T-34 Model 1943 (1942)

The high ground clearance and proven Christie suspension of the T-34 medium tank made it ideal for mobile warfare across the vast Russian steppes as the Red Army pursued the Germans westwards towards Berlin in 1944 and 1945.

An aerial view of a T-34 Model 1942, with its cast two-man turret. The main difference between the Model 1942 and Model 1943 was the the larger turret of the latter. The hull and chassis remained essentially the same for all models.

The T-34 medium tank is one of a few weapons that may, quite literally, be credited with winning World War II. The T-34 reached the battlefield in large numbers in 1941 and quickly evened the odds for the Red Army against German tanks.

Perhaps one of the most iconic images of World War II is that of a Red Army T-34 medium tank, soldiers aboard and on foot nearby, speeding westward toward the frontier of the Third Reich and the Nazi capital of Berlin. Indeed, the T-34 medium tank, which first entered production in 1940 and the service of the Red Army in the same year, changed the course of the war in the East.

Until the T-34 reached the battlefield in large numbers, German armour, particularly the PzKpfw III and IV, had reigned supreme. The appearance of the T-34 proved shocking to the German tankers who encountered it for the first time in November 1941 near the Russian village of Mzensk. However, the tank itself had been in the design and prototype phases of development since the mid-1930s. While it was intended to replace the outmoded T-26 and BT series tanks, the T-34 bore an unmistakable family resemblance. Its sleek profile with the turret forward and its low silhouette with sloped armour were true to the design perspective that would rule Soviet production for decades to come.

While it borrowed from earlier Soviet tank designs, the T-34 broke new ground with speed, mobility, firepower and armour in a lethal combination. Its V-2-34 V-12 38.8-litre (8.5-gallon) diesel engine generated 375 kilowatts (500hp) and enabled the 26.5-tonne (26-ton) tank to reach a top speed of 53km/h (33mph). It maintained the Christie suspension of the earlier BT series, which was already proven superior in cross-country operation over broken terrain. Armour protection ranged from 15mm (0.59in) on the bottom of the hull to 60mm (2.4in) on the turret front. The effectiveness of the hull armour was increased by its slope, reducing penetration and sometimes deflecting enemy shells.

The four-man crew included a commander, driver, loader and gunner. Early production T-34s were armed with the 76.2mm (3in) ZIS5 F 34 gun and the commander was still required to serve the weapon. Radios were in short supply and only command tanks received them – all other tanks still communicated with flags. The interior of the T-34 was painfully tight, restricting the combat efficiency of the crew. The driver, for example, was the lone occupant of the forward hull compartment and his visibility was quite restricted in early-production T-34s.

Model 1943 (T-34/76D, E, and F) – This production model was built from May 1942 to 1944, with a cast or pressed hexagonal turret. It was nicknamed “Mickey Mouse” by the Germans because of its appearance with the twin round turret roof hatches open. Official Soviet military designation was Model 1942. Turrets manufactured in different factories had minor variations, sometimes called “hard-edge”, “soft-edge”, and “laminate” turrets, but in military service these details did not warrant different designations.

Earlier production is sometimes called Model 1942/43, and was designated T-34/76D by German intelligence. Later production variants had a new commander’s cupola. This variant was referred to as T-34/76E by the Germans. Turrets produced at Uralmash in Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) had a distinctive rounded appearance because they were made in a special forge. Tanks produced with these turrets there and at Chelyabinsk were called T-34/76F by the Germans.

By early 1944 the T-34/85 had incorporated several improvements, such as a more spacious three-man turret, relieving the commander of responsibility for laying and firing the main weapon. The newly-installed 85mm (3.35in) ZIS-S-53 provided the Soviet tank with greater range against the heavy German PzKpfw V Panther and PzKpfw VI Tiger, mounting high-velocity 75mm (2.95in) and 88mm (3.5in) guns. The ZISS-53 gun influenced Soviet tactics, allowing Red Army tank commanders to rely less on the need to rapidly close with the Germans in order to get within range for their main guns to fire effectively. The T-34/85 still lacked a rotating turret basket on which the gunner and loader could stand during combat, negatively impacting the tank’s rate of fire.

In total more than 57,000 T-34 medium tanks were produced in Soviet factories during World War II, which is a remarkable achievement considering the disruption of heavy industry after the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941, and many facilities were dismantled and moved to safety east of the Ural Mountains. During the war, over 22,500 T-34/85 tanks were produced and better efficiency cut production time in half and sharply reduced the overall cost per unit. During the pivotal battle for the city of Stalingrad on the Volga River, some tanks were said to have rolled directly off the factory floor and into active combat against the Germans. While Soviet tactics were refined slowly and many T-34s were lost during mass charges against German armour and anti-tank weapons, the Red Army could make good its combat losses with numbers the Germans could never hope to match. The over-engineered German Tiger and Panther tanks were plagued by mechanical failures, costly to build and never available in sufficient numbers to sustain a protracted war effort.

T-34 variants included self-propelled assault guns and flamethrower, bridging and recovery vehicles. The T-34 continued in production until 1958. Some upgrades continued into the 1960s and a few T-34s are said to continue in service today.

The T-34-76 had proven a tremendous challenge to destroy on the battlefield in 1941. The conventional anti-tank equipment of the Germans was simply not up to the task. The Soviets deployed a considerable number of the medium T-34s in five of their twenty-nine mechanized divisions at that time, along with the heavy KV tanks.

It must be recognized too, that the T-34 in those early days of the war was a very considerable challenge for its crews, who, when deployed on a lengthy road march, tended to lose many of their number to mechanical breakdown, an early problem that plagued the Soviets to a greater extent than it did the Germans. And the upside of the T-34 was diluted to some extent for the crews by its internal layout, poor crew comfort and vision devices.

Testing of the T-34 at the Aberdeen, Maryland, proving ground by the Americans resulted in their unconditional rejection of the Christie suspension system for tanks. The Russian tank utilized this coil-spring system, designed by the American engineer Walter Christie, which enabled considerably longer movement than conventional leaf springs systems and greater cross-country speed. The Christie system employed large, rubber-rimmed road wheels which, when less rubber was available due to wartime shortages, meant a reduced amount of rubber on the wheels. The contact with the tracks at high speeds set up noisy, unpleasant harmonics for the crews. The harmonics could also damage the tank by loosening parts. Certain deficiencies in the tracks resulted from the lightness of their construction. They were subject to damage by small-calibre weapons and mortar rounds. Basically, the pins used were made of poor-quality steel and were poorly tempered, causing them to wear out quickly and the tracks to break. Russian crews often brought spare parts and tracks with them into combat situations. One Russian tanker recalled: “The caterpillars used to break apart even without bullet or shell hits. When earth got stuck between the road wheels, the caterpillar, especially during a turn—strained to such an extent that the pins themselves couldn’t hold out.”

Other conclusions from the Aberdeen evaluation were: In their tank production, the Russians were apparently not very interested in careful machining or finishing, or the technology of small parts and components, a negative aspect of what is otherwise a well-designed tank. In comparison to the then-current American tanks, it was found that the Russian tank had many good features, good contours in the design, diesel power, good and reliable armament, thick armour, wide tracks and more. But it was thought inferior to the American tank in manoeuvring, speed, ease of driving, firing muzzle velocity, mechanical reliability, and ease of maintenance. The Aberdeen technicians found many problems with improper radio installations and shielding in the 1941 T-34. Commenting on the turret design: “The main weakness of the two-man turret of the T-34 of 1941 is that it is very tight. The electrical mechanism for rotating the turret is very bad. The motor is weak, very overloaded and sparks horribly, as a result of which the device regulating the speed of the rotation burns out, and the teeth of the cogwheels break into pieces. We recommend replacing it with a hydraulic or a simple manual system.”

The uneven build-quality is called into question when considering the armour of the T-34, in particular on the plating joins and welds. The use of too-soft steel and the shallow surface tempering was also noted by the Aberdeen technical personnel. They noted too, that the various chinks and cracks resulting from relatively careless build-quality tends to admit a lot of water when it rains, which can disable the electrical system and negatively affect the ammunition.

What was operating the T-34 like for the crewmen? The driver sat either on a hard bench seat or on shell storage containers, an arrangement that adversely affected his operation of the tank due to the frequently severe vibration and shocks in combat situations over rough terrain for extended periods. Other negative aspects included poorly made transmissions that were prone to mechanical failure and whose operation could be nightmarishly difficult. The Russians’ use of low-quality, poorly finished steel side clutches further contributed to the breakdown rate of the tank. But the main complaint of those who had to take the T-34 into battle was the low-set, very cramped two-man turret. It could only accommodate the commander and the loader, thus making the job of the commander far more labour-intensive and distracting him from his primary role. A further restriction imposed by the design meant that the turret gun could not be depressed more than three degrees, creating a shooting problem at close range or on a reverse slope.

Another somewhat dysfunctional arrangement in the T-34 was that of the ammunition storage for the main gun, making the job of the loader more difficult and less efficient than it should have been. The turret lacked a rotating floor that would move as a part of the turret when the turret was rotated. The small spare ammunition boxes were stowed on the floor under the turret and covered with a rubber mat. Nine rounds of ammunition were stowed on the sides of the fighting compartment and when these rounds had been used, the loader and / or commander had to pull up more ammunition from the floor boxes. The floor was then left littered with open boxes and rubber matting, impairing the crew performance.

For the tank commander of the T-34, his vision of the field and his situational awareness was disadvantaged by the forward-opening hatch and the lack of a turret cupola, requiring him to view the field of battle through a small vision slit and a traversable periscope. This method was inferior to the German tank method where the commander fought in a heads-up position with his seat raised, giving him a full field of view, something not possible in the T-34. Russian crews took a dim view of the turret design with its heavy hatch that was difficult to open and, should it jam, would trap the crew inside. Their objections to this situation led to the manufacturer changing to a two-hatch turret in August 1942. In the matter of gun-sighting and ranging, the system of the T-34 was comparatively crude in relation to that of the Germans, which was particularly disadvantageous to the Russian crews when operating at longer ranges. One German commented on the combination of T-34 fighting characteristics, including the two-man turret, poor vision devices and weak optics: “T-34s operated in a disorganized fashion with little coordination, or else tended to clump together like a hen with its chicks. Individual tank commanders lacked situational awareness due to the poor provision of vision devices and the preoccupation with gunnery duties. A tank platoon would seldom be capable of engaging three separate targets, but would tend to focus on a single target selected by the platoon leader. As a result T-34 platoons lost the greater firepower of three independently operating tanks.” German tankers generally felt that T-34 crews were slower in locating and engaging their targets, while Panzers normally were able to shoot about three rounds for every round fired by the T-34.

