Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tank strength and losses – Eastern Front

After examining the manpower and aircraft strength and loss statistics in the Eastern front it’s time to take a look at the tank situation.

Both sides built large numbers of tracked armored vehicles and their armored divisions spearheaded major operations. All history books mention the hordes of T-34 tanks attacking German positions and the Tiger and Panther tanks fighting against superior forces. However the truth is that the war in the East was an infantry war. Armored units were always a minority. Even so it is important to have accurate numbers about both sides.

Production

Production statistics are available from  Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933 – 1945’, vol2:
German AFV production
Types
1941
1942
1943
1944
 
 
Tank
3,166
4,269
6,240
8,888
SPG
570
1,753
4,517
8,696
SPA
0
36
1,471
2,081
Total
3,736
6,058
12,228
19,665

In addition to these numbers the Germans built more than 20.000 APC’s (armored personnel carriers) of the Sdfkz 250-251 types. The Soviet Union did not produce a similar vehicle but received through Lend Lease over 3.000 US halftracks and British Bren Carriers.
 

 

1940/41

1942

1943

1944

le.SPW - 250

1,030

1,337

2,895

1,701

m.SPW - 251

868

1,190

4,258

7,785

Sum

1,898

2,527

7,153

9,486


Soviet AFV production
Types
1941
1942
1943
1944
 
 
Tank
5,971
24,043
19,811
15,801
Heavy
1,353
2,533
656
2,252
Medium
2,800
12,553
15,812
13,949
Light
1,907
9,553
3,343
0
SPG
0
26
2,678
8,955
SPA
0
25
1,369
3,003
Total
5,971
24,094
23,858
27,759

Soviet production numbers are impressive (note that ‘Accounting for War: Soviet Production, Employment, and the Defence Burden, 1940-1945’ has slightly higher numbers for the SU- 1941/6.590, 1942/24.719, 1943/24.006, 1944/28.983). but they are focused on only a handful of types (T-60/70, T-34, KV/IS). As the war went on the light tanks proved to be poorly suited for frontline duties and even the T-34 lost its theoretical superiority over the German tanks. In addition to these numbers the SU received roughly 11.000 AFV’s through Lend Lease.

Strength at the front

Data for the German side comes from several sources including: Panzertruppen, Sturmgeschutz & Its Variants, Kursk 1943: A statistical analysis and AHF threads (here and here). Unfortunately it is very difficult to find reliable data for the number of self-propelled A/T guns in the East, so I include estimates with a question mark.

German strength EF
Type
22-Jun-41
June-42
July-43
May-44
Tanks
3,600
2,400
2,500
~1,500
StuG/StuH
272
~400
1,000
~1,500
SP A/T and Artillery
135
?200?
?800?
?1,200?
Sum
4,007
3,000
4,300
4,200

In the East the Germans manage to keep their AFV strength constant at roughly 4.000 with the exception of summer ’42. However the numbers show an emphasis on SPG’s in the period 1943-44.

Data for the Soviets comes from this AHF thread [Source given is ‘Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina 1941-45. Dejstvuyushchaya Armiya’]. These numbers do not include the STAVKA reserve. In the summer of 1941 there were about 12.000 tanks in the Western military districts. For the rest of the war:

Soviet AFV strength at the front
 
Year 1941
Year 1942
Year 1943
Year 1944
Year 1945
AFV
1-Dec-41
1-May-42
1-Nov-42
1-Jul-43
1-Jan-44
1-Jun-44
1-Jan-45
 
 
Tanks
 
Heavy
212
660
922
893
349
467
976
Medium
322
1,291
2,714
5,492
2,609
3,766
6,059
Light
1,393
2,025
3,542
3,447
1,438
1,147
564
Sum
1,927
3,976
7,178
9,832
4,396
5,380
7,599
 
 
SPG
 
Heavy
104
139
314
504
Medium
174
244
152
758
Light
86
523
1,565
3,399
Sum
0
0
0
364
906
2,031
4,661
 
 
Total  AFV
1,927
3,976
7,178
10,196
5,302
7,411
12,260

There is no doubt that the Soviet forces had a significant numerical advantage over the Germans. This is natural since the Germans had to also fight against the Anglo-Americans while the SU could concentrate all of its resources against Germany.

