the case for greater operational independence so that it could find ways to interrupt the flood of Soviet weapons and aircraft before they reached the front. In the summer of 1943 serious research began on what the chief bottleneck targets in the Soviet industrial system might be. The driving force behind the plan was the commander of the Sixth Air Fleet stationed in central Russia, Col. General Robert Ritter von Greim (who briefly replaced Göring as air force commander-in-chief in late April 1945). His staff drew up detailed contingency plans in June 1943 for a ‘Campaign against Soviet Russian War Economy’, but particularly the aero-engine industry, aviation fuel, locomotive production, tanks and vehicles. Two civilian experts, Professor Heinrich Steinmann and Dr Rudolf Carl, undertook their own analysis after being prompted by Armaments Minister Albert Speer, whose experience of Allied bombing of German industry inclined him to think that systematic destruction of the electricity-generating industry in the Moscow/Volga area might have decisive effects. The Carl Committee for ‘Economic Objectives for Air Attacks’ recommended destroying 56 generating stations in the region as the fastest way to impede Soviet war production. Models were made of the power stations and shown to Hitler. On Speer’s insistence, Hitler finally approved in December 1943 ‘Aktion Russland’ (Russian Action) for a single surprise attack against the Soviet energy system.

Most of this planning was delusional. Although the air force staff now led by General Günther Korten (following Jeschonnek’s suicide in August 1943), with Karl Koller as operations chief, strongly favoured a strategic campaign against selected Soviet targets, there were a great many obstacles to overcome. On 9 November 1943 Koller circulated a memorandum on ‘The Campaign against the Russian Arms Industry’, which at last won the army’s approval as a possibly surer way to destroy Soviet armaments at source rather than having to wait to destroy them at the fighting front. But the army preferred attacks against armament factories rather than energy supply, and was anyway soon demanding every bomber to stem the Soviet advance around Kiev. Specialist training units were set up for crews assigned to long-range night-bombing – something that had not been kept up after the end of the Blitz against Britain – but the shortage of He177 aircraft left them training on He111 and Ju88 medium bombers, with limited range. The crews needed time to learn how to use the new and more accurate Lotfe 7D bombsight, and the Fritz X gliding bomb, to maximize the impact of each raid. Navigation lagged behind Allied achievements. Air units were recommended to use a ‘command aircraft’ to circle over the chosen target, directing incoming bombers by radio to achieve the optimum impact, an arrangement that had already achieved some success in attacking tactical targets. It was difficult to find bases that could handle the new campaign and at the same time keep their purpose concealed. As Soviet forces advanced, so some of the targets chosen fell out of range. In January 1944 the experts concluded that attacks on the limited number of objectives still near enough to bomb ‘can lead to no decisive results’. By this stage of the war German bomber losses were exceeding production every month; from October 1943 to March 1944 the air force lost 2,623 bombers on all fronts against production of 2,109.114 In February ‘Aktion Russland’ was abandoned.

Instead, the 350 bombers that had been gathered on the Eastern Front for long-range operations were diverted back to a three-month railway campaign which proved unable to affect Soviet mobility materially and exposed the extent to which the speculations about doing serious damage to Soviet industry had been so much wishful thinking. Between January and May 1944 German aircraft destroyed no more than 34 kilometres of track, 15 railway bridges and 41 locomotives in more than 1,000 small raids. During the whole of 1944, 166 locomotives were destroyed and 441 damaged; during the same period only 11 factories were destroyed, together with 85 warehouses and shops. Nevertheless, in May 1944 Koller once again pressed unsuccessfully for a pre-emptive bombing campaign in the east, as the German strategic situation continued to deteriorate. The idea of bombing Soviet industry lingered on well past any point of operational reality. Late in 1944 Speer, von Greim and Koller persisted in arguing the case for long-range operations against economic targets. In April 1945 Koller, now chief of staff following Korten’s death from injuries sustained when the bomb exploded in Hitler’s headquarters in July 1944, recommended for the last time the idea of bombing more distant Soviet objectives. Hitler agreed, only to cancel his approval a few days later when every bomber was needed to defend the approaches to Berlin. Right to the end there remained a wide gap between ends and means in air force ambitions, a pattern that could be traced back to the illusions harboured about the degree of damage done to the British war effort during the Blitz. Despite the hope of many German Air Force leaders that they would be permitted to project a more strategic form of air power, the air force ended the war as it had begun it, conducting operational air warfare alongside the army.

