Soviet Infantry Small Arms Advantage Late in WW2? TIK Q&A

Soviet Infantry Small Arms Advantage Late in WW2? TIK Q&A


Noremac Cameron has said – Hello TIK, I am A proud new patron of your
amazing content and I have a question regarding Infantry Equipment on the Soviet Axis front.
So here is some context before my main question. I have heard from multiple sources that during
the later years (1944-1945) on the soviet axis front that soviet troops had a huge advantage
when it came to infantry equipment, Mainly small arms. Their PPSH 41’s and PPS 43’s would
mow German troops armed mainly with kar98 (Bolt action rifles) and maybe the occasional
MP-40 SMG. Is this really true? It seems like the German army would of realized that including
more semi automatic and SMG’s into their divisions would of helped equalize close up infantry
combat. And while the Germans did produce the Stg 44 these sources didn’t mention them
or if they did they said the weapon wasn’t present enough on the front line to make any
difference. Are these claims that the Stg 44 was not present enough to counter the soviet
SMG’s true as well? (Keep Up the good work TIK!) An interesting question, and here’s a list
of sources I’ve used to answer it (which I’ll list in the description). You’ll
also find an other link in the description as well, because last week I narrated a video
about Operation Winter Storm (the Stalingrad relief attempt) for Historian Anton Joly on
his channel. Unlike this video, it was full of primary source documents, so make sure
you check it out if you missed it because, in the process of making that video, both
of us realised some very interesting elements about that period that we’d both missed
previously in our studies of Stalingrad, and we’ll be discussing it in the future. Link
in the description, and at the end of the video. So, did Soviet troops have a huge advantage
when it came to infantry equipment, and did they mow down the Germans with huge numbers
of submachine guns? Well, it is true that Soviet infantry were
armed with a lot of submachine guns in the late war years. Comparing Soviet rifles to
submachine gun production, 34% of production during the war years went to submachine guns,
whereas the Germans had just 11% of their production geared towards them. Now, it’s
worth noting here that Soviet submachine gun production started off very low, and then
quickly ramped up as the war progressed. So it was more than 34% in the late war years,
and lower in the early ones. And it is true that whole units in the Red Army were armed
with nothing but submachine guns. “At least in theory, the NKO equipped one
rifle (submachine gun) company per rifle regiment with the PPSh, and, in addition, created a
machine-gun platoon in the 1st, 4th, and 7th Companies in each Red Army rifle battalion.” The German riflemen were also at a firepower
disadvantage. The rate of fire for a trained rifleman with a Kar 98k was 15 rounds per
minute, including the reloading of the rifle with their 5-round clips. The rate of fire
for a PPSh-41 submachine gun was 900 rounds per minute, although in practice they only
carried 150 to 200 rounds, but even so there was a clear advantage in terms of the number
of bullets in the air. A ten man squad armed with bold-action rifles had a practical combined
firepower of 150 rounds per minute at best. Armed with PPSh-41 submachine guns, and that
firepower could increase to as much as 1,500 rounds per minute. Worse, when comparing the raw number of submachine
guns being produced by both sides, it does appear that the Germans were in trouble. By
the end of 1943, the Soviets had produced 3,619,700 submachine guns. That’s actually
more than twice as many MP 40s and MP 38’s that the Germans produced throughout the entire
war! In fact, by the end of 1943, the Germans had only produced 827,722 MP 40s and MP 38s.
The Germans only managed to produce 1,047,600 MP 40s, compared to 6,173,900 PPSh-41s, 1,500,000
Thompson submachine guns from the USA, and a whopping four million Sten guns from Great
Britain. So yes, they were trailing behind in terms of submachine gun production. “All [of the Soviets] were equipped with
semiautomatic rifles or short-barreled submachine guns that were capable of firing seventy-two
rounds from drum magazines. I took one of the submachine guns and several drum magazines
from one of the prisoners for my own use, as I no longer placed much faith in the slow-firing
98k carbine for close combat. I felt more confident equipped with the high-capacity
automatic weapon, and it was to remain with me for many months.” But what’s interesting is this: MP 40 production
actually peaked in 1941, and then remained about level for the rest of the war. Yes,
when production of rifles was increasing as the war went on, as well as tanks and other
equipment, the number of submachine guns that the Germans were producing had actually levelled
off. That’s a little bit strange. If submachine guns offered an advantage, like we’re meant
to believe, then surely the Germans would have ramped up production of the submachine
gun that they actually had. And yet they didn’t. “Inaccurate beyond any distance greater
than about 50 feet [15 meters], the fire of the MP-40 resembled that of a shotgun more
than a rifle. Though it was the standard weapon for a forward observer, I would have preferred
