People often say that, right from the beginning,
the Soviets have superior tanks to the Germans in WW2. They say – again, right from the beginning
of the war – the Soviets have T-34s and KVs – and these of-course are war winning tanks.
You often hear how the German shells bounced off the armour of these tanks, and it is often
used as a way of showing how great the Germans must have been, in order to deal with these
impossibly powerful machines. But I think this graph alone, speaks volumes.
This is the number of tanks the Soviets have on the 22nd of June 1941. This is all of them
– not just the ones deployed against the Germans – all of them.
22,600 tanks. The blue bar – and I know it’s hard to see,
but there is a blue bar – that is the number of Soviet heavy tanks. 500 heavy tanks. This
includes the five-turret T-35s, as well as other heavies, so it’s not just 500 KVs.
The red bar is the number of medium tanks, including T-34s. That’s 900 medium tanks,
not just T-34s. Again, throughout the whole of the Soviet Union, less than 900 T-34s.
But these numbers pale in comparison to the number of light tanks the Soviets have. 21,200
light tanks. Some of these are good light tanks. But most
are not. Most wouldn’t be able to go toe-to-toe with a Panzer II. And these light tanks are
the tanks that the Germans are facing in 1941. Now, it is very tempting to say that the Germans
didn’t have lots of tanks, so the Germans are going to be overwhelmed with numbers.
This new graph shows this to be the case – the Germans have approximately 6,052 panzers,
and they deploy 3,903 tanks on the Eastern Front on June 22nd 1941. This again suggests
that the Germans must have been really great, in order to take on this many tanks with their
own tanks. Well, there’s a slight problem with this
idea – and that is this. The Germans weren’t using tanks to
hunt enemy tanks. Even Rommel, in North Africa, doesn’t do this. As I showed in my Battleaxe
documentary, Rommel’s tactic was to draw the British towards his men, by retreating
his own tanks, and then hit them with 37mm and 50mm Pak guns. These would finish off
the lighter tanks while the 88’s took out the heavier tanks at distance. “This ploy would become the standard Axis
tactic for the remainder of the war in North Africa.” Butler, Daniel Allen. Field Marshal: the Life and Death of Erwin Rommel. Casemate Publishers, 2015. And the best part is, in the first weeks of
Barbarossa, it’s not the German Panzers doing the bulk of the work. It is the German
infantry formations. Take a look at this graph. These are the German
divisions on the Eastern Front on the 22nd of June 1941. 19 Panzer divisions. 13 Motorised.
The rest – infantry. Well, one of them is actually a cavalry division, but I didn’t
want to create a whole new column for that, so I’ve included that with the infantry.
But you get the idea. The vast majority of the German divisions are not panzer divisions.
But while their tanks are outnumbered, their infantry are not. The Germans outnumber the
Soviets on the first day of the war. The red bar shows the number of Red Army troops on
the Eastern Front, vs the Blue bar for the Axis. The Germans alone outnumber the Soviets,
but obviously I had to include all Axis here otherwise – well, the Soviets can’t ignore the other axis so they’re spread out. The other two bars are the number of men in both their armed forces, and I’ve included that
to show you that not all of the troops are on the Eastern Front at this time.
The bulk of the German divisions are infantry divisions, and it is these guys that do a
lot of the work in the early weeks of Barbarossa. Unlike in later battles, such as Kursk, the
infantry are the ones doing the bulk of the work. And by that what I mean is, once the panzers
have broken through the lines, and encircled or exploited through the gaps, it is the infantry
doing the clearing up. This also means, taking out Soviet tanks.
The best way I can illustrate this is to take a look at the biggest tank engagement of the
entire war – and no, it’s not Kursk – it’s in fact the Battle of Dubno in 1941.
728 German tanks of Army Group South (specifically Panzergruppe 1) face off against – by my recent
calculation – 4,798 Soviet tanks. Here, you can see the German tank numbers
(the blue bar) vs the red heavy tanks, the yellow medium tanks, and the green light tanks
of the Soviets engaged at Dubno. On paper, at least, this looks like an unfair fight.
