Soviet Tank A-20
The T-34 may have come as a surprise to the Germans, but it was the result of several years of research and development as well as battles by the engineers with Soviet bureaucracy. The design was, however, rugged and versatile, and allowed the tank to be up-gunned and improved without breaks in production.
The head of the Directorate of Armoured Forces (ABTU), General Dmitri Pavlov, drew mixed conclusions from the performance of Soviet tank in the Spanish Civil War. but his assertion that massed armour was ineffective would be disastrous for the Red Army's mechanized forces in 1941. Pavlov was heavily involved with the re-evaluation of future Soviet tank following the war in Spain. To his credit was his proposal that the Red Army needed a new tank. This vehicle would become the T-34.
The Soviet BT and T-26 tank vulnerability in Spain had shown how much antitank weapons had improved. The Soviets therefore set to work producing a so-called 'shellproof' tank, with greater survivability against small arms fire, shell splinters, small-calibre artillery and conremporary antitank weapons; and, more specifically, proof against a hit from a 37mm (1,46 in) gun at any range and a 76,2mm (3 in) antitank gun at ranges over 1000m (1100 yd), Soviet tank had shown an alarming propensity to catch fire when hit, largely due to their petrol engines. and this also stimulated a Soviet interest in diesel-powered engines with a low flash point.
Pavlov wanted a replacement for the BT, essentially an improved version of the BT-IS. He tasked the design team at the Kharkov Locomotive, or Komintern, Factory in November 1937 with the production of a fast AFV using the convertible wheel/track system and BT Christie suspension. The new 20,2 tonne (20 ton) tank, which was given the designation Soviet tank A-20, was to have a 45mm (1,77 in) gun and 20mm (0,8 in) armour.
It was not a particularly revolutionary design specification in itself, but Pavlov evidently wanted to combine heavier protection with the existing firepower and mobility of the BT series. The Kharkov factory, however, eventually delivered to the Director of Armoured Forces a superb fighting vehicle.
THE KHARKOV DESIGN TEAM
In 1936, the head of the Kharkov bureau, Mikhail Koshkin, who had been posted in to work on BT improvements, assembled a talented and experienced team. His deputy and old friend Alexsandr Morozov - who had already designed the new V-2 diesel engine first used on the BT-8 and the Voroshilovets artillery tractor - was responsible for the power train. The suspension team was led by Nikolai Kucherenko and P. Vasihev, who had been part of the T-29-4 tank project which tested the Christie-type suspention on medium tank that were considerably heavier than the BT. M.Tarshinov, who was responsible for the armour, had worked on the BT-IS and the BT-SV test tanks at Kharkov under Koshkin's predecessor, A. Firsov, and the BT-SV project had made ground-breaking use of 25mm (1in) sloping armour.
The team presented a wooden model of the A-20 to the Defence Council of the Soviet of People's Commissars (Soviet Narodnykh Komissarov, or SNAKE) in May 1938. However, they had doubts about the A-20 tank design specification, in particular the wheel/track feature. Koshkin argued that it added needless weight , and combat experience had shown it to be pointless.
The armour needed to be at least 30mm (1,2in) thick to withstand existing and future threats, and Koshkin considered that the 45mm (1,77in) gun was also inadequate and that a considerably larger 76,2mm (3 in) weapon was needed to defeat similarly-protected enemy tanks. He made these points strongly at a presentation at which Josef Stalin was present. Stalin was evidently impressed, and the Main Military Council subsequently gave permission for the Kharkov factory to build a prototype, both of the tank A-20 and also of a heavier up-armoured and up-gunned version, which was given the designation A-30.
The wheel/track issue still remained unresolved. The unnecessary combination of tracks and road wheels was unduly heavy, and the complex technology involved increasingly convinced the Kharkov design team that the system would hamper mass production and if it were produced, would cause difficulties with maintenance. Simplicity had always proven to be a virtue with equipment for the Red Army soldier.
Therefore, on their own initiative, Koshkin and Morozov designed a heavier, purely-tracked medium tank, based around the A-30, which incorporated the suggestions that Koshkin had made to the Main Military Council. They submitted drawings of a 19,2 tonne (19 ton) tank, the A-32 (also called the T-32), to a conference on medium tank design in August 1938, with positive results. The Main Defence Committee and Stalin approved the project and demanded the production and evaluation of a prototype of the A-32 as soon as possible.
The process that led to the approval of the A-32 illustrated the fickle but occasionally-inspired influence of Josef Stalin. The Main Military Council had criticized the A-32 beca use it did not have the wheel/track feature, but Stalin saw the logic of Koshkin's argument that the weight saved by losing the wheel/track feature could be used to add extra protection, and so he backed the design of the A-32. This meant that the Kharkov design team now had three projects: the A-20, A-30 and A-32.