to retain my Mauser.” This account is interesting because the effective
range of the MP 40 was meant to be 200 meters, however it’s clear that the value of a product
– like a submachine gun – is subjective – meaning, the user decides it’s worth. This user clearly
wanted something that could hit a target at longer distances, which a Kar 98k definitely
could. “Although some might complain of the weight
of the Mauser rifle, or the cleaning required to keep it functional and rust-free in grim
conditions, few questioned its accuracy or reliability. Indeed, the rifle was generally
more accurate than the men who used it. One of the reasons the semi-automatic rifles never
fully replaced the Kar 98k as sniper rifles was that despite the best efforts of their
designers, the older rifle was still a more inherently accurate weapon.” So, while at first glance, it does appear
that a German rifleman would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Soviet submachine guns,
it does seem that there’s more to this story than the raw numbers alone. It’s true that
a submachine gun could fire off a lot of rounds very quickly, but what was their effective
range? it was less than 200 meters. And if you’re engaging someone on the sparse Russian
steppe, or if you’re on the defensive, you’re going to be firing at distances longer than
that. A Kar 98k could hit a target three or more times further than that (if it had a
scope, a kilometer wasn’t impossible). So, if you imagine a bunch of Soviets armed with
submachine guns, versus a bunch of Germans with rifles, the Germans with rifles can pick
off the Soviets long before they get into effective firing range. But if the Soviets armed with submachine guns
did get into range, then they had the clear advantage. Such as at Stalingrad, where Chuikov
told his men to keep close to the enemy – at a range of less than 50 meters. Not only would
this mitigate the enemy’s artillery and firepower [air] power, since the Germans risked hitting
their own troops at such close ranges, but it would allow the rapid fire of their submachine
guns to be far more effective than the slow reloading rifles. This is, in fact, why the
Soviet ‘storm groups’ in that battle were so effective, because they built those close-combat
groups around the submachine gun. And, when fighting in villages and towns on their way
to Berlin, the Soviets also relied upon infantry with submachine guns, grenades, and molotov
cocktails, for much the same reason. The point is, a submachine gun was very effective
at ranges less than 200 meters – preferably half that distance. Whilst, a rifle was very
good at long distance shooting – 300 to above 600 meters. So, it really did depend on the
terrain and the circumstances. For Blitzkrieg (or Bewegungskrieg) type warfare, where you’re
avoiding built-up areas, the rifles are probably the way to go. When you’re fighting room
by room in an urban area, then submachine guns would be the weapon of choice. However, it is a bit more complicated than
this. No side went to war with just rifles and submachine guns. German squads in WW2
were built around the light or medium machine gun, not the rifle or the submachine gun.
A typical ten man squad was armed with a three man machine gun team (MG 34 or MG 42), six
riflemen, and the NCO with his submachine gun (MP 38 or MP 40). “The machine gun provided most of the squad’s
firepower, while the riflemen acted as ammunition-carriers and provided local security for the machine-gun
team.” Notice, in this set-up, that everyone is secondary
to the rapid-firing machine gun. The machine-gun is the central piece of the puzzle here. Later
in the war, the number of men in a squad decreased to nine, with a rifleman being lost, and one
of the remaining riflemen replaced his rifle for a submachine gun – increasing the firepower
of the squad quite significantly. But even in this scenario, the machine gun was the
main weapon that the rest of the squad gravitated around. And this makes sense. Statistics from Allied
casualties show that 60 per cent were from mortars and artillery, most of the rest were
machine-guns, and perhaps 10 to 20 per cent were from rifles. (And that’s despite the
fact that the majority of soldiers were armed with them.) So the Germans knew that, for
a typical squad, the machine gun was the most important element. Coupled with the fact that
studies by both the Allies and the Axis, in both world wars, and between the wars, concluded
that most combat would take place at ranges less than 400 meters – because beyond that,
it was difficult to see the target, let alone hit them – and it might start to make sense
why the Germans weren’t at as significant disadvantage with their rifles. Rifles and machine guns would fire away at
an enemy 400 or more meters away – well out of range of the submachine guns – and offered
very effective suppression fire at that distance. Given the fact that the Germans had the clear
advantage when it came to their machine guns – the MG 42 fired a ridiculous 1,200 rounds
per minute – the Soviets would be at a severe disadvantage unless they could get within
200 meters or less to start using their submachine guns. Considering the amount of bullets flying
around from that MG 42, it’s not hard to imagine Soviet soldiers hugging the ground,
