From T-34 to the Indian Ocean

The lesson was hard but not in vain: during the Great Patriotic War, Soviet designers and industry learned how to make good tanks

From T-34 to the Indian Ocean

Holiday Tankfest-2009 in the Tank Museum near the English city of Bovington-Kemp (Dorset). Without a T-34 or any of its modifications does not do any such museum and no such holiday. Photo (Creative Commons license): Simon



70 years ago, 19 December 1939, the medium tank T-34 was adopted by the Red Army, which was destined to become a legend of the domestic armed forces. It was developed at the Kharkov Locomotive Plant them. Comintern and then repeatedly subjected to various modifications. But modern warfare is not much like the wars of the last century. In this era of nuclear weapons and high-tech tank may seem an anachronism of the last century. In fact, these combat vehicles are no longer outdated than the air force, fleet, or as ancient as the world infantry. It’s just that the tanks themselves change with time.

Before the war, the USSR believed that a big country should always be ready for a big war - this principle was guided throughout stories the country's existence, creating the world's largest tank arsenal. Its part, more than 23 thousand cars, after 1991, went to Russia. The rumors about his possible tenfold reduction this summer have worried many: will there be enough for the defense of a huge power of all 2 – 2,5 thousand tanks? To answer this question, let us recall 1941.

The armies of the Hitler coalition that crossed our frontier numbered about four thousand tanks in their ranks. Of which Pz-I (410 units) and Pz-II (746 units) were inferior in booking and armament even by Soviet light T-26 and BT, and 623 of the Pz 38 (t) tank were approximately equal to them. The enemy was opposed, according to various estimates, from 12 to 14 thousand Soviet tanks, not counting the many thousands of reserve in the rear. Among which 1439 machines were “invincible” T-34 and KV.

However, despite the quantitative and qualitative superiority, until the end of that first year of the war the Red Army lost 20,5 thousand tanks. Among them, and about 850 KV-1 and KV-2, really the most powerful tanks of that time. Probably, if it were not for the "reserve" and the painstaking work of the military factories, it would simply be nothing to drive the adversary from the walls of Moscow.

The lessons of the initial period of the Great Patriotic War were hard. But then it became clear that the number of tanks on the battlefield, as well as their quality, does not always determine the outcome of the battle. The decisive factors are the skill of the crews and the talent of the generals. However, the existing reserve armored vehicles allows you to quickly compensate for its loss at the front.

Creating an ideal

The post-war production of Soviet tanks was based on upgrades of the two most successful WWII vehicles - the medium T-34 and the heavy KV / IS. Moreover, if the Stalin family (EC-3, EC-4, T-10) was an IP-2 gradually brought to mind, then the thirty-four was redone beyond recognition. Perhaps, all that remains of the ingenious creation of Koshkin and Morozov as a result is only five large-diameter rollers.

First, the tank received a large turret with a 85-millimeter cannon (which became a good target for grenade throwers). From January 1944 to 1950, several tens of thousands of T-34-85, which have been in service with a number of countries for half a century, went off the assembly lines, and the last battles took on 90's during Yugoslav conflicts. The same model was the main “actor” in domestic films about the war, which is why we usually associate its silhouette with T-34. Unjustly having forgotten the look of the predecessor with a compact sloping tower, pulling on itself all the adversities of the most difficult years of the war.


The T-55 tank of the Croatian Defense Council during the January 10 1998 exercises. The fire is fired from a 12,7 millimeter machine gun. Photo: SSGT Kim Price / US DoD



In 1944 – 1947, the X-NUMX of the T-1823 tank was released, which now has its hull redesigned. It became lower, the side walls were vertical, and the armor was thicker, the tower was pushed closer to the center, the engine was turned across, the course gun was removed from the front sheet, the driver's hatch was moved up. The desire to install on it 44-millimeter gun led to the creation of the T-100 (54 year) and then the T-1946 (55 year), which became the most massive and most popular tanks in history. Today they are in service with fifty-eight countries of the world! About 1958 machines are in the reserve of the Russian army.

This veteran of local conflicts owes his incredible vitality (in all senses) to a structure that was super modern for its time. The tower took a hemispherical shape, while its frontal armor already reached 200 mm. With further upgrades, the car received additional differentiated (multi-layered) armor.


The T-55 was designed as a tank capable of “walking” underwater, which required a special encapsulation of the hull, which was then suitable for creating a system of anti-radiation and anti-chemical protection. Such an “atomic tank” (model T-55А) could operate even in the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons - unless, of course, it does not go to the very epicenter. And its X-NUMX millimeter cannon, the D-100T, has long been one of the most powerful tank guns in the world. Plus, the tank (starting with the T-10B model) was equipped with a weapon stabilization system in two planes: horizontal and vertical, allowing the crew to fire on the move.