There are many reasons why the transition to strategic bombing failed in the war on the Eastern Front: a shortage of aircraft given the demands of the fighting front; difficulties in maintaining adequate serviceability rates and the effects of the harsh climate; the muddled development of the one heavy bomber that might have fulfilled the task in time; the absence of a clear strategic view of what bombing might or might not achieve after the relative failure over Britain; and by 1943 the demand for long-range aircraft to support the Atlantic war and to renew the bombing of Britain. Whether or not a campaign to inhibit Soviet industrial production would have succeeded is open to speculation, given the capacity of the Soviet system to absorb massive shock and to improvise creatively, and the strongly coercive nature of Soviet labour policy. Soviet industrial building was certainly vulnerable to concentrated incendiary attack, as the fate of Stalingrad’s industry demonstrated, but the industrial economy was vast and much of it far distant from German bases. The Soviet Air Force, on the other hand, recognized the nature of the campaign being waged and focused attention on close support for the fighting fronts, leaving long-range bombing to the Western Allies. Soviet bomber production was a fraction of the output of all combat aircraft, just 15 per cent between 1943 and 1945. A number of small raids continued to be made on European targets, but again largely for political effect. Soviet bombers raided Berlin three times in the autumn of 1942, on 26–27 and 28–29 August and 9–10 September, partly in the expectation that the RAF would be bombing at the same time, a promise Churchill had made to Stalin when he visited him in Moscow in August, but failed to redeem. Small raids were made at the same time on Budapest, Bucharest, Warsaw and Helsinki, but after that long-range attacks were suspended until the spring of 1944 when the Finnish capital was bombed once again to try to coerce Finland into making a separate peace.

The brief offensive against Finland was the only time that the Soviet Union used air power on its own as a way to achieve a strategic end. Helsinki had been bombed once in the Winter War of 1939–40, but by units of the Baltic Fleet air force, which had contravened orders not to attack the city area. The three raids on Helsinki in 1944 coincided with the short campaign conducted by the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces against Bulgarian targets, which Stalin refused to support. There were three main raids, on the nights of 6–7, 16–17 and 26–27 February 1944, carried out by large bombing forces, 785 on the first night, 406 on the second and 929 on the third. The aircraft carried around 2,600 tons of bombs, but the raids were a complete failure. Although Soviet histories subsequently asserted that the bombing successfully hit industry, administrative centres and military targets, Finnish sources indicate that around 95 per cent of the bombs failed to hit the target area of the city, 48 square kilometres, and most fell in the sea. Thirty Soviet aircraft were lost to the defence forces and to accident.120 The raids did little to persuade the Finns to seek an armistice. This they did later in the year, in September, when it was evident that the war was lost.

The closest the Soviet side came to collaboration with the strategic offensive conducted by the British and American air forces against Germany was in the summer of 1944. This followed an agreement made with the American Air Force to allow American bombers to undertake shuttle-bombing of targets in eastern Germany and German-occupied Europe using Soviet airfields as the shuttle base. It was a surprising decision given the suspicious hostility displayed to Western offers of air assistance in the Caucasus in late 1942. Roosevelt raised the question of shuttle-bombing with Stalin at the Teheran Conference in late November 1943, at a time when the United States Army Air Force stationed in England was searching for a way to hit German industry without suffering heavy losses from unescorted missions. The American Air Force hoped that this might open the way for negotiating bases in the far east of the Soviet Union for attacks on Japan; there was some hope that military collaboration might contribute to warmer political ties between the two allies. Stalin finally agreed at the end of December, for reasons which are not entirely clear given the subsequent months of often fractious negotiation between the two sides. The Soviet priority remained front-line support for the advancing army, for which shuttle-bombing would provide little assistance.

An American delegation headed by Colonel John Griffith, who had fought with the American anti-Bolshevik intervention force in Russia in 1918, finally secured use of three sites in the liberated area of Ukraine at Poltava, Piryatin and Mirgorod. An American ‘Eastern Command’ was established under Colonel Alfred Kessler, an early replacement for Griffith, who found his anti-Soviet feeling difficult to disguise. After months of planning, ‘Operation Frantic’ finally began on 2 June 1944, by which time the rationale for shuttle-bombing had largely disappeared, thanks to the introduction of the American P-38 and P-51 fighters. The first operation was mounted against targets in southern Germany from bases in Italy occupied by the US Fifteenth Air Force. The commander in the Mediterranean, General Ira Eaker, flew on the first mission to ensure that it enjoyed a high political profile, and he was duly feted on his arrival in the Ukraine. The second operation, flown on 21 June from Eighth Air Force bases in England, was a disaster. A few hours after landing, the 73 B-17 ‘Flying Fortresses’ on the field at Poltava were subjected to a devastating attack by German bombers which flew in low against negligible defences. Colonel Archie Old, commander of the task force, described the attack in a report for the Eighth Air Force commander:

About ten minutes after the first flares were dropped the first bombs started falling and then for almost two hours, the bastards bombed hell out of the flying field, especially that part where the task force B-17s were dispersed. It was one of the most accurate bombing raids that the task force commander has seen or heard of, many thousands of bombs were dropped and approximately 95% of them fell on the flying field … of seventy-three B-17s on the field 100% were either destroyed or damaged.

