Book Review: Soviet Lend Lease Tanks of World War II

When it comes to book series about tanks and armored vehicles, Osprey Publishing’s New Vanguard series certainly holds claim to being the longest running.  The publication of Soviet Lend-Lease Tanks of World War II (New Vanguard), the 247th book in the series, is a testament to the popularity and quality of these books.  Much of the success of this series has to be attributed to the authors and illustrators that Osprey has been able to assemble, with Steven Zaloga being one of the most prolific and respected of the New Vanguard contributors.  With this new title on Soviet Lend Lease tanks he adds yet another entry into his already impressive bibliography.

For those not familiar with the format of the New Vanguard titles, these books are softcover, 48 page books, with numerous photographs, illustrations, and charts.  The earlier books in the series tended to focus on fairly well known vehicles, making them decent introductory primers on the subject.  As the series has gone on, the more obvious topic choices have been largely exhausted, opening up opportunities for less explored subjects.  One such example is Soviet Lend Lease tanks of WWII, which as far as we know has never been the sole topic of a book until now.

Having long been regarded as one of the foremost experts on Soviet armor history writing in English, Steven Zaloga is the ideal candidate to author this volume.  His writing is clear and understandable, containing a considerable density of information yet never becoming impenetrable.  The photos are well chosen and the paper quality is good, making for good photo reproduction.  The illustrations are attractive and appear to be accurate representations.  Given the relatively limited length of the book, technical specifics of the various lend lease vehicles is limited.  This is understandable since these individual armored vehicles all are described in other New Vanguard titles (as well as many other books.)  The focus of the book is on the role that these lend lease vehicles played within the Red Army and the interplay between the Soviet war planners and the Western officials in charge of Lend Lease deliveries.

One of the more interesting aspects of the story of these Lend-Lease vehicles is the Soviet interpretation of their quality and classification.  For example, while the British supplied three different types of “infantry tank” via Lend-Lease (the Matilda, the Churchill and the Valentine), the Soviets had to reclassify these vehicles according to their own system.  Hence, the Matilda and the Churchill were deemed heavy tanks while the Valentine was deemed a light tank.  Given the relatively weak armament of the Matilda and Churchill tanks compared to Soviet Heavy tanks, it’s not surprising that no more of them were asked for.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Valentine was rather well armed and armored compared to the Soviet T-60 light tank, so the Valentine was requested by Soviet forces even after it was regarded as outdated by British forces.

While British tanks made up most of the early war Lend-Lease shipments to the USSR, by the later part of the war the US was making the majority of the tanks being shipped.  Of course, the ubiquitous M4 Sherman became the primary tank sent overseas from the USA, being dubbed “Emcha” in Soviet service.  The primary variant sent was the M4A2, preferred by the Soviets due to its diesel engine.  One of the more unusual US vehicles in Soviet service was the T48 57mm motor gun carriage.  Intended as a tank destroyer, this was a US halftrack with a 57mm anti-tank gun mounted on top.  After these vehicles were rejected by the British, they were offered to the Soviets who took several hundred into service, renaming it the SU-57.  The SU-57 would become the only Lend-Lease combat vehicle used exclusively by the Red Army.

For those looking for statistics regarding Lend-Lease tanks, there are two pages of charts at the end of the book that will prove very useful.  Numbers are provided for total numbers of tanks shipped and received, broken down by vehicle type, year, and country of origin.  Also provided are numbers for Lend-Lease armored vehicles in service with the Red Army by type at the end of the war.  It is rather interesting to consider that in May of 1945 there were still 40 British Matilda tanks in Soviet service!  The book ends with a final assessment, stating that while tank shipments to the USSR were by no means insubstantial, they played a relatively small role in the Lend-Lease story compared to the large amount of trucks and raw materials that were shipped.  That said, these vehicles did play a role in filling production shortfalls experienced by the Soviets, particularly in 1942 when much Soviet heavy industry was still recovering from their rather hasty relocation eastward to avoid German occupation.

For fans of Eastern Front tank warfare history, this book will fill a niche that has not been addressed in a single volume.  For those interested in the tanks of the Western Allies, it provides an intriguing look into how these familiar vehicles were regarded by a foreign user in an environment very different from the deserts of North Africa or Western Europe.  The book retails for $18 and can be found at book stores and hobby shops as well as online.

Book Alert: Soviet Lend-Lease Tanks of World War II (New Vanguard)

Tomorrow is the release of the latest entry in the Osprey New Vanguard series, Soviet Lend-Lease Tanks of World War II (New Vanguard).   This is a 48 page softcover with numerous illustrations and photos, following the well established format of previous entries in the series.  As far as we know, this is the first book to deal exclusively with the issue of the Lend Lease tanks sent to the Soviet Union.

Publisher’s Description:

The Red Army suffered such catastrophic losses of armour in the summer of 1941 that they begged Britain and the United States to send tanks. The first batches arrived in late 1941, just in time to take part in the defence of Moscow. The supplies of British tanks encompassed a very wide range of types including the Matilda, Churchill, and Valentine and even a few Tetrarch airborne tanks. American tanks included the M3 (Stuart) light tank and M3 (Lee) medium tank and the M4 Sherman tank, which became so common in 1944–45 that entire Soviet tank corps were equipped with the type. With these Western tanks, the Soviets were finally able to beat back the German tide in the East.

This study examines the different types of tanks shipped to the Soviet Union during the war, Soviet assessments of their merits and problems, and combat accounts of their use in Soviet service using full colour artwork, contemporary photographs and detailed cut-away illustrations.

