PT-76 and BTR-50: magnificent and unnecessary "floats"

The experience of the Second World War clearly showed how difficult the task is to overcome water obstacles. Perhaps the Red Army experienced the greatest difficulty in resolving it.

Crossing problem


First, in the 1943 – 1945 years, as we moved west, our troops had to cross a huge number of rivers, lakes, straits and estuaries. The matter was complicated by the fact that in the territory of both the USSR and Eastern Europe the rivers mostly flow either from north to south or from south to north. At the same time, due to the direction of the Earth's rotation, the eastern shores are low, while the western ones are high. The latter circumstance created additional problems when forcing.

Secondly, the equipment of the Red Army with transfer means left much to be desired. In addition, they all had low tactical mobility. For example, the most successful and one of the best in the world at that time, the domestic pontoon-bridge park H2P was transported on trucks, towed by C-65 tractors, less often - on ZIS-5 vehicles. There were no self-propelled cross-over means capable of moving immediately behind the combat orders of the advancing troops and at the same pace with them.

As for the amphibious tanks, which were built in the pre-war years by the thousands, it was not possible to use them as transport means for the first throw. On the one hand, due to the small number of such machines remaining in service for the 1943 year, and on the other, due to the weakness of the weapons and low technical reliability. In addition, these tanks, due to their low buoyancy characteristics, could only overcome water obstacles without taking anything or anyone to the opposite shore.

The American floating cars Ford GPA and GMC DUKW, supplied under lend-lease, which have appeared in the Soviet troops already during the war, helped to somewhat improve the situation. They did not have any armor or weapons, but thanks to only one advantage - amphibians played a significant role in forcing such major rivers as the Danube, Vistula, Svir, Daugava, Oder, and others. In these cases, it was possible to solve combat missions relatively quickly and with minimal losses.

Unprecedented demands

World War II is over. However, the problem of overcoming our army significant water obstacles remained unresolved. Meanwhile, after the famous Churchill speech in Fulton, a cold war began, which threatened to turn into a completely “hot” war. The main theater in this case was Central Europe, where rivers and lakes meet every 40 – 50 kilometers. In order to maintain high tactical mobility, the troops had to force them on the move, which required the adoption of a whole range of transport facilities — both classic and highly mobile self-propelled vehicles.

PT-76 and BTR-50: magnificent and unnecessary "floats"

At the end of the 40-s developed and at the beginning of the 50-s entered the engineering troops of the Soviet army pontoon-bridge parks of the CCI, LDPE-20 and PPS. In addition, in the same period, intensive design was carried out for new amphibious assault vehicles, which the Red Army did not have either before the Great Patriotic War or at the time of confrontation with the Wehrmacht.

In 1948, the engineering bureau under the leadership of A. F. Kravtsov created a floating tracked carrier K-2 on the basis of an artillery tractor M-61. A year later, a large floating vehicle BAS, created at ZIS under the direction of V. A. Grachev, was adopted, and in 1952, the MAB (GAZ-46), designed at the Gorky Automobile Plant under the direction of chief designer A. A. Smolin. In the constructions of both amphibians, units and units of the ZIS-151 off-road truck (6х6) and the famous “goat” GAZ-69 (4х4) were used. Tactical and technical tasks for these machines were very stringent requirements that could be met. In particular, in the autumn of 1950, two prototypes of a floating BAS vehicle performed a large test run through the Crimea to the Caucasus, overcoming the Kerch Strait under sufficiently serious agitation and considerable distance along the Kuban River.

A special place in this extensive program of creation of artillery landing techniques occupied floating armored vehicles. The technical project, prepared immediately after the end of the Great Patriotic War, provided for the development of a floating light tank and armored personnel carrier with the highest possible degree of unification. The tactical and technical requirements put forward by the military were unprecedented: not only to supply the 76-mm light tank with a cannon, but also to endow it with the ability to carry troops from 20 afloat. The armored carrier, in turn, had to accommodate 25 infantrymen with weapons or transfer to yourself (in the full sense of the word) by swimming all the heavy weapons of a rifle regiment. In a word, it was about the assault landing armored vehicles of the first throw.

