From T-34 to the Indian Ocean
From T-34 to the Indian Ocean

The T-34 medium tank was adopted by the Red Army, which was destined to become a legend of the domestic armed forces.

70 years ago, on December 19, 1939, the T-34 medium tank was adopted by the Red Army, which was destined to become a legend of the Russian armed forces. It was developed at the Kharkov Locomotive Plant named after I. The Comintern and then more than once subjected to various modifications. But modern warfare bears little resemblance to the wars of the last century. In the current era of nuclear weapons and high technology, a tank may seem like an anachronism of the last century. In fact, these combat vehicles are no more outdated than the aviation, the navy, or the infantry, as old as the world. It's just that the tanks themselves change over time.


Pre-war tanks manufactured by the plant number 183. From left to right: A-8 (BT-7M), A-20, T-34 mod. 1940 with gun L-11, T-34 mod. 1941 with an F-34 cannon.

The armies of the Hitlerite coalition that crossed our border numbered about four thousand tanks. Of which the Pz-I (410 units) and Pz-II (746 units) were inferior in armor and armament even to the Soviet light T-26 and BT, and 623 Pz 38 (t) tanks were approximately equal to them. The enemy was opposed, according to various estimates, from 12 to 14 thousand Soviet tanks, not counting the many thousand-strong reserve in the rear. Among which 1439 vehicles were "invincible" T-34 and KV.

However, despite the quantitative and qualitative superiority, by the end of that first year of the war, the Red Army lost 20, 5 thousand tanks. Among them there were about 850 KV-1 and KV-2, which were indeed the most powerful tanks of that time. Probably, if it were not for the "reserve" and the painstaking work of military factories, then there would be simply nothing to drive the foe from the walls of Moscow.

The lessons of the initial period of the Great Patriotic War were difficult. But then it became clear that the number of tanks on the battlefield, as well as their quality, does not always determine the outcome of the battle. The decisive factors are the skill of the crews and the talent of the generals. However, the available reserve of armored vehicles makes it possible to quickly compensate for its losses at the front.

Creation of the ideal

Post-war production of Soviet tanks was based on the modernization of two of the most successful WWII vehicles - the medium T-34 and the heavy KV / IS. At the same time, if the Stalin family (IS-3, IS-4, T-10) was a gradually refined IS-2, then the thirty-four was redesigned beyond recognition. Perhaps, all that remained as a result of the ingenious creation of Koshkin and Morozov is only five large-diameter rollers.

First, the tank received a large turret with an 85mm cannon (which became a good target for grenade launchers). From January 1944 to 1950, several tens of thousands of T-34-85 rolled off the assembly lines, which were in service with a number of countries for half a century, and the last battles took place during the Yugoslav conflicts of the 90s. The same model was the main "actor" in Russian films about the war - which is why we usually associate its silhouette with the T-34. Undeservedly forgetting the appearance of its predecessor with a compact sloping tower, which pulled on itself all the hardships of the most difficult years of the war.

T-55 tank of the Croatian Defense Council during an exercise on January 10, 1998
T-55 tank of the Croatian Defense Council during an exercise on January 10, 1998

T-55 tank of the Croatian Defense Council during an exercise on January 10, 1998. The fire is carried out from a 12, 7-mm machine gun. Photo: SSGT Kim Price / US DoD

In 1944-1947, 1,823 T-44 tanks were produced, which now had a changed hull. It became lower, the side walls were vertical, and the armor was thicker, the turret was moved closer to the center, the engine was turned across, the machine gun was removed from the front plate, the driver's hatch was moved up. The desire to install a 100-mm cannon on it led to the creation of the T-54 (1946) and then the T-55 (1958), which became the most massive and most popular tanks in history. They are still in service with fifty-eight countries of the world! About 1,200 vehicles are also in the reserve of the Russian army.

This veteran of local conflicts owes its incredible vitality (in every sense) to a design that was ultra-modern for its time. The tower took on a hemispherical shape, while its frontal armor already reached 200 mm. With further upgrades, the vehicle received additional differentiated (multi-layer) armor.

The T-55 was designed as a tank capable of "walking" under water, which required special sealing of the hull, which was then useful for creating a system of anti-radiation and anti-chemical protection. Such a "atomic tank" (model T-55A) could operate even in conditions of the use of nuclear weapons - if, of course, not to meddle in the very epicenter. And his 100-mm D-10T cannon was for a long time one of the most powerful tank guns in the world. Plus, the tank (starting with the T-54B model) was equipped with a weapon stabilization system in two planes: horizontal and vertical, allowing the crew to fire on the move.

By 1960, in order to keep up with similar developments of the "alleged enemy", on the basis of the T-55 they created a new machine, with a more powerful 700-horsepower engine, with better protection and a new smooth-bore 115-millimeter cannon. She received the name T-62 and was the last in a series of Russian medium tanks.

