T-34-85 at Musée des Blindés
Type Medium tank Place of origin Soviet Union Service history In service 1940–present Used by Soviet Union and 39 others Wars World War II and many others Production history Designer T-34 Main Design Bureau – KMDB Designed 1937–1940 Produced 1940–1958 Number built 84,070 Specifications (T-34 Model 1941) Weight 26.5 tonnes (29.2 short tons; 26.1 long tons) Length 6.68 m (21 ft 11 in) Width 3.00 m (9 ft 10 in) Height 2.45 m (8 ft 0 in) Crew 4 Armor  hull front 47 mm /60° (upper part),
hull front 45 mm (1.8")/60° (lower part),
hull side 40 mm/41°(upper part),
hull rear 45 mm,
hull top 20 mm,
hull bottom 15 mm;
turret front 60 mm (2.4"),
turret side 52 mm/30°,
turret rear 30 mm,
turret top 16 mm
76.2 mm (3.00 in) F-34 tank gun
(T-34/85: 85mm gun)
2 × 7.62 mm (0.308 in) DT machine guns Engine 12-cyl. diesel model V-2
500 hp (370 kW)
Power/weight 17.5 hp/tonne Suspension Christie Operational
400 km (250 mi) Speed 53 km/h (33 mph)T-34 tank Light Medium Cruiser Infantry Heavy MBTs Light Medium HeavyPost-Cold War tanks
The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II. First produced at the KhPZ factory in Kharkov (Kharkiv, Ukraine), it was the mainstay of Soviet armoured forces throughout World War II, and widely exported afterwards. It was the most-produced tank of the war, and the second most-produced tank of all time, after its successor, the T-54/55 series. In 1996, T-34 variants were still in service in at least 27 countries.
The T-34 was developed from the BT series of fast tanks and was intended to replace both the BT-5 and BT-7 tanks and the T-26 infantry tank in service. At its introduction, it was the tank with the best balanced attributes of firepower, mobility, protection and ruggedness, although initially its battlefield effectiveness suffered from the unsatisfactory ergonomic layout of its crew compartment, scarcity of radios, and poor tactical employment. The two-man turret-crew arrangement required the commander to aim and fire the gun, an arrangement common to most Soviet tanks of the day; this proved to be inferior to three-man (commander, gunner, and loader) turret crews of German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks.
The design and construction of the tank were continuously refined during the war to enhance effectiveness and decrease costs, allowing steadily greater numbers of T-34s to be fielded. In early 1944, the improved T-34-85 was introduced, with a more powerful 85 mm gun and a three-man turret design. By the war's end in 1945, the versatile and cost-effective T-34 had replaced many light and heavy tanks in service, and accounted for the majority of Soviet tank production. Its evolutionary development led directly to the T-54/55 series of tanks, built until 1981 and still operational as of 2010[update] and which itself led to the T-62, T-72 and T-90 tanks which, along with several Chinese tanks based on the T-55, form the backbone of many of the world's armies even today.
The T-34 was among the most important weapons fielded by the Red Army in World War II. At the time it was first fielded in 1940, commentators considered it one of the finest tank designs in the world. By mid-war, the T-34 no longer technically outclassed its opponents, but it remained effective in combat.
In 1939 the most numerous Soviet tank models were the T-26 light tank, and the BT series of fast tanks. The T-26 was a slow-moving infantry tank, designed to keep pace with soldiers on the ground. The BT tanks were cavalry tanks, very fast-moving light tanks, designed to fight other tanks but not infantry. Both were lightly armoured, proof against small arms but not anti-tank rifles and 37 mm anti-tank guns. During the Battles of Khalkhin Gol, a border war against Japan in 1939, General Zhukov deployed nearly 500 BT-5 and BT-7 tanks against the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Although the IJA Type 95 light tanks had diesel engines, the BT tanks did not. Their gasoline engines, commonly used in tank designs by most nations at the time, often burst into flames when hit by IJA tank killer teams using molotov cocktails, tank gunfire or "at any other slightest provocation." Both were Soviet developments of foreign designs from the early 1930s; the T-26 was based on the British Vickers 6-Ton, and the BT tanks were based on a design from American engineer Walter Christie.
Pre-production development (1937–1940)
In 1937, the Red Army assigned engineer Mikhail Koshkin to lead a new team to design a replacement for the BT tanks at the Kharkiv Komintern Locomotive Plant (KhPZ). The prototype tank, designated A-20, was specified with 20 millimetres (0.8 in) of armour, a 45 mm (1.8 in) gun, and the new model V-2 engine, using less-flammable diesel fuel in a V12 configuration. It also had an 8×6-wheel convertible drive similar to the BT tank's 8×2, which allowed it to run on wheels without caterpillar tracks. This feature had greatly saved on maintenance and repair of the unreliable tank track of the early 1930s, and allowed tanks to exceed 85 kilometres per hour (53 mph) on roads, but gave no advantage in combat. By then, the designers considered it a waste of space and weight. The A-20 also incorporated previous research (BT-IS and BT-SW-2 projects) into sloped armour: its all-round sloped armour plates were more likely to deflect anti-armour rounds than perpendicular armour.
Koshkin convinced Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to let him develop a second prototype, a more heavily armed and armoured "universal tank" which could replace both the T-26 and the BT tanks. The second prototype Koshkin named A-32, after its 32 millimetres (1.3 in) of frontal armour. It also had a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun, and the same model V-2 diesel engine. Both were tested in field trials at Kubinka in 1939, with the heavier A-32 proving to be as mobile as the A-20. A still heavier version of the A-32 with 45 millimetres (1.8 in) of front armour and wider tracks was approved for production as the T-34. Koshkin chose the name after the year 1934 when he began to formulate his ideas about the new tank, and to commemorate the decree expanding the armoured force and the appointment of Sergo Ordzhonikidze to head tank production.
