The Germans had some of the best machine guns and tanks during World War II. Likewise, the Americans had a big advantage with the M1 Garand (which Patton famously called "The greatest battle implement ever devised").

My question is: Did the Soviets similarly have an area of military equipment that was far superior to that of other nations? For example, were their mortars or aircraft better than those of Germany, America, Britain, etc.?

My question isn't just a comparison of Soviet and German equipment, but a comparison between all major nations involved in WWII. It wouldn't count if Soviet mortars were better than Germans' but worse than Americans', for example.

  • 6
    This is all quite subjective, but this is not about the best but about what they excelled at. So I'm ok with it.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 20:32
  • 3
    The T-34 was good, but overall I'd say the Soviets were better at artillery overall. They had lots of guns, and used them to great effect. I doubt German tankers feared Soviet tank forces as much as getting hammered by a barrage. The US's most feared weapon was probably tactical aircraft, although our arty was quite good too.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 1:02
  • 1
    @ILikeComputurs Personally, I'm very glad someone asked a question like this. It already has a great answer, which lists the Soviet achievements most people don't know about.
    – Malcolm
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 17:35
  • 1
    The Soviets excelled in the most cost effective weapons. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 17:53
  • 1
    It is important to note that while German tank doctrine led the world throughout the war, especially the recognition that 5 or even 6 crew members were essential to battle field success, their tanks otherwise actually sucked big time for the entire length of the war. The Panther and Tiger series tanks were both a production and maintenance nightmare, often running for only 30 to 50 km until requiring an overhaul, and being produced in pitiful numbers compared to the need. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 20:59

11 Answers 11


I can think of a list of things which either excelled at the time or were feats not matched in the whole war.

Some, like the T-34 and Yak-1, excelled in the early period of the war with clear advantages in technology and numbers (a superior weapon is no good if there's not enough of them), but their advantage faded as technology advanced, yet they remained viable front-line systems through the whole war. Others, such as production miracles or use of artillery, were feats not to be matched in the whole war.

Keep in mind that an excellent weapon system is not just the one with the best attributes, but also produced in significant numbers to make an impact on the war ("quantity has a quality all its own"). It has to fit the battlefield conditions and be usable within a soldier's (often inadequate) training. It has to be easy to transport and maintain, or expected to be destroyed so quickly that it doesn't matter.

All of these weapons exemplify a style of equipment to meet the needs of the Soviet army. They're as effective as German equipment. They can be effectively used by poorly trained soldiers. They can be cheaply and simply made by a severely disrupted industry. They don't need to last long, because they'll probably be sacrificed, and there's more on the way.

I'll go into each of them in some detail.

The T-34 excelled, particularly in 1941.

A T-34-85 tank on display at Musée des Blindés in April 2007.

Source: Wikipedia


  • Appeared in 1940, very early in the war.
  • Excellent use of sloped armor.
  • 76mm high velocity gun superior to most tanks in 1941.
  • Good cross country performance.
  • Cheap to produce.
  • Easy to produce.
  • Continuously upgraded through the war.
  • The basis for a number of very successful variants.


  • Awful ergonomics.
  • The 2-man turret overloaded the commander who also had to load or fire the gun.
    • Fixed in the T-34-85.
  • The armor became inadequate in later years.
  • Unreliable transmission.
  • Bad optics.

In 1941, when the Germans were slicing through most Soviet tank formations of BTs and T-26s, the T-34 was a shock. With a better gun and armor than the German dedicated anti-tank tank, the Panzer III, a well positioned T-34 could hold up many times their number.

Half a dozen anti-tank guns fire shells at him [a T-34], which sound like a drumroll. But he drives staunchly through our line like an impregnable prehistoric monster... It is remarkable that Lieutenant Steup's tank made hits on a T-34, once at about 20 meters and four times at 50 meters, with Panzergranate 40 (caliber 5 cm),[nb 1] without any noticeable effect.

The Germans retooled their entire tank production to deal with the shock of Soviet medium (T-34) and heavy (KV) armor. The upgunned Panzer IV, the Tiger, and the Panther were all rushed to deal with the surprisingly well armored Soviet tanks.