Creation of a tank and an armored personnel carrier was assigned to the plant number 112 "Red Sormovo", apparently considering that the shipbuilding company that gained experience in tank design during the war years will cope with this task better than others. The design of combat vehicles that received the P-39 and P-40 indexes, respectively, began in the 1946 year. In 1948, the prototype of a floating tank was tested, but could not stand it. After that, by decree of the USSR Council of Ministers on 15 August 1949, the VNII of Transport Engineering (VNII-100), created in Leningrad on the basis of the branch of the Experimental Chelyabinsk Tank Plant No. 100, was assigned to develop the state tests of a floating tank and armored personnel carrier in Leningrad. All bench testing of components and mechanisms was concentrated in the city on the Neva, and the preparation of documentation was carried out by a joint design team located in Chelyabinsk. It also included Gorky and Stalingrad specialists. It should be noted here that, according to a government decree, the Stalingrad Tractor Plant was to become the manufacturer of the future amphibious tank.

In 1950, prototypes of machines were produced and their factory tests began according to a program agreed with the customer. These approbations gave a lot of interesting, even unexpected, and, of course, required the design refinement, which was reduced mainly to strengthening the lower part of the hull, improving the tightness of the chassis components and making a number of other minor changes. By June 1950, the tank was ready for state trials.

"Amphibious fists"


The successful completion of the tests served as the basis for the release of the resolution of the USSR Council of Ministers on August 6 1951 of the year, according to which the machine was adopted by the Soviet Army as a PT-76 amphibious tank.

The pressurized case of the car was welded from armor rolled sheets with a thickness of 8 – 16 millimeters, it was shaped to provide minimal resistance when moving afloat. In the welded turret, which had the shape of a truncated cone, an X-NUMX-mm D-76T tank gun (ammunition - 56 shots) with a jet-type muzzle brake and an SGMT machine gun (40 cartridges) coupled with an 7,62-mm gun was installed. The X-NUMX-cylinder in-line diesel engine B-1000 (power 6 hp at 6 r / min) with a heater, ejection cooling system and water protection mechanism was mounted in the stern of the machine. The five-speed gearbox was borrowed from the T-240 tank. The hollow road wheels located in the undercarriage ensured an additional supply of buoyancy. Movement afloat was carried out using a hydro jet propulsion unit. The maximum speed on the highway was 1800 km / h, afloat - 34 km / h. Cruising on the highway - 44 kilometers, afloat - 10,2.

During the 15 years of serial production, the PT-76 was repeatedly upgraded, mainly due to improvements in weapons, surveillance devices, communications equipment, installation of additional equipment, changes in the shape and size of the armored hull.

Tanks released after 1959, received the designation PT-76B. Their production continued for 1969 year. During this time, 4127 PT-76 and PT-76B were built (941 was placed overseas).

The first serial PT-76 entered the troops in 1952 year. They were staffed with companies of amphibious tanks of the Guards Tank Regiments of tank and mechanized divisions. The BTR-50 armored personnel carriers received by the army a little later went to recruit motorized rifle battalions of the same regiments. Thus, a kind of “amphibious fist” was created in the tank regiment of the Soviet army, capable of forcing any water obstacle on the move or after short-term training in a non-nuclear war. The floating tanks and armored personnel carriers were instructed to take over all the motorized rifle units of the tank regiment with heavy armament and to transfer them through the water barrier in one or two methods. Then, supporting the motorized infantry with fire and maneuver, to promote the seizure and retention of the bridgehead to the crossing of the main forces.

However, this approach to the use of PT-76 and BTR-50 was not long maintained. By the middle of the 50-s, the development of new means of warfare, and first of all nuclear missile weapons, made it necessary to take a fresh look at the tactical use of traditional weapons and military equipment. The possibility of waging a non-nuclear war, at least in the Central European theater of operations, was not taken seriously by anyone. It was then that the views on the use of amphibious tanks and armored personnel carriers were revised. The complex of forces and means of the “first throw” through water barriers became unnecessary.

Unclaimed PT-76 decided to send to intelligence units. Apparently, a certain stereotype of pre-war times worked: if light and floating, then reconnaissance. According to the state of 1962 of the year, which existed almost unchanged until the end of 80, in the tank or motorized rifle division there were up to 19 PT-76. They were part of separate reconnaissance battalions of divisional subordination, as well as reconnaissance of tank regiments.

It must be said that the PT-76 re-qualification in reconnaissance in the troops was perceived without much enthusiasm: wow scout, superior in size to the average T-54 tank, then the most popular in the army. Even the trench for the PT-76 needed to be dug larger than for the fifty-four. On the march, because of the lower power density, he simply lagged behind her. In addition, the PT-76 was not equipped with any special equipment (additional monitoring devices and communications equipment) to carry out reconnaissance functions. What kind of nicknames did not give the PT-76 in the army: a boat with a cannon, a quicksand, and a very contemptuous one - a float.

