Even as the fabled T-34 Medium Tank was coming online within the inventory of the Red Army during World War 2, thought was already being given to a new and improved form - this endeavor taking on the form of "T-34M". However, as war ramped up following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, production of the T-34 was in full swing and resources were being poured into existing battlefield weapons as opposed to development of costly new ones. As such, the T-34M project fell to naught for the moment, the Red Army more concerned about upgrading its existing mounts based on battlefield experiences. The T-34 itself was upgraded from its 76mm armament to a more potent 85mm fitting (T-34-85) and this proved the extend of the T-34 design. 100mm guns were given to "heftier" - though limited - tracked vehicles that could wield the massive gun.
In late 1943, the T-34M project was revisited and reworked to become "Obyekt 136" with the designation of "T-44". This design was intended to supersede the famous T-34 in the near future and, as such, the T-44 resembled the T-34 in many ways. However, it was, for all intents and purposes, an entirely new vehicle design. Soviet battlefield experience had shown several items come to light - including the need for evermore greater armor protection from anti-tank weapons. In response, the T-44 was designed with better armor protection along its critical facings. The main gun under consideration was the proven 85mm ZiS-S-53 (D-5T) series while at least one prototype housed a 122mm D-25 main gun for testing. A torsion bar suspension system was implemented for better off-road capabilities and crew comfort - this marking a move away from the Soviet-preferred Christie suspension system utilized in the T-34. Ballistics protection was addressed through well-sloped surfaces and a thick, curved turret assembly. The engine of choice was a diesel-fueled type and prototypes of the T-44 emerged in January of 1944.
Testing of the T-44 prototypes ensued throughout the spring and into the summer months. A new prototype series was then introduced as the "T-44A". This version had its armor configuration reworked and a new V-44 12-cylinder diesel engine of 520 horsepower was installed. Its main armament was an 85mm main gun. After evaluation, this prototype was formally selected for serial production and adopted into the Red Army ranks as the "T-44". Production began in August of 1944 with first units were delivered in September of that year. These examples were used in training crews on the new vehicle but little else. Formal service entry of the type was recorded in November of 1944.
Beyond this mention, the T-44 did not see any combat service in World War 2, mainly for logistical reasons and that the tank remained largely untested, prone to mechanical issues as a result. Three were evaluated along the Eastern Front (non-combat) while most were shipped for service to the Far East where the war against Japan was still raging. Only 150 examples were delivered before the end of the war and overall production tallied 1,823 vehicles. For the most part, the tank remained under wraps in the Soviet Union and was therefore never offered for export sale to her allies. Some took part in the 1956 invasion of Hungary to quell a people's uprising there but little else in the way of combat was ever experienced. Her mechanical issues dogged the tank most of her career thusly never truly living up to the high, lofty standards set by the T-34.
Outwardly, the T-44 exhibited a conventional layout as tanks go. The squat turret was set at the middle of the hull roof with the engine set within a compartment at the rear. The front hull featured a very shallow glacis plate and the hull superstructure was non-existent - leading to a lower overall profile. The tracks consisted of five large, double-tired road wheels with the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at the front. There were no track return rollers used in the track configuration. The low-profile rounded turret sported a relatively featureless main gun barrel as well as a shallow cupola along the turret roof. As in other Soviet tanks, external fuel tanks could regularly be fitted along the sides of the rear hull for improved ranges. Internally, there was spacing for four crew to include the driver, commander, gunner and loader. The driver was seated in the front-left of the hull. The main gun of choice was the D-5T 85mm system while defense came in the form of 2 x 7.62mm DT series machine guns intended for enemy infantry. 58 projectiles of 85mm ammunition were carried aboard. The powerplant consisted of a Model V-44 12-cylinder diesel engine outputting at 520 horsepower and tied to a 5-speed planetary transmission system. This provided the vehicle with a top road speed of 33 miles per hour with a 220 mile range on internal fuel.
With her mechanical issues, the T-44's potential was never truly met, leading to an underwhelming existence. Some were modernized as "T-44M" marks while others were modified for other battlefield roles other than combat. T-44MK tanks were command vehicles with increased communications facilities while BTS-4A were armored recovery vehicle (ARV) conversions. T-44S and T-44MS saw their main guns stabilized which offered increased accuracy. Despite its meager existence, the T-44 did lay down the framework for one of the more successful Cold War tanks - the T-54 (and the related T-55) to begin service in 1950. In comparison, some 85,000 to 100,000 T-54/T-55 tanks were produced.