The Soviets built heavy tanks like nobody else, and the IS-2 was the ultimate example. It not only was a more balanced design than any other heavy tank, it was built early enough and in large enough numbers to have an impact on the war.

The British Churchill was slow and woefully undergunned. The German Tiger I was finicky and expensive, while the Tiger II was a bridge crushing 70-ton beast; neither were built in sufficient numbers to affect the war. The Americans eschewed heavy tanks entirely until the very end of the war.

The IS family evolved out of the powerful but unbalanced KV-1. The KV-1 had extraordinarily heavy armor for 1941, but it was undergunned, underpowered, unreliable. Attempts to improve upon the KV-1 lead to the IS-2.

By 1943 the T-34 was already being armed with a very respectable 85mm gun, so the IS-2 was given a monstrous 122mm gun. This gave the IS-2 very good anti-tank penetration, but also a very large high-explosive shell for use against German fortifications, (a consideration that is often lost in appreciating tank design is that tanks fight infantry far more than they fight tanks). The enormous shell could bull its way through the front armor of a Panther at 2500m.

While the IS-2 was a "heavy" tank, it weighed the same as a Panther medium tank, but with heavier armor and a much larger gun while retaining similar range and decent mobility. This was a far more balanced design than either the Churchill or Tigers and sets it apart.

IS-2 Armor layout

Source: Wikipedia

The other area where the IS-2 excelled is production. Despite being introduced fairly late in the war 4000 were produced compared with 1400 Tiger Is and only 500 Tiger IIs. While nothing compared to the volume of T-34s, it allowed them to have a significant impact on the Soviet offensive as a breakthrough tank.

The IS-2 lead to the IS-3, a tank which gave Allied (and later NATO) planners serious pause. Together, the best elements of the IS-3 and the T-34 would be combined to produce one of the most influential tanks in the world: the T-54 main battle tank.

The Soviets focused on producing and improving three hulls for their armored vehicles, the light T-70, the medium T-34 and the heavy KV/IS line. Their tanks and tank destroyers were all iterative improvements of these three hulls allowing a continuity of production and design. This avoided the long teething problems and retooling of brand new designs so high production could be preserved.

In contrast in 1944 the Germans were producing seven hulls and still introducing new ones (the Tiger II) when they should have been focusing on producing known designs. The British also had a dizzying array of production and experimental hulls. The Americans came closest to the Soviet achievement by focusing on the M3/4 medium and M3/5 light, but they also built the specialist M22, M24 and M18 in large numbers and never managed a heavy tank in numbers like the Soviets.

The legacy of this focus on just a few tank models lead directly to the idea of the main battle tank.

While there are better aircraft in WWII, the Yak-1 and Il-2 stand out for what you'll start to recognize as a Soviet pattern: early entry in the war, matching or beating their contemporaries, continuously improved, and produced in enormous numbers.

The Yak-1 (and its many variants) was equivalent to a BF-109 or Spitfire and it was the aircraft that held off the Germans through the whole war. It is the most produced fighter in history with 37,000 produced.

The Il-2 "flying tank" was a revolutionary dedicated ground attack aircraft. Heavily armed and armored, it could (and was) flown by crews with little training. 42,000 Il-2 (and variants) where made making it the most produced military aircraft design in history.

Due to its inaccuracy its actual effectiveness is debated, but its distinctive design, huge numbers, and legacy on ground attack aircraft design is solid directly inspiring one of the best ground attack aircraft, the A-10.

The PPSh-41 and PPS are not particularly remarkable submachine guns, not much better or worse than contemporaries. It isn't the gun itself which excelled, but how many were made: 7 million during the war. This is more than twice production of MP 40s, M3 grease guns, and M1 Thompsons combined. The only equivalent gun is the Sten gun which was cheap, brutal, and awful.