Lessons from Khalkhin Gol regarding armour protection, mobility, welding and main guns were incorporated into the new T-34 tank, and Koshkin's team completed two prototype T-34s in January 1940. In April and May, they underwent a grueling 2,000-kilometre (1,200 mi) drive from Kharkiv to Moscow for a demonstration for the Kremlin leaders, to the Mannerheim Line in Finland, and back to Kharkiv via Minsk and Kiev. Some drivetrain shortcomings were identified and corrected.
Establishing initial production (1940)
Political pressure came from conservative elements in the army to redirect resources into building the older T-26 and BT tanks, or to cancel T-34 production pending completion of the more advanced T-34M design. This political pressure was brought to bear by the developer of the KV-1 and IS-2 tanks which were in competition with the T-34. (Political pressure between designers and factories producing different tanks to meet the same requirements continued much later post-war, including a period when the T-55, T-64, T-72, and T-80 were in concurrent production at several factories, with differing political patrons on the supreme council of the USSR.)
Resistance from the military command and concerns about high production cost were finally overridden by anxieties about the poor performance of Soviet tanks in the Winter War in Finland and the effectiveness of German tanks during the Battle of France. The first production T-34s were completed in September 1940, completely replacing the production of the T-26, BT, and the multi-turreted T-28 medium tank at the KhPZ. Koshkin died of pneumonia at the end of that month (exacerbated by the drive from Kharkov to Moscow), and the T-34's drivetrain developer, Alexander Morozov, was appointed Chief Designer.
The T-34 posed new challenges for Soviet industry. It had heavier armour than any medium tank produced to that point, and subassemblies originated at several plants: Kharkov Diesel Factory No. 75 supplied the model V-2 engine, Leningrad Kirovsky Factory (former Putilov works) made the original L-11 gun, and the Dinamo Factory in Moscow produced electrical components. Tanks were initially built at KhPZ No. 183, in early 1941 at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory (STZ), and starting in July shortly after the German invasion at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory No. 112 in Gorky. There were problems with defective armour plates however. Due to a shortage of new V-2 diesel engines, the initial production run from the Gorky factory were equipped with the BT tank's MT-17 gasoline aircraft engine, and inferior transmission and clutch. Only company commanders' tanks could be fitted with radios, which were expensive and in short supply – the rest signalled with flags. The L-11 gun did not live up to expectations, so the Grabin design bureau at Gorky Factory No. 92 designed a superior F-34 76.2 mm gun (see Designations of Soviet artillery). No bureaucrat would approve production, but Gorky and KhPZ started producing the gun anyway; official permission only came from Stalin's State Defense Committee after troops in the field praised the gun's performance.
Design (T-34 Model 1941)
“ We had nothing comparable. —Friedrich von Mellenthin (Panzer Battles) ”
The initial T-34 version had a 76.2 mm gun, and is often called the T-34/76 (originally a World War II German designation). In 1944, a second major version began production, the T-34-85 (or T-34/85), with a larger turret mounting a larger 85 mm gun.
The T-34 had the coil-spring Christie suspension of the BT, using a "slack track" tread system with a rear-mounted drive sprocket and no system of return rollers for the upper run of track, but dispensed with the weighty and ineffective convertible drive. It had well-sloped armour, a relatively powerful engine and wide tracks.
Initial 1940 production tanks were installed with the 10-RT 26E radio set, but this was soon replaced by the 9-RS model (also installed on SU-100). From 1953, T-34-85s were installed with the R-113 Granat ("garnet") radio sets.
Combat experiences of June 1941
“ The finest tank in the world" —Field Marshal Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist ”
In June 1941, Germans had great difficulty with destroying T-34 in combat, as their standard anti-tank weaponry proved ineffective. Contrary to popular belief, Soviets had already deployed quite a significant number of T-34 tanks, concentrating them into five of their twenty-nine mechanized corps. The same pertains to the KV heavy tanks.
The puzzling discrepancy is that on one hand, these corps within weeks had lost most of their T-34 and KV tanks, but on the other hand, German reports did not note such a massive elimination in combat. The number of non-combat losses was unprecedented.
One of the first known encounters with a T-34 involved the 17th Panzer Division near the Dniepr River. The T-34 crushed a 37 mm anti-tank gun, destroyed two Panzer IIs, and left nine miles of destruction in its wake before being destroyed at close range by a howitzer. The appearance of the T-34 in the summer of 1941 was a psychological shock to German soldiers, who had been prepared to face an inferior Soviet enemy; this is shown by the diary of Alfred Jodl, who seems to have been taken by surprise at the appearance of the T-34 in Riga.
Early-war T-34s featured outstanding armour, firepower, and mobility, but poor crew comfort, vision devices, and layout.
In 1941, the thick sloped armour could defeat all German anti-armour weapons except the towed 88 mm flak guns at normal combat ranges. By mid-1942, the T-34 had become vulnerable to improved German weapons and remained so throughout the war, but its armour protection was equal to or superior to comparable tanks such as the M4 Sherman or Panzer IV.
In terms of firepower, the T-34's 76 mm (3 in) gun with anti-tank ammunition could penetrate any 1941 German tank with ease. This gun also fired an adequate high explosive round. In 1943, the 76 mm could not penetrate the Panther's front armour and was out-ranged by the Panther's long 75 mm and the Tiger's 88 mm. The introduction of the Soviet 85 mm gun in 1944 did not make the T-34-85 equal in firepower, but the 85 mm could penetrate the armour of both Panthers and Tigers at reasonable ranges (100–500 meters).
