T-34 History Part I

T-34 obr 1941 (late) A History of the T-34

Part I: Development

In 1938 a high level meeting was held at the Soviet Ministry of Defence to discuss the direction of tank development in the coming years. One of the subjects discussed was the performance of the wheeled-tracked design as fitted to the BT-5 and BT-7, both of which had seen service recently in Spain and Mongolia respectively.

The wheeled-tracked drive was designed to be used either tracked for going cross-country or with the tracks removed and running on road wheels when using normal roads on marches with the tracks removed running on road wheels. This type of drive had derived from the US Christie tank. In both Spain and Mongolia the wheeled-tracked drive had withstood long periods of travel in the wheeled configuration, proving quite reliable despite opponents’ claims otherwise.

In the end the argument came down to whether the occasional benefits of wheeled travel was worth the use of a more complex drive train. With Stalin’s influence it was decided to design a tracked tank without the option of road travel on the wheels.


The design responsibility of the new prototype was given to the construction bureau of the Kharkov Komintern Steam Engine factory (KhPZ, Factory #183).

Before this an experimental tank known as the A-20 had been under development since 1937 and had taken many of the principles of the BT design and improved on them. The A-20 was equipped with a similar drive train to the BT tanks, however many of its other features would become familiar features on the T-34, such as sloped front, side and turret armour. The A-20 mounted a 45mm gun in a turret similar to that of the BT-7, but with a large single hatch.     

Right: A-20 Experimental Tank.

The next stage in development was the A-32 experimental tank, which retained many of the features of the A-20, except it did away with the wheeled-tracked drive train and adopted a more conventional tracked only system.

Below: A-32 Experimental Tank. 

A-20 Experimental Tank
A-32 Experimental Tank

The drive train of the A-32 had 5 pairs of road wheels (as opposed to the A-20’s 4 pairs) giving it a more even weight distribution. It was also fitted with an L-10 76mm gun. 

In 1938 both the A-20 (15-Tons) and A-32 (19-Tons) were accepted for trials, and in July 1939 they started their trials at the Kharkov factory before being sent on field tests.

Both tanks proved very similar and no clear winner was announced after the trials.  Further demonstrations were conducted during a tank show in September and the A-32 impressed with its trench and obstacle crossing abilities.

It was soon deemed that the A-32 could support a heavier weight, so the armour was increased from 30 to 45mm on the hull front. The modified prototype was designated the A-34. The first A-34 was available for testing in January 1940. They were required to undergo 2000km of testing by the Ministry of Defence. It was decided to get this achieved in time for a tank demonstration in March. The two A-34s would be driven from Kharkov to Moscow, thus achieving the required kilometres and getting to the show in time.     

A-34 Prototype Tank

A-34 Prototype Tank. 

A T-34 obr 1940 fresh out of the KhPz factory still waiting on guns

One tank blew its clutch on the way and was delayed several days but in the end both tanks made it to Moscow.

They were demonstrated in front of Stalin, among others, subjected to driving and weapons test and even subjected to 45mm gunfire. They impressed and the Ministry of Defence ordered the mass production of the T-34 (A-34) if the prototypes met with the Army’s approval. In 1940 the Kharkov plant initiated a program to produce 150 A-34s.

Left: A T-34 obr 1940 fresh out of the KhPz factory but still waiting on guns. 

On 7 June 1940 the Council of People’s Commissars adopted a plan to produce 600 of the new T-34 tank that year. 500 to be made at KhPZ in Kharkov and 100 to be made at STZ in Stalingrad. This production program was wildly optimistic and was never fulfilled. After receiving several examples of the Panzer III G from the Germans as part of German-Soviet non-aggression pact, serious doubts as to the combat readiness of the T-34 began to creep in. The group testing the Panzer IIIs were most impressed with the commander’s cupola, the 3-man turret (the T-34 only had room for the commander and the gunner) and the intercommunication network for all the German tank’s crew (whereas the T-34 crew only had a link between the commander and driver; the other 2 crew members had to simply shout). Though the T-34 proved superior in armour and armament, the Panzer III  proved to be a much quieter and faster vehicle, achieving 69kph to the T-34's 48kph on a gravel road.
The report from these tests resulted in the temporary halting of T-34 production. Investigations were started into overcoming these deficiencies But production was ordered to resume and work on an improved T-34 design was to start. The Kharkov design team, now under A A Morozov (M I Koshkin having died from pneumonia caught during the A-34’s trek from Kharkov to Moscow), started work on an improved model with better reliability, armour and armament. This was the A-43 or T34m.

The initial T-34 obr 1940 was armed with the 76mm L-11 gun, with its distinct bulb above the barrel mounting. The new A-43 model was to be armed with the longer, higher velocity, 76mm F-34 gun.

T-34 obr 1940

T-34 obr 1940

The new model was to do away with the bulky Christie spring suspension and use the torsion bar suspension used by the T-50 and KV tanks, which increased the space available inside the hull. It was also to be fitted with a 5-speed gearbox for improved speed. It was to have a commander’s cupola and have room in the turret for a crew of three. It was decided the need for the immediate production of the T-34 was too great to interrupt it for these modifications and the A-43 was never put into production.
Production of the L-11 gun ended in 1939 and the F-34 gun soon replaced it on later production models, usually referred to as T-34 obr 1941.

In the mean time only 119 T-34 obr 1940 tanks had been produced at KhPZ Kharkov by the years end, while STZ Stalingrad only managed 23 tanks, well short of their target of 600 T-34s.

The next year’s production quotas were upped; KhPZ was to produce 1800 and STZ 1000. All these models would be armed with the F-34 gun.

The German invasion interrupted production at Kharkov and the factory started to evacuate on 12 September 1941, and all equipment that could be moved was shifted to the Urals. Production was soon started in Gorky and the Kharkov equipment was set up in Nizhni Tagil in the Ural Mountains from August 1941.

In all 3014 T-34s were made in 1941.

The following factories made the T-34 in 1941:

• Factory No.183 KhPZ (Kharkov), which was relocated to Nizhni Tagil and designated Factory No.183 Ural Rail-Car Factory (UVZ) in autumn 1941.

T-34 obr 1941

T-34 obr 1941 (Late) (note the armoured Hull MG mount)

• Factory No.112 Red Sormovo Works (in Gorki).
• STZ (Stalingrad Tractor Factory).

Left: T-34 obr 1941 (Late) (note the armoured Hull MG mount). 

In Part II we look at the T-34 obr 1942 and factory variations on the T-34 obr 1941 and 1942...

For a more in-depth look at T-34 development see http://www.battlefield.ru/

Last Updated On Monday, January 9, 2012 by Blake at Battlefront