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Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941–45

Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941–45

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Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941–45

3.5/5 (6 ratings)
103 pages
46 minutes
Apr 20, 2013


The titanic armor battles of the Russian Front are widely known, but the role of Germany's eastern allies is not as well known. Two of these countries, Romania and Hungary, manufactured their own tanks as well as purchasing tanks from Germany. These ranged from older, obsolete types such as the PzKpfw 35(t) all the way up to the latest and best German vehicles including the Tiger I and Hetzer. These tanks played a frequent role in the battles in southern Russia and Ukraine and were especially prominent in the disaster at Stalingrad where the Red Army specifically chose the weaker Romanian and Hungarian salients for their critical envelopment operation. This New Vanguard will provide a broad survey of the various and colorful tanks used. Besides covering the largest of these Axis tank forces, this book will cover the many smaller and lesser known forces including the Italian contingent in Russia, the Finnish armored force, and the small but interesting armored forces of the Russian Vlasov (RONA), Croatian, Bulgarian and Slovakian armies. This subject is seeing increasing interest in the modeling world; for example Tamiya recently announced a PzKpfw 35 (t) (suitable for Romanian, Slovak armies) a Finnish StuG III, and a Finnish BT-42.
Apr 20, 2013

About the author

Steven J. Zaloga received his BA in History from Union College and his MA from Columbia University. He has worked as an analyst in the aerospace industry for over three decades, covering missile systems and the international arms trade, and has served with the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federal think tank. He is the author of numerous books on military technology and history, including NVG 294 Allied Tanks in Normandy 1944 and NVG 283 American Guided Missiles of World War II. He currently lives in Maryland, USA.

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Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941–45 - Steven J. Zaloga




During World War II, the Wehrmacht’s eastern allies fielded the equivalent of several armored divisions. These tank formations are little known in the English-speaking world since they fought exclusively on the Russian Front. Although largely forgotten, they are a fascinating subject not only on account of the extremely eclectic collection of tanks used by these armies, but also because of the insight they provide into the troubled relations between Germany and its allies.

During the war against the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945, Germany attempted to recreate an anti-Russian alliance to replace the Kaiser’s Central Powers of the Great War. With the demise of the Austro–Hungarian Empire after World War I, this meant a far more complex set of alliances with the smaller states that had emerged in east-central Europe. Austria and the Czech lands had already been annexed by Germany prior to the start of World War II. So treaties were signed with the states that were reborn from the old Habsburg Empire, including Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, and Slovenia. Countries that had been in the Russian orbit during the Great War such as Romania, Finland, and Bulgaria were also welcomed into the anti-Soviet ranks. The multitude of states drawn into Germany’s new network was not part of a cooperative coalition, but rather were co-belligerents tied to Germany by simple bilateral ties. Indeed some of the countries were still extremely antagonistic because of festering border disputes, most notably Romania and Slovakia versus Hungary.

The participation of these armies in the summer 1941 campaign against the Soviet Union revealed the profound shortcomings of these impoverished armies on the contemporary battlefield. Their armored forces relied on tank types that did not have the durability to withstand long road marches, and far more tanks were lost to mechanical exhaustion than to direct combat. Their tanks had armored protection and firepower typical of European designs of the late 1930s, but they were suddenly confronted by a new generation of Soviet tanks, most notably the T-34 tank, that were impervious to their guns and far better armed. None of these states had the industrial capacity to design and manufacture a new generation of tanks and so their armies were trapped into the continued use of increasingly obsolescent models through 1943.

Germany had a notoriously troubled relationship with its allies during World War II, preferring subservient vassal states to genuine partners. While the diplomatic complexities of these relationships are outside the scope of this book, the alliances shared the common thread of German indifference to the modernization of its allied armies. In contrast to the United States and Soviet Union, which provided a generous supply of weapons to their allies, Germany was reluctant to transfer any tanks to its eastern allies. Even if Germany faced its own shortages of tanks, Finland provided a model of what might have been done. Finland managed to create an armored division almost entirely on the basis of captured Soviet tanks and equipment. Yet the Wehrmacht made no effort to refurbish the thousands of Soviet tanks captured in 1941–42 as a possible armored reserve for its allies, but instead shipped them back to smelters in Germany. This even included modern types such as the T-34 that might have been used to modernize the weakly equipped eastern Axis armies. Berlin also limited the sales of tanks from the Czech plants to Hungary and Romania. German tanks were developed and manufactured by private firms rather than state factories, and Berlin did little to overrule their commercial interests, selling tanks to the allies for hard cash. As a result, Germany’s impoverished eastern allies were equipped with a diverse collection of obsolete tanks acquired in the prewar years from all over Europe, without any benefit of standardization with the Wehrmacht.

A view of a platoon of the Slovak Fast Corps in Ukraine in 1941. The vehicle in the foreground is an LT vz 40 light tank, while those in the background are Skoda LT vz 35s.

The weakness of the Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian armies on the Don Front had not gone unnoticed by the Red Army. During the cataclysmic battles around Stalingrad in November 1942–January 1943, the Soviets targeted their poorly-equipped units with massive tank attacks that crippled their armies and enveloped the German 6.Armee in Stalingrad. It was only after Stalingrad that Berlin consented to significant tank sales to its eastern Axis partners, but by then their armies had been so badly crippled that they offered dwindling defensive value. By 1944, the eastern alliances were crumbling, and one by one the partners began switching sides. Helsinki renounced its alliance in August 1944 and forced the Wehrmacht in Finland to flee north into Norway. Romania switched sides in August 1944 and joined in a military alliance with the Soviet Union, attacking neighboring Hungary. Slovakia broke out in armed insurrection

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  • (4/5)
    A general overview of a wide variety of units equipped with a motley variety of vehicles. Zaloga's main conclusion is that the German government missed an opportunity to equip its client states with captured Soviet equipment (as the Finns managed to do), as opposed to shipping said material off to German smelting plants.
  • (3/5)
    Nice overview of the armored forces of Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Finland, and the small amount of Russians who fought under the Germans. The color plates are excellent and there are some neat photos but there isnt much in the way of text or information. This isnt the authors fault as the Soviet Union seized most of the countries records and photos as they fought their way to Germany and have yet to release them. Good intro though, as in the end it leaves you wanting more, even if there may not be more to be had at this time.