Tuesday, November 1, 2011


By Phil Gardocki

As photographed by the author. Used with permission from the US Army Ordnance Museum.
The T-34 was the Soviet Union's most famous tank. Its basic design was born of the practical experiences in Spain and Mongolia. Soviet planners realized that the tanks of the 1930's were too vulnerable to antitank guns of the day.  Indeed, some of the tanks were even vulnerable to heavy machine guns.  Another lesson learned was to switch from gasoline to a diesel, this required a larger engine to gain the same horsepower, but the trade off of being less flammable was regarded as worth it.  Also, any tank design also had to be agile enough to deal with the harsh weather and roadless conditions of Mother Russia. 

Its 4.5 cm of sloping armor proved to be just that. The 7.6 cm/L30 gun could penetrate 5.8 cm of armor at 500 meters; putting its penetration on par with the German 3.7/L45, but it did a better job of removing obstacles.  The V-12 diesel engines could generate 500 hp giving it a power to weight ratio superior to any tank in the field. It was only bureaucratic infighting between the competing tank designs delayed the T-34 from going into high production.The main problems with the T-34 were mechanical in nature.  The turret traverse was turned by hand, giving it a slow response time. 

The V-12 engine had production problems, and were in short supply.  Radios if they existed at all, only existed in command tanks.  All T-34's had short lived engines and transmissions.  The Model 'A' would often lose the driver's hatch to small caliber AT fire.  The tracks were prone to being thrown.  This coupled with a shortage of mechanics made for a horrific breakdown attrition rate in any operation.  As one Soviet General observed, "A tank that wasn't burning after 10 days of an operation was a wasted tank."

The name T34/85 implies this was an upgrade to the T34, but it was actually a total redesign of the old workhorse. The need for an up gun was made apparent by the capture of a Tiger tank in late 1942. There was a need to counter these 55 ton monsters.Firing range tests on the captured Tiger showed that the 7.6cm gun would not be effective. Like the Germans with the 8.8cm, and the Americans with the 9 cm, the Soviets turned to an existing antiaircraft gun, the 8.5 cm/51 to arm the new tank. To add this gun required expanding the turret ring and upping the overall size of the tank. Even so, this gun’s penetration was only 11.2 cm at 500 meters, less powerful than the German 7.5 cm/L48, and barely able to penetrate the hull of a Tiger or Panther.

The chassis of the T-34 was used for a number of self-propelled guns, including the SU-85, SU-100, and the SU-122.

     T-34/76 A,C T-34/85 SU-100
Gun 7.62cm L30
7.62cm L42
8.5cm L53 10cm L53
Weight 26, 30 tonnes 32 tonnes 32 tonnes
Max Hull Armor 4.5 cm,6.5 cm 9 cm 7.5 cm
Fuel diesel diesel diesel
Horsepower 500hp 500hp 500hp
Top Speed 53 kph 55 kph 48 kph
Crew 4 4 4

Developed in 1944, the SU-100 was used extensively in the last year of the war.
Models continued to be in use by Soviet client states until the end of the century.

As photographed by the author.
Used with permission from the US Army Ordnance Museum.
T34/ 85.

Developed in late 1943, Over 22,000 were built before the war's end.

As photographed by the author.


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