The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1941 to 1958. It is widely regarded as having been the world's best tank when the Soviet Union entered World War II, and although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the war's most effective, efficient and influential design. First produced at the KhPZ factory in Kharkov (Kharkiv, Ukraine), it was the mainstay of Soviet armoured forces throughout World War II, and widely exported afterwards. It was the most-produced tank of the war, and the second most-produced tank of all time, after its successor, the T-54/55 series. A 1996 publication showed that the T-34 was still in service with twenty-seven countries.
The T-34 was developed from the BT series of fast tanks and was intended to replace both the BT-5 and BT-7 tanks and the T-26 infantry tank in service (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:66, 111). At its introduction, it was the tank with the best balanced attributes of firepower, mobility and protection, although initially its battlefield effectiveness suffered from the unsatisfactory ergonomic layout of its crew compartment, lack of radios and poor tactical employment. The two-man turret crew arrangement required the commander to serve as the gunner, an arrangement common to most Soviet tanks of the day; this proved to be inferior to three-man (commander, gunner and loader) turret crews.
The design and construction of the tank were continuously refined during the war to improve effectiveness and decrease costs, allowing steadily greater numbers of T-34s to be fielded. In early 1944, the improved T-34-85 was introduced, with a more powerful 85 mm gun and a three-man turret design. By the war's end in 1945, the versatile and cost-effective T-34 had replaced many light and heavy tanks in service, and accounted for the majority of Soviet tank production. Its evolutionary development led directly to the T-54/55 series of tanks, built until 1981 and still operational today.
In 1937, engineer Mikhail Koshkin was assigned by the Red Army to lead a new team to design a replacement for the BT tanks, at the Kharkiv Komintern Locomotive Plant (KhPZ) in Kharkiv. The prototype tank, designated A-20, was specified with of armour, a 45 mm (1.8 in) gun, and the new model V-2 engine, using less-flammable diesel fuel. It also had an 8×6-wheel convertible drive similar to the BT tank's 8×2, which allowed it to run on wheels without caterpillar track (Zheltov 1999). This feature had greatly saved on maintenance and repair of the unreliable tank track of the early 1930s, and allowed tanks to travel over 85 km/h (53 mph) on roads, but gave no advantage in combat. By then, the designers considered it a needless waste of space and weight (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:66, 111). The A-20 also incorporated previous research (BT-IS and BT-SW-2 projects) into sloped armour: its all-round sloped armour plates were more likely to deflect anti-armour rounds than perpendicular armour.
Koshkin convinced Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to let him develop a second prototype, a more heavily armed and armoured "universal tank" which could replace both the T-26 and the BT tanks. The second prototype Koshkin named A-32, after its of frontal armour. It also had a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun, and the same model V-2 diesel engine (Zaloga 1994:5). Both were tested in field trials at Kubinka in 1939, and the heavier A-32 proved to be as mobile as the A-20. A still heavier version of the A-32 with of front armour and wider tracks was approved for production as the T-34. Koshkin chose the name after the year 1934 when he began to formulate his ideas about the new tank, and to commemorate the decree expanding the armoured force and the appointment of Sergo Ordzhonikidze to head tank production (Zaloga 1994:6).
Two prototype T-34s were completed in January 1940, and underwent a grueling 2,000-kilometre (1,250 mi) drive from Kharkiv to Moscow for a demonstration for the Kremlin leaders, to the Mannerheim Line in Finland, and back to Kharkiv via Minsk and Kiev, in April and May (Zaloga 1994:6). Some drivetrain shortcomings were identified and corrected (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:6). Resistance from the military command and concerns about high production cost were finally overridden by anxieties about the poor performance of Soviet tanks in Finland and the effectiveness of Germany's Blitzkrieg in France, and the first production tanks were completed in September 1940, completely replacing the production of the T-26, BT, and the multi-turreted T-28 medium tank at the KhPZ. Koshkin died of pneumonia at the end of that month (exacerbated by the drive from Kharkov to Moscow), and the T-34's drivetrain developer, Alexander Morozov, was appointed Chief Designer.
