One Rifle for Two & Swords on Tanks: The Most Crazy Myths About the Red Army of 1941

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The website of the TV channel “Tvzvezda” has published a series of articles on the great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 by writer Leonid Maslovsky, based on his book “Russkaya Pravda”, published in 2011.

In his opinion articles, Maslovsky reveals “the myths of the imaginary foe, Russia, and the events of the great Patriotic war, showing the greatness of our Victory.” The author notes that in his articles he is going to “show the US’ unhelpful role in West Germany’s preparations for war with the USSR”.

Soldiers of the Wehrmacht are in gray uniform with their sleeves rolled up, with the advantage of walking on our land, and more often than not – sitting in a car or motorcycle with a “MP-40” gun. Soviet soldiers are often portrayed wearing a soldier’s overcoat, walking with a trilinear rifle with a bayonet. The horses in the Wehrmacht seems to be just some native wild ones. These images do not correspond to the reality of the time, but they dominate the minds of people. In fact, Wehrmacht soldiers went on foot, armed with a rifle. Fully motorized division was only a small part of the German army.

In the German army, horses moved all the guns of the artillery regiment infantry division. Only in the Wehrmacht in 1941 did they have in excess of one million horses, 88% of which were in infantry divisions. The Red Army at that time was motorized to a greater extent. Infantry divisions of the Red army artillery regiment had two artillery regiments, one for mechanical traction and the other for horse-drawn. The regiment of the mechanical traction forces used “STZ-NATI”, “S-65 stalinetz” and “T-20 Komsomolets” tractors, amongst freight cars and other equipment.

Our military jokingly called submachine guns a weapon for gangsters or “police” weapons. The Germans also thought so and spoke clearly: “The gun is unsuitable for a fire fight at ranges exceeding 200 meters”, but in order to win the battle in 1941 it was necessary to hit the enemy, starting at 400 meters, so our army was equipped with guns, machine guns in limited quantities as a melee weapon. The same thing must be said about the German army.


The attitude towards the submachine gun had not changed in the German army in early 1943: at Stalingrad, surrounded by the army, Paulus was captured by the troops of the don front, commanded by Rokossovsky, with other weapons, including 156,987 rifles and just over 10,000 machine guns. In the Soviet divisions, to meet the German invasion at the border, submachine guns were used quite a lot, and self-loading rifles more than SMGs.

A great achievement of Soviet designers, V.G Fedorov, V.A Degtyarev, S.G Simonov and F.V Tokarev, was the development of semi-automatic rifles. The production of self-loading rifles of Tokarev’s and Simonov’s design was constant. Before the war, the Red Army received the world’s best automatic weapon, many times superior to the submachine guns, more than 1.5 million self-loading rifles.

It should be noted that our self-loading rifle “SVT” was more superior to similar small arms of the Wehrmacht and did not yield to the self-loading rifles of the US. After the war, the self-loading rifle was the most common small armament in NATO countries.


During the war we lacked funds for the production of self-loading rifles. The German mass production of self-loading rifles was also “unaffordable”. And only the US had the opportunity to produce self-loading rifles in mass quantities.

The Red Army, instead of self-loading rifles, started to supply more submachine and machine guns. You must take into account the fact that mass trench warfare had ended, and had generally decreased the value of small arms of the infantryman in the Great War, and, already having the opportunity, the industry of the USSR did not resume production of self-loading rifles. In my opinion, it was the right decision, as it was more appropriate to use the money to produce guns, tanks and planes.

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One of the recent cases of the massive use of self-loading rifles is the defense of Tula in autumn 1941. “SVT” was produced at the Tula arms factory, including the automatic version, and was immediately given to troops defending the city.

One of the German prisoners of war, captured near Tula, with widened eyes said: “We did not expect that the Russians will be armed with machine guns”.

A.V Isaev wrote: “The Tokarev self-loading rifle remained an almost forgotten legend. Only occasionally glimpses on TV of the soldiers of the “Asian tigers” and the black soldiers of another “liberation front” with shiny clean (self-loading rifle) “FN FAL” served as a reminder of what could happen if the war is postponed”.

Those who say that in the beginning of the war our army did not have a sufficient number of automatic firearms are mistaken. The Red Army had more automatic weapons than the Germans, and with better combat characteristics.


