The T-44 was a Soviet medium tank, first produced towards the end of the Second World War. This tank was the successor to the very successful T-34. Less than two thousand T-44s were built, but this design became the basis for the T-54/55 main battle tank series, which was the most-built tank of all time.
The T-34 medium tank has been referred to as one of the best tanks of World War II. It was a further development of the BT series fast light tanks. By the end of 1940 when production started, there were already plans to improve the vehicle's reliability and operational capabilities by adopting more modern technology. This design project was called T-34M. The new vehicle had enhanced armour protection, a three-man hexagonal turret, torsion bar suspension instead of Christie suspension, road wheels with internal shock absorption and increased amount of fuel, projectiles (100 rounds instead of 77 in standard T-34 medium tank), cartridges, etc. Also the bow machine gun and driver's hatch switched positions on the glacis plate. In addition to six smaller wheels, the suspension of the T-34M also had four return rollers. The original model V-2 12-cylinder diesel engine developing 500 hp (373 kW) was replaced by a new 12-cylinder diesel engine which developed 600 hp (447 kW). It also had a new 8-speed transmission system. It was the first tank design to feature transverse engine placement which made it smaller than a standard T-34 and gave the crew more space inside. The Zhdanov Metallurgical Factory manufactured five sets of armour plates for the hull of the T-34M medium tank and delivered them to Factory No. 183. However, early in 1941 work on the T-34M medium tank ceased as the production facilities were extremely busy with the mass production of the T-34. When the war with Nazi Germany broke out the only sensible solution was to gradually improve the existing design. During the fights on the Eastern Front it became apparent that the Red Army needed a new medium tank. The Red Army requested the new tank to have better protection at minimal increase of weight. In 1942 the T-43 tank design project was made. It featured a new turret and shorter suspension which reduced the clearance between the roadwheels. However it concentrated on increasing armour at a time when maintaining production and increasing firepower were more important. The T-43 was canceled, but its new turret design was adapted to carry a larger 85 mm D-5T and later ZiS-S-53 gun in a new variant called the T-34-85. It however marked the end of T-34 improvement capabilities as fitting different 100 mm guns in two T-34-100 prototypes proved to be unfeasible (See T-34 variants article for details).
In the autumn of 1943 the design bureau of the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183, located in Nizhny Tagil (in the Ural Mountains, where most of the Soviet tank industry had been evacuated after Operation Barbarossa in 1941), started working on a vehicle that would have improvement opportunities in the future, under a direct order from Stalin. The intention was to retain the high mobility of the T-34 and provide it with heavier armour protection against modern tank guns. In November 1943, the chief designer, A. A. Morozov, presented the overall design of the vehicle and a model of the tank which received a designation T-44 (Ob'yekt 136). The first prototype was completed by January 1944 and two more were completed in February. The first two prototypes were armed with 85 mm D-5T guns and received the designation T-44-85, while the third prototype was armed with the 122 mm D-25-44T tank gun and received the designation T-44-122. The D-25-44T tank gun was very similar to the basic D-25 field gun, but differed in some minor details including fixed single-piece ammunition to increase the rate of fire and a double-baffle muzzle brake. What allowed fitting such powerful armament in a medium tank weighing 30 tonnes was the construction of the hull with an innovative placement of the engine. Unlike most tanks, in the T-44 the engine was placed perpendicular to the axis of the tank. The hull was designed without sponsons. It was also much wider which made the crew compartment bigger and allowed the turret to be placed over the center part of the vehicle. This reduced the overall length of the vehicle. The thickness of the armour was 75 mm on the front of the hull and 90 mm on the front of the turret. The side armour was 45 mm thick and could be reinforced by 30 mm thick additional armour plate. All three prototypes were powered by the V-2IS diesel engine which developed 500 hp (373 kW). This first generation of prototypes also featured a raised cast drivers hatch with an opening vision flap as well as mounting bolts in a ring around the base of the gun tube.
