Red Army

T-34/85

The Soviet T-34 tank is often credited as being one of the top tanks used in WWII. It was the end result of a design process going back to the mid 1930s. The first two prototypes were created in January 1940. The T-34 was intended to replace a plethora of Soviet light and medium tanks then in service. As was common in the Soviet Union, there was intense political pressure to continue building the old tanks or to cancel the new tank entirely. The poor performance of the existing Soviet arsenal in the Winter War with Finland provided the push needed to get production going. The T-34 used the Christie coil-spring suspension with a slack track tread system. It was one of the first combat tanks to use well sloped armor and used wide tracks to give it very low ground pressure. The tanks appearance on the front delivered a large shock to the Germans. In 1941 T-34s armor could defeat all German antitank weapons except the 88mm flak gun at normal combat ranges. Its 76.2mm main gun could penetrate the frontal armor of any 1941 German tank. While the T-34 was a great step forward in tank design there were several problems with it. The 2 man turret was a major drawback forcing the commander to act as the gunner as well. The commander's battlefield visibility was also poor; the forward opening hatch forced him to observe the battlefield through a single vision slit and traversable periscope. There were also severe mechanical problems and reliability issues. During one road march in June 1941 the 8th Soviet Mechanized Corps lost half of its vehicles to breakdowns. By 1943 the 76.2mm could not penetrate the Panther's frontal armor and was out-ranged by its 75mm gun and by the Tiger's 88mm gun both of which could penetrate the T-34s armor at all combat ranges. The T-34 / 85 introduced a new 85mm main gun, a new 3 man turret and some improvements to reliability. The new turret finally allowed the commander to focus on running the tank and the 85mm gun, while still inferior to the Panther and Tiger, allowed the T-34 to remain competitive. Like the M-4 Sherman, the T-34 main advantage was the huge numbers produced. By the end of 1945 more than 57,000 T-34s had been built (34,780 T-34 / 76 and 22,559 T-34 / 85) with production continuing until 1958 in Poland (1,380) and Czechoslovakia (3,185). This makes it the second most produced tank in the world (after the T-54/55). The T-34 / 85 was armed with a 85 mm ZiS-S-53 canon and two 7.62mm DT machineguns. This model shows a T-34 / 85 with the 7th Guards Tank Corps, 55 Guards Tank Brigade in Berlin in April 1945.

T-34/85

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KV-I

The Soviet Kliment Voroshilov (KV) heavy tanks were named after the Soviet defense commissar Kliment Voroshilov. After the multi turreted T-35 heavy tank proved to be a huge disappointment, the Soviets began looking for a replacement. After trying several designs they settled on the KV-1 prototype. It was sent for trials in Finland during the Winter War where its heavy armor proved highly resistant to Finnish anti-tank weapons. The KV-1's armor was impenetrable by any tank then in service except at point blank range, it had good off road mobility and a 76.2 mm main gun. Low rate production was ordered in 1939. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union they found that the KV-1 was practically immune to the 37 mm KwK 36 and the 75 mm KwK 37 guns carried by their Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. The 88 mm Flak gun was just about the only German weapon that could penetrate the KV-1s armor. In one famous battle on August 14, 1941 the German 8th Panzer Division approached Krasnogvardeysk near Leningrad and ran into a Soviet ambush consisting of five KV-1 tanks. Using only one tank at a time, the commander, Lieutenant Zinoviy Kolobanov began firing at the advancing Germans. Lieutenant Kolobanov's tank knocked out twenty two German tanks and 2 self-propelled guns before running out of ammunition. He then ordered a second tank forward which knocked out a further 21 German tanks. The entire battle lasted only about 30 minutes. After the battle the crew of Kolobanov's tank counted 135 hits on their tank, none of which penetrated the armor. Lieutenant Kolobanov was awarded the Order of Lenin. Later on, former Captain Kolobanov was again decorated by the Soviets, despite having been convicted and downgraded after the Winter War for "fraternizing with the enemy." After the end of World War II, Lieutenant Kolobanov served in the Soviet occupation zone in East Germany, where he was convicted again when a subordinate escaped to the British occupation zone and was transferred to the reserves. By 1942 German tanks mounting long barrel 50 mm and 75 mm guns began to appear and the KV's armor was no longer invincible and additional bolted on armor had to be added. The increased weight further slowed what was already a fairly slow tank. By 1943 the main gun could no longer penetrate the armor of the Tiger I tank. Production was gradually phased out in 1943 but the KV-1 continued to be used until the end of the war. This model shows a KV-1 Model 1940 s (KV-1E) in late 1942.

KV-1

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KV-II

The KV-2 heavy tank was developed from the KV-1 tank. During the Winer War the Finnish concrete bunkers proved to be a major obstacle to the Soviet infantry. They requested a bunker destroying heavy tank. The KV-2 design was a distinct change from Soviet tank designs. A very large box like 12 ton turret with 360 degree traverse was fitted to an existing KV-1 hull. The turret carried 3 inches of armor and mounted a 152mm M1938 L/24.3 main gun. This remains the largest caliber gun fitted to a production tank. This change to the KV-1 added additional weight and the engine was not upgraded to compensate resulting in a top speed of only 16 mph. The KV-2 required a six man crew and also carried a 7.62mm DT machinegun coaxially in the turret, in the front left hull next to the driver and at the back of the turret. Production ended after 255 KV-2 tanks were produced. This model shows a KV-2 tank in early 1942.

KV-II

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SU-100

TThe SU-100 was developed from the SU-85 when that tank destroyer began to become obsolescent. The design work was started in February 1944 and the prototype was built in March 1944. Various 100 mm guns were tested and the Soviets settled on the D-10S gun. The D10S mounted on the SU-100 was able to penetrate 4.9 in. of vertical armor at a range of 1.2 mi. and the sloped 3.1 in. frontal armor of the German Panther from 0.93 mi. The same gun was later used on the T-54 and T-55 tanks. The armor was also increased from 45 to 75 mm and a cupola was added for the commander. Full production began in September 1944 and about 2350 were produced during WWII. The SU-100 first saw combat in October 1944. At that time it was able to penetrate the frontal armor of all German tanks except the King Tiger. The SU-100 was used extensively by the Soviets especially in mass attacks. It continued in service with the Soviet Union until 1957 and into the 1950s in Czechoslovakia. When it was withdrawn from service many vehicles were transferred to reserve stocks where some exist today. There is even video from January 2015 showing SU-100s and T-34s being transferred by rail towards the Ukraine border. The SU-100 was widely exported to Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet allies after WWII. It was used by Egypt (through the Yom Kippur War), Angola, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Vietnam (still in use today), North Korea (still used today), and the PRC. This model shows a SU-100 on the eastern front in early 1945.

 

SU-100

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