It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
As a consequence, when the tank’s hatches were closed the crew was “deaf and blind”, as one commander put it in his memoirs. The commander could not see very much through the often distorted, cloudy glass of the vision ports on his cupola and was reliant on his binocular periscope. The other crewmen, who had only a single periscope or a narrow vision slit, could see even less.
The Panther, by contrast, had excellent optics including a pair of clear, high quality periscopes for the driver, hull gunner, and loader; a 5x magnification sight for the gunner; and a panoramic rangefinder sight for the commander. This, coupled with the 360º-view provided by the vision blocks in the commander’s cupola, gave Panther crews far better situational awareness than T-34-85 crews.
These design flaws were significant – crew survivability was an important factor in the effectiveness of an armoured force. If an experienced crew could get clear of their disabled tank, they could fight another day. If unable to escape, their experience an
d training would die with them. The packed interior of the T-34-85 meant that a penetrating strike by an AP round usually killed or mortally wounded most of the crew, and the lack of adequate escape hatches meant that those that did survive often couldn’t get out before the tank caught fire.
While not as extensive as the training given to tank crews earlier in the war, instruction for Panther crews was nonetheless excellent. Enlisted personnel had to pass an intensive four-month program that emphasized on hands-on practice. Every man had to first train as a driver/mechanic, including lessons in advanced engine maintenance, before moving on to other crew functions. By end of the four-month program each man was proficient in all crew roles and an expert in his assigned position. Soldiers that had shown promise during this stage were selected for additional training as NCOs or officers. Follow-up programs were heavy on the tactical theory and lasted between six and nine months.
The quality of training for T-34-85 crews varied considerably. Commanders were typically well-trained graduates of the Red Army’s tank training schools. They had up to a year’s instruction, which included tactics and theory as well as hands-on practice in driving, gunnery, and maintenance. Furthermore, many commanders were combat veterans, either from the tank corps or from other branches of the Red Army; they were generally quick-witted, observant, and fearless.
Training for enlisted men however was of a far lower calibre. Many drivers had no more than a few hours’ practice at the controls and had never had any instruction in tactical placement. Loaders were equally under-trained, often having had no more than a day’s basic instruction in how to handle ammunition and operate the breech. Instruction for gun commanders was a little better, but they still lacked hands-on experience acquiring targets and firing at moving targets. Worse, conditions in many of the tank training regiments were appalling, with constant food shortages and tyrannical discipline. Loaders sometimes arrived from basic training too malnourished and weak to lift an AP shell.
In theory it could travel 250 km on road with a full tank of fuel, but units in the field quickly found that the actual range was barely half that. More importantly, the Panther’s drivetrain was so prone to failure that crews often stopped for repairs more often than they stopped for fuel. By 1944 the typical combat readiness rate of a Panther battalion was around 35 percent (compared to 80–90 percent in most T-34-85 units).
T-34-85 was a notoriously poorly balanced vehicle. An emergency stop often resulted in the tank pitching violently forward, sometimes driving the end of its long gun barrel into the mud. This was a major problem because the driver’s viewport allowed him to see “little better than a newborn kitten” (as one T-34-85 commander put it) and therefore he rarely spotted obstacles in time to safely avoid them. The commander had slightly better visibility, but the intercom that linked the two positions was prone to static and unexpected squeals of feedback, so crews often turned it off.
Between the beginning of Panther production in spring 1943 and the defeat of Nazi Germany two years later, 6,000 Panther tanks were built.
During the same period 29,400 T-34-85s rolled off Russian assembly lines. This disparity was increased by the low proportion of Panthers that were operational at any one time due to their poor mechanical reliability.
Consequently, an engagement in which a Panther destroyed four or five T-34-85s before being disabled could still be considered, from a strategic point of view, a Soviet victory. Over the course of the war, the Soviets manufactured 57,000 T-34s (both 76mm and 85mm variants). Of these, around 45,000 were destroyed in battle – a loss rate of almost 80 percent.
Adolf Hitler’s invasion plans called for the Germans to conquer the Soviet Union before the legendary cold could set in, but supply issues and an unexpectedly spirited resistance combined to stall the advance at Moscow’s doorstep in late-1941. Still clad in their summer uniforms, the German Wehrmacht had to resort to using newspaper and straw to insulate themselves against subzero temperatures. They soon faced frostbite in epidemic proportions. Some 100,000 cases were reported by end of 1941, resulting in the amputation of nearly 15,000 limbs.
The cold also wreaked havoc on Nazi heavy machinery. Tanks and jeeps refused to start, and guns and artillery often froze and failed to fire. The Soviets were more accustomed to the chill, and used specially designed rifles, skis and camouflage to continue fighting even in some of the most inhospitable conditions
Nearly one million Soviet women took up arms and served on the front lines of World War II as anti-aircraft gunners, snipers, partisan guerillas and even fighter pilots.
The dictator later upped the ante with July 1942’s famous “Order No. 227,” better known as the “Not One Step Backward!” rule, which decreed that cowards were to be “liquidated on the spot.” Under this order, any troops who retreated were to be shelled or gunned down by so-called “blocking detachments”—special units who were positioned behind their own lines and charged with shooting any soldier who tried to flee.
According to research by a team of Soviet historians, the Soviet Union lost a staggering 20,500 tanks from June 22 to December 31, 1941. At the end of November 1941, only 670 Soviet tanks were available to defend Moscow—that is, in the recently formed Kalinin, Western, and Southwestern Fronts. Only 205 of these tanks were heavy or medium types, and most of their strength was concentrated in the Western Front, with the Kalinin Front having only two tank battalions (67 tanks) and the Southwestern Front two tank brigades (30 tanks).
Given the disruption to Soviet production and Red Army losses, the Soviet Union was understandably eager to put British armor into action as soon as possible. According to Biriukov’s service diary, the first 20 British tanks arrived at the Soviet tank training school in Kazan on October 28, 1941, at which point a further 120 tanks were unloaded at the port of Archangel in northern Russia. Courses on the British tanks for Soviet crews started during November as the first tanks, with British assistance, were being assembled from their in-transit states and undergoing testing by Soviet specialists.
The tanks reached the front lines with extraordinary speed. Extrapolating from available statistics, researchers estimate that British-supplied tanks made up 30 to 40 percent of the entire heavy and medium tank strength of Soviet forces before Moscow at the beginning of December 1941, and certainly made up a significant proportion of tanks available as reinforcements at this critical point in the fighting. By the end of 1941 Britain had delivered 466 tanks out of the 750 promised.
an engagement in which a Panther destroyed four or five T-34-85s before being disabled could still be considered, from a strategic point of view, a Soviet victory