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T-34 Medium Tank (1940)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 4/8/2014

No tank affected the outcome of World War 2 as much as the production of the Soviet T-34 series.

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To Red Army authorities, it was becoming painfully clear that the BT series of "fast tanks" was not the long term answer for Soviet armored forces. The tank was lightly armored and lightly armed while still intended to tackle enemy armor at range. These vehicles all but lacked the facilities from which to accomplish the role effectively, particularly on the modernizing battlefield of the late 1930s. The BT marks featured a rather novel track design which allowed them to run on bare wheels as needed, a quality that added little to their war-making prowess but was admired by Soviet authorities for its multi-faceted nature. In 1937, the Soviet Army officially requested its official replacement and this began development of a new type of frontline combat tank based on the BT-IS "proof-of-concept" vehicles. Engineers put forth several pilot vehicles, each with progressively thicker and sloped armor protection and greater armament and based on a further evolved form of the BT fast tank series. A new diesel-fueled engine - the Model V-2 12-cylinder - was developed and this particular addition proved a departure from the gasoline-fueled powerpacks utilized in the BT series which held a propensity to explode into flames when hit. The ultimate revision - the A-34 - was accepted for service as the T-34 Medium Tank. Early production forms of 1940 were armed with the 76.2mm L-11 series main gun which eventually gave way to the F-32 and, ultimately, the excellent F-34 series of 76.2mm guns. The use of heavily sloped armor for ballistics protection was rather forward-thinking for the time.

The T-34 is Born

Production of the T-34 was quickly ushered in particularly after the massive failings of Soviet armor in the Winter War against neighboring Finland (1939-1940). However, short supplies of the new engine and radio sets saw early T-34 forms fitted with inferior Mikulin M-17 powerplants of the BT tanks and radio sets were distributed solely to "command tanks". T-34 tankers were then trained to rely on rather primitive battlefield signals presented through specialized flag movements, requiring that accompanying tanks had to be within visual range of one another - reminiscent of ancient warfare to an extent.

T-34 Walk-Around

The T-34 entry in to service in 1940 brought about immediate consideration as the most combat capable tank in the world. The vehicle was the perfect balance of speed, firepower and armor protection - three key assets of any successful tank design, even those being developed today. The vehicle weighed in at 26 tons and managed a running length of 22 feet with a width of 10 feet and height of 8 feet. The 76.2mm main armament was augmented by a coaxial 7.62mm DT machine gun and a bow-mounted 7.62mm machine gun in the hull - both to serve as anti-infantry defense. Once stocks of the intended engine were available, power was mainly derived from the Model V-2 diesel-fueled 12-cylinder engine developing 500 horsepower. This promoted a top speed of 33 miles per hour on ideal surfaces and an operational range of 250 miles before refueling. The chassis was suspended atop a coil-spring Christie-based suspension system which presented excellent cross-country performance. Key to the success of the T-34 would be its implementation of heavily sloped, thick armor facings - particularly at the glacis plate, turret and along the hull sides. The turret itself was purposely small in dimension to promote a squat target when viewed in profile. The five large road wheels and wide tracks would serve the type well when traversing the soft terrains of Central and Eastern Europe in the battles to follow. Crew accommodations amounted to four personnel made up of the driver, commander/loader, gunner and bow-machine gunner. Note that the commander doubled as his own loader in these early T-34 forms - this arrangement necessitated by the cramped conditions of the small turret. Conversely, Western tanks in Britain, America and Germany largely relied on a five-man crew for increased efficiency.

Germany Invades the Soviet Union

In June of 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union under "Operation Barbarossa" - Hitler's grand scheme to overtake the communists in the East. The campaign would be a short affair and a sweet victory for the German peoples in much the same way that Poland, France and Low Countries were in the year and months prior. While initial gains were deemed excellent, the Soviet winter delayed the inevitable take-over of Moscow proper. This allowed the Red Army time to regroup its remainder, reform its forces and establish new production facilities in the Urals to the East. While introduced in the fall of 1940, T-34 tanker training did not begin until the spring of 1941.

T-34 Limitations

In the initial fighting, German tankers and anti-tank teams were horrified to find their 37mm "tank-killing" armor-piercing shells "bouncing off" the thick hull and turrets of the approaching T-34s. However, the Soviet response was made less effective through use of ill-trained tanker crews, outdated armored warfare doctrine and discombobulated responses. At the time of the invasion, the Soviet Army was still settling its new armored groups which added to the dismay. Training was being done without T-34 tanks which did not help matters. Additionally, T-34s suffered high rates of mechanical breakdowns in the field (mainly due to ill-experienced drivers) allowing fate to claim more of these tanks than any one German weapon. Only 1,000 to 1,200 (sources vary and Soviet records were non-existent) T-34s were available at the time of the German invasion and these were spread thin overall and concentrated along certain fronts - placing the odds squarely in the favor of the German Army as these numbers were too few to make an concerted impact. Perhaps as few as 150 tankers were actually properly trained in the use of their T-34s. Others saw experience in the completely unrelated T-26 light tank series. There were, however, few early instances when T-34s, if utilized properly and backed by KV-1 heavy tanks, saw success when employing "German-like" armored warfare doctrine.

