Panzer II Part I

Panzer II

The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II (abbreviated PzKpfw II). Although the vehicle had originally been designed as a stopgap while more advanced tanks were developed, it nonetheless went on to play an important role in the early years of World War II, during the Polish and French campaigns. By the end of 1942 it had been largely removed from front line service, and production of the tank itself ceased by 1943. Its chassis remained in use as the basis of several other armored vehicles.

History

In 1934, delays in the design and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks were becoming apparent. Designs for a stopgap tank were solicited from Krupp, MAN, Henschel, and Daimler-Benz. The final design was based on the Panzer I, but larger, and with a turret mounting a 20 mm anti-tank gun. Production began in 1935, but it took another eighteen months for the first combat-ready tank to be delivered.

The Panzer II was the most numerous tank in the German Panzer divisions beginning with the invasion of France, until it was supplemented by the Panzer III and IV in 1940/41. Afterwards, it was used to great effect as a reconnaissance tank.

The Panzer II was used in the German campaigns in Poland, France, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway, North Africa and the Eastern Front. After being removed from front-line duty, it was used for training and on secondary fronts. The chassis was used for a number of self-propelled guns including the Wespe and Marder II.

Design

Armor

The Panzer II was designed before the experience of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 showed that shell-proof armor was required for tanks to survive on a modern battlefield. Prior to that, armor was designed to stop machine gun fire and High Explosive shell fragments.

The Panzer II A, B, and C had 14 mm of slightly sloped homogenous steel armor on the sides, front, and back, with 10 mm of armor on the top and bottom. Many IIC were given increased armor in the front. Starting with the D model, the front armor was increased to 30 mm. The Model F had 35 mm front armour and 20 mm side armor.

This armor could be penetrated by towed antitank weapons such as the Soviet 45mm and French canon de 25 and canon de 47.

Armament

Most tank versions of the Panzer II were armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 55 calibers long cannon. Some later versions used the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 which was similar. This cannon was based on the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, and was capable of firing at a rate of 600 rounds per minute (280 rounds per minute sustained). The Panzer II also had a 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun.

The 2 cm cannon proved to be ineffective against many Allied tanks, and experiments were made towards replacing it with a 37 mm cannon, but nothing came of this. Prototypes were built with a 50 mm tank gun, but by then the Panzer II had outlived its usefulness as a tank regardless of armament. Greater success was had by replacing the standard armor-piercing explosive ammunition with tungsten cored solid ammunition, but due to material shortages this ammunition was in chronically short supply.

Later development into a self-propelled gun carriage saw the mounting of a 5 cm PaK 38 antitank gun, but this was seen as insufficient for the time, and the larger 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was installed as an effective stop-gap. The main production antitank version was fitted with a 7.5 cm PaK 40 which was very effective. Artillery mounting began with a few 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry guns, but most effective was the 10.5 cm leFH 18, for which the Panzer II chassis became the primary carriage for the war. Most of these versions retained a pintle mounted 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun for defense against infantry and air attack.

Mobility

All production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 PS, gasoline-fuelled six-cylinder Maybach HL 62 TRM engine and ZF transmissions. Models A, B, and C had a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). Models D and E had a Christie suspension and a better transmission, giving a top road speed of 55 km/h (33 mph) but the cross country speed was much lower than previous models, so the Model F reverted back to the previous leaf spring type suspension. All versions had a range of 200 km (120 mi).

Crew

The Panzer II had a crew of three men. The driver sat in the forward hull. The commander sat in a seat in the turret, and was responsible for aiming and firing the guns, while a loader/radio operator stood on the floor of the tank under the turret.

Variants

Development and limited production models

Panzer II Ausf. a (PzKpfw IIa)

Not to be confused with the later Ausf. A (the sole difference being the capitalization of the letter A), the Ausf. a was the first limited production version of the Panzer II to be built, and was subdivided into three sub-variants. The Ausf. a/1 was initially built with a cast idler wheel with rubber tire, but this was replaced after ten production examples with a welded part. The Ausf. a/2 improved engine access issues. The Ausf. a/3 included improved suspension and engine cooling. In general, the specifications for the Ausf. a models was similar, and a total of 75 were produced from May 1936 to February 1937 by Daimler-Benz and MAN. The Ausf. a was considered the 1 Serie under the LaS 100 name.[citation needed]

Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Engine: Maybach HL57TR with 6 gear transmission plus reverse
  • Weight: 7.6 tonnes
  • Dimensions: 4.38 m(l) x 2.14 m(w) x 1.95 m(h)
  • Speed: 40 km/h
  • Range: 200 km
  • Communications: FuG5 radio
  • Primary armament: 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 gun with TZF4 gun sight, turret mounted
  • Secondary armament: MG34 7.92 mm machine gun, coaxially mounted
  • Ammunition: 180 20 mm and 2,250 7.92 mm carried
  • Turret: 360° hand traverse with elevation of +20° and depression to -9.5°
  • Armour: 13 mm front, side, and rear; 8 mm top; 5 mm bottom

Panzer II Ausf. b (PzKpfw IIb)

Again, not to be confused with the later Ausf. B, the Ausf. b was a second limited production series embodying further developments, primarily a heavy reworking of suspension components resulting in a wider track and a longer hull. Length was increased to 4.76 m but width and height were unchanged. Additionally, a Maybach HL62TR engine was used with new drivetrain components to match. Deck armor for the superstructure and turret roof was increased to 10–12 mm. Total weight increased to 7.9 tonnes. Twenty-five were built by Daimler-Benz and MAN in February and March 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. c (PzKpfw IIc)

As the last of the developmental limited production series of Panzer IIs, the Ausf. c came very close to matching the mass production configuration, with a major change to the suspension with the replacement of the six small road wheels with five larger independently sprung road wheels and an additional return roller bringing that total to four. The tracks were further modified and the fenders widened. Total length was increased to 4.81 m and width to 2.22 m, while height was still about 1.99 m. At least 25 of this model were produced from March through July 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. A (PzKpfw IIA)

The first true production model, the Ausf. A included an armor upgrade to 14.5 mm on all sides, as well as a 14.5 mm floor plate, and an improved transmission. The Ausf. A entered production in July 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. B (PzKpfw IIB)

Introducing only minimal changes to the Ausf. A, the Ausf. B superseded it in production from December 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. C (PzKpfw IIC)

Few minor changes were made in the Ausf. C version, which became the standard production model from June 1938 through April 1940. A total of 1,113 examples of Ausf. c, A, B, and C tanks were built from March 1937 through April 1940 by Alkett, FAMO, Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN, MIAG, and Wegmann. These models were almost identical and were used in service interchangeably. This was the most widespread tank version of the Panzer II and performed the majority of the tank’s service in the Panzer units during the war. Earlier versions of Ausf. C have rounded hull front, but many vehicles of Ausf. C were up-armored to fight in France. These have extra armors bolted on the turret front and super structure front. Also up-armored versions have angled front hull like that of Ausf.F. Some were also retro-fitted with commander’s cupolas.

Panzer II Ausf. F (PzKpfw IIF)

Continuing the conventional design of the Ausf. C, the Ausf. F was designed as a reconnaissance tank and served in the same role as the earlier models. The superstructure front was made from a single piece armor plate with a redesigned visor. Also a dummy visor was placed next to it to reduce anti-tank rifle bullets hitting the real visor. The hull was redesigned with a flat 35 mm plate on its front, and armor of the superstructure and turret were built up to 30 mm on the front with 15 mm to the sides and rear. There was some minor alteration of the suspension and a new commander’s cupola as well. Weight was increased to 9.5 tonnes. 524 were built from March 1941 to December 1942 as the final major tank version of the Panzer II series.

Panzer II Ausf. D (PzKpfw IID)

With a completely new Christie suspension with four road wheels, the Ausf. D was developed as a cavalry tank for use in the pursuit and reconnaissance roles. Only the turret was the same as the Ausf. C model, with a new hull and superstructure design and the use of a Maybach HL62TRM engine driving a seven-gear transmission (plus reverse). The design was shorter (4.65 m) but wider (2.3 m) and taller (2.06 m) than the Ausf. C. Speed was increased to 55 km/h. A total of 143 Ausf. D and Ausf. E tanks were built from May 1938 through August 1939 by MAN, and they served in Poland. They were withdrawn in March 1940 for conversion to other types after proving to have poor off road performance.

Panzer II Ausf. E (PzKpfw IIE)

Similar to the Ausf. D, the Ausf. E improved some small items of the suspension, but was otherwise similar and served alongside the Ausf. D.

Advertisements

Panzer II Part II

Panzer II Ausf. J (PzKpfw IIJ)

Continued development of the reconnaissance tank concept led to the much up-armored Ausf. J, which used the same concept as the PzKpfw IF of the same period, under the experimental designation VK1601. Heavier armor was added, bringing protection up to 80 mm on the front and 50 mm to the sides and rear, with 25 mm roof and floor plates, increasing total weight to 18 tonnes. Equipped with the same Maybach HL45P as the PzKpfw IF, top speed was reduced to 31 km/h. Primary armament was the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 gun. 22 were produced by MAN between April and December 1942, and seven were issued to the 12th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front.

