T-34M highlighting the torsion bar suspension
The scan is a bit cut off, but the production of T-34s wanes to only 40 units over the month of September and is fully replaced by T-34Ms by October. It is interesting to point out that 380 out of the 800 T-34Ms were armed with a ZiS-4 gun, instead of the F-34 gun that the overwhelming majority of T-34s received. 300 of the tanks were also to be equipped with a flamethrower, aside from their main guns (65 F-34 armed T-34Ms and 235 T-34Ms with a ZiS-4). That was one way of compensating for the deficiencies of the 57 mm HE shell. Going through unfulfilled orders, another unbuilt tank pops up, the T-34M. The T-34M (factory designation A-43) was a modernized version of the T-34, with features that would be seen in Soviet medium tanks several years after, like torsion bars, a 5 man crew, a commander’s cupola, a planetary gear transmission, and internal shock absorption.
T-34 family portrait, 1941 (BT-7, A-20, T-34 Models 1940 and 1941)
An experimental variant of the T-34, designated the T-34M. This tank was designed to remedy most of the issues presented by the T-34 L11 (1940) and the T-34 F-34 (1941). Between its development period in 1940 to 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Union wanted a new tank that could improve upon the current medium T-34 design, two prototypes were developed, as well as 5 hulls before the German Invasion, which halted development indefinitely.
The most advanced modification of the T- 34 was the T-34M tank , designated as the A-43 at the factory. This, in fact, was not a modification, but rather a complete redesign that led to the creation of a new vehicle. Except for the transmission and the glacis plate, the T- 34M had nothing in common with the T-34. Nevertheless, it is widely assumed to be a member of the T-34 family member. The only reason that may explain this assumption may lie in the fact that it was to be the T- 34 ‘s successor. The work on the T-34M was considered as Stage Two. This version of the T-34 was built as a result of the military ‘s dissatisfaction with the faults of the mass-produced version and their testing of two Pz.Kpfw. IIIs bought in Germany. The concept of a more functional and valuable successor to the T-34 already originated in March 1940, and the initial work on it started in April.
However, it was not until January 1941 that the factory had enough spare machining capacity to put the project into its workshop. The need for speed was so great, and the number of anticipated changes so numerous, that it was decided to use already existing improvements or mock-ups of unfinished components. An example of this was the F-34 gun, for which it was planned to create a completely new turret. The complete proposal, drawings and a wooden mock-up of the new tank were presented at one of the meetings of the Defense Committee in January 1941, which ordered its implementation. The first two prototypes were to be ready in March and, by inference, soon after the mass-production was to start.
While the T- 34 took three years to complete, the modified version was developed at lightning speed. The tank was created in approximately half a year, and it was known immediately how it was to function. Why such a difference? A ll evidence points to two reasons; the first was that the Soviets thoroughly examined the German Pz. Kpfw. III Ausf. E/F, and the second was a result of the production of the T- 34, which confirmed all of the military’s fear s from the period March-June 1940. These resulted from faulty designs (especially the turret), and the use of foreign-made components in the prototypes, whose place had to be taken by domestic products in the mass-produced tanks. These factors were reflected in the reliability of the T-34.
The T-34M had many improvements including a shorter overall length due to a new narrow 12-cylinder engine that was to be moved inside the tank to reduce the vehicle size. It was to have 50mm higher ground clearance compared to the T-34, along with narrow tracks that were to be 450mm in width compared to the T-34 550mm tracks, which caused an increase in ground pressure. A new thicker armoured Hexagonal Turret was also developed that is almost reminiscent of the Panzer IV’s which solved another longstanding issue with the standard T-34’s of only having 4 crew members, increasing that to 5 due to the turret’s third seat. An issue that would not be fixed until the creation and adoption of the T-34-85.
The arrangement of the new turret, engine and radio station (inside the housing) increased the main ammo load to 100 as opposed to the T-34’s 77 and the secondary ammo from 46 to 72 mags. The armament was something different however, Russia ordered for purchase 65 to be armed with the F-34 cannon and the other 235 to utilize the 57mm ZiS-4 cannon (as used on the T-34-57).