Soviet army PPSh-41 with drum magazine

Source: Wikipedia

It was becoming increasingly apparent that ranges of 10 to 300 meters were the norm in battle and short range firepower was what mattered. In a war still being fought with bolt action rifles designed for aimed fire at ludicrously optimistic ranges (2000+ meters), the Soviets were arming whole companies with cheap submachine guns to close with and chop up the enemy.

The Eastern Front of WWII was fought on a scale that the Western Front wouldn't see for two more years if at all. To give one example for comparison Operation Uranus, the Soviet counter attack at Stalingrad, was fought with 1 million Soviet troops, 1000 tanks, 1500 aircraft, and 13,000 artillery pieces. And this was November 1942 on a single front. At about the same time the British were fighting the Second Battle of El Alamein with 100,000 men, 500 tanks, 800 aircraft, and just 500 artillery pieces. The scale of fighting on the Eastern Front would not be seen in the West until well after the Battle of Normandy.

On the theme of doing it before everyone else, the Soviets concentrated artillery in ways that only the Americans would begin to match in late 1944. Again, Operation Uranus concentrated an accurate barrage of 3,500 artillery pieces on the Third Romanian Army. Massive, crushing artillery barrages would continue to be a feature of Soviet offensives all the way to Berlin.

One of the most overlooked Soviet achievements of WWII was evacuating its industries away from the advancing Germans and to the Caucuses or behind the Ural Mountains out of reach of German bombers (and also highlights the German strategic error in not investing in a heavy bomber).

This is a feat unparalleled in world history and caused unimaginable hardship as entire populations were moved thousands of miles and forced to create cities and factories in the middle of nowhere. Despite having a large portion of their country overrun, the Soviets maintained industrial output through the war.

  • 1
    you have text missing from your great answer. "...the IS-2 was the ultimate example. It not only" is cut off from there.
    – eis
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 13:52
  • 3
    Great comment.I like the fact that you gave some great detail answer the specific question that was asked, while still directing attention to the larger concept that the Soviet selection of priorities was in itself a superior weapon. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 17:20
  • 2
    There is a slightly different angle: many of the Soviet weapons were reliable in the sense that they needed less care than other weapons. German guns were famous to freeze in the Russian winter (precise peaces could not tolerate the thermal shrink of the parts in big cold), however the Soviet guns could operate. They were reliable, they were robust.
    – Greg
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 7:27
  • 7
    Your last point is summed up best with the phrase "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics." - Gen. Robert H. Barrow
    – corsiKa
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 16:20
  • 3
    @Matt While bombing is a factor (again, Germany's mistake not building a heavy bomber), it is only a factor. Germany had its own production miracle; German AFV production increased through the war to a peak of 27,300 in 1944 then rapidly trailing off. The Tiger I was produced during this peak production period, Aug 1942 - Aug 1944, then stopped in favor of the even more expensive Tiger II. Tiger II production, being so late in the war, was definitely crippled by bombing.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 21:10


Wars (especially in 20th century!) are won by nations/armies, not weapons. A weapon can be excellent (e.g., Me-262) but it will make no difference because it was introduced too late and/or was used incorrectly tactically. Another example is Tiger - seemingly an excellent tank, but very complex and expensive, so fewer than 2,000 of them were built (against 84,000 of T-34 and 49,000 of M4), thus, in fact, it was a bad weapon ("net loss" - the Wehrmacht might have been better off with 10,000 Pz-4 instead of 2,000 Tigers).

Therefore my list includes the weapons that made a difference, not those that were superior to the analogues used by the others.



Despite the legends spawned by the German generals right after the war, they met and successfully fought T-34s throughout the summer of 1941. IOW, the Red Army failed to exploit the advantages of T-34 (due to poor training of the troops and abysmal structure of MechCoprs). In the Fall 1941 the Red Army ambushed and decimated a German column (which, apparently, did not even send a recon unit ahead) and Guderian repeated the tale of his subordinate which blamed T-34 for it (to save his skin - hide his own complacency which was the cause of the defeat). This is the source of the canard that "the Germans only met T-34 in the fall".

T-34 had a lot of problems (poor visibility from the turret, lousy transmission &c) - nevertheless it was a net win.

