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date of publication: 26-01-2013


Soviet Tank KV-2

KV-2 DREADNOUGHT

Heavy Tank: KV-1

The Russo-Finnish war was an essential catalyst, not just in confirming the soundness of the decision to manufacture the , but in providing the stimulus for the development of an artillery support variant, designated KV-2 tank. Combat in the Finnish war had revealed that existing Soviet tank were under-armed for dealing effectively wirh reinforced enemy bunkers and other fortifications. The North-West Front Headquarters, and in particular the commander of the Seventh Army, K. Meretskov, made forceful requests that a heavy tank with a large gun be developed for bunker-busting tasks. Three projects were immediately undertaken. In one of its last projects before disbandment, the OKMO team revived its T-100 hull, mounting a 8-13 130mm (5,1in) naval gun. Designated the T-100U, it was not accepted for production. Rejection of the design may have been a result of the army's lack of access to barrels and the naval semi-armour piercing round at a time when the Soviet Navy was beginning a massive expansion programme to create a powerful, oceangoing fleet. More pragmatically, the development of a design by Kotin's team based on the proven KV chassis made mo re sense in terms of streamlining production and saving costs.

An initial attempt to mount a 152mm (5,9in) BR-2 and a 203mm (7,9in) B-4 howitzer on a lengthened KV hull was never completed. It was the expediency of the third design - completed in two weeks by mounting a standard 152mm (5,9in) howitzer with two machine guns on an unmodified KV chassis - that was accepted for production as the KV-2. The first trials of the KV-2 tank were conducted on 10 February 1940, and soon afterwards two prototypes were sent to the front on the Karelian Isthmus. There is some debate whether these tanks were involved in actual combat in 1940. Recent evidence seems to suggest that Meretskov's and others' reports about the excellent results achieved by the KV-2 against fortified positions and pillboxes were referring to tests conducted against captured enemy positions.

Heavy Tank: KV-1 Tank

Heavy Tank KV-2 possessed one of the most unique silhouettes of any tank of World War II. The hull was thar of the KV-1 tank series, but in order to mount the powerful 152mm (5.9in) 1938/1940 L20 howitzer, a large box-shaped 12.19 tonne (12 ton) turret was required. This gave the vehicle a silhouette of 4,9m (16fr) compared to 3,1m (10fr) for the KV-1. The visibility of the KV-2 on the battlefield was compensated for by the turret's armour; frontal 110mm (4,3in), side 75mm (2,9in) thick.

In the opening years of the war, when the KV-2 was operational in significant numbers, it was virtually invulnerable to direct fire from all bur high-velocity weapons at uncomfortably close range. The best the enemy could hope to achieve was to force the crew to abandon their KV-2 by disabling the tank with hits against its tracks and wheels. In light of the KV-2's size and armoured strength, its six-man crews gave it the nickname the 'Dreadnought'.

Nonetheless, the KV-2 did pay a high price for its massive gun and strong impenetrable armour. Its mobility between engagements and during battle was restricted by many of the initial gear, transmission and crew problems inherited from the KV-1 tank. This situations was compounded by its increased weight which went up to 53.8-57.9 tonnes (53-57 tons) depending on the model, as well as by the use of an unimproved 373kW (500bhp) V-2 diesel engine.

Heavy Tank: KV-1B 1941

The road speed of the KV-2 could only ever reach a maximum of 25km/ h (15,62mph), and cross-country it reached at best 12km/ h (7,4mph). Problems encountered in traversing the heavy turret if the tank was not on relatively flat ground also limited its flexibility in combat. The KV-2 was a formidable opponent in a static position, but it lacked the speed and mobility that were shown to be vital in the opening year of the war on the Eastern Front.

KV-1 and KV-2 in Combat

The German attack on 22 June 1941 caught the Red Army by surprise: it was badly deployed and in the midst of a major re-organization of its armed forces. During the course of the 1941 campaign, the Red Army suffered enormous losses in men and materiel, including the bulk of its vast rank park. In spite of the overall poor performance of , the resilience of the KV-1 tank and KV-2 came as a shock to the Germans. They had no comparable tanks in strength and armament. and few antitank guns to destroy them. In his memoirs, A Soldier's Duty, Marshal K.K. Rokossovsky recalled:

The KV tanks literally stunned the enemy. They withstood thee fire of every type of gun that the German tanks were armed with. But what a sight they were returning from combat. Their armour was pocked-marked all over and sometimes even their barrels were pierced.

Typical of the problems which were faced by the German armed forces when engaging the Soviet KV-2 was the experience of the 1 st Panzer Division on 23 June 1941 in Lithuania, which was recorded thus:

Heavy Tank: KV-2 1941

Our companies opened fire from 700 metres [2296 ft]. We got closer and closer... Soon we were only about 50-100 metres [164-328 ft] from each other. A fantastic engagement opened up - without any German progress. The continued their advance and our armour-piercing projectiles simply bounced off. The Soviet tank withstood paine-blank fire from both our 50mm [1.9 in] and 75mm [2.9 in] guns. A KV-2 was hit more than 70 times and not a single round penetrated. A very few Soviet tank were immobilized and eventually destroyed as we managed to shoot at their tracks, and then brought up artillery to hammer them at close range. It was then attacked on foot with satchel charges.

The majority of tank KV-2 losses in 1941 were to breakdowns or lack of fuel, which subsequently forced them to be abandoned. The 41st Tank Division lost two-thirds of its 33 KV-2s, but only five of these were as a result of enemy action. They were too few in number to decisively effect the collapse of positions in western Russia.

By July 1941 only 500 KV-1s and 2s were left. In October 1941, KV-2 manufacture was halted as Russian factories were moved eastwards away from the Germans: by this point only 334 had been built. An increasingly small number continued to see service as strongpoints in positional battles such as the defence of Moscow in winter 1941, and at Stalingrad in 1942 with Major-General V. Chuikov's Sixty-Second Army.