T-34 Medium Tank
No one tank affected the outcome of World War 2 as much as the Soviet T-34 Medium Tank series with over 80,000 produced.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
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.
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.