Monday 6 July 2015

Common Questions: Red Army AFVs in Operation Barbarossa

Almost everyone who studied the history of armoured warfare would know about Operation Barbarossa, where only a few thousand German tanks swept away tens of thousands of Soviet tanks. I've seen these numbers used to back a number of claims, each more ridiculous than the last, but today, let's look at them in more detail. According to Order in Tank Forces: What happened to Stalin's tanks? by Dmitriy Shein, the Red Army had 25932 vehicles under its command. An impressive number, but the Soviet Union is a large country, so if you only count vehicles protecting the Western military regions, vehicles that were actually in the position to do something about the invading Germans, you get a somewhat different picture. Let's take a look.

Tank Total Western districts
KV-1 370 337
KV-2 134 132
T-35 59 51
T-34 (regular) 671 635
T-34 (radio) 221 197
T-28 481 424
T-37 (regular) 1933 927
T-37(radio) 388 154
T-38 (regular) 1046 438
T-40 (regular) 113 101
T-40 (radio) 17 14
T-40 (training) 2 0
T-26 (two-turret) 1261 589
T-26 (regular) 3935 1993
T-26 (radio) 3377 1528
T-26 (AA) 111 111
T-26 (radio and AA) 63 0
BT-2 580 396
BT-5 (regular) 1277 663
BT-5 (radio) 399 208
BT-5 (diesel) 12 7
BT-IS 2 0
BT-7 (regular) 2471 1499
BT-7 (artillery) 117 65
BT-7 (radio) 1881 1212
BT-7 (AA) 89 89
BT-7M (regular) 509 255
BT-7M (radio) 181 157
BT-7 RSMK 3 0
BT-7M (AA) 12 10
BT-8 2 0
Total regular tanks 21800 12223
T-37 (chemical) 10 0
OT-130 500 180
OT-133 327 179
OT-134 2 0
T-26 (teletank) 53 26
T-26 (teletank controller) 61 29
KhT-26 308 128
T-26 (TOS) 2 0
BT-2 (chemical) 14 0
BT-7 (chemical) 1 0
Total special tanks 1278 542
SU-5 28 17
T-26 (sapper) 57 12
T-26 (tractor) 211 100
T-27 tankette (regular) 2343 930
T-27 tankette (tractor) 182 151
T-27 tankette (chemical) 33 6
Total 25932 13981

So counting everything on tracks in possession of the USSR, including tractors, experiments, and training tanks, there are just short of 26 thousand vehicles, but only about 14 thousand are available in the West to fight the Germans. That's still a lot, right? Well, tanks don't fight forever. Mechanisms tend to wear out, especially with heavy use, and the Red Army put these tanks through quite a bit of use in the 1930s, from the Spanish Civil War, to action against Chinese bandits and Japan in the Far East, to the campaign in Poland, to the Winter War, not to mention training, which must be done constantly. So how many of these tanks were actually available to fight? Here's how the vehicles in the Western districts spread over the Soviet standards for repair categories.

Tank 1st category 2nd category 3rd category 4th category
KV-1 275 60 3 -
KV-2 124 7 1 -

42 5 4
T-34 (regular) 599 35 1 -
T-34 (radio) 195 2 - -
T-28 - 283 94 47
T-37 (regular) 8 434 245 240
T-37(radio) 4 77 34 39
T-38 (regular) 4 270 96 68
T-40 (regular) 100 1 - -
T-40 (radio) 13 1 - -
T-26 (two-turret) - 404 72 113
T-26 (regular) 375 1384 95 139
T-26 (radio) 321 1007 84 116
T-26 (AA) 111 - - -
BT-2 - 315 63 18
BT-5 (regular) - 544 60 59
BT-5 (radio) - 174 16 18
BT-5 (diesel) - 7 - -
BT-7 (regular) - 2 - -
BT-7 (artillery) - 50 9 6
BT-7 (radio) 6 1020 143 43
BT-7 (AA) 3 81 5 -
BT-7M (regular) - 248 6 1
BT-7M (radio) - 152 5 -
BT-7 RSMK - 1 - -
BT-7M (AA) - 10 - -
Total regular tanks 2145 7900 1199 979
OT-130 10 147 18 5
OT-133 2 166 11 -
T-26 (teletank) - 25 1 -
T-26 (teletank controller) - 28 1 -
KhT-26 - 109 13 6
Total special tanks 12 475 44 11
SU-5 - 8 4 5
T-26 (sapper) - 2 2 8
T-26 (tractor) - 67 16 17
T-27 tankette (regular) - 471 173 286
T-27 tankette (tractor) - 63 35 53
T-27 tankette (chemical) - - 3 3
Total 2157 8986 1476 1362

