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When Russian Tanks Led The World

When Russian Tanks Led The World When Russian Tanks Led The World:
Red Army Tanks Of 1939 - 1941
with Phil Yates

The Red Army was disparaged by the western powers, particularly after their abysmal performance against Finland in 1939. Little did they know that behind the crumbling facade was one of the most powerful tank forces in the world, equipped with thousands of tanks, each individually more powerful than most of the hundreds of tanks in their own arsenals. If Stalin had not gutted the officer corps in his purges, the Red Army might have been able to teach even the Germans a thing or two about tank warfare when they invaded.
The Red Army learned the value of tanks during the Russian Civil War of 1919 to 1921 when they faced them in the hands of the British, French, and White Russian Armies, and then used captured tanks against their former owners.

After the war, Russian industry took a decade to grow to the point where indigenous tank production was a serious prospect. However, once they started along the tank path, they moved much faster than the western powers. This rapid progress had three sources. The first was simply that there was less entrenched power structures to overcome - the Red Army was new and keen on modernisation. The second was the acquisition of foreign designs to kick start their own tank design. The third was the priority that tanks were given in the face of the perceived threat of a counterrevolutionary invasion and the need to spread the Communist revolution to the rest of the world.

When Russian Tanks Led The World
With the will and the means to produce as many tanks as needed (at a time when the rest of the world was thinking in terms of a few dozen tanks to try things out), and their pick of the best tank designs in the world, it’s not surprising that the Red Army led the world in the field of tanks in the 1930s. It was not only in the area of tank production that they led. The Red Army’s theorists developed a concept of deep operations bearing a lot of similarities to the German Blitzkrieg concept. These theories outlined the types of tanks that would be needed.

Light Tanks
The first thing required by the theorists was a breakthrough of the enemy front line. The idea was that massed light tanks would advance with the infantry, destroying enemy machine-gun nests and pinning down the enemy riflemen, allowing the infantry to capture the enemy trenches. This required a relatively cheap and simple design that could be fielded in large numbers. Fortunately, the Vickers-Armstrong company were offering exactly such a design with their 6-ton Type E tank.

The Red Army bought some samples from Vickers and then proceeded to produce an unlicensed copy called the T-26. The first production model of 1932 (obr 1932) was a twin-turreted design with two side-by-side machine-gun turrets. While this seemed like a good idea at the time as it appeared to give the tank twice as much firepower, it quickly became obvious that the difficulties in coordinating two turrets and a driver actually reduced its effectiveness.

The second model (obr 1933) was more conventional with just a single turret mounting a 45mm gun and a coaxial machine-gun. Typical of Soviet tank design, the 45mm gun was one of the most powerful tank guns in the world at the time. The original Vickers design mounted a low-velocity 47mm gun. While this was as effective against machine-gun nests, its anti-tank performance was woeful, especially compared with the Soviet gun.
The T-26 obr 1933 Light Tank
When Russian Tanks Led The World
T-26 obr 1933 Light Tank
Armament:
45 mm obr 1932 gun
1 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 9.4 tonnes
Length: 4.88 m
Armour: 15 mm
Speed: 28 km/h
Range: 375 km
T-26 obr 1939 Light Tank
Armament: 45 mm obr 1932 gun
3 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 10.3 tonnes
Length: 4.62 m
Armour: 15 mm
Speed: 30 km/h
Range: 225 km
The T-26 obr 1939 Light Tank
When Russian Tanks Led The World
The T-26 obr 1933 or 1939 in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower

T-26 obr 1933 or 1939 Slow Tank
1
1 1
Co-ax MG, Limited vision, Unreliable.
45mm obr 1934 gun
24"/60cm
2
7
4+
 
As well as a conventional gun-armed tank, the Soviet Union also created large numbers of flame-thrower tanks, nearly 10% of the entire production run. These KhT-26 and KhT-130 ‘chemical’ (hence ‘Kh’) tanks were fielded in full battalions to add even more punch to assaults on critical positions.

As befitted its infantry support role, the T-26 wasn’t much faster than an infantryman and its armour was bulletproof, but not much else. While not exactly desirable attributes, they did make it cheaper and easier to produce allowing the Soviet Union to manufacture over 10,000 of them — more than the total of all other armies’ tank production up to that point.