Soviet personnel were forced by their commanders to try to combat the effects of the bombing while it was still going on; when it was over, Soviet soldiers picked up the unstable anti-personnel ‘butterfly’ bombs with their bare hands, or shot at them to make them explode. Between 30 and 40 of the soldiers were killed, as well as two Americans. The German commander was Lt. General Rudolf Meister, the man chosen to organize the pinpoint bombing of Soviet power stations the previous year. Only a handful of further operations were conducted by Eastern Command, including supply for the Polish Home Army in its uprising against the German occupiers, launched on 1 August 1944. This proved too much for the Soviet regime to stomach and in late August the Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, told the Americans that the bases were now needed for the Soviet Air Force. On 4 October Operation Frantic was wound up, though the last American personnel did not leave until June 1945.

The air war on the Eastern Front remained for almost all its course a tactical one. Only 5 per cent of Soviet sorties were made against distant targets; the German Air Force flew a higher proportion of long-range sorties for reconnaissance and occasional bombing missions, and bombed cities in the path of the ground campaign, but did not develop a campaign of independent bombing of military-economic targets despite the growing pressure from Hitler and the air force High Command to do so. The Soviet Air Force was nevertheless not entirely opposed to the development of strategic air power in the future. Andrei Tupolev was allowed to renew work on a heavy four-engine bomber and the result was the Pe-8/TB7, the first modern heavy bomber of the Soviet Air Force; in the end only 91 were ever produced because of the urgent need for front-line aviation, but a few of them took part in the bombing of Helsinki in 1944.

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Petlyakov Pe-8

Tupolev was also given the opportunity to exploit three Boeing B-29 ‘Superfortresses’, interned by the Russians after they landed on Soviet soil following missions over Japan in the summer of 1945. These became the basis for the development of a new Soviet super-bomber, the Tu-4, which ushered the Soviet Union into the strategic air age. The head of the MPVO, reflecting on what lessons might be learned from the civil defence effort during the war, favoured retaining all deep shelters against the possibility that bigger and better bombs would be developed in the future from which the Soviet people would need sounder and more extensive shelter. While Tupolev worked on the new Soviet super-bomber, Lavrentii Beria, the Minister of the Interior, headed a project to develop the Soviet atomic bomb. When the bomb was successfully detonated on a remote site in central Asia on 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union entered the nuclear age. The heavy bombers, missiles and nuclear weapons of the 1950s overturned the Soviet preference for close-support aviation as the principal way to project air power and presented the new German Federal Republic, in the front line of the Cold War, with a strategic threat unrecognizable from the bombing war on the Eastern Front just a decade before.

T-34 series

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If you add up all the light, medium and heavy tanks constructed in Soviet factories during the Second World War you get a total number built of 76,827 vehicles. By way of comparison, German industry only managed to build approximately 24,000 tanks during the same time period – not counting self-propelled guns – which needed to be dispersed over multiple theatres of war. The most numerous German tank built was the Panzer IV series of medium tanks with about 9,000 units being assembled; in comparison the most numerous Soviet tank design was the T-34 series with nearly 58,000 built. It was this Russian policy of outbuilding their enemies in the Second World War that is exemplified by the maxim (attributed to a great many authors) that ‘Quantity has a quality all its own.’ No matter what technical deficiencies they won!

The T-34 series formed the bulk of the Red Army tank inventory from 1943 through to 1945. While the workmanship on the vehicle may not have been up to German standards and many who had a chance to study the vehicle considered some of the tank’s construction shoddy, it was ‘good enough’ for the battlefields of the Eastern Front. On the positive side, the T-34 series mounted versatile cannons, were relatively easy to build in large numbers, simple to maintain in the field, and had enough reliability to make it to the battlefield in large enough numbers to overwhelm its opponents.

The ability of Soviet industry to churn out thousands upon thousands of the T-34 series during the Second World War made up for their high battlefield losses. In 1942 the Red Army lost about 15,000 tanks, followed by approximately 22,400 more in 1943.

Unlike other armies before and during the Second World War, the Red Army did not have a consistent policy of assigning designations to the various subvariants of their tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles. Post-war historians and authors have in response developed a practice of assigning model numbers to Red Army tanks and armoured fighting vehicles based on the year they were introduced into service in order to distinguish between subvariants. This practice has been adopted by the author to assist the reader in identifying the often many different versions of vehicles produced. However, rebuilt vehicles or field modifications may result in a mixture of subvariant features that do not fit into any classification.

By the summer of 1938 it was determined that the proposed A-20 might be insufficiently armed and armoured for the medium tank role. The Red Army therefore decided it would need another proposed medium tank design that would be designated the A-32 and have a maximum armour thickness on the front of the turret of 32mm. It would be armed with a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun.

By May 1939 it was decided to thicken the maximum armour on the front of the A-32 turret to 45mm. This up-armoured version of the vehicle was designated the A-34 in the summer of 1939. In August 1939 the Red Army decided to adopt the A-34; a decision concurred with by Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, in December 1939. The first A-34 prototype appeared in January 1940, with the second prototype rolling off the factory floor the following month.