Another impression of the early T-34s in a battlefield environment was that of the difficulties involved in arranging for repairs due to a crippling shortage of recovery vehicles and repair equipment. The impact of the Soviet tank on the enemy forces initially was one of poor Russian leadership, tactics, and crew training, which many attributed to the effects of Stalin’s purges of his officer corps in the 1930s, together with heavy losses by the Red Army in 1941 that took the lives of some of their best armoured personnel.

In the combat arena, by 1942 the T-34-76 was the Soviet main battle tank in the field. The key German tanks to that point were the Panzer III and the Panzer IV. By mid-year, the improving German tank armament had evolved to the extent of making the T-34 vulnerable to it and T-34 losses in that year were substantial, much worse than in the previous year. Of a total of 15,100 armoured fighting vehicles in the Red Army front line, 6,600 T-34s were lost to combat or mechanical problems. But through the difficult winter of 1941-42, the wide-tracked T-34 proved superior to the German tanks in being able to manoeuvre over deep mud and snow without bogging down; conditions in which the German tanks frequently were halted.

Into 1943, armoured battlefield momentum was with the Soviets. Soviet AFV losses were higher than ever, including those of 14,700 T-34s, but so was their tank production. And strategically, the Germans were mainly on the defensive and in retreat. Throughout 1943 and well into 1944, for the most part the T-34 with its 76mm gun was outclassed by the guns of both the Tiger and Panther, and even with the upgrade of the 85mm gun, the T-34-85 was really not the equal of those two German tanks, though the Soviet 85mm gun could penetrate the armour of both German tanks at distances up to 550 yards; the Tiger and Panther could still destroy the T-34-85 at 1,600 yards or more.

In the beginning of Barbarossa, the T-34 made up only about four percent of the Soviet armoured forces, but at war’s end it made up at least fifty-five percent. With the gradual progression of the Eastern Front campaign, the original design advantages the T-34 held over the German tanks were gradually overcome and the Russian tank became an ever-easier target for the German tankers. Still, over the course of the war, and the greatly increasing manufacture of the T-34 (even with the increasing weight resulting from the many improvements made to it), its top speed held up, while both its turret frontal armour thickness and its main gun armour penetration nearly doubled.

While it cannot reasonably be claimed that the T-34 was the equal of the Panther or Tiger tanks of the Germans, its design simplicity, wide tracks, low silhouette, innovative armour layout, its ease and quantity of production— despite its faults and heavy losses—made it a strategic war winner. In all, 55,550 T-34s were produced during the war years. Of the 96,500 fully-tracked armoured fighting vehicles produced during the war by the Soviets, 44,900 T-34s were lost to combat and other causes.



Length: 6.68m (21ft 11in)

Width: 3.0m (9ft 10in)

Height: 2.45m (8ft)

Weight 26.5 tonnes (26 tons)

Engine 1 × V-2-34 V-12 38.8-litre (8.5-gallon) diesel engine delivering 375kW (500hp)

Speed 53km/h (33mph)


Main: 1 × 76.2mm (3in) ZIS5 F 34 gun

Secondary: 2 × 7.62mm (0.3in) DT machine guns

Armour 15–60mm (0.59in–2.24in)

Range 400km (250 miles)

Crew 4

Tanks Encyclopedia T-34/76

Russian/Soviet Wheeled APCs I

The Object 19 is a Russian prototype wheel-cum-track IFV. The Object 19, Object 764, Object 911, Object 914, and Object 1200, were all tested for the position for BMP-1. Object 19 did not surpass the competition, whereas the Object 764 was selected and improved upon, to become the Object 765 – the BMP-1.

Russian APC/IFV Design Overview

Armored Personnel Carriers became common during World War II, originally introduced by the German army to rapidly transport troops along the battlefield front. Capable of transport under conditions that regular trucks could not traverse, this provided tactical mobility to support the Blitzkrieg (lighting war) form of war. The Infantry Fighting Vehicle, essentially an APC styled vehicle with enhanced armor and armaments, was introduced during the 1960s by the Soviet Union. Its role was to provide fire support to dismounts and to engage lighted armored vehicles.

A weakness of APCs and IFVs is that they could not be armored sufficiently to protect against RPGs and ATGMs. Therefore modern warfare techniques rely heavily upon mobility, with tanks, IFVs and APCs advancing quickly upon enemy units. Supported by artillery and infantry to suppress the deployment of shaped-charged warhead equipped weapons, the armored vehicle are expected to overwhelm the enemy before they can effectively deploy their RPGs and ATGMs. This method of rapid mobile combat, known as maneuver warfare, was designed to engage in a successful full-scale conventional confrontation, as combat in Europe might unfold.

Modern warfare however has tended toward descending into asymmetric warfare and urban combat, with Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) often operating from isolated or stationary positions. This once again left them vulnerable to attack by infantry armed with RPGs and man-portable ATGMs. As Russians incurred heavy losses in the insurgent warfare experienced in their Afghanistan War and in Grozny during the 1st and 2nd Chechen Wars, they painfully came to recognize these vulnerabilities. Many Russian IFVs and APCs were destroyed by poorly trained but well-motivated infantry armed with relatively simple and inexpensive RPGs, ironically typically of Russian origin.

Multiple approaches were devised to overcome these vulnerabilities. These included having infantry outside the vehicle as it moved through cities to provide it protection, positioning troops at the vehicle front to operate defensive weapons, increasing the firepower available to the vehicle crew to destroy hostile enemy before they could deploy their weapons, installing lighter versions of ERA on these vehicles (the heavy tank versions of ERA damage the thin skinned IFVs and APCs) and to develop softkill and hardkill APS systems. The other approach is simply to provide APCs and IFVs with the same level of protection provided to MBTs (i.e., use tank chassis as APC/IFV chassis). Though the light-weight aspect of these vehicles is sacrificed by this approach, their survivability in insurgent and urban warfare is significantly improved. This has resulted for example in the development of the T-15 from the T-14. The Israelis are also taking this approach, developing the heavily armored Namer from the Merkava (discussed in detail later).

Soviet and Russian IFVs and APCs share regularities in their design approach, reflective of their military encounters, with designs evolving to meet the challenges presented by emerging technologies and tactics. Much like their Western counterparts, the Soviets field both wheeled and tracked APCs and IFVs that can be produced as a ‘Family of Vehicles’. Similar to the West, Soviet/Russian IFVs tend to be more heavily armored than their APCs. The IFVs ALSO tend to be tracked, permitting them the ability to maintain pace with MBTs, which their principal role is to support. For APCs however the Russians has long shown a preference for wheeled vehicles, with the West only absorbing the long established Russian approach in the 1990s. The Russians also have a strong preference for building APCs and IFVs that can ‘swim’, able to traverse rivers they encounter during an advance. While Western vehicles tend to stress higher armor levels, and therefore greater weight, the Russians keep their vehicle light enough to permit swim capabilities.

Until recently the Soviets in general have shown less interest in protecting their crews and providing for their comfort than their Western counterparts, focusing more on keeping their vehicles small, mobile and fast. Where Western vehicles tend to be taller and larger, providing more space for the occupants, Russian APCs and IFVs tend to be very low and flat by comparison, minimizing both the silhouette and vehicle weight. They also tend to be wider, and have wider tracks or wheels. Combining these features provides for optimized vehicle mobility, making them fast, able to traverse steep banks (low Center of Gravity) and able to navigate mud and snow.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the vehicle crew and dismounts (transported troops) have to operate is very cramped conditions. Therefore crews become exhausted more quickly, have more difficulty operating equipment and suffer higher casualties when the vehicle armor is breached due to slow and difficult vehicle egress. To counter these restrictions the Soviets have actually devised some rather novel innovations to improve the conditions for the crew and dismounts, and to improve overall vehicle performance.

Where older models of Russian APCs and IFVs have the transported troops enter and exit the vehicle from highly constrictive side doors, newer designs provide troops access through large doors and folding roofs at the vehicle rear. And where the loading rate of the main weapon was often only a quarter of that achievable on the more open spaced Western vehicles, integrated autoloaders has provided Soviets vehicles reload rates equal to or better than those achieved by their Western counterparts.

Another novel feature devised by the Soviets was to place the engine of their IFVs in the rear of the vehicle, providing it greater protection, similar to MBTs (IFVs and APCs more often place the engine at the vehicle front, to the right of the driver). By placing the engine low in the vehicle, troops are able to enter the vehicle over the rear mounted engine. This also permits the driver to be positioned in the center of the front of the vehicle, also similar to typical MBT design. The Soviets then place a soldier on either side of the driver, each operating as a machine gunner or grenade launcher operator. Similar to some WWII tanks, in which a weapons operator sat alongside the vehicle driver, this approach provides substantially greater firepower that can be directed at infantry to protect the vehicle from attack by RPGs and ATGMs.

Much like Western vehicles the Soviets fabricate their vehicle hulls from welded ballistic aluminum and/or ballistic steel, providing all around 360 degree protection to lower calibre threats. The vehicles possess highly sloped frontal glacis plates as well as sloped sidewalls, the oblique surfaces more effectively deflecting incoming rounds. While this reduces space availability for crew and troops, it does enhance vehicle overall survivability. With their low vehicle profile, Soviet APCs and IFVs are also more challenging to hit than their higher standing Western counterparts.

The Soviet approach to increasing the protection on their vehicles beyond the inherent capabilities of the hull have historically been more progressive than Western thinking. In many ways the Soviets have led the way in innovative armor developments, with the West later duplicating their advancements. Having led the way in developing ATGMs, the Soviets foresaw a need to counter such weapons, and so were first to develop ceramic armor solutions. As well the Soviets led the way in the development of ERA, electronic countermeasures (soft kill dazzlers and jammers) and hardkill Active Protection Systems. They also remain the only military to have integrated ERA directly into hull designs, and have APS as a standard system on their AFVs.