Regarding AFV types it is interesting to note the role played by the light tanks T-60/70 and SU-76 SPG throughout the war. Most authors do not mention them at all.


Losses

Data for the Soviet side comes from Krivosheev’s ‘Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century’.


Soviet AFV Losses
 
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1941-45
 
 
Types
 
Tank
 
Heavy
900
1,200
1,300
900
900
5,200
Medium
2,300
6,600
14,700
13,800
7,500
44,900
Light
17,300
7,200
6,400
2,300
300
33,500
SPG
0
100
1,100
6,800
5,000
13,000
Total
20,500
15,100
23,500
23,800
13,700
96,600

The Soviets build lots of tanks but they also lose staggering numbers.

For the German side I have several reports that give total losses (here and here) but only one report from AHF that states losses in the East.


German AFV losses Eastern Front
1941
1942
1943
1944
Total
Tanks
2,403
3,195
5,637
4,438
15,673
Stug
85
219
1,459
3,468
5,231
SP A/T guns
27
91
1,111
1,669
2,898
Total
2,515
3,505
8,207
9,575
23,802

A direct comparison between the two sides shows the Soviet Union losing 3.5 vehicles, in the period 1941-44, for every German AFV. This analysis however is flawed since AFV’s were also destroyed by towed A/T guns, hand held weapons, artillery, mines and airpower.

Despite that I do believe that tank for tank the German vehicles were better and that the T-34 was a poor weapon system.

Another way to look at losses is to calculate what percentage of production they represent.

Losses as % of AFV production
Germany
1941
1942
1943
1944
Production
3,736
6,058
12,228
19,665
Losses
2,515
3,505
8,207
9,575
%
0.67
0.58
0.67
0.49
SU
Production
5,971
24,094
23,858
27,759
Losses
20,500
15,100
23,500
23,800
%
3.43
0.63
0.98
0.86

I think the numbers speak for themselves. Without Anglo-American interference the Soviet losses in 1943-44 are unsustainable.
 



[Note that there are the following ‘issues’ with the German report:
1).The losses for 1942 include December 1941. According to Foreign Military Studies P-059Tank Losses’ by Generalmajor Burkhart Mueiler-Hillebrand total losses on all fronts for December 1941 comes to 525 Tanks and SPG’s but not all were lost in the East since at the same time there was heavy fighting in N.Africa during the British operation ’Crusader’. This could increase the 1941 percentage significantly.

2). February 1943 total losses show a huge spike at 2.069 vehicles. It seems reasonable to assume that these are vehicles heavily damaged/destroyed in late 1942 but officially written off in 1943. This would take the 1943 percentage down by a few points while raising the 1942 percentage.

3). For 1944 it says ‘December incomplete’. According to FMS P-059 total losses during the month were 677 Tanks, SPG’s and self-propelled artillery. A lot would be against the Western Allies during the Battle of the Bulge. In any case the number is so small that it can only raise the percentage by a few points.]
Some comments

1). The production difference in AFV’s for 1941-44 is 2-1 in favor of the Soviets (slightly higher if we add Lend Lease) but the exchange ratio is 3.5-1 in favor of the Germans. This means that if the Germans could concentrate all their production in the East the Soviets would run out of tanks.

2). Soviet forces benefit from Lend Lease supplies of tanks and other vehicles while the Germans had no such source of free vehicles but instead had to supply tanks and SPG’s to their allies and trade partners. Also in 1943-44 German production is affected by the Combined Bomber offensive, while the SU can utilize Lend Lease supplies of machinery and raw materials.

3). I often see the argument that the Soviet war economy out produced the German one. This is ‘proven’ by comparing either tank production between the two countries or total tank and SPG production. Things change if we have a look at each category separately. In the period 1941-44 we have:

Tanks: 3-1 advantage for the SU,

SPG’s and SP artillery: 1.2-1 advantage for the Germans,

Infantry vehicles (halftracks): …. SU produced zero while Germany built tens of thousands of Sdkfz 250/251. So who out produced whom?