Morozov's new medium tank design received a skeptical response. It was believed that putting a high-speed 12-cylinder engine with a working displacement of almost 40 liters perpendicular to the direction of travel would cause problems including breaking the connecting rods. It was also believed that decreasing the displacement of the engine compartment for the purpose of enlarging the fighting compartment was unnecessary and that moving the turret rearwards would limit the elevation angle of the main gun. However it turned out that even though rotating the engine complicated the transmission by introducing an additional reduction gear - gear-train and fan drive, it also solved many problems. The cover of the engine and transmission compartment turned along with the radiator; this allowed easier access to the engine, transmission and batteries. The significant decrease in the length of the engine compartment allowed the turret to be moved rearwards, which in turn moved its rotation axis and the center of mass to the center of the hull, increased the accuracy of the main gun and decreased a chance that the turret could get stuck after getting hit in the turret ring with a projectile that ricocheted. The thickness of the frontal armor protection more than doubled without disturbing the center of mass or drastically increasing the weight of the tank. At the beginning of WWII the thickness of T-34 armor was considered enough. Improvements made to the T-34 during WWII included increasing the caliber of the gun (from 76.2 mm to 85 mm) and thickening the armor of the turret. However no significant improvements were made to the hull. Increasing the size of the fighting compartment allowed the removal of floor ammunition stowage. The height of the tank was decreased by 300 mm, even though the turret remained almost the same. Removal of the conical pair in the transmission permitted fitting a more compact gear box and improved the control of the brakes and the steering clutch. Visibility from the driver's position was improved. The driver was also protected against getting splashed by water while the vehicle was fording. The new torsion bar suspension allowed easier crossing of rough ground.
The first trials of the T-44-122 prototype took place in February and March 1944, but were unsuccessful due to gun failure, and the gun was returned to the No. 9 factory for repair. In April and May 1944 the trials were resumed. Aside from standard trials, the T-44-122 was put in competitive trials against the captured German Panzerkampfwagen V Panther medium tank and the second of two first generation T-44-85 prototypes. However, the practical rate of fire was two to three rounds per minute due to the cramped turret and long, heavy ammunition. In addition, the vehicle had a very limited stowage of only 24 rounds and this was considered insufficient for a medium tank. As a result all further development of the T-44-122 prototype was canceled.
Like the T-44-122 prototype, one of the two first generation T-44-85 prototypes went through competitive trials against the captured German Panzerkampfwagen V Panther medium tank. Also the second of the two first generation T-44-85 prototypes was put in competitive trials against the T-44-122 prototype. Aside from that the second prototype uncovered additional faults in the design. By May 1944 two second-generation prototypes were being built. These featured the driver's position moved rearwards so that his hatch was partially on the hull roof. The driver's vision flap was reduced to a plain square flap with rounded lower corners, in line with the glacis plate. Also, these prototypes had prominent collars at the base of the gun tube, without mounting bolts which were present in the first generation prototypes. The two prototypes also have differences between each other. One prototype had a splashboard on the glacis plate while the other had a smooth uncluttered glacis plate. One of these prototypes passed trails at NIBT proving grounds near Kubinka in June and July 1944. This prototype weighed 31.3 tonnes and was armed with an 85 mm ZiS-S-53 gun. The turret front armour thickness was increased to 115 mm. Hulls side armour thickness was increased to 75 mm.
The third generation prototype, which received the designation T-44A, was completed after the Morozov Design Bureau had moved back to Kharkiv in Ukraine. The hull upper front armour (glacis plate) thickness was increased to 90 mm and the turret front armour thickness was increased to 120 mm. Even though it was more heavily armoured, the weight went down to 30.7 tonnes. This vehicle also had a new V-44 12-cylinder 4-stroke diesel engine of 520 hp (388 kW) at 1,800 rpm, which allowed the tank to travel at a speed of 60.5 km/h. This prototype had the splashboard on the glacis plate like one of the second generation T-44-85 prototypes. This prototype also featured some other differences from the earlier prototypes, including the fact that drivers hatch was moved entirely to the roof of the hull and the vision flap was deleted from the design and replaced by a vision slot in the glacis plate. After trials conducted in August and September 1944 and after it received several upgrades (which increased the weight of the vehicle to 32 tonnes), the T-44A officially entered service with the Red Army on the 23rd of November 1944.
