Soviet Tank Production WWII




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.


The original US nuclear-war plans were prepared at a time when bombers predominated, atomic bombs were in very short supply, and there was a lack of co-ordination of plans. The 1947 plan concentrated on destroying the war-making capability of the Soviet Union through attacks on government, political and administrative centres, urban–industrial areas and fuel-supply facilities. It was to have been achieved by dropping 133 atomic bombs on seventy Soviet cities in thirty days, including eight on Moscow and seven on Leningrad. This plan was ambitious, to say the least, primarily because the USA possessed a total of only thirteen atomic bombs in 1947 and fifty in 1948.

In May 1949 a new plan, named Trojan, required 150 atomic bombs, with a first-phase attack against thirty cities during a period of fourteen days. Then, also in 1949, came another plan, named Dropshot, in which a war in 1957 would be centred on a thirty-day programme in which 300 atomic bombs and 20,000 tonnes of conventional bombs would be dropped on about 200 targets, with the atomic bombs being used against a mix of military, industrial and civil targets, including Moscow and Leningrad.

All these plans included substantial quantities of conventional bombs and were essentially continuations of Second World War strategies. Interestingly, even as early as 1949, planners were earmarking command centres for exemption from early strikes (‘withholds’ in nuclear parlance), so that the Soviet leadership could continue to exercise control.

Up to about 1956 the US authorities based their plans on intelligence which was far from complete and, as a result, they deliberately over-estimated their opponent’s strengths. In 1956, however, the Lockheed U-2 spy plane started to overfly the USSR, and this, coupled with more effective ELINT and SIGINT, meant that a more accurate picture was obtained.

By the early 1950s the production rate of atomic bombs had increased to the point where US field commanders – both air-force and navy – began to make plans for their use, each of them planning to use them in support of his battle. There was nothing in this situation to prevent several commanders from selecting the same target; indeed, a US Senate committee was told that in the Far East 155 targets had been listed by two commanders and 44 by three, while in Europe 121 airfields had been targeted by two commanders and 31 by three.

A first attempt at some form of co-ordination was made in a series of conferences held in the early 1950s, which achieved partial success. The situation came to a head, however, when the navy’s Polaris SLBMs and the air force’s Atlas ICBMs became operational in the early 1960s, and a Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) was established, with an air-force lieutenant-general at its head but with a naval officer as his deputy. The first outcome of the JSTPS’ work was the Comprehensive Strategic Target List (CSTL), which identified 2,021 nuclear targets in the USSR, China and their satellites, including 121 ICBM sites, 140 air-defence bases, 200 bomber bases, 218 military and political command centres, 124 other military targets, and 131 urban centres.5 This CSTL duly became an integral part of the first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), which was produced in December 1960.

There were no alternatives in this SIOP-60, which consisted of one massive nuclear attack, and it was one of the earliest targets for reform when President Kennedy took power in January 1961. US planners were now, however, aided by virtually complete satellite coverage of the USSR, giving them information on the potential enemy never previously available (and which, among other things, made it clear that the supposed ‘missile gap’ did not exist). This resulted in SIOP-63, which consisted of five categories of counter-force option: Soviet missile sites; bomber and submarine bases; other military targets; command-and-control centres; and urban–industrial targets. This received serious criticism from three separate quarters. First, from within the USA, because of what appeared to be a first-strike strategy; second, from the USSR, which denied the possibility of controlled counter-force warfare; and, third, from NATO allies, who were very alarmed by the total absence of any urban targets (the so-called ‘no cities’ strategy).

President Kennedy’s secretary of state for defense, Robert McNamara, then developed the concept of Assured Destruction, which he described in public first as ‘one-quarter to one-third of [the Soviet Union’s] population and about two-thirds of its industrial capacity’ and later as ‘one-fifth to one-fourth of its population and one-half to two-thirds of its industrial capacity’. Whatever was said in public, however, within the US armed forces SIOP-63 was not withdrawn, and thus there appears to have been a marked divergence between the public and the internal rhetoric.

Proponents of this policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) argued that the one way to make nuclear war impossible was to make it clear that any nuclear attack would be answered by a total attack on an enemy’s population, together with its industrial and agricultural base. While such a concept might have been valid in the early days of the nuclear confrontation, it rapidly lost its credibility when it became clear that, even after such a strike, the USSR would still have sufficient weapons to make a response-in-kind on US cities.