In terms of mobility, the T-34's wide track, good suspension and powerful engine in the last years of war gave it unparalleled cross-country performance. First-generation German tanks could not keep up. But in 1941, the situation was rather different. A 500 km trip could be a lethal exercise for a T-34 tank at that time. When in June 1941, the 8th Mechanised Corps of D.I. Ryabyshev marched towards Dubno, the corps lost half of its vehicles. A.V. Bodnar, who was in combat in 1941–42, recalled:From the point of view of operating them, the German armoured machines were more perfect, they broke down less often. For the Germans, covering 200 km was nothing, but with T-34s something would have been lost, something would have broken down. The technological equipment of their machines was better, the combat gear was worse.
In terms of ergonomics, the T-34 was poor, despite some improvements during the war. All 76 mm-armed versions were greatly hampered by the cramped two-man turret layout. The commander's battlefield visibility was poor; the forward-opening hatch forced him to observe the battlefield through a single vision slit and traversable periscope. He also had too many tasks to perform since he was responsible for firing the main gun. In contrast, most contemporary German and U.S. medium tanks had much superior three-man turrets with commander, gunner and loader. The three-man turret layout allowed the tank commander to concentrate on leading his crew and co-ordinating his actions with the rest of his unit, without having to manage an individual task such as laying or loading the gun. This makes an enormous contribution to crew effectiveness. The T-34-85 corrected this problem, which had been recognised before the war. Many German commanders liked to fight "heads-up", with the seat raised and having a full field of view. In the 76 mm-armed versions of the T-34, this was impossible.
Visibility from the driver's seat was also poor. Tactically, this affected the driver's ability to use terrain to their advantage, since he could not see folds in the ground as well, or have as wide a range of vision as in some other tanks.
The loader also had a difficult job due to the lack of a turret basket (a rotating floor that moves as the turret turns). This problem was shared with many other tanks, for example, the U.S. M-3 Stuart. The floor under the T-34's turret was made up of ammunition stored in small metal boxes, covered by a rubber mat. There were nine ready rounds of ammunition stowed in racks on the sides of the fighting compartment. Once these initial nine rounds were fired in combat, the crew had to pull additional ammunition out of the floor boxes, leaving the floor littered with open bins and matting. This distracted the crew and affected their performance.
Russians veterans condemned the turret hatches of early models. Nicknamed pirozhok (stuffed bun) because of its characteristic shape, it was heavy and hard to open. If it jammed, the crew were trapped. Tank commander Nikolai Evdokimovich Glukhov remembered: "A big hatch – very inconvenient, very heavy." The complaints of the crews urged the design group led by A.A. Morozov to switch to using two hatches in the turret.
The tracks were the most frequently repaired part. Crews took spare parts even in combat. A.V. Maryevski later remembered:
"The caterpillars used to break apart even without bullet or shell hits. When earth got stuck between the road wheels, the caterpillar, especially during a turn – strained to such an extent that the pins and tracks themselves couldn't hold out."
Other key factors diminishing the initial impact of T-34s on the battlefield were the poor state of leadership, tank tactics, and crew training, a consequence of Stalin's purges of the Soviet officer corps in the late 1930s, aggravated by the loss of the best-trained personnel during the Red Army's disastrous defeats in 1941. Many crews went into combat with only their basic military training plus seventy-two hours of classroom instruction. These problems were exacerbated by the T-34's poor ergonomics and lack of radios during the early war, making it practically impossible to co-ordinate tank units in combat. German tank soldiers found that the Soviet armour attacked in rigid formations and took little advantage of terrain. By 1943–44, these problems had largely been corrected, although Soviet crew training never reached the level of German training.
Further combat (1941–1943)
The T-34 could engage any 1941 German tank effectively, but it suffered severe mechanical problems. For example, engines would grind to a halt from dust and sand ingestion (the original Pomon filter was almost totally ineffective), and transmission/clutch assemblies were prone to serious mechanical problems. At least half the first summer's total tank losses were due to mechanical failure rather than German fire, though this figure includes older tanks in disrepair. There was a shortage of repair equipment, and it was not uncommon for early T-34s to enter combat carrying a spare transmission on the engine deck. Improvements were made throughout production, with a new gearbox in 1942, as well as many individually minor updates.
During the winter of 1941–42, the T-34 again dominated German tanks through its ability to move over deep mud or snow without bogging down; German tanks could not move over terrain the T-34 could handle. The Panzer IV used an inferior leaf-spring suspension and narrow track, and tended to sink in deep mud or snow.
The German infantry, at that time armed mostly with PaK 36 37 mm (1.46 in) antitank gun, had no effective means of stopping T-34s. Even during the Battle of France the Pak 36 had earned the nickname "Door Knocker" among French and British tank crews, due to its inability to penetrate anything but the lightest tank armour, though it worked very well at announcing the presence of the gun crew. Crews of these weapons fighting on the Eastern front found it even more badly outmatched by the armour of Soviet tanks, often having to rely on heavier towed firepower, such as the relatively rare but effective Pak 38, the newer and much heavier Pak 40 and especially the 88 mm Flak guns that could not be moved into location as easily. Only the poor level of Soviet crew training, the ineptitude of Soviet commanders, mechanical teething troubles and sparse distribution prevented the T-34 from achieving greater success.
War-time production (1941–1943)
Germany's rapid advances forced the evacuation of tank factories to the Ural Mountains, an undertaking of unprecedented scale and haste. KhPZ was re-established around the Dzherzhinski Ural Railcar Factory in Nizhny Tagil, renamed Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183. The Kirovsky Factory was evacuated just weeks before Leningrad was surrounded, and moved with the Kharkov Diesel Factory to the Stalin Tractor Factory in Chelyabinsk, soon to be nicknamed Tankograd ("Tank City"). Voroshilov Tank Factory No. 174 from Leningrad was incorporated into the Ural Factory and the new Omsk Factory No. 174. The Ordzhonikidze Ural Heavy Machine Tool Works (UZTM) in Sverdlovsk absorbed several small factories. While these factories were being moved at record speed, the industrial complex surrounding the Stalingrad Tractor Factory produced forty percent of all T-34s. As the factory became surrounded by heavy fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, the situation there grew desperate: manufacturing innovations were necessitated by material shortages, and stories persist that unpainted T-34 tanks were driven out of the factory directly to the battlefields around it. Stalingrad kept up production until September 1942.