To prove the reliability of the A-34 prototype tanks before submitting them for the final approval of the Red Army, a demonstration run that would encompass a distance of 1,800 miles (2,897km) during the winter months of February and March 1940 was arranged. On 17 March 1940, the two A-34 prototypes arrived in Moscow for a personal inspection by Stalin and other high-ranking members of the government and military élite. Despite the misgivings by some that the A-34 was not yet suitable for production, Stalin gave his blessing to the production of the vehicle once any design faults uncovered during testing by the Red Army were addressed.

Additional testing of the A-34 prototypes led to the conclusion that the vehicle was superior to any other tank then in Red Army service, and by the end of March 1940 the tank was approved for production as the T-34. Besides a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun, the T-34 would also be armed with a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and another 7.62mm machine gun in the front hull. The first 150 units of the T-34 also featured a 7.62mm machine gun in a ball mount in the rear of the turret.

Despite production of the four-man T-34 being approved, there were still some hurdles that had to be overcome. One of the original requirements called for the vehicle to operate over 1,864 miles (3,000km) without a major breakdown. A mileage test done in April 1940 showed that the tank could not meet this requirement. However, this was soon dropped to 621 miles (1,000km). The Red Army went ahead and placed an order with two factories for 600 T-34s to be built starting in June 1940. They also placed a production order for 2,800 units of the T-34 for 1941.

Some within the Red Army who opposed the production of the T-34 proposed an upgraded version, designated the T-34M. Among its many features it would have a larger three-man turret, allowing the vehicle commander to concentrate on directing his crew rather than doing double duty as the tank’s gunner as was the arrangement in the T-34. In addition, the Christie suspension system would be replaced on the T-34M with a torsion bar version. With these improvements, plans were put forward to replace the T-34 on the production lines with the T-34M in the autumn of 1941. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 quickly resulted in this project being terminated as the Red Army could ill afford any disruption in the production of the T-34 for fear it could not replace its battlefield losses.

The first production unit of the Red Army’s new 58,912-lb (29mt) medium tank rolled off the production line in September 1940. This vehicle is now commonly referred to as the T-34 Model 1940. By the time the German army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, 1,225 units of the T-34 Model 1940 were in service, of which 967 had been delivered to field units. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the vehicle’s turret was 45mm.

Initial German army encounters with the T-34 Model 1940 raised a great deal of alarm among both their infantry and armour branches. Their existing anti-tank weapons proved unable to penetrate the thick, well-sloped armour on the T-34, and the vehicle’s 76.2mm main gun easily penetrated the armour on the German Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks it encountered. This would eventually lead to the up-gunning and up-armouring of the existing German medium tanks, and the development of the German Panther medium tank series and Tiger E heavy tank as a counter to the T-34.

The Red Army early war battlefield technical superiority in medium tanks was offset by the fact that the T-34 Model 1940 was just entering service and their crews often had little training in the use of their new tanks. Compounding the problem was the fact that most of the tanks did not have radios. There were also shortages of everything from main gun ammunition to fuel and spare parts for the T-34-equipped units confronting the Germans, and these factors allowed their army to easily prevail over the Red Army during the early phase of their invasion of the Soviet Union.

The 76.2mm main gun initially selected for use by the Red Army on the T-34 Model 1940 was designated the L-11. It was not the desired weapon in the opinion of the vehicle’s designers due to its relatively low muzzle velocity and hence poor armour penetration ability. Due to almost everybody’s unhappiness with the L-11, other weapons were considered for the T-34 Model 1940, including the ZiS-4 57mm anti-tank gun. A few of these were actually mounted in the vehicle to test their effectiveness.

As there was a new 76.2mm main gun with a longer barrel, and hence better armour penetration abilities, being developed for the KV-1 heavy tank designated the F-32, work was begun in early 1940 to modify it for mounting in the T-34 Model 1940. The new tank gun was designated the F-34 and had a slightly longer barrel than the F-32. It first appeared on some T-34 Model 1940 tanks in February 1941. Vehicles so equipped were designated the T-34 Model 1941. Due to temporary shortages, some T-34 Model 1941 tanks would be armed with the F-32 76.2mm tank gun in place of the F-34. Maximum armour thickness on the turret front of the T-34 Model 1941 was 52mm.

Additional improvements to the T-34 series resulted in the redesign of some components to increase the vehicle’s combat effectiveness. Vehicles so modified were designated the T-34 Model 1942. The maximum armour thickness on the turret front of the vehicle was now 65mm. An internal change was an increase in armour protection on the sides of the T-34 Model 1942 hull from 40mm to 45mm.