The T-34 had the coil-spring Christie suspension of the BT, but dispensed with the weighty and ineffective convertible drive. It had well-sloped armour, a relatively powerful engine and wide tracks. The initial version had a 76.2 mm gun, and is often called the T-34/76 (originally a World War II German designation). In 1944 a second major version began production, the T-34-85 (or T-34/85), with a larger turret mounting a larger 85 mm gun.
The T-34 posed new challenges for Soviet industry. It was the most heavily armoured medium tank produced to that point, and subassemblies originated at several plants: Kharkov Diesel Factory No. 75 supplied the model V-2 engine, Leningrad Kirovsky Factory (former Putilov works) made the original L-11 gun, and the Dinamo Factory in Moscow produced electrical components. Tanks were initially built at KhPZ No. 183, in early 1941 at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory (STZ), and starting in July shortly after the German invasion at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory No. 112 in Gorky. There were problems with defective armour plates, however (Zaloga 1983:6). Due to a shortage of new V-2 diesel engines, the initial production run from the Gorky factory were equipped with the BT tank's MT-17 gasoline-burning aircraft engine, and inferior transmission and clutch (Zheltov 2001:40–42). Only company commanders' tanks could be fitted with radios, which were expensive and in short supply. The L-11 gun did not live up to expectations, so the Grabin design bureau at Gorky Factory No. 92 designed a superior F-34 76.2 mm gun. No bureaucrat would approve production, but Gorky and KhPZ started producing the gun anyway; official permission only came from Stalin's State Defense Committee after troops in the field sent back praise for the gun's performance (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:130).
There was political pressure from conservative elements in the army to redirect resources into building the older T-26 and BT tanks, or to cancel T-34 production pending completion of the more advanced T-34M design. This political pressure was brought to bear by the developer of the KV-1 and IS-2 tanks which were in competition with the T-34. (Political pressure between designers and factories producing different tanks to meet the same requirements continued much later post-war, including a period when the T-55, T-64, T-72, and T-80 were in concurrent production at several factories with differing political patrons on the supreme council of the USSR [Sewell 1998].) Germany's surprise attack against the Soviet Union in June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) forced the Soviet Union to freeze further development, and shift into full production of tanks.
Germany's rapid advances forced the monumental evacuation of tank factories to the Ural mountains. KhPZ was re-established around the Dzherzhinski Ural Railcar Factory in Nizhny Tagil, renamed Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183. The Kirovsky Factory was evacuated just weeks before Leningrad was surrounded, and moved with the Kharkov Diesel Factory to the Stalin Tractor Factory in Chelyabinsk, soon to be nicknamed Tankograd ('Tank City'). Voroshilov Tank Factory No. 174 from Leningrad was incorporated into the Ural Factory and the new Omsk Factory No. 174. The Ordzhonikidze Ural Heavy Machine Tool Works (UZTM) in Sverdlovsk absorbed several small factories. While these factories were being moved at record speed, the industrial complex surrounding the Stalingrad Tractor Factory produced forty percent of all T-34s (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:13). As the factory became surrounded by heavy fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, the situation there grew desperate: manufacturing innovations were necessitated by material shortages, and stories persist that unpainted T-34 tanks were driven out of the factory into the battlefields around it (Zaloga & Sarson 1994:23). Stalingrad kept up production until September 1942.
Barring this interruption, the only changes allowed on the production lines were to make the tanks simpler and cheaper to produce. New methods were developed for automated welding and hardening the plate, including innovations by Prof. Evgeny Paton. The design of the 76.2 mm F-34 gun Model 1941 was reduced from the earlier model's 861 parts to only 614 (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:131). Over two years, the production cost of the tank was reduced from 269,500 rubles in 1941, to 193,000, and then to 135,000 (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:131). Production time was cut in half by the end of 1942, even though most experienced factory workers had been sent to the battlefield and replaced by a workforce that included 50% women, 15% boys and 15% invalids and old men. At the same time T-34s, which had been "beautifully crafted machines with excellent exterior finish comparable or superior to those in Western Europe or America" were much more roughly finished, although mechanical reliability was not compromised (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:17).