In 1942 a new hexagonal turret design, derived from the abandoned T-34M project and improving the cramped conditions, entered production. Eventually a commander's cupola for all-round vision was added. Limited rubber supplies led to the adoption of steel-rimmed road wheels, and a new clutch was added to the improved five-speed transmission and engine.
Barring this interruption, the only changes allowed on the production lines were to make the tanks simpler and cheaper to produce. New methods were developed for automated welding and hardening the plate, including innovations by Prof. Evgeny Paton. The design of the 76.2 mm F-34 gun Model 1941 was reduced from the earlier model's 861 parts to 614. Over two years, the production cost of the tank was reduced from 269,500 rubles in 1941, to 193,000, and then to 135,000. Production time was cut in half by the end of 1942, even though most experienced factory workers had been sent to the battlefield and replaced by a workforce that included 50% women, 15% boys and 15% invalids and old men. At the same time, T-34s, which had been "beautifully crafted machines with excellent exterior finish comparable or superior to those in Western Europe or America", were much more roughly finished, although mechanical reliability was not compromised.
In 1942 and 1943 the Red Army emphasised rebuilding the losses of 1941 and improving tactical proficiency. T-34 production increased rapidly, but the design was "frozen"—generally, only improvements that sped production were adopted. Soviet designers were well aware of the need to correct certain deficiencies in the design, but these improvements would have cost production time and could not be implemented. In 1943, production of T-34s had been ramped up to an average of 1,300 per month, much higher than the German rate. However, Soviet losses greatly exceeded German losses due to continued tactical inferiority.
The T-34 came to symbolise the effectiveness of the Soviet counterattack against the Germans. In response to the sheer number of T-34s appearing on the battlefield and the ever-growing need for heavier firepower, the Germans were beginning to field very large numbers of the high-velocity PaK 40 75 mm gun, both towed and self-propelled; these made up most of the anti-tank artillery by 1943. By late 1942 and into mid-1943 Germany had also begun to field the powerful Tiger I heavy tank and Panther medium tank, which further increased the need for an improved T-34. These improved versions came in two notable forms: an uparmoured version in 1943 that incorporated greater fuel capacity, reliability, and a modified turret; and a 1944 version with a new turret carrying a form of the 85 mm ZiS AA/AT gun.
T-43 development attempt
“ The technological pace-setter of World War II tank design. —Steven Zaloga et al. (1997:3) ”
After German tanks with the superior long 75 mm (2.95 in) gun were fielded in 1942, Morozov's design bureau began a project to design an advanced T-43, aimed at increasing armour protection while adding modern features like torsion-bar suspension and a three-man turret. The T-43 was intended to be a universal tank to replace both the T-34 and the KV-1 heavy tank, developed in direct competition with the Chelyabinsk heavy tank design bureau's KV-13 project.
In 1943 the Soviets encountered the new German Tiger I and Panther tanks. Experience at the Battle of Kursk and reports from front-line commanders indicated that the T-34's 76.2 mm gun was now inadequate. An existing 85 mm (3.3 in) anti-aircraft gun was identified as effective against the new German tanks, and could be adapted to tank use. Unfortunately, the T-43 prototype's heavier armour was still not proof against the Tiger's 88 mm gun, and its mobility was found to be inferior to the T-34's, even before installing a heavier 85 mm gun. Although it shared over 70% of its components with the T-34, a commitment to manufacturing it would have required a significant slow-down in production.
In consequence, the T-43 was cancelled.
As the T-43 was cancelled, the Soviet command made the difficult decision to retool the factories to produce a new model of T-34 with a turret ring enlarged from 1,425 mm (56 in) to 1,600 mm (63 in), allowing a larger turret to be fitted. The T-43's turret design was hurriedly adapted by V. Kerichev at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory to fit the T-34. The resulting new T-34-85 tank had a much better gun and finally, a three-man turret with radio (which had previously been in the hull). Now the commander needed only to command the tank, leaving the operation of the gun to the gunner and the loader. Another very significant piece of equipment was the Mk.4 observation periscope copied from the British and Polish pre-war design, permitting the commander an all-around field of view, which was mounted on the turret roof.
Overall production slowed down somewhat while the new tank started its production run. Although a T-34-85 was still not a match for a Panther, the improved firepower made it much more effective than before. The decision to improve the existing design instead of tooling up for a new one allowed the Soviets to manufacture tanks in such numbers that the difference in capabilities could be considered insignificant. In May 1944, the Wehrmacht had only 304 Panthers operating on the Eastern Front, while the Soviets had increased T-34-85 production to 1,200 tanks per month.
Operational use of T-34-85 in World War II
“ The impression that it made was to influence greatly subsequent tank development throughout the world" —John Milsom (1971) ”
The 85 mm ZiS gun greatly increased firepower over the previous 76.2 mm F-34 cannon and finally gave the T-34 the offensive capability it had so badly needed.
The length of the otherwise formidable 85 mm gun barrel (4.645 meters) made it necessary to be careful not to dig it into the ground on bumpy roads or in combat. As A.K. Rodkin pointed out "the tank could have dug the ground with it in the smallest ditch. If you fired it after that, the barrel would open up at the end like the petals of a flower."