The most noticeable external changes to the T-34 Model 1942 were the replacement of the original rectangular transmission access hatch with a new oval hatch, as well as a new driver’s hatch with two periscopes instead of the single periscope on earlier vehicles. Some factories building the T-34 series tank would incorporate features of the T-34 Model 1941 and the T-34 Model 1942 on the same vehicle, resulting in the designation T-34 Model 1941/42.

Following the T-34 Model 1942 into production was the T-34 Model 1943. It can be readily identified by its new hexagonal-shaped turret that was borrowed from the never-built T-34M. Maximum armour protection on the turret front of the T-34 Model 1943 was 70mm. Besides the new turret design, the T-34 Model 1943 featured a number of drivetrain improvements.

Despite the new turret on the T-34 Model 1943 being larger and having more room than the turrets seen on earlier versions of the T-34 series, the two-man turret crew was retained on this latest model. To improve visibility, the turret was eventually fitted with an overhead cupola for the vehicle commander, which could only have been used when he was not engaged in aiming and firing the tank’s main gun.

To improve the operational range of the T-34 Model 1943, a pair of large boxlike external fuel tanks were devised that attached to the rear of the vehicle’s hull. These first appeared during the summer of 1942. They were later replaced by three large cylindrical external fuel canisters in early 1943, with two located on the right side of the upper rear hull and the other one being located on the left side of the upper hull. The external fuel tanks did not connect to the vehicle’s interior fuel tanks. To move fuel from the external tanks to the vehicle’s internal tanks required a fuel pump.

By the time production of the T-34 Model 1943 ended in 1944, approximately 35,000 units had been built of the T-34 series armed with the 76.2mm main gun.

In January 1943 the Red Army began looking at the concept of a universal tank that could replace the existing T-34 series and the KV-1 series heavy tanks. One of the prototype vehicles was designated the T-43; another one was KV-13, a smaller lighter version of the KV-1S heavy tank. It would be similar to the cancelled T-34M project as it was envisioned that it would have a new three-man turret (retaining the F-34 76.2mm main gun) and run on a torsion bar suspension system. It differed from the proposed T-34M due to its increased emphasis on armour protection, with a maximum armour on the turret front of 90mm compared to 70mm on the turret front of the T-34M.

Testing in March 1943 of the T-43 showed that the extra weight of the increased armour protection greatly reduced its battlefield mobility compared to the T-34 series. The summer battles of 1943 highlighted the fact that it was not the armour protection levels of the T-34 series they needed to worry about as much as having a tank that mounted a main gun able to penetrate the armour of the German Panther medium tank and the Tiger E heavy tank. This realization pushed the Red Army to look for a larger, more powerful main gun for the T-34 series and cancel work on the T-43, whose introduction would have disrupted T-34 production.

The first appearance of the Tiger E heavy tank on the Eastern Front in August 1942 had made the Red Army aware of the fact that it needed to up-gun the T-34 series. In response it had tasked several design bureaus with the development of a suitable 85mm tank gun. However, as the number of German heavy tanks being encountered was low, the development of the 85mm gun languished. The many large tank battles of the summer of 1943 that saw the fielding and increasing number of German heavy tanks and the new Panther medium tank had quickly added a renewed sense of urgency to the development and fielding of an 85mm tank gun by the Red Army.

In spite of the fact that the design for the final version of a suitable 85mm tank gun and the vehicle itself were not yet finalized, Red Army testing of two 85mm gun-armed prototypes went so well that the vehicle was approved by Stalin and the Red Army for production as the T-34-85. Stalin wanted the tank in production by February 1944. The 85mm main gun finally selected for mounting in the T-34-85 was designated the ZiS-S-53. The tanks that were fitted with this new 85mm gun are now commonly referred to as the T-34-85 Model 1944. Due to delays in production of the ZiS-S-53 gun, the first 800 or so units were fitted with another 85mm main gun designated the D-5T and are sometimes called the T-34-85 Model 1943.

Maximum armour thickness on the front of the T-34-85 turret was 90mm. The thicker armour on the T-34-85 series and the larger turret brought the weight of the vehicle up to 70,547lb (32mt). This weight gain resulted in some minor loss in battlefield mobility for the T-34-85 compared to the original T-34 tank armed with the 76.2mm main gun.

The first T-34-85s began arriving in field units in March 1944, with élite armoured units getting priority on delivery. The arrival of the vehicle was a great morale-booster to Red Army tankers who had been fighting at a great disadvantage when dealing with late-war German tanks with the 76.2mm main gun on the T-34. The 85mm main gun on the T-34-85 imparted a degree of parity in fighting effectiveness between the two opponents’ tank units.

Total T-34-85 production between 1943 and 1945 was in the order of 23,000 units. Production of the vehicle would be continued in the Soviet Union after the Second World War with both the wartime production and post-war production vehicles going through two modernization programmes, one in 1960 and the second in 1969. Both Poland and Czechoslovakia received permission to build licence-produced versions of the T-34-85 beginning in the early 1950s, many of which were exported around the world to serve in a large number of foreign armies.