Now, what do these repair categories mean? 1st category includes brand new tanks, 2nd category includes tanks that have been in use and are suitable for duty, including tanks that need light repairs, 3rd category is tanks that need service in regional workshops (medium repairs) and 4th is tanks that need a major overhaul at a central workshop or a factory (major repairs). 

Naturally, 3rd and 4th category tanks might as well be scrap metal when it actually comes to fighting a war. First category tanks you can rely on, but second category? Well, there's a catch. See that part where tanks that need light repairs are also lumped in here?  While "light repairs" includes any repairs that can be performed by the crew or the technical company, they still need parts. Something as banal as a tank that's missing a track still counts as a second category tank, effectively a functional combat ready tank, but cannot actually drive into battle. This is where things get bad. According to Shein, an inspection in the spring of 1941 revealed that a staggering 25% of category 2 tanks are not combat capable due to the absence of spare track links. And these are just track links, there are any number of small but vital parts that can render a tank combat ineffective (gun components, engine components, etc). That fearsome number up there, 25932, goes down quite a bit. By Shein's estimates, no more than 7-7.5 thousand tanks were available for battle on June 22nd, 1941, opposed by 3658 tanks and 377 SPGs (a total of 4035 vehicles). 

7500 tanks vs 4035 still gives the Soviets an advantage, but even the best tank with the best crew is nothing more than a cog in the machine that is its army. As you could tell from the above paragraph, the Red Army machine wasn't exactly well oiled. For instance, according to Shein, the army's demand for 76 mm armour piercing shells was only 12% satisfied, meaning that all these fancy new tanks had nothing to shoot as this German tanker recalled. A GABTU report on the state of tanks in the Red Army (CAMD RF 38-11373-67) dated June 1st, 1941, reveals just how seriously the rapidly expanding Red Army was lacking just about everything in 1941. The deficiencies of support vehicles (for wartime) include:
  • Tractors: 51,653 (plus 14,277 obsolete tractors that need replacing)
  • Vehicles: 483,738
    • Light and pickup trucks: 32,025
    • GAZ trucks: 96,156
    • ZiS trucks: 181,453
    • Type A mobile workshops: 5,243
    • Type B mobile workshops: 2,822
    • Fuel trucks: 49,662
    • Other: 116,377
  • Trailers: 69,691
  • Motorcycles: 56,129 (plus an unspecified number of motorcycles that are no longer in production that need replacing)
Plus the following breakdowns had to be corrected:
  • Tractors:
    • Medium repairs: 6,550
    • Major repairs: 5,628
    • Irreparable: 198
  • Vehicles:
    • Medium repairs: 43,464
    • Major repairs: 19,902
    • Irreparable: 2,208
  • Trailers:
    • Medium repairs: 3,690
    • Major repairs: 588
    • Irreparable: 1,463
  • Motorcycles:
    • Medium repairs: 3,023
    • Major repairs: 2,231
    • Irreparable: 704
The document notes that the poor state of equipment can be blamed on "uncharacteristic activity in 1939-1940", a lack of parts (219 million rubles' worth out of 410 million rubles' worth to just maintain the existing tanks, not even to build up spares), and a lack of mobile workshops (only 38% of the required number).

