Getting to Grips with Soviet Tank Formations.

Here is a quick trot-through of Soviet tank formations in NQM terms. Remember that these are the authorised strengths. Actual strengths were often much lower, as low as 40%. The main source for this post is Zaloga and Ness’ (1998) Red Army Handbook 1939-1945.

Pre War Tank Corps

(Numbers of NQM models representing 30 tanks, mostly rounded down)

560-600 Tanks (20)

2 Light tank brigades each approx 270 (9)

1 Motor Rifle Machine Gun Brigade (About 3 trucks/cars )

Independent BT Brigade

240 BT (8), 56 Artillery/flame tanks (2), 28 Armoured cars (1), 480 trucks/cars (16)

Independent T-26 Brigade

145 T-26 (5), 56 Artillery/flame tanks (2), 28 Armoured cars (1), 480 trucks/cars (16)

Independent T-26 Brigades were expanded to the same size as BT Brigades as tanks became available

Independent Heavy Brigade

136 T-28 (4), 37 BT (1), 28 Armoured cars (1), 480 trucks/cars (16)

 Independent 5th Tank Brigade (the only one with this orbat)

94 T-35 (3), 44 BT (1), 28 Armoured cars (1), 480 trucks/cars (16)


As the War Broke out, tank corps were disbanded. In June 1940 tank divisions were authorised, two in each of 20 mechanised corps. Tank brigades were authorised, to be formed by handing over surplus T-26s as newer tanks became available for the tank divisions. This never happened though, and more mechanised corps were formed with a larger orbat. Not enough tanks were being built to fill these formations and by June 1941 just over 23,000 tanks existed to fill an orbat of just under 30,000, with the balance being weighted towards light tanks, and a key shortage of nearly 11,000 T-34s and 2,000 KVs. The new mechanised corps were equally unmanageable and badly maintained, the new tank divisions proving not fit for purpose, so by August-September 1941 tank brigades were authorised once more :

Tank Brigade September 1941

7 KVs, (0 – I abstract this to army or front level), 22 T-34s (1), 38 light tanks (1)

By December 1941 this was reduced to 46 tanks (1)

Connaisseurs will have no trouble spotting the origins of the film-style KV mock-ups on the left of the picture below from the real thing on the right. “Not even close” would be high praise indeed, but at least the Cromwell in the centre has two circular vents on its rear deck and a shortened gun!

More Suspicious Substitutes - this time KVs

By March 1942, four tank corps returned to the orbat, each of 2 tank brigades (although it was commoner to find only one brigade in reality) and a motor rifle brigade but no corps artillery, engineers, recce or logistic support. These defects were rapidly remedied , but actual strengths were still lagging behind plans :

Tank Brigade March 1942

20 KVs, (1), 40 T-34s (1), 40 T-60/70 (1)

By the end of 1942 the KVs had been extracted to army level and there were now three tank brigades per corps leaving :

 Tank Brigade Late 1942

32 T-34s (1), 21 T-60/70 (1)

Tank Corps January 1943

98 T-34s (3), 70 T-60/70 (3)

1943 saw the introduction of new additions in the form of the SU-76 and SU-122/152 as a battalion/regiment of 12 vehicles (I extract these to army level) so by November 1943 the tank brigade looked like this :

Tank Brigade November 1943

65 T-34s (2)

Tank Corps January 1944

208 T-34s (6)

On reflection, the corps that I built with (9) T-34s is going to need reducing to (6) or even less. The NQM Eastern Front will only ever need three T-35 models. Bombastia will probably purchase any that are spare!

After much agonising over putting models into the tank corps that were present in quantities of less than 30 such as SP guns, I now just form independent groups of models at army/front level and allocate them to rifle, tank and mechanised corps as required. This works surprisingly well and reflects the Soviet practice of concentrating equipment from reserves when it was needed. It is worth noting that the more numerous mechanised corps had more tanks in them than the tank corps did.



Filed under 15mm Miniatures Wargames, Orbats, tank, WWII

7 responses to “Getting to Grips with Soviet Tank Formations.

  1. It sems I have too many tanks in my units! I guess I’l have to make new formations.


    • That’s the spirit!

      It is, what the Soviets did in the first two years of the war. Between April and September 1942 they raised 25 tank corps, few of which had their full allocation of support units (Zaloga and Ness, 1998). Additionally the Soviets would raise a unit then run it into the ground in combat. I am still unsure if this practice continued to the end of the war, even when they were concentrating more on keeping units such as guards units up to strength.

      At the moment, I’m adding more plastic infantry to my existing units, and raising new ones to spread my existing armour more thinly.

      Kind regards, Chris


  2. Mike

    So, since there were so few KV’s, do you even use something like a KV-2 ? It would be a shame not to have at least a couple considering what a cool tank they are – least I think so. Our group calls them moving bank vaults.


    • Good question Mike,

      Zaloga and Ness give 334 KV-2s being built Soviet Army Handbook 1939-1945 (p.165), so there are (10) models somewhere in the orbat in the NQM universe-let. I would be inclined to field them at front level as single models. They were mostly all destroyed in the early fighting of 1941.

      I think you would be justified counting them as extra heavy, which means that in 1941 the only thing in the German inventory capable of taking them out would be 88mms.

      Kind regards, Chris


  3. yesthatphil

    All that said, Chris, I can’t see anyone having 16 trucks to 5 tanks and 1 armoured car in those prewar Independent Tank formations (divide it again by 4 and you might be getting towards something more realistic) …


    • Fair point Phil, but the ratio was 16:11 and 16:8 if you compare blunt ratios and my guess is that as the armour gaps in the orbat expanded, so would the softskin component. That said, a 2:1 ratio is not unreasonable; even in pared-to-the-bone armies like the Soviets the transport columns between the railheads and frontline echelons were prodigious.

      I think the issue is more one of how many trucks do you actually want to model. Even my truckophylic tendencies have never stretched to putting all the rear echelons onto the table.

      As to your point “how many trucks were there?” I don’t know, as all the books that I’ve read have nothing much to say on the subject, even van Creveld (1977) Supplying War. He concentrates on the Germans, concludes that they undercooked it, and implies that the Soviets were worse off until the Americans started supplying trucks in ’43 to make the offensives into Germany possible.

      I’ll put something together to see where they were all hiding :O)


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