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Soviet Tanks - Inter-War Developments

Floating Tanks
1933T-37A 37.62mm2627
1936T-38 37.62mm1382
1940T-40 512.7mm709
Light tanks
1926T-18 / MS-1637mm959
Wheeled-and-tracked Fast Tank
1932BT-2 1137mm620
1933BT-5 1245mm1884
1935BT-7 / 7A 1445mm5696
1938BT-7M / A-8 1545mm788
Medium tanks
1938T-32 (A-32) 1976mm1
1940T-34 (A-34)2776mm 34975
1943T-43 3476mm1
1951Object 416 24100mm1
Heavy tanks
1933T-355076mm 61
1939SMK [QMS]5576mm1
1940KV-1 4476mm2955
1940KV-2 52152mm52
1941KV-8 /8S 4645mm1395
1942KV-1S 4376mm1233
1943KV-85 4685mm148
1943IS-1 4485mm107
1944IS-2 46122mm3385
Super-Heavy tanks
The first years of existence of the USSR did not have their own tank industry. From time to time production and repair of tank machinery were carried out at various machine-building factories of the country. At the same time, the defense of the country required the equipping of the Red Army with military equipment, including armored vehicles.

An important event in the development of domestic tank construction was the creation of May 6, 1924 in Moscow in the system of the Main Directorate of military industry tank bureau, which in 1926-1929 years was called "The main design bureau Garmato-Arsenal Trust (GKB GAT)." The bureau was tasked with designing combat craft machines and assisting plants in the development of their production. The absence of the GKB GAT production base and the necessary equipment has complicated and restrained the work of this organization.

In connection with this, several machine-building plants, including the Kharkiv locomotive plant named after the Comintern, were commissioned to organize works on tank-building, and in the future, the development of designs of domestic tanks. Such a decision contributed to the availability of the KhPZ organized since 1923 the production of powerful crawler tractors "Kommunar", which was a good production base for development at the plant tank construction.

The official document that determines the beginning of tanks production at the plant was the Resolution of the permanent mobilrada of December 1, 1927, after which the Main Office of the Metal Industry (Letter No. 1159/128 dated January 7, 1928) instructed "... to urgently process the question of the production of tanks and tractors on the KPZ ... "

The Resolution of the Council of Labor and Defense of on 01 August 1931 adopted a so-called "large tank program", which proceeded from the assumption that technological advances in the field of tank development in the Soviet Union "created a strong prerequisites for a fundamental change in the overall operational and tactical doctrine of tank use and demanded drastic organizational changes armored troops towards the creation of higher mechanized units, able to independently solve problems on the field of battle, and throughout the operational depth with temporary combat front".

Soviet tank manufacturing began to grow rapidly in the 1930s and the first member of the development was the T-24 built in 1930. After this placement into service of the T-26 light, the T-27 midget, the T-27, the T-38 midget swimming tank, then the T-28 medium and the T-35 heavy tanks followed one another. The T-34 was the model in the T-series which became World famous.

The Soviet High Command was interested in the production of light wheeled caterpillar tanks. Two Christie tanks were purchased in the US for this purpose, and one was delivered to the Kharkov Locomotive Works. In 1931 BT-2, a light wheeled caterpillar tank based on Christie tank was created at the Works by a group led by N.M. Toskin, a military engineer. Tankmen liked these fast-moving tanks that were affectionately nicknamed "Betushkas". When compared to other tanks, the BTs were more agile, but they were harder to drive.

Early Soviet tank technology was derivative of Western technology. The T-26 infantry support tank was an improved copy of the British Vickers 6-ton light export tank. The BT cavalry exploitation tank was a licensed copy of the American Christie tank. They were both excellent designs for their day, and remarkably, neither of these tanks was produced in quantity in their native countries. The Soviets made important improvements in these designs. Both were fitted with new turrets which permitted them to carry a 45mm tank gun; the Vickers 6-ton had been armed with a short 37mm gun, while the Christie was armed only with machine guns. This Soviet 45mm gun was the best general purpose tank gun in common service in the mid-1930s, firing an excellent antitank projectile that could defeat nearly any existing tank, and also firing a useful high explosive round. Many tank guns of the period did not show similar versatility and could either fire a good antitank projectile or a good high explosive projectile, but not both. For example, contemporary French infantry tanks were armed with a short 37mm gun with little antiarmor capability; the contemporary German PzKpfw I was armed only with two 7.62mm machine guns. These Soviet light tanks continued to be viable weapons well up to the Great Patriotic War.

