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By the time that 1942 began, Soviet reinforcements had arrived in the Moscow sector, and the Soviets outnumbered the Germans by nearly 2 to 1 in frontline strength, the majority of them decently equipped. Sure, a lot of this front line strength was inexperienced conscripts, but two new recruits would likely still defeat one veteran, especially a freezing, exhausted, starving veteran.

Much of the German strength was also not greatly experienced. The Soviet T-34 tank was superior to almost all German tanks at the time. It seems that the only advantages that the Germans had over the Soviets was superior command (Manstein, Model, etc.) and that the Soviets still didn't quite know how to counter Blitzkrieg.

Still, the Germans managed to halt the Soviet advance at Rzhev, and even launched offensives at Kerch, Kharkov, and in the Rzhev salient. Fall Blau also took place, which took considerable territory, including Maikop, came uncomfortably close to Grozny, and most of Stalingrad. As 1943 began, the Third Battle of Kharkov and Operation Mars proved that the Germans could still fight back. Only after the battle of Kursk were the Soviets able to continuously keep the initiative, and push the Heer completely out of the Soviet Union.

How did Germany manage to hold on for such a long time on the Eastern front?

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    On a long frontline, even with superior defensive numbers, an enemy can sometimes gain ground by surprise and by concentrating forces in a particular area. Does Eastern Front (World War II) help? If not, please explain why so that someone can help you. Thank you. Jun 26 at 5:14
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    I suppose downvotes are there because the title of the question and the question looks naive, but OP showed prior research so... I don't feel like they are deserved Jun 26 at 14:56
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    "The Soviet T-34 tank was superior to almost all German tanks at the time" - no, it wasn't. It was a really good and balanced design, easy to mass-produce, and therefore logistically practical. But it wasn't without its weaknesses, and especially the early variants suffered from many problems (as it was the case for basically every WW2 tank of any nation)
    – vsz
    Jun 27 at 4:25
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    Quote: 'but two new recruits would likely still defeat one veteran' in general, no. Of course it depends on how big the difference in skill and training between the recruit and veteran is, what kind of (equal) equipment they have, whether they are in offensive or defensive positions and lots of other things. In favorable circumstances experience can counter a much bigger numerical advantage than just 2 to 1.
    – quarague
    Jun 27 at 8:16

2 Answers 2

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You should not consider the situation in front of Moscow as representative of the situation on the whole East Front until the end of the war.

In front of Moscow, the exhausted German offensive faced a Soviet counter-attack and was beaten back, but the Wehrmacht stood still and was not broken. This allowed her to recover its forces in early 1942. At that moment, the Soviet counter-offensives on Kharkov or in Crimea were too big for the means and organization of the Red Army in early 1942, so the Germans were able to resist and beat back.

Losses sustained and the rhythm of reinforcement in 1942 meant that the Germans were superior to the Soviets when they launched their 1942 summer offensive, and that until Stalingrad.

So to summarize:

  • The 2:1 ratio was not constant
  • The quality versus quantity is not a fix thing: sometimes quality wins, sometimes quantity. It depends on the tactical and strategic situation, and in the summer 1942, the mix of quality and quantity of the Germans won
  • The forces ratio at the beginning of an offensive is not representative of those at the end: during Kharkov 1943, the Soviets sent forces that were exhausted and far from bases against newly reformed and equipped German divisions, thus triggering Soviet defeat
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The USSR had to relocate some factories as well as ramp up production after the German invasion. They did outnumber the Germans in this department by 1942, but not as much as by 1944, which saw a 50% increase over 1942, especially in ammunition and tank production. (By some Western re-estimates [see table 2 in that article] that increase may have been only 30%, but still a sizeable increase.)

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Soviet sources downplay Operation Mars (Rzhev), but it seems undisputed that less ammo was allocated there than to the concomitant Operation Uranus (Stalingrad). Sweeping offensives across all sectors were not as easy for the Soviets to sustain in 1942 as they were in 1944, just on that angle.

It's also worth recalling that Uranus overran some Romanian armies that were much less equipped with newer equipment like the 7.5cm Pak40 compared to the German troops around Rzhev. The nearby Hungarian and Italian armies in the south were also much less capable of mounting relief operations.

Also, according to Forczyk, 17-18% of the 5cm ammo was tungsten core by 1942, whereas that had been a negligible amount in 1941. This allowed the 5cm guns, in German hands, to be more effective, especially on the defense/ambush position. E.g. the 5cm Pak38 had a 2.4:1 exchange ratio with Soviet tanks in a May 1942 battle around Kharkov. (The 8.8cm Flak was likewise quite suitable for anti-tank defense, achieving a 6:1 exchange ratio in the same battle.)

As another example, in July 1942, after a series of poorly coordinated tank attacks (and poorly supported by other arms), 40 massed KV-1s managed to break the German lines and partially relieve the 62nd Army. But this came at high overall cost. In the aftermath Stalin blamed the tankers for finding excuses in mechanical breakdowns: he admitted that "twelve tank brigades lost 326 of 400 tanks, of which 200 were lost to mechanical problems". He then claimed that such high mechanical breakdown rates were implausible and blamed "covert sabotage and wrecking on the part of certain tank crews who try to exploit small mechanical problem to leave their tanks on the battle field and avoid battle." In the aftermath, the Soviet high-command introduced a rule that only burned-out tanks could be abandoned by crews. Those abandoning tanks disabled for other reasons would be sent to penal battalions.

Regarding Operation Uranus, the Germans were apparently aware of the low quality of the Romanian front-line divisions, so their plan was to counter any breakthrough in that sector with the 22nd Panzer and the Romanian armored division. The latter had just received 11 Pz.IVG, but had mostly Pz.35(t) otherwise. I'm not sure of the nominal TOE of the 22nd Panzer at that point, but according to Wikipedia's page thereof, it suffered from poor maintenance, so it only mustered 30 Pz.38(t) against the Soviet breakthrough. Both of these Czech-made tanks were armed just with a 3.7cm gun, which was nearly useless against T-34s. So, yeah, against those kinds of odds, the Soviets were able to steamroll in 1942.

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