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Soviet Union's History

World War I and Revolution

Tsarist Russia

The first creator of armored vehicle designs in Russia was V. D. Mendeleyev (1886-1922). He worked in the shipbuilding department of the Cronstadt Institute of Naval Engineering from 1903-1906, and at shipyards in St. Petersburg until 1916. One of his designs was to weigh 170 tons, armor 100-150 mm thick, 120 mm (naval) fixed mounted gun, turret mounted MG, speed of 24 kph, and an eight man crew. It was to have a submarine engine.

In August 1914 A. A. Porokovstchikov proposed 2 designs of a Vesdechod (everywhere-driver). It was to be used for infantry support while crossing ground under fire. The first involved an endless chain track that would turn by two wheels which would be steered similar to an automobile. It did well in tests but was not produced due to limitations in industrial capacity at the time.

Designers worked independently between 1914 and 1917 on different designs. The outstanding designer was N. N. Lebedenko who created a prototype in 1915-1917. It weighed around 40 tons and had 2 large wheels that were 9 meters in diameter. There was a wheel in the rear that provided steering, however, it often got stuck in soft ground. Work was stopped as it was realized that artillery fire could quickly put it out of action.

A design in 1916, by Renault agents in Moscow, was very similar to the French Schneider tank. It was never built.


In November 1917 the Provisional Armored Board was established under the direction of G. V. Elinim. The board convened the 2nd All-Russian Armored Car Conference to create armored units. The conference declared that the Armored Units Council shall be the ones to determine the direction of the armored units. It was made organic to the central command of the Red Army. This lasted until August 1918 when it was changed into the Armored Directorate and was subordinate to the Head of the Main Military-Engineering Directorate.

The Red Army was officially created on January 28, 1918.

In 1919 the Armored Directorate started the creation of tank units. The first units were called the Auto-Tank Detachments which were made up of captured tanks from the White Armies and Internationalist forces.

They were classified into three types. Bolishie (large), srednie (medium), and malie (small). One tank from each type was made organic to each detachment. The Revolutionary Military Council (RSVR) approved the tables of organization on May 28, 1920.

The Imperial Government purchased 32 British Mk V and Medium Mk C and 100 Renault FTs in 1918. Many of these ended up being captured by the Bolsheviks by 1919.

White Russia's General Denikin General Denikin

The first functioning tanks used by the Russians were during the 1917-1922 Revolution, and these were captured from the British and French. In March 1919 several French Renault light tanks were captured. One of these was sent to Lenin as a gift from the 2nd Ukrainian Red Army. Shortly afterwards several British Mark V "Ricardo" tanks were captured in the Ukraine. Twenty heavy tanks were captured from General Denikin of the White Army.

Soviet Union's Leon Trotsky Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky, War Commissar, advocated for the construction of factories to built their own tanks to replace the foreign vehicles. He was later ousted from power at the Tenth Party Congress.

In 1919 the Krasnoye Sormovo (Krasno-Sormova?) works was created to manufacture the 1st Russian tanks. These were copies of the 1917 French light Renault tanks. Between October and December 1919 all the drawings and designs were finished and 7 months later the 1st tank rolled out of the factory. Production was difficult because of the lack of experience. Individual components were manufactured by hand.



The Red Army had 3 tanks, 2 or 3 cars, 3 or 4 trucks, and a few motorcycles in its inventory in January 1920.

First Tank Battle

On July 4, 1920, the Red Army conducted its first tank battle. It involved the 2nd Tank Squadron, Armored Train number 8 and Armored Car Squadron 14. They had British Mk V and Medium B Whippets, along with French Renault FT tanks.

Starting the Schools

In mid-1920 the Armored Directorate added a unit of 20 soldiers to the Auto-Tank Detachments. They were intended to protect the tanks during battle. Eventually it was recognized that the detachments should have the same type of vehicle in each platoon. By September 1920 there were 11 Auto-Tank Detachments in the Red Army. Many of the personnel of the units were recruited from volunteers from the old Tsarist Army.

Training was carried out by the Separate Reserve Division. Training started in April 1918 and by 1919 the Armored School was formed.

In the autumn of 1919 the Higher Military-Automobile School was created. Its intent was to train military engineers and commanders.

At the end of 1919 the two schools was made into the Higher Military-Automobile-Armored School of the Red Army.

In September 1920 the Instructions for the Combat Utilization of Tanks was published. These determined that the armored forces were a subsidiary means of combat. They were to thrust into the enemy with rifle troops and horsed-cavalry.