In 1942, a new hexagonal turret design derived from the abandoned T-34M project entered production, improving the cramped conditions, and eventually adding a commander's cupola for all-round vision. Limited rubber supplies led to the adoption of steel-rimmed road wheels, and a new clutch was added to the improved five-speed transmission and engine.
After German tanks with the superior long 75 mm (2.95 in) gun were fielded in 1942, Morozov's design bureau began a project to design an advanced T-43, aimed at increasing armour protection, while adding modern features like torsion-bar suspension and a three-man turret. The T-43 was intended to be a universal tank to replace both the T-34 and the KV-1 heavy tank, developed in direct competition with a Chelyabinsk heavy tank design bureau's KV-13 project. (Zaloga et al 1997:5)
In 1943 the Soviets encountered the new German Tiger and Panther tanks. Experience at the Battle of Kursk and reports from front-line commanders indicated that the T-34's 76.2 mm gun was now inadequate. An existing 85 mm (3.3 in) antiaircraft gun was identified which was effective against the new German tanks, and could be adapted to tank use (Russian Battlefield 1998b). Unfortunately, the T-43 prototype's heavier armour was still not proof against the Tiger's 88 mm gun, and its mobility was found to be inferior to the T-34's, even before installing a heavier 85 mm gun. Although it shared over 70% of its components with the T-34, a commitment to manufacturing it would have required a significant slow-down in production. (Zaloga et al 1997:5) In consequence the T-43 was canceled, and the Soviet command made the difficult decision to retool the factories to produce a new model of T-34 with a turret ring enlarged from 1,425 mm (56 in) to 1,600 mm (63 in), allowing a larger turret to be fitted. The T-43's turret design was hurriedly adapted by V. Kerichev at the Krasnoye Sormovo Factory to fit the T-34 (Zaloga 1984:166). The resulting new T-34-85 tank had a far superior gun and finally, a three-man turret with radio (which had previously been in the hull). Now the commander needed only to command the tank, leaving the operation of the gun to the gunner and the loader.
Overall production slowed down somewhat while the new tank started its production run. Although a T-34-85 was still not a match for a Panther, the improved firepower made it much more effective than before. The decision to improve on the existing design instead of tooling up for a new one allowed the Soviets to manufacture tanks in such numbers that the difference in capabilities could be considered insignificant. In May 1944, the Wehrmacht had only 304 Panthers operating on the Eastern Front, while the Soviets had increased T-34-85 production to 1,200 tanks per month (Zaloga et al 1997:6).
By the end of 1945, over 57,000 T-34s had been built: 34,780 original T-34 tanks in 1940–44, and another 22,559 T-34-85s in 1944–45 (The Russian Battlefield 1998a, 1998b). The single largest producer was Factory N.183 (UTZ) with 28,952 T-34s and T-34-85s built from 1941 to 1945. The second-largest was Factory N. 112 (Krasnoye Sormovo) in Gorki with 12,604 in the same period. (Michulec & Zientarzewski 2006:220). In 1946, after the war, 2,701 T-34s were built, and large-scale production ceased. Production was restarted under license in 1951 in Poland and Czechoslovakia, where 1,380 and 3,185 T-34-85s were made, respectively, by 1956. Later, T-54/55 and T-72 tanks were also built outside the Soviet Union. In the late 1960s, Soviet T-34-85s underwent a modernization program (T-34-85M) for export and reserve service, being retrofitted with drivetrain components from the T-54/55 series tanks—a testament to the level of standardisation in Soviet tank design.