rather than risk charging through that level of firepower. Of course, if they did get within 200 meters,
then the Germans were the ones in trouble – “…combined with the Soviet tactics of
getting and staying close to the enemy, German infantry were often incapable of matching
the levels of small-arms firepower produced by their opponents, and tactical sophistication
was often drowned in a hail of 7.62mm rounds.” As you mentioned in the original question,
the Germans also produced the StG ‘Sturmgewehr’ 44 assault rifle, which was a leap forward
in terms of technology, since it combined the submachine gun’s rate of fire with an
intermediate cartridge, allowing them to engage enemies in the medium 600 meter range or less.
What you didn’t mention is that the Germans also produced several semi-automatic rifles,
like the Gew 41 and 43, the FG 42, and the Volksgewehr. Yes, these weren’t great weapons
(especially the Volksgewehr), but combined with the StG 44, the number of these weapons
was somewhere in the region of all the MP 40s ever produced. And these did increase
the firepower of the German infantry, although again their numbers were still too low overall
to change the strategic picture. The Germans also captured a lot of Soviet and Allied submachine
guns and semi-automatic rifles, and made use of them. In fact, they captured so many PPSh-41s
that they actually had specific designations for them when they used them, such as the
MP 717(r)’s. So, the Germans did have more firepower than at first glance. Therefore, to answer your question fully,
I don’t think the German squads were ‘push-overs’ in the late war, even if they were still relying
upon the Kar 98k rifle. Sure, in the city-battles, like Stalingrad in the mid-war, or Berlin
in the late war, as well as in the towns and villages across Europe, yes they were at a
significant disadvantage to the Soviet submachine gun menace. But in the open countryside – and
especially on the steppes of Russia – they probably had the advantage, thanks largely
to their impressive machine guns, around which they built their squads. We also have to factor
in artillery and mortars, direct fire guns like the PaKs, and tanks and aircraft, and
so on. Obviously we’re talking about the late war at this point, so some of these weren’t
around much, but they would certainly add to the long-distance suppressive fire power
of the German infantry. And I think this is why we might have accounts
from German authors saying they ‘mowed down the Red Army hordes’ – because a MG 42 gunner,
supported by riflemen, might have done just that at a comfortable distance. But then,
if just a handful of surviving Soviet submachine gunners got into the German trenches, they
would slaughter the Germans in return – which then explains why the Soviet accounts talk
about killing loads of Germans. Both sides claimed to have killed ‘hordes’ of their
enemy, and this submachine gun vs rifles and machine gun range distances, might explain
that. It also might explain why the Soviets were
at a disadvantage in the early part of the war. In the 1941 and 1942 period, they had
a lack of submachine guns, a lack of machine guns, a lack of mortars and artillery. So
it’s not hard to imagine the German machine guns and rifles, coupled with tanks and Stukas,
having a massive firepower advantage during this period. And you don’t have to hit someone
to take them out. If you’ve got a rifle and a grenade, and you’re half a mile away
from the enemy, who’s hitting you with machine gun fire, and rifle fire, and Stukas and tanks,
are you seriously going to keep fighting? The easiest option would be to run away. Or
if that’s not possible, surrender. And we see just that in the early war period. In the book, Croatian Legion by Jason D. Mark
there’s an instance where a StuG batterie from the 197th Sturmgeschütz Battalion assisted
the Croatians in one of their attacks in 1941. After firing at a distance upon the enemy
with machine guns and StuGs, the Croatians charged and engaged the Soviet riflemen at
close range. One Croatian threw a grenade into a Soviet trench, and accepted the surrender
of the soldiers in that portion of the trench. He then picked up the same grenade – yes,
he hadn’t pulled the trigger on it – and threw it into the next part of the trench.
And did the same. And then again. And again. And he admitted to the Germans that he’d
been using the same grenade over and over for weeks. And I think, since the Soviet conscripts
were getting hit by tanks (or assault guns) and machine guns and so on at a distance,
they’re suppressed, and have hardly any equipment to fight back with, so they were
eager not to die in what was clearly a hopeless situation. And so they surrendered. It’s only as the Soviet industry started
pumping out mortars, artillery, and submachine guns – from the mid to late 1942 period onwards
– that we start to see the Red Army be able to go toe-to-toe with the Germans. And the
lack of firepower might explain a lot of this. It would also explain why the Soviets decided
to charge the German lines – because they needed to get close to have any chance versus
the German long-range weaponry. But, what do you think? Let me know in the
comments below. Thanks for watching, and supporting, bye for now.

