The MS-1 (Maliy Soprovozhdyeniya-Pierviy: First Small Support Vehicle) or T-18 had its origins in a three-year plan drawn up in 1926 to produce a number of tanks to provide close support to infantry whilst breaking through enemy defences. A number of foreign designs were considered by the Red Army in order to speed design and production. Initial studies favoured the adoption of the Italian FIAT-3000 over the French Renault FT, or its Soviet modified variant the KS-1, because of its lower weight and relatively high speed. The accuracy and weight of the FTKS tanks was considered inadequate, and so too was the overall poor quality of the workmanship.
The first prototype was built by the Bolshevik Factory and was ready for trials in March 1927. Designated T-16, it performed adequately, but a number of improvements were recommended, including the addition of another road wheel and alterations to the transmission. Final tests on the new model were conducted in mid-1927, with the vehicle re-designated as Small Support Tank Model 1927, or T-18. Lack of a gun led to concentration on road tests, during which the T-18 was judged to have performed effectively and it was afterwards recommended for service. The Red Army ordered 108 vehicles to be built between 1928 and 1929, and the first 30 were available to take place in the 7 November 1929 Moscow and Leningrad parades celebrating the revolution.
However, production of the tanks had been difficult because of lack of facilities at the Bolshevik Factory to manufacture certain components, such as ball-bearings and carburettors. Eventually the required parts had to be imported, but even then the tanks delivered to the army were plagued with technical difficulties. Later field tests in 1929 revealed that the T-18 had problems in crossing trenches. This was rectified when the commander of the Leningrad Region Armoured Force ordered the fitting of a second tail at the front. The appearance of the tank with its iron struts at the front earned it the nickname Nosorog (Rhinoceros).
Although the T-18 remained in production until the end of 1931, as early as July 1927 the Revolutionary Military Council had stated that it was unsuitable for the conditions of modern combat, and consequently it was to remain in service only until a successor was available. In line with this, several modifications were undertaken to the T-18 as a stopgap. There was some discussion about replacing the copied French Hotchkiss 37mm (1.46in) gun with a new, high-velocity version, but nothing was done. The turret was extensively re-designed in order to create space for a radio, although not all tanks received radio.
The most important changes involved measures to increase the T-18 ‘s speed and mobility. The engine’s power was increased to 29kW (40bhp) and a new gearbox and cast wheel drive were introduced. However, these measures failed to significantly increase the tank’s overall performance, and later programmes to update theT-18’s running gear in 1933 and in 1938 also failed to achieve any improvement in performance.
MS-1 /T-18 IN ACTION
Despite the unfavourable opinion expressed about the T-18 soon after its acceptance by the Red Army, over 989 were produced between 1928 and 1931, and they saw successful, if limited, combat service, fulfilling their role of direct support to the infantry. In 1929, nine T-18 tanks saw action in the Far East in border clashes with Chinese forces. In one engagement, eight T-18s supported the attack of the 106th and 108th rifle regiments against Chinese forces dug in around Dzhalaynor Station. In one attack, the infantry advanced behind the cover of the T-18s against Chinese positions. The tank crews operated with skill, providing fire support with their guns as well. A later attack was less successful because the tanks initially couldn’t cross an antitank ditch. Later several vehicles managed to get into the enemy lines, sweeping them with concentrated fire.
By the time of the outbreak of war with Germany in June 1941, few T-18s were left in running order. In 1938 over 700 were ordered to be re-armed and used as mobile firing points in the fortified regions along the borders with Poland and Romania. Some T-18s did see action during the opening days of the war with IX Mechanized Corps during the large tank battle in the Rovno-Broda-Lutsk area. However, these had been deployed almost randomly in a desperate attempt to replace the massive losses suffered amongst the corps’ more modern BT and T-26 tanks during the previous weeks’ fighting.
The formation of the GUVP.