The strongest points of T-34 were that is was not just a tank, it was a platform, it was being upgraded throughout the war and was still useful even after it; as well as its suitability for mass production.


The numbers built - 36,000 - speak for themselves. WW2 was the industrial war; mass production of weapons (and soldiers who can use them successfully) was the key to victory.


This was not unique as an item (cf. Nebelwerfer), but the Red Army discovered The Right Way to use the weapon tactically: use a lot of them together. The unguided rockets have very low accuracy, so a few of them do little damage because they never hit anything. With massed use, the target is the area, and everything within it is eliminated.


The importance of this weapon was, again, caused by the tactical use: a sub-machine-gun company (рота автоматчиков) in every infantry regiment.

Cf. the use of MP 40 and Thompsons which were mostly issued to NCOs.

War Management

Not exactly a "weapon" per se, this was more important than any actual weapon.

Continuous Mobilization

This was how SU replenished its army as it was being decimated by Germany: men were drafted into the army all the time, as women and adolescents were drafted into the industry to replace them.

Economic mobilization

SU immediately stopped virtually all civilian production and evacuated a significant portion of its industry.

In other words, SU started Total war right away, as opposed to Germany which waited for Stalingrad.


  1. M1 Garand
  2. North American P-51 Mustang
  3. M4 Sherman
  4. Logistics - unsurpassed.


Type VII Submarine

Good sub, nothing revolutionary, but together with the Rudeltaktik it made a difference - it sustained the longest campaign of WW2.

I omit the truly revolutionary Type XXI because it arrived too late to make a difference.

MG 34 and MG 42

Again, the critical part was the way they were used tactically, not just the excellent design.


Nothing spectacular as an aircraft, but truly amazing on the battlefield: used as "flying artillery" together with tanks it was the symbol of the Blitzkrieg.


Both Japan (Zero and Yamato) and Britain (Spitfire) had interesting designs, but they were not very consequential (except for, probably, Ultra).

  • 1
    I'd need a citation that Germans made up stories about the T-34.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 2:05
  • 1
  • 1
    Thx. I don't have the 1st book. I read chapter 7 of the 2nd in translation. It seems the author is railing against the myth of the "invincibility" of the T-34 and KV-1 rather than the individual incidents. He uses many quotes confirming the trouble the Germans had penetrating Soviet armor, but also mentions their flaws. I think we all agree the T-34 and KV-1 had serious flaws, some were corrected, some were not. But the article gives no evidence the stories are false.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 3:08
  • The Germans had "8,8" for T-34 and "10cm" for KV. The claim that they did not see T-34 "in quantity" until the Fall (repeated by Tyler Durden) is easily verified to be false (we know how many tanks the Red Army lost in the Summer).
    – sds
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 3:38
  • 5
    I find this answer should be edited to remove off-point details. If you're going to add details on US weaponry, they you can also add details on German and Japanese weapons too right?
    – a20
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:14

The Katyusha. Hands down. Stalin's Organ.

The T-34 and Soviet tanks were produced in tremendous numbers -- and destroyed in tremendous numbers. The same can be said about most Soviet weapon systems. The skill and dedication of their operators was heroic and legendary, but generally their heroism was short-lived as they went up against superior equipment. Have a look at the Wikipedia entry regarding the Battle of Kursk, if you want to dispute that: Soviet losses were three times Nazi losses, despite the Soviets being the defenders in the initial stage and despite the western allies supplying the Soviets with a complete briefing of what was coming down the pike from the output of Colossus/Enigma/Bletchley Park.

But the Katyusha, now that was a different story. Cheap, mobile and deployed in vast numbers, the geography of the Eastern Front led to tactics that made them highly effective, despite their limitations. They had nothing resembling accuracy or high fire rates, so they were gathered into vast batteries for saturation bombing of a particular area and then rapidly dispersed for reloading. Rinse and repeat. The only effective defense was airpower -- destroying the formations before they could fire -- and so the Katyusha did their work on evenings, nights, early dawn and inclement weather when airpower couldn't find them. Tanks are front armored for defense against other tanks. The rain of Katyushas was both effective and far less deadly to its operators than trying to go head-to-head with Nazi panzers.