As many as 84,070 T-34s are estimated to have been built, plus 13,170 self-propelled guns built on the T-34's chassis (Zaloga & Grandsen 1996:18). Some of these ended up in various Cold War conflicts around the world.
The Red Army never had a consistent policy for naming the production models (Zaloga 1994:19). Since at least the 1980s however, many academic sources (notably, AFV expert Steven Zaloga) have been using Soviet-style nomenclature: T-34 and T-34-85, with minor models distinguished by year, as T-34 Model 1940. This system is used here.
Some Russian historians use different names: they refer to the first T-34 as the T-34 Model 1939 instead of 1940, all T-34s with the original turret and F-34 gun as Model 1941 instead of Models 1941 and 1942, and hexagonal-turret T-34 as Model 1942 instead of 1943 (Zheltov 2001, passim).
Captured T-34s in German service were designated Panzerkampfwagen T-34(r), for Russland ('Russia').
The Finns called the T-34 Sotka after the Common Goldeneye, a sea duck, because the side silhouette of the tank resembles a swimming waterfowl (as related in the memoirs of Finnish tank ace Lauri Heino). The T-34-85 was called pitkäputkinen Sotka, 'long-barreled Sotka'.
The T-34 (German designation: T-34/76) was the original tank with 76.2 mm gun.
The T-34-85 (T-34/85) was a major improvement with a three-man turret and long 85 mm gun.
Various technical improvements continued to be made to the T-34-85, including major refurbishing programs in 1960 and 1969. All T-34-85 models are externally very similar.
Pre-war development of a more advanced T-34 tank was resumed in 1944, leading to the T-44. The new tank had a turret design based on the T-34-85's, but a new hull with torsion-bar suspension and transversely-mounted engine. It had a lower profile than the T-34-85 and was simpler to manufacture. Between 150 to 200 of these tanks were built before the end of the war. With some drivetrain modifications and a new turret and gun, it became the T-54, starting production in 1947.
Czechoslovakian-built T-34-85s can be recognized by a semi-conical armoured fairing (like a rear-facing scoop) on the left rear slanting side panel of the engine compartment sponson. These were widely exported.
Identification of T-34 variants can be complicated. Turret castings, superficial details, and equipment differed between factories. New features were added in the middle of production runs or retrofitted to older tanks. Knocked-out tanks were rebuilt, sometimes with the addition of newer-model equipment and even new turrets. Some tanks also had appliqué armour made of scrap steel of varying thickness, welded on to the hull and turret. Tanks thus modified were called s ekranami ('with screens') in Russian.
| T-34 |
| T-34 |
| T-34 |
| T-34 |
| T-43 |
|Weight||26 t||26.5 t||28.5 t||30.9 t||34 t||32 t||31.9 t|
|Gun||76.2 mm L-11||76.2 mm F-34||76.2 mm F-34||76.2 mm F-34||76.2 mm F-34||85 mm ZiS-S-53||85 mm ZiS-S-53|
|Ammunition||76 rounds||77 rounds||77 rounds||100 rounds||60 rounds||58 rounds|
|Fuel||460 L (120 U.S. gal)||460 L(120 U.S. gal)||610 L(160 U.S. gal)||790 L(210 U.S. gal)||810 L(215 U.S. gal)||642 L(170 U.S. gal)|
|Road range||300 km (185 mi)||400 km (250 mi)||400 km (250 mi)||465 km (290 mi)||300 km (185 mi)||360 km (225 mi)||300 km (185 mi)|
|Armour||15–45 mm(0.60–1.8 in)||20–52 mm (0.8–2.1 in)||20–65 mm (0.8–2.6 in)||20–70 mm (0.8–2.8 in)||16–90 mm (0.6–3.5 in)||20–90 mm (0.8–3.5 in)||15–120 mm (0.6–4.7 in)|
|Cost||270,000 rubles||193,000 rubles||135,000 rubles||164,000 rubles|
|Notes: dimensions, road speed, engine horsepower did not vary significantly, except for the T-43 which was slower than the T-34. References: Zaloga & Grandsen (1984:113, 184), Harrison (2002:181), KMDB (2006).|
The T-34 is often used as a symbol for the effectiveness of the Soviet counterattack against the Germans. The appearance of the T-34 in summer 1941 was a psychological shock to German soldiers, who had been prepared to face an inferior Soviet enemy; this is shown by the diary of Alfred Jodl, who seems to have been taken by surprise at the appearance of the T-34 in Riga (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:127). The T-34 could take on all 1941 German tanks effectively. However, the new tank suffered severe problems, e.g. from engines literally grinding to halt due to dust and sand ingestion - the original Pomon filter was almost totally ineffective - and some serious mechanical troubles beset its transmission and clutch. At least half the first summer's total tank losses were due to breakdowns rather than German fire, although this also included old tanks in disrepair (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:127). There was a shortage of repair equipment, and it was not uncommon for early T-34s to go into combat carrying a spare transmission on the engine deck. The mechanical troubles were eventually sorted out.