The Soviets also tend to more heavily arm their IFVs than equivalent Western vehicles. This includes deployment of multiple guns installed on a single turret, such as the dual 100 mm gun / 30 mm autocannon on the BMP-3 and BMD-4. Their main weapons also tend to be more multi-functional in terms of ammunition that can be fired than Western vehicles, often able to fire ATGMs as well as the standard KE and/or HE-I rounds. This provides them greater firepower and an extended maximum effective combat range. Additionally most modern Russian IFVs can be armed with various turret mounted ATGM systems. Vehicle protection is enhanced by offering firing ports to troops and positioning soldiers at the front of the vehicle to operate machine guns and grenade launchers. This set-up is particularly effective in suppressing infantry units trying to engage the vehicle.

Perhaps the most defining aspect of Soviet/Russian APC and IFV design, similar to their MBTs, is low cost and simple design. Soviet experiences in World War II convinced them that to defend their nation and to overwhelm and invader, they must be able to produce huge numbers of armored vehicles. This necessitates that the vehicles be inexpensive and fast to build. Where Western vehicles are built to a high quality standard and utilizes expensive components and advanced technologies, Soviet experience recognizes that armed forces are expended rapidly once conflicts erupt and must be able to be rapidly replaced. Therefore the fabrication quality of Soviet armored vehicles tends to be poor compared to Western vehicles and the use of sophisticated technologies is generally restricted.

A negative result of this approach has been that the Soviets fell behind significantly in the advancement of integrated computerised systems and sensor technologies. While this lack of sophistication was not disadvantageous is the early cold-war period, computerised capabilities and advanced sensors have become critical in modern AFVs, as they are essential for operating the Fire Control Systems that permit cannon to accurate fire on the move, for providing night fighting capabilities through use of thermal imaging, and for the guidance of advanced munitions.

Recognizing that in a modern ultra high-tech environment that an overly simplified AFV will not survive for long, and that replacing lost vehicle with more low quality units won’t suffice to win a battle anymore, the most recent generation of Russian designed vehicles, the T-14 and T-15, are making a clean break with traditional Soviet design. A new emphasis is being placed on crew and troop survivability, and inclusion of high tech equipment and capabilities. However, due to the relative distance that the Soviets have fallen behind in these aspects, they are actually reliant on Chinese and French computers and sensors to equip their latest generation of vehicles until they are able to catch up and develop these components within Russia.


The BTR-80 is a Russian 8×8 wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC) that is a continued development of the BTR legacy vehicles, the BTR-60 and the BTR-70. Introduced into Soviet inventories in 1986 and with over 5000 built the vehicle has become the backbone of Soviet rapid tactical mobility efforts and has been involved in extensive combat situations, with the Soviet war in Afghanistan being its initial baptism by fire. The vehicle is used by almost 40 countries including Afghanistan, Colombia, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Pakistan, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine.

The BTR-80 is a 30,000 pound (13.6 tonne) 8×8 wheeled APC which is approximately 25 feet (7.7 meters) long, 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) wide and 8 feet (2.4 meters) high. Operated by a crew of three with a driver, commander and gunner the vehicle also transport 7 infantry troops. The driver and commander are situated to the forward of the vehicle while the gunner is positioned in a roof mounted seat beneath the main weapon. Two of the troops are located forward of the driver and commander, while the other five sit on bench style seats in the back of the vehicle. The troops are provided with firing ports. The rear positioned troops enter and exit the vehicle through side doors that are split. The upper door swings to the side and the lower half descends downward, thereby acting as a stepping surface. This approach is supposed to let troops exit the vehicle while it is in motion, with the side of the vehicle having the doorway oriented away from enemy fire.

The BTR-80 is powered by a 260 hp V-8 turbocharged diesel engine which provides a power-to-weight ratio of 17 hp/ton. This is a significant improvement over the dual gasoline engines that powered the earlier BTR-60 and BTR-70. Able to attain road speeds of up to 55 mph (90 km/hr) and having an operational range of 370 miles (600 kms) with on-board fuel the vehicle is also fully amphibious with a water speed of 6.2 mph (10 km/hr). The vehicle is powered through the water through hydrojets. The vehicle is able to navigate a gradient of 60% and climb a vertical step of 1.6 feet (0.5 meters).

A large number of variants of the BTR-80 have been produced to meet various operational needs and customer requirements. The more common of these are noted below:

• BTR-80 – standard Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) produced in 1986.

• BTR-80M – enhanced version available in 1993 with improved engine and tires.

• BTR-82 – further enhanced version available in 2009 with increased armor, addition of spall liner, improved night vision equipment and a 300 hp engine.

• 2S23 – a fire support version of the vehicle, mounting a 120 mm mortar rifled gun.

• BTR-80A – An Infantry Fighting Vehicle version introduced in 1994 and equipped with the remotely operated 2A72 30 mm auto-cannon in the turret and provided with 300 rounds of ammunition.

• BTR-82AM – A Naval Infantry (Marines) version of the BTR-82A.

• BTR-82A – Further enhanced IFV introduced in 2009 that has been well received by Russian troops battling in Ukraine. Weapon system has a FCS and improved night vision optics. Includes increased armor, addition of spall liner to the vehicle interior, GLONASS navigation system and a 300 hp engine. The vehicle is also able to accommodate 8 dismounts.

The basic APC version of the BTR-80 is fitted with a turret that accommodates a 14.5 mm KPVT heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm PKT co-axial machine gun. It is also equipped with a number of firing ports located along the front and sides of the vehicle that permit the dismounts to fire their personal weapons from inside the vehicle. The BTR-80 main weapon system is of a relatively simple design, in many ways antiquated for a current front-line vehicles. The main weapon is not stabilized and therefore can only be fired accurately while the vehicle is stationary. And the mechanism for rotating the turret is manually operated. The gunner sits under the turret in a roof mounted chair that provides reasonable space claim, which is not typical for Russian vehicles. The gunner is provided a daytime optical sight and an infrared night sight. The weapon can be elevated up to 60 degrees, providing the ability to engage low flying aircraft and targets situated on top of hills or located in high buildings (i.e., urban warfare).

The BTR-80 is of a welded ballistic steel construction which provides 14.5 mm ballistic protection along the front arc and small arms fire along the vehicle sides, rear and roofline. The dismounts sit in simple bench style seats which do not provide any Energy Attenuation in the event of a mine blast. The vehicle is equipped with six 81 mm smoke grenade launchers.

The BTR-80 has seen extensive combat in a number of theatres of war. These include the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Georgian Civil War, the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, the Transnistria War, the Tajikistan Civil War, the First and Second Chechen Wars, the War of Dagestan, the 2008 South Ossetian War, the Iraqi insurgency and the War in Donbass.

During these conflicts the BTR-80 performed reasonably well considering its relatively light protection levels and lack of armor specific to protecting the vehicle from IEDs, RPGs, EFPs, heavy calibre ammunition, and underbelly blast events.

Russian/Soviet Wheeled APCs II


The BTR-90 is a Russian 8×8 wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC). Based on its predecessor, the BTR-80, the vehicle dimensions were enlarged, it was fitted with the turret from the BMP-2 to increase firepower and the vehicle was in general equipped with upgraded equipment as compared to the BTR-80. Likes it predecessor the BTR-90 is fully amphibious. The vehicle was unveiled in 1994 and saw limited production between 2004 and 2011.

The BTR-90 is an 8×8 wheeled APC that weighs 46,000 pounds (21 tonnes), is approximately 25 feet (7.6 meters) long, 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) wide and 10 feet (3 meters) in height. The vehicle is operated by a crew of 3 and can transport up to 7 troops. The crew consists of a driver who is located at the front of the vehicle and a gunner and commander who are located in the turret. The crew ingress and egress the vehicle through a side mounted door, typical of the Russian BTR series of APCs. The vehicle is powered by a turbocharged 510 hp diesel engine which is located at the rear of the vehicle. This provides a power to weight ratio of 22 hp per tonne. The 8×8 wheeled vehicle can attain 60 mph (100 km/h) on roads and has an operational range of 500 miles (800 kms) with internal fuel. The BTR-90 is also fully amphibious. Powered by water jets the vehicle can attain speeds up to 5 miles (9 km/hr) in water. The vehicle is able to cross 7.5 feet (2 meter) wide trenches, climb 3 foot (0.8 meter) high vertical steps and traverse 60% gradients and 30% side slopes.

While designed as a chassis that could be configured to fulfill a wide range of roles within the Russian Army and Russian Navy (Marines) by offering the superior tactical mobility implicit to wheeled vehicles, the BTR-90 has only seen low volume production runs, with Russian Ministry of Defense only incorporating limited numbers of the vehicles into its forces. This decision is in-line with current Russian procurement philosophy, which is to not incorporate any further vehicles into the Russian military forces which are based on older Soviet designs. New procurements are being based solely upon platforms based on new Russian vehicles designs such as the T-14 and T-15.

This procurement strategy has halted development and procurement of the BTR-90 as well as other Russian vehicle programs including the 2S25 Self-propelled Amphibious Tank Destroyer, the BMD-4 and the BMPT “Terminator”. The 2S25 and BMD-4 are reviewed in this volume as a number of these vehicle are in service with the Russian military, while the BMPT is not. Based on the T-72 platform and tailored specifically for asymmetric urban combat to meet needs identified during the Soviet/Russian experiences from the Soviet War in Afghanistan and the First Chechen War, the Terminator was never manufactured beyond the proto-type stage.

The BTR-90 is equipped with the BMP-2 turret which fits the 30 mm Shipunov 2A42 autocannon. 500 rounds of ammunition are carried on-board for the weapon. Secondary armaments consist of a 7.62 mm coaxial PKT machine gun with 2000 rounds of ammo and a 30 mm grenade launcher with 400 rounds of ammo. Firing ports are also provided for the crew. The vehicle can also be configured with an AT-5 Spandrel (Konkurs) ATGM launching system. The missiles appear to be able to be attached to the vehicle singularly, in dual pairs, or as a set of four. Supposedly the missiles can also be detached from the vehicle and launched by dismounts.

The turret comes equipped standard with a gunner’s day/night sight and a commander’s optical sight. A thermal imaging sight can also be installed as an option. A Fire Control System (FCS) is used to aim the main weapon and the ATGM unit when installed. The 30 mm autocannon is able to be elevated to 75 degrees, permitting it to be used against low flying aircraft. The autocannon can engage targets to a range of 2500 meters, while the ATGM can engage targets out to 4000 meters.

