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T-34 in Action (Stackpole Military History) Paperback – 9 Jul 2008
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About the Author
Artem Drabkin is the creator of a website devoted to the oral history of World War II on the Eastern Front. He lives in Russia.
Top customer reviews
The Russian tank crews had great confidence in the T34, which was only partly misplaced: for example its innovative sloping armour was thought to be proof against shelling - up to a point it was - and its diesel engine was thought to be safer from fire than petrol engines - again up to a point it was - though diesel fuel burned just as fiercely once ignited. However the T34 was robust, cheap to build, and it stood up to winter weather - for example having wide tracks which rode the snow.
I was impressed with the description of crew training: a team's skills were interchangeable, and they were thoroughly versed in the maintenance of the tank (even at times working in the factories that assembled the T34). Officers were no exception to this interchangeability. (I suspect the training described was not fully achieved: WW2 histories show that many T34 crews lacked skills).
The T34 was very noisy, uncomfortable, and difficult to drive - gear changes required great strength. The crews looked with envy at the much more comfortable enemy tanks when they were captured. Also, its gun-sights were inferior to German tank optics.
The chapters covering the actions of tank crews in battle are often very macho. One of the key differences between Russian and Allied forces was the presence of political officers in every Russian unit: obviously their army officers were not fully trusted by the regime. Significantly perhaps, no mention is made of the fact that between 1937 and 1939 40000 officers had been arrested, and of those about 15000 had been shot.
The death rate of young tank crews was much higher than the death rate of experienced crews. One way of reducing risk was to leave tank escape hatches partly open or unclipped: a wounded soldier would not be able to open a hatch. Another way was to keep moving fast (firing guns on the move). But saving Russian lives was not a priority. Surprisingly, one of the most important items for tank crews was a large tarpaulin which served various purposes, including shelter when crews were not in action.
I was interested in the so-called 'field wife' : these were women who accompanied mostly senior officers on active service (the women were obviously fussy about rank). I know of no equivalent in other Allied forces.
Russian army attitudes to captured German soldiers, and to civilians, varied enormously depending on the individuals concerned.
I assume - perhaps incorrectly - that the original version of this book was in Russian. If so, the translation is very skilful and vigorous. There are a number of maps which are not very informative.
Certainly worth reading. Bear in mind that this is a Russian account, though in many ways this perspective adds to the interest of the book.
As other reviewers have noted, the interviews on which this book is based were obviously all with soldiers who survived - which automatically makes them very lucky. Tens of thousands of Soviet tankers burned in their T34s, largely because of inflexible tactics that sent them head-on against the dreaded German 88 mm cannon. Yet the T34, especially the T34-85 version, were excellent tanks in their way. I think it is wrong to discount stories of T34s that destroyed several German tanks - even Tigers - because this was perfectly feasible if they got a side or rear shot from close range. Indeed, in one famous incident a single T34-85 blew up three Royal Tigers and damaged others, when they drove past its concealed position in a corn field. (Ironically, sPzAbt.501's official records state that the Tigers ran into "massive anti-tank defences", which just goes to show how deceptive these things can be).
You have to think that it is strange for so much dialogue to be recalled word for word, after 50 or 60 years. Perhaps some of it really was burned into the men's brains, but confabulation is also a possibility. Whereas German, British and US accounts of the war are often confirmed by other sources, these stories mostly have to stand on their own. One example that struck me was Fadin's account of how two JS-2 tanks destroyed two Tigers, whereupon the other eight Tigers in the unit "decided to leave the battlefield" and "hid behind the monastery wall". That doesn't sound at all like the Tiger crews I have read about, which mowed down Soviet tanks by the dozen. With odds of eight against two - plus a faster rate of fire and better optics - you would think the Tigers would easily have avenged their comrades. The truth of the matter is that, in a fight between Tigers and JS-2s, any hits were likely to be fatal so it was mostly a matter of quick wits and tactics.
All in all, this is a very good book containing a wealth of fascinating details. You just need to read it with a slightly sceptical eye.