Tank T-34, T-34/85
High Soviet Production Levels
The Soviet economy out-produced the German economy from a far smaller resource base and with a less-skilled workforce. Much of this was down to tile simplicity of production goals and the single-minded concentration on the production of proven types. The Soviet Union only produced two tanks in great quantity. Only towards the end of the war did they imroduce a new tank, the IS (Iosef Stalin), but even that was simply are-designed KV. The (tank) T-34 design was mechanically simple, facilitating quantity production with limited resources in specialized machine tools and skilled labour. It had a great number of parts th at were interchangeable with the other successful design, the KV, including the engine, gun, transmission. and vision devices.
Production Of The T-34
The war on the Eastern Front was a tank war. While large infantry formations were involved in the fighting, and while there was street-fighting at battles like Stalingrad, in which case tanks were of limited use, the war in Russia witnessed the biggest tank battles in history. In the year 1941 alone, Russia produced a staggering total of around 3000 T-34s.
At first the problem was finding crews to man the tanks, as so many Russians had been killed or taken prisoner in the vast encirclements of Soviet defensive positions by the Germans in their initial advance following Operation Barbarossa. The movement of factories and the workers to staff them safely out of the German's reach east of the Urals also meant that many potential recruits were employed in building the T-34 rather than crewing it.
Unlike the German tanks it would come up against. The (Soviet Tank) T-34 was not a sophisticated fighting machine. While the original T-34s exhibited high levels of craftsmanship, the exigencies of war meant that later models were crudely manufactured. As production in creased, many of the hull fittings were simplified, and some features, stich as a second roof periscope for the loader, were simply omitted. Tank T-34 was rugged and simple, and as such seemed to symbolize the whole spirit of the Russian war effort, concentrating on the three characteristics that made the tank so deadly: gun, armour and mobility.
Upgrading The T-34
Battle performance was (and indeed, still is) the ult imate determinant of the effectiveness of any weapons system. The battles in front of Moscow in 1941 had shown the Russians that changes needed to be made to the T-34. As a result, the (medium tank) T-34 went through numerous cosmetic changes as the war unfolded, and the different tank factories adapted their production lines to meet changing battlefield needs.
The overhang of the turret was reduced and the fuel supply was increased; the gearbox was also improved. A new style of driver's hatch was introduced, the rectangular transmjssion access hatch on the rear plate giving way to a circular hatch, and the engine grille was simplified. A new, wider 500mm (19,6 in) track with a waffle pattern improved traction (vehicles with these modifications were known as tank T-34 Model 1942). More importantly for the crew, extra armour was welded on to some models (spare track attached to the body of the tank was one way of quickly doing this), while later models came off the production lines with turret protection of 90mm (3,5 in) of armour as standard.
Having said this. a shortage of rubber at many of T-34 tank production planes led to an all-steel wheel being temporarily introduced in 1942. This all-steel wheel was unpopular with tank crews as contact with the metal track at high speeds set up harmonic vibrations that were noisy and unpleasant for those inside, and could cause damage to the T-34 itself by loosening parts. As rubber became available again, rubber-rimmed wheels were used in the fifth and sixth position. With increased rubber supplies in 1943, the all-steel wheel was phased Out. While in 1942, T-34 production jumped to over 5000 tanks, more radical changes needed to be made to the basic design to take into account the newer German models arriving on the Eastern Front. By 1943, the T-34 tank had become a much more effective fighting vehicle. The re-designed turret held a crew of three, vision was improved with the addition of a new cupola, and radios were added as standard. These changes culminated in a to tally new tank T-34 model, which was designated the T-34/85.
The modifications outlined above produced the other main variant of the T-34 tank, the T-34/85, that would cominue as a fighting machine well beyond World War II. The T-34/76 had a two-man turret that was cramped and inefficient. Therefore, the existing T-34 chassis was adapted to take a cast, three-man turret and a more powerful gun. The three-man turret freed up the commander who had previously operated the main gun. The new gun in the T-34/85 was the long 85mm (3,34 in), adapted from an antiaircraft gun. The up-gunned T-34/85 was capable or firing a 9,8kg (21,5 lb) round at a muzzle velocity of 780 m/s (2600 ft/s). This compared ravourably to the German 8,8em (3,46in) on the Tiger that fired a 10,1 kg (22,25 lb) shot at 797 m/s (2657 ft/s). The 7,5cm (2,95 in) on the Panther fired a much smaller shot of 6,8kg (15 lb), but it did compensate for this with a higher muzzle velocity of 920 m/s (3068 ft/s).
The extra armour, turret space and firepower meant an increase in weight for the T-34/85. Having said this, the design team that produced the T-34 with the long 85mm (3,34 in) gun managed to combine the new features without reducing overall efficiency. While the weight or the T-34/85 rose from 27,3 to 32,3 tonnes (27 to 32 tons), and its range fell from 448 km (280 miles) to 304 km (190 miles), the T-34/85 was the most powerful tank in the Allied arsenal when it went into production in late 1943, and or all the tanks on the field, it was only slightly less formidable than the Panther
The T-34/85 also used existing in dustrial production lines, and so the new design could be produced rapidly and in great numbers for the Red Army. In 1943, of the 6000 T-34s built, only a small proportion were the T-34/85. But in 1944, 65 percent or the new tanks rolling out of the tank factories in the Urals were the new T-34s with the 85mm (3,34in) gun. These new T-34s were decisive in providing a counter to the heavier German machines produced by this time. By 1944, production or the T-34/85 dwarfed thar or the T-34/76. Wartime production of the T-34s or both types approached 40.000, making it the most widely produced tank of the war.
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