As the war went on, the T-34 gradually lost the advantage it had at the beginning. By the end of 1943 or by 1944, it had become a relatively easy target for German 75 mm armed tanks and anti-tank guns, while hits from 88 mm-armed Tigers, anti-aircraft cannons, and PAK 43 anti–tank guns usually proved lethal. German weapons could pierce the turret relatively easily. Its armour was softer than that of the other parts of the tank and it offered poor resistance even to the 37 mm shells of automatic AA guns.
By the last years of the war the Soviets' improving tactics were still inferior to the Germans', but the Red Army's growing operational and strategic skill and its larger inventory of tanks helped bring the loss ratios down. The T-34-85 in early 1944 gave the Red Army a tank with better armour and mobility than German Panzer IV and Sturmgeschütz III, but it could not match the Panther in gun or armour protection. To the Soviet advantage there were far fewer Panthers than T-34s, and the T-34-85 was good enough to allow skilled crew and tactical situations to tip the balance.
At the outset of the war, T-34 tanks amounted to only about four percent of the Soviet tank arsenal, but by the war's end, they comprised at least 55% of the USSR's massive output of tanks (based on figures from; Zheltov 2001 lists even larger numbers). By the time the T-34 had replaced older models and became available in greater numbers, newer German tanks, including the improved Panzer V "Panther", outperformed it. The Soviets' late-war Iosif Stalin tanks were also better-armed and better-armoured than the T-34.
The improved T-34-85 remained the standard Soviet medium tank with an uninterrupted production run until the end of the war. The Germans responded to the T-34 by introducing completely new, very expensive and complex second-generation tanks, greatly slowing the growth of their tank production and allowing the Soviets to maintain a substantial numerical superiority in tanks. Production figures for all Panther types reached no more than 6,557, and for all Tiger types 2,027. Production figures for the T-34-85 alone reached 22,559. The T-34 replaced most light, medium, and heavy tanks in Soviet service.
The T-34-85 tank initially cost about 30 percent more to produce than a Model 1943, at 164,000 rubles; by 1945 this had reduced to 142,000 rubles. During the course of the Great Patriotic War the cost of a T-34 tank reduced by almost half, from 270,000 rubles in 1941, while in the meantime its top speed remained about the same, and its main gun's armour-penetration and turret frontal-armour thickness both nearly doubled.
A natural comparison can be made between the T-34 and the U.S. M4 Sherman medium tank. Each tank formed the backbone of the armoured units in their respective allied armies. The T-34 was a "world-beater" at the time of its debut in 1940, while the Sherman was a strong contender when introduced in 1942. Both models were upgraded and improved extensively throughout their service life, receiving new turrets with more powerful guns. Both were designed for ease of manufacture and maintenance, sacrificing some performance for this goal. Neither was a match for the heavy German Panther or Tiger tanks in armour or firepower, but the Soviet IS-2 heavy tank and American M26 Pershing were more comparable.
Tanks were expected to have many roles on the battlefield, the foremost being infantry support and exploitation. The tank-versus-tank role was also important. German tank production was limited to relatively small numbers of superior but complex vehicles—in part because of production diversion into self-propelled guns, but also due to Allied bombing of German factories and the loss of key metal supplies such as molybdenum—which put them at a numerical disadvantage. The Soviet decision to build large numbers of T-34s, gradually improving and simplifying the design, proved to be a superior strategy that helped win World War II.
Korean War (1950–1951)
Many Soviet-client and former Soviet-client states used T-34-85s after the end of World War II. The North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 was spearheaded by a full brigade equipped with about 120 T-34-85s. Additional T-34 tanks later joined the first assault force after it had penetrated into South Korea. The North Korean tanks had overwhelming early successes against South Korean infantry, Task Force Smith and U.S.M24 Chaffee light tanks. The World War II-era 2.36-inch bazookas used by the Americans were useless against the T-34s  as were the 75mm cannons of the M24 Chaffee.
The North Korean T-34s lost their momentum when faced against U.S. M26 heavy tanks and ground-attack aircraft, and when the U.S. infantry upgraded their antitank weapons to 3.5-inch Super Bazookas hurriedly airlifted from the United States. The M4 Sherman (M4A3E8 model) and British tanks such as the Centurion, Churchill, and Cromwell also entered the war. The tide turned in favor of the UN forces in August 1950, when the North Koreans suffered major tank losses during a series of battles in which their foes brought their newer equipment to bear. The U.S. landings at Inchon on September 15 cut off the North Korean supply lines, causing their armoured forces and infantry to run out of fuel, ammunition and other supplies. As a result, the North Koreans had to retreat, and many T-34s and heavy weapons were abandoned. By the time the North Koreans had fled from the South, a total of 239 T-34s and 74 SU-76s had been lost. After November 1950, North Korean armour was rarely encountered.
A few more tank engagements occurred when China entered the conflict in February 1951 with four regiments of tanks (a mix of mostly T-34-85 tanks, a few IS-2 tanks, and other AFVs). However, because these tanks were dispersed with the infantry, tank to tank battles with UN forces were uncommon. China produced T-34 tanks under the designation Type 58, though production soon stopped when the Type 59 became available. A small number of T-34s have also been spotted in China, converted into fire-fighting vehicles.
A 1954 survey concluded that there were in all 119 tank vs. tank actions involving U.S. Army and Marine units during the Korean War, with 97 T-34-85 tanks knocked out and another 18 probable. The M4A3E8 was involved in 50% of the tank actions, the M26 in 32%, and the M46 in 10%. The M26/M46 proved to be an overmatch for the T-34-85 as its 90mm HVAP round could punch all the way through the T-34 from the front glacis armor to the back, whereas the T-34-85 had difficulty penetrating the armor of the M26/46. The M4A3E8, firing 76mm HVAP rounds, was equal to the T-34-85 as both tanks could destroy each other at normal combat ranges.