The Katyusha was a weapon that forced its opponents to change their strategy and tactics because of its effectiveness. When brought to bear, the Nazis could not concentrate and entrench their forces to defend because the Katyusha could, would and did destroy any such attempts. Given that massed panzer assault was the very heart of Blitzkreig, the Katyusha was monumental. The T-34 and other Soviet weapon systems did their work through sheer superiority of numbers and attrition. The Katyusha did it through the tactical use of a weapon system that reached the battlefield in unmatched numbers and units that remained intact and trained long enough, with commanders brilliant enough to use it to its fullest potential.

  • 2
    Yup, mobility was crucial. Seconds after the salvo, katyushas were on the move out - because all Nazi artillery was firing wherever they were seconds ago. It also wasted Nazi resources on attacking empty place. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 20:53

Although it's not really about "weaponry", yet I should add something that others seem to forget completely: the sniping. Although the Red Army lacked good sniper rifles, yet it had an absolutely superior sniping school.

One may easily find dozens names of German aces of Panzerwaffe and Luftwaffe, but in the snipers list the whole top is occupied by Soviet marksmen.

  • Sniping is overrated. Killing a few hundred guys going to the latrine is not nearly as valuable as killing pilots and trained aircrew shooting down planes, or the normal action of small arms and machine gun crews and artillery crews killing Germans using their weapons.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 18:17
  • 2
    @Oldcat In urban fights, such as Battle of Stalingrad, it was really valuable.
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 20:10
  • Note that aside from a few yards of space near the river bank, Stalingrad fell to the Germans. The victory came from forces outside the city.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:40
  • 2
    @Oldcat, killing a guy going to the latrine greatly reduces the effectiveness of everyone around him. A sniper's effect doesn't come from the kill itself, but from the disruption that the reaction to it causes.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 1:50
  • 2
    @Oldcat Nobody claims that snipers made some huge difference, or single-handedly won some battle. The question was about "areas Soviet army excelled at", and Russian snipers during the WWII were at the top of the class. Top twenty of WWII has only one (!) non-Soviet shooter -- finnish sniper Simo Häyhä. Best result - 702 confirmed kills by Mikhail Surkov, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Surkov. Explanation: in 1930 in USSR shooting was a very popular sport, thousands of small schools and ranges were organized and built, numerous competitions (often at high school level) were held etc.
    – JimT
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 17:47

Schwerm is correct when he stated that the T-34 produced an international revolution in tank design when it appeared in combat in '41 during the initial months of operation Barbarossa.

But I disagree with his assertion that the T-34 and KV-1 were the "best" tanks then in existence. Yes, the best tank designs; but operationally, due to poor Soviet engineering, they were extremely unreliable and had appalling rates of mechanical failure. In addition to poor optics, the turret design of the T-34--where the commander had to assist with main gun operation, and had extremely poor vision compared to German designs greatly reduced their combat effectiveness. Until 1944, because of these shortcomings, a T-34 was able to fire only 1 round for every 3 a German crew could fire. Which explains why German tank aces like Michael Wittmann could destroy dozens of T-34's in a single engagement.

The trend in tank design during the war towards ever larger tank chassis, with ever thicker armor, requiring ever larger armor-piercing main guns--this was a constant for the Germans ever since the '40 France campaign, when their Pz.II's with 20mm L55's ran up against French Somua's. By March '41, Rommel's Pz.III's with short 50mm guns had difficulty against the better-armored British Matildas.

But the T-34's appearance later in '41 created a revolution in armor not only because of heavier armor and a 76mm main gun--a combo that totally outclassed the German Pz.III's and Pz.IV's--but because of its design: the first medium tank with sloped armor and a coil-spring (Christie) suspension with a wide track base that gave it the best surface:weight ratio of any tank then in existence. Which, in the mud of a Russian Spring/Fall was crucial to operational mobility. As Schwerm also said, it didn't fully come into its own until the T-34/85 version, with a larger, three man turret, an 85mm gun with better optics, and a host of lesser improvements.

