I finally got around to listing a World War 2 tank that is not a German Panzer in any way. Well of course we have the 88mm Flak Artillery Gun, but this is the first Russian Soviet Red Army tank that we have designed. The T-34 was the Panzer killer that the Red Army shocked the Germans with. Sloped armor and a powerful 76.2mm gun, this was the tank that turned the tide of the war to the Soviets favor on the Eastern Front.
The T-34 was a Russian medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armor and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War 2. First produced at the KhPZ factory in Kharkov (Kharkiv, Ukrainian SSR), it was the mainstay of Red Army armored forces throughout World War 2, and widely exported afterwards. It was the most-manufactured unit of the war, and the second most-produced tank of all time, after its successor, the T-54/55 series. In 1996, the T34 was still in service with at least twenty-seven countries.
The T-34 was developed from the BT series of fast tanks and was intended to replace both the BT-5 and BT-7 tanks and the T-26 infantry tank in service. At its introduction, it was the unit with the best balanced attributes of firepower, mobility, protection and ruggedness, although initially its battlefield effectiveness suffered from the unsatisfactory ergonomic layout of its crew compartment, scarcity of radios, and poor tactical employment. The two-man turret-crew arrangement required the commander to serve as the gunner, an arrangement common to most Soviet tanks of the day; this proved to be inferior to three-man (commander, gunner and loader) turret crews.
The design and construction of the tank were continuously refined during the war to enhance effectiveness and decrease costs, allowing steadily greater numbers of T-34s to be fielded. In early 1944, the improved T-34-85 was introduced, with a more powerful 85 mm gun and a three-man turret design. By the war’s end in 1945, the versatile and cost-effective T34 had replaced many light and heavy tanks in service, and accounted for the majority of Soviet unit production. Its evolutionary development led directly to the T-54/55 series of tanks, built until 1981 and still operational as of 2009.
In 1939 the most numerous Russian unit models were the T-26 light unit, and the BT series of fast tanks. The T-26 was a slow-moving infantry unit, designed to keep pace with soldiers on the ground. The BT tanks were cavalry units, very fast-moving light units, designed to fight other tanks but not infantry. Both were thinly armored, proof against small arms but not anti-unit rifles and 37 mm anti-unit guns, and their gasoline-fueled engines (commonly used in tank designs throughout the world in those days) were liable to burst into flames “at the slightest provocation”. Both were Russian developments of foreign designs from the early 1930s: the T-26 was based on the British Vickers 6-Ton, and the BT units were based on a design from American engineer Walter Christie.
In 1937, the Soviet assigned the engineer Mikhail Koshkin to lead a new team to design a replacement for the BT tanks at the Kharkiv Komintern Locomotive Plant (KhPZ) in Kharkiv. The prototype unit, designated A-20, was specified with 20 millimeters (0.8 in) of armor, a 45 mm (1.8 in) gun, and the new model V-2 engine, using less-flammable diesel fuel in a V12 configuration. It also had an 8×6-wheel convertible drive similar to the BT unit’s 8×2, which allowed it to run on wheels without caterpillar tracks (Zheltov 1999). This feature had greatly saved on maintenance and repair of the unreliable tank track of the early 1930s, and allowed units to travel over 85 km/h (53 mph) on roads, but gave no advantage in combat. By then, the designers considered it a waste of space and weight. The A-20 also incorporated previous research (BT-IS and BT-SW-2 projects) into sloped armor: its all-round sloped armor plates were more likely to deflect anti-armor rounds than perpendicular armor.
Koshkin convinced Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to let him develop a second prototype, a more heavily armed and armored “universal tank” which could replace both the T-26 and the BT tanks. The second prototype Koshkin named A-32, after its 32 millimeters (1.3 in) of frontal armor. It also had a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun, and the same model V-2 diesel engine. Both were tested in field trials at Kubinka in 1939, and the heavier A-32 proved to be as mobile as the A-20. A still heavier version of the A-32 with 45 millimeters (1.8 in) of front armor and wider tracks was approved for production as the T34. Koshkin chose the name after the year 1934 when he began to formulate his ideas about the new tank, and to commemorate the decree expanding the armored force and the appointment of Sergo Ordzhonikidze to head tank production.