The strategy of ‘flexible response,’ introduced in 1967, required facing an opponent with a credible reaction which would to inflict losses out-weighing any potential gain. The deterrent power of such a strategy depended on the capacity of the proposed response to inflict unacceptable losses on the opponent, while its credibility depended upon its ability to minimize the risks of higher-order losses on the responder’s own country in subsequent rounds. This posed something of a dilemma, in that the deterrent power of the response was enhanced by escalation to a higher level, while credibility tended in the other direction, since a lower-level response carried no inherent escalatory risks. The plans implement this strategy were promulgated in a revised version of the SIOP which became effective on 1 January 1976.

It became customary for all incoming presidents to initiate a review of the strategic nuclear-war plans, and that carried out by President Jimmy Carter in 1977–9, was expected to result in major changes. In the event, however, it led only to a refinement of the previous plan, together with the introduction of rather more political sophistication. Thus, for example, targets were selected in the Far East, not so much for their immediate relevance to the superpower conflict, but because their destruction would make the USSR more vulnerable to attack by the People’s Republic of China.

A further review was conducted when the Reagan administration came to power in 1981. This resulted in a new version of the SIOP, which included some 40,000 potential targets, divided into Soviet nuclear forces; conventional military forces; military and political leadership command posts and communications systems; and economic and industrial targets, both war-supporting and those which would contribute to post-war economic recovery. The plan allocated these targets to a number of discrete packages, of differing size and characteristics, to provide the National Command Authority (the president and his immediate advisers) with an almost limitless range of options.

The new plan also included particular categories of target for other plans, for possible implementation on receipt of an unequivocal warning of a Soviet attack. These included a pre-emptive strike, launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack. The plan also included a number of ‘withholds’, but stipulated that a reserve of weapons must be retained for possible use against those ‘withholds’ if the developing scenario so dictated.

The real calculations of strategic nuclear war – known as ‘dynamic’ assessments – were extremely detailed and were far more complex than the static measurements. One such ‘dynamic’ calculation in the period following the Soviets’ fielding of the SS-18 resulted in an assessment that, under certain conditions, a Soviet counter-force first strike would appear to be a possibility. In this assessment it was calculated that the USSR, which normally had only about 10 per cent of its SSBN force at sea, would gradually, and covertly, increase that number, and, if the US command decided to ride out the attack, the Soviets would then destroy approximately 45 per cent of the US strategic forces. As a result, the ensuing US counter-military retaliatory strike on the Soviets (who would be on full alert) would leave the Soviets with 75 per cent of what had been left after their first strike. This meant that the USSR would retain not only a reserve capable of carrying out either an urban–industrial strike on US cities or an attack on US ‘other military targets’, but also a reserve for use against another opponent (the so-called ‘nth-country reserve’) – an outcome which would have been distinctly favourable to the Soviets. If the USA managed to launch all its ICBMs under attack, however, the damage ratio more or less reversed: 40 per cent damage to remaining Soviet forces versus 25 per cent damage to US strategic forces.

Thus, argued the US planners, a credible US launch-on-warning/launch-under-attack capability was a mandatory element of an effective deterrent. These results posed a problem encountered in numerous US war games: that neither side could enhance stability by pursuing its own best interests of a secure deterrent potential, but, conversely, neither side could unilaterally lower its deterrent. For the US to do the latter gambled on a US judgement of how the Soviets treated ‘uncertainty’ and what their perceptions of relative advantage might have been.

This whole area highlighted the decision to launch as one of the major problems associated with missiles. Launching bombers for possible nuclear missions was relatively easy, since crews were under firm instructions that they had to receive a positive (and encoded) order from the ground to continue before reaching specified waypoints, otherwise a return to base was mandatory. Missiles, on the other hand, received only one order – to take off; there was then no turning back. Thus the decision to launch the missile was much harder to make.

Sino-Soviet Border Clash 1929


Soviet 68th Separate Naval Aircraft Squad in 1929 – MR-1 type aircraft.



Universal (river and sea) gunboat of “Storm” type, designed and built in 1911, re-armed in 1920 with captured English 120-mm. cannons.


Press photo released from 1929 mentioning the clash and showing Soviet troops.

The Far Eastern crisis of 1929 had its origins in the arrangements which the Soviet Government, following in the footsteps of the Imperial Russian Government, had made with the Chinese over the ownership and rights of operation of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, which linked the Trans-Siberian line with Vladivostok across Manchuria. The Chinese had frequently objected to Soviet rights over this railway, but the rising power of the Nationalist Government in China under General Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang’s thorough defeat of his Communist allies in 1927 led him to believe that he could bring military pressure to bear on the Soviet Union itself. In 1928-1929 Chiang’s authority did not extent to Manchuria, which was ruled by the provincial warlord Chang Hsueh-liang, but the success of the Nationalists in south and central China brought about a meeting between the two leaders in which they plotted joint action against the Soviet concessions in Chang Hsueg-liang’s province. For once, the interests of the Soviet Government and the Japanese temporarily coincided, for the Japanese, who intended to occupy Manchuria themselves, had no objection to Soviet military action to weaken the provincial Manchurian Army, which was concentrated on the Soviet border by the summer of 1929, and threatened the security of the Soviet-operated railway.

