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.
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:
- Battle (T-26 & BT tanks)
- Penetration (T-28 & T-35 tanks)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.