During 1923 the problems associated with the design and construction of tanks were now studied by the GUVP (Glavno Upravleniy Voermoy Promishlennosti- the Main Department of War Industry). This department laid down the following programme:
a. To carry out all systematic trials possible in the economically undeveloped Soviet Union.
b. To produce equipment for training tank personnel.
c. To study tank technology.
d. To design and test new experimental tank models.
In undertaking this programme, the GUVP was also responsible for organizing the necessary equipment for the industries concerned, as well as the training of personnel for tank units. Within the framework of the GUVP, on 6 May 1924, a tank-technical bureau was set up to carry out an analysis of the tank warfare employed during World War I.
GUVP design investigations.
Throughout this period, the GUVP had undertaken a project for a new tank based on the analysis of World War I experiences. By May 1925 an 80 ton tank was in the process of construction at AMO (in the Tank and Armoured Car Department). This vehicle had overall tracks similar to the British Mk V `Ricardo’, but with a large turret and no sponsons. The tank was to carry 10 men and to be armed with two 75 mm guns and four machine-guns. The armour varied between 12 and 40 mm. Bibergan wrote:
The basic design was orientated around the `Ricardo’ engine, which was fairly cheap and available abroad. This engine was fitted in all Mk V tanks. However, it made the vehicle configuration too high. Added to this, it did not satisfy the basic requirement- power, for example, of 1 hp for every 12 kg. The profile of the tracks resembled an ellipse. Not entirely adequate was the comfort of the crew. The authorities seemed to have been carried away by foreign technical trends. … A cupola stroboscope was evaluated, with vertical slits in the sides. This cupola was rotated by a special motor, allowing constant vision. Experience, however, showed it. to be inadequate. In building this tank we were primarily concerned with the problems of decreasing noise.
Being based upon the Great War tank designs, this vehicle was suited purely for the trench-war concept, and therefore did not coincide with the new Soviet strategic role for cavalry. It was abandoned before completion. Another similar tank project was under consideration and a prototype is believed to have been completed. Designated TG-5 (T-42), the tank was basically a mobile fortress and is stated to have weighed 100 tons. It was armed with either a 105 mm or a 6 inch howitzer, two 37 mm guns, and several machine-guns (including two for anti-aircraft use). With an armour basis of nearly 3 inches, it was manned by a crew of from 8 to 10 men and could achieve a speed of 25 mph. Due to a decision to halt the development of tank types used during the World War no further work on superheavy tank types was undertaken.
The GUVP tank programme. The exact policy adopted by the Technical Bureau of the GUVP was laid down during the session of the bureau at the beginning of 1925
i. Note, that the tank provides a powerful means of supporting infantry and of obtaining a breakthrough, with the necessary support of artillery, and also that, in addition to its firepower, it provides a means of destruction, laying a road in the path of its advance. It is vital then, to fill the gap immediately and provide our army with this means of combat.
ii. The tank represents a special combat machine, and so the organization of tank design and construction should be undertaken as an independent task.
iii. The next consideration, for the system of manufacture, appears to be the design, construction and testing of the principal components in modern tank technology, such as: engines, armament, suspension, armour, and methods of gas protection.
iv. In order to carry out these tasks the GUVP should form a `Tank-Staff’ Group. . . .
v. In parallel with the study of the design of basic components, there should be undertaken a special study of supervision, liaison and command. On these bases should be considered: the necessity for the GUVP to speed up development work and the organization of tank design . . . with the selection of a permanent tank-staff group within the construction bureau and the scientific-technical council of the GUVP, for continuing the design and development of tank technology and ensuring subsequent production . . . all investigations and solutions being carried out in this country.
Such was the policy which guided our home tank industry during 1924-5. Owing to incorrect assumptions, and the abundance of tank projects, our tank development was delayed for a long time. Up until 1929, our basic tank was one designed in 1920- the `Russkiy Renault’. Only in 1929, when we began to carry out the First Five-Year Plan and our industry matured- not by days, but by hours-did we have a basic home tank industry. The leader of the nation, Comrade Stalin, became personally involved in the problems of tank design and put us on the right road. . .