Reasonably assured, therefore, that the Japanese would not intervene against the Red Army, the Soviet leaders prepared their forces for operations in Manchuria in July-August 1929. On August 7 the Revolutionary Military Council established the Special Far Eastern Army in the eastern part of the Siberian Military District, with its headquarters in Khabarovsk. Blukher, who had returned from China in 1927, was placed in command, and two new rifle corps were formed, the 18th in the Transbaikal sector and the 19th in the Maritime Territory. The new army had a strength of six rifle divisions and two cavalry brigades, which were still forming up when the Manchurian forces began to raid Soviet territory and installations. The Red Army, however, waited until the autumn before launching its counterattacks.

There were 3 separate operations – Sungari operation (subdivided by 2 stages – Laha-Susu operation and Fujing operation), Zhalainoer operation and Mishan operation.

There were Amur river flotilla and 2 rifle regiments of the 2-nd Priamurskaya rifle division of Special Far East Army – 6th Khabarovsky and 4th Volochaevsky regiments with a lot of avircrafts (com[aring to Chinese forces). They were prepared to land near the Laha-Susu in the mouth of Sungari River but at first aircrafts bombed Chinese men-of-war located in vicinity of Laha-Susuunder the flag of Admiral Shen Lie. Some of them were sunk, some of them fled, several gunboats (originally Russian paddy-wheel steamers captured by Chinese after 1917) tried to resist but were sunk by Soviet gunboats after a duelling. Then the Soviet soldiers were landed under ramparts of Laha-Susu and after the bombardment of the forts from Soviet gunboats assaulted it. In the evening all Soviet troops were evacuated and did not stay in China even for a night.

Remnants of Sungari flotilla of Shen Lie gathered in Fujing (or Fugdin in Nanai languages as this fort was built by Qing authorities in 1880th to engage Nanai tribesmen into the Eight Banner system) and by the 29th of October it became obvious that the second blow to destroy Sungari flotilla is necessary. So Red Army troops were regrouped and 6th Khabarovsky rifle regiment was substituted by 5th Amursky rifle regiment. After strong bombing Chinese men-of-war were sunk and soldiers destroyed most part of Chinese fortifications in Fugdin. In that time Soviet troops stayed in China for couple of days and then were evacuated. A larger operation was mounted by the 18th Corps at the junction of the Soviet, Chinese and outer Mongolian frontlines, where a concentration of Chang Hsueh-liang’s troops threatened the railway at Manchouli. Here three Soviet divisions and a cavalry brigade crossed the frontier on November 17, cut the railway between Dalainor and Hailar, and surrounded the Manchurian forces in the area. Heavy fighting to destroy the encircled enemy followed, in which cooperation among the Soviet infantry, tanks, and artillery broke down, resulting in heavy casualties. Some of the Manchurian units succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement, but the majority capitulated, and by November 27 the operations were over. Simultaneously, troops of the 19th Corps broke up a Manchurian concentration at Mishan, near Lake Khanka, 100 miles north of Vladivostok, although the Red Army, largely out of willingness to antagonize the Japanese, did not pursue their opponents beyond the confines of the immediate zone of operations.

According to “Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century”, the USSR sustained losses of 143 KIA, 4 MIA, and 665 WIA during the course of these operations. The book states that around 18,000 troops were engaged.

Stalin and Barbarossa


In the hour before dawn on 22 June 1941 the German armed forces started Operation Barbarossa. There was no warning from Hitler; this was a classic Blitzkrieg and Stalin was in bed at the time in his Blizhnyaya dacha. In the diplomatic crisis of recent weeks he had judged that intelligence sources predicting a German invasion were just a provocation. Timoshenko as People’s Commissar of Defence and Zhukov as Chief of the General Staff thought him mistaken and had stayed up on duty all that last night. At 3.30 a.m. they received reports of heavy shelling along the Soviet–German frontier. They knew this for what it was: the beginning of war. Timoshenko ordered Zhukov to call Blizhnyaya by telephone. Zhukov obediently asked a sleepy Vlasik, the chief of Stalin’s bodyguard, to rouse the Leader.