While the Soviets produced more powerful tanks, like the late-war IS series, the T-34 dwarfed all of them in total production. At over 64,000 units, it was the most produced tank of the entire war, and the second most produced in history.

The Panther Sd.Kfz.171--which appeared in '43--was arguably an almost perfect, German copy of the T-34. How the T-34 "could" or "should" have been; using sloped armor, a 75mm high-velocity main gun with high quality optics and a wide track base. It took the Germans another year to work the bugs out of the Panther design and get it as good as it was going to get, by which time the reliable T-34/85 was entering service.

The German Tiger I heavy tank program was greatly accelerated by the appearance of the T-34--but it was never really intended as a replacement for the Pz.IV's, which ended up as the most common German medium tank of the war. A single Tiger I required almost twice the resources of two Pz.IV's or Panthers or Stug-III assault guns. The Germans, like the Soviets, recognized the prhobitive resource cost-restraints of an entirely heavy panzer force.

The Katyusha BM series of mass-fired rocket launcher was another game changer that also revolutionized warfare, and like the T-34 was also copied extensively by the Germans.

  • "But I disagree with [Schwern's] assertion that the T-34 and KV-1 were the "best" tanks then in existence." I did not assert that the T-34 was the best, I explicitly avoided this by listing pros and cons (the same cons you list). I didn't mention the KV-1 at all (I've since added a section on the IS-2 pointing out that the KV-1 was a terribly unbalanced tank).
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 2:08

The T-34 tank was the outstanding armament produced by the Soviets during the war. It came as great surprise to the Germans and significantly outclassed the German tanks. The T-34 was an important factor in blunting the drive on Moscow during the Autumn of 1941.

Although the T-34 had first appeared on the battlefield as early as July 1941, it was in too few numbers to be noticed and fully appreciated. This changed in October when it appeared in large numbers for the first time with decisive results. The tank was markedly superior to the Panzer IVs which the German's had. On October 10th a large formation of T-34s suddenly appeared and mauled the right flank of the German army group involved in the Tula offensive. This critical action slowed the advance on Moscow and was a factor in delaying the Germans and saving Moscow, thus ultimately forcing the Germans back into a defensive posture that winter.

When the Germans debated how to answer the tank problem, one proposal was to simply copy the T-34, but this was not adopted for various reasons. For example, the T-34 had an advanced water-cooled, diesel engine made partially out of aluminum which it would have been difficult for the Germans to copy since they had more limited supplies of aluminum. Ultimately, they created the Tiger tank which was superior to the T-34, but produced in much smaller numbers, so that the sheer volume of the T-34s continued to overwhelm the German forces.

  • A small correction. In October 1941 the designated anti-tank German tank would be the Panzer III with an inadequate 50mm anti-tank gun. The Panzer IV had a 75mm howitzer for supporting infantry, though it would do the job if a T-34 got close enough. The upgunned Panzer IV Ausf. F didn't appear at the front until spring 1942.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 20:45
  • 2
    @Tyler Durden: Tiger should not be compared with T-34: they are in different classes. Tiger should be compared with KV (heavy tank) and Panther with T-34. And by the end of 1944 or early 1945, Soviets again had better tanks.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 0:11
  • 1
    @Alex Tyler doesn't compare the T-34 to the Tiger either, just that it was created in response to the T-34 (and KV-1). The Germans needed a tank that could carry an 88mm gun to deal with their thick front armor. Regardless, this isn't boxing. If a T-34 met a Tiger they don't go "hold up, we're in the wrong weight class! You have to wait while we get a heavy tank to fight you." The German decision to counter a cheap, mobile medium tank with an expensive, slow heavy tank is very significant.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 2:15

When you say "in WWII" you miss the point that WWII lasted 5.5 years. And all these 6 years there was intensive arms competition on both sides. Soviet tanks T-34 and KV where by far the best tanks in 1941. No other country had anything comparable. (See the Schwern answer for details). But in 1944 this was already not the best tank: Germans tanks were superior. Soviets also had some superior airplanes: superior when they were first used. Examples are IL-2 and Yak-3. Another very effective weapons was the famous unguided rocket system BM-13, known as "Katyusha".

