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T-34 Medium Tank

Carrying the Red Army banner into the streets of Berlin, the T-34 became a symbol of Russian armored might. The T-34 was an outstanding design, combining the attributes of speed, protection, and firepower in a vehicle that was simple for the Soviet arms industry to produce in quantity, and was not beyond the functional and maintenance capabilities of the average Russian soldier.

Until late 1942, the T-34 was capable of defeating all German tanks. The T-34 is an excellent design and a formidable weapon. It emphasizes the ability of the Soviets to design weapons while still dependent on the West for production facilities and basic technical advances. The T-34 was a technologically innovative design which addressed the short-comings of the earlier BT series of wheel/track tank.

Sloping armor was a relatively new concept that allowed for increased protection by presenting a surface that induced deflection of horizontal shot and presented an increased cross section compared to the same thickness of armor.

The T-34 suffered from few problems, though key among these was a four-man crew, which required the commander to serve as gunner as well. Combined with a deficiency in optics when compared to their German opponents, these hampered the T-34 in long-range engagements. Produced in four main variants, the T-34/76 would be the front-line Russian medium tank until late 1943, and constituted a major portion of the Red Armys armored strength throughout the remainder of the war. Over 34,000 T-34/76s were produced between 1941 and 1944.

In 1931 the Russians bought two Christie tanks from the US Wheel Track Layer Corporation in the United States. The Russians copied these, built Christie tanks, and then incorporated the Christie suspension system into the T-34. This was a further development of the T-32 tank. The first Russian Christies had the same engines as the U.S. Christie - a Liberty 12-cylinder V-type of 338 horsepower with forced-water cooling. the T-34 incorporated the Christie suspension from the United States, but generally used a 500-horsepower V-type diesel developed from the German B.M.W. diesel engine.

The T-34 was developed during the 1936-37 period, the prototype was completed in early 1939. The T-34 was nominally accepted for production on 19 December 1939, but Voroshilov had pulled a fast one. He had approved the T-32 for production, but since the T-34 was a new machine, it had to go back and start all over in the acceptance cycle. Their first obstacle was having to build 11 tanks for factory and service testing before full permission was granted for production.

A comparative test was scheduled for Moscow Moscow in March 1940. In one of the truly heroic demonstrations of confidence of all time, Koshkin and a select crew from the Kharkov factory drove from Kharkov to Moscow in twelve days. The two T-34 tanks suffered no major breakdowns, this was in the dead of a very nasty winter. Also present was one of the KV tank prototypes. The competition between the two tanks was never in doubt. On 31 March, a resolution was passed ordering the T-34 into full series production. Mikhail Koshkin died on 26 September 1940 from complications brought on by the case of pneumonia he contracted during the ride through the snow.

In September 1940 T-34 was put into series production mounting a 76mm gun. The T-34 had been put into production and accepted for service before the official trials were completed. The trials were carried out simultaneously with preparation of relevant production facilities at the Kharkiv Locomotive Plant. The T-34 became the most numerous tank of the Second World War, being manufactured at six plants. The tank was continually improved during its production.

In September 1940, the chief of the Main Armored Vehicle Directorate GBTU was replaced with a former BT tanker and critic of the T-34, D.G. Pavlov. Pavlov was pro-T-50 and anti-T-34, and was among those who requested the Kharkov design bureau begin work on an improved T-34 which looked more like the T-50 than anything else. Problems with early T-34s did not help their cause, and the demand grew for the new tank, the T-34M. While factory director Maksarev and the head of the Kharkov Communist Party showed what had been done to improve the new tank, a new directive dated 5 May 1941 concentrated its efforts on forcing them to focus on the T-34M. The beginning of Operation Barbarossa by the Germans on 22 June 1941 stopped the plans cold.

The Model 1940, the first T-34 production variant, was armed with the L-11 76.2 mm gun, which was considerably shorter than the subsequent F-34 76.2 mm main gun of the 1941 and later models. The mantlet was also round in contrast to the more square mantlets of later models.

The welding work on the T-34 was at first immensely crude, but as The Welding Engineer (Dec. 1952) pointed out: "The T-34 was designed with one idea in mind - to provide firepower. Any humanitarian considerations, like protection of the crew, are purely secondary."

The T-34 was superior to the German Pz-III in terms of protection and firepower, but that was all. The Pz-III had a three-man turret with a commander's cupola. Each crewman had an internal communication device at his service. In contrast, the T-34 had a very cramped two-man turret without a commander's cupola. Only the tank commander and the driver had internal communication. The German tank had a very smooth motion and wasn't as noisy as the T-34: moving with maximum speed the Pz-III could be heard from 150-200 metres while the T-34 could be heard from 450-500 metres.

The T-34's main advantage was its simple design which made it easy to mass produce and repair. The T-34 was also small and comparably light, while the tank's water-cooled diesel engine minimized the danger of fire and increased the tank's the radius of action. The T-34 had a more powerful cannon than German tanks, a higher top speed (32 MPH versus 25 MPH), and superior sloped armor and superior welded construction. The design overcame the technological superiority of German forces during the Great Patriotic War.

1940 1941 1942 1943 1944
T-34 (total) 117 3014 12527 15821 14648
Plant number 183 (Kharkiv) 117.
Plant number 183 (N.Tagil) 1560 5684 7466 6583
Plant number 174 (Omsk) 417 1347 2163
Plant number 112 (Sormovo) 173 2584 2962 3619
Kirov (Chelyabinsk) 1055 3594 445
UZTM (Sverdlovsk) 257 452
STZ (Stalingrad)12562520
Built in Ukraine in the Kharkov Steam-Engine Factory (KhPZ), the German general von Runstedt called the T-34 the "best tank in the world" and von Kleist said it was the "finest in the world."

Germany entered the Second World War with an army that was startlingly unprepared to defend against an armored attack. The appearance of the T-34 in 1941 caused a crisis for German antitank forces. Existing antitank guns were nearly impotent against the new Russian tank, while antiaircraft and artillery pieces, though successful when pressed into action, were insufficiently mobile to accompany mechanized forces. The German Army Ordnance Office, the Heereswaffenamt, was responsible for development of new weapons and would be responsible for countering the threat of Russian armor. The Heereswaffenamt would need to not only counter the T-34, but also do so in an environment of shifting political relationships and with an increasingly stressed industrial system.

Utilizing lessons from the bitterly contested battlefields of western Russia, the Heereswaffenamt developed a tank destroyer, the Jagdpazer IV, using the existing chassis of the Panzer IV tank, and the guns of both the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. The Jagdpanzer IV, known by its crews as Guderian's Duck, proved to be a capable tank killer against both the T-34 threat of 1941 and 1942, as well as the improved versions of 1943 and 1944.

The T-34/85 was the T-34 with significantly increased firepower. The German Tiger and Panther tanks outranged the T34's original 76mm gun, and subsequently a 85mm gun was mounted on a T-34 tank. The T-34/85 modification of the T-34 was also equipped with more powerful armor. T-34/85 had a flatter turret which gave this already inovative tank design the look that all tanks adopted after the wars end. Although not equal to the German Panther and Tiger tanks, the huge numbers of T-34s more than compensated for their technological shortcomings.

The T-34M Medium Tank was being developed in order to improve the reliability and operational capabilities of the T-34 tank. Development work on this ceased as the Second World War broke out.

While the T-34 series had performed exceptionally in the war against Nazi Germany, the Soviets considered its leaf spring suspension and 85 millimeter gun to be out-of-date. The T-34 was followed by the improved T-44 and then by the T-54.

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