Further modernization of the descendants of the "thirty-four" no longer made sense, and the new model was created from scratch. The work stretched out for almost a decade - but it was worth it: the T-64, which came off the assembly line of the Kharkov plant. Malyshev in 1963, was a fundamentally new and even revolutionary machine that shocked NATO countries and became the basis of all modern domestic tanks.

The thickness of armor for such tanks is usually not indicated in reference books, unlike machines of previous generations, since it is multi-layered. Additional sheets are superimposed on the main armored body-frame (usually only on the frontal part), and for the T-64 it was an intermediate layer of textolite (then fiberglass), on top of which a second steel plate was installed. Later, to prevent ricochet into the turret, V-shaped "eyebrows" were welded on the front of the hull of the tanks. The armor of the tower itself was a "sandwich" made of steel and aluminum, reaching in the front part the total thickness (taking into account the slope) of 600 mm.

Heat machine for special treatment TMS-65
Heat machine for special treatment TMS-65

The heat engine for special treatment TMS-65 cleans the surface: it blows away contaminants from the surface of the T-62 tanks and treats it with a special disinfecting oxidizer. Photo from the US DoD archive

The most important innovation of the T-64, which later became a distinctive feature of all domestic main tanks, was the gun loading mechanism. It made it possible to significantly increase the rate of fire of the cannon, as well as to reduce the crew to three people - as in the well-known pre-war song. Or, figuratively speaking, up to three epic heroes, ancient fabulous defenders of Russia - who have now moved from horses to a tank. Surprisingly, the main tanks of NATO countries (Challenger, Leopard, Abrams) do not have such a mechanism, and the loader still manually sends shells into the breech in them.

The first model, the T-64, was armed with a 115-mm gun, but the news that a 120-mm tank gun was being developed in the West forced domestic designers to quickly respond to this challenge. So in 1968, a 125-millimeter cannon appeared on the T-64A model, which for forty years has been the main weapon of all domestic tanks. Like its predecessor, it is also smooth-bore, which reduces barrel wear, and the accuracy of the shot is achieved by using feathered projectiles, easily recognizable by the folding tail section.

Another distinguishing feature of the T-64 is the somewhat unusual 5TD engine, the prototype of which was the German aircraft engine Junkers-205a. Working pistons in them are installed towards each other. Such an engine is more compact and lighter than traditional V-shaped tank diesel engines, and the new planetary gearboxes, combined with final drives, made it possible to lighten the design by as much as nine units that have become superfluous. The engine compartment has been significantly reduced in size, and the control of the tank has become simpler and easier. The latter was also aided by the use of hydraulic shock absorbers on the front and rear rollers to absorb shocks.

However, the new engine turned out to be rather moody. Its fine-tuning required a lot of time, and this slowed down the mass production of new generation vehicles, called "main tanks". Therefore, it was decided to create a tank, which is a variant of the T-64A, but equipped with the old reliable V-45 diesel engine - which was a modernized version of the V-2, which was used on the tanks of the Great Patriotic War. The serial production of such a machine, known as the T-72, was launched in 1973 by the Nizhniy Tagil plant. It was also distinguished from the T-64 by a chassis with rollers of a larger diameter and a different design of an automatic loader. It was a more reliable, but at the same time more "clumsy" machine, in fact - a recognition of the unwillingness to quickly master new technologies.

Tank T-72. Marines training at Camp Pendleton
Tank T-72. Marines training at Camp Pendleton

Marines exercise at Camp Pendleton, 38 miles outside San Diego, California, in the summer of 1997. To bring the conditions as close as possible to combat, some of the infantry, portraying the "most probable enemy", also used the "most probable" military equipment. In this case, it is the T-72 tank. Photo: SGT Ryan Ward, USMC

In 1976, the Kirovsky plant also produced its own version of the "brother T-64". However, Leningraders, who had previously specialized in the production of powerful heavy tanks, decided to go much further. Their T-80 tank significantly surpassed the T-64 in protection, and a feature of the multilayer armor was the use of a ceramic "gasket". The dimensions of the car (length, width) have also grown somewhat. At the same time, the mass increased from 38 tons to 46 tons, and the modernization of the chassis was required. But the highlight of the T-80 was a very powerful gas turbine engine, which made this heaviest of the main tanks also the fastest: in tests it squeezed almost 70 km / h on the highway. However, such engines are also inferior in reliability to V-shaped diesel engines.

Further models of main tanks were created mainly by installing new engines on existing vehicles. So, in 1986, a Kharkiv 1000-horsepower 6TD engine (modernized 5TD with a sixth cylinder) was installed on a tank of the Kirov plant, and the new vehicle was named T-80UD "Birch". It was she who was chosen for production by the plant. Malyshev after the release of the last modification of the T-64 was completed. Later, the Kharkiv residents modernized the "Birch", whose engine power was increased to 1200 hp. - having presented the T-84 tank. And in 1992, the first T-90s rolled off the assembly line of the Nizhniy Tagil plant, which are a deep modernization of the T-72 with a V-92 V-engine (1000 hp). The models were created one after another, causing great concern in the West, which was forced, in turn, to design responses to the Soviet T-64, T-72 and T-80 (creating, in particular, the M1 Abrams), then to bring them to taking into account our upgrades.

