Monday 16 March 2015

Tank Reliability in the Korean War

In a previous article, I took a look at how many vehicles managed to reach the battlefield, and how many broke on the way there. Let's take a look at similar figures from several other sources. "The Employment of Armor in Korea, Volume I" by ORO contains information on the reliability of T-34-85 and SU-76, based on knocked out enemy vehicles.

First, T-34-85s.

Only 2% tanks lost to mechanical failure! Even assuming that no tanks were abandoned due to cowardice, a lack of fuel, or some other other such cause, that is only 27.5% of all losses. An improvement over T-34 tanks in 1942, especially considering that the conditions these tanks operated in could, at best, be described as suboptimal.

In short, no spare parts, no tools, and maintenance instructions out of the window, certainly harsher conditions than Soviet tanks faced.

Now, SU-76es.

Even better, no vehicles lost to breakdowns and 22% abandonment. Sadly, I have no Soviet SU-76 or even T-70 figures to compare them to.

Not so bad, right? Let's see what the Americans achieved under the same conditions.

These are some pretty sad figures, over 70% lost due to non-enemy action. Much higher than Soviet tanks in the same theater, and the Americans had the advantage of training and engineering vehicles present.


  1. Soviet engineering versus Capitalist profit making war-machines, the results speaks for themselves automatically.

  2. Hmm, it's not that I want to disparage Soviet tank reliability as poor, but could there be an alternative explanation for this data that would not make the discrepancy this large?

    For instance, could not T-34s and SU-76s have broken down during a retreat due to mechanical reasons and be abandoned, after which, either aircraft or artillery or even tanks seeing a Soviet machine blast it with napalm, rockets, bombs, artillery, AT fire before pausing to see if it's actually in working condition?

    Then the teams come by to do the inspections to ascertain cause of loss come by (generally, not a highly-motivated bunch). These don't do a rigorous inspection, and only note that the (unknown to them) previously incapacitated vehicle has been clobbered by artillery shells (or napalm, or rockets, or AT fire, or whatever) and then ascertain that to be the cause of loss.

    1. When vehicles break down, they break down one at a time. Nobody is going to waste an artillery barrage or a napalm strike on one single vehicle.

    2. Nobody is going to waste an artillery barrage or a napalm strike on one single vehicle.

      Peter--not necessarily with the US Army. Allow me recount a story told to me by an American WWII veteran when I was a teen. Given how long ago this was, pardon if I'm fuzzy on the details.

      The story goes this way: a detachment from one of the advance divisions in France (can't recall if it was from an armored division or an infantry division), came up to a small French town, and was betaken by rumors of "Tigers" awaiting in prowl in said town. Its response to those rumors was to start blasting the town with everything imaginable, calling in artillery strikes at the battalion, regimental, and finally the divisional level.

      When the call went in for an air strike, that was finally enough for divisional HQ--given the situation on the overall front, "What the heck could be going on?" in said small town. Thus, a pre-emptive order went out to advance into the town with no further bombardment.

      What the troops found in that small French town was no "Tigers"; in fact no tanks of any sort, working or non-working alike--just about 50 Germans and one 50 mm towed AT gun, all of whom had been left behind during the German retreat for lack of transport, and who had planned to surrender to the Americans, just when all holy hell started to blow up around them.

      That was the criticism leveled at the American conduct during WWII, by German officers and others, that it relied too-heavily on the ready abundance of ordinance available, and that its approach to every tactical situation was to try to blast things off the map first and ask questions later.

      So yes, I could well believe that a fighter armed with rockets seeing a T-34 in Korea, whether it was moving or not, would shoot at it. Same with artillery and AT weapons and other things. The planes for sure didn't get any accolades for bringing that ordinance back to base.

      Again, my argument is not to disparage Soviet vehicle reliability. But the 2 % figure in this article contrasts greatly with figures from other documents posted on this site, that show Soviet tank operational "losses" due to mechanical failure and maintenance could greatly outnumber combat losses. That's why I presented an alternative explanation.

      There is one flaw in my argument I thought of after posting--if the T-34 or SU-76 had been abandoned due to mechanical failure, and then blasted by ordinance afterwards, then the teams doing the appraisal should still have been tipped off to something not being right by the lack of bodies inside the vehicle. That's a flaw for sure, but that still doesn't mean it still couldn't have happened. After all, true to the fashion of other "lying with statistics" articles, proclaiming that the power of your weaponry sounds far more impressive than saying you blew up a bunch of abandoned hardware.

    3. I don't doubt the numbers _as_reported_numbers_ are valid. Yet there is context missing: The last significant armor vs. Armor engagements were in October 1950, and as the U.N. forces pursued up yo the Yalu and then pulled back to the 38th Parellel, (and from there operated as mobile artillery