The Germans had assessed the fighting ability of the Russian army as very poor. They had not been impressed with the quality of Soviet equipment they saw when they carved up Poland, nor had the Soviets performed well during the Winter War with Finland. Stalin had systematically shot most of his best military leaders during the pre war purges.
Even as the Wehrmacht swept into Russia there were indications that this was not the complete picture. Russian resistance was fierce even if it was poorly co-ordinated. And Soviet equipment was far from being wholly second rate.
On the 23rd June the 6th Panzer Division met the 2nd Soviet Armoured Division at the Dubissa river. The German commander General Reinhard recalled their surprise:
One hundred of our tanks, about a third of them Panzer IV, occupied their positions against a counter-strike. Part of our forces met the enemy frontally, but most of them were on their flanks. They hit the steel monsters from the three sides, but the attempts to destroy them were unsuccessful. By the contrary, it was our tanks which were knocked out. After a long struggle with the Soviet giants, the German armoured units began to withdraw trying to avoid the annihilation.
One of the KVs got close to a panzer who was stuck in a muddy brook. Without hesitation, the black monster just roll over it, crushing it completely.
Then a German 105 mm howitzer arrived. Its commander, seeing the mass of enemy tanks, ordered continuous firing, but without causing any damage. One of the KVs got close, to within 100m of the howitzer, which fired again, and its shell hit the tank full on. The tanks stopped as if hit by lightning. “We made it!” thought the gunners. “Yes, we made it!!!”, shouted the commander of the position.
But the expresson in their faces suddenly changed when one of them shouted: “It’s moving again!!”. There was no doubt – the shiny caterpillar moved up to the howitzer and crushed it like a toy, then kept on moving as if nothing had happened.
See more Russian images at War is Over.