Koshkin’s team completed two prototype T34s in January 1940. In April and May, they underwent a grueling 2,000-kilometre (1,250 mi) drive from Kharkiv to Moscow for a demonstration for the Kremlin leaders, to the Mannerheim Line in Finland, and back to Kharkiv via Minsk and Kiev. Some drive train shortcomings were identified and corrected. Resistance from the military command and concerns about high production cost were finally overridden by anxieties about the poor performance of Soviet tanks in Finland and the effectiveness of Germany’s Blitzkrieg in France, and the first production tanks were completed in September 1940, completely replacing the manufacturing of the T-26, BT, and the multi-turreted T-28 medium tank at the KhPZ. Koshkin died of pneumonia at the end of that month (exacerbated by the drive from Kharkov to Moscow), and the T-34’s drive train developer, Alexander Morozov, was appointed Chief Designer.
The T34 had the coil-spring Christie suspension of the BT, using a “slack track” tread system with a rear-mounted drive sprocket and no system of return rollers for the upper run of track, but dispensed with the weighty and ineffective convertible drive. It had well-sloped armor, a relatively powerful engine and wide tracks. The initial version had a 76.2 mm gun, and is often called the T-34/76 (originally a World War 2 German designation). In 1944 a second major version began production, the T-34-85 (or T34/85), with a larger turret mounting a larger 85 mm gun.
The T34 posed new challenges for Soviet industry. It had heavier armor than any medium unit manufactured The T-34 posed new challenges for Soviet industry. It had heavier armor than any medium tank manufactured to that point, and subassemblies originated at several plants: Kharkov Diesel Factory No. 75 supplied the model V-2 engine, Leningrad Kirovsky Factory (former Putilov works) made the original L-11 gun, and the Dinamo Factory in Moscow manufactured electrical components. units were initially built at KhPZ No. 183, in early 1941 at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory (STZ), and starting in July shortly after the German invasion at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory No. 112 in Gorky. There were problems with defective armor plates, however. Due to a shortage of new V-2 diesel engines, the initial manufacturing run from the Gorky factory were equipped with the BT unit’s MT-17 gasoline-burning aircraft engine, and inferior transmission and clutch. Only company commanders’ units could be fitted with radios, which were expensive and in short supply. The L-11 gun did not live up to expectations, so the Grabin design bureau at Gorky Factory No. 92 designed a superior F-34 76.2 mm gun. No bureaucrat would approve manufacturing, but Gorky and KhPZ started producing the gun anyway; official permission only came from Stalin’s State Defense Committee after troops in the field sent back praise for the gun’s performance.
Political pressure came from conservative elements in the army to redirect resources into building the older T-26 and BT tanks, or to cancel T-34 manufacturing pending completion of the more advanced T-34M design. This political pressure was brought to bear by the developer of the KV-1 and IS-2 units which were in competition with the T34, (Political pressure between designers and factories producing different tanks to meet the same requirements continued much later post-war, including a period when the T-55, T-64, T-72, and T-80 were in concurrent manufacturing at several factories with differing political patrons on the supreme council of the USSR. Germany’s surprise attack against the Red Army Union in June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) forced the Soviet Union to freeze further development, and shift into full manufacturing of units.