During the winter of 1941–42, the T-34 again dominated German tanks through its ability to move over deep mud or snow without bogging down. German tanks could not move over the same terrain the T-34 could handle. The Panzer IV used an inferior leaf spring suspension and narrow track with a tendency to sink in deep mud and snow.
The German infantry, at that time armed mostly with PaK 36 37 mm (1.46 in) antitank gun, had no effective means of stopping T-34s. During the Battle of France the Pak 36 had earned the nickname "Door Knocker" due to its inability to penetrate anything but the lightest tank armour, though it worked very well at announcing the presence of the gun crew. Needless to say, crews of these weapons fighting on the Eastern front also found it severely underpowered for engaging Soviet tanks, often having to rely on heavier towed firepower, such as the relatively rare but effective Pak 38, the newer and much heavier Pak 40 and especially the 88 mm Flak guns that could not be moved into location as easily. Only the poor level of Soviet crew training, the ineptitude of Soviet commanders, and the early distribution prevented the T-34 from achieving greater success.
The emphasis in the Red Army in 1942–43 was on rebuilding the losses of 1941 and improving tactical proficiency. T-34 production increased rapidly, but the design was "frozen"—generally, only improvements that sped production were adopted. Soviet designers were well aware of the need to correct certain deficiencies in the design, but these improvements would have cost production time and could not be implemented. By mid-1943 T-34 production was running at about 1,000 tanks per month, much higher than the German rate. However, Soviet losses greatly exceeded German losses due to continued tactical inferiority.
In response to the sheer number of T-34s appearing on the battlefield and the ever growing need for heavier firepower, the Germans were beginning to field very large numbers of the high-velocity PaK 40 75 mm gun, both towed and self-propelled. These made up most of the anti-tank artillery by 1943. By late 1942 and into mid 1943 Germany had also begun to field the revered Tiger heavy tank and Panther medium tank, which further increased the need for an improved T-34. These improved versions came in two notable forms: an uparmoured version in 1943 that incorporated greater fuel capacity, reliability, and a modified turret; and a 1944 version with a new turret carrying a form of the 85 mm ZiS AA/AT gun. This last greatly increased firepower over the previous 76.2 mm F-34 cannon and finally gave the T-34 the offensive capability it had so badly needed.
By the last years of the war, the Soviets' improving tactics remained inferior to the Germans', but the Red Army's growing operational and strategic skill and its larger inventory of tanks helped bring the loss ratios down (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:223). The T-34-85 in early 1944 gave the Red Army a tank with better armour and mobility than German Pzkw IV and Sturmgeschütz III, but it could not match the Panther in gun or armour protection. To the Soviet advantage there were far fewer Panthers than T-34s, and the T-34-85 was good enough to allow skilled crew and tactical situations to tip the balance.
