One characteristic of World War Two on the Eastern front was a rapid escalation in the size of armored fighting vehicles.

Let’s take a look at one beast that helped start that race.

When Germany launched its war against the Soviet Union in June of 1941 they expected to just run over poorly led, trained and equipped forces. For a variety of reasons those first two expectations were largely met.  But from that very start, the Germans were dismayed by some of the newer equipment the Red Army had.
This is where readers should expect a long description of the T-34.  But Soviet doctrine required a number of heavier, “breakthrough” tanks too.  Going back to the Spanish Civil War Soviet observers had noted that more armor and bigger guns always seemed to be needed.  They needed tanks that could resist all battlefield portable weapons, and even a step beyond for dealing with fortifications.
During the Winter War against Finland (1939/40) they experimented with three different pre-production versions of these heavy tanks and chose the KV-1 as the best of the bunch.  Its frontal armor was proof against any such battlefield weapon and difficulties were only encountered from very well prepared defenses or flanking movements.
The Germans apparently knew nothing about this until the start of Barbarossa.  Then they were shocked by these tanks that were so resistant to damage.  The best German tanks of the time, Panzer III and Panzer IV, simply could not knock out a KV from the front with their standard guns.  German training and tactics were superior and other explosives could be used from the rear or flank, but only an 88mm gun could take one from the front.
So obviously this led to a scramble to improve German tanks.


Modern Soviet types at the start of the war.  KV-1 was more the ultimate expression of pre-war heavy armor; while the T-34 (foreground) was something much newer.  The KV-1 was really only superior in terms of forward armor protection.


The most numerous German types at the start of Barbarossa were Panzer III (sand colored) and Panzer 38(t) (dark grey).  Obviously both much smaller tanks and not really a good match for the KV.


The Panzer IV became the main German tank in 1942. This improved version with the long barrel 50mm gun was a good match for the KV-1

Meanwhile the Soviets were having some serious problems with their new monster tanks.  This was mostly about mobility and reliability.  The drive train on the KV was a 20 year old Caterpillar design, and the engine was the same as used on the much smaller T-34.  Supposedly crews kept a sledge hammer handy just to change gears in the difficult transmission.  Visibility was poor and crew layout inefficient.  Basically, the KV was twice the size and cost of a T-34 with little or no improvement in effectiveness.
Some improvements were made, but ultimately an all new heavy tank in the “IS” series was introduced later in the war.


The Soviet heavy tank eventually morphed into the IS-2.  About the same size as the KV-1, it utilized more modern technology and was like a BIG T-34.

This particular tank fought at the Battle of Kharkiv, May 1942. This is the Tamiya kit.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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16 Responses to KV-1

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Thank you for that explanation. I don’t know anywhere as much about tanks as I should do. After a year’s Russian at university, I can tell you that the two words on the turret of the KV-1 mean “For (the) Motherland” . Stalin did not hesitate to use any of the old values in the fight against the Germans, things such as the Russian Orthodox Church, Mother Russia and so on.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I’ve heard that. It is sort of funny (darkly) how after persecuting the church and shameless trying to erase Tsarist history he suddenly embraced every bit of history and tradition to play on people’s loyalties. He was the worst sort of political animal. He and Hitler deserved each other.

  2. From what I’ve heard Russian tanks were very solid but were also very basic with an almost primitive construction. This became and advantage in the field with repairs being easier. A sledgehammer makes for a great spanner! It’s a lovely model.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    In the height of my model building I was aware of this one. I never had a desire to build one though. While interesting, yo me it was part of the Soviet brutalist mentality: tank, heavy, 1. The T-34 seemed to escape that to a degree. Their architecture and art didn’t.

    • atcDave says:

      It certainly is a beast! Primitive, clumsy, slow and somewhat unreliable. It’s use of the same 76mm gun as the T-34 makes its added value suspect at best. But for all that, with its thick frontal armor it could serve as a cork in the bottle. There are several accounts of KV-1s blocking whole armored divisions for a while, especially at bridges or natural bottlenecks. Any unit of mostly Panzer III and 38(t) would be incapable of forcing a breach.
      The whole situation is strikingly parallel to the feats of Tigers and King Tigers in the War’s later years.

      I’ve got a KV-2 I’ll build eventually, that has almost comical proportions!

  4. Ernie Davis says:

    I posted this elsewhere, but it really belongs with this model build.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks for posting Ernie, that was terrific!
      Some great footage, much more of it in color than I expected. I think the Tiger comparison is apt. Even to say, I think the KV-1 strategic mobility was very poor. But it sure could dominate a battlefield!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Even the video tacitly admits to the poor overall mobility in that the whole affair was set up as an ambush on very favorable terrain the the Germans couldn’t avoid.

      • atcDave says:

        Kind of has a Michael Wittmann feel to it!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Had to look him up as he didn’t spring immediately to mind. Oddly the same YouTube had a video about Wittmann’s demise.

        Though I assume you are referring to the action at Villers-Bocage rather than the encounter above. I suppose the situation may seem similar in some aspects, though at least from the video Kolobonov (the KV1 commander) had an ambush in mind from the start whereas it seems Wittmann was reacting to an attack as opposed to springing a trap. Wittmann’s actions certainly had a similar effect in that the allied advance, still moving rapidly off the beaches, was largely held in check for some weeks afterward, so I agree that a determined tank commander in a superior (for its role) tank made a big difference.

      • atcDave says:

        Yes, I referenced the battle discussed here in my Firefly post, but prior to this Wittmann had a terrifying reputation. He clearly knew how to exploit the Tiger’s many strengths to the fullest, until, as so often happens, he was caught off guard.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Yes, as I looked him up I saw he had already earned a reputation on the eastern front with nearly 100 kills before the battle at Villers-Bocage appeared to indicate he’d continue to be just as fearsome a commander on the western front

      • atcDave says:

        I do like that it was a Sherman that stopped him!

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