Even with its innovative technology and better armor protection, the T-44A still used an 85 mm ZiS-S-53 tank gun, the same as the one fitted on the T-34-85 medium tank and the army needed a new tank armed with a more powerful 100 mm gun. At the end of 1944 the designers had three types of 100 mm guns at their disposal which could considerably increased the firepower of the tank. These included the D-10 (which already proved itself in combat as it was used in SU-100 tank destroyer) as well as prototype ZiS-100 and LB-1 (LB stands for Lavrenty Beria). The T-44 tank armed with 100 mm tank gun originally received the designation T-44B. Therefore two projects were started, both based on the T-44A medium tank. The development of the first one started in October 1944 at design bureau of the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183, located in Nizhny Tagil. The designing stage was completed in December. The prototype was ready in February 1945. The trials conducted between March and April gave positive results and therefore it was decided for the new vehicle to enter service with the Red Army as T-54. The tank had almost the same hull and drive train as the T-44A, the only differences included the thickened front armour (120 mm on the upper section and 90 mm on the lower section) as well as different hatch and vision slot for the driver. The turret had increased diameter to 1800 mm as well as thicker armour (180 mm on the front, between 90 mm and 150 mm on the sides and 30 mm on the roof). The armament included the 100 mm D-10TK tank gun as well as two 7.62 mm GWT machine guns. The tank was powered by a new V-54 12-cylinder 38.88 liter water-cooled diesel engine developing 520 hp (388 kW) at 2,000 rpm. The fuel capacity was also increased (530 liters in the internal fuel tank and 165 liters in the external fuel tank). Also the external fuel tanks were connected to the fuel system. The rubber rollers on roadwheels were widened. The weight was increased to 35.5 tonnes which reduced the maximal road speed to 43.5 km/h. The maximal road operational range increased to 360 km. Because of the positive results of trials it was also decided to modernize the tank before starting production (for more details about it see T-54/55 article) as well as to put the new tank's turret onto two modified serial T-44A medium tanks. This was done in 1945 and the two prototype tanks received the designation T-44-100. One of the prototypes was armed with D-10TK tank gun while the other one was armed with LB-1 tank gun. Like the second generation T-44-85 prototypes, the two T-44-100 prototypes had also other differences between each other. One prototype had a splashboard on the glacis plate while the other did not. They both had the 12.7 mm DShK anti-aircraft heavy machine gun fitted to the loader's hatch, 6 mm thick anti-HEAT sideskirts protecting the sides and two cylindrical fuel tanks in the back which increased the fuel capacity to 1035 l. These cylindrical fuel tanks were later also used in Soviet main battle tanks as additional fuel tanks. However the further development of the T-44 medium tank was canceled and all the attention was directed towards the development of a new T-54 main battle tank.
The T-44 had a typical tank layout: the driving compartment at the front, the fighting compartment in the middle and the engine compartment in the rear. The original intention was to retain the high mobility and speed of a T-34 and to provide the T-44 with heavier armour protection against large-caliber tank guns. This was accomplished by adding thicker armour but reducing the internal volume of the hull. The T-44 also had a lower profile than the T-34, and was potentially simpler to manufacture. Although the T-44 used many components of the T-34, it had a new hull, modified model V-2 diesel engine, suspension and transmission.
