The Soviet army was based on British and French built tanks captured from White Russian forces and technology from secret overseas purchases. However many of those responsible for creating this new force disappeared during Stalin's purge of the army in the 1930s.
On 25 April 1945 the powerful First, Second. Third and Fourth Guards rank armies of the Red Army consolidated the iron grip they had thrown around Berlin, capital of Adolf Hitler's Thousand Year Reich. Ten days previously, these Soviet armed forces, totalling, 1000 tanks and self-propelled guns (out of a total 6250 available for the assault on Berlin), had broken out of their bridgeheads across the River Oder, 80-144km (50-90 miles) east of the German capital.
The First and Second Guards tank armies of Marshal G.K. Zhukov's 1st Byelo russian Front battered their way slowly forwards. at great cost, towards the outskirts of Berlin through the prepared German defence lines. In stark contrast, the Third Guards and Fourth tank armies of Marshal Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front, striking from further south. encountered less resistance and rapidly sliced through Gaman positions racing their rivals to Berlin. However, despite the desire to bear each other into Berlin by 26 April, all four elite tank armies - supported by 464,000 troops and 12,700 artillery pieces - were actually in position for the final assault into the heart of Berlin.
Under the cover of the massed fires of the Soviet army (artillery) corps ringing Berlin, the forces of the 1st Byelo russian and 2nd Ukrainian fronts moved against the last lines of German resistance in a gruelling battle of attrition among the shattered buildings. Operating in narrow streets where close-quarters battle dominated the style of fighting. Soviet army (tank) could move forwards only with infantry and engineer support. The Red Army utilized a variety of tanks in the Battle of Berlin. Most prominent in the Soviet army inventory was the T-34/85 medium tanks designed for high-speed mobile operations in open terrain, but still flexible enough to adapt to the requirements of urban warfare. Direct support for the infantry generally came from the well-armoured and well-gunned KV-1-s and IS-2 heavy tanks as well as a range of self-propelled guns. The most powerful of the SP guns was the ISU-152, whose large 152mm (5.9in) gun proved devastating in clearing houses at short range, quite often by simply blowing whole floors out with a single shell.
As Soviet army armour pushed into the centre of Berlin. Red Army officers demonstrated their ability to adapt their forces and tactics to the peculiarities of fighting in built-up areas. The most serious threat came not from German armour. but from the hand-held infantry antitank weapon, the Panzerfaust. To counter this threat, Soviet tank units officers broke down their large com bar units. such as brigades. into small combat groups of three ranks. As one tank moved along the left-hand side of the street, another secured the right. whilst the third, slightly to the rear, moved down the centre. The rank on the left fired at targets-or suspected targets - to its right. whilst that on the right engaged the left-hand side of the Street: both werecovered by the centre tank. Behind this advance guard were usually 10 other vehicles acting as a reserve to replace losses amongst the from three vehicles.
Supported by tanks o perating in this manner, by 5 May forward infantry elements of General V I. Chuikov's Eighth Guards Army successfully assaulted the Reichsrag, the German Parliament. Although the fighting in Berlin continued for several more days, and the war did not officially end until 9 May 1945, hoisting the Red Flag over the Reichsrag on the communist May Day holiday symbolized the Red Army's defeat of Nazi Germany and its finest hour. At the forefront of victory were the tanks. officers and men of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Red Army.
In explaining the Red Army's victory over Germany in what the Russians call their Great Patriotic War. it is insufficient to simply consider the number, type and capabilities of Soviet tanks. Wars on the scale of World War II are waged by the mobilization of a state's entire human, economic. technical and financial resources in order to create massive armies. equipped with high-quality weapons. and trained to fight effecti vely. It is the careful blending of these various factors that bring victory in war. As the Battle for Berlin clearly demonstrates, Soviet forces in 1945 possessed not just the numbers to win, bur the blend of weapons and tactics required.
It is argu able that by the end of the war, the Red Army had proved to be the most proficient amongst all the combatants at conducting large-scale armoured operations. Understanding the process by which the Soviet Army Union developed the techni cal and economic base necessary for the creation of powerful armoured formations, and the methods by which they were employed to achieve success in combat (what is termed doctrine by professional soldiers), will form the focus of the first two chapters of this book.
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