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Sunday, July 9, 2023

Introducing the Soviet Tank Crews

The Soviet Union started expanding and modernizing its tank forces during the late 1930s in preparation for the potential conflicts ahead.  As the war began and intensified in 1941, the demand for tank crews increased significantly. Tank crews were often formed through a combination of new recruits -factory workers, peasants, students- and individuals with prior military and combat experience who were reassigned or transferred to tank units. Soviet tank crews are also commonly referred to as tankists or tankmen. Soviet Armored units were organized into Companies, Battalions, Brigades, Divisions, Corps, and Armies. Sometimes they also operated as detached Regiments. Units which distinguished themselves in battle could earn the distinction of being designated a 'Guards' unit, as was the case of the 1st Guards Tank Army. Several hundred thousand men passed through the ranks of these units over the course of the war. The Soviet armored units played a critical role in the defeat of the German armies on the eastern front, applying similar tactics of fast and deep encircling attacks as the Germans had used against them. The encirclement of the German 6th army at Stalingrad was a good example of what was to come for the remainder of the war and it marked the high-water mark of the German advance. The Soviet armored units also distinguished themselves during the battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943, which was the largest tank battle in the history of warfare and the last major offensive of the German Army on the eastern front. During this engagement, which lasted about 7 weeks, the Soviet forces lost about 7500 tanks and assault guns and the Germans lost about a third of that. Even though the German losses were numerically smaller, they were much harder to replace and the German Army never regained the initiative. For the rest of the war, the Soviets pushed back the German Army and their armored units were an integral part of their offensive capabilities, all the way to the Battle of Berlin. Soviet tankists wore a distinctive uniform which included a padded helmet made of leather or canvas. The helmet often had ear flaps and a neck curtain for added warmth and protection. They typically wore one-piece coveralls made of thick, flame-resistant fabric and a padded jacket made of quilted fabric or leather for additional insulation and protection. Their specialized leather gloves had reinforced palms and fingers for durability and not only protected their hands but also provided a better grip on the tank controls. Their sturdy leather boots which often featured steel toe caps provided ankle support and protection, and their thick soles provided good traction. Tank crews were also issued gas masks and protective goggles to safeguard against chemical attacks and debris. In terms of plastic toy soldiers, there have been a couple of manufacturers exploring this topic. Among them Engineer Bassevich and Hanomak. Let's take a look at their sets.

Hanomak Soviet Tank Crewmen
Hanomak Soviet Tank Crewmen
This is the counterpart to the German dismounted tank crew. Similarly to that set, these guys are engaged in intense close quarters fighting, except for the guy who is holding his binoculars while his comrades struggle for survival. The poses are fairly decent, depicting the intensity of the moment. The only guy that I don't quite like is the man firing the subMG. His body is too stiff. You would expect him to be crouching slightly, even if only to brace himself from the recoil of his weapon. The detail on these guys is also fairly smooth -few creases on their uniforms, hardly any wrinkles on their faces-, due to the digital sculpting. These guys will join forces with some other dismounted tank men from Engineer Bassevich. 

Hanomak German and Soviet Tank Crewmen fighting
Hanomak German and Soviet Tank Crewmen fighting
Here is a picture of how the Soviet tankist is supposed to be combined with its German counterpart. The German guy has his pistol drawn, while the Soviet guy is about to stab him. Who do you think will prevail? BTW, notice that both men are tankmen, which suggests that these two crews disabled each other's tanks, which would have had to happen at very close range for them to end up fighting hand-to-hand or were part of a larger tank battle and ended up running into each other while evacuating from the battlefield. Neither scenario seems very likely to me, but hey, everything is possible in the world of plastic toy soldiers...

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Tank Crewmen
These two guys came as part of a set which was mostly infantry figures. Their poses are not the most versatile. They'll mainly have to be used for non-combat situations, but then again, they complement the other action poses from Hanomak which are at the other end of the spectrum. The level of detail on these guys is nice and they will look pretty good when painted.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Tank Crewmen - Battle of Berlin
These two guys came with the Battle of Berlin set which had a range of figures from different service branches in fighting poses. I like these two guys quite a bit more and they will be a good addition to the guys from Hanomak. The only tricky thing is that the sculpting of Engineer Bassevich is a bit chunkier compared to Hanomak's slim style. But I actually like the detail on these figures a good deal better. Of all the Soviet tank crew figures, these two are my favorite ones.

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