The purpose of the Research & Development centers is to generate weapon designs that effectively accomplish a useful function as defined by the country military doctrine and that have a parity or technological edge compared to those of the enemy . Military history has shown that states with superior weapons can overpower enemy countries that lack them .
During the Russian Campaign, and specifically for the Barbarossa period (1941 to early 1942), Soviet R&D centers proved able to deliver designs of aircraft, tanks, artillery, small arms, and other ancillary equipment that were a match, weapon for weapon, to those of the Germans. This capability takes a decade or more to acquire and given the backwardness of Russia during the First World War, this is another unexpected, but real, example of Soviet foresight and administrative dexterity, despite the unorthodox, many times draconian methods employed.
During the purge of the Soviet military commands starting in 1937, aircraft designers Andrei Tupolev, Vladimir Myasishchev and Vladimir Petlyakov suffered arrest and ended up in a gulag where they continued design work . Others suffered worse fate. How their designs continued to be competitive while working under those circumstances is still unclear.
Soviet T-34 and KV1 tanks had many advantages over the Panzer III and Panzer IV they would have to face, and they were more numerous . The German realized that slopped armor, wide tracks, diesel engine and large caliber main gun were features where those tanks were clearly superior to their own armored vehicles. Tanks are weapon systems and to be effective each sub-system must perform its function effectively. The German Panzer III and IV had better optical sights, radiocommunications and internal organization (the 5-crew in German tanks as compared with 4 in Russian tanks permitted better task execution) making an objective comparison somewhat complicated, but the conclusion that the Soviet medium and heavy tanks were as good as or better than those of their adversaries is reasonable.
The bulk of Soviet armor, composed of the T-26 and BT series tanks armed with 45mm guns , was much less outstanding, but even they compared quite favorably with the Panzer I (armed solely with machine guns), Panzer II (armed with a 20mm gun) and even the Panzer 35(t) and Panzer 38(t) armed with 37mm guns which together amounted to 1.715 tanks or 50% of German armor .
The 120mm mortar and Katyusha rocket projectors were simple artillery pieces that were easily transportable and that had remarkable firepower. They had no equivalent in the German army, who had to work hard to come back with designs of equivalent destructive capacity and versatility. In the case of the 120mm mortar they just copied and adopted it. They Germans also took the hint and developed rocket projectors.
The main Anti-tank (AT) gun of the Germans was the 37mm that proved effective against the bulk of Soviet armor but useless against the T-34 and KV1 (which, however, represented only a small fraction of Soviet armored park in 1941) . The Soviets, for their part, deployed the 45mm AT gun which had similar penetration capabilities and was effective against all German armor. The Russians also deployed in copious quantities the formidable 76.2mm all-purpose gun which could wreak havoc on all German AFV’s.
In the famous 88mm AA gun, the Germans had a better anti-tank gun than any Russian counterpart, although the latter’s 85mm was not far off. But the Russians did not need it in 1941 since the 45mm AT gun was enough to penetrate all German tanks.
The Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle and the German Mauser 98 Carbine were comparable bolt-action weapons, both using a 5-clip magazine. The Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun had superior rate of fire and range than the MP 38 of the Germans, but the German MG 34 (the MG 42 did not enter service until 1942) was somewhat better than the Red Army’s Degtarev DP and Maxim M1910, for their versatility and rate of fire. Overall, Soviet small arms were equivalent.
In the air, the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Me-109F fighter was a class better than the numerous I-16 Polikarpov type 10 and 17 of the VVS thanks to its superior climb ratio and maximum speed, although the latter had the most powerful firepower of a fighter by a wide margin in 1941 . The Me 109F performance was also broadly comparable with the newly introduced Mig-3 and Yak-1 and held a slight advantage against the LaGG-3; it was mechanically more reliable as well. Any Russian fighter was a dangerous enemy against German bombers.
German Ju88 and Ju87 bombers were more accurate striking machines than the Pe-2 and SB-2 fielded by the Soviets, but in the Il-2 the latter had a sturdy workhorse that was superior to German attack planes.
In the case of air warfare, the Germans had a substantive technological edge, in large part thanks to their superior means of communication and control: radars and radios. This amplified the capabilities of their air assets.
After reviewing the full spectrum of weaponry and adding all the minuses and the pluses, we can infer that neither side enjoyed a decisive technological advantage in hardware. This was an unpleasant surprise for the technological savvy Germans that expected a significant lead .
Fortunately for them, this mistaken appreciation did not have a critical negative consequence in the invasion plan outcome.
The Soviets did well by not falling behind.