Reflecting trends in other designs in this period, the T-44 was designed without the hull radio operator/machine gunner position present in many older designs. This was done because of a number of reasons. The extensive machine gun firing port in the glacis plate (which was present in T-34 medium tank) was a weak spot of the glacis plate. In T-34, this firing port along with driver's hatch which also weakened the glacis plate, were exploited during WWII by the Germans fighting the T-34 medium tanks. Shooting from such machine gun was also ineffective as it was inaccurate due to obscured vision. It was also considered ineffective to transfer report through an additional member of the crew and therefore these duties were transferred to the commander which allowed more effective communication. The space saved was used for a fuel tank and to increase the ammunition load. The driver's hatch was on the left side of the hull roof. The tank had an improved hull design, longer and wider than the T-34 but slightly lower thanks to the relocation of the air-filter, with thicker armour, and was simpler to construct. The hull had a sloped glacis plate, vertical sides, and slightly beveled rear. Most tanks had a splashboard on the glacis plate although there are pictures of T-44A tanks without them. It protected the upper part of the vehicle from splashes of mud. There were three mounts for rectangular stowage bins on the fenders (two on the right hand side fender and one on the left hand side fender). There were also four mountings for cylindrical fuel tanks on the fenders (two per side). This was changed in the T-44M which used rectangular fuel cells.
During its service the tank proved to be not entirely adapted to winter conditions as due to an incomplete draining of the cooling system, caused by a water pump system that had been modified to reduce engine height, a small shaft could brake after an impeller pump would freeze over. The repair of the shaft, considering the field conditions, proved very unpractical and required three people to do. Two people had to hold a third person by the legs and lower him into the engine bay, where he had to loosen the fastening and remove the broken shaft. Then, he was pulled out and lowered back down to install the new shaft. If he could not complete the job in two attempts, he was repeatedly lowered until the new part was secured. The other serious problem discovered during the winter conditions was the fact that the crews of the T-44A medium tanks had suffered from frostbites because of complete lack of a heating system for the crew. During driving, the driver was supposed to be protected from rain and snow by a removable tarp cover with a small glass window. However, this was not successful and its use was deemed impractical.
The T-44 had a compact torsion-bar suspension instead of the T-34's Christie coil springs, although it retained the Christie method of engagement between the slotted drive wheel and track lugs. The suspension had five large spoked road wheels and 'dead' 500 mm long track from the T-34 medium tank. The hull and wheels were virtually identical to the early T-54 main battle tanks although the original T-44 had the T-34's 'spider' road wheels and a narrow, inset drive wheel at the rear. The T-44 was the last Soviet medium tank with paddle-type tracks. However, the mechanism for tensioning them was significantly better on the T-44 than it was on the T-34. On the T-34 to tension the tracks, first two lug-nuts on the crank had to be loosen and then pounded with a sledge-hammer in order to separate it from the hull. After the track was tensioned, the crank had to be set back in its place with a use of the sledge-hammer. The whole process required up to three people. On the T-44, the same task could be carried out by one person, without the help of a sledge-hammer. The roadwheels were placed in even distance from each other expect a prominent gap between two roadwheels. The T-44-85 and T-44-122 prototypes had a gap between the second and third roadwheels like in T-34 but the T-44A had a gap between the first and second roadwheels. This arrangement of wheels was continued in T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks. The roadwheels sometimes started to 'fall-home' after 2,500 km. To increase the service life of the road wheel, a slight camber of the paired road wheels was tried. However, this resulted in greater stress on the outer rollers. While the tank crosses 20 km of rough ground it can pick up about a ton of dirt along the way.