The BTR-90 is fabricated from welded ballistic plate. The baseline armor offers frontal arc protection against 14.5 mm rounds and all-around protection against small arms fire. The baseline vehicle armor can be upgraded with add-on armored plating and/or ERA, though this would adversely affect the swim capability of the vehicle. The vehicle has an automated fire suppression system (AFSS) and a smoke grenade system. The vehicle can be fit with a Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) detection and filter system.

BTR Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carriers


The BTR-152 6×6 was developed after the Second World War as the Soviet Union’s very first purpose-built APC. It was manufactured in large numbers from 1950 and saw service with African and Asian armies. The all-welded steel hull showed close similarities with American and German wartime designs. Notably, significant numbers of the M3A1 4×4 scout car and M2 and M5 series of American half-tracks were supplied to the Red Army under Lend-Lease arrangements. Likewise the Soviets captured large numbers of the Hanomag-built range of German half-tracks.

As with these earlier vehicles, the BTR had a front-mounted engine and an open top crew compartment for the driver and troop compartment for up to seventeen soldiers. The driver and commander had separate glass windscreens that could be protected by steel hatches with vision blocks. The infantry entered and exited the vehicle either via the open roof or through a single door in the rear plate of the hull. For defensive purposes the vehicle had six firing ports, three either side and two in the rear plate either side of the door.

Initially the ZIS-1512½-ton 6×6 chassis was used as the basis for the BTR-152, though later models utilised the ZIS-157. The six-cylinder, inline model ZIS-123 was a water-cooled petrol engine generating 110hp at 2,900rpm. The BTR-152’s transmission layout was that of a conventional 6×6 commercial truck with the drive shafts leading to differentials on ‘solid’ axles. The gearbox had five forward speeds and there was a two-speed transfer box. The tyres had a pressure system regulated by the driver to suit the ground conditions. Some BTR-152s also featured a front-mounted winch.

Some versions were fully enclosed, such as the BTR-152U command variant, which has much higher sides to allow staff officers to stand up inside. The normal armament comprised the standard 7.62mm machine gun or the heavier 12.7mm or 14.5mm mounted on the hull top. The BTR-152A-ZPU was an anti-aircraft variant armed with twin 14.5mm KPV machine guns in a rotating turret. Against aerial targets, these were only effective to 1,400m. They also carried AP rounds for use against light armoured vehicles, which could penetrate 32mm of armour at 500m, though the guns had a range of 2,000m against ground targets. Other anti-aircraft variants included the BTR-152D and the BTR-152E.

Some of those supplied to the Egyptian Army were armed with the Czech quad 12.7mm M53 anti-aircraft system. This comprised four Soviet 12.7mm DShKM machine guns on a Czech-designed two-wheel mount. A number of these ended up in service with the Afghan Army. Likewise, in 1982 the Israeli Army encountered BTR-152s being operated by the Syrian-backed Palestinian Liberation Army that were fitted with a twin 23mm automatic anti-aircraft gun in the rear of the troop compartment.


The BTR-152’s smaller cousin was the BTR-40, introduced in 1951. This was essentially a redesigned version of the American-supplied M3A scout car. It was based on the GAZ-63 truck chassis, but with a shorter wheelbase and was a conventional four-wheel drive armoured truck with a frontal engine layout. In the event of chemical warfare one variant of this vehicle was designed for a chemical decontamination role, which included placing flag markers to warn of contaminated areas. A more conventional version was the BTR-40A/ZPU; this had an anti-aircraft role mounting twin 14.5mm KPV heavy machine guns. These were mounted in a manually-operated open turret with a 360-degree traverse and an effective rate of fire of 150 rounds per minute.


The requirement to replace the non-amphibious BTR-152 was issued in the late 1950s, and the heavy eight-wheeled amphibious BTR-60P entered service with the Soviet Army in 1961. Since then it has been supplied to armies throughout the world and was built in Romania as the TAB-72. The BTR-60P was powered by two GAZ-49B six-cylinder, water-cooled, in-line petrol engines, developing a total of 180hp. These were mounted in the rear of the welded steel hull and drove all eight wheels, the front four of which were steerable. The BTR-60 series was fully amphibious, propelled through the water by a hydrojet system with a single controllable outlet at the rear. This gave a calm-water speed of 10km/h compared to 80km/h on land. During deployment in water a bilge pump was available, together with a trim vane that was normally carried flat on the nose plate.

The troop compartment (initially for fourteen men but reduced in later models) occupied the centre of the vehicle with the driver on the left and the commander on the right at the front. The troop compartment had no overhead protection but this was remedied with the BTR-60PA or BTR-60PK, which was fully-enclosed with roof hatches, installed to supplement access through two small hatches on each side.

The final model, the BTR-60PB, was fitted with a small turret on the hull roof near the front, mounting a 14.5mm machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun. It is identical to that fitted to the Soviet BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicle and the Czech OT-64 APC. While the BTR-60PB was built under licence in Romania as the TAB-71, the lack of easy access resulted in the Czech and Polish governments developing the SKOT (OT-64) series for their armies. Production of the BTR-60 series ended in 1976, resulting in around 25,000 vehicles.


The follow-on BTR-70 first appeared during the November 1980 military parade in Moscow. The hull was of all-welded steel armour with improved protection over its front arc compared to the BTR-60. In addition the nose was wider and the front gave added protection to the front wheels. While the BTR-70 was fitted with the same turret as its predecessor, some were fitted with the BTR-80 turret. Initial models of the BTR-70 were fitted with the same wheels and tyres as the BTR-60.

The two GAZ-49B engines were replaced by two ZMZ-4905 petrol engines, which developed 120hp each compared to just 90hp each in the BTR-60. Both engines had their own transmission with the right engine supplying power to the first and third axles, while the left powered the second and fourth axles. This meant if one engine was out of action the vehicle could still move, albeit at a slower speed. The exhausts were less boxy than on the BTR-60. Whereas the BTR-60 could carry up to sixteen men, the BTR-70’s capacity was two crew and nine passengers. Again Romania produced its own version, dubbed the TAB-77.

Although the BTR-70 was an improvement over the earlier BTR-60, it still had its problems, not least the inadequate means of entry and exit for the troops and the two petrol engines which were inefficient and could catch fire. The Soviet Army first took delivery of the improved BTR-80 in 1984.

Eastern Front Tank Battles, North of Orel, 5 July-29 August 1942

Marshal Georgy Zhukov had expected the main German summer offensive to try again for Moscow and the Stavka assessed that the most likely enemy avenue of approach was from the Bolkhov region, north of Orel. Consequently, Zhukov ensured that a great deal of the new tank production was sent to this sector and that he would have control over them. Yet when it became obvious by early July that the Germans were not going to try for Moscow again, Zhukov refused to allow his heavily-reinforced Western Front to stand idle while Heeresgruppe Sud crushed ” the Bryansk and Southwestern Fronts. With six tank corps under his command, Zhukov recommended to Stalin that the Western Front could mount a counter- stroke against the German 2. Panzerarmee guarding the northern part of the Orel salient. On 2 July, the Stavka authorized Zhukov to conduct a counteroffensive to help take some of the pressure off the Bryansk Front and possibly divert Hoth’s armour away from Voronezh. With minimal planning, Zhukov directed General-leytenant Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s 16th Army to attack the Zhizdra sector held by General der Artillerie Joachim Lemelsen’s XXXXVII Panzerkorps and General-leytenant Pavel A. Belov’s 61st Army to attack the Bolkhov sector held by the German LIII Armeekorps. These two Soviet attack sectors were 90km apart and hence not mutually supporting. Zhukov was hoping to execute something resembling Deep Battle, but in his eagerness to `do something’ before Voronezh fell, he opted to commit two of his armies to an operation with negligible logistical preparation or coordination between units.

Belov attacked first on the morning of 5 July, committing the 12th Guards Rifle Division and the 192nd Tank Brigade as his main effort against the boundary of the German 112 and 296. Infanterie-Divisionen. Over 250 artillery pieces were available to support the attack, but most of their ammunition was fired in the initial prep bombardment. Achieving local surprise, the Soviet guardsmen managed to create a 3km-deep dent in the German security zone before being stopped by mines and well-directed artillery fire in front of the German HKL (main line of resistance). Nor was Soviet air support very helpful and the 192nd Tank Brigade lost six of its tanks to fratricidal Soviet air attacks. When the Soviet attack stalled, the Germans were able to rush reinforcements, including Hauptmann Martin Buhr’s Sturmgeschutz-Abteilung 202, to strengthen their HKL. Despite failing to achieve a breakthrough, Belov decided to commit his armoured exploitation force – General-major Dmitri K. Mostovenko’s 3rd Tank Corps with 192 tanks – at 1400 hours on 7 July. By this point, the element of surprise was gone and the German HKL in front of Belov’s shock groups had been made nearly impregnable with assault guns, 8.8cm flak batteries and additional panzerjagers. Unsurprisingly, Mostovenko’s armour suffered heavy losses from anti-tank fire as they arrived on the battlefield and Belov’s artillery no longer had the ammunition to suppress the enemy guns. There is an important lesson in Mostovenko’s situation, in that an operational-level commander must ensure that he has sufficient fire support remaining when his exploitation force is committed. Instead, the 3rd Tank Corps was stopped cold and bloodied by determined German infantry divisions and could not advance. Although Belov continued attacking for another five days, he achieved nothing.

By waiting an extra day to attack, Rokossovsky’s 16th Army was able to make a considerably stronger opening effort, with three rifle divisions, five rifle brigades and three tank brigades in the first echelon. General-major Vasily G. Burkov’s 10th Tank Corps, with 152 tanks, waited to exploit the breakthrough. Rokossovsky used 400 artillery pieces to support the attack, as well as over 600 tactical air support sorties, but due to the difficult terrain in his sector he chose to attack across a fairly wide 20km frontage; this was the exact opposite of the German schwerpunkt, which committed all resources at a decisive point. The Zhizdra sector was also heavily wooded and marshy, which made armoured operations difficult – Zhukov apparently had not considered terrain in his decision to attack. Kicking off at 0800 hours on 6 July, Rokossovsky’s infantry managed to advance 3-5km into the 208. Infanterie-Division’s defenses before encountering the same determination as Belov had discovered. Even worse, the 17 and 18. Panzer- Division were both available to reinforce the front-line German infantry divisions in this sector. Unteroffizier Erich Hager, a Pz. IV driver in the 6./Pz. Regt 39, noted that his battalion had completed two days of gunnery training just prior to Rokossovsky’s offensives, so the crews were well-honed.