At the outset of the war, T-34 tanks amounted to only about four percent of the Soviet tank arsenal, but by the war's end, they comprised at least 55% of the USSR's massive output of tanks (based on figures from Zaloga 1984:125–6, 225; Zheltov 2001 lists even larger numbers). By the time the T-34 had replaced older models and became available in greater numbers, newer German tanks, including the improved Panzer V 'Panther', outperformed it. The Soviets' late-war Iosif Stalin tanks were also better-armed and better-armoured than the T-34.
A natural comparison can be made between the T-34 and the US M4 Sherman medium tank. Each tank formed the backbone of the armoured units in their respective allied armies. The T-34 was a "world-beater" at the time of its debut, while the Sherman was a strong contender when introduced in 1942. Both models were upgraded and improved extensively throughout their service life, receiving new turrets with more powerful guns. Both were designed for ease of manufacture and maintenance, even sacrificing some performance for this goal. Neither was a match for the German Panther or Tiger tanks in armour or firepower, but these heavy vehicles were both in a class more comparable to the Soviet IS-2 heavy tank or the American M26 Pershing (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:37).
Tanks were expected to have many roles on the battlefield, the foremost being infantry support and exploitation. The tank-vs-tank role is nonetheless important. German tank production was limited to relatively small numbers of superior but complex vehicles (in part because of production diversion into self-propelled guns), which put them at a numerical disadvantage. The Soviet decision to build large numbers of T-34s, gradually improving and simplifying the design, proved to be a superior strategy that helped win World War II.
T-34-85s were used in many Soviet-client and formerly-Soviet client states after the end of World War II. The North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 was spearheaded by a full brigade equipped with about 120 T-34-85s. Additional T-34 tanks later joined the first assault force after it had penetrated into South Korea.(Perrett 1987:134-5) They were pitted against the M24 Chaffee, M4 Sherman and M26 Pershing but not the Centurion tanks of the UN forces. The North Korean 105th Armoured Brigade had overwhelming early successes against South Korean infantry, Task Force Smith and U.S. M24 light tanks. The WWII-era 2.36 inch bazookas still used by the Americans proved useless against the T-34s even at point-blank range.(Perrett 1987:135) The North Korean T-34s lost their momentum when faced with U.S. M26 medium tanks, ground-attack aircraft, and when the U.S. infantry upgraded their antitank weapons to 3.5-inch rocket launchers hurriedly airlifted from the United States. The tide turned in favor of the UN forces in August 1950, when the North Koreans suffered major tank losses during a series of battles in which their foes brought their newer equipment to bear. The September 15th U.S. landings at Inchon cut off the North Korean supply lines, causing their armoured forces and infantry to run out of fuel, ammunition and other supplies. As a result, the North Koreans had to retreat, and many T-34s and heavy weapons were abandoned. By the time the North Koreans had fled out of the South, a total of 239 T-34s and 74 SU-76s had been lost.(Perrett 1987:135) Afterwards, North Korean armour was rarely encountered (Zaloga & Kinnear 1996:34–38).
The Finnish Army used the T-34s captured from the attacking Soviets during and after the war until the 1960s. Many were improved with Finnish or Western equipment, such as optics.
T-34s equipped many of the Eastern European (later Warsaw Pact) armies and were employed in the suppression of the East German uprising of June 17, 1953, as well as the Hungarian uprising in 1956. They were also used in the Middle East, the Vietnam War, and even as recently as the Bosnian War. In May 1995, a Serb T-34 attacked an UNPROFOR outpost manned by the 21st Regiment of the Royal Engineers in Bosnia, inflicting lifelong injuries to a British peacekeeper. Croatia inherited twenty-five or thirty from Yugoslavia but has since withdrawn them from service. T-34s were sporadically available in Afghanistan (it is not known if T-34s were used against coalition troops), and Saddam Hussein had T-34s in the Iraqi army in the early 1990s. Several African states, including Angola and Somalia, have employed T-34-85s in recent years. Cuban T-34-85s also saw action in Africa.