Together with the units in which they were in the state, PT-76 took part in the Hungarian (1956) and Czechoslovak (1968) events. It is possible that a certain number of PT-76 existed in the 5, 108 and 201 motorized rifle divisions, which entered Afghanistan in December 1979.

But in general, the appearance of the infantry fighting vehicle BMP-76 put an end to the career in the Ground Forces of both the PT-50 and the BTR-1. Adopted in 1966, it began to flow primarily into the infantry battalions of tank regiments and motorized infantry regiments of tank divisions, and at the same time to the reconnaissance units of these units and formations, gradually displacing PT-76 and BTR-50 from them.

It should be emphasized that the design of the PT-76 was fully consistent with the task for the solution of which it was created - forcing water obstacles on the move, capturing and holding the springboard until the main forces approach. All история the combat use of PT-76 (mainly in foreign armies) only confirms that in all cases when these machines were used for their intended purpose, they were a success. He was provided with exceptional navigational qualities, which were sacrificed in the first place armor protection. There is no point in discussing this issue: the PT-76 armor could be “pierced” from a large-caliber machine gun.

As for weapons, for the 50-s, the 76-mm cannon D-56T was a very powerful artillery system: after all, the basis of the tank fleets of most countries - likely opponents of the USSR - were combat vehicles of the Second World War period, quite accessible to its armor-piercing shells. Yes, and subsequently 76-mm cannon, many goals were too tough, especially at close range. However, the main purpose of the PT-76 cannon is not to combat armored targets, but to provide fire support for the motorized rifle divisions or the landing of the marines. The tank was called upon to play the role of an assault gun, even at the stage of crossing or overcoming the surf band. Hence, the presence in the TTZ of the requirement of the possibility of firing afloat, the fulfillment of which was one of the reasons for the development of a large-sized displacement hull. A stable platform with a large reserve of buoyancy is necessary not only for firing from the water, but also for the transportation of the landing force: whatever you say, the 20 of infantrymen with weapons is 2 – 2,5 tons.

... what is wrong for us

The main paradox of the PT-76 fate is that in most cases we have to speak about it in the subjunctive mood: if it were used, if modernized ... In the Soviet army, neither for PT-76, nor for the intended use of the BTR-50 found Well, for the role of the reconnaissance tank PT-76 did not fit perfectly, as, however, the BTR-50 was not suitable for the role of a heavy armored personnel carrier in the motorized rifle subunits of the tank divisions. There was no need for a low-armored and poorly armed, but floating armored personnel carrier in units equipped with non-floating medium tanks. It was then that the insufficient power density, excessive dimensions and even large capacity were manifested in the most negative way. As you know, armored personnel carriers are usually designed to carry one infantry unit. The hit of the projectile in the BTR-50 before dismounting the landing (very inconvenient, by the way, carrier) became fatal for two branches at once.

As a result, we can conclude that the operation of the PT-76 and the BTR-50 was adequate to their performance characteristics only in the marines. But it was not worth it for her to produce several thousand tanks and armored personnel carriers - a few hundred would suffice, considering that the number of this kind of forces of the USSR Navy in peacetime did not exceed 12,5 thousand. Already from the middle of the 60-x began an intensive supply of these machines abroad. They grew particularly in the next decade, when the PT-76 and the BTR-50 from the presence of the Armed Forces went for export. The army just got rid of the fact that it did not fit. The probability of a big war in Europe has noticeably decreased, and if it had happened, it would have been different. The need to force a large number of water obstacles on the move as part of the notorious 72-hour rush to the English Channel, as well as overcoming the English Channel, disappeared by itself. PT-76 turned out to be unnecessary.

That is how it turned out: an outstanding structure created within the framework of a logically based concept of combat use (and this is rare) turned out to be unnecessary. Why? Yes, because the need to force water obstacles in the process arose only in the context of a non-nuclear war. The emergence of nuclear weapons simply buried this concept.

Indeed, even if we assume that the USSR struck first (and this possibility, even if theoretically, was categorically denied by the Soviet leadership) and at once destroyed the full potential of the retaliatory strike of the NATO countries, having suffered at the same time insignificantly, the rapid advance into the depths of Western Europe did not have no point. In the area contaminated by radiation, turned into a zone of continuous destruction, there would be simply no one to fight. Well, with a more realistic scenario, and no one. Creating in such conditions combat vehicles with amphibious properties and even more so their mass production became simply meaningless. Nevertheless, in our country over the past 50 years, an unprecedented number of floating combat vehicles have been developed with consistency worthy of better use. What was the need for this? Do our army need numerous floating armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles? And if so, why? Let's talk about this in the following articles.
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