Organizing the Command Structure

In 1920 the Office of Chief of Armored Units and Office of Inspector of Armored Units were created. They were responsible for controlling the efficiency of the armored force, leadership training, and deployment of armored units in battle.

However, their roles overlapped and the RVSR created the Independent Directorate of the Chief of the Armored Forces of the Red Army on May 6, 1921. It reported directly to the Chief of Staff of the Red Army.

The Early Years of Design

At the AMO (Avtomobilnoye Moskovskoye Obshchestvo) Factory, in 1919, N. Kruhlev led a team to reverse engineer the Renault FT tanks.

In September 1920 the use of tanks was foreseen to:

  • penetrate fortified enemy positions,
  • eliminate barbed wire and obstacles,
  • support for infantry,
  • destroying communications and transportation behind enemy lines,
  • engaging fortifications and holding them.

Artillery was going to be used to support the attacks. The main task of tanks were to support infantry.

A tank design competition was established in 1919 / 1920 By the Central Armored Forces Command and an amphibian tank designated the Motor Vehicle Type AM (Tyeplokhod Tipa AM) won. Only 2 were known to have been built. These were designed and built at the Izhorskiy Factory. It was an amphibious tank that weighed 10 tons and had a 76.2 mm gun. It was very complicated and work on it was terminated in 1923.

A 2nd competition was authorized in 1922. Seven designs were submitted and evaluated. However, copies of the French Renault tanks were continuing to be manufactured.

In 1927 the MS-1 light tank was developed and after improvements were it was called the T-18. It was based on the French Renault tank, but had improvements. The air-cooled engine was put together with the transmission to form a single block. The return rollers were rubber covered. The fighting compartment became larger with these and other improvements. Production start in 1928 at the Leningrad Weapon Factory, and by 1931, 960 tanks were produced. Also 100 BA-27 armored vehicles were produced. Some of the MS-1s first saw action in 1929 in the battle for the East China Railroad.

First 5-Year Plan

Soviet Union's M. N. Tukhachevsky M. N. Tukhachevsky (1893 - 1937)

In 1927 the General Staff of the Red Army started the application of the Five-Year Plan for the Development of the Armed Forces under the leadership of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky/M. N. Tukhachevsky. It was based on the conclusions that future conflicts would involve rifle troops with artillery, horse calvary, and aviation. Tanks weren't included as Soviet industry had barely begun production of the MS-1. Tukhachevsky felt that 5,000 tanks were needed for any future offensive use.

The final draft of the First Five-Year Plan for the Development and Reconstruction of the Armed Forces of the USSR was approved by the government on July 30, 1928. At the end of 1932 the Red Army was to have 1,075 tanks. There were to be three tank regiments and several battalions.

In 1928 the Russians had only 92 tanks. They started their first 5-year plan in 1929 in which tanks were included. Russia did purchase a few foreign tanks and one of them was a French Renault FT 17.

Huge resources were dedicated to the building of tanks. The People's Commissar for Military Affairs, Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov was the guiding force behind the buildup. He would unfortunately fall out of favor and be executed. The factories at Gorki and Moscow were ordered to be created to produce 125,000 vehicles a year. Tanks were to be primarily built at the Leningrad Putilov Works and the Stalingrand Tractor factory.


In the 1930s the Russians worked with the Germans by establishing a tank school at Kazan on the Volga. Often the Germans would bring prototypes to Kazan for testing.

The first Russian mechanized brigade was formed in May 1930.

During the next 5-year plan the Red Army's budget was quadrupled. By the mid 1930s Germany estimated that Russia had 10,000 tanks.

Foreign Tank Influences

In 1927 a KH-60 wheel/track tank was purchased from the Skoda works in Pilsen and a Fiat 3000 B light tank was purchased from Italy.

The Germans licensed the BMW M-6 aircraft engine to the Russians which provided them a significant power plant for their medium and heavy tanks of 1932-1933.

A commission, led by I. A. Khalepski / Innokenti Andreyevich Khalepsky, was set up on December 20, 1929, under the Director of the Institute for Mechanization and Motorization in the Central Command of the Armored Troops, to go to Britain and the United States to purchase tanks.

In Britain they purchased 15 Mark II medium tanks, 26 Carden-Lloyd Mark VI tankettes, 8 Carden-Lloyd amphibian tanks, 15 Vickers-Armstrong 6-ton tanks, and 12 half-track trucks. On March 21, 1930, the British Ministry of Trade approved the sale of these tanks.

