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T-26, BT-7, and other Soviet "AFV" Readiness Rates?

T-26 BT-7 AFV Fodder Readiness Rates Mechnical Reliability Soviet Union Operation Barbarossa Battle of Brody Ariana Grande?

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MercuryBlack #1 Posted Apr 10 2017 - 00:37


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What a T-26 dreams about.

I've been trying to find more information on the state of Soviet AFV forces during the initial phase of Operation Barbarossa. Specifically their operational readiness rates, how degraded their mechanical reliability was initially, and other tidbits relating to the boondoggle that was the Soviet tank forces for the next couple of months.

It's difficult finding hard, and fast numbers for the 'Soviet AFV Fodder'. Unlike more popular tanks like the M4 Sherman, T-34, Panzers 3 & 4, Tiger I, Tiger II, and Panther that all have extremely meticulous documentation on their mechanical reliability, and operational readiness rates. Some of them are catalogued down to the month even.

On the other hand information pertaining to the T-26, and BT-7 is a little harder to come by. Maybe it's because of the horrific defeats the Soviets suffered from in the initial months of conflict that they're not that open about it? Or more probably because they've developed such bad reputations nobody gives a flying bird about them?

Anyways, let's look at some basic primers.

T-26 Light Tank: Backbone of the Red Army1

 As of April 1940, Red Army weapons were categorized at five readiness levels: Category 1 (new, unused); 2 (operational, minor repairs); 3 (medium repair needed at unit or district workshops); 4 (capital overhaul needed at special workshops or factories); 5 (retired for scrapping). In the case of the tank units of the Red Army in the Western military districts in June 1941 that would bear the brunt of the initial fighting, there were 4,875 T-26 tanks, of which 828 were in Category 1, 3,339 in Category 2, and 708 in Category 3 or 4. While this suggests that about 85 percent of the T-26s were new or ready for operation, in fact many of the tanks were sidelined due to a lack of spare parts such as track links, and many others had nearly exhausted their number of engine hours.

That doesn't seem to be so bad... Right? Even if you minus 10 or 15 from a baseline of 85, we're still looking at an initial operational readiness of 70% or more.

T-26 Light Tank: Backbone of the Red Army1

On average, the T-26 tanks in the Western military districts had accumulated 75-100 motor hours; a medium overhaul was required at 150 motor hours. This had debilitating consequences in combat.


Okay now this is starting to add a little more context. If they were already 1/2 to 2/3rds of their way to requiring an overhaul already... Oh. Oh no. OH NO!?

Predictable results as follows,

T-26 Light Tank: Backbone of the Red Army1

The seven mechanized corps of the Southwestern Front in Ukraine conducted road marches averaging 300-365km in the first nine days of combat from June 22 to June 30, using up 35 to 40 motor hours on their tanks, or about a quarter of their engine life. A typical example was the 10th Tank Division, 15th Mechanized Corps, which started the fighting with 27 T-26 tanks (19 gun tanks and eight flamethrower tanks). In three weeks of fighting, it lost 24 of 27 tanks with nine combat losses, three missing, and 12 abandoned due to mechanical breakdowns.


And there she goes. Phrasing it as "debilitating consequences" is way too polite. It directly resulted in Soviet tank forces bleeding vehicles along their axis of retreat or being overrun, and expunged due to the lack of mobility.


8th Mechanized Corps in the June 1941 counteroffensive mounted by the South-Western Front2

Around the second half of June 25, the Corps’ units deployed to the northwest of Brody. During the nearly 500 kilometer march, the Corps lost up to half of its older tanks and a substantial portion of its artillery and anti-tank guns to both enemy air attack and mechanical breakdowns. All of the tanks still in service also required varying degrees of maintenance work and were not capable of operating over long distances. Thus, even before the start of the counteroffensive the Corps found itself in a drastically weakened state.


The largest tank engagement in history at the Battle of Brody tells a similar tale of woe. Where Soviet tank forces after being force marched for 500km had their logistical & organizational structure tails fall to complete pieces.

At this point it, it would be remiss of me not to say that looking operational readiness rates in isolation is not everything, and are not completely indicative of an AFV's mechanical reliability, and is more of a function Operational Logistics + Time for Maintenance = Readiness rates. So when you're in high intensity combat / being force marched for hundreds of miles. Any tank will look bad. It's the same thing when the Wehrmacht was on the backfoot later on in the war, and their own AFV readiness rates look like crap.

Soviet Tank Operations in The Spanish Civil War3

The level of spare parts availability remained chronically low, and the level of technical competence of the burgeoning officer cadres was inadequate. As a result, the technical status of the Soviet tank park reached appalling levels by the time of the war's outbreak in June 1941. The T-26 and BT tanks, which still made up the vast majority of the Red Army tank park, had engine reserves on average of only 75-100 hours and about 29% of all tanks were in need of capital overhaul, that is, factory rebuilding. The result was that in 1941, far more Soviet tanks were lost to mechanical breakdown during road marches than in combat.

Starting off from a baseline of 71% as opposed to 85% is a pretty big difference. Any input or additional sourcing is much appreciated.

At this point it's superfluous browbeating of the poor T-26s, and BT-7s about the appalling state of Soviet Force structure at all levels. From the shocking orders to counterattack from the STAVKA to the feckless indecision on the Operational Level to the desperate elan on the ground. While there had been marked improvements & reforms from The Winter War, in Summer 1941 all the Red Army knew was ignominious defeat. And it's precisely because of that I feel that the T-26 and BT-7 are a little overlooked in the annals of military history.

Which is kind of disappointing because if we only focus on the popular Wehraboo tanks and MBTs we miss out on some really important lessons for those that are interested in Military history and Operational arts.

What actually happened.

Source 1: T-26 Light Tank: Backbone of the Red Army
Source 2: 8th Mechanized Corps in the June 1941 counteroffensive mounted by the South-Western Front
Source 3: Soviet Tank operations in the Spanish Civil War

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