References: Wikipedia articles on BM-13, IL-2, Yak-3, Kliment Voroshilov tank (KV).

  • 5
    I feel like this is more of a comment than an answer. In short, you're saying that you agree with Schwern's answer, but want to emphasise that the T-34 was only truly dominant during the first (few) years of the war. Then you proceed to claim why German equipment was superior in later stages, which is not part of the question... Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 23:10
  • @Stephan: I agree about T-34, but I also mentioned several other weapons.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 23:48
  • If evidence had been supplied, I would consider this an answer. In the absence of any evidence, it is merely an (interesting) comment.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:50
  • @Mark C. Wallace: the evidence is easily found by typing IL-2,Yak-3,BM-13 on Wikipedia. How to you consider my answer, as an answer or as a comment, I do not care. It is somewhat long for a comment, so I wrote it as an answer.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 13:12
  • If H:SE were merely a place for people to post keywords that we could type into google, then I wouldn't bother to participate. The H:SE community standards make it clear this is a research site, not an opinion/discussion forum. I posted my comment because the answer popped up in my review queue asking whether the comment should be deleted; it seemed courteous to me to explain my vote. I shall now return to my prior position that courtesy is folly and no vote should ever be justified.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 14:03

One thing that has yet to be raised was propaganda and espionage. The importance of this was noted particularly in WW2 and the Spanish Civil War which were wars of ideology as well of substance.

The Soviets had by far the most successful spy setup in the world, partially due to their claim to legitimacy as a union of socialist republics. This lead to huge sympathy among workers in many countries and of course, intellectuals. The Soviet spy rings penetrated British, United States, German and Japanese targets with virtual impunity. To the West and the Germans, the Soviet Union was an enigma wrapped in a riddle; to the Soviets their enemies were as transparent as glass.

This of course was supported by a huge propaganda effort aimed at perpetrating the myth of the 'Workers Paradise' helped not only by the Soviets but by 'useful fools' in every country of the war. Even the phrase 5th Column comes from Soviet instigation.

This is not to say that the Soviets acted wisely on the information they were given. Often they ignored it or interpreted it in terms of Socialist Doctrine rather than objectively but the capacity to gain information was by far the best and most effective that existed in the world.

  • Sources would improve this answer. I can understand amazing spy rings in USA, but other places like Germany were much more "on a war footing" and had respectable counter-intelligence efforts to resist penetration.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 8:16

When evaluating a tank you have to consider a few factors besides firepower and armor to get the real performance. For instance: ergonomy. T34's was awful. That means reduced rate of fire and crew underperforming due to exhaustion. Ability to see the enemy. If you don't see an enemy tou can't hit it. T-34 slits didn't allow to see much. Optics. and accuracy of the gun. If you don't hit you can do little damage. German tanks were superior. Ability to operate in commander exposed mode. It is dangerous but makes the tank far more efficient. The T34/76 or at least its early models couldn't. How it takes the hits. The armor of Stalingrad-made T34s easily cracked and sent lethal fragments of metal when hit. That was because it was not a single piece of armor but several pieces cast together. Crew survivability if destroyed. If tank easily catches fire and is difficult to exit, if ammo easily cooks up and explodes you will lose a lot of crews. Experienced crews are precious and more difficult to replace than tanks. T-34s didn't shine in this area even T34-85s. Effectiveness of their ammo. Soviets considered the Sherman 76's gun, (not the Firefly who was in class of its own but the American-made long gunned versions) as equal to the T-34/85's despite firing a smaller, lighter shell. My guess is Soviet ammo was made of poor quality metal. Weight of the round. IS-2 was so heavy that it came in two parts. A panther could fire 3 times well before an IS-2 could fire one time. Tigers too had a much higher rate of Very, very, very important: a radio to warn your comrades they are walking into an ambush, a radio to coordinate the action of your platoon and mount ambushes of their own. A radio to coordinate with other arms. I think T34/76s never got one as standard equipment