Use in other countries
The Finnish Army used T-34s until the 1960s. These were captured from the attacking Soviets or purchased from Germany. Many of them were enhanced with Finnish or Western equipment, such as improved optics.
T-34s equipped many of the Eastern European (later Warsaw Pact) armies. They served in the suppression of the East German uprising of June 17, 1953, as well as of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. They were also used in the Middle East, the Vietnam War, and even as recently as the Bosnian War. In May 1995, a Serb T-34 attacked an UNPROFOR outpost manned by the 21st Regiment of the Royal Engineers in Bosnia, injuring a British peacekeeper. Croatia inherited 25 or 30 from Yugoslavia but has since withdrawn them from service. T-34s were sporadically available in Afghanistan (it is not known if T-34s were used against coalition troops), and Saddam Hussein had T-34s in the Iraqi army in the early 1990s. Several African states, including Angola and Somalia, have employed T-34-85s in recent years. Cuban T-34-85s also saw action in Africa.
Cypriot National Guard forces equipped with some 35 T-34-85 tanks helped to enforce a coup by the Greek junta against democratically-elected President Archbishop Makarios on July 15, 1974. They also saw extensive action against Turkish forces during the Turkish invasion in July and August 1974, with two major actions at Kioneli and at Kyrenia on July 20, 1974.
A T-34-85 tank monument in the East German city of Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) was the target of a 1980 bomb attack that inflicted minor damage on the vehicle and blew out nearby windows. The bomber, Josef Kneifel, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Bautzen, but was released after a deal with the West German government in 1987. After German unification in 1990, the tank was transferred[by whom?] to a museum in Ingolstadt.
Another such tank, mounted atop the monument to Soviet tank crews in Prague, was the focus of significant controversy. The monument, also known locally as 'Saint Tank,' intended to represent Lt I.G. Goncharenko's T-34-85, the first Soviet tank to enter Prague in May 1945, actually bore an IS-2m heavy tank. To many in Prague, the tank was also a reminder of the Soviet invasion which ended the Prague Spring of 1968. The tank was painted pink by artist David Černý in 1991. Following an official protest from the Russian government, the arrest of Černý, a coat of official green paint, public demonstrations, and a further coat of pink paint applied by fifteen parliamentary deputies, the tank was finally removed to a military museum.
Four Tankers and a Dog (Czterej pancerni i pies) was a very successful war-themed Polish television series of the 1960s (based on an eponymous novel by a Polish writer Janusz Przymanowski (1922–98), himself a Red Army volunteer) which made T-34 tank number 102 an icon of Polish popular culture. It was also shown in other Soviet-bloc countries where it was also well received, surprisingly even in the German Democratic Republic. At the beginning of the 21st century reruns of the black and white series still manage to attract a large audience.
News of an unconventional use of a T-34 broke, quite unexpectedly, from Budapest on October 23, 2006. A month-long crisis centred around the Ferenc Gyurcsány cabinet scandal climaxed during the official fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Protesters managed to start an unarmed T-34 tank which was part of a memorial exhibition and used it in riots against police forces. The tank ran out of fuel after a few hundred metres and caused no personal injury.
Identification of T-34 variants can be complicated. Turret castings, superficial details and equipment all differed between factories. New features were added in the middle of production runs or retrofitted to older tanks. Knocked-out tanks were rebuilt, sometimes incorporating newer-model equipment and even new turrets.
The Red Army never had a consistent policy for naming the production models. Since at least the 1980s however, many academic sources (notably, AFV expert Steven Zaloga) have used Soviet-style nomenclature: T-34 and T-34-85, with minor models distinguished by year, as T-34 Model 1940. Some Russian historians use different names: they refer to the first T-34 as the T-34 Model 1939 instead of 1940, all T-34s with the original turret and F-34 gun as Model 1941 instead of Models 1941 and 1942, and hexagonal-turret T-34 as Model 1942 instead of 1943.
German military intelligence in World War II referred to the two main production models as T-34/76 and T-34/85, with minor models receiving letter designations such as T-34/76A—this nomenclature has been widely used in the West, especially in popular literature. When the German Wehrmacht used captured T-34s, it designated them Panzerkampfwagen T-34(r), where the "r" stood for russisch ("Russian").
The Finns referred to the T-34 as the Sotka, after the Common Goldeneye, a sea duck, because the side silhouette of the tank resembles a swimming waterfowl (as related in the memoirs of Finnish tank ace Lauri Heino). The T-34-85 was called pitkäputkinen Sotka ("long-barreled Sotka").
The T-34 (German designation: T-34/76) was the original tank with a 76.2 mm gun.
- Model 1940 (T-34/76A): Early production run with interim L-11 76.2 mm tank gun in a two-man turret.
- Model 1941 (T-34/76B): Main production with heavier armour and the superior F-34 76.2 mm gun.
- Model 1942 (T-34/76C): Many minor manufacturing improvements.
- Model 1943 (T-34/76D, E, and F): New cast hexagonal turret, nicknamed "Mickey Mouse" by the Germans because of its appearance with the twin, round turret-roof hatches open. Main production had a new commander's cupola.
- T-34/57: Fewer than 324 T-34s in 1941 and 1943–44 were fitted with the ZiS-4 or the ZIS-4M high-velocity 57 mm gun to be used as tank hunters. Some of them took part in the Battle of Moscow.
The T-34-85 (T-34/85) was a major improvement with a three-man turret and long 85 mm gun.
- Model 1943: Short production run of February–March 1944 with D-5T 85 mm gun
- Model 1944: Main production, with simpler ZiS-S-53 85 mm gun, radio moved from the hull into a turret with improved layout and new gunner's sight
All T-34-85 models are externally very similar. Various technical improvements continued to be made to the T-34-85, including major refurbishing programs in 1960 and 1969. One can recognise the widely exported Czechoslovakian-built T-34-85s by a semi-conical armoured fairing (like a rear-facing scoop) on the left rear slanting side-panel of the engine compartment sponson.