Rokossovsky’s first echelon included the 94th, 112th and 146th Tank Brigades and the 519th Tank Battalion with flamethrower tanks, a total of 131 tanks, while Lemelsen decided to initially commit only small armoured kampfgruppen into battle to stabilize the front, but kept some armour in reserve to deal with the Soviet tank corps. Both panzer divisions had been forced to contribute a Panzer- Abteilung to reinforce the divisions involved in Blau, leaving only seventy-one tanks in the 17. Panzer-Divisionen and forty-seven tanks in the 18. Panzer- Division. Hager’s 6. Kompanie was committed, but quickly lost three of its eleven Pz. IV (short-barreled) tanks. Hager noted that the Soviets had a 4-1 superiority in tanks in his sector. On 7 July, Lemelsen committed more of his armour to prevent a breakthrough of the infantry HKL, resulting in a brutal nine-hour battle between the opposing tanks and artillery. Hager’s Pz. IV was hit three times, once in the hull and twice on the turret, but only one crew member was injured by spalling (splinters from the armour). Some tank-vs.-tank combat occurred as close as 200 meters. Hager noted,

Thirty enemy tanks were destroyed and one Pak. Lots of the Russian tanks were USA (American M3 Lees). Attack continues with infantry on the HKL. Whole Abteilung shoots, shoots, shoots. Russian artillery and tanks shoot straight at us. We cannot do anything about it as they are further away than 3,000 meters . . . All in all, 6 of our tanks are hit but they do not burn up so can be recovered . . . Return to refuel and rearm at 2000 hours. What a day!

The 17 and 18. Panzer-Division managed to prevent a breakthrough and shot up most of Rokossovsky’s infantry support tanks in the process. As Hager noted, German tank losses were also significant, but since they held the ground most damaged tanks could be recovered and repaired. Despite lack of a breakthrough, on the evening of 7 July Rokossovsky decided to commit Burkov’s 10th Tank Corps, but their night deployment was seriously hindered by the marshy terrain in the sector. Whenever near the front, large armoured units are frequently moved at night in order to avoid detection by the enemy and thereby gain the maximum advantage of surprise. A well-trained armour unit will send a quartering party ahead to reconnoiter the route of march from the assembly areas all the way up to the front, leaving traffic control personnel along the way to ensure that vehicles stay on the correct path. However, the Red Army of mid-1942 had not yet learned these lessons and instead, tanks and vehicles of Burkov’s 10th Tank Corps blundered off the road and got stuck in marshes. When daylight on 8 July arrived, Burkov’s armour was still all bunched up in column formation on trails just behind the front and Lemelsen requested Luftwaffe air strikes on the mass of Soviet armour. German air superiority over the Zhizdra sector was absolute and Rokossovsky later wrote, `before the battle I had never seen the Germans throw so many aircraft into such a small sector as the one in which the 16th Army was operating.’ Burkov’s armour was badly knocked about by the Luftwaffe and entered battle piecemeal, not as a corps.

During the night of 7-8 July, the 17. Panzer-Division dug in a number of its tanks along the HKL to protect them from Soviet artillery fire and they awaited Burkov’s armour. Hager’s Pz. IV knocked out a T-34 but was hit on the hull by an HE round that damaged the track and engine. Nevertheless, Hager’s Pz. IV kept firing until all ammunition was expended and remained in the fight for eight hours. One German tank platoon of three tanks knocked out ten attacking Soviet tanks and, overall, Burkov’s corps lost about fifty tanks on its first day in action. Even though it was clear by 8 July that neither Belov nor Rokossovsky was going to achieve any worthwhile success, Zhukov ordered the offensive to continue and 9 July was a repeat of the previous day. Hager noted,

The battle begins at 1200 hours. We have to stay in the same position and fire until our ammunition runs out. Russian tanks are driving around in front of us but do not see us luckily . . . 35 tanks attack us and 35 tanks are knocked out and burning. At 1700 hours we finally leave the battle and make our way to refuel and rearm with 4. Kompanie. Also make repairs.

After two days of battle Hager’s Pz. IV was still combat-capable, but operating in degraded mode. Statistics about numbers of `operational tanks’ should con- sider that many in this category were actually rather marginal. After firing some- thing like 200 rounds in two days, the recoil system on the 7.5cm cannon was malfunctioning and finally broke down altogether. The tank’s radio was also non- operational after repeated hits on the hull and turret and the running gear was in poor condition. Nevertheless, Hager’s degraded-mode Pz. IV was committed into action again on 10 July, when 17. Panzer-Division mounted a counterattack against the off-balance 10th Tank Corps. Oberstleutnant Otto Busing led a kampfgruppe from his II/Pz. Regt 39, which included Hager’s 6. Kompanie:

The same attack again. The whole Abteilung. Now the fun starts . . . The regimental commander[Busing] took a hit, bailed out. Hauptman Karen ” arrived. Took a hit, bailed out. Hauptmann Borsch came up, took a hit, bailed out . . . Hit in the steering, move on a bit and then back. Track torn off. Have to bail out.

Hager and his crew walked on foot back to their battalion assembly area – a not unusual occurrence for tankers on the Eastern Front – and admitted that `not one Pz. IV came back’ from the attack. The men of II/Pz. Regt 39 spent all of 11 July recovering their knocked-out tanks with the battalion’s Sd. Kfz. 9 (FAMO) semi- tracks and, amazingly, the I-Gruppe mechanics repaired six of the Pz. IVs by the end of 12 July. By that point, Zhukov’s offensive had failed to seriously dent 2. Panzerarmee’s front or to inconvenience German plans. Although PzAOK 2 suffered about 5,000 casualties, both the 3rd and 10th Tank Corps were rendered combat-ineffective for some time. Soviet C2 was abysmal during the offensive and inter-unit coordination non-existent. Despite much heroism and bloodshed, the Red Army had not yet learned how to break an entrenched German defensive line, particularly one supported by panzers and assault guns.

Although Zhukov’s Zhizdra-Bolkhov offensive failed, he was quick to urge more offensive action in this sector as well as against the German 9. Armee in the exposed Rzhev salient. Zhukov still had four intact tank corps under his immediate control and General-leytenant Petr L. Romanenko’s 3rd Tank Army was nearby in the RVGK. However, the Germans noted that the recent bungled Western Front offensive presented Heeresgruppe Mitte not only with an opportunity to mount a riposte to eliminate all or part of the Sukhinichi salient before the Red Army recovered, but also to distract Zhukov’s remaining armour away from the vulnerable Rzhev salient. Despite the priority of Blau, Hitler and the OKH authorized a limited offensive known as Wirbelwind, set to begin in early August. Schmidt’s 2. Panzerarmee would form the schwerpunkt of its offensive with General der Infanterie Heinrich Cloßner’s LIII Armeekorps, which was given 11 and 20. Panzer-Divisionen, the 197 and 202. Sturmgeschutz-Abteilungen and four infantry divisions. In addition, Schmidt retained Lemelsen’s XXXXVII Panzerkorps with the 18. Panzer-Division and gained Generaloberst Josef Harpe’s XXXXI Panzerkorps, with the 9, 17 and 19. Panzer-Divisionen. Schmidt’s divisions also received their first Pz. IIIJ and Pz. IVF2 replacement tanks, putting them on a more equal footing with Zhukov’s T-34s. Despite the concentration of six panzer divisions in a fairly small sector north of Bolkhov, Operation Wirbelwind has been overshadowed by Operation Blau and the Battle of Stalingrad. Cloßner’s LIII Armeekorps attacked the boundary of the Soviet 61st Army north of Bolkhov on the morning of 11 August and achieved some initial success. In particular, the 11. Panzer-Division was able to advance up to 25km in heavily wooded terrain toward the intermediate objective – Sukhinichi. Thereafter, Soviet resistance hardened quickly and the Red Army was particularly formidable in forest-fighting. German tankers were wary of moving along narrow forest tracks that were usually mined and covered by anti-tank ambushes. While the 2. Panzerarmee succeeded in gaining a small bridgehead over the Zhizdra river, the 16th Army blocked any further advance toward Sukhinichi by moving Burkov’s rebuilt 10th Tank Corps and General-major Aleksei V. Kurkin’s 9th Tank Corps to contain the German advance. Three Soviet rifle divisions were cut off and destroyed and the two Soviet tank corps lost about 200 tanks, but Wirbelwind failed to seize significant terrain or seriously impair Zhukov’s freedom of action. Instead, it was the German panzer units that suffered heavy losses in the ill-judged offensive and diverted resources that could have been better used elsewhere. The 9. Panzer Division, which started the operation with 110 tanks, lost forty-four tanks in Wirbelwind. Although difficult terrain was certainly a factor in the failure of Wirbelwind, this was the second time since the beginning of Blau that a German panzer schwerpunkt had been stopped cold by determined Soviet resistance, which was an ominous portent of the Red Army’s growing competence.

Just as Hitler decided to abort Wirbelwind, Zhukov made the surprise decision to commit Romanenko’s 3rd Tank Army to the Bolkhov sector in an effort to cut off 2. Panzerarmee’s spearhead. Romanenko’s 3TA had moved by rail from Tula and assembled on the eastern flank of 2. Panzerarmee’s salient, near Kozel’sk. Zhukov assembled a force of 218,000 troops and 700 tanks to crush the German forces in the salient, which were outnumbered by 3-1 in armour. Romanenko attacked at 0615 hours on 22 August, committing three rifle divisions and a rifle brigade in the first echelon to claw their way through the defenses of the German 26 and 56. Infanterie-Divisionen. After the infantry had advanced 4-6km through the outer German defenses – but not achieved a real breakthrough – Romanenko committed the 3rd, 12th and 15th Tank Corps into the battle. Once again though, the Red Army’s use of large armoured formations was marred by the lack of pre-battle reconnaissance; Romanenko’s tanks ran into swamps, enemy mines and generally got lost in the forest trails. Even after moving forward for twelve hours, Romanenko’s tanks had not yet encountered the enemy and were behind the forward line of their own infantry. The Luftwaffe managed to gain and keep local air superiority over this sector, enabling Stukas and bombers to mercilessly hammer the stalled columns of Soviet armour. Romanenko was finally able to get some of his armour, in piecemeal fashion, into battle on 23 August, but by that time Cloßner had shifted the 11 and 20. Panzer-Division to bolster the flagging ” German infantry. The Red Army had little experience supplying a formation of 600 tanks and Romanenko’s tank corps suffered from fuel shortages, even though they never gained more than 2-3km into the German line. An effort by Rokossovsky’s 16th Army to assist Romanenko by attacking the western side of the German salient was quickly snuffed out. Gradually, the combination of German panzer divisions in defense and Luftwaffe overhead reduced the immobilized 3rd Tank Army into wreckage. By the time that Zhukov finally ended the offensive in early September, the attacking Soviet forces had lost 500 of 700 tanks and Romanenko’s 3rd Tank Army had been rendered hors de combat. Afterwards, both sides shifted to the defense and much of the remaining armour was transferred elsewhere.

