Russia marks anniversary of its best tank

Other News Materials 21 December 2009 12:57 (UTC +04:00)

RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik

Seventy years ago, on December 19, 1939, the Soviet government's Defense Committee issued a resolution approving the supply of several new types of automobiles and armored vehicles to the army. One of the latter was the T-32 track tank with a B-2 diesel engine.

The resolution also said that the new tank's armor should be strengthened and its visibility and armaments improved. The revamped tank was called T-34. When it was delivered to the army, few people thought it would be such an enduring design.

A new design bureau led by Adolf Dik started working on the tank in 1937, but the chief designer soon fell victim to Stalin's persecution campaigns. He was replaced by Mikhail Koshkin, the designer of the plant that later manufactured the tank.

The T-34 fought its first battles during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). These battles showed that its 15-20 mm armor left it defenseless against 25-47 mm antitank guns. It had been decided that a thicker armor would increase the tank's weight and not allow the planned combination of tracks and wheels.

However, by that time the country could make chain tracks that lasted several thousand kilometers, allowing the designers to replace the wheels with tracks without affecting the tank's running performance. The T-34 tank was designed for offensive operations that involved long marches at a high speed.

In addition, it was decided to equip the tank with a more powerful 76 mm gun because the 45 mm gun proved insufficient against infantry and antitank guns.

On March 17, 1940, two T-34 tanks ran from Kharkov in Ukraine to Moscow, where they were presented to the Soviet leaders, including Stalin, in Ivanovskaya Square at the Kremlin. Koshkin, who led the march, caught pneumonia and died in the fall of 1940.

The tank had quite a few bugs and the production pace fell behind schedule. The army heavily criticized it, but the government did not discontinue production.

By June 22, 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Red Army had over 1,000 T-34 tanks. But they could not prove their worth in border clashes. The German army was superior to the Red Army on nearly all counts, including the number of troops, the quality of command and control, combat experience, and logistics, and therefore easily neutralized the Soviet Union's superiority in tanks.

The Germans noticed the T-34 in the fall of 1941, when Soviet tank brigades started delivering very painful blows to the German units weakened by months of heavy fighting. With good drivers and commanders, the T-34 tank quickly and convincingly demonstrated its fire and armor superiority, as the Germans grudgingly admitted.

The production of the T-34 was increased while the country's industries were still being evacuated to the eastern regions. Much was also done to simplify the tank's design, which helped roll out more tanks and form more tank units. Soon the T-34 became the biggest concern for the Germans, who had previously taken legitimate pride in their tanks.

Germany could not increase the production of tanks as fast as the Soviet Union did, and so decided to improve its medium tanks and design the new-generation Tiger and Panther tanks. At that time, the role of tanks was changing, and tank duels became increasingly frequent toward the middle of the war.

The Germans created unmatched tanks for such duels but failed to make up for their strategic deficiency relative to the Soviet tanks. As the number of Red Army and Allied mobile units increased, Germany started feeling increasingly constrained.

Soviet designers improved the T-34 to be able to stand up against Germany's new tanks. In late 1943, the T-34 was equipped with a long-barrel 85 mm gun whose munitions could slice through the armor of German Tigers and Panthers. The T-34-85 tank became the calling card of the Red Army, the fast symbol of victory that was kept as a monument in many liberated European cities.

A survivor, the T-34 tank remained on combat duty in the Soviet Union for 20 years after the end of World War II in 1945. It was also exported to other countries and fought valiantly in wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and in Africa.

Yet the most glorious page in the tank's history was the Great Patriotic War against Germany (1941-1945). This is a fact accepted not only in Russia but also in many other countries, including the Soviet Union's enemies who were nevertheless the first to declare it the best tank of WWII, and also its allies who said it was the world's best tank of all time.

The T-34 medium tank weighed 26 tons and had a crew of four, a speed of 55 km/h (34 mph), and a range of 115 miles.

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