|Opening Salvo: T34/76 |
|by Michael J. Canavan, Sr|
Command Sergeant Major
US Army (retired)
The Russian T34 medium tank was one of the most significant tank designs of the war. It was instrumental in turning the tide of the war for the Russians. Some consider the T34 to be the best Allied medium tank of the war. Designed to be “shell proof” by M. Koshkin, there were over 35,000 of these tanks produced during the war. Many saw service post WW II in locations like Korea. The T34 was tough, maneuverable, reliable, and could traverse virtually any type of terrain.
The T34/76 medium tank incorporated welded, heavily-sloped armor plate. The tank was relatively easy to produce, maintain, and repair. T34s would eventually outnumber and outperform tanks like the German Mk IV Panzer. Equipped with a 76mm main gun, it was a match for the Mk IV but could not penetrate the frontal armor of the Tiger and Panther tanks at long range. The tank was equipped with hull and turret machine guns and was crewed by four men. It had a maximum speed of up to 55 km/hr and weighed in at 26 tons. Variants of this tank included both a flamethrower and minesweeping configuration.
The first tanks in the series had L11 guns. Later, in 1940, it was equipped with the F34 gun. Despite a commonly held view, the F32 gun was never fielded on the T34, though some experimentation was done with that gun. The up-gunned version could engage enemy tanks effectively from between 1,200 and 1,800 meters. The L11 was capable of firing up to two rounds per minute, while the F34 could fire two to four rounds per minute.
The T34 had two 7.62 mm machine guns: one in a spherical mount in the hull and the other mounted coaxially in the turret. The main gun could fire a variety of rounds including high explosive and armor piercing. Hollow core (Soviet designation UBP-354A) ammo was prohibited for use in the T34 because such rounds could explode in the barrel of the gun. Initial versions of the T34 carried 77 rounds for the main gun and 46 magazines of 63 rounds each for the machine guns (2,898 rounds total). Later turret designs allowed more ammo (up to 100 rounds for the main gun and 4,725 rounds for the machine guns). There was also one PPSH submachine gun and 25 F-1 grenades in the tank for the crew.
The tank had a classic layout, with the hull divided into driver’s compartment, fighting compartment, engine bay and transmission housing. The hull was a rigid armored box made of homogenous plate steel welded together. The turret had a telescopic sight and could be traversed either manually or with an electric motor. The electric motor could traverse the turret 360 degrees in 14 seconds. There were up to three observation periscopes in the tank's glacis, depending on year of manufacture.
The tank’s wide treads and stable stance allowed it to exert relatively low ground pressure compared to its German counterparts. This allowed the T34/76 to negotiate terrain that would greatly slow or even stop its opponents -- an important advantage in the muddy, swampy conditions typical of the Russian spring.
Equipped with a V-2-34, 12-cylinder diesel engine, the T34 generated 450 horsepower at 1,700 rpm. Early issue tanks had 460 liters of fuel in six fuel tanks, and later T34s carried up to 540 liters in eight fuel tanks. One of the eight fuel tanks was usually filled with oil because the V2 engine burned tremendous amounts of oil. The T34 had a cruising range of up to 300 km. The four-speed gear box found in early production models was eventually replaced by a five-speed transmission.
In 1940, T34/76 command tanks were the only versions equipped with radios. The first deliveries incorporated the 71-TK-3 shortwave simplex radio. This was replaced in 1941 with the 9-R short wave simplex radio. From 1943 onward, the T34 came equipped with the 9-RM-71-TK-3 short wave simplex radio. Internal communications were provided between the commander and driver only.
The T34/76 was vastly superior to contemporary tanks in its class but had its own problems. The engine often needed rebuilding after about 100 hours of operation because poor air filtering tended to push dirt into the engine. The four speed gear boxes were distressingly fragile, but the five speed gear boxes were much better. Track tensioning was difficult for the crew, requiring three men, a sledgehammer, and a great deal of patience to accomplish. Fuel tank positioning was critical, because improper placement could cause the vehicle to be destroyed if a fuel tank was hit by an armor piercing round. The turret could jam if the turret ring was damaged, making the tank effectively useless. Inadequate training for crews and mechanics was a problem early in the war. Despite these issues, the T34/76 became a landmark tank design and a critical factor in Allied success in WWII.