The T-34: possibly the best tank of WW II

Buried in work: here is a good introduction on video to the T-34 tank. If there is any one Soviet-produced weapon system in WW II that may have tipped the scales for the Russians, it’s this battlewagon. It wasn’t perfect, and in the beginning of Barbarossa its deployment was abominable[*] — but even then the Wehrmacht’s two leading Panzer gurus, Generals Heinz Guderian and Paul Ewald von Kleist[**], were shocked at how far ahead this T-34/76 tank was of their own Panzer IIIs and even Panzer IVs. At that point, however, the Red Army only had about 1,200 of them in the field, half of which broke down even before they got into action — but by early 1942, factories in the Urals were turning out 1,200 a month, and the design was being continuously improved.

In some ways, the later German Panthers and Tigers were superior — but also overengineered, hard to maintain except by well-trained crews, and for the price of every one of them, six to eight T-34s (or, for that matter, Shermans) could be turned out.

Below are two videos that give a closer inside look at the T-34/85 version, an upgunned (to 85mm) version introduced later in the war in response to the Panthers and Tigers.

“Quantity has a quality all its own” has been misattributed to Stalin [y”sh] but appears to have originated in the US defense community. I would modify this to “Quantity of ‘good enough’ can overcome a quality difference with ‘the best'”. And once the teething troubles were overcome, the T-34 was quite “good enough”.

[*] Perhaps it would have helped if the Red Army’s chief tank strategist, Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, hadn’t been tortured and killed in the Great Purges, as had 90% of all generals and 50% of all colonels. They might have known better than to send these tanks into battle without individual radios. Command tanks signaling with flags — that’s Psaki-level stupidity. That latter aspect, however, was quickly remedied.

[**] The von Kleist noble family, aside from generals, includes everything from the co-inventor of the Leyden jar to a jazz flautist: its most famous civilian member would be the Romantic poet, novelist, and playwright Heinrich von Kleist.

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