T-34 was the designation of the Soviet Union's most prolific medium tank and the forerunner of a dynasty of armored fighting vehicles.
The T-34 was one of the most influential, effective, and efficient tank designs of World War II, created by the Kharkov Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau between 1937 and 1940. Utilizing lessons learned at Lake Khasan and Khalkin Gol, when Soviet Union's T-26 and BT series tanks engaged Japanese forces, it was envisioned as a universal tank that could replace older Soviet tanks in service and finally put into production after the experiences of the Winter War in Finland highlighted the need for a new tank. Although initially unpopular, the designer's persistence and quality of the design he first envisioned in 1934, confirmed by a grueling 2000 km test ride from Kharkov to Moscow, to the Mannerheim Line in Finland, and back to Kharkov. Mikhail Koshkin, the designer, passed away of pneumonia contracted during the test, not living to see the design win the war.
It was the most advanced tank in the world at the time of its introduction, combining a powerful multipurpose tank gun with thick armor, a powerful engine with excellent maneuverability in the field, and overall mechanical reliability, all at a reasonable price tag. Although initial performance was hampered by a lack of trained crews, radios, and immature manufacturing technologies, the Soviet Union swiftly eliminated these flaws while gradually halving both the cost and production time of the tank. The first encounters with the T-34 were a shock for Nazi Germany and its allies, leading to the development of the Panther and Tiger tanks as direct counters.
Upgrades and modifications also ensured the tank remained competitive against German panzers old and new, until the end of the war, and then against the enemies of the Union for nearly two decades afterwards.
The T-34/40 model was the initial production variant introduced in 1941. Mounting the L-11 76.2 mm tank gun, it was heavily based on the A-32 prototype. Despite a lack of training and coordination, the T-34 gave Nazi tanks a run for their money. 37mm anti-tank and tank guns could not penetrate the T-34's armor, while the thin armor of German tanks was no match for the Soviet tanks, necessitating the use of FlaK 18s or airpower to counter them. It served as a base for future upgrades, further refining the T-34.
None of these vehicles survived into 1944, destroyed, scrapped, or upgraded.
T-34/76 obr. 1941
The T-34/41 was a significantly improved version of the T-34, introducing an improved F-34 76mm tank gun, new two-piece cast turret, the use of welding, and a number of other modifications. Perhaps one of the most interesting was the addition of railings, giving allied infantry an easier time riding the tank. Its off-road capabilities were better than most trucks and were commonly used by Soviet troops to advance, despite the danger.
- T-34/76 Komroti/T-34/76 Dow.: A command tank.
- T-34/76 Razvedka/T-34/76 Model 1941: As surplus T-34 remanded to armored reconaissance battalions.
- Muniwagen T-34(r): A captured T-34 modified to serve as a prime mover, transport, and recovery vehicle. The turret was removed and replaced with an armored plate and a commander's cupola.
The OT-34 was a flamethrower conversion of a regular T-34 armed with the F-34 gun. Much like the Crocodile, it replaced the hull machine gun with a flamethrower, the ATO-41, but unlike its British analogue, the fuel tank was carried inside the hull.
- OT-34: The base variant.
By 1944, old models were surplus, although some were fitted with additional armor plates welded on the turret and elsewhere, to give it improved protection. This unofficial modification was called sekranami (with screens).
Due to the sheer production numbers, Nazi Germany managed to capture substantial numbers of T-34s and press them into service, either with their own units, or collaborationist formations like RONA.
- Panzer T-34-41(r): The base captured variant.
- Panzer T-34-41(r) Füh.: A command tank.
- Panzer T-34-41(r) RONA: A '41 model with the RONA livery.
T-34/76 obr. 1942
An updated model introduced in 1942, offering slightly better armor protection, numerous production improvements to simplify manufacture, and an overhauled track and wheel design. Additionally, it received a new driver's hatch and a round transmission access cover.
- T-34/76 obr. 1942: Base tank.
- Panzer T-34-42(r): Beutepanzer.
- Sotka 76: A captured unit pressed into Finnish service.
T-34/76 obr. 1943
The T-34/43 was an iterative development, introducing a hexagonal turret with better optics for the F-34 76mm tank gun, a minor armor increase, and a completely new commander's cupola.
- T-34/76 obr. 1943/T-34/76 Model 1943/SD2:T-34/76 obr. 1943 (Est): Base tank.
- Flakpanzer T-34(r): A field modification of a 1943 model T-34/76 created by Werkstattkompanie 653 (workshop company of Panzerjager Abteilung 653), 2cm Flakvierling auf Fahrgestell T-34(r) or the Flakpanzer T-34(r) combined a 20mm Flakvierling 38 with the durable chassis of a T-34. Protection was provided by armored plates salvaged from damaged half-tracks, with ammunition carried in racks at the back of the chassis. This single unique vehicle served with the command company of the battalion.
T-34/85 obr. 1943
The 85 model was the ultimate expression of Soviet efficiency and pragmatism in warfare. Where the Nazis responded by creating entire new breeds of tanks, like the Tiger or Panther, the Soviets countered them by simply adding more gun to the T-34. The 85mm D-5T tank gun was a derivative of the M1939 (52-K) anti-aircraft gun, bridging the firepower gap. More importantly, it was mounted in a new, three man turret, greatly improving the battlefield performance of the T-34. The resulting tank would continue to serve well beyond the end of the war in all armies of the Communist bloc, until the introduction of next-generation Soviet armor.
The 1943 model mounts the D-5T gun and was the first 85 model, produced between January 1943 and March 1944, before production switched to the simpler ZiS-S-53 gun and introduced minor internal changes.
- T-34/85 obr. 1943: Base tank.
- T-34/85 Komroti: Command tank.
- T-34/85 Reshetnkov: A tank ace, representing captain Nikolay Reshetnikov.
- Panzer T-34/85(r): Beutepanzer.
T-34/85 obr. 1944
An improved production model fitted with the superior 85mm ZiS-S-53 gun derived from the same anti-aircraft gun as the D-5T. Other changes were minor, including relocating the radio from the hull to the turret and an improved gunner's sight and turret layout.
The SU-122 was a design created after encounters with the StuG III self-propelled howitzers. The turretless vehicles were cheaper to produce and could mount more powerful weapons than turreted vehicles. Various vehicles were proposed by Soviet design bureaus from April 1942 onwards, with production eventually starting using Uralmash's design, using the T-34 as basis. Although imperfect, the SU-122 entered production from December 1942 onwards and proved to be an effective design. A total of 1 150 SPGs produced by the time production terminated in the summer of 1944.
The SU-85 was a self-propelled gun designed by Lew Trojanow in response to a call for a dedicated anti-tank armored fighting vehicle capable of fighting Panther and Tiger tanks. Combining the SU-122's casemate chassis with the newly developed 85mm D-5 gun, the SU-85 entered production at the Uralmash factory in mid-1943, with first operational units issued to frontline units in August. Production was halted in the spring of 1944, after T-34/85 mass production intensified. "Only" 2 050 units were produced, with production shifting to the much more powerful SU-100.