The new V-44 12-cylinder 4-stroke diesel engine developing 520 hp (388 kW) at 1,800 rpm, was a more powerful version of the T-34's model V-2 with a new planetary manual 5-speed transmission system, filtration system, improved cooling system, horizontally placed water and oil pumps and an improved fuel system which increased its power output, although the tank retained the side clutches from the T-34. The new engine gave the T-44 maximal road speed of 53 km/h and maximal cross country speed of 20 km/h to 25 km/h as well as maximal road range of 350 km. The engine could become worn out after the tank traveled 3,000 km. When that happened, the oil pressure dropped to 2-3 atmospheres and under heavy loads, the engine started smoking, spewing out black smog out of the side of the tank. The engine deck had two transverse ventilation grilles at the rear. The exhaust port was on the rear left hand side of the hull. The tank can cross 1 m high vertical obstacles, 2.5 m wide trenches, 32° side slopes and 60° gradients and ford 1.3 m deep water obstacles without preparation.
Because driver's hatch hatch was moved from the glacis plate and positioned so that he exited the vehicle perpendicularly instead of crawling out of the hatch, his seat received an elevating mechanism. While in a relatively safe area the driver could elevate his seat to look outside of the tank which provided him with greater visibility and easier access to the controls. While in combat the driver lowered his seat back into the tank and could only rely on vision slot protected by triplex (three-layer glass) in terms of visibility. Also while in this position the pedals of the main clutch, the fuel supply, and incline brake were positioned much higher and the levers of the steering clutch and gear shifting became inconvenient to operate. Early examples had transmission problems. While the driver was switching gears, two gears could engage simultaneously, which caused a break of a gear pinion. This and other gearbox related problems were solved in a 1961 T-44M modernization with the introduction of a gearbox from the T-54 main battle tank.
T-44A medium tank was armed with an 85 mm ZiS-S-53 tank gun as well as two 7.62 mm DTM light machine guns. One of these machine guns was mounted to fire through a tiny hole in the center of the glacis plate. Because the tank's crew didn't include a radio operator/machine gunner, driver operated this light machine gun. Because this light machine gun was mounted in a fixed position it could only be aimed by turning the tank. The main gun was placed in a centrally placed turret along with a coaxially mounted 7.62 mm DTM light machine gun. ZiS-S-53 tank gun could penetrate around 100 mm of armour at range of 1000 m. The gun could be elevated or depressed between -5° and +25°. It wasn't stabilized. Like in the T-34 medium tank and SU-76 SPG, hot cartridge-cases were rolling under the feet of the crew. The crew was also subjected to gases from the main gun every time after it was fired. The tank carriers 58 rounds for the 85 mm ZiS-S-53 tank gun and 1890 rounds for 7.62 mm DTM light machine guns.
The turret was cast, with a prominent horizontal casting seam, shaped like an elongated hexagon with sloped sides and overhang all around. It resembled a longer, better armoured T-34-85 turret. It had a cast gun mantlet with a small but prominent ring/collar around the base of the tank gun tube. The turret roof had a raised commander's cupola on the left, and loader's hatch on the right, with a low dome-shaped ventilator behind it. The turret was moved with a use of an electric motor. The front armour of the turret was 120 mm thick while the side armour was 75 mm thick.
The hull was made of rolled welded steel. The glacis plate is 90 mm thick while the side armour is 75 mm and the bottom armour is 20 mm thick. T-44 tanks could be fitted with additional 30 mm thick armour plates on the sides of the hull and the turret. Also additional spaced armour panels could be fitted to the sides of the hull.
T-44A medium tank can be fitted with the PT-3 mine clearing device. It also had a radio in the back of the turret for which it had radio antenna on the center of the left hand side of the turret. The vehicle also was equipped with submachine gun for the crew. The vehicle however lacks NBC protection system and night vision device.