We produced not only excellent automatic small arms, but also wonderful carbines, sniper rifles, pistols and the world’s best rifle Mosin model 1891/1930. Some researchers called the lack of anti-tank guns in the Red Army on 22.06.1941 almost a disaster. Such opinions appeared after the undeserved glorification of guns in movies, with malicious intent to rob us of the truth about our wonderful artillery – as was said in 1945 at the Victory Parade on Red Square in Moscow: “The best artillery in the world.” Before the attack on the USSR in 1941, the Germans were armed with anti-tank guns. Our army start to get them after the outbreak of war in August 1941. This can be explained only by the fact that we had surpassed Germany in the number of guns.

It was namely our guns, not the anti-tank guns that halted the German tanks at Moscow and Leningrad in 1941. 76-mm guns and 85-mm anti-aircraft guns from the air defense of Moscow struck any German tank at a distance of over 1000 meters.

Rokossovsky wrote: “To honor the higher officers, who headed the artillery of the Soviet Army, I must say that our artillery, in quality, in terms of training of officers and all personnel was much higher than the artillery of all armies of the capitalist countries. And it proved this throughout the great Patriotic war. Starting with the first fights, the main means of combating enemy tanks, suppressing their weight and mobility, were, above all, artillery. It covered herself in unfading glory in the battle of Moscow”.

At the same time we should note that it’s better for infantry to have a not as effective anti-tank gun in comparison with a greater capacity one, than not to have one at all.


But war is war, and it is not always possible to anticipate where the tanks will break through the enemy, and it is impossible for each direction to supply anti-tank artillery battery. But the possibility of anti-tank guns, as well as the German Panzerfaust, are greatly exaggerated. Rifle vs tank – it’s like a bayonet against a tank in close combat. Anti-gun, of course, could destroy an armored personnel carrier and even a tank, it is possible to use, for any purpose, even on airplanes, but it cannot be labelled as an effective weapon against tanks. It is not an effective weapon against tanks as German bazookas, produced by the Germans in the amount of 8 million pieces.

Hitler did not spare his soldiers, who had almost no chances of survival, joining the fight with bazookas against the tanks, who had to fire the bazookas from 30 to 50 meters. Anti-tank guns can hit a tank at ranges up to 500 meters. Even in street fighting against tanks, bazookas accounted for losses at the huge amount of not more than 10% of the total losses, and in the field, such losses were insignificant.

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But in 1941, our tanks were not threatened by bazookas, as the Germans first models came in 1943, and they were massively used in 1945.

Regarding the so-called grenade launcher, A. V. Isaev wrote the following: “The words “rocket-propelled grenade launcher” puts something into the imagination at lightning speed like “RPG-7”: a pipe on the shoulder of a soldier and a cumulative grenade. However, this design in the 1930’s was simply not possible. Developments were in a completely different area.

37-mm dynamo-reactive cannon were inferior in penetrating armor, and ordinary 45-mm guns did not  reliably defeat the main tanks of potential opponents. The role of repression in the history of Dynamo-reactive cannon should not be exaggerated. Indeed, L.V Kurchevsky was arrested in 1937 and released in 1939. But his guns were adopted and even produced in small series. The main reason for rejecting them were their low technical performance, reliability and armour-piercing ability”.


Tukhachevsky and Kurchevskoy called for financing of the design and manufacture of Dynamo-reactive cannons only. In making their proposals to the Soviet government, our army would be left without anti-tank artillery. V.G Grabin wrote about how he worked to overcome the objection of Tukhachevsky and submit for commission the legendary 76-mm gun, one of the best cannons of the great Patriotic war. Some believe that the cause of our defeats in the first period of the war was a misunderstanding by the Red Army in the essence of modern warfare, which was expressed in the composition of the cavalry divisions. Those divisions were supposedly thrown on the tanks by our commanders, causing senseless death of people and horses. This is simply not true.

The bottom line is that the cavalry did not fight with swords, and rifles, machine guns, grenades, mortars, and often they advanced together with the tanks as a movable unit, but the battle was fought nevertheless without swords and small arms. Battle horses, as a rule, were taken to a shelter, and cavalrymen fought as infantry. Following regulations, an offensive with drawn swords was allowed against  not so well-armed enemies, and many cavalrymen went through the war having never participated in an offensive with drawn swords. A flexible cavalry unit had the advantage over tanks, cars, armored personnel carriers and motorcycles as the movement required no diesel fuel, no gasoline, no roads.