Panzerkampfwagen II ohne Aufbau

One use for obsolete Panzer II tanks which had their turrets removed for use in fortifications was as utility carriers. A number of chassis not used for conversion to self-propelled guns were instead handed over to the Engineers for use as personnel and equipment carriers.

Panzer II Flamm

Based on the same suspension as the Ausf. D and Ausf. E tank versions, the Flamm (also known as “Flamingo”)used a new turret mounting a single MG34 machine gun, and two remotely controlled flamethrowers mounted in small turrets at each front corner of the vehicle. Each flamethrower could cover the front 180° arc, while the turret traversed 360°.

The flamethrowers were supplied with 320 litres of fuel and four tanks of compressed nitrogen. The nitrogen tanks were built into armored boxes along each side of the superstructure. Armor was 30 mm to the front and 14.5 mm to the side and rear, although the turret was increased to 20 mm at the sides and rear.

Total weight was 12 tonnes and dimensions were increased to a length of 4.9 m and width of 2.4 m although it was a bit shorter at 1.85 m tall. A FuG2 radio was carried. Two sub-variants existed: the Ausf. A and Ausf. B which differed only in minor suspension components.

One hundred and fifty-five Flamm vehicles were built from January 1940 through March 1942. These were mostly on new chassis but 43 were on used Ausf. D and Ausf. E chassis. The Flamm was deployed in the USSR but was not very successful due to its limited armor, and survivors were soon withdrawn for conversion in December 1941.

5 cm PaK 38 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II

Conceived along the same lines as the Marder II, the 5 cm PaK 38 was an expedient solution to mount the 50 mm antitank gun on the Panzer II chassis. However, the much greater effectiveness of the 75 mm antitank gun made this option less desirable and it is not known how many field modifications were made to this effect.

7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. D (Sd.Kfz. 132)

After a lack of success with conventional and flame tank variants on the Christie chassis, it was decided to use the remaining chassis to mount captured Soviet antitank guns. The hull and suspension was unmodified from the earlier models, but the superstructure was built up to provide a large fighting compartment on top of which was mounted a Soviet 76.2 mm antitank gun, which, while not turreted, did have significant traverse. Only developed as an interim solution, the vehicle was clearly too tall and poorly protected, but had a powerful weapon and was better than what the Germans had at the time.

7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Marder II) (Sd.Kfz. 131)

While the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was a good stopgap measure, the 7.5 cm PaK 40 mounted on the tank chassis of the Ausf. F resulted in a better overall fighting machine. New production amounted to 576 examples from June 1942 to June 1943 as well as the conversion of 75 tanks after new production had stopped. The work was done by Daimler-Benz, FAMO, and MAN. A much improved superstructure for the 7.62 cm mounting was built giving a lower profile. The Marder II became a key piece of equipment and served with the Germans on all fronts through the end of the war.

Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Wespe)

After the development of the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II for mounting the sIG 33, Alkett designed a version mounting a 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/2 field howitzer in a built-up superstructure. The Panzer II proved an efficient chassis for this weapon and it became the only widely produced self-propelled 105 mm howitzer for Germany. Between February 1943 and June 1944, 676 were built by FAMO and it served with German forces on all major fronts.

Munitions Selbstfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II

To support the Wespe in operation, a number of Wespe chassis were completed without installation of the howitzer, instead functioning as ammunition carriers. They carried 90 rounds of 105 mm caliber. 159 were produced alongside the Wespe. These could be converted by installation of the leFH 18 in the field if needed.

Panzerkampfwagen II mit Schwimmkörper

One of Germany’s first attempts at developing an amphibious tank, the Schwimmkörper was a device built by Gebr Sachsenberg which consisted of two large pontoons that attached to either side of a Panzer II tank. The tanks were specially sealed and some modification to the engine exhaust and cooling was needed. The pontoons were detachable. The modified tanks were issued to the 18th Panzer Regiment which was formed in 1940. However, with cancellation of Operation Sealion, the plan to invade England, the tanks were used in the conventional manner by the regiment on the Eastern Front.

Panzer II Ausf. L (PzKpfw IIL) “Luchs”

A light reconnaissance tank, the Ausf. L was the only Panzer II design with the overlapping/interleaved road wheels and “slack track” configuration to enter series production, with 100 being built from September 1943 to January 1944 in addition to conversion of the four Ausf. M tanks. Originally given the experimental designation VK 1303, it was adopted under the alternate name Panzerspähwagen II and given the popular name Luchs (Lynx). The Lynx was larger than the Ausf. G in most dimensions (length 4.63 m; height 2.21 m; width 2.48 m). It was equipped with a six speed transmission (plus reverse), and could reach a speed of 60 km/h with a range of 290 km. The FuG12 and FuG Spr a radios were installed, while 330 rounds of 20 mm and 2,250 rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition were carried. Total vehicle weight was 11.8 tonnes.

LIMITED PRODUCTION, EXPERIMENTS AND PROTOTYPES

Panzer II Ausf. G (PzKpfw IIG)

The fourth and final suspension configuration used for the Panzer II tanks was the five overlapping road wheel configuration termed Schachtellaufwerk by the Germans. This was used as the basis for the redesign of the Panzer II into a reconnaissance tank with high speed and good off-road performance. The Ausf. G was the first Panzer II to use this configuration, and was developed with the experimental designation VK901. There is no record of the Ausf. G being issued to combat units, and only twelve full vehicles were built from April 1941 to February 1942 by MAN. The turrets were subsequently issued for use in fortifications.

Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Engine: Maybach HL66P driving a five speed transmission (plus reverse)
  • Weight: 10.5 tonnes
  • Dimensions: length 4.24 m; width 2.38 m; height 2.05 m
  • Performance: speed 50 km/h; range 200 km
  • Main armament: 7.92×94 mm MG141 automatic rifle, turret mounted with TZF10 sight
  • Secondary armament: 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun, coaxially mounted
  • Turret: 360° hand traverse
  • Armor: 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear

Panzer II Ausf. H (PzKpfw IIH)

Given experimental designation VK903, the Ausf. H was intended as the production model of the Ausf. G, with armor for the sides and rear increased to 20 mm and a new four speed transmission (plus reverse) similar to that of the PzKpfw 38(t) nA. Only prototypes were ever completed by the time of cancellation in September 1942.

5 cm PaK 38 auf Panzerkampfwagen II

Planned as a light tank destroyer, the first two prototypes were delivered in 1942 but by then their 50 mm gun was not sufficient and the program was canceled in favor of 75 mm weapons.

Brückenleger auf Panzerkampfwagen II

After failed attempts to use the Panzer I as a chassis for a bridge layer, work moved to the Panzer II, led by Magirus. It is not known how many of these conversions were made, but four were known to have been in service with the 7th Panzer Division in May 1940.

15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)

One of the first gun mount variants of the Panzer II design was to emplace a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry gun on a turretless Panzer II chassis. The prototype utilized an Ausf. B tank chassis, but it was quickly realized that it was not sufficient for the mounting. A new, longer chassis incorporating an extra road wheel was designed and built, named the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II. An open-topped 15 mm thick armored superstructure sufficient against small arms and shrapnel was provided around the gun. This was not high enough to give full protection for the crew while manning the gun, although they were still covered directly to the front by the tall gun shield. Only 12 were built in November and December 1941. These served with the 707th and 708th Heavy Infantry Gun Companies in North Africa until their destruction in 1943.

Bergepanzerwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. J

A single example of an Ausf. J with a jib in place of its turret was found operating as an armored recovery vehicle. There is no record of an official program for this vehicle.

Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1c

Developed in prototype form only, this was one of three abortive attempts to use the Panzer II chassis for mounting a 5 cm PaK 38 gun, this time on the chassis of the Ausf. G. Two examples were produced which had similar weight to the tank version, and both were put in front-line service, but production was not undertaken as priority was given to heavier armed models.

Panzer II Ausf. M (PzKpfw IIM)

Using the same chassis as the Ausf. H, the Ausf. M replaced the turret with a larger, open-topped turret containing a 5 cm KwK 39/1 gun. Four were built by MAN in August 1942, but did not see service.

VK1602 Leopard

The VK1602 was intended as a 5 cm KwK39-armed replacement for the Ausf. L, with a Maybach HL157P engine driving an eight speed transmission (plus reverse). While the hull was based on that of the PzKpfw IIJ, it was redesigned after the PzKpfw V Panther, most noticeably with the introduction of fully sloped frontal armor. Two versions were initially planned, a lighter, faster 18 ton variant and a slower, 26 ton vehicle; the former was abandoned at an early stage. Subsequently, work on the first prototype was abandoned when it was determined that the vehicle was under-armed for its weight, and versions of the PzKpfw IV and -V could serve just as well in the reconnaissance role while being more capable of defending themselves. This vehicle never received an official Panzerkampfwagen title, but it would have been called the “Leopard” had it entered production. Its turret design was adopted for the SdKfz 234/2 Puma.