Like a schoolboy rejecting proof of simple arithmetic, Stalin disbelieved his ears. Breathing heavily, he grunted to Zhukov that no counter-measures should be taken. The German armies had had no more compliant victim. Stalin’s only concession to Zhukov was to rise from his bed and return to Moscow by limousine. There he met Zhukov and Timoshenko along with Molotov, Beria, Voroshilov and Lev Mekhlis. (Mekhlis was a party bureaucrat who had carried out many tasks for Stalin in the Great Terror.) Pale and bewildered, he sat with them at the table clutching an empty pipe for comfort. He could not accept that he had been wrong about Hitler. He muttered that the outbreak of hostilities must have originated in a conspiracy within the Wehrmacht. Always there had to be a conspiracy. When Timoshenko demurred, Stalin retorted that ‘if it were necessary to organise a provocation, German generals would bomb their own cities’. Ludicrously he was still trying to persuade himself that the situation was reversible: ‘Hitler surely doesn’t know about it.’ He ordered Molotov to get in touch with Ambassador Schulenburg to clarify the situation. This was clutching at a final straw while Armageddon erupted. Schulenburg had in fact already requested an interview with Molotov in the Kremlin. In the meantime Timoshenko and Zhukov went on imploring Stalin’s permission to organise armed counter-measures.

Schulenburg, who had sought to discourage Hitler from invading, brought the unambiguous military news. Molotov reported back to Stalin: ‘The German government has declared war on us.’ Stalin slumped into his chair and an unbearable silence followed. It was broken by Zhukov, who put forward measures to hold up the forces of the enemy. Timoshenko corrected him: ‘Not to hold up but to annihilate.’ Even then, though, Stalin continued to stipulate that Soviet ground forces should not infringe German territorial integrity. Directive No. 2 was dispatched at 7.15 a.m.

The Germans swarmed like locusts over the western borderlands of the USSR. Nobody, except perhaps Stalin, seriously expected the Red Army to push them back quickly to the river Bug. A military calamity had occurred on a scale unprecedented in the wars of the twentieth century. Stalin had not yet got a grip on himself. He was visibly distraught and could not focus his mind on essential matters. When Timoshenko returned from the People’s Commissariat of Defence to confer, Stalin refused to see him. Politics, even at this moment, had to come first and he insisted that a Politburo meeting should take precedence. Finally at nine o’clock in the morning Timoshenko was allowed to present a plan for the creation of a Supreme Command. The Politburo meanwhile gave Molotov the task of speaking on radio at midday. Stalin still felt disoriented. If he had wanted, he could have given the address himself. But shock and embarrassment deflected him. He was determined to stay at the centre of things, however – and he knew that Molotov would not let him down at the microphone. Stalin was not wasting time with resentment about what Hitler had done to him. War had started in earnest. He and the USSR had to win it.

How had he let himself be tricked? For weeks the Wehrmacht had been massing on the western banks of the River Bug as dozens of divisions were transferred from elsewhere in Europe. The Luftwaffe had sent squadrons of reconnaissance aircraft over Soviet cities. All this had been reported to Stalin by his military intelligence agency. In May and June he had been continuously pressed by Timoshenko and Zhukov to sanction the dispositions for an outbreak of fighting. Richard Sorge, the Soviet agent in the Germany embassy in Tokyo, had raised the alarm. Winston Churchill had sent telegrams warning Stalin. The USSR’s spies in Germany had mentioned the preparations being made. Even the Chinese Communist Party alerted Moscow about German intentions.

Yet Stalin had made up his mind. Rejecting the warnings, he put faith in his own judgement. That Stalin blundered is beyond question. Yet there were a few extenuating circumstances. Stalin expected there to be war with Germany sooner or later. Like military planners everywhere, he was astonished by Hitler’s easy triumph over France. The success achieved by the Wehrmacht in the West was likely to bring forward any decision by the Führer to turn eastwards and attack the USSR. But Stalin had some reason to believe that the Germans would not risk an attack in the year 1941. Although France had been humbled, Hitler had not dealt a fatal blow to the British. His armed forces had also met difficulties in the Balkans in the spring when action against the German occupation of Yugoslavia diverted troops needed for Operation Barbarossa. Stalin continued to hold to the belief that a successful invasion of the USSR would have to be started in early summer at the latest. Napoleon’s fate in 1812 had shown the importance of beating Russians without having to trudge through snow. By mid-June 1941 it looked as if the danger of a German crusade had faded.

Some Soviet intelligence agents were also denying that a German attack was imminent. A fog of reports befuddled Stalin’s calculations. He made things worse by insisting on being the sole arbiter of the data’s veracity. The normal processing of information was disallowed in the USSR. Stalin relied excessively on his personal intuition and experience. Not only fellow politicians but also People’s Commissar of Defence Timoshenko and Chief of the General Staff Zhukov were kept in the dark about reports from embassies and intelligence agencies. The Germans took advantage of the situation by planting misinformation; they did much to induce Stalin to believe that a military campaign was not in the offing. Thus Stalin in the early months of 1941 moved along a dual track: he scrupulously observed the terms of his pact with Nazi Germany while telling gatherings of the Soviet political and military elite that, if the Germans attacked, they would be repulsed with ferocious efficiency. He had been taking a massive gamble with his country’s security. Cautious in so many ways, Stalin trusted in his ability to read the runes of Hitler’s intentions without discussing the evidence with anyone else.