As you can see, the Red Army had a notable deficiency in parts and all kinds of vehicles, most notably, fuel trucks. If you have no fuel trucks, you can forget about any kind of meaningful maneuver, which was in great demand during the chaos of 1941. Even if you do have fuel trucks, they are somewhat useless if you don't have fuel... which was another problem in the Red Army in 1941. Maksim Kolomiets says, in his lecture (7:13) "...there was another serious problem, in all military districts, but in the Baltic Military District it was the most noticeable. This was a problem with fuel. Say you have some information on fuel inventory, they say "the district has almost 100%, diesel, gasoline, etc" but there is a small nuance, a footnote for those tables, that says how much of that amount is actually present within that district. If you look at the Baltic district, there is maybe 30%. I mean, administratively, it was controlled by the district, but if you look at its real location, it's in Vladimir oblast, Kalinin oblast, Moscow oblast... etc. The 2nd Tank Division as of 18:00 on June 21st was equipped with 40% of the needed gasoline for BT tanks, 48% diesel fuel, and 48% tractor kerosene, on average 1.5 fuel loads. ... On one hand it looks like a lot, but it's really a miserly amount." Kolomiets then also talks about the ammunition shortage Shein mentioned: "The division only had one ammunition load of 76 mm high explosive shells. They did not have a single armour piercing round. Two loads for 152 mm howitzers on KV-2s, 1.5 loads of 45 mm shells for BT tanks. ... If you look at the amount of ammunition and fuel, the division was equipped for maximum one day of battle."

So there you have it. No spare parts, scarce fuel and ammunition, poor odds of evacuating tanks with even minimal damage and lesser odds still of ever getting them repaired, and this is before valuable equipment and supplies were left behind during the retreat. There is no army in the world that could, under these conditions, soundly defeat a well prepared invader.


  1. Kind of sounds like Putin's military today. Other than all the crashing planes of course.

    1. I'm sure there were some of those too, but it's not my area of expertise.

    2. Expertise? I was unaware that you were being lately promoted to a renowned and eminent Scholar of WWII. You are knowledgeable no doubt, but slow down your pretentious self-perception. Sorry for that harsh potshot, but I was laughing my ass off.

    3. Expertise is a reasonable description. I'd never claim to be an expert on the Eastern Front, but I'd still call it my area of expertise because I know the most about it.
      Anyway, Peter's been referenced by Steve Zaloga iirc, so I think we can trust him. :)

    4. Steve Zaloga is author that say that a Panther need ~55.000 works to be build an a T-34 ~3.000 hours, he only forget to mention that Panther figures include work hours to build the transmission, engine, armor, gun, turret mechanism, radio, tracks, etc, plus the assembling of the tank and testing.And for T-34 is only work hours for assembling the tank plus armor.

  2. Pretty much all of the points in this post have been debunked by Solonin books

    1. Disregarding his support for Suvorov's views, wouldn't an ill-equipped and disorganized logistics system and general disrepair of both fighting and support vehicles support his thesis?

    2. What points were debunked, exactly?

    3. 1) Total tractor demand based on Mobilization Plan-41 was around 55.2k. The article claims that the shortage was 51.6k, which would imply that the army had just 3.4k tractors - while in fact on April 15th, 1941 it had around 33.7k (not counting such special vehicles like Kominterns that had no analogs in Wermacht).
      2) This totaly ignores how many tractors germans had (less) and how many of them were "obsolete"

    4. "Disregarding his support for Suvorov's views, wouldn't an ill-equipped and disorganized logistics system and general disrepair of both fighting and support vehicles support his thesis?" - I think main Solonin's thesis is that the army simply did not fight in the first weeks of Barbarosa - and that had only changed sometime in 1942 or 1943 based on the injured vs killed loss ratio

    5. Don't blame me, it's not my report. It also doesn't matter how many tractors the Wehrmacht had. If the Red Army did not have enough tractors, its heavy guns and tanks became ineffective, regardless of whether or not the Wehrmacht had 100% tractor availability or zero. Also, that's one point, not "pretty much all".

      As for the thesis that the Red Army did not fight in 1941, that is simply ridiculous. Combat journals exist for the era, you can examine yourself the orders given to the units, the losses they took carrying out their orders and successes, however temporary.