T-35 Land Battleship

Design and Development

The T-35 tank was commissioned after the cancellation of the TG tank project in 1931. The TG tank was a joint German-Soviet design for a heavy tank, with two turret layers bristling with armaments. The RKKA (Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army) dismissed the TG project, and the designer, the German-born Ernst Grotte, moved back to Germany to continue his career in tank building. The RKKA concluded that the vehicle had too many flaws, and pursued a new, multi-turret tank which would eventually become the T-35. Some will claim that the T-35 was inspired by the A1E1 Independent tank, but Soviet-era sources claim the A1E1 had no influence on the design, despite Soviet knowledge of the vehicle.

A new heavy tank prototype was designed in early 1932, designated ‘T-35-1’. It was produced at the Kharkiv Locomotive Factory (KhPZ). This first prototype had six pairs of road wheels arranged with two pairs of road wheels per bogie. Each bogie was fitted with coiled spring suspension comprised of two pairs of springs. All of the sub-turrets of the prototype were of the same design and shape—two had 37-mm PS-2 guns, and the other two had DT-29 machine guns. When facing forward and aft of the tank, the 37-mm turrets were on the right, while the machine gun turrets were on the left. The main turret was fitted with a 76.2-mm PS-3 gun. It was welded with a distinctive curved roof and rested on an armoured pedestal.

The tank had two armoured skirts on either side to protect the suspension; however, rather foolishly, the skirts of the first prototype had no access ports, and there was no way to access the suspension without pulling the skirts apart. The tank was powered by the M-17L aircraft engine, with the drive wheel at the rear. The tracks ran over the top of six return rollers that were almost two metres above the ground. This prototype was evaluated in mid-1932 before a second prototype was ordered.

The second prototype was outwardly similar, with the exception of the addition of access ports in the skirts. These were square shaped and gave all important access to the bogies for maintenance. In addition, the main turret relinquished the round roof. Accordingly, this prototype was called the ‘T-35-2’.

These T-35 prototypes were both evaluated but were not accepted for Red Army service. However, a radically changed design was accepted; it was called the T-35A. ‘T-35A’ is the western term for the tank. The German army technical records, which were issued to crews, gave letters to the designations of enemy tanks. Technically, all T-35s of all types and designs were simply T-35s in the USSR. However, for the purposes of this book, T-35s with cylindrical turrets will be called T-35A and conical turreted tanks will be called T-35.

The new tank was longer, which required the addition of an extra bogie. The turrets were also redesigned. The 45-mm gun turrets were now round with room for two crew to operate a more potent K-20 gun. The machine gun turrets were very similar to the secondary turrets on the T-28 medium tank. These turrets were all produced in Leningrad.

The exhausts were moved from the fenders to the main body of the tank. This was done in order to protect the exhaust from damage. Finally, the main turret was now elliptical. It was identical to the main turret of the new T-28 tank. It featured a 76.2-mm KT-28 gun, an electrically powered turret traverse system, and complex electronics. In addition, a 71-KT-1 radio with distinctive ‘clothes line’ antenna was added.

Description of the T-35

The T-35 tank was 9.72 metres (31.8 feet) long by 3.2 metres (10.4 feet) wide by 3.43 metres (11.2 feet) high, and weighed 54 metric tons. The tank was powered by the M-17L aero engine, which had an output of 580 hp. The tank could travel up to 28 km/h on roads and 14 km/h off road. The hull was manufactured from plates that were 20 mm thick on the sides, 10 mm on the roof and floor, and 30 mm on the glacis and nose. The hull sides had four hard points for the bogies of the tank, and a drive wheel at the rear.

The running gear consisted of four bogies. Each bogie was made up of four coiled spring suspension arms in two pairs, with two pairs of road wheels in between them. There was a drive wheel at the rear of the tank, and six return rollers, which were the same as the T-28’s road wheels. The track consisted of 135 links that were 526 mm in width.

In between the bogies were supporting brackets that attach to a skirt of metal that was on the exterior of the hull. These were made from five plates. Each plate was 10 mm thick and attached to the bogie and the return roller. This skirt was attached to a frame on the inside, and individual skirt parts could be removed. The skirt was attached to the fender, which ran from the front of the tank to the rear of the tank and was where all of the equipment for the tank was stowed.

The engine deck consisted of a central hatch to access the engine, with two air intakes for the radiators either side of the engine access hatch. Behind this was the exhaust, which was originally an exterior exhaust with an armoured cover for the front and sides. The rear of the tank sloped downwards, where a huge fan was situated. This fan had a cover, which was attached to the tank by hinges, and had vertical slats on it to allow for air flow. Below this were two rear transmission hatches.

The tank had five turrets in the forward two-thirds of the tank. These were arranged around a central turret pedestal. In front and behind were two turrets—a 45-mm turret with a MG turret to the 45-mm gun turrets on the left. The MG turrets were redesigned turrets from the T-28 tank and were equipped with a ball mounted DT-29 machine gun. This turret had a single hatch and a single vision port to the left.

The 45-mm gun turret was round, with a 45-mm K-20 gun facing forwards. The armour was 20 mm thick, and on the turret interior walls was 45-mm gun ammunition. Three racks were carried—one between the two vision ports on the right, one against the rear wall of the turret, and one on the right wall. The rear ammunition rack could be removed, exposing a door at the rear of the turret that allowed for gun removal and maintenance. A magazine rack was also carried in this turret with enough space for seven magazines of thirty rounds. This turret had a crew of two men—a gunner and a loader. The gunner was also equipped with a TP-1 periscope. The turret roof also had a smoke extractor and two hatches for the crew.

The main turret sat on a pedestal that elevated it above the 45-mm gun turrets. The main turret was elliptical in shape, with a slightly offset KT-28 76.2-mm gun. To the gun’s right was a cheek-mounted DT-29 machine gun in a ball mount. To the left of the gun was the turret traverse mechanism. The turret was connected to a rotating floor plate by five arms. On the rotating turret floor were two seats for the gunner and the loader, with stowage for six 76-mm rounds underneath each seat. Directly underneath the KT-28 gun was an ammunition rack for DT-29 machine gun ammunition. On the rear arm that connected the turret to the rotating turret floor was a folding seat for the commander.

The turret roof was equipped with two TP-1 periscopes for the gunner and the loader. The first tanks were issued with turrets with a single square turret hatch for the crew. Whereas, the later tanks were issued with a second hatch for the loader and a P-40 AA mount for the commander and gunner hatch. The turret roof had a pressed star between the two periscopes. The roof top also had small spring stoppers for the main hatches.

The walls of the pedestals were equipped with ammunition racks for the 76.2-mm ammunition, and 7.62-mm DT-29 machine gun ammunition. Within the turret and pedestal was a 71-TK-1 radio set, and the tanks were all issued with clothes line antennae. Ninety-six rounds of 76.2-mm ammunition was carried, and 226 rounds of 45-mm ammunition was carried. In addition, 10,080 rounds of DT-29 ammunition was carried in 380 magazines. The rear of the main turret also has a port for a DT-29 machine gun; however, no ball mount was issued until production of conical T-35s began.

The tank had a crew of ten—three crew in the main turret (commander, gunner, and loader), two crew in the 45-mm gun turrets (gunner, loader), one crewman in each 45-mm gun turret, and the driver.

There was a production issue in 1936 that meant a batch of hulls were issued with 23-mm plates; however, it was not until 1938 that the thickness of the tanks armour was increased. The turret armour was increased to 25 mm, and the nose glacis armour was redesigned to be 80 mm thick. Conical tanks also had a redesigned skirt with inspection ports. These ports were originally at a 40-degree angle; however, in the last four tanks, the skirts access ports were manufactured with square ports.

Changes to production

Production started in 1934, and by 1939, fifty-nine vehicles were produced, although most statistics include the two prototypes, increasing the number to sixty-one tanks.

Throughout production, improvements were constantly being made. For example, in 1934, the turret antenna was changed from having six to eight connecting arms. This was due to the antenna often breaking. The turret was also given an additional strip of armour which was used to hide and strengthen seams.

However, in 1936, the first major changes occurred. The main single turret hatch was replaced with two hatches and a P-40 anti-aircraft gun mount was added. At about this time, the exhaust was moved under the armour of the tank, and two exhaust pipes now protruded from the tank. Additionally, the thickness of the armour was increased on the machine gun turrets. The driver’s hatch was redesigned to reach the top of the glacis plate.

Each tank had a chassis number, and these were made in batches, often not exceeding five tanks. The batch number was always three numbers, a hyphen, then one or two numbers. Chassis numbers starting with 148, 339, 288, 220, 228, 183, and 537 all had a single-turret hatch (a total of thirty-one tanks), while chassis numbers 715, 0197, 217, 196, 988, and 0200 all had P-40 AA mounts (a total of nineteen tanks).

The next set of major changes in production occurred in 1938. The rear part of the side skirt was removed to prevent mud build up around the drive wheel, something that often caused major problems with the track during manoeuvres. The skirts were now fitted with inspection ports, which were triangular. Also, the smoke generators were made to be homogeneous with the sub turret structure. This was applied to chassis numbers 196-94 and 196-95. After twelve more tanks were produced to the previous specification, production modernised to the new standard.