Then there are the strategic aspects. How much maintenance it needs? A Tiger required eleven hours for an hour of combat. How many miles before breaking? If enemy is attacking 60 miles from where you are and your tanks break after 30 you are in trouble. Panthers and Tigers were notorious for their unreliability. That could be one of the reasons Soviets favored multi-pronged offensives at a a couple days intervals: to force Tigers and Panthers "to run" from one fire to the other. Can it be repaired quickly and easily? Is it light enough to use about every bridge or will it be forced to use only a few selected ones thus allowing the enemy to foresee your moves? Is it a fuel hog? Road and cross-country performance. A slow tank like the Tiger will often arrive too late.

Last but very important: How much it costs? If tank is expensive to manufacture you will have few of them. and they will be outnumbered.

So despite their armor and guns Soviet tanks were not as formidable as they looked once you integrate tactical factors. But despite the apparent strengths of German tanks, once you integrate the strategic factors like ability to move from one side of the front to the other or their cost they weren't that good. Sure, they destroyed a lot of Soviet tanks manned by crews far inferior to the German ones but if they lost the war it is for a reason.

PS: If my memory is any good in 1945 the Red Army was losing less men than the Germans. Anyway the exchange rate had dramatically dropped since 1941 and 1942. I don't have numbers for tanks but there is reason it had aldo sharply decreased. Anyway in the 1945 offensives you see time and again the same pattern Germans ksocing a few tanks, survivors retiring and then Katyushas obliterating the German tanks or PAK that were causing trouble. Rinse and repeat. Nehring's crack Panzer Divisiwon was so badly mauled by Soviet artillery it was totally powerless to do anything against the advancing Soviets and was forced to a desperate retreat for its survival

  • 3
    The T-34 was a masterpiece, if one understands the philosophy behind it. The philosophy was not that the T-34 would defeat any tank one-on-one (though it could, in the earlier years) but that it was engineered to be easy to build. Germans didn't have to deal with a fine tank, but they had to deal with a fine tank in unappetizing ratios. And the Soviet system designed the crew to be as disposable as the weapon.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 15:07

The Soviet advantage in winterized equipment was critical. Lubrication that didn't freeze, winter camouflage, clothing that actually kept you warm.

  • This answer would be better with examples and citations.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 18:09

I would have to say no, the Soviets did not excel in any single weapon. They did have some very good weapons, and a few were superior to their enemies equivalents in any given period of time (eg T34 in 1941) but over the course of the war, only one weapon truly excelled and that was the atom bomb. The Soviets excelled not because of their weapons (no country did) but because every time a soviet soldier died, they could put another one into the battle in a uniform and with a gun. Given that the Soviets had between 8 and 14 million military and possibly as many as 24 million civilian deaths during WWII, that was an awful lot of bodies.

  • The 80% stat has no basis in fact and if you believe this person's work most died well before the war. Buzzfeed is not a good historical source. Saying armies do not win by their weapons, or that the Soviets only excelled at replacing dying soldiers also have no basis in fact.
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 18:26
  • I think the first part of the answer is patently incorrect. The part about treating troops as disposable resources is correct.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 15:03
  • I didn't mention buzzfeed, but basis in fact can be found to confirm 66% did not survive. The 80% does not help the answer so I have removed it. Weapons do not win wars. That is historical fact.
    – Paul Smith
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 10:16
  • 1
    @TonyEnnis Are you suggesting that the Soviets did not have any superior weapons for the entire duration of the war? Or are you saying that there was a weapon system other then the atom bomb that one side had that was utterly dominant over the others. In WWII, all sides were pretty evenly matched weapon wise. This was not a longbow vs cavalry or gunpowder vs armour type campaign.
    – Paul Smith
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 10:23
  • No, I believe their game-changer was the T-34. It was a perfect blend of simplicity and effectiveness. And I certainly don't think it was their only strength. They had some first-rank planes, for example, but so did everyone else.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 12:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.