    6. Actually, I decided to look up the mobilization plan. I got the requirement for 90,847 tractors. I don't see a figure of 55.2k tractors anywhere in the mechanized transport table. You can take a look for yourself, the plan is contained in volume 1 of this collection:

    7. I think main Solonin's thesis is that the army simply did not fight in the first weeks of Barbarosa - and that had only changed sometime in 1942 or 1943 based on the injured vs killed loss ratio

      Attributing the cause of said "fact" (if it indeed is a fact*) to "the Red Army not fighting as hard" is dubious, as it assumes that the lethality if weaponry in 1941 vs 1943 was the same (they weren't), the tactical situations were the same (they weren't) and the situation with logistics was the same (they weren't). Given the fact that the first year of the war saw the bulk of the Red Army's losses due to encirclements, which diminished as the war progressed, should give one pause to make that claim.

      * Glantz, probably drawing on Krivosheev, has the vast bulk of Soviet losses in 1941 as "killed and missing", outnumbering the "wounded and sick" (70 % of Soviet losses in 1941 are "killed and missing"). The ratio of "killed and missing" vs "wounded and sick" DECLINES as the war progresses, from approximately 3 vs. 4 in 1942, 2 vs 5.5 in 1943, 1.4 to 5 in 1944, and 0.6 to 2.2 in 1945. This is directly contrary to Solonin's thesis.

    8. Pretty much all of the points in this post have been debunked by Solonin books

      And what army, exactly, prepares for an major offensive with its units nowhere near authorized strengths? (Just look at the number of KVs and T-34s that were supposed to be available according to the Soviet tables of organization, vs what was actually on-hand).

  3. Its kind of shows how rapidly the Soviet war machine was able to change and pump out huge amount of equipment for the Red Army in short amount of time.

  4. Um. I have a question about your post.
    Could you specify the date of your table?

  5. Some points:
    1)Tanks and other military equipment that are in others districts can be moved to western districts;
    2)Tanks and other military equipment that need spare parts can get it from other tanks and other military equipment(cannibalization);
    3)The problems of ammunition and fuel can be, by certain degree, amenized due to fact that its only need to be used for the vehicles in working condition;
    4)Soviet factories delivered about 5.600 tanks and 10.800 armored car, tractors and other armored vehicles from 22.06 to 31.12.1941;

    1. 1) Yes, they could. Why would they? They aren't just loafing about in the other districts, they are doing a job. If Stalin knew that he needs to reinforce his western frontiers by June 22nd, don't you think parts and fuel for existing tanks would take priority?
      2) Ok, you have a repair yard full of T-26es with no tracks. One T-26 you have cracks a track link. What are you going to cannibalize? The parts most likely to break are the parts you are most likely to have a shortage of.
      3) Read the article. Kolomiets wrote that there was enough for a day of battle. Do you expect the Red Army do soundly defeat the Wehrmacht in one day?
      4) I don't see your point, what are you trying to argue?

  6. The comment about transporting tanks from distant districts caught my eye. Certainly some of that occurred, but one needs to look at the types of tanks involved. Almost all of the useful tanks were already in the western districts, from T-34s and KV-1s to radio-equipped BT-7s. This is because the Russians already knew that the Japanese armor was weak, and the Turks and Chinese had few armored vehicles (indeed, the Russians were supplying light tanks to the latter). The British of course were already at war with Germany. Only German tanks were a threat, and the tanks needed to fight them were placed in the western districts. So except for maybe some more BT-7s, there wasn't much else useful to send anyway.

    The logistical angle is not often discussed (many military historians have a blind spot when it comes to such matters -- for instance, few appreciate the value of Marseille to the Americans in 1944, other than the officers who stuck to their guns when it came to Anvil-Dragoon), the French had similar difficulties in 1940. Also as in 1940, the Germans had air superiority; not only did they plan to destroy many aircraft on the ground (and did), but most Russian aircraft were obsolete, too.

    --Philip Hernandez

  7. Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics...

    Though I'm not convinced that the German forces were in a much superior position with regard to such. Talking or armour piecing rounds for instance many of the German AP rounds required Tungsten, which was in short supply even early in the war. The logistical problems within German industry resulted in the poor armour quality which is well documented but would be very interested to see production figures for the various AP shells such as Pzgr39/40, which also suffered from poor quality steel. Indeed the latter various were iron rather than even steel as an economy measure.

    Course the German guns are always quoted with penetration values when using ammunition types which were likely in short supply. With the German's lack of focus upon interdiction also tipping the logistical scales somewhat.