42 Comments on "Soviet Infantry Small Arms Advantage Late in WW2? TIK Q&A"


  1. When you realize that only half of the soviets your fighting were given rifles because the other half were given smgs
    Fick

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  2. Hey Tik. I have to see your earlier video as well as this. Been focused on WWI in order to get prepped for that 1917 podcast I mentioned last week. I believe you could make an argument that the German Spring Offensives of 1918 are a bit of a precursor to the tactics used by the Wehrmacht in WWII. Not a total analogy, and there is weakness to this argument, but I've seen similarities between the two with punching holes through the line.

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  3. One detail that was included in the otherwise crappy game Call of Duty WW2 is that at some point the Germans were dropping Ppsh Russian sub machine gun and I think it was in the levels which should have included events where experienced Germans from Eastern participated.

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  4. Dear TIK, thanks for the video! Just a small note – in Russian PPSH is a three-word, not a four-word acronym. Pistolet-pulyemet Shpagina. So it is pronounced Peh Peh Shah rather than [pi:] [pi:] [es] [eitʃ].

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  5. I think the Soviet's main infantry advantage was they had a lot more canned meats and cartridges of bullets.

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  6. I knew a man who had fought on the Eastern Front and he said that their MG 42 machine guns were precision engineered fast firing weapons- on the ranges. However, the Soviets countered this by mortaring their positions to raise dust and these guns were highly prone to jamming in this dust. He said that they kept the guns under tarpaulins hoping that the dust would clear before the Red Army was too close. He said that so often the numbers coming against them were so great that they just could not effectively stop an attack. He was in a unit that suffered high casualties.

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  7. Lewis, I want to suggest an idea for consideration for future videos. At the time when the Germans were assaulting Moscow I believe there was a Soviet General Andrey Vlasov. I am sure it is impossible you don’t know about him, so you know how overall sad story this was both, due to the motivation behind the change of sides, and due to the outcome for many of the soldiers.

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  8. But, Germans and soviets have 2 different strategies of attack. Germans threw Panzer first. Soviets sent waves of infantery.

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  9. Interesting heard that the soviets outnumbered the germans in mortars ( clearly your information shows that they were reversed numbers at beginning ) and it was suppose to be a decisive weapon. The germans outnumbered the british and french in mortars at beginning of war, can not remember if the british and yanks caught up in mortar numbers. Never think of the rifles and other small arms. Great video ( can not remember who it was that was talking about the mortars)

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  10. Thank you for this very informativ and objectiv video. That is how I want to see you as an historian.

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  11. It's a really interesting subject about small arms and how each side used them, slightly differently from the other. I play Post Scriptum a bit, and the use of MG's to SMG is clear. Out in the open, Rifles and MGs have a clear advantage with clear lanes of fire; but once you get within that distance, not been shot or killed in any real way, the SMG can start getting to proper work, and that's within the range, of 15 meters give or take. Knife fighting distances for bolt-action rifles.
    I wonder if Semi-auto rifles would have made much of a difference. In Scriptum where a lot of close range shooting happens, the semi-autos have a clear advantage over bolt-action in urban fighting, and rate of fire.

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  12. I think looking at the disparity in the effective range of their respective armaments makes Soviet counter-attacks look a lot more reasonable: what use was there in sitting in defensive positions and being shot at by the Germans when you could insted counter-attack. Getting close would both take away the Germans plentiful fire support and give the advantage in small arms after all.

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  13. The Germans did build the VolksGrenadier units with this firepower focus in mind. They were equipped primarily with SMGs and LMGs towards the end of the war.

    The SMG is really a weapon for trench/urban warfare. It's for spraying around a corner, accompanied by hand grenades. For the Volksgrenadiers, this was a good weapon since they were intended to be defensive units fighting in villages and prepared positions. It (and its ammo) is also cheaper to make, which is good for 2nd-rate troops.

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  14. A 1 LB you have the best audio/video presentations, second to no one, on utube!!( my opinion) ! No stupid music drowning out the topic!
    Just the real facts, that's all !! Keep the great work coming!!