By 1960, in order to keep up with the similar developments of the “supposed enemy”, a new machine was created on the basis of T-55, with a more powerful 700-strong engine, with better protection and a new smooth-bore 115-millimeter cannon. She received the name of the T-62 and was the last in a series of domestic medium tanks.

Further modernization of the thirty-four descendants no longer made sense, and a new model was created from scratch. The work stretched for almost a decade - but it was worth it: the T-64, which came off the assembly line of the Kharkiv plant to them. Malysheva in 1963, was a fundamentally new and even revolutionary machine that caused a shock to the NATO countries and became the basis of all modern domestic tanks.

The thickness of the armor in such tanks is usually not indicated in the reference books, unlike the machines of previous generations, since it is multi-layered. Additional sheets (usually only on the frontal part) are superimposed on the main armored frame, and in T-64 it was an intermediate layer of PCB (then fiberglass), on top of which a second steel plate was installed. Later, to prevent the rebound into the tower, V-shaped “eyebrows” were welded on the frontal part of the tank hull. The armor of the tower itself was a “sandwich” made of steel and aluminum, reaching in front of the total thickness (with inclination) 600 mm.


The thermal special treatment machine TMS-65 cleans the surface: it blows off contamination from the surface of T-62 tanks and treats it with a special disinfecting oxidant. Photo from the archive US DoD



The most important innovation of the T-64, which then became a distinctive feature of all domestic main tanks, was the mechanism of loading the gun. He allowed to significantly increase the rate of fire of the gun, as well as reduce the crew to three people - as in the famous pre-war song. Or, figuratively speaking, up to three epic warriors, ancient fairy-tale defenders of Russia - who have now been transferred from horses to a tank. Surprisingly, the main tanks of the NATO countries (Challenger, Leopard, Abrams) do not have such a mechanism, and they still send the shells to the breech manually.

The first model, the T-64, was armed with an 115-millimeter gun, but the news that a tank gun with a caliber 120 mm was being developed in the West forced domestic designers to respond quickly to this challenge. So in 1968, the X-NUMX-millimeter cannon appeared on the T-64, which has been the main armament of all domestic tanks for forty years. Like its predecessor, it is also smooth-bore - this allows reducing barrel wear, and the accuracy of the shot is achieved by using feathered projectiles, easily recognizable by the folding tail section.

Another distinctive feature of the T-64 is the somewhat unusual 5TD engine, the prototype of which was the German Junkers-205a aircraft engine. The working pistons in them are set to meet each other. Such an engine is smaller and lighter than traditional V-shaped tank diesel engines, and the new planetary gearboxes, combined with onboard gears, made it possible to lighten the design by as many as nine nodes, which have become redundant. The engine compartment has decreased significantly in size, and the management of the tank has become more simple and easy. The latter was also promoted by the use of hydraulic shock absorbers for the front and rear rollers, damping shocks.

However, the new engine was quite capricious. Its fine-tuning required a lot of time, and this slowed down the mass production of new-generation cars, called the "main tanks". Therefore, it was decided to create a tank, which is a variant of the T-64A, but equipped with an old reliable V-shaped diesel engine B-45 - which was a modernized version of the B-2, which was also used on the tanks of the Great Patriotic War. The serial production of such a machine, known as the T-72, in the 1973 year began the Nizhny Tagil plant. It was also distinguished from the T-64 by the chassis with rollers of a larger diameter and another design of the automatic loader. It was a more reliable, but at the same time more “clumsy” machine, in fact - recognition of the unwillingness to quickly master new technologies.


The teachings of marines based at Camp Pendleton, 38 miles from San Diego (California) in the summer of 1997. In order to bring conditions as close as possible to those in combat, part of the infantrymen depicting the “most likely enemy” used the “most likely” military equipment. In this case, this is the T-72 tank. Photo: SGT Ryan Ward, USMC



In 1976, the Kirov Plant launched its own version of the "brother T-64". However, Leningrad, previously specialized in the production of powerful heavy tanks, decided to go much further. Their T-80 tank was significantly superior to the T-64 in protection, and the use of the ceramic "liner" was a feature of multi-layer armor. The machine dimensions (length, width) have also grown somewhat. At the same time, the combat mass rose from 38 t to 46 t, and the undercarriage modernization was required. But the highlight of the T-80 was a very powerful gas turbine engine, which made this the heaviest of the main tanks also the fastest: on tests it squeezed almost 70 km / h on the highway. However, such engines are also inferior in reliability V-shaped diesel.

Further models of the main tanks were created mainly by installing new engines on existing machines. So, in 1986, the Kharkov 1000-strong 6TD engine (modernized 5TD with the sixth cylinder) was installed on the tank of the Kirov factory, and the new car received the name T-80UD Birch. It was she who was chosen for production by the plant. Malysheva after the release of the last modification of the T-64 was completed. Later, Kharkiv modernized "Birch", in which the engine power was brought to 1200 HP. - presenting the T-84 tank. And in 1992, the first T-90, which are a deep modernization of the T-72 with a V-shaped B-92 engine (1000 hp), rolled off the assembly line of the Nizhny Tagil plant. The models were created one after another, causing great concern to the West, which, in turn, was forced to design responses to the Soviet T-64, T-72 and T-80 (creating, in particular, М1 Abrams), then bring them to considering our upgrades.

