The lessons of the fighting in Russia and Eastern Europe generated late war designs that would serve into the 1960s. Tanks were produced with an emphasis on firepower and protection rather than crew comfort. For their German opponents, they were a source of amazement.
In 1943 the course of World War II underwent a decisive shift in favour of the Allied powers in both Europe and the Pacific. Primarily this change was caused by two factors. Firstly, the maturing of Allied economic plans began to deliver weapons and materiel in an abundance, far greater than Germany and Japan could manage. Winning the war of production gave the Allies a numerical superiority that doomed their opponents to eventual defeat. Critically related to production was the second factor: the emergence of British, American and Soviet military (Soviet army) formations which were capable of using the new and vast amounts of resources to defeat enemy forces in combat.
On the Eastern Front the production and military tides of war turned in late 1942, with the defeat of 250,000 German troops at Stalingrad and the destruction of another three German army groups during subsequent operations in the winter of 1942-1943. In July 1943 at the Battle of Kursk, Soviet armoured forces met and defeated the German armed forces in one of the largest tank operations in history. But the real significance of the Battle of Kursk was twofold. First, the Red Army seized the initiative from the Germans. Second, despite what is often claimed. Kursk did not destroy the German panzer arm as an effective fighting force. Rather, what began at Kursk was the erosion of German strength by a series of Soviet offensives that rippled across the whole Front throughout 1943, inflicting continual heavy losses on the Germans.
The ability of the Soviets to organize and carry out large scale offensive operations from late 1942 onwards relied upon the re-organization of the Red Army is command cadres. the re-introduction of its pre-war concepts of deep battle and operations, and the creation of armed forces capable of carrying out these theories. In the initial phases of the 1943 summer campaign, Soviet armoured formations were equipped with a mixture of KV heavy, T-34 medium and T-60 and T-70 light tanks. Over the course of the year, several of these classes were modified or phased out and replaced by new designs. The spur to these changes in the Soviet tank inventory were essentially twofold. First was the continued innovation and creativity of Soviet tank designers, who sought to create improved designs with which to equip the Red Army. This natural desire to advance technology was driven by the second and more pragmatic realities of combat conditions which had changed dramatically with the appearance of several new and powerful German tank designs.
War is a clash of two competing sides who constantly strive to acquire some form of ad vantage over each other, and this is especially true of their weapons. The shock administered to the German armed forces when they encountered the much more powerful Soviet KV and T-34 tanks during Operation Barbarossa in 1941 forced them to initiate the development of their own medium and heavy tank capable of overturning the Red Army's tactical advantage. Based upon an assessment of the T-34 delivered on 25 November 1941, it was decided to develop the medium Panther tank, incorporating design features where the T-34 out matched existing German tanks; a long-barrelled 75mm (2.95 in) KwK L/70 high-velocity gun: sloped armour (80mm/3.14 in frontal, 45mm/1.77 in side): and large road wheels and wide tracks for speed and mobility. The Germans also developed the heavy Tiger tank with thick, slab-sided armour (100mm/2.54 in frontal, 80mm/3.14 in side) and the powerful 88 (3.46 in) KwK 43 L/56 gun. The Tiger entered operational service on the Eastern Front in August 1942, inflicting heavy losses on Soviet armed forces. The Panther's debut at Kursk in July 1943 was more muted because of technical troubles, but once these problems were resolved, it proved to be an effective tank-killer.
The Soviet response to the shift in advantage to the Germans was swift and typically pragmatic. Unlike the Germans. they did not design completely new tank types, Instead, they increased the protection of the T-34, replacing its 76mm (2.99 in) gun with the more powerful 85mm (3.34 in) DT-5S. The T-34 Christie and KV vehicle chassis were adapted to form the basis of a series of strongly armoured and heavily armed self-propelled guns, such as the SU-122/152, ISU-122/152, intended to carry out the dual roles of infantry support and antitank. This series of vehicles war complemented by the introduction of the KV-85 and IS (Josef Stalin) class of tanks. These new armoured fighting vehicles furnished the Red Army with the capability to engage and defeat the new German tanks and to decisively win the war in the east.
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