In 1942, careworn Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler lamented to his military intimates at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia, “If I had known that there were so many of them, I would have had second thoughts about invading!”
The “them” he was referring to were the famed Soviet Red Army T-34 battle tanks that had come as such a nasty surprise to the Nazis in the summer of 1941 and then went on to become a major reason for the panzers being halted at the gates of Moscow.
Drs. Matthew Hughes and Chris Mann in their 2002 work The T-34 Russian Battle Tank note, “The presence of the T-34/76 in 1941 proved to be a rude shock for the Germans. Compared to other Soviet tanks, the T-34 was able to take on and destroy the best of the German panzers. In various modifications, and despite some setbacks, the T-34 held its own until the war’s end in the ruins of Berlin in 1945.”
There were also the shocking production numbers to consider. Hitler lamented his decision to invade the vast Soviet Union, but it was too late to reverse his course. During 1939-1945, the Third Reich had produced 19,938 tanks. Even with the best of Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer’s most streamlined methods, the Soviets still outnumbered them, with 53,552 T-34 tanks alone sent from factories to the battlefields of Eastern Europe.
In addition, the Germans had an obsession with more and more unique models, while the Soviets relied mainly on the T-34. Thus, if one of their mobile units broke down, the Nazis might have difficulty in finding spare parts, while the tankers of the Red Army could literally scour any battlefield and find parts for their damaged T-34s. In the end, this was a clear advantage over their “more mechanized” foes.
In Speer’s 1970 memoirs, Inside the Third Reich, there appears this interesting passage: “Very often, directly after one of these conferences, Hitler would lecture his military advisers on the technical knowledge he had just acquired. He loved to present such pieces of information with a casual air, as if the knowledge were his own.