Beriev Be-8, ‘Mode’ or ‘Mole’

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The Be-8 was a small parasol-wing aircraft of all-metal construction. Few were built.

The Beriev Be-8 (USAF/DoD reporting name “Type 33”, NATO reporting name “Mole”), was built by the Soviet Beriev OKB in 1947. It was a passenger/liaison amphibian aircraft with a layout similar to the Be-4 but substantially larger and heavier. It was a single engine parasol with the wing installed on a thin pylon and a pair of short struts. Compared to the Be-4, the Be-8 was equipped with retractable landing gear, and pilot and passenger cabins had heating utilizing engine heat. The Be-8 was intended as a civil aircraft and carried no armament. First flight was on December 3, demonstrating good performance. Two experimental aircraft were built, and one was demonstrated during 1951 Soviet Aviation Day at Tushino.

One of Be-8 was equipped with hydrofoils, developed at TsAGI. These “Underwater Wings” were installed on landing gear struts and pushed aircraft above the water well before it could be done by the wing lift force. As a result, takeoff was much easier and imposed less punishment on the hull from the waves. Despite very effective during takeoff hydrofoils had negative impact on flight speed. Construction of retractable hydrofoils was not ready, and the concept did not find practical applications.

General characteristics

Capacity: 6 passengers

Payload: 400 kg (880 lb) of cargo

Length: 13.0 m (42 ft 7 in)

Wingspan: 19.0 m (62 ft 3 in)

Empty weight: 2,815 kg (6,206 lb)

Loaded weight: 3,624 kg (7,990 lb)

Powerplant: 1 × Shvetsov ASh-21 radial engine, 520 kW (700 hp)

Performance

Maximum speed: 266 km/h at 1,800 m (144 kn, 165 mph) at 1,800 m (5,900 ft)

Landing speed: 100 km/h (54 kn, 62 mph)

Range: 810 km (440 nmi, 500 mi)

Ferry range: 1,200 km (650 nmi, 750 mi)

Mission endurance: 4.6 hr

Ferry endurance: 6.0 hr)

Service ceiling: 5,550 m (18,209 ft)

The Agony of Breslau

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Breslau WW II Wrocław (Breslau) 1945. City of ruins.

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NS-Gauleiter Karl Hanke (1903-1945). During the waning months of World War II, as the Soviet Red Army advanced into Silesia and encircled Breslau (Festung Breslau), Hanke was named by Hitler to be the city’s “Battle Commander” (Kampfkommandant). Hanke oversaw, with fanaticism, the futile and militarily useless defense of the city during the Battle of Breslau. Goebbels, dictating for his diary, repeatedly expressed his admiration of Hanke during the spring of 1945. During the 82-day siege, Soviet forces inflicted approximately 30,000 civilian and military casualties and took more than 40,000 prisoners, while suffering 60,000 total casualties. On 6 May, the day before Germany’s surrender, General Hermann Niehoff surrendered the besieged Breslau (the Soviet army already having reached Berlin). Hanke had flown out the previous day in a small Fieseler Storch plane kept in reserve for him. Breslau was the last major city in Germany to surrender. Due to the Soviet forces aerial and artillery bombardment of the city, along with the self-destruction by the SS and Nazi Party, “80 to 90 percent” of Breslau had been destroyed.

On 20 January 1945, the Gauleiter of Lower Silesia, Karl Hanke, finally gave the order to evacuate his capital, Breslau, completing its transformation into a ‘fortress’. Ten-year-old Jürgen Illmer and his mother were lucky enough to find places on a train out of Breslau and reach the relative safety of Saxony. At Leipzig, they were helped through the chaotic crush on the platforms by groups of Hitler Youths and Red Cross nurses. Glancing across the tracks as he got off his train to take shelter from an air raid, Jürgen saw an open goods train filled with motionless, snow-covered figures in striped clothing. He wondered if they had frozen to death. As the air raid siren sounded and the Germans went down to the shelter under the great station hall, the conversation turned to the prisoners they had all seen. When someone suggested that they might be Jews, a woman replied coldly, ‘They weren’t Jews. They have all been shot in Poland already.’ She was wrong. One of the prisoners on the train may have been Thomas Gève. He too was left with memories of Leipzig; how the prisoners called out, begging for water from the German Red Cross nurses whose hospital train stood at the next platform. The nurses ignored them.