Soviet experience in the Spanish Civil War of 1935 to 1939 highlighted the weakness of the armour of the T-26 against anti-tank guns like the German 3.7cm PaK36. Increasing the thickness of the armour wasn’t an option as the weight of the ‘6-ton’ tank was already 10 tons. Instead, the Soviet engineers redesigned the T-26 with sloped armour to increase the chance of incoming shots being deflected. This obr 1939 model also incorporated the various improvements from the previous six years of production such as anti-aircraft machine-guns, turret rear machine-guns, and whip aerials rather than handrail aerials around the turret on command tanks.

The KhT-130 Flame-Throwing Tank
When Russian Tanks Led The World
KhT-130 Flame-Throwing Tank
Armament:
ATO obr 1938 flame gun
1 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 9.3 tonnes
Length: 4.62 m
Armour: 15 mm
Speed: 30 km/h
Range: 225 km
The KhT-130 Flame-Throwing Tank in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower

KhT-130 Slow Tank
1
1 1
Turret MG, Limited vision, Unreliable.
ATO obr 1938 flame-thrower
4"/10cm
3
7
6
Flame-thrower.
Heavy Tanks
The light infantry-support tanks were supported by T-28 obr 1933 heavy tanks. These monsters were intended to lead the attack, smashing their way through the enemy lines ahead of the infantry attack, disrupting the defences and destroying supporting weapons like artillery and anti-tank guns. As you would expect, the T-28 was much better armoured than the T-26, and mounted a 76mm gun with considerably more destructive effect against guns and machine-gun nests.

One of the odd things about the T-28 to modern eyes is the arrangement of its four machine-guns. Two of them are mounted in sub turrets on either side of the driver, another is in a ball mounting for the loader, while the fourth is in a ball at the back of the turret to protect the rear of the tank from assaulting infantry! On late model tanks a fifth anti-aircraft machine-gun was added to the array.

The T-28 obr 1933 Heavy Tank
When Russian Tanks Led The World
T-28 obr 1933 Heavy Tank
Armament:
76 mm obr 1927/32 gun
3 or 4 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 25.2 tonnes
Length: 7.44 m
Armour: 30 mm
Speed: 40 km/h
Range: 220 km
T-28 obr 1938 Heavy Tank
Armament:
76 mm L-10 gun
3, 4 or 5 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 28.5 tonnes
Length: 7.44 m
Armour: 30 mm
Speed: 30 km/h
Range: 140 km
When Russian Tanks Led The World
The T-28 in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower

T-28 obr 1933
Standard Tank
3
2 2
Two Deck-turret MG, Turret-front MG,Turret-rear MG, Limited vision, Unreliable, Wide-tracks.
76mm obr 1927/32 gun
16"/40cm
2
5
3+
 
T-28 obr 1938 Standard Tank 3
2
2
Two Deck-turret MG, Turret-front MG,Turret-rear MG, Limited vision, Unreliable, Wide-tracks.
76mm L-10 gun 24"/60cm
2
7
3+
 
When the Spanish Civil War highlighted the importance of tanks being able to fight enemy tanks, the Red Army began a programme of upgrading the armament of the T-28 from the short-barrelled 76mm to a longer-barrelled 76mm. This new weapon, fitted to the obr 1938, made the T-28 one of the most powerful tanks in the world at the time.

It was the Winter War against the Finns that led to the final variant of the T-28, the T-28e (e for ekranami or screened). Although the T-28 was well armoured when it was designed, it still proved vulnerable to Finnish anti-tank guns, so the Red Army started fitting extra armour to increase its protection. Unfortunately, the tank’s complex shape, typical of the 1930s, made it impossible to do more than put patches on where they would fit, leaving other areas as they were.


Breakthrough Tanks
As well as the T-28, the Red Army fielded the gigantic T-35 breakthrough tank. This was the biggest tank ever used in combat. To the three turrets of the T-28 it added two turrets that looked much like those of the T-26 mounting the same 45mm gun and coaxial machine-gun. It needed all of these weapons because it was supposed to operate independently, ranging into the enemy rear area during the attack to destroy their artillery and reserves.