Stalin was shocked by Operation Barbarossa, but Molotov always defended the Boss against the charge that he collapsed under the strain:

It can’t be said he fell apart; certainly he was suffering but he did not show it. Stalin definitely had his difficulties. It would be stupid to claim he didn’t suffer. But he’s not depicted as he really was – he’s represented as a repentant sinner! Well, of course, that’s absurd. All those days and nights, as always, he went on working; he didn’t have time to fall apart or lose the gift of speech.

Stalin’s visitors’ book confirms that he did not lapse into passivity. Zhukov too insisted that Stalin’s recovery was swift. By the next day he had certainly taken himself in hand, and over the next few days he seemed much more like his old self. His will power saw him through. He had little choice. Failure to defeat the German armed forces would be fatal for the communist party and the Soviet state. The October Revolution would be crushed and the Germans would have Russia at their mercy.

On 23 June Stalin worked without rest in his Kremlin office. For fifteen hours at a stretch from 3.20 a.m. he consulted with the members of the Supreme Command. Central military planning was crucial, and he allowed his political subordinates to get on with their tasks while he concentrated on his own. Then at 6.25 p.m. he asked for oral reports from politicians and commanders. Molotov was with him practically the whole time. Stalin was gathering the maximum of necessary information before issuing further orders. Visitors are recorded as having come to him until 1.25 a.m. the next morning.

The Supreme Command or Stavka – the term used under Nicholas II in the First World War – had also been established on 23 June. Stalin was initially disinclined to become its formal head. He was not eager to identify himself as leader of a war effort which was in a disastrous condition. So it was Timoshenko who as Chairman led a Stavka including Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Budënny, Zhukov and Kuznetsov. The others also tried to persuade Stalin to permit his designation as Supreme Commander. He refused even though in practice he acted as if he had accepted the post. The whole composition of Stavka was shaped by him, and it was noticeable that he insisted that leading politicians should belong to this military body. Not only Molotov but also Voroshilov and Budënny were basically communist party figures who lacked the professional expertise to run the contemporary machinery of war. Timoshenko, Zhukov and Kuznetsov were therefore outnumbered. Stalin would allow no great decision to be taken without the participation of the politicians, despite his own gross blunders of the past few days. He called generals to his office, made his enquiries about the situation to the west of Moscow and gave his instructions. About his supremacy there was no doubt.

Air Power And Nuclear Deterrence


Prior to the Second World War it had been claimed that air power acting on its own might be a viable alternative to large land armies. This was reflected in the use of the adjective ‘strategic’ as applied to ‘bombardment’, suggesting that air raids could be launched over the heads of land forces and thereby send a population into panic and despair, obliging an enemy government to beg for mercy. The experience of the Second World War qualified this optimism. Strategic bombardment did not produce sudden collapses in morale but became another instrument of attrition, at first gradually but then at an increasing pace, eating away at the war-making potential of Germany and Japan. In securing the final victories command of the air had been vital, but it had not been won easily and was not sufficient in itself. The European war was ended by the Allies physically fighting their way into Germany.

The advent of atomic weapons revived thoughts of a decisive strategic instrument. During the late 1930s news came through of a series of advances in nuclear physics that pointed to techniques for splitting the atom and then creating a chain reaction that would unleash vast amounts of energy. War soon provided the incentive to see how far the theory could be taken. After Pearl Harbor, the British effort to design an atomic bomb, which was quite advanced, was merged with the far better resourced American Manhattan Project. Here an international group of scientists, many of them refugees from Nazi Europe, were determined to construct this terrible new weapon before Hitler did. Others hoped that they would perform a service to humanity by demonstrating that it was a practical impossibility. In the event, the weapon was not ready by the time of Germany’s defeat in May 1945, and fortunately Hitler’s own programme had fizzled out before it was close to success.