Even though the fighting around Bolkhov-Zhizdra in July-August 1942 is not well known, it involved six of the nineteen panzer divisions and five of the twenty- two Soviet tank corps on the Eastern Front, making these battles one of the largest clashes of armour in 1942. Neither side enjoyed any real offensive success in these battles, mostly due to restrictive terrain, and German air power played a prominent role in equalizing the Soviet numerical superiority in manpower and tanks. It is also noteworthy that Zhukov’s use of large armoured formations and efforts at conducting set-piece offensives had no more success than other Soviet commanders at that time. The Bolkhov-Zhizdra offensives were an amateurish waste of armour, costing the Red Army another 1,000 tanks for no gain at all. On the other hand, Hitler’s willingness to commit so much armour to a secondary theater violated the principle of concentration of force, when he needed every Panzer-Abteilung, Stuka sortie and liter of petrol available to support Heeresgruppe Sud’s drive for the Caucasus.


An Alfa on the surface, showing how her sail blends into her hull. A mast is raised forward of the windshield. When the masts were retracted they were covered over to minimize water flow disturbance over the sail structure. Although a titanium-hull submarine, the Alfa-like the Papa SSGN-was not a deep diver. (U. S. Navy)

There was a growing sense of unease in the West.

Russian maritime power was fast evolving into a giant whose intentions were an enigma, providing endless hours of debate for NATO intelligence analysts, but no definitive answers.

By 1973, the Soviet Navy was rapidly gaining on, if not edging ahead of, the Americans. A quarter of its 400 submarines were by now nuclear-powered. The USSR was building up to 15 nukes a year, while the USA could manage only an average of 4.5. It was estimated the Soviets would soon field more SSBNs than the USA.

American submarine construction yards declined while the Russians expanded theirs; the variety of Soviet boats increased rapidly.

They had managed six new designs of nuclear-powered submarine since 1963. The USA had sent only two new types to sea in the same period. Observing all this, a former Royal Navy officer tried to divine exactly why the Soviets were building so many. Commander Nicholas Whitestone, who at one time served in the Naval Intelligence Division, suggested there were three possibilities.

• the Soviets were preparing to refight the Battle of the Atlantic. In any war they would send out submarines to sink troop ships and supply vessels, depriving NATO of reinforcements and starving the West’s civilian populations.

• They wanted to have enough submarines to match and kill the Polaris boats (and also to attack American and British aircraft carriers).

• The Soviet Navy was a political weapon, to exert pressure on the West. Its burgeoning might was a means of underwriting Russia’s diplomatic moves.

The likely answer was that it was a mix of all three – ready to attack shipping, seek out enemy submarines, and intimidate the capitalists with its numbers and growing firepower.

While Whitestone pondered the big picture of the stand-off, other professional analysts scrutinised the boats themselves. What exactly was the Charlie Class cruise missile-armed submarine for? Attacking carriers? Or land targets? How exactly were the Charlie’s weapons guided to target? Until the day hostilities erupted, nobody in the West would know for sure, though efforts to provide answers would be made by submarines on intelligence-gathering missions.

The Soviet predilection for continuing investment in submarines that bordered on the obsolete puzzled a former British submarine captain, turned writer, Capt. J. E. Moore; he remarked sarcastically that it showed yet again how indifferent the Soviet Union is to heavy arms expenditure . . .’

The Soviets were also fielding the Delta II SSBN, with a submerged displacement estimated by Western sources to be 16,000 tons, as large as a small aircraft carrier. Such leviathans were sliding down the slipways in the early 1970s at a rate of seven a year.

Captain Moore issued a warning: ‘All these monster ships are being built at the vast complex at Severodvinsk [on the shores of the White Sea], which has a greater construction potential than all the submarine yards in the USA combined. The Deltas are in most respects the most potent warships ever operated.’

When it came to surface ship killers, by 1973 there were 15 Echo IIs in the Northern Fleet alone. While unsophisticated, they had their uses. Like other Soviet submarines that did not pass the West’s quality test, the Echos offered Admiral Gorshkov the benefit of decoying NATO away from the key units, such as SSBNs. Each Echo II would, he hoped, require thinly stretched NATO forces to exert themselves on the hunt. The most feared of the Soviet hunter-killers (at this time) was the Victor.

Around 20 of them were in service by the mid-1970s – thought to be capable of at least 33 knots dived. With their eight 21-inch tubes, a submerged displacement of 4,200 tons and a length of 285ft, it was reckoned their torpedoes were equal to Western tinfish.

The Achilles heel of the Victors, despite a highly streamlined, broad hull – indicating deep diving ability – was free flood holes in the outer casing. Water constantly flowing through them made a Victor much noisier than NATO hunter-killers, particularly when it became a burbling rush at speed. Still, Capt. Moore pointed out, ‘they are extremely fast and dangerous craft, able to sink virtually any kind of surface vessel’.

Across the Atlantic, Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the US Navy’s nuclear submarine force, reckoned the West had a lot to be worried about.

He believed the Soviets were creating other types of boats that were faster, could dive deeper and were quieter than ever. In 1969 the CIA received intelligence from what it described as ‘strollers’ who had spotted an intriguing new super-streamlined submarine taking shape in Leningrad, at the Sudomekh Yard on the banks of the River Neva.

American naval attachés twice made forays into forbidden areas around the shipyard. Somehow they managed to retrieve material, which they would later claim fell off the back of a lorry. It was sneaked back to laboratories in the USA for analysis.

Ironically, the most tantalising clue would ultimately be retrieved on American soil. A naval analyst working for the CIA teamed up with a US Navy researcher to call on a scrapyard in Pennsylvania that specialised in purchasing unusual scrap metals from the Soviet Union. After painstakingly examining every potentially relevant item on the site, the two men discovered a piece that seemed promising.

Etched into it was a series of numbers that began ‘705’. To expert eyes this was something very intriguing indeed. Analysis of the machined metal soon revealed it to be titanium and, as would subsequently be discovered, the mystery boat was known in the Soviet Navy as the Project 705 Lira.

At first, it was believed to be a new form of diesel boat.

A senior US Naval Intelligence submarine analyst named Herb Lord suggested, after studying photographs and other data, that it was a radically new form of SSN.

Lord maintained it was a ‘super submarine’ made from titanium.

With advanced weaponry and sensors, it could pose a serious threat to Western naval operations. He told colleagues and superiors the Soviets had – at least in this case – abandoned their cautious approach to submarine design – the incremental, career-preserving way of doing things. This boat was different.

Lord’s claims did not immediately take root. According to a recently declassified CIA case study, the sceptics in US naval intelligence circles maintained ‘the shaping and welding of heavy titanium hull sections, especially in the generally “dirty” shipyard atmosphere, was impractical, if not impossible’.

The idea of creating whole sections of a titanium submarine in the open air was too ridiculous – usually when titanium was welded it had to be carried out in specially enclosed areas filled with fire-retardant argon gas.

Nothing this big could be made from it, they said.

An entire submarine hull made from titanium?


Regardless of its powerplant or hull composition, a single unit of what would be labelled the Alfa Class by NATO was completed in 1970. What was her precise role?



It took several more years for Herb Lord’s analysis to prevail over the sceptics – and he actually retired before his views became accepted. The CIA analyst Gerhardt Thamm ultimately took up Lord’s cause and he confessed: ‘it became my mission to convince the US Navy that the Soviets were building high-threat submarines using advanced construction technology’.

While Rickover’s team believed the Soviets were improving submarine construction they, and others in the USA, remained very dubious about the Alfa being an SSN. They refused to believe it would be anything more than a dead-end experiment, whatever it was.

In reality one of the most revolutionary submarines ever constructed, the Alfa spotted moored at a fitting-out quay on the banks of the Neva in 1969 was merely a one-off prototype. There would ultimately be a class of six commissioned examples, whose capabilities chilled the blood of NATO commanders. The fastest and deepest-diving attack submarine the world had ever seen, the first Alfa was a rare and mysterious beast.

She was a product of the most brilliant minds in the Soviet submarine design world. Latter-day Norse gods had applied their knowledge of metallurgy to try and secure mastery of inner space for the Kremlin. Russian naval architects, scientists and mathematicians were brilliant, their products simply amazing.

With the Alfa – because they were hoping to achieve a massive leap ahead of the West – the Russians took their time about pushing the prototype to the limits. The roots of what would become the Alfa programme went back to the early 1960s, when the Holy Grail was the so-called Interceptor submarine.

A type of hunter-killer tailored to the flash-bang nature of any likely war, it would be able to hit hard and fast, then disappear. The new Delta Class SSBNs, armed with the SS-N-8 (Sawfly) missile, could bombard America from the comparative safety of the Greenland and Norwegian Seas. Any hunter-killer riding shotgun would not need long endurance, for the Bombers would be relatively close to home.

Such a fast deep-diving submarine could make quick forays in the hunt for surface and submerged targets. The Interceptor submarine could be small, with a modest crew, and also a minimal fit for sonar. Detection abilities of Maritime Patrol Aircraft and helicopters, or other elements of detection equipment (including seabed sensors), would aid the mission.

Generally the reason nuclear-powered submarines were so much bigger than diesels was the need for complex and extremely powerful machinery and powerplant. That in turn increased weight, which decreased speed. The answer was to keep the propulsion plant as small as possible while constructing the boat from lightweight material. The Soviet solution was a liquid-metal reactor while using titanium for the boat’s hull.

Titanium offers huge advantages, for not only is it much lighter than steel, but it is also extremely strong. It has a very low magnetic signature and is not so vulnerable to corrosion. Hard to obtain, and expensive, it does not have the same give as steel. This lack of elasticity under the extreme pressures experienced by deep-diving submarines meant it could crack more easily. Aluminium and manganese alloys were introduced to try and restore elasticity. Titanium was also difficult to bend into the radical, streamlined shape the Soviet naval architects devised for the space age Alfa. With an ultra-streamlined exaggerated hump for a fin, she looked like something conjured up by Arthur C. Clarke.