On April 29, 1930 Christie signed a contract with A. V. Petrov, Amtorg Vice President for two of his tanks. In the United States two Christie M.1931 T-3 wheel/track tanks were purchased. The vehicles were disguised as tractors to slip out of the United States. These vehicles were sent to Voronesh for examination by the Red Army. The Revolutionary War Council modified the design to meet their needs.

The Vickers 6-ton tanks lead to the T-26 tank and the Christie vehicles lead to the BT-1.

After obtaining some of the licenses to produce these vehicles the Russians were now able to adapt these designs to their own.

Tank Theory

In 1927 (1929?), V. K. Triandafillov (artillery officer) published The Character of the Operation of Modern Armies in which he quoted many of Fuller's theories. He stressed the need for surprise and fast advances. He emphasized that formations must not become bogged down against non-mechanized units of the enemy. He died in a plane crash in July 1931.

In the 1930s the development of armored troops was carried out by the Command for Mechanization and Motorization. Chief I. A. Chalepski was the primary leader of the training of the mechanized forces. He also led the education of the tank designers.

During the early 1930s several new tank factories were set up and eventually became about 30.

In 1935 the book Outline of Tactics for the Tank Weapon was published in Moscow by A. Gromuitshenko and it classified the Red Army's tanks as:

  1. Reconnaissance
  2. Battle (T-26 & BT tanks)
  3. Penetration (T-28 & T-35 tanks)
  4. Special

Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky (Tuckhachevsky?) and Colonel Kalinovsky took up Triandafillov's theories. Tukhachevsky believed that operations should be conducted at the corps level or could be extended to the army level. He choose to form armored corps instead of divisions and they first appeared in 1932. The corps contained:

  • 2 or 3 mechanized brigades, each had
    • 3 tank battalions,
    • infantry battalion with automatic weapons
  • motorized infantry brigade, and
  • motorized artillery regiment

One problem that precluded the effective use of these formations were the lack of radios. Another was the rigid command structure which prevented personal initiative.

By 1936 there were 4 mechanized corps, 6 independent mechanized brigades, 6 independent tank regiments, 15 mechanized regiments of cavalry divisions, and 83 tank battalions and companies in rifle divisions.

However, in 1937 during the Red Army purges, Tukhachevsky was executed and his writings and teachings destroyed.

In August 1938 four tank corps were formed with the following makeup in each:

  • 1: rifle regiment
  • 2: light tank regiments

Each of the corp had 12,364 men and 660 tanks. At the same time there were also six independent tank brigades, six tank regiments, and 23 tankette battalions in the Red Army.


Soviet Union's Stalin Stalin

From 1937 - 1939 Stalin purched many of his commanders. The following were the amount of purges:

  • Marshals: 3 out of 5
  • Army Generals: 13 out of 15
  • Corps Commanders: 62 out of 85
  • Division Commanders: 110 out of 195
  • Brigade Commanders: 220 out of 246
  • Total officers: 35,000

Down the Wrong Path

After the purges the officers that were left were to afraid to do more than just follow orders from superiors.

Soviet Union's Dmitry Pavlov Dmitry Pavlov

General Dmitry Pavlov / General D. G. Pavlov was one who survived the purges. He commanded the Russian tanks that assisted the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War. His tanks had broken through several times but had to withdraw because the motorized infantry and artillery couldn't keep up. He concluded that deep penetration operations had been discredited. Stalin took his advice and the seven mechanized corps were disbanded and spread through the infantry.

Zhukov Shows the Way

Soviet Union's Georgi Zhukov Georgi Zhukov
However, in Manchuria, General Georgi Zhukov, choose to use armor based on Tukhachevsky's teachings. In August 1939 he used these tactics and won against the Japanese at the River Khalkin.

Starting in May 1939 several border classes near the village of Nomonhan, in Manchuria, steadily escalated until the 23rd Infantry Division attacked the Soviet Army near the Khalka River. There were two tank regiments in support. The Soviets put General Georgi Zhukov into command and he was successful in defending off the Japanese attacks that clearly defeated the Japanese forces.

On August 20, 1939, the Soviet forces sent three rifle divisions, two motorized infantry divisions, two armored divisions, two armored brigades, and two Mongolian cavalry divisions into the attack and surrounded the 23rd Infantry Division.

The main tanks used at Nomonhan were the BT-5 and BT-7.

Also the poor performance of the Russian troops in Poland in September 1939, and against Finland during the Winter War, and the good performance of German Panzer Divisions in Poland showed Stalin and Pavlov that they needed to bring the mechanized corps back.

The new mechanized corps contained 2 tank divisions. Each contained:

  • 2 tank regiments (400 BTs, T-34s, KVs),
  • a motorized infantry regiment, and
  • a motorized artillery regiment.

