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Prompted by this question and a comment by matt_black. The T-34 is often cited as the best tank of WW2. However some articles paint a very different picture.

Quote:

According to the head of the Armored Directorate of the Red Army N.Fedorenko, the average mileage of the T-34 to overhaul during the war, did not exceed 200 kilometers. This was considered adequate since the T-34’s service life at the front was considerably less. For example in 1942 only 66km. In that sense the T-34 was indeed ‘reliable’ because it was destroyed before it had a chance to break down on its own!

Quote:

The T-34 is possibly the only weapon system in history to be rated by most commentators as the finest all round weapon in a century of warfare, and yet never consistently achieved anything better than a one to three kill-loss ratio against its enemies.

I don't necessarily just limit this question to the T-34. But the overall effectiveness/performance of Soviet tanks in WW2.

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    I'm sure answers will have to carefully define what they mean by "better". In broad economic terms, for example, the T34 beat the german tanks despite a 1:3 kill loss rate because it was cheap and fast to manufacture so the soviets could have far more than three times as many. It will also be useful to take the quality of tactics into account. Soviet tank tactics were mostly worse the germans' so battle losses won't be an accurate reflection of the merits of the vehicles. – matt_black Feb 3 '13 at 18:26
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    I'm with @matt: This question is entirely subjective until you define the exact criteria for what makes the best tank. Further, I would like to see an explicit quote for notability here. You don't seem to doubting what the sources you quote are saying. – Oddthinking Feb 3 '13 at 23:36
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    There is a quote from Guderian or Manstein in their memoirs where they recount Russian visits to German tank factories while the countries were still collaborating. The gist of the story is that the Russians didn't believe the Germans were being open about their tanks, and the Germans missed the implication that the Russians already had better tanks in development. I'm looking for the detail now. – matt_black Feb 4 '13 at 16:05
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    Actually there is no notable claim that it is here. – Chad Dec 7 '13 at 22:43
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    The main difference is a production speed and overall production number: USSR's built T-34 - 84,070; German Tiger II - 492; German Tiger I - 1,347; Germans had superior tanks. Many of them scored great victories, but they just lost by numbers. USSR produced more mediocre tanks in one month than Germany overall. Additionally, German tanks was not only technically advanced, but extremely expensive and overengineered. – alex Dec 14 '13 at 0:05
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The USSR had a better military than Germany in WWII, the proof for this is the second part of the book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, in other words, the Nazis lost and the USSR won, in a conflict that was mostly decided by Armor clashes, like the Battle of Kursk.

Tanks are made to win battles and wars and the T-34 was successful while the German Tiger and the Panzer IV weren't.

However to choose which tank is better would need a definition of quality, or "what do you mean by better". To do a comparison to anther losing German vehicle, the Maybach brand, while having more luxurious and better engineered cars than Toyota, it was closed, while Toyota is the 12th-largest company in the world by revenue. Maybach, while having better engineered and more comfortable cars, had a price tag that was so high that (almost) nobody wanted to buy them, at the same time Toyota cars are selling like condoms in a cheap Motel.

The same happened with the German Tanks, While being superior engineer-wise they weren't easy to manufacture, and not suitable for war time economics. The USSR produced 35119 T-34 tanks and 29430 T-34-85 tanks in the period between 1941-1945, it's a total of 64549 T-34 Tanks produced in 5 years, while the Germans managed to produce only 1347 Tiger I tanks and approxematly 8800 Panzer IV tanks which is a total 10147 tanks in a period longer than what the Russian had. So the soviets had the sheer number advantage, on the Battle of Kursk The Soviets had 2.7 times more tanks than the German and on the Battle of Moscow the Soviets had 1.9 times more tanks.

The Military Channel did a "Top 10 Tanks" article, that named the T-34 as the best tank ever, while the Tiger and Panzer IV got the 3rd and 6th places respectivly, the reasons are the same as I explaned. You can watch these video clips where they explain in more detail that while the German Tanks were exactly what you would expect from german engeneering, their cost and manufacturing time were just too high to fight in an all out war that lasted for 5 years.

The T-34:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVg6gFmuRlE

The Tiger:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoyW83fdJi4

The Panzer IV:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfZE_IUjwGM

There is no "Best tank", there is the more suitable tank and army. While the Panzer and the German war machine were probably the more suitable Army for short engagements in relatively small areas like Poland, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, The T-34, the Red Army and the Russian People were more suitable for an attrition war in the largest country in the world during one of the harshest winters of that decade.