In 1938, the tanks turrets were changed drastically to a more distinctive conical shape to improve the effective thickness of the armour and increase the longevity of the tank as its lifespan was already in question. The new hull, with inspection ports in the skirts, was re-equipped, previously being used on the experimental hulls 196-94 and 196-95. The conical turreted tanks were not issued clothes line antennae after 234-42, and a simple rod antenna was implemented. The final tanks produced were modified further; the smoke generator armour was angled, and the inspection ports were made square.

While the production runs differed, tanks were often taken back to factories and upgraded further. For example, a great majority of tanks had the old exhaust pipe replaced with the new style pipe, and some early tanks had their six antenna arms replaced with eight arms or removed all together, which was a very common occurrence.

Deployment

The T-35 was first assigned to the 5th Heavy Tank Regiment on 12 December 1935 when the regiment was reorganised into the 5th Independent Heavy Tank Brigade. In 1938, after the summer manoeuvres, the brigade was transferred to the Kiev Special Military District where it was renamed the 14th Heavy Tank Brigade.

Forty-eight of the tanks were later transferred to the 8th Mechanised Corps, two were sent to the Moscow Military District, and six were sent to the 2nd Saratov Tank School. In June 1941, on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, five tanks were going through capital repairs; they were being stripped of old or obsolete parts to be replaced with fresh or modern parts, back in Kharkiv. This is how the stage was set on the eve of what would become known as the Great Patriotic War.

THE HUMBLING OF THE TANK I


In the tank staging areas along the Artillery Road, company commanders were giving final briefings when a wailing on the radio net signaled enemy air penetration. Bombs struck the compounds before the tanks could get away but none was hit.

Speeding toward the canal, they covered the distance in twenty to thirty minutes but in most cases lost the race. The sand barriers behind which they were to take up firing positions—the “fins”—were already covered by figures in sand-colored uniforms. From observing Dovecote exercises, the Egyptians knew exactly where the tanks would be heading.

“Infantry to the front,” shouted tank platoon commanders. “Attack.” It was a drill they had rehearsed repeatedly—racing forward to shoot, stampede, and literally crush the enemy. The Egyptians, however, had prepared a scenario of their own. Commandos rising from shallow foxholes with RPGs on their shoulders hit the lead tanks. Some of the commandos were cut down but others held their ground. Surprised at the resistance, tank commanders pulled back beyond effective RPG range, about three hundred yards. It was not far enough.

A platoon commander saw a red light waft lazily past him and explode against a nearby tank. The commander of the impacted tank was propelled from the turret by the pressure, like a cork from a bottle. Other lights floated in from the Egyptian rampart across the canal. The platoon commander had no idea what they might be. The answer came over the radio net. “Missiles,” said the company commander, the first to recognize the Sagger. Their three-thousand-yard range was ten times that of the RPG and their impact more deadly.

For the first time since tanks lumbered onto the battlefields of the First World War, the greatest danger they faced was not from enemy tanks or antitank guns but from individual infantrymen. Bazookas had been used by infantrymen in previous wars but never in such quantity as the RPGs were being used now or with the range and lethality of the Saggers. The Egyptian troops had been provided antitank weapons in prodigious numbers. At Shazly’s orders, Saggers were stripped from rear units and transferred to the spearhead forces. Each of the five attacking divisions had 72 infantrymen armed with Saggers and 535 with RPGs. In addition, 57 antitank guns and 90 recoilless weapons added a more conventional but no less deadly tank-killing capability. This added up to close to 800 antitank weapons per division apart from the 200 tanks attached to each division. Never had such intensive antitank fire been brought to bear on a battlefield. In addition, Israeli tank commanders, who rode with their heads out of the turret for better visibility, were vulnerable to the massive Egyptian artillery fire and to rifle and machine gun fire from infantrymen all around them. The profusion of fire was stunning. So was the grit with which the infantrymen defied the charging tanks.

The decision by Israel not to raise the embankment on its side of the canal to mask the Sinai bank from the Egyptian ramparts severely aggravated its situation. Tanks, Saggers, and antitank guns on the ramparts opposite dominated not only the Israeli forts but an area up to two miles inland from the canal. Israel’s idea of neutralizing the ramparts with long-range fire from the shelter of the fins had no validity now that Egyptian RPG teams were dug in all around them.

The air force, on which Elazar had rested his confidence, was unable to stem the Egyptian tide. Because of the SAMs, the planes could not circle over the battlefield and choose targets. Where defenses were heavy the planes resorted to “toss bombing,” in which the aircraft pulled up sharply at a calculated distance, speed, and angle to release their bombs without overflying the target itself, which could be as much as four miles away. The IAF carried out 120 sorties on the Egyptian front this day and lost four planes but the snap attacks had little impact. The Egyptian infantrymen were more vulnerable to artillery but the IDF had only a few dozen artillery pieces along the hundred-mile-long front and these were under heavy counter-battery fire.

The Bar-Lev strongpoints proved virtually useless as a defense line. For the most part, the boats simply crossed between them, out of view. The Egyptian high command had been prepared for 10,000 dead in the crossing operation but the number killed, according to the final Egyptian count, would be 280.

Defense of the Suez front fell in the opening hours on Colonel Reshef’s 91 tanks, constituting the forward brigade of General Mendler’s Sinai Division, and the 450 men in the sixteen Bar-Lev forts. Mendler’s two other brigades were at their base in central Sinai, fifty miles away, and would not reach the front for three hours.

The four northern forts on the canal were strung along a causeway between the canal and a lagoon. The northernmost, Orkal, was because of its remoteness the only one to have tanks permanently assigned—a platoon of three. With the onset of firing, pairs of tanks were dispatched by the northern battalion commander, Lt. Col. Yom Tov Tamir, to the three other causeway forts via a road through the lagoon. The pair rushing to Fort Lachtsanit, just below Orkal, were ambushed. An RPG hit the lead tank, killing its commander, but the driver bulled through and reached the entrance to Orkal. There the tank was ambushed again and another crewman killed. Soldiers came out of the fort and led in the two surviving crewmen. The second tank reached Lachtsanit but was destroyed there.

Pairs of tanks managed to reach the two causeway forts south of Lachtsanit but each pair was ordered in turn to proceed to Lachtsanit, whose radio had gone silent. All four tanks were ambushed. One crew managed to escape on the road through the lagoon on foot. The crewmen came across a downed Israeli pilot with a broken leg who refused to be carried so as not to slow them down. He was taken prisoner before a rescue vehicle reached him.

Battalion commander Tamir led the rest of his force toward two forts south of the lagoon. Several tanks bogged down in marshes, difficult to discern because they were covered by sand. Others were disabled by surface mines or hit by RPGs or Saggers.

Responding to distress calls from Fort Milano, Tamir dispatched three tanks to its assistance. Milano lay alongside the ghost town of East Kantara, abandoned in the Six Day War. Egyptian soldiers, who had now returned to the town, knocked out two tanks.

As dusk approached, Tamir was ordered to send tanks again to Lachtsanit. He sent almost all his remaining tanks together with infantrymen on half-tracks. This force too was ambushed. The war was only four hours old and Tamir’s battalion was almost entirely wiped out.

The fortunes of Reshef’s two other battalions on the line were better, but not by much. In the central sector, where most of Egypt’s Second Army was crossing, Israeli tanks scored some initial successes. Destruction of four Egyptian tanks on the enemy ramparts sent a surge of optimism along the radio net. At 4 p.m. Egyptian infantrymen were spotted already three miles east of the canal. A small armored force stopped them just before darkness and drove them back.

In the southern sector, where Egypt’s Third Army was crossing, Lt. Chanoch Sandrov halted his tank company six hundred yards from Fort Mafzeah and surveyed the terrain. There was no enemy in sight and no sign of activity on the rampart across the canal. As the company started forward again, RPG squads rose from the sand and set the lead tank afire. Sagger missiles erupted from the Egyptian rampart and an artillery barrage descended.

A rescue tank approaching the burning tank was hit by a Sagger which killed the loader. The tank’s commander was cut down in the turret by bullets. The gunner rose to take his place and was hit too. The driver turned back with his three dead or dying comrades.

Sandrov was blinded in an eye by shrapnel and pulled back briefly to have a crewman apply a bandage. Resuming command, he ordered his deputy, Lt. Avraham Gur, to comb the area south of the fort with half the tanks while he swept north with the rest. When Gur passed close to the Israeli embankment, an Egyptian with an RPG rose on the slope above. Gur, standing in the open turret, ordered his driver to turn right. As the tank swung, throwing up a cloud of dust, the RPG shell exploded alongside. “When the dust settles,” Gur shouted, “fire.” A moment later the gunner said, “I see his face,” and fired. Gur saw the Egyptian soldier lifted into the air and disintegrate.

Gur rejoined Sandrov’s force just as a missile coming off the Egyptian rampart struck the company commander’s tank. Gur ran to it and found Sandrov and his loader dead. The lieutenant took the other two crewmen, both wounded, into his own tank. A tank fifty yards away was struck by a missile and Gur climbed onto that too. The tank commander was slumped inside. Gur took his wrist but there was no pulse. Calling for artillery cover, he began evacuating the wounded.