WWI Parade “Tanks” Photo Gallery

Yesterday Steven Zaloga posted a series of photos on his facebook account of various imitation tanks built during WWI and used as public displays for promoting war bond sales. He graciously agreed to let us post the photos here in a digital gallery.  These are really quite fun, especially the rather nicely done imitation A7V shown on parade promoting the  U.S. Tank Corps in New York City.

Gallery description from Steven Zaloga:

While working on a book in the Osprey New Vanguard series on early US tanks, I kept running into newspaper accounts of tanks on parade in various US cities in 1918, mostly for Liberty Loan drives. There were a handful of British tanks used for this purpose, but obviously not enough to go around. So a lot of cities built their own. This had led to some confusion, as some of these things were identified as real tank prototypes in various accounts. Obviously not judging from the photos of the Plywood Panzers. Here’s a sampling, courtesy of the files of NARA.

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Photo of the Day: Revolving Turret Armored Motor Car

Today’s POTD is borrowed from the facebook page of Steven Zaloga.  Here is his description of the vehicle.

Aside from finding obscure Russian half-track armored car drawings, I located a lot of stuff on early US AFVs at NARA over the past few days. Most of it amplifies information on well-known types, but there is an occasional surprise. Here’s the “Revolving Turret Armored Motor Car” offered by Consolidated Motor Corp. to the Army. This seems to be the same vehicle attributed to Federal Motor Truck Co., which should not be a surprise as the individual behind these ventures was the same: C. K. Thomas. One of these was donated to the Armored Motor Battery of the NY National Guard, the first significant armored unit in the US Army which took part in the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916.

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Book Alert: Early US Armor: Tanks 1916–40 (New Vanguard)

It’s a double dose of Steven Zaloga today for those that collect Osprey Books titles.  In addition to his new Duel book on the BT-7 and Pz 38, today also saw the release of his new title in the New Vanguard Series: Early US Armor: Tanks 1916–40 (New Vanguard).  This book follows the same format as other New Vanguard titles, being a softcover of 48 pages.  Illustrations for this book are by Felipe Rodríguez Náñez (aka Felipe Rodna).

Publisher’s Description:

Between the two world wars, the United States contributed significantly to the evolution of the tank, a weapon invented by the British and the French seeking to break through the lines of German trenches. From the employment of the French Renault FT and British Mark V during their involvement in World War I, the United States branched out with its own indigenous designs, including the M1 Cavalry Car and the M2 Light and Medium tanks, the precursors to the Stuart and Grant tanks of World War II. Tank designers in this period faced unique challenges, and the story of early American armor is littered with failures among the successes.

Featuring previously unpublished photos and fully illustrated throughout, Early American Armor (1): Tanks 1916–40 is essential reading for anyone interested in American armor, or in the development of tank design.

Early US Armor: Tanks 1916–40 is available from Amazon here.

Book Alert: Panzer 38(t) vs BT-7: Barbarossa 1941 (Duel)

Osprey books has released a new entry in the Duel Series of softcover books. Panzer 38(t) vs BT-7: Barbarossa 1941 (Duel) by Steven Zaloga takes a look at these two iconic tanks of the early WWII period.  Those familiar with the Duel Series will know what to expect.  This book is 80 pages with plenty of color images and black and white photos.

Publisher’s Description:

The tank battles in the Soviet Union during the summer of 1941 were the largest in World War II, exceeding even the more famous Prokhorovka encounter during the Kursk campaign. Indeed, they were the largest tank battles ever fought.

This book examines two evenly matched competitors in this conflict, the German Panzer 38(t) and the Soviet BT-7. Both were of similar size, armed with guns of comparable firepower, and had foreign roots–the Panzer 38(t) was a Czechoslovak design and the BT-7 was an evolution of the American Christie tank. With full-color artwork and archive and present-day photography, this absorbing study assesses the strengths and limitations of these two types against the wider background of armored doctrine in the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa.

Panzer 38(t) vs BT-7: Barbarossa 1941 is available from Amazon here.

Book Alert: Bazooka vs Panzer: Battle of the Bulge 1944

Osprey books has released a new entry in their Duel Series, this one titled Bazooka vs Panzer: Battle of the Bulge 1944 (Duel) by Steven Zaloga. As the title implies, this book looks at the contest between German armor and US infantry equipped with the M1 Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher, aka, the Bazooka during the December 1944 German offensive. Like the other books in this series, it is a softcover volume of 80 pages with color and black and white photos and illustrations.

Publishers Description:

World War II saw tanks assume a dominant role in warfare, capable of tearing through the enemy lines if left unchecked. To combat the threat posed by these armored behemoths, the United States developed the M1 Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher, better known as the Bazooka. First employed in combat during 1942, the weapon required a great deal of skill and courage to use effectively. By late 1944 it was a mainstay of the US infantry’s anti-tank capabilities, alongside towed weapons, anti-tank grenades, and other longer-established measures.

Focusing on the savage close-quarters fighting between Germany’s armored divisions and the US infantry during the Battle of the Bulge, Steven Zaloga’s absorbing study compares and assesses the strengths and limitations of the cutting-edge technology used by both sides. Featuring specially commissioned full-color artwork and explosive battle reports, this volume casts a new light on the evolving nature of infantry-versus-tank combat in the closing months of World War II.

Bazooka vs Panzer: Battle of the Bulge 1944 is available from Amazon here.