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What was the Flaw of Russian Tanks In WW2?

T-34 tanks headed to the front.

What was the Flaw of Russian Tanks In WW2? T-34s and KV tanks were often depicted to be very reliable tanks that overwhelmed German tanks in both numbers and strength.

While German tanks, particularly the Tigers and the Panther were often called very unreliable and were a waste of resources.

Even German general Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist called the T-34 “the finest tank in the world”.

After encountering the T-34 and the KV tanks during the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht found their Pak 36 and Pak 38 anti-tank guns to be insufficient for the task of destroying these tanks and needed a more powerful weapon.

The immediate answer to this problem was to use the Soviet M1936 76.2mm field guns which the Germans captured in large numbers and convert them for German use, resulting in the Panzerabwehrkanone 36(r) and Feldkanone 36(r) anti-tank guns.

In reality however, these “revolutionary” Soviet tanks were actually far more unreliable than most German vehicles.

The KV-2 heavy artillery tank’s 152 mm howitzer was housed in an enormous turret. This prototype differs from the production version in several ways. It was called the Dreadnought by its crews.

During the first encounters of the T-34 and KV tanks by the Germans in the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, these tanks were only seen in limited numbers. Moreover, even though the Soviets had deployed over 1,000 T-34s and 500 KV tanks which were concentrated in 5 of their 29 mechanized corps.

Part of this was because the Germans tried to avoid engaging in tank vs tank battles and Soviet tanks often faced German infantry and anti-tank gun positions.

T-150-KV

The main reason however was because the majority of Soviet tanks were lost to breakdowns even before they engaged in combat.

In just the first two weeks of the German invasion the Soviets had already lost most of its tanks including T-34s and KVs.

Soviet T-34 tanks during the Operation Little Saturn in December 1942
Firstly, on the 27th of June, the 6th Mechanized Corps had ceased to exist, having lost all of their 450 new tanks.
By the 7th of July, the 8th Mechanized Corps only had 43 tanks left, both old and new, out of their original 899 tanks.
On the 7th of July, the 15th Mechanized Corps only had 66 tanks left, both old and new, out of their original 749 tanks.
And by the 12th of July 1941, the 4th Mechanized Corps only had 45 tanks left out of their original 414 new tanks.
Soviet T-34 tanks await orders to move forward during the Zhitomir–Berdichev Offensive in January 1944

German reports however did not report about massive enemy tank losses because they hadn’t even encountered them in combat.

This number of tanks lost to breakdowns was unprecedented to the point that Stalin thought that the tanks were being sabotaged by their own crews to avoid being sent to battle.

Weakness of the T-34
T-34 being used by the Wehrmacht

The driver’s hatch of the T-34 is a major weak spot and was often targeted by German gunners.

Any gun more powerful than the 50mm Kwk 39 was guaranteed to be able to pierce through this area even at ranges where they could not penetrate the other parts of the T-34’s 45mm sloped frontal hull armor.

Even after the driver’s hatch was increased in thickness to 75mm (which made it much heavier and harder to open), the edges of the hatch were still easy to pierce through and this is due to the structural weakness caused by the hole cut on the frontal armor for the driver’s hatch opening.

Burning T-34, Soviet Union, 1941 CC BY-SA 3.0 de

This is called the “edge effect” which determines that the edges of an armor plate are structurally weaker than the areas far away from them.

The edges or the areas nearest holes cut on the armor are actually much less capable of distributing stress due to the smaller area it has to bend and absorb kinetic energy.

This is why it’s not really a good idea to have lots of portholes and hatches on a tanks armor and for this reason many late war tanks stopped having any hatches and viewing ports placed directly on the frontal hull armor of the tank,  placing them instead on the hull roof.

And in conclusion, by the end of December 1941, the Soviet Union had lost over 2,300 T-34s and over 900 KV tanks in just 5 months, accounting for 15% of the 20,500 tanks lost that year.

Russia wanted a larger gun on their tanks, but their infrastructure could not support the build out.

Above we see a Lend-Lease Matilda II infantry tank upgunned by the Soviets with the ZiS-5 76mm gun of the KV-1 heavy tank, replacing its 40mm QF 2-pounder gun, to give it better high explosive capability against German infantry and anti-tank guns in late 1941.

KV-1 model 1939

Despite being successful, the project to up gun all Matilda IIs in the Red Army was canceled as the production rates of ZiS-5 76mm guns was insufficient and couldn’t even match the production rates of KV-1 heavy tanks.

In conclusion, reliability would be the fatal flaw of Russian tanks in World War 2!

What was the Flaw of Russian Tanks In WW2? Written by Garupan History

What was the Flaw of Russian Tanks In WW2?