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Seeds of Post-War Armor

With the war turning decisively in the Soviet Union's favor, the Morozov design bureau began to develop the new T-44 tank, originally codenamed Obiekt 136, which embodied the technical lessons of the wartime tank design effort. Free from the production constraints of the mid-war years, the design represented the first generational break from the T-34. It would form the basis for nearly 20 years of Soviet medium tank production, from the T-44 of 1944 through the T-62 of 1962.

The Obiekt 136 used a turret and gun system virtually identical to that on the T-34-85. The main departure in the design came in the hull. The hull form was extremely simple, its compact size made possible by a radically different transverse engine layout. The powerplant was a derivative of the wartime V-2 diesel that powered the T-34, KV and IS, but mated to a new transmission. The suspension externally resembled the T-34, but internally, torsion bars had replaced the Christie-style spring suspension in order to provide more internal volume. The first trials series of the tank entered production in 1944.

No large-scale production of the tank was undertaken during the Great Patriotic War because of severe teething problems with the design, especially its new powertrain. This tank represented the culmination of Soviet wartime design, with an impressive mixture of design simplicity and high combat effectiveness for a 30-ton tank. It is interesting to note that the Soviets did not feel obliged to match the combat capabilities of the German Panther in terms of firepower or armor, yet were able to come very close in a design that weighed only about 65 percent.

The final heavy tank of the war to appear was the IS-3 Stalin, originally codenamed Kirovets-1. General Nikolai Dukhov of the Chelyabinsk bureau led the design team, with an objective to modify the IS-2 armor layout to be more resistant to the fire from the long 88mm gun on the German Tiger II. One of his engineers had conducted a study on tank vulnerability that concluded that the hits on the turret front were most often the cause of tank loss, followed by hits on the hull front.

As a result, a radical new shape was designed. The turret was a simple hemisphere with a thickly armored gun mantlet faired cleanly into the shape. The hull panels were cleverly laid out to increase their effective thickness to frontal attack by heavily angling them. To accommodate the large turret, the upper hull sides actually sloped inward, a feature hidden by attaching thin metal tool stowage bins along the upper sides. Internally, the IS-3 was essentially similar to the IS-2. It also used the same main gun.

The prototype of the IS-3 was completed in October 1944, and it was accepted for series production in parallel to the IS-2M. Production took place at Chelyabinsk from 1945 and concluded in 1951, by which time about 1,800 had been manufactured. The IS-3 design had been prematurely rushed into production, and the tank was beset with scores of mechanical problems. Large numbers of IS-3 tanks were sidelined with mechanical problems. Also, the welds on the thick armor plates on the front of the hull tended to crack open after service use. As a result, no significant number of IS-3s were ready before the end of the war in Europe.

The IS-3 was first publicly displayed at a victory parade in Berlin on 7 September 1945 which involved 52 IS-3 tanks from the 2nd Guards Tank Army.

The hull and turret configuration of the IS-3 was enormously influential for this sleek simplicity. In the Soviet Union, the shape was adopted on later Soviet medium tanks such as the T-54A and retained as standard until today's T-72B and T-80. In the West, the shape influenced designs such as the American M-48, German Leopard 1 and French AMX-30. Once again, Soviet tank engineering was setting the pace of world tank design due to its innovative design.

There have been repeated reports that several superheavy tanks were under development in the Soviet Union in 1945, including a 150-ton tank. However, none of these designs appear to have progressed beyond paper studies or they remain so secret that they are still not discussed today. Among these designs were reputed to be the Vladimir Lenin VL-1, fitted with a front mounted engine and rear mounted turret.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2019 10:18:22 ZULU