Soviet medium tank models of World War II T-34
T-34-85 T-44 Weight 26 t 26.5 t 28.5 t 30.9 t 34 t 32 t 31.9 t Gun 76.2 mm L-11 76.2 mm F-34 76.2 mm F-34 76.2 mm F-34 76.2 mm F-34 85 mm ZiS-S-53 85 mm ZiS-S-53 Ammunition 76 rounds 77 rounds 77 rounds 100 rounds 60 rounds 58 rounds Fuel 460 L
(120 U.S. gal)
(120 U.S. gal)
(160 U.S. gal)
(210 U.S. gal)
(215 U.S. gal)
(170 U.S. gal)
Road range 300 km (185 mi) 400 km (250 mi) 400 km (250 mi) 465 km (290 mi) 300 km (185 mi) 360 km (225 mi) 300 km (185 mi) Armour 15–45 mm
Cost 270,000 rubles 193,000 rubles 135,000 rubles 164,000 rubles Notes: dimensions, road speed, engine horsepower did not vary significantly, except for the T-43 which was slower than the T-34.
Other armoured fighting vehicles
- Flame-thrower tanks: OT-34 and OT-34-85 had an internally-mounted flamethrower ATO-41 (ATO-42 later) replacing the hull machine-gun.
- PT-1 T-34-76: Protivominniy Tral (counter-mine trawl) Mine roller tank, mostly built on T-34 Model 1943 or T-34-85 chassis
- Self-propelled guns: The T-34 chassis was used as the basis for a series of self-propelled guns
There were many support vehicles and even civilian tractors and cranes built on the T-34 chassis starting during the war and continuing at least into the 1990s. The vast majority of these were conversions of old or damaged tanks and self-propelled guns.
- Bridging tanks: Old tanks rebuilt in the field or at repair facilities. These were simply driven into water two abreast for special river-crossing operations, to be recovered later.
- Armoured recovery vehicles: During World War II, some old tanks were rebuilt as armoured recovery vehicles (ARVs), by plating over the turret ring or adding a superstructure. After the war, this repurposing program was formalized in successively more elaborate models.
Pre-war development of a more advanced T-34 tank was resumed in 1944, leading to the T-44. The new tank had a turret design based on the T-34-85's, but a new hull with torsion-bar suspension and transversely-mounted engine. It had a lower profile than the T-34-85 and was simpler to manufacture. Between 150 to 200 of these tanks were built before the end of the war. With some drivetrain modifications and a new turret and 100 mm gun, it became the T-54, starting production in 1947.
By the end of 1945, over 57,000 T-34s had been built: 34,780 original T-34 tanks in 1940–44, and another 22,559 T-34-85s in 1944–45. The single largest producer was Factory N.183 (UTZ) with 28,952 T-34s and T-34-85s built from 1941 to 1945. The second-largest was Factory N. 112 (Krasnoye Sormovo) in Gorki with 12,604 in the same period.
Soviet tank type Production
(June 1941 – May 1945)
Light tanks 14508  T-34 35119  T-34/85 29430  KV and KV-85 4581  IS 3854  SU-76 12671  SU-85 2050  SU-100 1675  SU-122 1148  SU-152 4779 
In 1946, after the war, 2,701 T-34s were built, and large-scale production ceased. It was restarted under licence in Poland (1951–55) and Czechoslovakia (1951–58), where 1,380 and 3,185 T-34-85s were made, respectively, by 1956. Later, T-54/55 and T-72 tanks were also built outside the Soviet Union. In the late 1960s, Soviet T-34-85s underwent a modernisation program (T-34-85M) for export and reserve service, being retrofitted with drivetrain components from the T-54/55 series tanks—a testament to the level of standardisation in Soviet tank design.
As many as 84,070 T-34s are thought to have been built, plus 13,170 self-propelled guns built on T-34 chassis. Some of these ended up in various Cold War conflicts around the world.
Partly due to the large number produced, there are hundreds of surviving T-34s. Examples of this tank are in the collections of most significant military museums, and hundreds more serve as war memorials. Many are in private ownership, and demilitarised working tanks change hands for between US$20,000 and US$40,000. Some still may serve in a second-line capacity in a number of Third World militaries, while others may find use in a civilian capacity, primarily in film making. In many WWII films, such as Saving Private Ryan, The Battle of Neretva, Kelly's Heroes, and Ballad of a Soldier, T-34-85 tanks were modified to resemble Tiger I tanks, due to the rarity of the latter vehicle. Several were used for the same purpose in Polish TV series Czterej pancerni i pies. Most of them appeared in the third episode. Unlike "Ryan Tigers", as they came to be known, Tigers from the series had their road wheels covered, thus making the trick less obvious.
The durability of the T-34 is underlined by a recent restoration. In 2000, a T-34 Model 1943 was recovered that had spent 56 years at the bottom of a bog in Estonia. The tank had been captured and used by retreating German troops, who dumped it in the swamp when it ran out of fuel. There were no signs of oil leakage, rust, or other significant water damage to the mechanical components. The engine was restored to full working order.
Other significant surviving T-34s include a Model 1941 at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland—one of the oldest surviving vehicles. Other older 76 mm-armed T-34s have recently been recovered from old battle sites, but no known T-34 Model 1940 with an L-11 gun survives. The French Musee des Blindes at Saumur holds two T-34s including one in full working condition that is displayed in action at their summer "Carrousel" live tank exhibition.
A well–known example is the Mandela Way T-34 Tank, a privately–owned T-34-85 named after the street it is sited near in Bermondsey, London. It is frequently repainted by artists and graffitists.