4). Looking at tank types we see that the Germans constantly upgraded their fleet:

In 1941 they invaded with roughly 3.600 tanks of which only ~40% belong to the modern Pz III and PZ IV types. From these the Pz III had only 30mm frontal armor (some had extra 30mm bolted on) and roughly 28% had the outdated 37mm gun, the rest the 50mm L42. The Pz IV was armed with a low velocity 75mm gun ineffective against tanks and its armor was only 30mm (a small number had 50mm)

The new versions introduced in 1942 had updated guns and armor. The Pz III received the long 50mm L/60 and additional armor (50mm basic and 20mm bolted on). The Pz IV got the long 75mm KwK40 L/43 that had excellent antitank performance and its armor was increased to 50mm basic plus 30mm bolted on. In the summer of ’42 the Pz III and Pz IV comprise ~67% of German tank strength and out of these 45% have the new tank guns. The new guns meant that the German tanks could destroy the T-34 frontally (the L/60 at less than 500m the L/43 from over 1km) and the extra armor (assuming they had the bolted on part) protected them from the 76mm F-34 (using the standard A/T round) at ranges over 500m (for the Pz III hull and turret front) or point blank range (for the Pz IV front hull).

In the summer of 1943 the improved PzIV (KwK40 L/48 and 80mm standard armor plus sideskirts) together with the new Tiger and Panther tanks make up 49% of German tank strength. With these vehicles the Germans pulled ahead in tank warfare. This was acknowledged by a Soviet study conducted after the battle of Kursk. This showed that German and Soviet vehicles had the following combat values compared to the PzIII: Pz III -1.0, T-34- 1.16, Pz IV-1.27, PzV- 2.27 .

In 1944 the Germans rely exclusively on the PzIV, Tiger and Panther tanks. They had a rough 1-1 ratio between Pz IV and Panther in their tank units but this was not felt in the East during the summer battles as the best mobile divisions were in France.

Meanwhile the SU uses the same tank throughout the war, with the only important difference being a new turret and gun in 1944 (T34/85). The superiority of the upgunned German tanks and the new Panther and Tiger forced the Soviets to finally upgrade the T-34. However the T34-85 continued to have the same hull armor and its gun, although of a large caliber, had the same A/T performance as the Pz IV’s KwK40. The new 85mm ammo was heavier and only 56 rounds were carried (compared to 77 for the 76mm version). The T-34 was also the last main tank to get a 3-man turret.

5 comments:

  1. An excellent and informative piece. The first time I have seen all such data collated together in one article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also have a question if I may ask it here... Do you have any idea how much percentage of the german tank production 1941-45 was actually being sent to the eastern front and how much sent elsewhere (this would vary year on year I guess)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From my notes from 'Panzertruppen' I see that in 1941-42 Rommel’s tank strength fluctuated between 314 in mid '41 to 363 in mid '42 to 269 in October ’42. So apart from training units almost everything else would be in the East.

      This changed in summer 1944 when there were more tanks in the West (France+Germany) at ~ 1.500-1.600 compared to 1.400-1.500 in the East.

      Delete
  3. "This showed that German and Soviet vehicles had the following combat values compared to the PzIII: Pz III -1.0, T-34- 1.16, Pz IV-1.27, PzV- 2.27."

    Do you know where I can find more on this and similar soviet studies?

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    Replies
    1. Source is Zaloga’s ‘T-34-85 vs M26 Pershing’, p10:

      ‘Following Kursk, an assessment by the main Soviet tank research institute compared the combat effectiveness of the T-34 against its German opponents, assigning the baseline value of 1.0 to the current production version of the PzKpfw III. In this assessment, the T-34 rated at only 1.16, the Pzkpfw IV at 1.27, and the Panther at 2.37. While the T-34 had been equivalent or superior to most German armored vehicles on the battlefield in 1942, this was no longer the case by mid-1943’

      I don’t know of any similar Soviet studies.

      Delete