In late afternoon, the canal-side embankment began to fill again as Egyptian infantry clambered up from boats. Lt. Col. Emanuel Sakel, commanding the southern battalion, formed armored personnel carriers into line with Gur’s remaining tanks and led a charge. The Egyptians broke, many of them throwing away their weapons. The waterline had been regained in this sector but only two tanks remained in action, Sakel’s and Gur’s. Sakel told Gur to begin towing damaged tanks to the rear. The battalion commander’s tank remained near Mafzeah to cover the fort against infantry attack.

Five miles south, another of Sakel’s companies, commanded by Capt. David Kotler, broke up an infantry attack on Fort Nissan. But no matter how many Egyptians were hit, others sprouted in their place. Kotler’s deputy, Lt. Yisrael Karniel, saw a Sagger wafting toward his tank just as he was shot in the shoulder. Falling back into the turret, he shouted “hard right” and passed out. The tank swerved sharply and the missile exploded harmlessly beyond it. A platoon leader went to Karniel’s aid but his own tank was struck a blow that brought it to a shuddering halt. A Sagger had hit just above the gun, where the metal was thickest. It did not penetrate and the driver was able to restart. Reaching Karniel, the officer tied a stretcher to the hull of his own tank and strapped him on it. As they started toward nearby Fort Mezakh, the tank was hit again, this time by an artillery shell. The stretcher was lifted into the air and slammed back down. The platoon leader was certain that Karniel was dead until he heard him groan. They reached the fort without further incident.

Toward evening, the doctor at Mezakh asked for urgent evacuation of the wounded. The fort, the southernmost on the Bar-Lev Line, was located on an artificial spit of land projecting into the Gulf of Suez. Kotler headed there together with Lt. David Cohen. As they approached, Cohen’s tank hit a mine. The commandos who had placed it rose from foxholes and fired at the stricken tank. Kotler drove them to ground with machine gun fire and closed up behind Cohen’s tank. At Kotler’s signal, Cohen and his crew leaped aboard while Kotler kept the Egyptians’ heads down. At a rear staging area, Cohen took over a tank whose commander had been wounded. By now, all that remained of the eleven tanks Kotler had started out with three hours before were his and Cohen’s.

Reshef’s brigade was being relentlessly eroded as it tried to enforce Elazar’s dictum of “killing them on the canal.” The aim was to deny the Egyptians territorial gain and thus discourage future attacks. But this was turning out to be a grievous miscalculation, particularly in view of the enormous disparity of forces. Instead of demonstrating the power of armor, the Israeli tanks were engaging in a wild brawl they could not win. They were up against masses of infantry armed with weapons that could kill a tank as easily as a tank could kill them.

A report half an hour before sunset of bridge sections being assembled in the water near Purkan was the first clear indication to Reshef that the Egyptians were intending to put their army into Sinai. He dispatched a newly arrived company led by Lt. Moshe Bardash to attack the bridging site. The setting sun was in Bardash’s eyes as his eight tanks approached the canal. There was an indistinct vision of infantrymen on the road, then a hail of RPGs. Several tanks were hit. The tankers fired blindly into the haze. Bardash, wounded, ordered his tanks to pull back.

At a safe distance, the tanks halted and Reshef’s operations officer, who had been guiding Bardash’s force to the bridge site, assembled the tank commanders to explain what they were up against—the copious use of RPGs, the boldness and overwhelming number of enemy infantry, and, particularly, the Sagger missile.

Such impromptu lessons were going on all along the front as new units took the field alongside tank crewmen who had survived the day.

Saggers, the “veterans” explained, were a formidable danger but not an ultimate weapon. They could not be used close-up since they required several hundred yards of flight before they “acquired” their target. They could be seen in flight and were slow enough to dodge. It took about ten seconds for a missile to complete its flight—at extreme range it could be twice that—during which time the Sagger operator had to keep the target in his sights as he guided the missile by the bright red flare on its tail. From the side it was easy for the tankers to see the flare. As soon as anyone shouted “Missile” on the radio net all tanks would move back and forth in order not to present a stationary target. The movement would also throw up dust that would cloud the Sagger operator’s view. Simultaneously, the tanks would fire in the operator’s presumed direction, which in itself could be sufficient to throw him off his aim.

The RPG would prove deadlier this day than the Sagger. As long as the Israelis were fighting near the water’s edge, the Saggers were fired during daylight from the Egyptian rampart. But RPG teams lying in shallow foxholes were a close-up threat day and night as the tanks attempted to reach the canal-side forts. The profusion of RPGs took the Israelis aback. Tank commanders learned to examine the terrain for possible ambushers before moving forward. There could be no such precaution at night.

Even before the sun set on Yom Kippur day, it was clear to the tank crews on the front line that something revolutionary was happening—as revolutionary, it seemed, as the introduction of the machine gun or the demise of the horse cavalry. Tanks, which had stalked the world’s battlefields since the First World War like antediluvian beasts, were now being felled with ease by ordinary foot soldiers. It would take time before the implications of this extraordinary development were grasped by higher command. Meanwhile, the tankers were figuring out for themselves how to survive.

Anticipating an Arab air strike well before dusk, Air Force Commander Peled had ordered patrol planes aloft at 1:30 p.m. His move quickly paid off. A reservist Mirage pilot patrolling over the Mediterranean shortly after 2 p.m. saw what seemed a MiG heading toward the coast. It moved sluggishly and when he fired at it and sent it spinning into the water, it blew up with a ferocious bang. He had hit a Kelt air-to-ground missile fired from well offshore by an Egyptian Tupolev bomber which had already turned back to Egypt. A Kelt fired by a second Tupolev had fallen into the sea. In lieu of Scuds, the Egyptian command was using the Kelt, homing on a radar in the center of the country, as a warning that it could retaliate in kind if Israel struck its hinterland. With the sounding of the sirens, some planes at air force bases still armed with bombs were ordered to take off immediately and drop their bombs in the sea so that they could move into their patrol sector.

The most notable air battle this day took place at Sharm el-Sheikh, the remote southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where Israel maintained small military bases. The IAF had allocated only two Phantoms to its defense. The two pilots and two navigators, all fresh out of flight school, were in their cockpits on the runway at 2 p.m. when the flight controller reported numerous aircraft approaching. The Phantoms took off and plunged into a formation of twenty-six MiGs from opposite ends. Within half an hour, the rookies had together downed seven planes, far better than any of the numerous aces in the Israeli Air Force would do this day. Although the runway had been holed by bombs, the pair managed to land safely. The Egyptians had succeeded in firing Kelt missiles which destroyed the naval station’s radar and damaged communications.

Col. Oded Marom, a former Phantom squadron commander recently transferred to a desk job at air force headquarters in Tel Aviv, found himself superfluous Yom Kippur afternoon and drove to an air base in search of gainful employment. Two Mirages on standby were waiting at the end of a runway when his car passed. The pilots recognized him and one, who had to attend to a call of nature, signaled him to take his place. Marom did not recognize either of the pilots because of their helmet visors but he hurried to a dressing room to don flying gear and returned to relieve the pilot. The latter had just disappeared from view when the control tower ordered the Mirages to take off. The air controller started the pair toward Sinai but then ordered them to turn north on full power. Over the Golan, the Mirages jumped four MiGs attacking Israeli ground forces, shooting down one apiece. Marom only now recognized his wingman from his voice as Mirage squadron commander Avi Lanir. Twenty minutes after taking off, they were back at base where Marom handed over the plane to the original pilot, who was furious at having missed his first chance at a combat sortie. (Marom would continue flying for a few days with his old Phantom squadron, scoring more kills, before being recalled to duty at air force headquarters. Lanir would be shot down within a few days over the Syrian lines. He would die under interrogation.)

The main contribution of the air force to the ground battle in Sinai this day was the downing of helicopters trying to land commandos. Of forty-eight commando-bearing helicopters that crossed into South Sinai, twenty would be downed by the IAF and by ground fire, many loaded with troops.

A photo reconnaissance plane, flying at thirty thousand feet well inside Sinai to keep out of range of the SAMs, took photographs of the Canal Zone and beyond for AMAN. Although the air force took the photos, it was military intelligence which decided on distribution.

The canal photos taken on Yom Kippur afternoon were not seen by General Peled until two weeks later. To his astonishment, they showed Egyptian tanks and other vehicles lined up for miles, virtually bumper to bumper, waiting to cross the bridges. Had he known of this stationary target in real time, Peled would say, he would have attacked despite the profusion of SAMs in the area. It would have meant the loss of two to four planes, he estimated, but it would have wrought greater destruction than the fleeing Egyptian army had suffered in Sinai in 1967. It was precisely this picture that Motti Hod had envisioned in drawing up Srita, the plan that was never executed.

T-34/76 and T-34/85 Part I

THE FIRST T-34s

The heavy tank design bureau In Leningrad had reversed many years of Soviet practice by naming their new tank the Klimenti Voroshilov, or KV after the egregious Defence Commissar. With some courage, Koshkin told Voroshilov that the new tank should not be named after another hero of the Soviet Union; rather they should return to using the traditional designations. Koshkin suggested the designation T-34 to commemorate the 1934 state decree which ordered a massive expansion of the Soviet armoured forces. It was also the year that Koshkin had had his first ideas about the new tank. Accordingly, Koshkin’s proposal was accepted.