The 291 Soviet heavy tanks, plus the 411 Soviet medium tanks – which equals 702 tanks alone
– is almost equal to the German tank numbers, even without the light tanks.
But this picture does not tell the whole story. And this, by the way, is the problem when
comparing statistics of various tank numbers, or tank designs – they can only get you so
far. You have to then go and dig a bit deeper to get the real picture. The first problem is that 2,000 of these Soviet
tanks do not even make it to the battlefield. And why is that?
The answer is simply – they do not have the support network to sustain themselves in the
field. They’re breaking down and the Soviets are forced to just blow them up because they don’t
have sufficient maintenance formations. They run out of fuel, because they haven’t got any fuel stockpiled. They haven’t stockpiled
enough quantities of it because – well why would they? They weren’t expecting a fight – nor
do they have good logistical foundations in place to keep these tanks supplied. They run
out of ammunition, they run out of fuel, they break down. It is a complete disaster. “The combat vehicles in the 22nd Mechanized
Corps undoubtedly remained on the roads as a result of a lack of fuel, as well as technical
problems. During the retreat these tanks became trophies for the Germans.”
Iseav, Dubno P92 And why is this the case? Is it because the
Soviets are incompetent? Well, no. In 1935, the entire Soviet military had 930,000
men. In February 1939, they have 1,565,020 men.
On the 22nd of June 1941, the Soviets have 5,700,000 men.
Of these, 2,743,000 are deployed on the Eastern Front. “In only 36 months, the Red Army grew by
almost four million men and 163 divisions, and a series of armoured, mechanized, and
specialist units had been formed from scratch.” Liedtke, Enduring the Whirlwind P114 As I showed in my Purges video, this is the
main reason that the Soviet officer corps is lacking experience. At Dubno, most of the
men and officers in the tank formations had only been in the military for a year. In fact,
the mechanized divisions themselves had only been created in late 1940. The Purges were
a drop in the ocean compared to the expansion of the Red Army. But this isn’t about officers,
this is about maintenance and logistical services. So how does this explain why the Soviet tanks
are breaking down? Or why the Soviet tanks were taken out in large numbers in the first few days of the war? The main point is this – the Germans are attacking the Soviet Union in the middle of a mobilization
effort. A mobilization effort that is far from finished. So far from finished, that
a good portion of the Soviet tank divisions haven’t got enough trucks for their riflemen. “Neither the 37th Tank Division, 15th Mechanized
Corps, nor the 39th Tank Division, 16th Mechanized Corps, nor the 41st Tank Division, 22nd Mechanized
Corps had received their required vehicles by the outbreak of war and were only nominally
considered mobile formations. The motorized infantry in these regiments advanced on foot,
just like standard infantry.” Iseav P33 (edited to removed brackets from
quote) The motorized divisions were even worse off.
They didn’t receive any vehicles at all. In fact, regular rifle divisions were more
mobile than the motorized divisions, because they at least were equipped with horses to
pull their artillery. The reason for this was because the Soviet
High Command had realized that tanks were important and wanted to create new tank divisions, tank
corps, and tank armies. So they created new formations and new doctrines from September
1940 onwards. And because of the strategic situation changing, and the Soviets believing
that if Hitler was ever to attack in the future, he would concentrate against the Ukraine and
the Caucasus (which is where he actually did want to attack, but Halder decided otherwise), they
were busy concentrating their forces in the south. “Thus, just as the German attack caught
the Soviets in transition to new organizations, leaders, equipment, and doctrine, it also
found them shifting troop concentrations.” Glantz, When Titans Clashed P45 At Dubno, the Soviet tank forces are defeated,
not by the German tanks, but mostly by the German infantry formations – either as part
of the panzer divisions, or the regular infantry divisions.