One Russian submarine officer who saw an Alfa under construction thought her lines stunningly beautiful. She was a work of art rather than a product of industry. On joining the Alfa’s crew, composed of the best and brightest the Soviet Navy could assemble, he was overcome with pride. He exulted: ‘I felt as if I had just discarded my tractor and boarded a spaceship.’

With six tubes and packing a maximum of 18 ASW missiles or torpedoes, the acceleration of the new wonder submarine was incredible. It could go from 6 to 42 knots in just 120 seconds. The Alfa had a remarkably small crew of just 45. Thanks to high levels of automation, it could be reduced to as few as 31.

The use of liquid metal for reactor coolant was extremely radical – and very dangerous. The US Navy had commissioned USS Seawolf in 1957 with a liquid-metal reactor. Not much more than a year later she was brought into a dockyard to have it removed and replaced with a pressurised-water reactor.

A major challenge was ensuring the liquid metal did not actually solidify, bringing the system crashing to a halt.

The Alfa had two compact reactors to offset that annoying tendency.

A major advantage of using liquid metal was that it did not become radioactive, so it wasn’t necessary for the steam-generating machinery it passed through to be clad in heavy (bulky) and expensive radiation shields.

The top turn of speed achieved by the Alfa with a five-bladed screw was phenomenal – up to 45 knots. Maximum diving depth was 2,460ft. This was more than twice any other contemporary Western or Soviet boat. The problem with such a high turn of speed – the fastest ever achieved by an SSN – was the noise, which was likened to a jet engine roar.

The prototype was worked hard, frequently clocking up those impressive high speeds, under huge pressure at great depth. There were several problems with hull cracking and reactor ‘freezes’. Pipework, torpedo launch equipment and even the compressed-air system were subjected to extreme stress. In 1974 the exhausted prototype was cut to pieces, allowing a full autopsy. The results were studied and adjustments made to both design and construction methods before a limited production run went ahead.

Admiral Gorshkov lavished attention and money on the Alfas – so expensive but highly capable, they were dubbed golden fish’. They were the elite of Russia’s submarine force. No wonder, for the Alfas appeared to offer technological parity and even superiority over the West.

The CIA’s Gerhardt Thamm eventually won his battle to convince the US Navy the titanium SSN was reality, confirming that Herb Lord (who had passed away in the meantime) was right. Thamm felt he proved ‘that the Soviets had indeed built a submarine that was “better than good enough’”. Despite huge costs, ‘the Soviets continued the Alfa project with tenacity unmatched by Western navies’.

The Americans were working on their 688 Class attack submarines (also known as Los Angeles Class). The first of these would be launched in 1974 and enter service in 1976, with another 37 commissioned by June 1989.

A major part of Britain’s attempt to respond would depend on safely proving and bringing into service another brand-new kind of SSN.


From left to right: military counterintelligence chief (SMERSH) Viktor Abakumov, NKGB Commissar Vsevolod Merkulov, and NKVD Commissar Lavrenty Beria.

During WWII the NKVD continued propaganda and coercion, which as before, went hand in hand. This leopard did not change its spots; terror did not abate during the war. Those who had lived under German occupation, or who had become prisoners of war and escaped, suffered the consequences of NKVD suspicion, and hundreds of thousands of them were arrested. The Soviet regime punished the families of deserters. A new phenomenon during the war was the punishment of entire nations: the Volga Germans were deported immediately at the outbreak of the war. In 1943 and 1944 it was the turn of the Crimean Tatars and Muslim minorities of the Caucasus: deported to Central Asia, they lived in the most inhuman conditions. The new element in this terror was its naked racism. Every member belonging to a certain minority group was punished, regardless of class status, past behavior, or achievements. Communist party secretaries were deported as well as artists, peasants, and workers.

Despite the arrests, the number of prisoners in camps declined during the war. This happened partly because inmates were sent to the front in punishment battalions, where they fought in the most dangerous sections. The morale and heroism of these battalions were impressive: most of the soldiers did not survive. The camps were also depopulated by the extraordinary death rates: approximately a quarter of the inmates died every year. People died because of mistreatment, overwork, and undernourishment.

In wartime nothing is more important than maintaining the morale and loyalty of the armed forces. In addressing this need the Soviet Union learned from decades of experience. At first, the regime reverted to the dual command system it had developed during a previous time of crisis, the civil war. From the regimental level up, political appointees supervised regular officers. They were responsible for the loyalty of the officers and at the same time directed the political education system. The abandonment of united command, however, harmed military efficiency; once the most dangerous first year had passed, the Stalinist leadership reestablished united command. This did not mean that the political officers had no further role to play. The network of commissars, supervised by the chief political administration of the army, survived. The commissars carried out propaganda among the troops: they organized lectures, discussed the daily press with the soldiers, and participated in organizing agitational trains that brought films and theater productions to the front.

Yet another network within the army functioned to assure the loyalty of the troops – the network of security officers. Although these men wore military uniforms, they were entirely independent of the high command and reported directly to the NKVD. According to contemporary reports, these security officers were greatly disliked by regular officers.

The principal Soviet foreign intelligence service, the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennykh Del was headed in Moscow by Lavrenti Beria and operated across the globe through legal and illegal rezidenturas, run by the head of foreign intelligence, Pavel Fitin, which were heavily dependent on local Communist parties for support and sources. Considered the sword and the shield of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the NKVD concentrated on the acquisition of technology and industrial processes before the war, but later concentrated on political intelligence and atomic data.

NKVD rezidenturas were usually concealed in either diplomatic or trade missions headed by a resident, who supervised a team of subordinates that managed networks of agents, either directly or through intermediaries. Their operations were directed in detail from Moscow, as was learned subsequently from the study of the relevant VENONA traffic, which revealed aspects of NKVD wartime agent management in Mexico City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, London, and Stockholm. Evidently the NKVD’s ability to function in western Europe following the Nazi repudiation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in June 1941 was severely handicapped, leaving the Soviets devoid of legal rezidenturas in Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, The Hague, Oslo, Rome, Prague, Bern, Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and possibly Madrid and Lisbon, too. This placed a heavy burden on the rezidenturas in London, Ottawa, Mexico City, Stockholm, the three in the United States, and eventually Buenos Aires when a rezident was posted there in 1944.

In London, the NKVD declared a rezident, Ivan Chichayev, to his hosts for liaison purposes, but in reality continued to conduct local intelligence-gathering operations through numerous agents, among them Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Leo Long, and Anthony Blunt, who penetrated various branches of British intelligence under the direction of the undeclared rezident, Anatoli Gorsky. In addition, Melita Norwood, Klaus Fuchs, and Allan Nunn May passed information to the NKVD from inside the British atomic weapons development program.

In Ottawa, the NKVD rezident, Vitali Pavlov, ran few independent operations, because the local Communist Party had been embraced by his GRU counterpart, Nikolai Zabotin. In Mexico, Lev Vasilevsky ran the embassy rezidentura under the alias Lev Tarasov and was largely dependent on Spanish Republican refugees. In Stockholm, the rezidentura was headed by a Mrs. Yartseva and then Vasili Razin, and it concentrated on the development of local political figures.

Gorsky (code-named VADIM, alias Anatoli Gromov) was appointed rezident in Washington, D.C., in September 1944, a post he held until December the following year, when he was transferred to Buenos Aires. In March 1945, the New York rezident, Stepan Apresyan, was posted to San Francisco, a rezidentura that had been opened in December 1941 by Grigori M. Kheifets (code-named CHARON), with a subrezidentura in Los Angeles. Kheifets was recalled to Moscow in January 1945 and replaced by Grigori P. Kasparov (code-named GIFT). Apresyan’s replacement in New York was Pavel Fedosimov (code-named STEPAN). Together, these NKVD officers ran more than 200 spies, of whom 115 were later identified as U.S. citizens with a further 100 undetected.

On the Eastern Front, the NKVD gained a ruthless reputation for capturing enemy agents and managing entire networks of double agents, often at the expense of having to sacrifice authentic information to enhance the standing of their deception campaigns. In the 18 months up to September 1943, the NKVD turned 80 captured enemy agents equipped with wireless transmitters, and by the end of hostilities, it had run 185 double agents with radios.

NKVD Security Forces

NKVD Security Forces Aside from combat units of the Red Army, Soviet state security forces fielded a large number of combat units during the war. In 1941 the NKVD was responsible for the Border Troops who patrolled along the frontier, and these look a very active part in the initial fighting of June 1941. The war also saw a major expansion in the NKVD Internal Troops. These units were organised like rifle or cavalry divisions and were intended to maintain internal order in the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the war the NKVD formed 15 rifle divisions. At times of crisis, these units were committed to the front like regular rifle divisions. Indeed, the NKVD formed some of them into Special Purpose (Spetsnaz) Armies, and one of these was used during the breakthroughs in the Crimea. However, this was not their primary role. They were intended to stiffen the resistance of the Red Army, and during major operations were often formed into ‘blocking detachments’ which collected stragglers and prevented retreats. Their other role was to hunt out anti-Soviet partisan groups, and to carry out punitive expeditions against ethnic groups suspected of collaborating with the Germans. The NKVD special troops were expanded in the final years of the war, eventually totalling 53 divisions and 28 brigades, not counting the Border Troops. This was equal to about a tenth of the total number of regular Red Army rifle divisions. These units were used in the prolonged partisan wars in the Ukraine and the Baltic republics which lasted until the early 1950s. They were also involved in the wholesale deportations of suspected ethnic groups in 1943-45. In some respects, the NKVD formations resembled the German Waffen-SS in terms of independence from the normal military structure. However, the NKVD troops were used mainly for internal security and repression, and were not heavily enough armed for front-line combat. Unlike the Waffen-SS, they had no major armoured or mechanised formations.

Beriev Be-12 Tchaika

Together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force, the AV-MF (Soviet Naval Aviation) is the last major service to operate fleets of combat flying-boats and amphibians. Elsewhere, the role of the patrol flying-boat was taken over by long-range landplanes in the 1950s. The first test flight was made 18 October 1960 from a land aerodrome. While taking an experimental flight over the Azov sea, hear Zhdanov, the first prototype amphibian BE-12 suffered catastrophe and sank. Three members of the crew died.