Another rather large change was the use of torsion-bar suspension (similar to the KV tanks) rather than the T-34’s regular Christie suspension. Interestingly after Operation Barbarossa, Russia put development priority on upgrading their current service vehicles in an effort to ease manufacturing and expenses, unfortunately abandoning the T-34M’s development, despite this however there are some reports of T-34M turrets being installed upon standard T-34 chassis, as they were in large supply after the cancellation of its development.
The T-34 was designed as the final of a series of shellproof tanks. In order to make it as hard to kill as possible, it was made as compact as possible, and the turret was particularly small. That made for a smaller target, and the less area you have to cover the thicker the steel for the same weight. Since it was to be a breakthrough tank (a fast Matilda with a real gun, if you like) the fact that the cramped, cupola less turret made it difficult for the two man in the turret to fight other tanks properly was accepted. The main tank was, after all, going to be the lighter, faster, T-50 with a dedicated 45mm AT gun in a three-man turret with a commanders cupola. When the T-50 proved to be unreliable, it was decided to standardize on a new, better T-34 with all the advanced features of the T-50. And since the initial trop trials of the T-34 had found it unreliable and difficult to drive, the new model w given a revised engine, mounted longitudaly with much better space for maintenance work, and critically a new transmission with a reduction box that gave it twice the gears and was expected to be much easier to drive.
THE NEW HEXAGONAL TURRET
The Deputy Peoples Commissar for Defence and head of the Central Artillery Directorate (GAU), G.I. Kulik, disliked the T-34 and insisted on various changes. This disrupted early production and led to the Council of People’s Commissars ordering an improvement programme for the T-34. Designated the T-34M, it would have the torsion bar suspension system used on the KV and T-50 tanks, and the hull and turret redesigned with an increase in armour.
The project broke down when it became clear that it would seriously disrupt production. Morozov had designed a new turret for the T-34M in response to some of the flaws of the earlier turrets that had shown up in combat. German tank-killing infantry squads could climb onto the back of the tank and wedge a Teller AT mine under the turret overhang. The overhang also created a shell trap that deflected incoming rounds into the vulnerable turret ring. Morozov’s new, cast, hexagonal turret that appeared on the Model 1943 eliminated the overhang, was also considerably easier to manufacture and larger than the original turrets, giving the turret crew a little more space. However, the problem of the small turret and overworked turret crew was only adequately solved with the introduction of a large three-man turret on the T-34/85 that entered production in the winter of 1943.
Now the T-34 suffered hugely from reliability issues, so the M, if it worked as advertise would be a big bonus. According to some Soviet sources, on 200 km march towards front, almost half T-34s broke down. So if Soviets have more T-34s on front, for sure because of bad tactics, they will have huge casualties, but also could cause more troubles to Germans. But I’ll stress again that if the Russians used rudimentary tank tactics in 1941, 1942, and 1943 that was not only for lack of training, but because in a tank without a dedicated gunner and poor visibility the gunner/commander had far less options and time to think than in a tank with a proper turret.
So better tank, better performance on the field, much stepper (upwards) learning curve for tank commanders, much better kill ratios!
And it would be doable if they had dropped the T-50 and concentrated on getting the T-34 right earlier. Note that the troops were so unsatisfied with the T-34 before the war that there were requests for its production to be stooped in favour of the BT7M until the T-34M could be produced.
After Barbarossa there was such a huge need for tanks that it was too late and the soviets were going to fight with the T-34 for the rest of the war.
Produced: 2 prototypes, 5 hulls
Weight: 987 kg lighter than the T-34
Length: Reduced compared to T-34
Weapon: 57mm ZiS-4 or 76.2mm F-34
Ammo: 100 main gun, 72 secondary mags
Engine Power: 600 hp, 12-cylinder diesel 600CV
Gearbox: 8 speed (6 forward, 2 reverse)
Speed (road): 52-55 km/h
Fuel: 600 L (140 L increase from T-34)
Range: 330 km approx.
Suspension: Torsion-bar (similar to the KV’s)
Track Width: 450mm
Hull: 60mm (Frontal)
Turret: 45mm (wall thickness)