- ^ http://www.wwiivehicles.com/ussr/tanks-medium/t-34-76-1942.asp#p7TPMc1_7 Specifications for T-34/76B
- ^ Armor specified for T-34 Model 1941: Zaloga "T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941–45", 1994.
- ^ Zaloga 1984:184.
- ^ George Parada (n.d.), "Panzerkampfwagen T-34(r)" at Achtung Panzer! website, retrieved on November 17, 2008.
- ^ Harrison 2002
- ^ a b Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:66, 111
- ^ a b Zaloga & Grandsen 1983
- ^ Anonymous, (n.d.) "Heinz Guderian" at The Eastern Front website, retrieved on November 17, 2008.
- ^ Coox p. 579
- ^ Zaloga (2007)
- ^ Coox p. 311
- ^ Coox p. 309
- ^ Coox p. 437 and 993
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:111
- ^ Zheltov 1999
- ^ Yaziv, D.; Chocron, S.; Anderson, Jr., C.E.; Grosch, D.J. "Oblique Penetration in Ceramic Targets". Proceedings of the 19th International Symposium on Ballistics IBS 2001, Interlaken, Switzerland, 1257–64
- ^ A Leningrad team was also trying to develop an advanced replacement for the T-26 infantry tank, but its project was plagued by technical problems and political shake-ups. Almost 70 T-50 light infantry tanks were finally built in Omsk, Siberia in the winter of 1941, but by then thousands of T-34s were rolling into battle, and the infantry tank concept had been abandoned. (Zaloga 1984:114)
- ^ Zaloga 1994:5
- ^ a b Zaloga 1994:6
- ^ Coox p. 998
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:6
- ^ [Sewell 1998]
- ^ Zaloga 1983:6
- ^ Zheltov 2001:40–42
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:130
- ^ Zaloga 1983:14
- ^ Liddell Hart, 1951.
- ^ There were 967 T-34 tanks and 508 KV tanks deployed: Erickson 1962/2001, p. 567.
- ^ Zaloga 1995, p. 9.
- ^ Solonin, pp. 145, 261–262, 321.
- ^ German reports mentioned even small-scale encounters with these troublesome, unexpected tank types. Despite that, they regarded the use of T-34 and KV tanks as "scattered".
- ^ a b Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:127
- ^ Russian Battlefield 1998c
- ^ Dmitry Pyatakhin and George Parada (n.d.), "Tiger Tamers: Battle for Sandomierz Bulge – August of 1944" at Achtung Panzer! website, retrieved on November 17, 2008.
- ^ a b Drabkin & Sheremet 2006, p. 43.
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:135–7
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:137
- ^ Drabkin & Sheremet 2006, pp. 27–28.
- ^ Drabkin & Sheremet 2006, p. 42.
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:126–27, 135
- ^ Zaloga & Sarson 1994, p. 24.
- ^ Perrett 1999
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:13
- ^ Zaloga & Sarson 1994:23
- ^ "Paton Evgeny Oscarovich", at the E.O. Paton Electric Welding Institute. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
- ^ a b Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:131
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:17
- ^ Zaloga 1984:225
- ^ a b Zaloga et al. 1997:5
- ^ Russian Battlefield 1998b
- ^ Zaloga 1984:166
- ^ Zaloga et al. 1997:6
- ^ Drabkin & Sheremet 2006, p. 33.
- ^ Drabkin & Sheremet 2006, p.27.
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:223
- ^ Zaloga 1984:125–6, 225
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:37
- ^ Tom Philo, "Selected Equipment Production Figures World War II". at Tom Philo Photography website, retrieved on November 17, 2008
- ^ Anonymous (2005), "German Panzer Production in WWII" at Lone Sentry website, retrieved on November 17, 2008.
- ^ a b Harrison 2002:181
- ^ Zaloga 1984:113, 184, 225
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:37
- ^ Perrett 1987:134–5
- ^ a b Perrett 1987:135
- ^ Zaloga & Kinnear 1996:34–3
- ^ Zaloga 2010:71–73
- ^ Zaloga 2010:74–75
- ^ Zaloga 2010:59
- ^ a b Zaloga 2010:74
- ^ Zaloga & Kinnear 1996:34
- ^ "Regina v. Ministry of Defence Ex Parte Walker" (judgment), 6 April 2000. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
- ^ Drousiotis, 2006.
- ^ Wright 2001:379
- ^ Zaloga & Kinnear 1996:42–43
- ^ Scotsman.com, "Hungarian protesters seize tank", October 23, 2006; Népszabadság Online, "Elfogták az elkötött T-34-es vezetőjét", October 23, 2006 (Hungarian language).
- ^ Zaloga 1994:19
- ^ Zheltov 2001, passim
- ^ Wachowski 2004
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen (1984:113, 184), Harrison (2002:181), KMDB (2006).
- ^ Steven J. Zaloga, Hugh Johnson, T-54 and T-55 Main Battle Tanks 1944–2004, Osprey Publishing, pp.18–19; the KMT designation was adopted in the 1950s
- ^ http://www.primeportal.net/tanks/tim_roberts/t-34_122_egypt/
- ^ The Russian Battlefield 1998a, 1998b
- ^ Michulec & Zientarzewski 2006:220
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j Walter S. Dunn, Jr (2007). Stalin's keys to victory : the rebirth of the Red Army. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0811734234. http://books.google.com/books?id=JE7Yd2sNBu4C&lpg=PA92&dq=%22T-34%22%20June%201941&pg=PA34#v=onepage&q=%22T-34%22&f=false.
- ^ Zaloga & Grandsen 1996:18
- ^ Tanki T34-76 väljatõmbamine Kurtna järvest (WWII Trophy tank). Militaarne Hiiumaa web site, text republished from Komatsu Times vol 3 no 1. English and Estonian language, retrieved on February 3, 2007.
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- Painting model T-34 Tanks
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