Cypriot National Guard forces equipped with some thirty-five T-34-85 tanks were used to enforce a coup by the Greek junta against democratically-elected President Archbishop Makarios on July 15, 1974. They also saw extensive action against Turkish forces during the Turkish invasion in July and August 1974, with two major actions at Kioneli and at Kyrenia on July 20, 1974. (Drousiotis 2006)
China produced T-34 under the designation Type 58, though production soon stopped when Type 59 became available. A small number of T-34's have also been spotted in China, converted into fire-fighting vehicles.
Combat effectiveness of early war T-34s can be evaluated in terms of 'hard' factors — armour, firepower, and mobility — and 'soft' factors such as crew comfort, vision devices, crew task layout and so forth. The T-34 was outstanding in hard factors and poor in soft ones.
In 1941 the thick, sloped armour of the T-34 could defeat all German anti-armour weapons at normal combat ranges except the towed 88 mm Flak guns. By mid-1942 the T-34 was vulnerable to improved German weapons and remained so throughout the war, but its armour protection was equal to or superior to comparable tanks such as the US M4 Sherman or German Pzkw-IV.
In terms of firepower, the T-34's 76 mm gun with anti-tank ammunition could penetrate any 1941 German tank with ease. This gun also fired an adequate high explosive round. In 1943, the 76 mm could not penetrate the Panther's amour and was out-ranged by the Panther's long 75 mm and the Tiger's 88 mm. The introduction of the Soviet 85 mm gun in 1944 did not make the T-34-85 equal in firepower, but the 85 mm could penetrate both Panthers and Tigers at reasonable ranges.
In terms of mobility, the T-34's wide track, good suspension and large engine gave it unparalleled cross-country performance. First-generation German tanks could not begin to keep up.
In terms of ergonomics, the T-34 was poor, despite some improvements during the war. All 76 mm-armed versions were greatly hampered by the cramped two-man turret layout. The commander's battlefield visibility was poor; the forward-opening hatch forced him to observe the battlefield through a single vision slit and traversable periscope. He was also over-tasked by having to fire the main gun. In contrast, most contemporary German, British, and U.S. medium tanks had much superior three-man turrets with commander, gunner and loader. The three-man turret layout allowed the tank commander to concentrate on leading his crew and co-ordinating his actions with the rest of his unit, without having to manage an individual task such as laying or loading the gun. This makes an enormous contribution to crew effectiveness. The T-34-85 corrected this problem, which had been recognised before the war. Many German commanders liked to fight "heads-up", with the seat raised and having a full field of view. In the 76 mm-armed versions of the T-34, this was impossible (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:135–7).
Visibility from the driver's seat was also poor. Tactically, this affected the driver's ability to use terrain to their advantage, since he could not see folds in the ground as well, or have as wide a range of vision as in some other tanks.
The loader also had a difficult job due to the lack of a turret basket (a rotating floor that moves as the turret turns). This problem was shared with many other tanks, for example, the US M-3 Stuart. The floor under the T-34's turret was made up of ammunition stored in small metal boxes, covered by a rubber mat. There were nine ready rounds of ammunition stowed in racks on the sides of the fighting compartment. Once these initial nine rounds were fired in combat, the crew had to pull additional ammunition out of the floor boxes, leaving the floor littered with open bins and matting. This distracted the crew and degraded their performance (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:137).
Other key factors diminishing the initial impact of T-34s on the battlefield were the poor state of leadership, tank tactics, and crew training, a consequence of Stalin's purges of the Soviet officer corps in the late 1930s, aggravated by the loss of the best-trained personnel during the Red Army's disastrous defeats in 1941. Many crews went into combat with only their basic military training plus seventy-two hours of classroom instruction. These problems were exacerbated by the T-34's poor ergonomics and lack of radios during the early war, making it practically impossible to co-ordinate tank units in combat. German tank soldiers found that the Soviet armour attacked in rigid formations and took little advantage of terrain (Zaloga & Grandsen 1984:126–27, 135). By 1943–44 these problems had largely been corrected, although Soviet crew training never reached the level of German training.