On 21 January Breslau’s aged prelate, Cardinal Bertram, departed for Jauernig in Moravian Silesia, while the most valuable items in the city’s churches were shipped out to Kamenz in Saxony. The wounded recovering in the city’s military hospitals were moved too, alongside the tax office, municipal administration, the radio station and the post, telegraph and rail authorities. Over 150,000 civilians remained. The next day Gauleiter Hanke called ‘on the men of Breslau to join the defence front of our Fortress Breslau’, vowing that ‘the Fortress will be defended to the end’. Its defenders consisted of 45,000 troops, ranging from raw recruits to battle-hardened paratroopers and Waffen SS veterans. To the west of the city, the Wehrmacht fought bitterly to drive the Soviets back across the Oder at Steinau for another two weeks. On 9–11 February, Kanth, Liegnitz and Haynau fell and on 15 February the Red Army captured the Sudeten mountain passes, cutting Breslau off from the west. The next day, the city came under siege, with the attacking Soviets swiftly occupying the outer suburbs before grinding to a halt as the defenders made them fight for every building and street crossing. From 15 February, the Luftwaffe began an airlift which lasted 76 days and some 2,000 flights, bringing in 1,670 tonnes of supplies – mainly ammunition – and evacuating 6,600 wounded.

Alfred Bauditz was one of the civilians who stayed in Breslau, equipped with a horse and cart and tasked with clearing buildings that interfered with the line of fire. In late January he used the cart to bring his wife, 14-year-old daughter Leonie and 9-year-old son Winfried out of the city to Malkwitz, where two of his brothers owned farms. On 9 February, Malkwitz was occupied and all the inhabitants were questioned one by one by a Soviet officer who spoke fluent German and took down their personal details. Despite the Germans’ fears of rape and murder, the Red Army men behaved correctly. Leonie’s ordeal began when the next armoured unit arrived. Most of the thirty Soviet soldiers were friendly, but two terrorised the women. Despite hiding in a barn at night and having her hair cut short and going about dressed as a boy by day, Leonie was discovered and raped multiple times. For a while a well-spoken Soviet lieutenant protected her and her mother, but when his unit left, the women and girls were drafted into a work brigade and sent out to thresh grain and shell peas on different farms – a seemingly inescapable routine of fieldwork, laundry, cooking duties and forced sex.

On 5 March General Hermann Niehoff was sent to the capital of Lower Silesia, Breslau, to renew the fighting spirit of the defenders. Niehoff deployed thousands of forced workers to turn the principal Kaiserstrasse into an alternative airstrip so that the Luftwaffe could continue to supply the inner city once the suburbs fell. They razed the churches and grand university buildings under continual strafing attacks by the Red Air Force, and the Luftwaffe continued its perilous daily flights into Breslau. The German armoured divisions in the city used Goliaths, the miniature remote-controlled tanks they had deployed to reconquer Warsaw, but this time to destroy buildings occupied by the advancing Soviets. While the less reliable and experienced German troops were held in reserve to plug gaps in the line, the elite units of paratroopers and Waffen SS continued to mount counter-attacks, halting the Red Army’s advance in the southern suburbs: a single apartment block on the corner of the Höfchenplatz and Opitzstrasse was fought over for eight days.

In Breslau itself, a delegation of Protestant and Catholic clergy called on General Niehoff on 4 May, asking him: ‘Is continuing the defence of Breslau something which you could justify to God?’ Niehoff took heed and quietly set about negotiating a ceasefire, despite the pressure from Dönitz to hold out – transmitted by both the new Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal Schörner, and Gauleiter Hanke, the new head of the SS. In his proclamation to his troops on 5 May, Niehoff pointed out that ‘Hitler is dead, Berlin has fallen. The Allies of East and West have shaken hands in the heart of Germany. Thus the conditions for a continuation of the struggle for Breslau no longer exist. Every further sacrifice is a crime.’ With a gesture to Simonides’ epitaph to the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, he concluded, ‘We have done our duty, as the law demanded.’ The next day, the Germans handed over their positions.

After taking the city of Breslau, Soviet soldiers deliberately set the buildings in the ancient town centre alight, burning to the ground the priceless book collection of the university library as well as the city museum and several churches. Both the robbery and the destruction would continue for many months, growing more sophisticated with time, eventually taking the official form of “reparations.”

Some were touched personally. Robert Bialek, one of the few active, underground communists in the then-German city of Breslau, arrived home after his first, celebratory encounter with the Soviet commandants who had occupied the city — as a communist, he wanted to offer them his help — to discover that his wife had been raped. This, for him, was the beginning of the end: “The brutish instincts of two common Russian soldiers had brought the world crashing down about my head, as no Nazi tortures nor the subtlest persuasion had ever done.” He wished, he wrote, “that I had been buried, like so many of my friends, under the ruins of the town.”

Soviet Tank Production WWII

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Unlike the United States, the Soviet Union came into World War II with an extensive tank industry-one the Soviets had unashamedly based on American-style mass production. This made sense, since many Soviet factories had been designed and built by Americans during the 1920s and 30s, when the Communists, working to improve the Soviet industrial base, aspired to the American production model. Indeed, Albert Kahn himself had designed the tractor factory at Stalingrad. And the Soviets weren’t just hiring American architects, but also American production engineers and tool manufacturers.