What happens is this – the Soviet tanks go ahead onto the battlefield alone, and then get
chewed up. Why? Because the Soviet motorized and mechanized
formations, aren’t equipped with enough trucks or tractors. Their infantry and artillery can’t keep up with the tanks. And even if they could, there’s not enough of them. 22nd Mechanized Corps
has 786 tanks, and only 100 artillery pieces for all three of its divisions. That simply
isn’t enough. German artillery prevents what little infantry the Soviet tanks might
have, from keeping up with the tanks. The tanks are then isolated, and then defeated by the
German infantry, or by artillery and anti-tank guns. German tanks, on the other hand, face
very little Soviet artillery. So they can rely on their own infantry and artillery for
support. Now of course, there are tank-on-tank engagements,
but the large tank number superiority that the Soviets seem to have on paper, on the
22nd of June 1941, is simply not there. Most of these tanks are light tanks, and the standard
German infantry anti-tank guns can take them out. It is these that do the bulk of the work,
as the combat journal of the 48th Corps for the 23rd of June 1941 states – “What we did not anticipate in this battle
was the fanatical fighting spirit of the Russian tank crews. Despite our obvious advantage
in terms of strength of numbers and in anti-tank weapons the enemy light tanks continued to
attack, despite their losses. Even when they were in a hopeless situation, with their engines
smashed and their caterpillar tracks ripped they would fire until they had no ammunition
left or would start fighting afresh once our tanks had passed them.”
From the combat journal of the XXXXVIII Corps for the Radzekhov engagement 23rd of June
1941 The light tanks were clearly no match for
the German anti-tank guns. Note though that the journal mentions an obvious advantage
in strength of numbers for the Germans, and also in anti-tank weaponry. It does not mention
its own tank forces attacking Soviet tanks. In fact, it says they passed them. And also
note there is no mention of Soviet infantry or artillery.
This, by the way, is the story of Barbarossa. The Germans have more infantry on the field
of battle until December rolls around. They take out large numbers of Soviet infantry
– and the Soviets are sending everything they have to the front – but they take these out
because they outnumber the Soviets. Only in December 1941 does this situation change.
Now, what about the T-34s? What about these war winning tanks? How did the Germans take
these out? “Some very fast, heavy enemy tanks appeared
with 76.2mm armament [T-34s] that are capable of firing very accurately over a long range.
Our tanks clearly concede to them. The 37mm anti-tank armament is hopeless against them,
they can only be hit at close range, with an 88mm anti-aircraft gun at higher than average
range.” From the combat journal of the XXXXVIII Corps for the Radzekhov engagement 23rd of June 1941
[From Page 84, Dubno, Isaev.] 37mm anti-tank guns are useless against the
T-34s. But the 50mm guns and the 88mm guns can take them out. The point is that this
wasn’t a tank vs tank war. In fact, this the the point of Blitzkrieg
– or Bewegungskrieg “war of movement” – find the gaps in the enemy lines and exploit
and encircle. The German tanks tend to avoid tank battles and try to outflank and get past
them. Now, the Soviets do have some success at this
early stage – the Germans aren’t just winning everywhere. When the German tank formations
come across Soviet anti-tank formations, they take heavy casualties. For example, on the
24th of June 1941, 13th Panzer Division loses a significant portion of their tanks in just one
day. This was a full 38% of the total tanks they had at the start of the day, lost on
the third day of the war. And actually, the majority of these tanks, that were lost, were
Panzer IIIs. They actually lose 64% of their Panzer IIIs, on the third day of the war.
Not through tank vs tank engagements, but through tank vs anti-tank engagements. “What were for 1941 relatively heavy losses
can be explained first and foremost by the clash with the 1st Anti-Tank Artillery Brigade.”
Isaev, Dubno P93 It is not because they engaged Soviet tanks.
