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Soviet Motor Gunboats of World War II: The Red Army’s ‘River Tanks’ From Stalingrad to Berlin

21 Nov 23

48 pages

Prof Andrew Lambert, Kings College, London

As befits a continental Eurasian land power ruling over vast regions that lacked effective road and rail communications, Russia developed river gunboats to support military operations and protect supply lines. Originally conceived for service in the Far East before 1914, they proved effective on other waterways. The Soviets developed the type into a large fleet of armoured river gunboats, whose primary armament was provided by tank turrets, supported by other army weapons, including Katyusha rockets. Although operated by sailors the ‘river tanks’ were compatible with army logistics, providing mobile firepower and military transport. The type was also deployed on the western border in the wetlands on the Polish-Soviet border, and being rail or even road portable, every navigable river that the Soviets could exploit, along with the coastal waters of the Baltic and Black Seas. This text complements technical analysis and reconstruction drawings with a wealth of operational detail, notably around Stalingrad, the 1944-45 offensives into Germany and finally the invasion of Manchuria. These craft were driven hard, and lost in large numbers, much like their tracked counterparts ashore. Post-war development increased the sophistication and capabilities of the type, it sacrificed their real advantage, they were an expendable asset.