The war with Japan was not yet over. Victory was almost certain, but Truman was concerned about the heavy loss of life that would result if an invasion had to be mounted, and was happy to explore all means to get a Japanese surrender as quickly as possible. After the first successful test of an atomic weapon in New Mexico in July 1945, news of which came through as the ‘Big Three’ assembled at Potsdam, Truman decided to use the couple of weapons available to shock the Japanese government into surrender by demonstrating this terrible power that could now be unleashed. Given the expense of their development he was not inclined to hold the weapons in reserve, and neither he nor his advisers were impressed by anguished pleas from many of the scientists involved that they should either desist altogether or rely on a demonstration shot away from a civilian population. For years both sides had been engaged in air raids of ever-growing intensity, culminating in the fire-bombing of Tokyo the previous March. At this stage of the war the moral argument against attacks on cities had long been lost, provided some military rationale could also be found. The first of the only two nuclear weapons ever to be dropped in anger detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, which Truman described as an important military target, on the morning of 6 August 1945. It led to 200,000 deaths and injuries. The second bomb hit Nagasaki three days later. After another five days Japan surrendered.

The conditions flattered the new weapon. Japan was close to defeat and lacked any means of response. The Soviet Union was also entering the Pacific war. Yet whether or not Japan would have surrendered anyway – as much evidence now suggests – it would also seem that the shock effect of the bombs tilted the internal debate in Japan towards accepting defeat earlier rather than later. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been described as the first shots in the Cold War, because they provided an opportunity to demonstrate American strength in a grimly convincing manner to Stalin during a critical stage of the bargaining over the shape of the post-war world. While this may have been a presumed side-benefit, the record shows that Truman’s main concern was with getting the Pacific war over as soon as possible.

The impact of these two attacks on the post-war world was immediate and profound. First they made it possible to imagine circumstances in which Russia could be defeated without having to brave its distances and climate. Second, the association of the new weapons with victory meant that they immediately acquired an aura of decisiveness, whether warranted or not. Third, they confirmed a trend towards progressive barbarism in warfare. Once a major war began there could be no presumption of innocence and no expectation of pity. While at first the stockpile of atomic weapons was very small (indeed, barely more than component parts in the years just after the war), and so appeared as providing merely a more efficient way to mount a conventional air raid, the fact that mass destruction could be instantaneous and include the insidious effects of radiation inevitably led to these weapons soon dominating all speculation on future warfare.

In the first couple of years of peace the Americans took steps to guard their atomic secrets, even from their British allies who had played a significant early role in the weapons development, but they did little to produce many new weapons. That effort began in earnest in 1947, after it had become clear that any hopes for placing this new technology under international control were doomed to disappointment. Proposals had been put forward by the United States, under the name of its chief delegate, Bernard Baruch, to a United Nations committee for the international control of atomic energy. In the circumstances this was a generous gesture, but it could never be convincing to Moscow, which saw in the scheme an early obstruction to its own nuclear programme with a political option whereby the Americans might avoid at a late stage any obligations to relinquish their own arsenal.


The mushroom cloud from the “First Lightning” test (1949).

It had been assumed by the Americans that the Russians were far behind in nuclear technology. However, by dint of their own hard work, well-placed spies (notably Klaus Fuchs, who had been a British participant in the Manhattan Project) and a full published description by American scientists of their methodology, the Russians made rapid progress. In August 1949 they tested their own nuclear device. As the test came at a time when East-West tensions were growing daily, the effect on the Americans was electrifying. They could no longer assume a nuclear monopoly: they were now engaged in an arms race. The response was not only to step up production of fission (atomic) weapons, but also to press ahead with the next stage of weapons development – the fusion (or thermonuclear or hydrogen) weapon, which promised almost unlimited destructive capacity. Leading American scientists were bitterly opposed to creating ‘city-busting’ weapons with an explosive yield equivalent to millions of tons (megatons) of TNT, but Truman felt that he had no choice. He dared not let the Russians build such a bomb first.

The president did accept, at the same time, that the Soviet breakthrough required a reappraisal of the strategic role of nuclear weapons. This took the form of a major study, led by the State Department, which considered this new development in the light of the deteriorating international political situation. The other major communist advance in 1949 had been the defeat of the nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. There was now a Sino-Soviet bloc, spreading right through the Eurasian heartland and capable of pushing out against all areas along its periphery. The resulting document for the National Security Council- known as NSC-68 – was designed to bring home to the Washington bureaucracy just how dangerous the situation had become. It warned that without determined action, democracies might succumb to a communist drive for world domination. So long as the United States enjoyed a nuclear monopoly it could be argued that this would serve as a powerful disincentive to Moscow if there was any thought of aggressive action. But if Moscow could retaliate in kind, Western plans to initiate nuclear war would appear reckless. It was therefore unwise to rely on this threat for the indefinite future if it risked bringing a terrible retribution on the United States. The conclusion of NSC-68 was therefore that the remaining years of nuclear superiority should be used to build up conventional forces in Europe capable of coping on their own with a Soviet assault.