There was also a motorized infantry division containing:

  • 2 motorized infantry regiments,
  • a tank regiment, and
  • a motorized artillery regiment.

In 1940 nine mechanized corps were organized.

The plan was to form 20 mechanized corps by the autumn of 1941 but the German invasion in June caught them in the middle of reorganization. Little training had been done and there was inadequate communications equipment.

Tank Development

By 1935 there were more than 10,000 tanks and by 1941, 24,000.

Many different models of tanks were being built in the late 1930s. During 1940 out of 2,794 tanks built only 115 were T-34s.

During the Spanish Civil War the Soviets sent approximately 300 tanks and crew to the Republican forces. The experience taught them that they needed thicker armor to be able to compete against the German 37 mm PaK 36s.

Soviet Union's M. I. Koshkin M. I. Koshkin

M. I. Koshkin was appointed chief designer at the tank factory in Kharkov (builder of BT tanks) in 1937. He was given the task of designing a "shell-safe" tank. In 1938 the design bureau worked on an A-20 tank project. Koshkin and chief engineer A. A. Morosov realized that the tank had to be completely tracked. The A-32 was designed and both were tested in 1939. The A-32 became the T-34 once it had 45 mm armor installed.


With all the tanks spread out, they became easy prey during the Russo-Finnish Winter War and the German invasion. It is estimated that 1,600 tanks were lost to the Finns, and 16-17,000 during the last half of 1941 to the Germans and their allies. The primary models of tanks in the Soviet arsenal were the T-26 (approximately 12,000), the BT cavalry series (approximately 8,300), the T-28 was the primary medium tank, and there were 2 battalions of T-35 heavy tanks.

The T-34 became the standard medium tank for the war after the invasion. The KV-1 was the most thickly armored tank in the world. There were 508 KVs and 967 T-34 available in June 1941, out of a total of 23,637. However, they were spread throughout the Red Army. By August 6, 1941, 13,145 were lost.


Soviet Union's Artem Mikoyan Artem Mikoyan
Soviet Union's Mikhail Gurevich Mikhail Gurevich

Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich won the Stalin Prize in 1941 for their contribution to Soviet aviation.

Artem Mikoyan, half of the team that designed the MiGs was an Armenian that continued to design fighters from 1940 to 1970.

Changes in War

In early 1942 organizational changes were made. Armored corps were to have:

  • 2 tank brigades
    • 3 mixed tank battalions
      • 23 tanks
    • motorized infantry MG battalion
    • anti-tank company
    • mortar company
    • reconnaissance battalion
    • anti-aircraft battalion
  • 1 motorized brigade

In April 1942 it became:

  • 3 tank brigades
  • 1 motorized brigade

In May 1942 the 3rd and 5th Armored Armies were formed. Then in July the 1st and 4th Armored Armies were added. Each of these had:

  • 2 armored corps
  • 1 independent tank brigade
  • 1 rifle division
  • 1 light artillery division
  • 1 guard launcher regiment
  • antiaircraft units

Added in September 1942 a new mechanized corps:

  • 1 tank brigade
  • 3 motorized brigades

By 1944 there were 6 Armored Armies. An armored corps contained:

  • 209 tanks
  • 49 self-propelled guns

A mechanized corps had 246 tanks.


  • 110,100,000, 170,000,000, 170,467,186, 190,000,000, 194,100,000
  Killed and
and Sick
Total 11,273,026 18,344,148 29,617,174



  1. Tanks of World War II, Duncan Crow, 1979
  2. Airfix Magazine Guide 22 Russian Tanks of World War 2, John Milsom and Steve Zaloga, 1977
  3. No Simple Victory - World War II In Europe, 1939-1945, 2006, Norman Davies
  4. Stalin's Keys to Victory - The Rebirth of the Red Army in WWII, 2006, Walter S. Dunn, Jr.
  5. Russian Tanks and Armored Vehicles 1917 - 1945, Wolfgang Fleischer, 1999
  6. Russian Tanks of World War II, Stalin's Armored Might, Tim Bean, Will Fowler, 2002
  7. World War II Airplanes Volume 2, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  8. Aircraft of WWII, General Editor: Jim Winchester, 2004
  9. World War II, DK, 2004
  10. Tank War 1939-1945, Janusz Piekalkiewicz, 1986
  11. Atlas of Tank Warfare From 1916 to the Present Day, Dr. Stephen Hart, 2012
  12. World War II in Numbers, Peter Doyle, 2013
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