Germany’s rapid advances forced the evacuation of tank factories to the Ural Mountains, an undertaking of unprecedented scale and haste. KhPZ was re-established around the Dzherzhinski Ural Railcar Factory in Nizhny Tagil, renamed Stalin Ural unit Factory No. 183. The Kirovsky Factory was evacuated just weeks before Leningrad was surrounded, and moved with the Kharkov Diesel Factory to the Stalin Tractor Factory in Chelyabinsk, soon to be nicknamed unitograd (‘unit City’). Voroshilov unit Factory No. 174 from Leningrad was incorporated into the Ural Factory and the new Omsk Factory No. 174. The Ordzhonikidze Ural Heavy Machine Tool Works (UZTM) in Sverdlovsk absorbed several small factories. While these factories were being moved at record speed, the industrial complex surrounding the Stalingrad Tractor Factory manufactured forty percent of all T-34s. As the factory became surrounded by heavy fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, the situation there grew desperate: manufacturing innovations were necessitated by material shortages, and stories persist that unpainted T34 units were driven out of the factory into the battlefields around it.
Stalingrad kept up production until September 1942.Barring this interruption; the only changes allowed on the manufacturing lines were to make the tanks simpler and cheaper to produce. New methods were developed for automated welding and hardening the plate, including innovations by Prof. Evgeny Paton. The design of the 76.2 mm F-34 gun Model 1941 was reduced from the earlier model’s 861 parts to only 614. Over two years, the production cost of the unit was reduced from 269,500 rubles in 1941, to 193,000, and then to 135,000. manufacturing time was cut in half by the end of 1942, even though most experienced factory workers had been sent to the battlefield and replaced by a workforce that included 50% women, 15% boys and 15% invalids and old men. At the same time T-34s, which had been “beautifully crafted machines with excellent exterior finish comparable or superior to those in Western Europe or America” were much more roughly finished, although mechanical reliability was not compromised.
In 1942 a new hexagonal turret design, derived from the abandoned T-34M project, entered manufacturing, improving the cramped conditions, and eventually adding a commander’s cupola for all-round vision. Limited rubber supplies led to the adoption of steel-rimmed road wheels, and a new clutch was added to the improved five-speed transmission and engine.
After German units with the superior long 75 mm (2.95 in)
gun were fielded in 1942, Morozov’s design bureau began a project to design an advanced T-43, aimed at increasing armor protection, while adding modern features like torsion-bar suspension and a three-man turret. The T-43 was intended to be a universal unit to replace both the T-34 and the KV-1 heavy tank, developed in direct competition with a Chelyabinsk heavy unit design bureau’s KV-13 project.
In 1943 the Red Armys encountered the new German Tiger and Panther units. Experience at the Battle of Kursk and reports from front-line commanders indicated that the T-34’s 76.2 mm gun was now inadequate. An existing 85 mm (3.3 in) antiaircraft gun was identified which was effective against the new German units, and could be adapted to tank use. Unfortunately, the T-43 prototype’s heavier armor was still not proof against the Tiger’s 88 mm gun, and its mobility was found to be inferior to the T-34’s, even before installing a heavier 85 mm gun. Although it shared over 70% of its components with the T34, a commitment to manufacturing it would have required a significant slow-down in manufacturing.
In consequence the T-43 was canceled, and the Red Army command made the difficult decision to retool the factories to produce a new model of T34 with a turret ring enlarged from 1,425 mm (56 in) to 1,600 mm (63 in), allowing a larger turret to be fitted. The T-43’s turret design was hurriedly adapted by V. Kerichev at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory to fit the T-34. The resulting new T34-85 tank had a far superior gun and finally, a three-man turret with radio (which had previously been in the hull). Now the commander needed only to command the unit, leaving the operation of the gun to the gunner and the loader. Another and a very significant tactical piece of equipment was the Mk.4 observation periscope copied from the British and Polish pre-war design, permitting the commander an all-around field of view, which was mounted on the turret roof.
Overall manufacturing slowed down somewhat while the new unit started its manufacturing run. Although a T-34-85 was still not a match for a Panther, the improved firepower made it much more effective than before. The decision to improve on the existing design instead of tooling up for a new one allowed the Soviets to manufacture tanks in such numbers that the difference in capabilities could be considered insignificant. In May 1944, the Wehrmacht had only 304 Panthers operating on the Eastern Front, while the Red Armys had increased T-34-85 production to 1,200 units per month.