Soviet Tank T-70
T-70 AND T-80
N. A. Astrov's team developed the tank T-70 with the intention of creating a light tank with more robust Soviet armour, stronger armament and greater mobility than the T-60.
After modifications to the power system, re designing the turret in flat annour plate rather than copying the T-40's construction, and placing it on the left of the hull with the engines on the right for easier construction, the tank T-70 was accepted for production in March 1942. Despite the Astrov team's best endeavours, the T-70 was at best a modest improvcmenr on its predecessor, and in some areas, even worse.
At first glance, the T-70's 45mm (1,77i n) ZiS-19BM gun - which was mounted in a turret on the left of the hull- and 45mm (1,77in) frontal armour did increase its protection and firepower. However, at that time, German modifications to the guns and armour of their medium Panzer III and IV tanks largely negated these armament developments which had been made in the T-70M.
Further problems in combat stemmed from a having a two-man crew. This forced the commander to double up as gunner, greatly inhibiting his ability to direct the driver and his fire accuracy when in contact with the enemy. The restrictions caused by a two-man crew were commmon to all Soviet light tanks, other than the T-26.
The T-70 design's greatest shortfall was in its mobility. The T-70 chassis was a copy of the T-60, modified to frontrather than rear-wheel drive. Reliance on other existing technology to cut costs and speed construction led to the unusual design of using two GAZ-202 lorry engines side by side, each powering a single track. This was not a complete success in manufacturing terms; more critically, the T-70's speed was only slightly greater than the T-60's, and its cross-country range of 180km (111,8 miles) was 70km (43,5 miles) less, and half that of the T-34 Model 1943. Clearly the T-70 was even less suited to taking part in the fast. deep-armoured operations envisaged by Soviet military planners. The overall unsuitability of the T-70 saw production end in 1943 after 8226 vehicles had been built (read also Amphibious Tank)
The T-80 appeared in late 1943 and was again the result o f work by the Astrov team. Their main aim was to install a larger turret with an electrical traverse to accommodate a commander and gunner, thereby improving the vehicle's performance in combat. The hull of the T-80 was identical to that of the T-70, the only other significant changes being a stronger suspension and wider tracks. Sound a design as it was, the T-80 did not alter the problems of survivability in battle that confronted the T-60 and T-70. Many of the functions of light scout- and infantry- support tanks were also being undertaken either by the heavier British Valentine tanks provided through Lend-Lease, or by the T-34. The introduction of the SU-76 self-propelled gun, with many components of the T-60 and T-70 but with heavier firepower, was a bener use of resources than light tank production.
T-60 AND T-70 IN ACTION
As mentioned earlier, the performance of the T-60 and T-70 light tanks in combat was far from satisfactory because of a combination of inferior armour and lack of firepower. A noted critic of these two tank types was Major-General M.E. Katukov. In a meeting with Stalin in autumn 1942, Katukov told him that his crews did not like the T-60: It has only a 20mm [0,78in] gun. In serious combat with armoured forces it just does not have it ... To attack in mud or snow is a deadly affair. In the battles around Nloscow, we continually had to drag them in tow.
He was more cautious, however, about the new T-70, but nonetheless noted, somewhat sceptically. It has not shown us anything special.
Katukov was right about the crews intense dislike of the T-60: they nicknamed them BM-2, meaning Bratskaya Mogila na Dovoikh: quite literally, a brother's grave for two, referring to the tank's vulnerability to German antitank fire. On the other hand, they were bener than nothing during the dark days of 1941 and 1942, and as commander of I Tank Corps during fierce fighting earlier in 1942, Katukov was forced to acknowledge the debt he owed them: And now, in this fateful hour, when the Germans had almost defeated us, those 'ridiculous' ranks saved our positions. It was lucky that the rye in the area was over a metre high, as the T-60s were almost hidden by it. Using this rye field, both of our T-60 tanks were able to infiltrate to the rear of the German infantry and then open fire. After several minutes of intensive fire, the German attack was halted.
The tank T-70 most dramatic engagements came in July 1943 at the Battle of Kursk, the di max of the German summer offensive. On 12 July, the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army and German II SS Panzer and III Panzer Corps clashed on a 32km (20 mile) front before the village of Prokhorovka. In all, during the heavy fighting, 429 German tanks and 870 Soviet tanks were engaged, and this number included 261 T-70 light tank.
Although Soviet tank losses were significantly greater than those of their opponents (perhaps even as much as three rimes as high). the German advance was contained and the battle subsequently swung in favou r of the Soviets. At the height of the battle on 12 July, the Red Army's 31st Tank Brigade succeeded in penetrating the rear elements of the 1st 55 Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Panzergrenadier Division.The 1st SS Divisional history recorded the sheer ferocity of the tank action:
the remainjng three Panzers could fire at the Russians from a distance of 10 to 30 metres [30-90ft] and make every shell a direct hit because the Russians could not see through the dust and smoke that there were German tanks rolling along with them in the same direction. There were already 19 Russian tanks standing burning on the battlefield when the Abteilung [2nd Panzer Regiment] opened fire for the first time ... destroying 62 T-70s and T-34s in a three hour long battle that could almost be termed hand-to-hand combat.
Soviet tank losses were inflated by the Germans, but it seems clear that a large number of T-70s were lost. For the rest of the war, the T-60 and T-70 were gradually removed from combat roles and used for convoy duties, reconnaissance, training and defending headquarters.
SU-76 SELF-PROPELLED GUN
In 1942 the Soviets initiated a number of projects to produce mechanized artillery guns to support infantry and armoured formations. The design of the light gun was given to the Zavod Nr 38 team at Kirov. They began by basing their design on the existing T-60 chassis. The prototype OSU-76 had mounted a 76,2mm (3in) ZiS-3 gun at the rear of the hull in a crude casemate armour box. Problems with the T-60 chassis mounting the gun's weigh t led to the adoption of the longer, more robust Soviet tank T-70 chassis.
This vehicle, designated SU-12, was a joint project between the Zavod Nr 38 and the Zavod Nr 92 team from Gorki. The GKO accepted the prototype for production in December 1942 as the SU-76. A major re-design of the forward hull was undertaken by Astrov's team in spring 1943, and engine performance enhanced by replacing a side-by-side configuration for the GAZ-202 engines with an in-line set-up. This improved design was manufactured as the SU-76M, and all earlier models withdrawn (read also Tank arm).
The 5U-76M appeared too late in the war to make an effective tank destroyer, but was valued in an infantry support role. The open top and rear and thin armour made the SU-76M vulnerable to light weapons and small-arms fire. especially in built-up areas. It was unpopular with crews, earning it the nicknames Suka (bitch) and Golozhopil Ferdinant (Naked Ass Ferdinand, after its profile's similarity to the German Ferdinand). Even so, the number produced in World War II was only surpassed by the T-34.