Cavalry corps were the most stable compounds of the Red Army in 1941. Unlike mechanized corps, they were able to survive endless deviations and environments in 1941. The cavalry successfully fought in 1945, having all kinds of weapons in its ranks, including hundreds of tanks. Despite being behind the Wehrmacht in the number of vehicles, the Red Army to some degree had compensated with the cavalry. Cavalry, as a movable unit, was necessary on the defence, for example, eliminating the breakthrough of a front, counterattacks, quick withdrawal of the troops under threat, and on the offensive.

The Cavalry of the Red Army was the most beautiful branch of service. Look at our handsome cavalry on our Bay with white markings on their faces, tall, strong and graceful horses of Budenny breed, and your heart will be filled with joy from seeing the beauty and the pride brought before the eyes from the Russian prowess and strength.

What about the Germans? Had they cavalry or not? They had it. Pure cavalry units existed in every German division. In addition, in the Wehrmacht at the time of the attack on the USSR, there was one cavalry division. During the war, the Germans gradually increased the number of cavalry units.

Many accuse the Red Army of constantly seeking to counterattack, instead of creating and maintaining a deep defense. Authors who write this know nothing about military affairs. Defense, yes, even on a front of several thousand kilometres (during the war the length of the front ranged from 2.2 to 6 thousand km with a depth of the territory covered by the fighting, up to 2.5 thousand kilometers or more) can lead only to disastrous defeat.

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“The defense strategy is like death, especially when the division accounts for less than 4-8 kilometer strip along the front (the width of the area of defense) and a depth of 4 to 6 kilometers. It is hoped to hold the defense on the strip on the front 8 to 12 kilometers per division. Whatever you do, the lower density of troops will lead to a breakthrough”, experts say.

The defending army is passively waiting for a blow. It is very difficult to predict where the enemy will strike the main blow. And the blow is usually inflicted in the place where it was not expected. If the direction of the main attack of the enemy is able to concentrate their forces 3-10 times superior to the forces of the defending side and, of course, strike with superior force, no defense will remain standing.

Our military leaders, of course, understood this, but they didn’t have the strength and sufficient means to capture the strategic initiative, and they were forced to defend themselves with limited counterattacks. All countries, from the more or less large European countries, including Poland, France, England and even Finland had offensive military plans. The USSR also had offensive plans, including in the event of war with Germany. But the word “offensive” in no case meant that the USSR planned to attack, to commit aggression.

Plans were provided for the operation of the armed forces of the country in case of an enemy attack. We were unable to implement this plan, but the Red Army at the first opportunity counterattacked. M. Glants wrote the following about the Soviet counterattacks in 1941: “On the other hand, the continuous and irrational, often useless Soviet offensive imperceptibly destroyed the fighting force of German troops, causing the loss that led Hitler to change his strategy and, ultimately, created the conditions for the defeat of the Wehrmacht outside Moscow. Those Soviet officers and soldiers who survived their (offensive), a serious and costly baptism of fire, ultimately, used their quick learning to apply terrible losses to their tormentors”.

That is, Glants recognizes that our attacks were efficient, and brought us useful results.

Our military commanders are often professionally portrayed as being unprepared. Explain, in particular, the fact that the higher command positions in the military were appointed to those who distinguished themselves in battle in Spain, Khalkhin-Gol, in Finland, regardless of their lack of experience and relevant abilities. The question naturally arises: “Why should we appoint to leadership positions those who have done nothing to prove themselves, who have been trapped in the lower ranks of the officers, not officers who risked their lives, distinguished themselves in battle as heroes?”

As history has shown, the USSR won the war because they had hundreds of thousands of intelligent production managers and generals. It was a very correct assessment of human abilities. And in Russia  there were  hundreds of thousands capable of great leadership, and creative work of the people. This is confirmed by the whole history of the prewar, war and postwar time. The history of great achievements and victories, and no country in the world has a hundredth of this. We, more than anyone on earth, through work and combat, have earned the right to walk with our heads held high. But many Russian citizens are ashamed of their history and are tied in a knot in front of the “enlightened” West.

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