The Germans lose relatively few tanks to tank-on-tank engagements. Now, even though their guns aren’t
always capable of taking on the heavier Soviet tanks, the Germans still had ways of taking
out the Soviet tanks without resorting to using their own tanks. And this is mainly
due to the lack of Soviet artillery and infantry support. “Our 3.7cm anti-tank gun waits patiently
while the tanks come within a suitable firing range… Then however we couldn’t believe
our eyes: our anti-tank shells were just bouncing off the tanks. The enemy tanks kept advancing
towards us without stopping and were firing at us with all their weapons. Then something
unexpected happened: after recovering from the fright of seeing these steel giants, our
infantry began to attack, throwing hand grenades at the tanks.”
1st Gebirgsjäger Division’s history, from Isaev P105 Note that this is from the 1st Mountain Division.
They do not have tanks. They only have anti-tank guns and infantry. And without artillery and
infantry, the Soviet tanks are disabled by the German infantry. And this isn’t the
only example – “Their attacks were not coordinated. Therefore
with the help of artillery and anti-tank crews a large number of tanks were destroyed.”
97th Light Infantry Division’s history, from Isaev P106 This is not 1917. The infantry are capable
of taking on tanks. And so, this is not a tank vs tank war. Tanks are important – but
their use is not in engaging other enemy tanks. It is in exploiting through gaps.
Encircling. And crippling enemy formations. German tanks are able to do this. Soviet tanks
aren’t capable of doing this due to their lack of infantry, artillery, logistics, and
maintenance units. For Dubno, the largest tank engagement of the war, and the largest
in 1941, Isaev comes to this conclusion – “In itself the tank is a steel box with
a very poor, restricted, view of the outside world. If tanks broke through to enemy positions
on their own they would be fired upon by heavy artillery and Molotov cocktails would be thrown
at them. Therefore protecting tanks with thick armour provides little security if they are
to move successfully since their movements need to be protected by their own infantry.
The infantry that are protecting the tanks are able to do so not just by firing the tank’s
machine guns but by winning the duel with artillery. Otherwise the howitzers in masked
positions, against which tanks are vulnerable, would mow down the infantry, or force them
to lie low, leaving the tanks exposed.” Iseav P194
[Note: poor translation. Corrected some sentence structure mistakes.] This is the reason in 1941 that the Soviet tank
forces are defeated – it’s because they don’t have infantry and artillery support.
Why do they not have infantry and artillery support? They are in the middle of a mobilization
program, and a reorganization effort, which is in reaction to the German successes of
the previous year. They are reforming their tank forces, and reforming their motorized
and mechanized units, which didn’t exist in this capacity just a few years before.
They are caught completely by surprise by the German attack.
As a result, they don’t have enough trucks or the artillery to support these formations.
Their infantry can’t keep up and therefore can’t protect the tanks. The little artillery that
they do have can’t move to the battlefield, and those that do actually make it, are too
little to make a difference. And this is why the German infantry are able to take out as
many tanks as they do. Tank vs tank engagements do happen. They happen
at Dubno. They happen elsewhere. But that is not what tanks are meant to be doing in
a Blitzkrieg, or Bewegungskrieg, a “war of movement”. Their task is to exploit gaps
in the lines, encircle or cut the enemy’s lines of communications, then let the other
formations take out the stragglers. This is why the Germans do so well in 1941.
They use their tanks to get through the enemy lines and fight this war of movement. This
is also why they’re not able to repeat the successes of 1941 in both 1942, or in 1943. It’s
not because they don’t have enough tanks. German tank stocks increase year on year.
It’s because they don’t outnumber the Soviets any more. They no longer have the
fuel to fight this exploitation war – their tanks have fuel to fight locally, but not
to ride off into the sunset (or in this case, sunrise). They no longer have sufficient infantry
support, because their infantry (despite growing in numbers year on year) are stretched thin
across a massively wide front. Their logistics aren’t able to keep up with supply demands.
And the Soviets have learnt their lesson. Take a look at this chart.
Now I have deliberately not put a key on this chart because I think’s better without.
The first bar – the blue one – is the number of tanks the Soviets have on the 22nd of June
1941. The second bar – the red one – is the number of tanks the Soviets have on the 1st
of January 1943. You can see, it decreases slightly.
