In this, the penultimate entry in our Military Blueprints series, we look at the Soviet T-34 Tank.
The T-34 was the primary tank of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Some 84,000 T-34s of all varieties were built, making it the most produced tank of WW2 and second of all time.
During Operation Barbarossa the T-34 was an unpleasant surprise for the German soldiers. They had expected to meet an inferior opponent, as they had done so far on every front. However, the T-34 was in fact, a vastly superior tank any the Germans currently had in service. In one of the first known encounters, a T-34 crushed a 37 mm PaK 36, destroyed two Panzer IIs, and left a 14 kilometre long swathe of destruction in its wake before a howitzer destroyed it at close range. Impervious to any German anti-tank weapon, the Germans were forced to deploy 105 mm field guns and 88 mm flak guns in a direct fire role to stop them. Despite this, the T-34 was not able to halt the German advance. Simply put, not enough were made available at the time, they were mechanically unreliable and the crews were poorly trained with outdated tactics.
As the German advance continued, Soviet tank production focused on the T-34. The Stalingrad tank factory kept production going until November 1942, right up until the moment that it was overrun. There are many stories of tanks rolling straight off the production line and into battle.
Mechanical reliability and crew training were improved over time but German tanks were improving as well. Tigers and Panthers were only vulnerable to Soviet tanks at very close range and from the sides but could penetrate a T-34 at 2000m. To counter the heavier German armour a project to upgun the T-34 was initiated. A new 3 man turret with a powerful 85mm gun was developed and put into production. The T-34-85 was built from February 1944 onward with no interruption to the end of the war.
The T-34 has become an icon of the Soviet Union’s efforts in the Second World War. Hundreds survive across the world as monuments and memorials including Monument Tanks T-34 which is situated in Estonia.
During the Cold War the Soviet Union widely distributed surplus military equipment to her allies. The T-34 has found its way into virtually every conflict since the Second World War.
It is often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential tank design of the Second World War and arguably, of all time.