Once the team received official sanction to build a purely tracked medium tank, they had returned to their original design for the A-32. The T-34 required thicker armour, but it also needed to be equipped with more firepower as well as a reliable transmission. Morozov and the transmission group devoted considerable time and effort to finding a solution to these problems.

The two prototypes were ready by January 1940, and Koshkin took them on a gruelling trial march to prove the hardiness of the design. He drove them from Kharkov to Moscow, and here the tank was presented to the Red Army. Following this presentation, they were sent on to Finland for combat tests against the Mannerheim Line, but unfortunately they arrived too late to see any action. However, Koshkin and his team were able to demonstrate the power of the T-34’s armament against captured Finnish bunkers. There were further firing trials in Minsk, and then it was on to Kiev, and finally back to Kharkov. This round trip had covered a distance of 2880km (1800 miles) in the bitter weather of February and March.

During June the drawings were completed and mass production began. The first production T-34 Model 1940 rolled out of Kharkov in September 1940. During the gruelling winter test-drive, Koshkin had contracted pneumonia, and he died on 26 September 1940. Morozov, now head of conceptual design, took over the T-34 project.

SUMMARY OF ALL T-34 VARIANTS

As the T-34 was produced from different factories, models and types varied. In August 1939, the Soviet Main Military Council accepted the T-34 as the Red Army’s medium battle tank. The new design was completed during December 1939 and became known as the T-34 (Model 1940). On 19 December 1939, the drawings and models of the new T-34 were submitted to the High Command, which accepted them for production, even though the prototype had not yet been completed.

DIESEL ENGINES

The first production-line models were fitted with V-2 diesel engines, but shortages meant that some of these early models were equipped with the older M-17 petrol engine. Problems with transmissions were such that the T-34/76 (Model 40) often went into battle with spare transmission units secured to the engine compartment deck by steel cables.

The Model 40 had a rolled plate turret and a short 76.2mm (3in) L/30.3 (L-11) Model 1938 tank gun mounted in a distinctive cast cradle welded to a flush outside mantle. The Model 40 established a standardization pattern among the T-34 variants of having a great number of interchangeable parts, such as engine, armament, transmission and periscopes. Mechanical simplicity was a prime concern. The hull was of a welded construction throughout, with only three different thickness of rolled plate armour.

The Christie suspension had five large, double road wheels on each side, with a noticeably larger gap between the second and third wheels. The drive sprocket, located for safety to the rear, was of the roller type used on the BT series and powered a cast manganese-steel track with centre guide horns on alternative track links. This first model of the T-34 had a distinctive turret overhang and a clumsy turret hatch occupying the entire rear part of the turret. The Model 40 had one periscope fitted on the front lefthand side. In late 1941, a small number were fitted with the long-barrelled, high velocity 57mm (2.24in) ZiS-4 gun, to engage light armoured vehicles at greater ranges than the 76.2mm (0.303in) L-ll.

T-34 (MODEL 1941)

The second model of the T-34 appeared in 1941 and was essentially a commander’s Model 40 with a rolled plate turret mounting a more powerful Model 1940 76.2mm (3in) L/41.5 gun. The same clumsy turret hatch was retained, but some of these variants had twin periscopes. While there was no change in the layout of the hull, these commander’s tanks had a stowage box on the righthand track guard. The most noticeable feature of the 1941 model was the replacement of the peculiar cast gun cradle by an angular, bolted type. During 1942, a model appeared with a cast turret and it also had new, wider tracks. Some were fitted with a flamethrower (ATO- 41) and had an armoured fuel container on the rear plate of the hull.

T-34 (MODEL 1942)

In 1942 the cast turret (as opposed to rolled plate) became standard in the Model 1942. The new turret weighed 4.4 tonnes (4.32 tons) and had a ring diameter of 1.38m (4.6ft). The Model 1942 had various improvements, taking into account reports from the battlefield. The commander and gunner now had separate hatches, and a new hull machine-gun mounting made the 7.62mm (0.3in) DT machine gun more effective in close-quarter battle.

In early 1942 a team designed a new T-34, the T-34M, with a chassis similar to the KV tank (with smaller road wheels), and a completely new hull and turret layout. However, this tank was not accepted for production, and only the hexagonal shape to the T-34/M turret was retained for the next variant of the T- 34, the T-34/76 Model 1943.

The T-34 Model 1943 was manufactured in response to battlefield reports which showed that one drawback of the current T-34 design was the turret overhang at the rear that was vulnerable to attack by Teller mine-armed infantry tank-hunters. The new, cast hexagonal turret with no overhang became the Model 1943 and included other changes, such as improved fuel capacity and welded armour plate components.

T-34/76E

Subsequent T-34/76 models are best known by their British classification. The Models E and F were both produced in 1943. While the basic hull and turret structure of the T-34/76E remained the same, it had a more effective air-cleaning and lubrication system. The hull design was also improved by using automatic welding processes with improved materials that gave stronger, higher-quality joins. The Model ‘E’ clearly demonstrated the advances made in Soviet industry. This new confidence in tank construction meant that each new T-34 model was more rugged and better equipped.

T-34/76F

The Model ‘F’ had a distinctive appearance as, while it had no commander’s cupola, the model had contoured undercuts around all the sides and the front. The main difference to the F was, however, in its internal workings. The T-34/76F had new, highly efficient automotive components. The old four-speed gearbox was replaced by a five-speed box that made gear-changing easier and increased the speed of the T-34. The air filter was refined further and a level of care and thought went into the mechanics of the T-34/76F that set it apart from earlier models. However, only a limited number of this type were produced as production began to move in a much more radical direction.

By 1943 it was apparent that the 76.2mm (3in) gun on the T-34 was inadequate. The model incorporated many new design features, and had added armour protection, but it was still undergunned. The appearance of the German long-barrelled high-velocity 7.5cm (2.95in) (L/48) and 8.8cm (3.46in) tank guns finally proved that the T-34 had to be up-gunned, and this was to lead to the genesis of the T-34/85.

T-34/85-I

With its 85mm (3.34in) gun, the T- 34/85-I that appeared in 1943 was basically an up-gunned T-34. The T- 34/85 had a new turret originally designed for the KV-85 tank with a ring diameter of 1.56m (5.2ft). This created the space for an extra crewmember and simplified the tasks of the tank commander, who previously had helped with the gun. The T-34/85-I was first issued to elite Guards Tank units, and the new gun soon proved its worth. Based upon the pre-war M-1939 85mm (3.34in) antiaircraft gun, it had an effective range of 1000m (1100yd) and, it was claimed, was able to penetrate the frontal armour of the German Tigers and Panthers.

T-34/76 and T-34/85 Part II

The front hull, looking forwards into the driver’s and bow gunner’s stations from low down in the loader’s station inside the turret ring. The driver’s steering levers, pedals and gear shift are quite evident; the machine gun has a canvas bag rigged to catch empties, and plentiful spare drums stowed around it – note also its telescopic “peep”. An escape hatch is let into the floor in front of the gunner’s seat.

Looking forward from the loader’s station right of the gun breech: note the floor made up of ammunition bins; drum magazine rack for co-axial machine gun on right of turret; below it, turret traverse lock. This turret has been called cramped; but it appears fairly roomy compared with the M4A1 Sherman, and positively luxurious after the badly designed two-man turret of the old T-34/76.

The T-34 was the most influential tank design of the Second World War. Its revolutionary design gave it a gun, armour and mobility superior to any known medium tank at that time, it had sloping armour 32mm thick, a compact powerful diesel engine less capricious than its petrol predecessors and a turret cast in one piece rather than cold rolled steel.

In January 1940 a prototype T-34, mounting a 76.2mm gun, drove all the way from Kharkov in the eastern Ukraine to Moscow for a demonstration to the leadership at the Kremlin. It then motored on to Finland to demonstrate its firepower against captured Finnish bunkers. Another punishing return drive to Kharkov via Minsk and Kiev underlined its impressive mechanical reliability. It was accepted.

One interesting consequence of the 1939 Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact was the presentation of a Panzer Mark III to the Russians. The German Liaison Officer in Moscow assured his hosts it represented the pinnacle of the German armoured inventory. It was immediately dispatched to the GABTU Russian tank-proving grounds at Kubinka for evaluation and found to be inferior in firepower, armour and mobility. The investigation report derided it as `a pretty toy, over-engineered and needlessly comfortable for the crew’.

Internal wrangling with the military resulted in production delays, and only 115 of 600 planned T-34 tanks were produced in 1940. During the following spring a torsion bar system was introduced to upgrade the Christie suspension, a longer and better 76.2mm gun was fitted and the frontal armour was strengthened to 60mm. Increased space in the turret and hull created better fighting conditions for the crew. By the time the Germans invaded, just under a thousand T-34s had been delivered.

The T-34’s sloping armour meant that only 75mm rounds could get through. It was easier for drivers to get out from beneath the massive hatch at the front of the hull. Powerful engines increased mobility, and the diesel fuel appeared less susceptible to flame when hit.