The T-44A medium tank officially entered service with the Red Army on November 23, 1944 but the production started in October. Production took place at the new Factory No. 75 (Zavod 75) in Kharkiv which used the buildings of the old KhPZ Factory No. 183 which were recaptured from Germans on August, 23, 1943. To restore them into working order, engineers, workers, machines and tools have arrived from Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183, located in Nizhny Tagil. The original plans were that the factory would produce 300 T-44A medium tanks a month. However, only 25 T-44A medium tanks were built by the end of 1944. In 1945, 940 T-44A medium tanks were built, making a total of 965 T-44A medium tanks (190 tanks built in 1944 and 1945 were completed by the end of the war). An additional 858 T-44A medium tanks were made in 1946-1947. The T-34 continued to account for 85% of medium tank production through 1950, and development of a more advanced medium tank with a more powerful 100 mm gun proceeded. The relatively brief production run ended in 1947 with a total of 1,823 T-44A medium tanks built. The reasons for such a brief production run included mechanical teething problems, the end of the war which reduced the Red Army's need for a new tank and the design's inability to successfully fit a 100 mm tank gun. It was replaced on the production lines by the T-54-1 main battle tank, which was more mechanically reliable and could mount a 100 mm gun. The superior T-54-2 would replace T-34 production at the Omsk Factory No. 183 in 1950, and the T-54/55 main battle tank series would remain in production until 1981.
The T-44 was issued to three tank brigades mustered on September 15, 1944 for training purposes, but these formations were re-equipped with T-34-85 medium tanks prior to entering the Battle of Berlin and Prague Offensive. These were the 6th Guards, 33rd Guards, and 63rd Guards Tank Brigades. The T-44A medium tank was not used operationally during WWII in Europe for several reasons including the fact that the Red Army wasn't ready to accept a new tank because of lack of sufficient supplies and technical specialists who could repair and maintain the new tanks as well as the fact that many of the tank crews were inexperienced. However, three tanks were sent to the 100th Special Tank Company which tested them on the Eastern Front. Many T-44A medium tanks were sent immediately after they were produced to the Far East regions of the Soviet Union. The first tanks arrived there before the end of the war and were used operationally during last three days of fighting. They continued to arrive after the war and eventually around 600 T-44A medium tanks were stationed there.
Due to the Cold War, the USSR decided to keep the tank secret. It was never shown publicly during military parades and all pictures of it were never shown publicly until the coat of secrecy was dropped. Also there's almost no photographic evidence of T-44s stationed in East Germany or during the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 although it is known that T-44s were sent there (there's only one photograph of T-44A medium tank in Hungary in existence).
In 1961, a number of T-44A medium tanks were modernized with parts from the T-54 main battle tank and other upgrades and received the designation T-44M. In 1963, some T-44M medium tanks were converted into T-44MK command tanks. In 1965 some T-44M medium tanks were converted into BTS-4A armoured recovery vehicles. In 1966, a number of T-44A medium tanks received "Cyclone" gun stabilizer and a designation T-44S. Also in the same year a number of T-44M medium tanks received "Cyclone" gun stabilizer and a destination T-44MS. According to most sources T-44S, T-44M and T-44MS medium tanks remained in service with the Soviet Army until the end of the 1970s, when their usefulness as tanks had ended. However it is possible that they remained in storage until the beginning of 1990s. Many of T-44M medium tanks were converted into artillery tractors, tank tractors and engineer tanks. Also a number of T-44A, T-44S, T-44M, T-44MK and T-44MS medium tanks were converted into fixed defensive positions, some of which are known to have been positioned on the border with People's Republic of China. Unlike most of Soviet made weapons the T-44 wasn't exported.
After the cloak of secrecy was lifted in 1960s when the tank was already becoming obsolete, it was used in two Soviet war movies, Father of a Soldier and Act by situation. In the first one, for reasons which remain unknown, it was used to portray a T-34. In the second one it was visually modified with additional plates to look like the Tiger I heavy tank. Some T-44 medium tanks along with some T-34 medium tanks were visually modified to represent German Panzerkampfwagen IV medium tanks. They were made for Soviet era film studios and were used in a number of movies about battles on the Eastern Front. They were also used during 2004 Reenactment of the Battle of Moscow. Some T-44A medium tanks were later given to military museums including one in Brest in today's Belarus. One of two T-44-100 prototypes is in Kubinka Tank Museum.