Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Famous Fighting Machines: T-34 Tank

It has been over 100 years since the tank was introduced into warfare at the battle of the Somme in 1916. In that time one of the most influential tank designs on the battlefield was the Soviet T-34 medium tank.

In 1937, the Soviet Red Army assigned engineer Mikhail Koshkin to lead a team to design a replacement for the aging BT tanks. Koshkin designed a fast tank with sloping armour and a larger gun (76.2mm) than other countries were putting in their tanks. He designated it the T-34 after the year 1934 when he said he started to work through the design concepts for this new type of tank.

The first T-34’s rolled off the production line in September 1940. Nine months later the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany and the T-34 soon proved itself on the battlefield where it was superior to all other German tanks at that time. The combination of speed, thick sloping armour and firepower was a major concern for the Germans. They rushed to design a similar fighting vehicle to give them some parity with the T-34. Their efforts culminated in the Panzer V ‘Panther’ tank. By the time the Panther was deployed on the battlefields of the Eastern Front the Red Army had already increased the firepower on the T-34 to an 85mm gun that easily matched the Panthers 75mm L70 weapon.

Soviet infantry and T-34 tanks advance during the battle of Kursk 1943.

Key Facts

  • It is estimated that there have been 83,900 T-34′ ‘s produced by the Soviet Union and its allies during and after the Second World War. This makes it the second highest model of tank produced in the last 100 years. Only behind the Soviet T54/55 tank that topped over 100,000 units between 1946-1983.
  • In April and May 1940 the first two prototype T-34 tanks were driven on a 2,000km journey from their factory in Kharkiv all the way to Moscow in a demonstration to the Soviet leadership that the tanks were durable and should enter production.
  • In the first months of the German 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, the new T-34’s, as well as lacking radio’s, suffered from initial mechanical and design problems. This was particularly involving clutches and transmissions. Mechanical breakdowns accounted for at least 50 percent of the Soviet tank losses in the summer fighting and there was almost no recovery or repair equipment available to service the tanks. The shortage of repair equipment and recovery vehicles led the early T-34 crews to enter combat carrying a spare transmission on the engine deck.
  • Records that show a total of around 1,000 T-34/85 tanks are still in service in 2024 across 5 African countries plus Yemen and North Korea.
  • An estimated 44,900 T-34s were disabled or destroyed during the Second World War.
  • When the pressure was on production in the first part of the Second World War, the Russian tank factories would leave out any parts they felt were not necessary, and if they ran out of some parts they would complete the tank anyway. Many tank drivers ended up with nothing to sit on.
  • Over the past 83 years, the armies of over 42 countries used T-34 tanks.
  • As recently as 2015, there was photographic evidence of the Houthi Rebels in Yemen using Soviet era T-34/85 tanks and SU-100 self-propelled guns in their offensive against the Yemeni Government.
  • Aside from the Second World War, the T-34 played an active role in many 20th Century conflicts including the Korean War; The Arab/Israeli wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973; The Vietnam War; and the Balkans conflict of 1991.

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