The problem with the T-34 was that until just days before the invasion few crews had even seen it. Most of the early fighting was not tank against tank but infantry anti-tank versus these inexperienced Russian crews. Tank gunners were especially poor, armoured units performed badly, tanks were not effectively recovered, and there were production defects and a lack of spare parts. Reconnaissance was also poor, and all too often tanks were caught and bombed on flat rail cars before they even got to the front. The 32nd Tank Division, fighting near Lvov in the first month of war, lost thirty-seven out of forty-nine KV-1s and 146 out of 173 T-34s, with 103 dead and 259 wounded.

When the German Panzers first encountered properly handled T-34s in any numbers – those of Col. Mikhail Katukov’s 4th Tank Brigade, at Mtsensk, south of Moscow, on 4 October 1941 – the experience was profoundly shocking. Since the launching of Operation Barbarossa in June the German tankers had been massacring their Soviet opponents in enormous numbers. Although much of the huge Red Army tank fleet was technically obsolete or mechanically unserviceable, many hundreds of excellent new KV-1 and T- 34 tanks had in fact been delivered; Soviet weakness lay in the standard of command and control, communications and tactical training. Their repeated easy victories led some Panzer officers to express a puzzled contempt for their enemy that summer. Yet after Mtsensk, no less a leader than Gen. Heinz Guderian would admit the plain superiority of the T-34 over the German Panzer IV – and recommend that German designers should simply produce a direct copy of it, as the quickest solution.

Throughout the terribly costly years of 1941 and 1942, newly promoted young Russian tank officers learned and applied the hard-won lessons; and the factories – some safe far beyond the Urals, some a couple of miles from the front lines in besieged cities – kept on pouring out T-34s. The type was steadily improved; before the appearance in early 1943 of the Panther (inspired by German study of the T-34), the Panzer divisions had nothing which could challenge it head to head. From spring 1944 the up-gunned 85mm model could give Panthers and even Tigers a run for their money – and now the balance of sheer numbers had tipped back in Russia’s favour. Although newer, more powerful designs appeared by 1945, the T-34 remained by far the most numerous tank in Red Army service. It was the faithful tridsatchetverka (“little thirty-four”) which pushed back the ramparts of Hitler’s empire, all the way from Stalingrad to the streets of Berlin.

All the features incorporated in the T-34 were originally embodied in the T-32 experimental tank built in 1939, prototypes of the T-34 itself being built in 1940. Production followed quickly and in May 1941, on the eve of the German invasion, there were already 967 T-34s. Compared with 517 Pz. Kpfw. IV the T-34 was not only more numerous but was superior in terms of fire power and mobility. It also had superior protection, even though the thickness of the Pz. Kpfw. IV armour had increased to a maximum of 50 to 60mm. raising its weight to 21 tons against 26.3 tons of the T-34.

After most of the older tanks were lost in 1941, the T-34s became the basic Soviet tanks in 1941 and 1942, when they were usually assigned by battalions or brigades to infantry divisions. Subsequently they were used increasingly within the framework of tank and mechanised corps, which were recreated in 1942. To meet the demand for it, the T-34 was produced on a very large scale. In fact, throughout the whole of the war its annual rate of production exceeded that of all the German tanks taken together, attaining a peak of 15,812 in 1943, and by the end of June 1945 its production reached a total of 53,497 tanks.

Production of theT-34/85 continued after World War II, not only in the Soviet Union but also in Poland and Czechoslovakia; one source states that it may not finally have ceased until 1964. Exact figures are unknown, but authorities estimate wartime production of all T-34 models at around 40,000, with about the same number built post-war. The T- 34/85 was supplied to many foreign armies after 1945; it saw action with the North Korean, Egyptian, Syrian, Hungarian, North Vietnamese, Cuban and Angolan forces, and small numbers lingered on in Africa and Asia until the more modern T-54/T-55 series became cheaply available in the Third World. The T-34 shares with the M4 Sherman, and the British Centurion, the record for the longest service life of any AFV in history – so far… Crewing the T-34/85 Inside, the T-34 is noticeably roomy compared to the Sherman. There is no turret basket providing a separate floor for the fighting compartment, revolving with the gun; the gunner, loader and commander sit on seats attached to the turret ring or to the gun, or stand on the ammunition bins which form the floor of the hull – and when the turret traverses, you’d better be ready to traverse yourself along with it, or you can get snagged in the works.

As is common in Soviet tanks, the gunner (who on earlier models of the T- 34 had to double up as the tank commander) works from the left side of the gun. The controls for the superb D-5T 85mm gun are elegantly simple: hand wheels for elevation and traverse, a single periscope for a wide field view of the area in front of the gun, and a telescopic sight for alignment with the target. The gunner uses an electric drive to traverse the turret rapidly into rough alignment with the target, then shifts to the handwheels for precision gun laying.

The TC has a flip-down seat behind the gunner, and a cupola with all-round-vision optics and a large forward-opening hatch. He operates the radio, which is mounted on the turret wall to his left. The gunner shares his hatch for entry and escape.

The loader works from the right side of the turret; it must help if he’s left-handed, because serving the gun is awkward for a right-handed man. He feeds the gun initially from a ready rack holding nine rounds, stowed against the hull. Most of the ammunition – officially, another 51 rounds – is stowed in the protected bins which form the floor of the hull interior; getting it out and up to the gun, while the tank was rocking and rolling across country, must have been quite a challenge. He has his own hatch in the right side of the turret roof, but no cupola.

The driver and bow gunner sit side by side up front, with limited headroom; but because the final drive is at the rear of the tank they don’t have a big transmission tunnel filling up their space. The driver uses a conventional pair of track braking levers for steering control, just as in most other tanks of the period. These are notoriously stiff, and cross-country navigation requires considerable brute strength; it is a longstanding joke that T-34 drivers must have been recruited (or deliberately bred…) about five feet tall, with ape-like arms of roughly the same length. Stirrup-type pedals are provided for the clutch (left) and parking brake (right), and a pedal operates the foot throttle (far right); the hand throttle and gear shift lever are to the driver’s right. An extremely Spartan array of instruments to the driver’s left and front report on basic engine conditions. A high pressure compressed air tank is attached in front of or left of the driver, part of an ingenious and very efficient system for starting the engine in cold weather; the primary starter motor is electrical.

When out of battle the driver enjoys much better forward vision (and ventilation) than most of his contemporaries: a hatch large enough for him to enter and leave the tank is set in the glacis ahead of his station, and can be hinged up and fixed open when conditions allow. When it is locked down for combat forward vision is as mediocre as in other tanks of the time, through two periscopes set in the hatch.

In early model T-34s the bow gunner/radio operator often didn’t have much to do, since only the tanks of platoon commanders and above were even fitted with radios – the rest had to communicate by waving signal flags…. In the T-34/85, which saw the radio moved up into the new three-man turret, he was still not over-employed unless the driver got killed or wounded, when he was supposed to drag him out of the seat and take over.

His ball-mounted 7.62mm DT machine gun was aimed (in a rudimentary fashion) through a small x2 telescopic sight; it was useful against any infantry foolish enough to position themselves directly in front of the hull. The DT is fed by drum magazines, and a plentiful supply of spare drums are provided in racks to the bow gunner’s front and right. The gun has a telescoping shoulder stock and a separately stowed bipod mount; it was the bow gunner’s job to dismount it for ground combat if the crew abandoned the tank. He had plenty of time: unless by some miracle the floor hatch had enough ground clearance, he wasn’t going anywhere until either the driver or the loader had made it out of their own hatches.

T-34 Road Report:

“The T-34 is crude, basic, noisy, smoky, smelly – a very charming, very Russian tank! I like the T-34; it is simple, without frills, designed to fight and survive, without any consideration for crew comfort. Working in the turret could be dangerous. Visibility isn’t great, particularly for the bow gunner, who can’t see anything unless it’s directly in front of his little ‘scope. But it will take off and run really well – it is a fast, reliable tank.

“The driver has to be built like a horse to drive it, but once you’re out in open country it rides very well; the tracks are wide enough to give it good floatation. You are surrounded by fuel and ammunition, but the armor is thick and beautifully shaped – the shape of the vehicle was well ahead of its time.

“The V-12 engine is a great powerplant, very well designed and highly dependable. I’ve never had a problem with Soviet engines, anyway. They do burn oil, but the Russians planned for that, and you’ve got a big tank to keep the crankcase filled – if you aren’t burning oil in a T-34, it means there’s no oil in the engine. And the air start system works really well – the engine fires up every time.

“The gunner’s sight is pretty good for its time – good field of view and a pretty bright sight system. The turret traverse system is simple but effective. The real problem is communication between the commander and the gunner, which has to be good, because the gunner doesn’t have a wide field of view.

“You can’t really sneak up on somebody with them, but they weren’t designed for that – they were designed for the attack. And if they’d gone up against our American tanks of the time, we’d have lost: it’s a much better design than the M4 Sherman, with a lower silhouette, much better gun, better armor, better slope, a great suspension system, simpler, easier to maintain – a superior machine.