The T-35 obr 1935 Tank
When Russian Tanks Led The World
T-35 obr 1935 Tank
Armament:
76 mm obr 1927/32 gun
2 × 45 mm obr 1932 guns
6 or 7 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 45.0 tonnes
Length: 9.72 m
Armour: 30 mm
Speed: 30 km/h
Range: 150 km
The T-35 obr 1935 Tank in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower

T-35 Slow Tank
3
3 2
Two Deck-turret MG, Turret-front MG, Turret-rear MG, Land battleship, Overloaded, Unreliable.
76mm obr 1927/32 gun
16"/40cm
2
5
3+
 
45mm obr 1934 gun
24"/60cm
2 7
4+
Deck turret, Co-ax MG.
45mm obr 1934 gun 24"/60cm 2 7 4+ Deck turret, Co-ax MG.
These land battleships had a crew of ten (plus dedicated engineers for each tank waiting with the supply trucks). Unfortunately, they were scattered in separate compartments making it difficult to coordinate their actions. Despite this, the massed T-35 tanks of 15th Tank Corps gave a good account of themselves in the Battle of Brody in July 1941.

Unlike the T-28, the 76mm gun of the T-35 was never upgraded as the 45mm turrets provided adequate anti-tank capability. The sheer size of the tank also prevented it from being up armoured. To do so would have required so much armour plate that the tank would have been barely able to move!

Fast Tanks
Once the infantry had broken through the enemy lines, deep operations began. These called for tank and cavalry forces to advance rapidly to take objectives up to a hundred kilometres (sixty miles) or more behind the front, surrounding the enemy and destroying them. For this role the Red Army looked at a tank designed by an American, Walter Christie, and like the T-26, built unlicensed copies in huge numbers as the BT series of fast tanks.

The thing that made the Christie design attractive for this role was its speed, both cross country and on roads. Its mobility came from a novel suspension system of large rubber-shod road wheels mounted on long coil springs. This allowed the wheels to absorb he shock of high-speed cross country travel, and when the tracks were removed, allowed the tank to drive at high speeds on roads. While an interesting idea, the impracticality of taking the tracks on and off the tanks in a combat situation meant that they never tried it in action.

The BT-5 & BT-7 Fast Tanks
When Russian Tanks Led The World
BT-5 Fast Tank
Armament:
45 mm obr 1932 gun
1 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 11.5 tonnes
Length: 5.76 m
Armour: 13 mm
Speed: (Tracks): 52 km/h; (Wheels): 72 km/h
Range: 200 km
BT-7 Fast Tank
Armament:
45mm obr 1938 gun
1, 2 or 3 × 7.62 mm MG
Weight: 13.8 tonnes
Length: 5.66 m
Armour: 22 mm
Speed: (Tracks): 53 km/h; (Wheels): 73 km/h
Range: 375 km
The BT-5 & BT-7 in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower

BT-5
Standard Tank
0
0
1
Co-ax MG, Fast tank, Limited vision, Unreliable.
45mm obr 1938 gun
24"/60cm
2
7
4+

BT-7
Standard Tank 1
1
1
Co-ax MG, Fast tank, Limited vision, Unreliable.
45mm obr 1938 gun 24"/60cm 2 7 4+  
One of the other implications of being a light, fast lank was the requirement to keep weight down and thus the armour light, lighter even than the T-26. One area the Red Army didn’t skimp though is the armament - the BT-5 mounted the same powerful 45mm gun and coaxial machine-gun as the T-26.

The BT-7 of 1937 improved the shape of the turret and hull armour, increasing its protection, and upped the power of the engine. The resulting tank was the equal of anything in the world, being fast, well-armed, and moderately armoured. Add to that a production run of 8000 BT tanks of all models, and you have a tank force that, in theory, should be able to beat the rest of the world’s tanks on its own.

Soviet tanks at the start of the Second World War were not only far more numerous than every other army’s combined, but individually they were as capable as just about any tank in the world.

~ Phil.


Last Updated On Friday, February 21, 2014 by Blake at Battlefront