The T-27A saw action on the outer edges of the Soviet Empire when it was used by NKVD security troops in operations against the Basmachi bandits of the Karak desert on the borders with Afghanistan. By the time production ceased in 1933, some 2540 had been built. The tankettes were still in service in 1941, though by this time they were no longer used as machine gun carriers, but rather as tractors for pulling 37mm (1.46in) and 45mm (1.77in) antitank guns.

The most direct influences on the creation of Soviet armaments came from Germany. After World War I Germany, like the Soviet Union, was something of an international pariah. Cooperation between these two isolated nations germinated from the peculiarities of each other’s predicaments that closely intertwined. In short, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles the 100,000-man Reichswehr was permitted no planes or tanks. To the German High Command, the Soviet Union, with its vast space and closed borders, was the ideal place to secretly develop tanks and aircraft. To the Soviets, the benefit of access to German technical and· military personnel and ideas was obvious. This mutually beneficial relationship began briefly in 1924, before several internal German political problems terminated the agreement. The attractions for the armed forces of both sides proved too great, however, and in the late 1920s cooperation resumed, which was to last until Hitler came to power in January 1933.

In 1927 the Germans established a tank development school in the Soviet Union at Kazan, referred to as the Heavy Vehicle Experimental and Test Station. Despite the obvious advantages to both sides, agreement was not achieved without some internal wranglings. Elements of the Soviet General Staff were opposed for military and ideological reasons. In 1928 the Kazan school was made operational with the arrival of 10 German prototypes, weighing 18.28 tonnes (18 tons) each, designed by Krupps and Rheinmetall. German aircraft were also tested at Lipetsk, near Moscow. Equally as important as military cooperation was the assistance received from German designers and technicians in many areas of the Soviet armaments industry. The exchange of ideas and acquiring of techniques were, at times, quite close. In 1932 a Soviet team which was headed by the German engineer Grotte, developed the TG-l Heavy Breakthrough tank as part of the wider mechanization of the Red Army, and the Soviets also purchased and built under licence the Rheinmetall 37mm (1.46in) antitank gun.

The relationship between the Reichswehr and Red Army was also one of distrust. Some senior Soviet officers such as J.P. Uborevich studied at the German War College, and a small number of more junior officers did attend German training courses at Kazan. In general, Defence Commissar K.V. Voroshilov preferred to train Soviet tank officers at the Red Army Armour Centre at Voronezh. The importance of these limited but invaluable exchanges on the development of each army’s ideas on the combat employment of tanks is difficult to assess. Both looked extensively to the British Army’s successful experience in World War I as well as its developments during the post-war period.

As would be expected during any period of change in military affairs, German and Soviet military texts and articles at this point were translated and studied closely by both sides. But so were those of a wide number of other combative nations. Many of the conclusions about tactics which were reached during this era by the Reichswehr and the Red Army had strong parallels, but it stands to reason that they are so manifestly logical that it would be fruitless to try and argue which nation’s designers and engineers inspired the other.

What can be said with some certainty about this period is that between 1920 and 1930, the Red Army was a vibrant and imaginative organization that was busily engaged in developing its own unique ideas about the combat employment of tanks. These ideas were not a pale imitation of Germany’s, or of other nations. In fact, in some areas, the Soviets were to prove startlingly original.