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  15. PPSh used individual fitted drums.
    Any soldier needed to search for usable drums explicit for his own sub machine gun and hold on to it.
    The PPS-43 solved that with reliable stick mags.

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  16. I think this also comes into play, but tactics used were also different. Germany Infantry squads were centered around machine guns. MG-34s, MG-42s, MG-15, MG-08s. Etc. With often maybe one or two SMGs, and everyone else using rifles. This is the 'ideal' squad in the German Army of 10 men. Of course late in the war this changed, but the German Army still produced a heck of a lot of SMGs and Machine Guns during the war. I think it's just under half a million STGs of all types including field tested prototypes, 1.5 million SMGs of all types. On top of over half a million MGs of all types, not including massive amounts of captured soviet and purchased equipment. Ironically the German Government did purchase foreign small arms despite all this "Godly" German arms production often gloated about. So that being said, I doubt there were shortages of good small arms for German soldiers in the war.

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  17. I first missread the titel as the question if the soviet small arms development came too late in the war. Witch would be a question rather easily answered.

    What is often forgoten about bolt action rifles and long range shooting is that the cycling motion throws most people off target. If a german squad opens fire on a soviet group armed with PPSH41 at 100 meters 8 of them have no chance to correct a miss… The soviets meanwhile could just hold down the trigger… 71 is a high number and even if there is no hit among those rounds the soldiers still experience the same effect the soviets are experiencing from the MG. And every last of soviets can do that… While full auto weapons and pistol catridgfes aren´t great at long ranges, bolt action rifles aren´t either

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  18. Personally, for what it's worth, I'd agree with this overawll assessment. However, according to this…
    'Download Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty: The Memoir of a Waffen-SS Soldier – Herbert Maeger pdf' https://docs.google.com/document/d/1h9EQfRXytdpCxRTF1pJzeauYnGAvC74YJX5hQ7BBtbA/edit
    ….the author blames the Mauser, in part, for the German defeat in the East. He mentions that you lost aim when firing because of the bolt action.

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  19. don't forget you've still got a variety of other MPs beside the 38/40 too, like the MP28/EMP35/MP41/Beretta Model 38/MAS-38
    but that's gong to depend on what unit got what o the logistical wheel of fortune

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  20. Hal Moore from the famous Idrang valley fight in Vietnam said in the Korean war that the PPSH41 was the best weapon of the war because of its close range firepower superiority

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  21. Makes me wonder even more why the Germans went into the city of Stalingrad to engage in urban warfare equipped with bolt action rifles vs an opponent equipped with short range range sub-machine guns.

    Imagine defending a room with a bolt action rifle from multiple enemies rushing in? Or defending a building which can be rushed at by the enemy from cover mere meters away with such weapons? An MG42 is going to of limited use in such situations as well. Sounds like a really dumb idea to attempt this.

    So the German High Command dictating doctrine and equipment, surely had intelligence informing them of Soviet load out… knowingly sent the 6th army into a city to fight a battle they were not equipped to win? Why didn't the Germans train their soldiers in Urban warfare? Why did they not change their soldier's load out when they engaged in urban warfare in Stalingrad or other cities? Why engage in urban warfare AT ALL if you are not equipped to do so?

    Was the High Command inept, ill informed or did not understand their own doctrine? I find all this a little hard to believe. Surely they weren't THAT bad at war. These people supposedly dedicated their lives to the prosecution of war.

    Long time sub, i dont post with my other account tho.

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  22. Another thought: MGs and SMGs use up a tremendous amount of ammunition compared to a rifle and need external magazines. Given the German's relatively poor logistic chain and smaller manufacturing base, it doesn't surprise me the rifle was the dominant small arm for the German infantry.

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  23. The thing to keep in mind is that most small arms fire is for suppression in a lot of instances not to kill directly. Likely you had to shoot thousands of rounds to kill or wound a single enemy on average. Being able to pin them down and keep the enemy at a distance allowed you to target them with your mortars, artillery, tank guns, etc. which were more effective killers. I remember reading something long ago that the casualty rate from artillery, fragmentary shells was around 80% of all casualties in the war, maybe a little higher if you counted air munitions and small arms was a little over 15%. If you count the heavier machine guns with the artillery that seems about right. So the heavier weapons were more effective overall except in certain tactical situations. If the Germans had a deficiency from 44 onward it was supplies, actually having ammo for the guns they did have.

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