During the Spanish Civil War, they dominated their German and Italian counterparts; in the fighting with Japan at Lake Khasan in 1938 and Khalkin-Gol in 1939, they completely outclassed their Japanese opponents. The main Soviet advantage in these cases was their superior firepower. This helped establish a trend to adopt tank guns of superior caliber and performance compared with their Western counterparts, a trend that the Soviets have attempted to maintain for nearly 60 years.

By 1936 the Soviet Army had an operational level doctrine and four mechanized corps of almost 600 tanks; each with a complement of mechanized and tank brigades, regiments and battalions ready for employment at the tactical and operational level. Unfortunately, Stalin reversed the trend of operational thinking and design by eliminating most of the Army's senior leaders and leading theorists. Stalin's purge of 1937-1938 eliminated Tukhachevsky, Egorov, Kamenov, Svechin and many others. Moreover, any senior officer who survived distanced himself from their ideas. Stalin's purges could not have come at a worse time for the evolution of operational doctrine in the Soviet Army was at a critical juncture. The tank corps had existed prior to 1937, but were dismantled, their forces parceled out in support of infantry armies.

The General Staff view was that the full potential of tanks had not been displayed in Spain and that the Red Army should continue to pursue plans to use tanks, but on a mass scale, with full artillery support. Georgiy Zhukov's successful use of mechanized formations in his defeat of the Japanese Kwangtung Army at Khalkhin Gol in 1939 further reinforced the advocates' view of armored warfare. The Red Army reorganized its tank force in 1938, enlarging the four mechanized corps and renaming them as tank corps. In addition, many of the scattered tank battalions and regiments were consolidated into twenty-five independent tank brigades. The first Russian heavy tank designed by N.N.Lebedenko was tested near Dmitrov. Soviet designers recognized that the tank needed a variety of firepower immediately available during the attack, so they hung a variety of weapons systems on the tank. The Soviet T-35 heavy tank weighed 50 tons, had an 11-man crew and carried a 76.2mm cannon, two 45mm cannons, and six 7.62mm machine guns. These awesome five-turret monsters were produced from 1936 to 1939, but proved too cumbersome for the battlefield.

From the beginning, the technical problems with heavy multi-turret design precluded the reliable armoring and very soon it became clear that the possibilities of these designs were limited. The Russians had produced a limited quantity of heavy tanks KV-1 and KV-2. About 2400 tanks KV-1 were build in the USSR in 1939-1942. With the weight of 43.5t and armor thickness 30-95 mm it was the biggest contemporary heavy tank in the world.

It was only in the mid-to-late 1920s that the Soviet leadership fully grasped that the next large-scale war in Europe would be a clash of armored vehicles. In 1924, the authorities set up a technical office at the General Directorate of Military Industry, a centralized authority that would run the design, testing and adoption of new tanks into the Red Army. Finally the state got to grips with the task of producing this essential weapon, and work became a national priority.

In 1926 the first three-year Soviet tank building program got under way, although how the "iron horses" would actually be used in combat had still not been thought through. The tank was mainly conceived as a means to support the infantry and this was the task envisaged for the first combat models, due for completion in 1929. Once again, development co-opted features of existing foreign models. During the Polish-Soviet War in 1920, Soviet cavalry had captured an Italian Fiat 3000 tank, which was also based on the very same Renault. The Soviets then took the design further.

The resultant T-18 (MS-1) small escort tank was the first all-Soviet product and looked relatively good for its time. Armed with a 37-mm cannon, carrying 8-mm bulletproof armor and able to move at 10 miles (16 km) an hour, the design was quickly adopted as the core element of the Red Army's tank forces. Around 1,000 T-18s had been built by 1931, but by this stage plans already existed for an upgrade. Despite attempts to extensively modernize the T-18, the limitations of the resultant T-20 showed that the scope for improving on the original Renault design had been exhausted.

But before the Soviet designers really came into their own in the 1930s, there was still one vital chapter of foreign influence to come: American engineer and tank enthusiast John Walter Christie, who was a major source of inspiration. In his work for the US government, Christies various projects had qualitatively changed the understanding of how to build these machines. But while his talents remained largely unrecognized and fulfilled in his homeland, they came to maturity in the Soviet workshops. Christie is best known for developing the Christie suspension system used in a number of World War II tank designs, notably the Soviet BT and T-34 series.

The heavily armored assault gun (tank destroyer) designs fielded by the Soviets during the war, including the SU-85, SU-100. SU-122, ISU-122 and ISU-152, were the selfpropelled artillery of the Soviet Army at that time. The guns were also turned to tank destroyer duties as the case demanded.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:23:04 ZULU