2S25 Sprut – SD: self-propelled anti-tank gun



The 125 mm 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun was developed by the Volgograd Tractor Plant Joint Stock Company to meet the requirements of the Russian Air Assault Divisions. It is understood that prototypes of the 2S25 were completed some time ago but as of 2001 volume production had yet to commence. It is already being offered on the export market as the Russian Army has insufficient funds to purchase this vehicle at the present time. In mid-2001, it was stated that the Volgograd Tractor Plant had been working on the 2S25 for about seven years. It was also stated that the 2S25, which is also referred to as the SPRUT-SD, could operate in the water and still be able to fire its 125 mm gun while afloat. It can also operate in altitudes of up to 3,000 m.

The hull and turret of the 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun is of all-welded construction with the crew compartment at the front, turret and fighting compartment in the centre and engine compartment at the rear. Through the frontal arc of 40º left and right the armour provides protection against attack from small arms fire up to 12.7 mm and through the remainder of the vehicle against attack from 7.62 mm small arms fire. Many of the automotive parts of the 2S25 are the same as that installed in the BMD-3 airborne combat vehicle that was also designed and built at the Volgograd Tractor Plant. As of early 2001 the BMD-3 was only in service with the Russian Army. The driver is seated at the front of the hull in the centre and has a single-piece hatch cover and three day periscopes, the centre one of which can be replaced by a night vision periscope. There is an additional seat either side of the driver for the commander and driver as they are normally seated here rather than in the cramped turret when the vehicle is travelling in a non operational area. There is a single hatch cover above their position to enable them to quickly leave the vehicle.

Main armament consists of a 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore tank gun developed at Artillery Plant No 9 at Ekaterinburg and is based on the 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore tank gun installed in the T-72, T-80 and T-90 MBTs. For this lighter chassis application it has been fitted with a new low recoil system. The 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore tank gun is fitted with a fume extractor and a thermal sleeve but is not fitted with a muzzle brake. It is fully stabilised in elevation and traverse. This fires the same family of separate loading ammunition as the 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore gun installed in the T-72, T-80 and T-90 series MBTs. It can also fire a laser guided projectile out to a range of 4,000 m. Maximum rate of fire is quoted as 7 rds/min. The 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore gun is fed by a horizontal automatic loader that is located below the turret. This holds a total of 22 projectiles and charges ready for immediate use. The projectile is loaded first, followed by the charge with its semi-combustible cartridge case. A manual back up loading system is also provided. A 7.62 mm PKT machine gun is mounted coaxial with the main armament and this is fed by a belt of 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Additional 7.62 mm ammunition is stowed externally in boxes on the turret rear. The commander is seated on the right and the gunner on the left with both crew members being provided with roof mounted day/night observation devices and a single piece hatch cover. The gunner also has a sight in the forward part of the turret roof. The commander’s sight is stabilised in elevation and traverse and has a laser sighting device to guide the 125 mm laser guided projectiles onto the target. The gunner’s sight is stabilised in elevation and incorporates a laser range-finder which feeds target information into the ballistic computer. There is an infra-red searchlight mounted externally on the right side of the turret and a smaller infra-red light on the right side of the hull front. There is a standard white light searchlight on the turret roof and a smaller one on the left side of the hull front for driving at night.

The suspension is of the hydropneumatic type and allows the ground clearance to be adjusted by the driver from his seat between 100 and 500 mm in 6 to 7 seconds. The running gear either side consists of seven single rubber tyred road wheels, idler at the front, drive sprocket at the rear and track return rollers. Two types of track are fitted, standard and the wider snow/mud track which reduces the ground pressure of the vehicle. The 2S25 is fully amphibious being propelled in the water by two water jets situated one either side low down at the rear. Before entering the water a trim vane is erected at the front of the vehicle and the bilge pumps are switched on. It can operate in up to Sea State 3 and can also fire the 125 mm gun while afloat over a 70º frontal arc. Standard equipment includes night vision equipment for the commander, gunner and driver and an NBC system. According to the manufacturer, the 2S25 can be air dropped from transport aircraft with the crew inside the vehicle. Optional equipment includes a thermal channel for the gunner’s sight, improved amphibious capability and additional armour protection. A defensive aids suite can also be installed, for example the Russian Arena.


There are no known variants of the 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun. Some Russian sources have indicated that the 2S25 chassis could be the basis for a complete family of airborne light armoured vehicles to replace systems based on the older BMD-1/BMD-2 series airborne combat vehicle chassis.