This at a time when the German tanks are in fact increasing. The Germans have more tanks
in 1943 than they do in 1941. The yellow bar – the third bar – is the number
of anti-tank guns the Red Army has on the 22nd of June 1941. The green bar – the fourth
bar – is the number of anti-tank guns the Red Army has on the 1st of January 1943. Again,
slight decrease. This at the time when the Germans have more
tanks than ever before. Purple bar – the fifth bar – is the number
of artillery pieces the Soviets have on the 22nd of June 1941. The [light] blue bar – the
sixth bar – is the number of artillery pieces the Soviets have at the beginning of 1943.
Ok, a slight increase. These are also anti-tank weapons. 76.2mm field
guns are great at taking out – well, any and all German tank at this stage – except maybe the Tigers.
So this is an important weapon. But what is that last one?
What the? What is it!? Do you want to guess? Take a guess.
Pink and Green. What are these final two bars? Pink is 22nd of June 1941.
And Green is January 1943. A massive increase.
Bearing in mind, they’ve already lost hundreds of thousands of these … by this point.
And no, it’s not rifles. The Soviets actually have more rifles in 1941 than they do in
1943. Is it planes? Nope. Is it trucks? Nope. Is it anti-tank… No, and anti-aircraft guns? Is it anti-aircraft guns? No. This – and you’re going to hate me – this is
the weapon that the Soviets are relying on to win the war.
This is the war-winning weapon of WW2. What on Earth is it? It is… the Mortar. But wait a sec – mortars can’t take out
tanks? No, but they can take out infantry. And what
are tanks without infantry? As we’ve just found out – they’re useless.
The thing you have to remember about the Eastern Front of WW2 is that the Soviets aren’t actually
facing that many German tanks. The Germans only have 7,505 tanks in July
of 1943. They actually peak in the December of 1942
at 7,798 total tanks. But that’s every tank in stock everywhere,
not just the Eastern Front. As I showed last week, the Germans do not
have the fuel to put all these tanks in the field.
The vast majority of the German formations in the field are not Panzer divisions. They
are infantry divisions. The Soviets are not facing tanks, they’re
facing German infantry. German infantry numbers peak in July of 1943.
In July of 1943, the Germans have three million, four-hundred and eighty-three thousand men
on the Eastern Front. This is the most they’ll ever have. They
also have other Axis troops, meaning that they actually have over 4 million men on the
Eastern Front. And this is in July of 1943.
This idea that the Germans are running out of infantry – not until after July of 1943.
This idea that this was a tank vs tank war – no.
The Soviets are not taking on tanks. They’re taking on infantry. And what takes out infantry?
Rifles, artillery, mortars, grenades, molotov cocktails.
Yes, tanks and anti-tank guns are super important. They can’t get to Berlin without tanks and
trucks. But as we can see, they’re not engaging that many panzers. They’re engaging infantry.
And that is the point – they’re using their tanks to help their infantry and artillery
defeat the Germans, and the German infantry. This is why Prokhorovka is a disaster for the Soviets. Stalin is angry
at Rotmistrov for losing 400 out of 500 tanks, charging 200 German panzers. “What have you done to your magnificent
tank army?” Stalin asked Rotmistrov. What was the point of Prokhorovka? It’s a stupid
idea. This was a head-on clash that proved to be mostly pointless. Tanks fighting tanks,
especially head on, is just a complete waste. Infantry formations could have done the job just as
well. Now, while it isn’t as romantic. And it isn’t
as glorious. And while it perhaps isn’t perhaps as cool. The war was actually an infantry war. Tanks
are very important. But they cannot win the war alone.
Take out the infantry, you take out the tanks. Tanks cannot win the World War II alone.
Thank you very much to the Patreons for your continuing support. You make these videos
possible, because you’re awesome. If you haven’t seen my Purges video, go check it
out. Stalin’s Purge of the Red Army doesn’t have the impact you may think it does. Link
on the screen, and in the description below. Thank you all for watching, bye for now.