British Armour 1940-42

By nearly every standard the British army was much better equipped than the German army from the beginning to the end of the war. Even more surprising given the relentless impressions to the contrary is the fact that the British army had more tanks per soldier than the German army and the US forces in Europe. There was even a period when the much smaller British army had an absolutely greater number of tanks. In the latter part of the war, most of the tanks used by British forces came from the USA, but Britain’s own tanks, and adaptations of the standard US tank, were probably superior to US tanks. Some of these British tanks had the edge on German tanks too. Even if the Germans did achieve a certain qualitative superiority in some respects, they never achieved both qualitative and quantitative superiority.

Richard Stokes was a relentless critic of the quality of British tanks. Oliver Lyttelton recalled that the chief parliamentary troubles of the Ministry of Production concerned tanks, and that Dick Stokes was his principal opponent. As Stokes put it in a debate on production in July 1942:

I should not feel comfortable if I were sitting in a British tank with a 2-pounder gun with an effective range of 600 yards, or an even bigger tank with a 6-pounder gun which has an effective range of 1,200 yards, taking on a German tank with a 13 or 14-pounder gun with an effective range of 2,000 yards. A Minister who has no better to tell us than that, stands condemned, and the Government stand condemned, and the sooner those responsible get out the better. I want to know who was responsible for nothing being done from the period September, 1939, to July, 1940, and who has been responsible for apparently doing nothing from June, 1940, to the present time to bring out something equivalent to the German Mark IV tank.

Stokes was a supporter of 80-ton tanks designed from 1939 by a committee headed by the Great War tank design veterans. The actual design was by Sir William Tritton and his firm William Foster of Lincoln, the man and firm who had designed the first British tank of the previous war. The group were labelled ‘The Old Gang’ and the prototypes therefore labelled TOG 1 and TOG 2. In response Lyttelton accused Stokes of supporting a tank that the army did not want, which was too slow and unreliable. Stokes continued to attack on the issue of tanks right through the war. Such was the continuing pressure that the government conceded a Secret Session debate on the subject in March 1944, and after the war a parliamentary report was produced. These attacks were very influential in creating the general perception, which endures to this day, that there was a serious problem with British tanks.

Sir John Wardlaw-Milne complained that British tanks in Libya were no match for the Panzer IV. British tanks were armed with the 40mm 2-pounder gun while the Panzer IV had a 75mm gun.

Although it was widely believed from 1941–2 that British tanks in North Africa were inferior to German in quantity and quality, this view was shown to be incorrect by an official history published in the 1950s, by Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s history of the Royal Tank Regiment published in 1959, and in his later work. Throughout the North African campaign between 1940 and early 1943, British forces had a two- to threefold tank advantage in medium and heavy tanks over the German forces, a figure which would be reduced somewhat by including Italian tanks, but was still overwhelming. For the November 1941 offensive (Operation Crusader) British and imperial forces in North Africa had over 300 cruisers (mostly Crusaders) and 200 infantry tanks (Matildas and Valentines), together with large numbers of light tanks, and large reserves of all types. By contrast the Germans had fewer than 174 of the comparable Panzer IIIs and IVs, and the Italians 146 13/40s, with no reserves. Operation Crusader was a success.

Yet by early 1942 the Germans and Italians had counterattacked and were deep into Egypt. Their tank forces were still comparatively weak: at the end of August 1942 the Germans had only 166 Panzer IIIs and 37 Panzer IVs. On the eve of the Second Battle of El Alamein, which started the definitive rout of the Germans and Italians, they had 172 Panzer IIIs and 38 Panzer IVs fit for battle, as well as 278 Italian tanks. This compared with over 900 fit medium tanks with British forces, of which 488 were of British manufacture.

What the qualitative difference was between the tanks is very difficult indeed to establish, but the picture presented by critics in Parliament in 1942 in particular, and echoed ever since, is deeply flawed. That all British tanks in the Middle East had the 40mm 2-pounder gun until late 1942 is broadly correct, but the idea that many German tanks carried a much more powerful 75mm gun from around 1940 is misleading. The Panzer IV did have a 75mm gun, but it was a low-velocity gun firing high explosive. This turned out to be a very useful feature for a tank gun, which the British and Americans adopted by using a dual-purpose 75mm gun (as mounted in the Sherman and later in other tanks). But in regard to tank-mounted anti-tank guns the Panzers were no better equipped than British tanks. In North Africa up to May 1942 Panzer IIIs, which in contrast to the Panzer IVs did have anti-tank guns, had 50mm (short) anti-tank guns, which were no better than the 40mm 2-pounder. The other side of the equation was the armour. One study suggests that in 1941 all the main British tanks (Valentines, Matildas, Crusaders) and the US Grant were superior to any available German type in North Africa. Up-armoured Panzer IIIs capable of resisting British tank guns only started arriving in December 1941.

Where German forces had an early advantage was in the non-tank long 50mm anti-tank gun and in the very small numbers of 88mm anti-aircraft guns used as anti-tank weapons. Britain did not introduce a dual-purpose anti-tank/anti-aircraft gun of the 88mm sort but it had plenty of 94mm (3.7in) anti-aircraft guns. By May 1942 there were 100 6-pounder 57mm anti-tank guns with British forces in the Middle East. This was a successful anti-tank gun, which following its production in the United States became the standard anti-tank gun for US forces too.

Superior German tanks appeared in North Africa in the spring of 1942, but in small numbers. In May 1942 the new long-barrelled 50mm gun was first deployed on German tanks in Africa; and the long-barrelled 75mm gun in June 1942. In August 1942 there were 73 of the former on Panzer IIIs and 27 of the latter on the IVs. At the Second Battle of El Alamein there were 88 Panzer IIIs with the long 50mm and 30 Panzer IVs with the long 75mm. Improved British tanks were not far behind and arrived in quantity. In June 1942 the first 57mm 6-pounder Crusader arrived, of which 78 were fit in late October 1942. This gun was more effective as an anti-tank weapon than the US 75mm dual-purpose gun and, at least in later versions, as effective as the German long 75mm gun as well and would be used in tanks to the end of the war. The summer of 1942 also saw the arrival of very large numbers of Sherman tanks from the USA, armed with a 75mm long anti-tank/HE gun. Three hundred had been offered to Churchill in June 1942, and were put on seven ships in July, one of which was lost, but the tanks were replaced. By 11 September, 318 had arrived. In other words, if there was a German superiority in tank gun and armour quality it was very small and very short-lived indeed.

The old view espoused by Basil Liddell Hart that the British army was reluctant to embrace the tank has been decisively criticized by historians who now suggest the British army overemphasized the use of the tank, especially independently of infantry. British armoured divisions were, as of 1940, very tank-heavy, and based on the idea of fighting tanks with tanks equipped with anti-tank guns. Between April 1940 and May 1942 British armoured divisions had two armoured brigades, artillery and engineers, and very little infantry. Their medium tank strength was 300, three times that of a contemporary panzer division. From May 1942 until the end of the war one armoured brigade (150-plus medium tanks) was replaced with a whole infantry brigade, and the artillery increased. However, the armoured division was still thought of primarily as a weapon for fighting tank formations, with the infantry there to help the tanks. Only in 1942 and 1943, with experience from North Africa, was the role of the tank downgraded. This led to the recognition of the need to have tanks designed to attack things other than tanks, expressed in the introduction of the Sherman and its dual-purpose gun.

Of particular concern to some was the new heavy tank named after Churchill himself, which also had the 40mm 2-pounder gun. Oliver Lyttelton, in his poorly received speech, developed a defence which depended on the story of a profound weakness in British tank forces: ‘We started the war with no modern tanks, we lost all the armoured equipment which we had in France in June, 1940, although that equipment would by itself have had little value today.’  Lyttelton’s argument was that lots of tanks were needed quickly, and that had meant deciding to produce the Churchill tank with its 2-pounder even though the tank had not yet been made or tested. High levels of production and high quality did not go together.

Churchill, in a brilliant winding-up speech, also made great play of the weakness of British arms in 1940, especially tanks, attacking one of his antagonists in 1942, the Secretary for War responsible for tanks to early 1940, Leslie Hore-Belisha. He also insisted, as he had in earlier speeches, on the massive growth in British arms production since 1940, a point on which he was undoubtedly correct. He noted the huge amount of materiel which went to the Middle East: ‘from this country, from the Empire overseas and to a lesser extent from the United States, more than 950,000 men, 4,500 tanks, 6,000 aircraft, nearly 5,000 pieces of artillery, 50,000 machine guns and over 100,000 mechanical vehicles’. According to Churchill about 2,000 tanks had been sent to the Soviet Union. In his view the losses in the Middle East were not due to failures in production.

The critiques of early and mid-1942 were to cease with the reversal of British fortunes in the Middle East in the autumn. The 8th Army under Montgomery, supplied with huge quantities of equipment, including Sherman tanks and lorries from the USA, overwhelmed the weak German and Italian forces at the Second Battle of El Alamein. The imperial army marched west to meet up with US forces which had landed in Morocco, and the mostly British 1st Army, in Tunisia. In a great and conclusive victory in early 1943 North Africa was cleared with vast numbers of Germans captured, causing losses to Germany comparable to those of Stalingrad at a tiny fraction of the cost in lives. Churchill survived and prospered, never to be under such pressure again. Complaints about the quality of British tanks died away, though Stokes would take up the fight again in 1944.