But by mid-1941, the German invasion had badly disrupted Soviet industry. During that disastrous summer, the invaders had captured, besieged, or threatened the Soviet Union’s western industrial cities. In six months, the U. S. S. R. effectively lost 40 percent of its gross domestic product and population, and 60 percent of its coal and steel production. In the face of this disaster, Russia hurriedly rushed equipment and skilled workers from hundreds of factories onto trains and sent machines and men east to the Ural Mountains.

The Soviets relocated the salvaged equipment to four towns: Nizhny Tagil, Omsk, Sverdlovsk, and Chelyabinsk. Each possessed an existing railroad equipment or tractor factory; the arriving equipment expanded those facilities. As workers set up the machine tools again, sometimes in the naked elements until buildings could be constructed, existing plants at Gorky and Stalingrad “kept the lights on” through 1942, producing enough vehicles for the Red Army to continue fighting. By the time the Stalingrad factory finally fell to the Nazis in October 1942, the new Ural plants were going full tilt.

This massive industrial exodus left the Russian railroad system on the brink of collapse by 1942. Overtaxed track had gone without proper maintenance; rolling stock and engines needed repair or replacement. This led to an effort to minimize railway freight tonnage, which in turn powered an emphasis in Russian factories on centralization and vertical integration- meaning that the Russians concentrated more of the entire process, from manufacture of subcomponents to final assembly, at individual factories. Doing so reduced efficiency, as even the largest factories couldn’t achieve the economies of scale that, say, an engine provider like Germany’s Maybach or the United States’ Ford could. But it helped keep the Soviet Union’s transportation network functioning.

The Ural facilities were huge: the largest in the world, in terms of manpower committed. The Chelyabinsk tractor works, for instance, was known simply as Tankograd: “Tank City.” Tankograd could fabricate nearly everything needed to make an AFV except the gun. It cast steel and armor; produced the engine, transmission, and other components; and assembled the vehicle. It even produced ammunition. The number of workers at the new facility skyrocketed: from 21,000 in 1937 to 40,000 in 1942. By 1944, while Chrysler had 19,500 workers engaged in tank production at the Arsenal and subsidiary plants, Tankograd had 60,000 people under its roof, most of them women, teenagers, and old men. Working conditions were primitive: hot, smoky, cramped, and dimly lit. But Tankograd and the other Ural facilities poured out vehicles.

One principle the Russians adopted with a vengeance from the Americans was planned obsolescence. In a manufactured product, it makes no sense to have subcomponents that last longer than the product itself. The Soviets weren’t dummies. They had carefully studied battlefield data and realized that the average lifespan of a tank on the Eastern Front was less than six months. In combat, tank lifespan was about 14 hours. These were disposable vehicles, with disposable human beings inside. This brutal insight clarified everything about vehicle design, leading the Soviets to embrace a methodology that might be called “The Zen of Shoddiness.”

Viewed this way, there was no sense in building a tank engine or transmission good for more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles); the tank would be dead by then. The Soviets realized they could machine those components to looser tolerances, using lower-quality metals. And they replaced machined parts with stamped metal components whenever possible. Paint jobs were lamentably bad; welds often crude-although the Soviets did experiment with innovative technologies. At Nizhny Tagil, welding tank hulls underwater hastened cooling and sped up the manufacturing process.

At the same time, the Soviets did everything possible to reduce cost. They standardized Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns on just three chassis: the KV-1 heavy, T-34 medium, and T-70 light. And they kept production runs long and design changes to a minimum, implementing a change only if it made a vehicle simpler or cheaper to manufacture. With the T-34 medium tank, for example, manufacturers simplified 770 parts and eliminated more than 5,600 from 1941 to 1943. During that period the tank’s cost fell by half, from 269,000 rubles to 135,000. While everyone knows that time is money, the inverse is also true: less money meant less time on the line. Components were machined more quickly. And as workers learned the intricacies of assembling the same vehicle over and over, assembly time went down, too. Taken together, the overall labor cost of the vehicle plummeted.

None of this should imply that Soviet tanks were poorly designed. Quite the opposite: the T-34 was a great tank. Its firepower, protection, and mobility surpassed any AFV the Germans fielded until the end of 1942. Cosmetics and comfort simply didn’t concern the Soviets; natty paintjobs and ruler-straight welds didn’t kill Germans; the T-34’s 76mm gun did. That component of the vehicle worked very much as advertised. True, the tank’s loader had to scramble around inside the hull, because the T-34 had no turret basket in which he could sit. In Russian tanks, the things that mattered worked well enough; the things that didn’t were afterthoughts.

While it’s easy to ridicule the simple, sometimes shoddy, weapons the Soviets cranked out, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the philosophy underlying the Russian manufacturing approach was nothing less than brilliant. From an emasculated industrial base that left the Soviets under-producing Germans in coal and steel by a ratio of one to four, Soviet factories turned the tables, out-producing Germany nearly three to one in tanks during the vital 1942-1943 period. This monumental achievement was crucial to the war’s outcome.