The personal road for the Soviets in developing their iconic World War 2-era T-34 Medium Tank and, later, the classic T-72 Main Battle Tank (MBT) of Cold War fame ran through a myriad of light, medium, and heavy designs appearing from the middle of the 1920s onward. Many early Soviet tanks were simply purchased from foreign suppliers or arranged locally to copy these foreign designs outright. By the middle of the 1920s, the Russian Civil War (1917-1923) was over and local industry could concentrate on bringing about all-new indigenous tank designs.
The T-23 was a product of the period, a "tankette" which attempted to produce a very-lightweight tracked combat vehicle housing two crew and basic machine gun armament. The tankette proved a popular economical solution for many European parties of the time and this Soviet approach followed the first true locally designed, developed and produced Soviet tank, the "T-18" (MS-1) Light Tank (detailed elsewhere on this site).
Origins of this tank were in 1924 in an attempt to fulfill a local Red Army requirement and the work resulted in the "T-16" prototype of March 1927 which was greatly influenced by the revolutionary French Renault FT-17 Light Tank vehicle of The Great War (1914-1918) - of course with changes to suit the Red Army need. The vehicle was driven by a copy of the original Renault engine and included running gear of three paired bogie wheels with upper track supports. Primary armament was still the French 37mm SA18 series cannon and secondary armament was a 6.5mm Fyodorov machine gun.
While the T-16 was influential in bringing about the T-18, it was also the basis for other tank offshoots appearing at about the same time - work began in 1926 and originally focused on a one-man reconnaissance-minded fast tank in the "T-17". A prototype was made available for review in 1929 but the one-man-crew approach was found to be too burdensome for such a complex machine, particularly under the expected rigors of combat. Two-man versions then appeared as the "T-20" and "T-21" and, from this pair, the T-22 and T-23 tankette prototypes were evolved.
The T-22 differed in seating its two crewmembers in a side-by-side arrangement while the T-23 sat its two-man crew in tandem. Each was also driven by a slightly different engine installation but armament centered on just a single 7.62mm Type DT machine gun fit. In service, these vehicles were to be fast compliments to the main fighting force so they had to be light, agile and basically armed.
Soviet authorities sided with the more promising T-23 which resulted in a contract for five pre-series vehicles based on the pilot (prototype) form. Of course the Army service had a list of changes to be made in the T-23 which meant the vehicle that entered production was different than the one that was actually outputted. The hull was extended by some 11.8 inches and an uprated engine was installed (the original was to carry 1 x 4-cylinder horsepower unit from the T-18). The under-workings of another prototype tank, the T-19, were also used in forming the production-quality T-23.
Construction of the vehicle took place at the Bolshevik Works of Leningrad and the finalized vehicle had a combat weight nearing 3,180 kilograms, an overall length of 3.3 meters, a beam of 1.6 meters and a height of 1.85 meters. Power was from a single Otto 4-cylinder gasoline-fueled unit outputting 60 horsepower to the track-and-wheel arrangement. The running gear centered on a multi-bogied design with thin tracks. Road speeds could reach 40 kmh and range was out to 190 kilometers. The crew was two and armament was 1 x 7.62mm FT machine gun buried within the fixed hull superstructure (the tankette featured no traversable turret emplacement). Armor protection (riveted iron) reached up to 10mm at critical facings. A trench-crossing "tail" was affixed to the aft-end of the vehicle for managing rough terrain.
Despite its promising nature, the T-23's per-unit cost was found to be as much as the T-18 Light Tank for the numbers required. Furthermore, the T-23 lacked the traversing turret of the T-18 and could not carry similar armament. As such, the T-23 was not continued beyond the stated prototype/developmental work, ultimately falling to the pages of Soviet armored warfare history. Of note is that the T-23 became the last tankette-type vehicle to be developed by the Soviet Union as future attention firmly centered on light tank forms to compete with designs emerging from Britain, France and elsewhere.
To fulfill the T-23 need, the British Carden Loyd tankette was procured and these became the modified T-27 tankette in Soviet Army service from 1931 onwards (2,540 were built).