Crew: 3

Combat weight: 18,000 kg

Power-to-weight ratio: 28.33 hp/t

Ground pressure: (standard track) 0.53 kg/cm2 (wide track) 0.36 kg/cm

Ground clearance: 100 to 500 mm

Max speed: (road) 71 km/h (water) 10 km/h

Range (road): 500 km

Gradient: 60%

Side slope: 40%

Engine: Model 2B06-2C diesel developing 510 hp

Transmission: hydromechanical/hydrostatic drive

Suspension: hydropneumatic

Armament: (main) 1 x 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore gun (coaxial) 1 x 7.62 mm PKT machine gun

Ammunition: (main) 40 x 125 mm (of which 22 are ready for use) (coaxial) 2000 x 7.62 mm Gun control equipment:

Turret power control: powered/manual (by commander) yes (by gunner) yes

Turret traverse: 360º

Gun elevation/depression: +15/-5º (bow); +17/-3º(aft)

Gun stabiliser: (vertical) yes (horizontal) yes

NBC system: yes

Night vision equipment: yes

Status The only operators of the 2S25 are the Russian airborne troops with 24 of these vehicles in service. Serial production starts 2018.


Beriev Be-12 Tchaika ‘Mail’ (‘Mail’ is the NATO denomination)




Together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force, the AV-MF (Soviet Naval Aviation) is the last major service to operate fleets of combat flying-boats and amphibians. Elsewhere, the role of the patrol flying-boat was taken over by long-range landplanes in the 1950s. This process may continue, as no amphibious replacement for the Beriev Be-12 Tchaika (Seagull), codenamed ‘Mail’ by NATO, has been reported, and the AV-MF has introduced specialised landplanes for the anti-submarine role, the llyushin 11-38 ‘May’ and the Tupolev Tu-142 ‘Bear-F’.

The Beriev design bureau, based at Taganrog on the Sea of Azov, has been the main supplier of marine aircraft to the Soviet Navy since 1945, most of its aircraft going to the Northern and Black Sea Fleets. The origins of the Be-12 go back to the LL-143 prototype of 1945, which led in 1949 to the Be-6 ‘Madge’. This latter twin-engined flying-boat served with success until 1967.

Following the Be-6, the Beriev team carried out a considerable amount of research into jet-powered flying-boats, producing the straight-winged Be-R-1 of 1952 and the swept-wing Be-10 of 1960-1. The latter, powered by two Lyul’ka AL-7RVs (unaugmented versions of the Su-7 powerplant), established a number of seaplane records in 1961, but only three or four are believed to have been built.

The lessons learned in the design of the Be-R-1 and Be-10, however, were incorporated in the design of a much improved flying-boat based loosely on the Be-6 and identified originally by NATO as a re-engined version of the older type. In fact, the Be-12, designated M-12 in AV-MF service, bears little more than a general resemblance to the Be-6, sharing only the gull-wing layout and twin tail of its predecessor. The greater power and lighter weight of the turboprop engines have permitted a forward extension of the hull, with a new planing bottom similar to that of the Be-10. The prominent spray suppressor around the bows of the Be-10 is also a feature of the turboprop aircraft. The most significant change, however, was the addition of massive and sturdy retractable landing gear, making the Be-12 amphibious and thus considerably more versatile than the earlier Beriev designs. The turreted gun armament of the Be-6 has been deleted, being replaced by MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) gear in the tail, above the tailwheel well, while the search radar is carried in a long nose housing instead of the ventral retractable dustbin radome of the Be-6. One of the drawbacks of the high-wing layout, the excessive height of the engines above the ground, has been mitigated by the design of engine cowling panels which drop down to form strong working platforms.

The considerable weight-lifting capability of the Be-12 was demonstrated in a series of class records for amphibians set up in 1964, 1968 and 1970, suggesting a normal weapons load as high as 5000kg (11,023lb). The Be-12 can load on the water through large side hatches in the rear fuselage, and stores can be dropped through a watertight hatch in the hull aft of the step. Unlike land-based ASW platforms, a marine aircraft can, in reasonably calm conditions, settle on the water, and search with its own sonar equipment, rather than relying exclusively on sonobuoys. This assumes that the Be-12 has this capability.

With the increasing use of the Mil Mi-14 ‘Haze’ ASW helicopter and the llyushin II-38 ‘May’, there would seem to be a diminishing ASW role for the Be-12, although the type will certainly remain in service as a high-speed search-and-rescue (SAR) vehicle. It is also believed to have been used for mapping, geophysical survey and utility transport. By Soviet standards the type was not built in large numbers, only 95 being reported in service in the late 1980s.


Ukrainian Be-12


Twin-engined maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare flying-boat.


Ecological reconnaissance version.


Flying laboratory version.


Utility transport, experimental passenger trasport version.


Search and rescue version.


Fire-fighting version.


Firefighting version.


Used for nuclear depth charge tests.


Scientific research version.