To add insult to injury, working conditions for T-34 tankers were highly basic and the use of flag signals was cumbersome and downright deadly to the commander and tank alike. Early T-34 forms utilized a single heavy hatch on the turret roof which tankers loathed. Vision out of the tank was poor at best and gunnery sighting equipment was outmatched by the finesse tools used by the Germans on the other end. Disruption of key T-34 production facilities only added to poor expediencies being initiated when relocated manufacturing lines settled - resulting in less than perfect quality control levels.

When operated efficiently and effectively and under strong command and in numbers, there was no modern match for the new Soviet T-34 in the early phases of the war. Panzer light tanks I and II were wholly outclassed and Panzer III and Panzer IV series vehicles simply could not penetrate the T-34's thick frontal armor while their own protection was left wanting. On the other side, the inherently strong penetrative capabilities of the Soviet 76.2mm main gun (particularly after the switch to the F-34 gun) were proven and developments were forwarded on the part of the Germans to develop their own counter. For as crude as the T-34 was, it was an efficient weapon and, when available in number, would present a major obstacle for the invading Germans. By the end of 1941, 2,810 T-34s were available to fight.

T-34/76 Production Marks

Variants abounded along the T-34 production line. The initial mark was the T-34 Model 1934 (T-34/76A) which fired the 76.2mm L-11 main gun from a two-man cast or welded turret. These were given the inferior BT fast tank MT-17 gasoline fueled engines due to shortages of the intended powerpack. Then followed the T-34 Model 1941 (T-34/76B) and these featured the much improved 76.2mm F-34 tank guns in a cast or welded turret. The T-34 Model 1941 (T-34/76C) appeared in 1942 and saw its armor protection increased. New road wheels and tracks were introduced as was a revised driver's hatch. A large portion of these tanks sported cast turrets. The T-34 Model 1942 (T-34/76D) appeared in May of 1942 onwards and brought about the first use of the hexagonal turret with twin roof hatches. The T-34/76E was similar in scope and given a new commander's cupola. The T-34/76F then followed with a rounded turret design due to differences in production origination.

The T-34/57 was nothing more than the T-34/76 with the ZiS-4 57mm anti-tank gun fitted as ad hoc tank killers. Thought of larger caliber, the 57mm weapon held better penetration values against enemy tanks. These vehicles were primarily utilized for the defense of Moscow after substantial German gains in the offensive prior and appeared very much like the basic T-34 tanks. The ZiS-4 gun was based on the earlier ZiS-2 series system. Some 42 T-34/57 tanks are believed to have been produced and this out of STZ and Plant No. 183 factories beginning in September of 1941.

The OT-34 was a slightly modified T-34/76 with its bow-mounted machine gun removed. In its place was a flamethrower though these tanks differed little from the basic combat-oriented tanks.

The T-34M was an early short-lived T-34 prototype featuring torsion bar suspension (over that of the original's Christie). New road wheels, improved ranges and ammunition totals as well as a three-man turret of hexagonal design was introduced. Unfortunately, the design was abandoned after the German invasion of the Soviet Union.


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Specifications for the
T-34
Medium Tank


Country of Origin: Soviet Union
Manufacturer: State Factories - Soviet Union / Poland / Czechoslovakia / China
Initial Year of Service: 1940
Production: 84,070


Focus Model: T-34/76
Crew: 4


Overall Length: 19.42ft (5.92m)
Width: 9.84ft (3.00m)
Height: 8.01ft (2.44m)
Weight: 30.9 US Short Tons (28,000kg; 61,729lbs)


Powerplant: 1 x Model V-2-34 12-cylinder diesel engine generating 500 horsepower.


Maximum Speed: 32mph (51.5 km/h)
Maximum Range: 188 miles (302 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: Driver only (post-war)


Armament:
EARLY (T-34-76):
1 x 76.2mm L-11 / F-34 main gun
1 x 7.62mm DT MG machine gun in coaxial mount
1 x 7.62mm FT machine gun in hull bow

LATE (T-34-85):
1 x 85mm D-5T / ZiS-S-53 main gun
1 x 7.62mm DT MG machine gun in coaxial mount
1 x 7.62mm DT machine gun in hull bow


Ammunition:
77 x 76.2mm projectiles (T-34/76)
55 x 85mm projectiles (T-34/85)
2,394 x 7.62mm ammunition


Variants:
T-34 Model 1940 (T-34-76A) - Initial production model appearing in 1940; fitted with L-1 76.2mm main gun; welded or cast turret construction; two-man turret; MT-17 gasoline engines; Christie-based suspension system.