The second experimental amphibian BE-12 was built only in 1962. The test were continued. The second and third amphibians were tested by the plant test-pilots M.Muhailov, I.Kuprianov, E.Lahmostov.

The Be-12 entered service with the Soviet Navy in the early 1960s in the maritime patrol role, and is one of the few amphibian aircraft still in military service in the world. Initially its role was ASW patrol, but when newer missiles enabled the United States Navy submarines to launch from further offshore, the Be-12 was converted to a search and rescue role (Be-12PS). Small numbers are still in service.

This process may continue, as no amphibious replacement for the Beriev Be-12 Tchaika (Seagull), codenamed ‘Mail’ by NATO, has been reported, and the AV-MF has introduced specialised landplanes for the anti-submarine role, the llyushin 11-38 ‘May’ and the Tupolev Tu-142 ‘Bear-F’.

The Beriev design bureau, based at Taganrog on the Sea of Azov, has been the main supplier of marine aircraft to the Soviet Navy since 1945, most of its aircraft going to the Northern and Black Sea Fleets. The origins of the Be-12 go back to the LL-143 prototype of 1945, which led in 1949 to the Be-6 ‘Madge’. This latter twin-engined flying-boat served with success until 1967.

Following the Be-6, the Beriev team carried out a considerable amount of research into jet-powered flying-boats, producing the straight-winged Be-R-1 of 1952 and the swept-wing Be-10 of 1960-1. The latter, powered by two Lyul’ka AL-7RVs (unaugmented versions of the Su-7 powerplant), established a number of seaplane records in 1961, but only three or four are believed to have been built.

The lessons learned in the design of the Be-R-1 and Be-10, however, were incorporated in the design of a much improved flying-boat based loosely on the Be-6 and identified originally by NATO as a re-engined version of the older type. In fact, the Be-12, designated M-12 in AV-MF service, bears little more than a general resemblance to the Be-6, sharing only the gull-wing layout and twin tail of its predecessor. The greater power and lighter weight of the turboprop engines have permitted a forward extension of the hull, with a new planing bottom similar to that of the Be-10. The prominent spray suppressor around the bows of the Be-10 is also a feature of the turboprop aircraft. The most significant change, however, was the addition of massive and sturdy retractable landing gear, making the Be-12 amphibious and thus considerably more versatile than the earlier Beriev designs. The turreted gun armament of the Be-6 has been deleted, being replaced by MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) gear in the tail, above the tailwheel well, while the search radar is carried in a long nose housing instead of the ventral retractable dustbin radome of the Be-6. One of the drawbacks of the high-wing layout, the excessive height of the engines above the ground, has been mitigated by the design of engine cowling panels which drop down to form strong working platforms.

The considerable weight-lifting capability of the Be-12 was demonstrated in a series of class records for amphibians set up in 1964, 1968 and 1970, suggesting a normal weapons load as high as 5000kg (11,023lb). The Be-12 can load on the water through large side hatches in the rear fuselage, and stores can be dropped through a watertight hatch in the hull aft of the step. Unlike land-based ASW platforms, a marine aircraft can, in reasonably calm conditions, settle on the water, and search with its own sonar equipment, rather than relying exclusively on sonobuoys. This assumes that the Be-12 has this capability.

With the increasing use of the Mil Mi-14 ‘Haze’ ASW helicopter and the llyushin II-38 ‘May’, there would seem to be a diminishing ASW role for the Be-12, although the type will certainly remain in service as a high-speed search-and-rescue (SAR) vehicle. It is also believed to have been used for mapping, geophysical survey and utility transport. By Soviet standards the type was not built in large numbers, only 95 being reported in service in the late 1980s.


Ukrainian Be-12


Twin-engined maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare flying-boat.


Ecological reconnaissance version.


Flying laboratory version.


Utility transport, experimental passenger trasport version.


Search and rescue version.


Fire-fighting version.


Firefighting version.


Used for nuclear depth charge tests.


Scientific research version.

Be-12P-200 amphibian has been designed at the BERIEV Aircraft Company on the basis of Be-12 production aircraft and was employed as a flying laboratory of Be-200 new generation aircraft and Be-12 amphibian modification aimed at firefighting operations.

As a flying laboratory it is equipped with a special fire extinguishing system which has no principle differences with Be-200 amphibian system. The water scooping into the fire extinguishing system tanks can be performed in the sea, lakes and rivers area at the gliding speed close to the takeoff speed (0.9 – 0.97 of takeoff speed).The possibility of the tanks filling in the aerodromes is also provided. Be-12P-200 amphibian was tested in 1996, and for seasons of 1997-1998 it was successfully employed for the forest fire extinguishing in Irkutsk and Khabarovsk regions.


Type: maritime patrol amphibian

Powerplant: two 3125-kW (4,190-shp) Ivchenko AI-20D turboprops

Performance: maximum speed 610km/h (379mph); economical patrol speed 320km/h (199mph); maximum range 4000km (2,485 miles)

Weights: (estimated) empty 21700kg (47,840lb); maximum take-off 30000kg (66,139 Ib)

Dimensions: span 29.7m (97ft 5 ¼ in); length 30.2m (99ft 1 in); height on land 7m (22ft 11 ½  in)

Armament: bombs, rockets or guided ASMs on underwing pylons; depth charges and sonobuoys

FIRST T-34 (Model 40) Part I

By the summer of 1938 it was determined that the proposed A-20 might be insufficiently armed and armoured for the medium tank role. The Red Army therefore decided it would need another proposed medium tank design that would be designated the A-32 and have a maximum armour thickness on the front of the turret of 32mm. It would be armed with a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun.

By May 1939 it was decided to thicken the maximum armour on the front of the A-32 turret to 45mm. This up-armoured version of the vehicle was designated the A-34 in the summer of 1939. In August 1939 the Red Army decided to adopt the A-34; a decision concurred with by Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, in December 1939. The first A-34 prototype appeared in January 1940, with the second prototype rolling off the factory floor the following month.

To prove the reliability of the A-34 prototype tanks before submitting them for the final approval of the Red Army, a demonstration run that would encompass a distance of 1,800 miles (2,897km) during the winter months of February and March 1940 was arranged. On 17 March 1940, the two A-34 prototypes arrived in Moscow for a personal inspection by Stalin and other high-ranking members of the government and military élite. Despite the misgivings by some that the A-34 was not yet suitable for production, Stalin gave his blessing to the production of the vehicle once any design faults uncovered during testing by the Red Army were addressed.

Additional testing of the A-34 prototypes led to the conclusion that the vehicle was superior to any other tank then in Red Army service, and by the end of March 1940 the tank was approved for production as the T-34. Besides a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun, the T-34 would also be armed with a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and another 7.62mm machine gun in the front hull. The first 150 units of the T-34 also featured a 7.62mm machine gun in a ball mount in the rear of the turret.

Despite production of the four-man T-34 being approved, there were still some hurdles that had to be overcome. One of the original requirements called for the vehicle to operate over 1,864 miles (3,000km) without a major breakdown. A mileage test done in April 1940 showed that the tank could not meet this requirement. However, this was soon dropped to 621 miles (1,000km). The Red Army went ahead and placed an order with two factories for 600 T-34s to be built starting in June 1940. They also placed a production order for 2,800 units of the T-34 for 1941. 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.


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.


The chassis, based on the Christie system, had five pairs of large road wheels with a gap between the second and third. Each wheel’s suspension was independently mounted, and transversely swung on a vertical coil spring inside the hull. The drive sprocket was mounted at the rear to reduce vulnerability. It was the same roller type used on the BTs. The drive sprockets drove wide, 483mm (19in) skeleton-type cast-manganese steel tracks with centre guide horns positioned on alternate track links.

The system had an interesting and ingenious method of retaining its track pins. The roundhead pins were inserted from the inside; there was no retaining device used on the track itself. Instead, a curved wiper plate was welded to each side of the hull at the rear, level with the top run of the track. Therefore, any loose track pin passing the wiper plate in motion was immediately knocked back into place. The method also allowed the rapid removal and replacement of track blocks, considerably easing and speeding up maintenance and repairs in the field. The wide tracks provided a small specific ground pressure not exceeding 0.7-0.75kg per cm (10-10.6Ib per in), while that of British, German and American medium and heavy tanks was 0.95-lkg per cm (13.1-13.9Ib per in). Track guards covered the top of the suspension system and extended 25cm(9.8in) beyond the hull at the front and 10cm (3. 9in) at the rear. The suspension permitted the T-34 to retain high speeds even when moving over rough terrain, while the wide tracks on the tank, weighing only 28.3 tonnes (28 tons), meant that it could traverse muddy terrain, as well as snow-covered ground.


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.

The first production unit of the Red Army’s new 58,912-lb (29mt) medium tank rolled off the production line in September 1940. This vehicle is now commonly referred to as the T-34 Model 1940. By the time the German army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, 1,225 units of the T-34 Model 1940 were in service, of which 967 had been delivered to field units. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the vehicle’s turret was 45mm.

Initial German army encounters with the T-34 Model 1940 raised a great deal of alarm among both their infantry and armour branches. Their existing anti-tank weapons proved unable to penetrate the thick, well-sloped armour on the T-34, and the vehicle’s 76.2mm main gun easily penetrated the armour on the German Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks it encountered. This would eventually lead to the up-gunning and up-armouring of the existing German medium tanks, and the development of the German Panther medium tank series and Tiger E heavy tank as a counter to the T-34.

The Red Army early war battlefield technical superiority in medium tanks was offset by the fact that the T-34 Model 1940 was just entering service and their crews often had little training in the use of their new tanks. Compounding the problem was the fact that most of the tanks did not have radios. There were also shortages of everything from main gun ammunition to fuel and spare parts for the T-34-equipped units confronting the Germans, and these factors allowed their army to easily prevail over the Red Army during the early phase of their invasion of the Soviet Union.

The 76.2mm main gun initially selected for use by the Red Army on the T-34 Model 1940 was designated the L-11. It was not the desired weapon in the opinion of the vehicle’s designers due to its relatively low muzzle velocity and hence poor armour penetration ability. Due to almost everybody’s unhappiness with the L-11, other weapons were considered for the T-34 Model 1940, including the ZiS-4 57mm anti-tank gun. A few of these were actually mounted in the vehicle to test their effectiveness.