However, not only the replacement of engines allows you to regularly "rejuvenate" the model range of the T-64 and its descendants, allowing them to keep up with the level of modern tanks.

Defense and attack

In 1975, one interesting experiment was carried out: a 9 M112 guided missile was successfully launched from the barrel of a 125-millimeter cannon of a T-64 tank. In a number of situations, missile weapons have an advantage over the classic cannon projectile, but before that they were installed (including on the so-called missile tanks) on separate launchers, which either replaced the main armament or were an addition to it. Now there is an opportunity to ideally combine the cannon with the launcher: the guided missile was adjusted to the dimensions of the projectile - and marked in the ammunition rack of the loading mechanism, and the crew received the 9K112 "Cobra" control system. Today it has been replaced by the Svir, Reflex and Agona complexes. They allow you to aim at not only moving armored vehicles, but also enemy helicopters!

Electronic fuses 3VM17 and 3VM18 for T-80 and T-90
Electronic fuses 3VM17 and 3VM18 for T-80 and T-90

Electronic fuses 3VM17, for shrapnel and fragmentation-beam projectiles, and 3VM18, for high-explosive fragmentation projectiles, are installed on the shells of T-80 and T-90 tanks immediately before they are fed into the barrel. These fuses are an important component of the remote detonation of projectiles over the Ainet target. Photo: Rosoboronexport.

The Ainet system, installed, in particular, on the T-90 (today it is the main tank of the Russian army), turns a high-explosive fragmentation projectile into good old shrapnel, detonating it (using an electronic fuse) at the desired point of flight. For example, over the heads of an enemy hiding in a trench. Or near a flying enemy helicopter - in this case, turning the shrapnel into a real anti-aircraft projectile. Of course, the large-caliber machine gun installed on the roof of the tower has not been forgotten - which can now be controlled remotely without getting out of the hatch.

Today, in many respects, it is electronics that allows the tank to remain up to date - and not only the new T-90, but also the modernized T-72, T-80 and their progenitor T-64. And the old T-55s, which have undergone major overhauls and equipped with new systems, can also compete with the enemy on the battlefield, yielding to him only in the caliber of the gun and the thickness of the main armor. Electronics makes it easier to find and "fix" targets (for example, thermal imagers), electronics determines the distance (laser rangefinders), electronics makes it easier to control weapons and the tank itself. All that remains for a trained crew is to respond in time to the information received and quickly make the necessary decisions.

Let's add: the electronics also warn the crew of the danger. But it can also, automatically, protect the armored vehicle itself. We are talking about an active defense complex, such as Arena-E. It consists of two systems. The first is a radar station, towering over a tower, which detects a target and assesses the degree of threat. If it is real, then the incoming projectile or missile is destroyed by the second system, which fires special ammunition. NATO has nothing of the kind so far.

As a "passive" defense, the tank is equipped with systems that prevent the enemy from targeting him. For example, the complex of optoelectronic suppression "Shtora". By firing grenades to deliver aerosol clouds and turning on his infrared emitters, he knocks down enemy laser guidance systems.

In addition, tanks are equipped with equipment that can detect the laser radiation or the glare of the optical systems of a hidden enemy - and not only give an alarm in time, but also help the crew deliver an aimed preemptive strike. True, alas, sometimes such systems are mistaken: in 2003, in Baghdad, the crew of the American tank "Abrams" regarded the glare from the camera of a Ukrainian journalist for the sight of a grenade launcher - and, without thinking twice, fired a fatal shot. There is no information about such "overlaps" in the Russian army. Perhaps our tankers are more self-possessed and do not get nervous in battle.

Of course, the main protection of the tank is not forgotten - its armor. Which has become not only multi-layered. Back in the 80s, vehicles began to be equipped with "dynamic protection" units, which are containers with explosives that explode at the moment a shell or missile hits them. A number of vehicles are equipped with hinged blocks of additional multi-layer armor. As a result, the concept of "armor thickness" has lost its former meaning, and now only its "protective equivalent" is used. For example, the multilayer armor of the T-90 turret plus additional protection containers in their sum is equal in "penetration" to 800 mm of homogeneous steel when hit by a sub-caliber projectile, and 1350 mm - in opposition to the cumulative one. This difference is explained by the fact that the intermediate materials used resist the impact of the sintered metal rod and the cumulative jet in different ways.

Russian tanks T-90S
Russian tanks T-90S

Russian T-90S tanks supplied to India received the name Bhishma there, in honor of one of the heroes of the Mahabharata. January 2007, a military base near Mumbai (Bombay). Photo (Creative Commons license): Vivek Patankar

There is only one way to understand how such a tank is an "anachronism" - to try to resist it. Yes, in the movies bandits with grenade launchers blow up our combat vehicles in whole columns, but this is only in the movies. In reality, destroying a modern tank from the first shot is a rare case worthy of being called a miracle.

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