Hundreds of T-34s were installed as war memorials in Soviet-bloc countries.
A T-34-85 tank monument in the East German city of Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) was the target of a 1980 bomb attack that inflicted minor damage on the vehicle and blew out nearby windows. The bomber, Josef Kneifel, was imprisoned for life in Bautzen, but released in a deal with the West German government in 1987. This attack on a symbol of Communist oppression remained one of the few high-profile bombings ever mounted against the regime. After German unification in 1990, the tank was transferred to a museum in Ingolstadt.
Another such tank, mounted atop the monument to Soviet tank crews in Prague, was the focus of significant controversy. The monument, intended to represent Lt I.G. Goncharenko's T-34-85, the first Soviet tank to enter Prague in May 1945, actually bore an IS-2m heavy tank. To many in Prague, the tank was also a reminder of the Soviet invasion which ended the Prague Spring of 1968. The tank was painted pink by artist David Černý in 1991. Following an official protest from the Russian government, the arrest of Černý, a coat of official green paint, public demonstrations, and a further coat of pink paint applied by fifteen parliamentary deputies, the tank was finally removed to a military museum (Wright 2001:379, Zaloga & Kinnear 1996:42–43).
Another T-34 formerly painted pink is the Mandela Way Tank in London.
Four tankers and a dog (Czterej pancerni i pies) was a very successful war-themed Polish television series of the 1960s (based on an eponymous novel by a Polish writer Janusz Przymanowski (1922 - 1998), himself a Red Army volunteer) which made T-34 tank number 102 an icon of Polish popular culture. It was also shown in other Soviet-bloc countries where it was also well received, surprisingly even in the German Democratic Republic. At the beginning of the twenty-first century reruns of the black and white series still manage to attract a large audience.
News of an unconventional use of a T-34 broke, quite unexpectedly, from Budapest on October 23, 2006. A month-long crisis centred around the Ferenc Gyurcsány cabinet scandal climaxed during the official fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Protesters managed to start an unarmed T-34 tank which was part of a memorial exhibition and used it in riots against police forces. (The tank ran out of fuel after a few hundred meters and caused no personal injury.)
The T-34 was among the most important weapons systems in the Red Army in World War II. At the time it was first fielded in 1940, it was easily the finest tank design in the world (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983). By mid-war the T-34 was no longer technically superior to its opponents, but it was still effective in combat (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983).
The improved T-34-85 remained the standard Soviet medium tank with an uninterrupted production run until the end of the war. The Germans responded to the T-34 by introducing completely new, very expensive and complex second-generation tanks, greatly slowing the growth of their tank production and allowing the Soviets to maintain a substantial numerical superiority in tanks (Zaloga & Grandsen 1983:37). Production figures for all Panther types reached no more than 6,557, and for all Tiger types 2,027. Production figures for the T-34-85 alone were 22,559. The T-34 replaced most light, medium, and heavy tanks in Soviet service. Its evolutionary development led directly to the T-44 and T-54/55 series of tanks, built until 1981 and still operated today.
There are hundreds of surviving T-34s. Examples of this tank are in the collections of most significant military museums, and hundreds more serve as war memorials. Many are in private ownership, and demilitarised working tanks change hands for between $20,000 and $40,000 USD.
The durability of the T-34 is underlined by a recent restoration. In 2000, a T-34 Model 1943 was recovered that had spent 56 years at the bottom of a bog in Estonia. The tank had been captured and used by retreating German troops, who dumped it in the swamp when it ran out of fuel. There were no signs of oil leakage, rust, or other significant water damage to the mechanical components. The engine was restored to full working order.
Other significant surviving T-34s include a Model 1941 at the US Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland. This is one of the oldest surviving vehicles. Other older 76 mm-armed T-34s have recently been recovered from old battle sites, but there is no known remaining T-34 Model 1940, with an L-11 gun.
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