Thursday, 15 September 2016

Tank warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942

Over the past few weeks I have been reading Robert Forczyk's TANK WARFARE ON THE EASTERN FRONT 1941-1942 (published in 2013 by Sword and Pen Military [ISBN 978 1 78159 008 9/EPUB ISBN 978 1 47383 443 9]) on my Kindle.


The author argues that:
  • The Germans were tactically superior, but their ability to exploit this advantage was restricted by poor logistics and continual changes to the objectives the commanders were expected to achieve.
  • The Russians had superior tanks in production and entering front line service, but their commanders were unable or unwilling to exploit the advantages these superior tank designs bestowed on them. There was also considerable pressure from superiors to mount unsupported or poorly supported armoured attacks to stem German advances.
The book is an excellent counter to the generally accepted German-centric view of tank warfare during Operation Barbarossa. It also poses some interesting questions about Zhukov's propensity to explain away his failures by passing the blame on to his unfortunate subordinates.

10 comments:

  1. Some interesting observations there Bob. Does he have anything to say on the state of communications in Soviet armoured formations?

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    1. Conrad Kinch,

      I think that the answer to that question is 'What communications?'

      He does make the point that Tank Brigade commanders might have had a radio with which to communicate to their Corps or Army commander, but that often it was only at Corps level that anything approaching a communications net existed.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. This is a very interesting aspect of soviet armoured warfare. It is worth noting that even during the cold war era soviet armoured units and indeed other units had very limited communications equipment. This resulted in soviet forces relying heavily on very well rehearsed drills during operations. The use of flags, flare and hand signals by commanders were a common methods of giving orders - even into the 1970s. This was eased somewhat by the tight formations adopted by soviet armoured units. In individual tanks radios were commonly set to receive only, except for company commander level and above. Very often an entire battalion would operate with all callsigns on a single net, requiring very strict radio procedures.

      Bob

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    3. Bob Kett (Bob),

      Thanks for your very enlightening comment.

      The book contains a quote about Russian tank commanders trying to communicate with their subordinates by flag. Not the easiest of things to do!

      What made things even more difficult was the fact that during World War II the Russian tank commanders operated 'buttoned up', and unlike the Germans rarely opened their turret hatch to look around to see what was happening. Mind you the design of the early T-34's turret hatch didn't encourage this as it hinged at the front!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. This is a superb book, and the sequel is even better. If you want to stir things up, ask how Stavka would have regarded Montgomery's initial plan for Alamein...:)

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    1. Ian Drury,

      I found this book quite by chance, and was very please to have done so.

      On your recommendation I will now look for the sequel.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Hi Bob,
    That sounds interesting, I'll have to find a copy.

    David Glantz in his set of books on the Smolensk campaign in 1941 (Barbarossa Derailed) provides the actual orders issued regularly to the Soviet fronts and armies (translated into English, mercifully). It shows that more often than not, these exhausted, under-strength and poorly-supplied formations were under orders to attack regardless of the realities of their situation. The massive casualties suffered for no apparent gain are unfathomable from a logical or humane point of view, but Glantz argues that in point of fact it contributed significantly to the ultimate failure of Barbarossa by tying down and wearing down German formations that were then not able to as effectively exploit their superiority in maneuver battles as they could have otherwise.

    What a way to win. I'll take my offensives with toy soldiers and dice, thanks.
    Regards,
    John

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    1. The Ferrymen (John),

      I've read most of David Glanz's books, and whilst they are a tour de force, they are a little dry. This book has less detail, but is much easier to read.

      The Russian leadership seemed quite willing to throw men and tanks into useless, futile attacks in the hope of winning ... and continued to do this when it was a proven failed policy. That is not to say that the German leadership was proof against making bad decisions, Hitler's decision to stop the production of tungsten-cored anti-tank rounds being a case in point.

      I'm sure that you'll enjoy reading this book.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I recommend his follow up volume which carries the story to the end of the war "Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Red Steamroller". As you said it is nice to get away from the German narrative of the eastern front which has held so much sway in the past.

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    1. David Bradley,

      I ordered a copy of the sequel for my Kindle this afternoon ... and I'm looking forward to reading it in the near future.

      All the best,

      Bob

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