T-34 Model 1941 (T-34-76B) - Appearing in 1941; cast or welded turrets; improved armor protection; F-34 76.2mm main gun.

T-34 Model 1941 (T-34-76C) - Appearing in 1942; improved armor protection; new wheel and track design; primarily cast turret construction; revised driver's hatch.

T-34 Model 1942 (T-34-76D) - Cast or pressed hexagonal turret

T-34 Model 1942 (T-34-76E) - Cast or pressed hexagonal turret; new commander's cupola.

T-34 Model 1942 (T-34-76F) - Forged turrets from Uralmash and Chelyabinsk factories

T-34/57 - Limited production T-34 fitted with ZiS-4 L/37 57mm anti-tank gun.

OT-34 - Flame projecting tank; bow-mounted machine gun replaced with flamethrower (ATO-41 or ATO-42 depending on model year).

T-34M - Prototype T-34; hexagonal three-man turret; increased armor protection; increased range; increased ammunition stowage; torsion bar suspension system; no large-scale production ordered.

T-34-85 Model 1943 - Appearing in 1944; fitted with 85mm D-5T main gun; enlarged three-man cast turret assembly; commander's cupola implemented on turret roof; pair of bulbous ventilator hatches seen on turret roof rear.

T-34-85 Model 1944 - Appearing in 1944; fitted with 85mm ZiS-S-53 main gun; radio set relocated from hull to turret; relocated commander's cupola further rearwards; new gun sight.

T-34-85 Model 1945 - Appearing in late 1944; larger commander's cupola; single-piece roof hatch; electrically-powered turret assembly; revised track fenders; self-generated electrically-induced smoke system.

T-34-85 Model 1946 - Appearing in 1946; fitted with improved Model V-2-34M series diesel engine; new road wheels introduced; subtle refinements throughout.

T-34-85 Model 1960 - Modernized T-34; fitted with Model V-2-3411 diesel engines; smoke dischargers; infrared headlamp; improved radio sets; new air cleaner and generator.

T-34-85 Model 1969 / T-34-85M - Modernized T-34; new radio sets; new road wheels; improved transmission systems; nightvision for driver; external fuel tank support; anti-ditching device under rear hull.

OT-34-85 - Flame projecting tank variant; bow-mounted machine gun replaced with ATO-42 flamethrower.

SU-85 - Tank Destroyer based on the chassis of the T-34; fitted with 85mm D-5T main gun.

SU-100 - Tank Destroyer based on the chassis of the T-34; fitted with 100mm D-10S main gun.

SU-122 - Self-Propelled Artillery System based on the chassis of the T-34; fitted with 122mm M-30S main gun.

PT-34 - Mine Roller

T-34-T / TT34 - Improvised Armored Recovery Vehicle

SPK-5 - Battlefield Engineering Vehicle sans turret of T-34; appearing in 1955

SPK-5 / SPK-10M - Electroc-hydraulically-powered crane

T-34-TO - Battlefield Maintenance Vehicle on the T-34 chassis

T-34-85CZ / T36 - Czechoslovakian license-production T-34-85

MT-34 - Czechoslovakian Bridgelayer

VT-34 - Czechoslovakian Armored Recovery Vehicle

T-100 / T-34-100 - Egyptian tank destroyer based on the T-34; fitted with 100mm BS-3 anti-tank gun.

T-122 / T-34-122 - Egyptian self-propelled gun based on the T-34; fitted with 122mm D-30 howitzer.

Flakpanzer T-34 - German Army designation of single T-34 example converted for use as a mobile flak gun fitting the 20mm FlaK 38 series weapon.

Type 58 - Chinese T-34-85 production model

Type 58(59) - Chinese T-34-85 with Type 59 tank sights

Type 58-I - Chinese improved Type 58 with revised commander's hatch; provision for heavy machine gun on turret roof.

Type 58-II - Chinese improved Type 58 with additional turret cupola; provision for 2 x heavy machine guns on turret roof.

Type 63 - Chinese self-propelled anti-aircraft gun based on the Type 58 tank; fitting 2 x 37mm Type 63 weapons.

T-34085M1 - Polish upgraded T-34-85; new road wheels

T-34-85M2 - Polish upgraded T-34-85; amphibious kit; additional onboard storage

CW-34 - Polish support vehicle

WPT-34 - Polish engineering vehicle

T-34/55 - Syrian modernized T-34-85; 1 x heavy machine gun at commander's cupola.

T-34/122 - Syrian Self-Propelled Howitzer; fitted with 122mm D-30 howitzer


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