However, not only the replacement of engines allows you to regularly "rejuvenate" the range of T-64 and its descendants, allowing them to keep up with the level of modern tanks.
Defense and attack

In 1975, one interesting experiment was conducted: from the barrel of the 125-millimeter cannon of the T-64 tank, the 9 M112 guided missile was successfully launched. In a number of situations, rocket weapons have an advantage over classical gun shells, but before that they were installed (including on so-called rocket tanks) on separate launchers, which either replaced the main armament or were an addition to it. Now it became possible to perfectly match the gun with the launcher: the guided rocket was adjusted to the dimensions of the projectile - and marked in the loading mechanism’s ammunition, and the crew received the Cobra 9K112 control system. Today, it was replaced by the Svir, Reflex and Agona complexes. They allow you to target not only moving armored vehicles, but also enemy helicopters!


Electronic fuses 3ВМ17, for shrapnel and frag-beam projectiles, and 3ВМ18, for high-explosive fragmentation projectiles, are installed on the projectiles of T-80 and T-90 tanks immediately before they are fed into the barrel. These fuses are an important component of the system for the remote blasting of projectiles over the Ainet target. Photo: Rosoboronexport



The Ainet system, installed, in particular, on the T-90 (today it is the main tank of the Russian army), turns the high-explosive fragmentation projectile into good old shrapnel, blowing it up (using an electronic fuse) at the desired point of flight. For example, over the heads of the enemy hiding in a trench. Or near a flying enemy helicopter - in this case turning shrapnel into a real anti-aircraft missile. Of course, the large-caliber machine gun mounted on the roof of the tower has not been forgotten either - which can now be controlled remotely without getting out of the hatch.

Today, it is largely electronics that allows the tank to remain up-to-date - and not only the new T-90, but also the upgraded T-72, T-80 and their progenitor T-64. Yes, the past "overhaul", equipped with the old systems of the old T-55, can also contend with the enemy on the battlefield, second only to the caliber of the weapon and the thickness of the main armor. Electronics facilitates the search and "fixation" of targets (for example, thermal imagers), electronics determine the distance (laser range finders), electronics facilitates the control of the weaponry and the tank itself. All that remains for the trained crew is to respond in time to the information received and quickly make the necessary decisions.

Add: electronics also warns the crew about the danger. But she can automatically protect the armored car herself. This is a complex of active protection, such as Arena-E. It consists of two systems. The first is a radar station towering above the turret, which detects a target and assesses the degree of threat. If it is real, then the flying projectile or rocket is destroyed by the second system, firing special ammunition. There is nothing like NATO yet.

As a “passive” defense, the tank is equipped with systems that the enemy does not allow him to aim at. For example, the optoelectronic suppression complex "Curtain". Shooting grenades for setting aerosol clouds and including his infrared emitters, he knocks down the enemy’s laser guidance systems.

In addition, the tanks are equipped with equipment that can detect the laser radiation or the glare of the optical systems of the hidden enemy - and not only give an alarm signal in time, but also help the crew to deliver an aimed preemptive strike. However, alas, sometimes such systems are wrong: so in 2003, in Baghdad, the crew of the American tank Abrams regarded the glare from the camera of a Ukrainian journalist for the grenade launcher sight - and without thinking twice, made a fatal shot. Information about such "lining" in the Russian army is missing. Perhaps our tankers are more restrained and not nervous in battle.

Of course, not forgotten, and the main protection of the tank - his armor. Which has become not only multi-layered. Back in the 80s, machines began to install “dynamic protection” blocks, representing containers with explosives, exploded when a projectile or a rocket hit them. A number of machines are equipped with mounted blocks of additional multilayer armor. As a result, the concept of “thickness of armor” has lost its previous meaning, and now only its “protective equivalent” is used. For example, the multi-layered armor of the T-90 turret plus the additional protection containers are equal in their sum in the “impenetrability” of 800 mm of uniform steel when hit by a sabot projectile, and 1350 mm against the cumulative one. This difference is explained by the fact that the intermediate materials used are differently opposed to the impact of the cermet rod and the cumulative jet.


The Russian T-90C tanks, supplied to India, were named there Bhishma, in honor of one of the heroes of the Mahabharata. January 2007, military base near Mumbai (Bombay). Photo (Creative Commons license): Vivek Patankar


To understand how such a tank is an “anachronism”, you can only try to counter it. Yes, in the movies, gangsters with grenade launchers explode our fighting vehicles in whole columns, but this is only in the movies. In reality, to destroy a modern tank from the first shot is a rare case, worthy of being called a miracle.
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