  • Many of the sources are Wikipedia, but only because they do such a good job, of summing all the numbers.

  • I have nothing against Toyota, they make great cars, they were given as an example for a smart and successful operation in contrast to the unsuccessful endeavor of the Maibach brand.

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    Good answer. I like the vivid "condom in a cheap hotel metaphor" and I hope that it doesn't get edited out. Vivid writing is good writing! – matt_black Feb 3 '13 at 21:29
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    It's a good answer, but it seems the OP was meaning to ask about technical merits, not cost effectiveness (too vague to be sure). – user5341 Feb 3 '13 at 22:48
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    One very significant point about these figures is that if we remove the 11 900 AFVs received by the Soviets via Lend Lease, and allocate all German WWII fully tracked AFV production to the Wehrmacht’s East Front forces (i.e. add those lost fighting the Western Allies), then the Germans would have only needed kill loss ratio of 2.45 to 1 in order to have destroyed all Soviet fully tracked AFVs that existed on 22nd June 1941 (23 300 AFVs) and all 99 150 fully tracked AFVs produced during the war (122 450 AFVs). This figure is well below the 2.94 to 1 kill-loss ratio historically achieved. – Stefan Feb 4 '13 at 14:31
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    @IlyaMelamed My question is actually if the T34 was actually that huge success everyone claims. Look at the Battle of Kursk. Yes it was a Soviet victory on all levels. But look at the numbers. Its like saying the Battle of Thermopylae proves that the Persian forces were better. While being outnumbered almost 3:1 the Germans still destroyed at least 4 times the number of tanks (mostly T34) and that despite the Russians having the battlefield (meaning they could repair tanks). – Stefan Feb 11 '13 at 18:45
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    @Shadur - Cost to produce should be taken into account, as should reliability. This is why the Sherman - slow, undergunned, weakly armored - won the day in Africa. They didn't break down, and there were a metric crap-ton of them, as they were cheap and fast to produce. Meanwhile, the Char-B1 had massive kill ratios against German armor, and it didn't do France a bit of good, as they were unreliable and rare. – RI Swamp Yankee Dec 12 '13 at 15:07
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The answer is a see-saw, up until 1942 with the introduction of the 75mm KwK 40 L/48 gun the T-34 was superior. Having said that the superiority could not be taken advantage of due to command shortcomings like lack of radio, and also to political interference stifling initiative down to small unit level.

German tank designs were marred not by over-engineering but by a lack of raw materials to make specially hardened steels for vehicle drive trains. So Panther, Tiger 1 and Tiger 2 suffered from gear box break downs. By then being on the defensive and in retreat they were often unable to recover and repair vehicles.

Assuming their designs could be built properly the Germans had the best designs. They were physically bigger than Soviet designs not just heavier. They had more working space, carried superior optics, more ammunition, and better protection.

According to Dr S. Hart and Dr R. Hart German Tanks of World War II 1998 Brown Books, late model Panther was best tank of WW2, and as a result Germans had better tanks.

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    This answer would be improved with a relevant quote from the book to directly support the claims. – Oddthinking Dec 12 '13 at 3:55
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T34:

A nasty surprise, superior in combat to its opposition when introduced. Aluminum engine. Enough armour to make it more MKIV proof than was nice. [Shot trap under gun a small 'saving grace' for Germans but too small.]


I confirm @matt_black's recollection re factory visits and the Soviets thinking that the Germans must have hidden superior models.

Guderian makes quite a few comments about the effectiveness of the T34 relative to then current MKIVs. Panther was essentially a T34 response. |

Guderian October 6th 1941: This was the first occasion on which the vast superority of the Russian T34 tanks to ours became plainly apparent. ..."

Guderian: July 2nd 1941: " ... here for the 1st time the enemy deployed his T34 tank, a tank against which our guns at that time were largely ineffective".

von Mellenthin "Panzer Battles" says good things on a number of occasions about the T34. He also notes the rough state of finish and lack of paint - which he notes is them getting their priorities right.

FWIW: I found Wikipedia's comments on von Mellenthin's "Panzer Battles" being " ... part of the exculpatory memoirs genre that fed the post-war revisionist narrative, ...". I read the book 1st and the Wikipedia page latterly. I thought his writings fitted well enough with all other German sources that I've met (including Guderian, Rommell, Kesselring, ...).

  • This answer is rather unclear. – Oddthinking Aug 23 '16 at 15:26

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