It’s been over a month since the last time we posted links to some of the translated articles on the Archive Awareness blog. Here are some of the Russian language pieces they have translated and posted recently. Click on the headline to read the full article.
On July 20th, 1941, the Red Army adopted the T-60 small tank into service. This was a necessary measure, as incredible losses of tanks in the first month of the Great Patriotic War had to be replenished, and mass production of the T-50 wasn’t getting off the ground. Even if the goal of producing 10,000 tanks in 1941 was not met, large amounts of T-60 tanks entered service in October, playing an important part in the defeat of the Germans at Moscow. At the same time, an idea to modernize the T-60 was tossed around as early August, resulting in a heavier tank that was indexed T-70. What is the history of this tank?
The fighting in July-August of 1939 near the Khalkin-Gol river was the Red Army’s first real large engagement of the 1930s. The battle at Lake Hasan in 1938 was also fierce, but it was not comparable to Khalkin-Gol. Khalkin-Gol was also the first real test of strength for the Japanese Imperial Army as they, especially their tank units, had yet to face an enemy like the Red Army. During the fighting, some amount of Japanese armoured vehicles were captured by the Red Army. One of them was a Ha-Go tank from the 4th Tank Regiment, which was later closely studied in the USSR. What impression did Soviet engineers get from the Ha-Go?
On November 19th, 1928, an unusual vehicle came out of Fort Meade in Maryland. It looked more like a race car than what it really was: a tank. The turret was absent, replaced with a Browning M1919A2 on a pintle mount. Another machinegun was installed in a sponson in the front of the hull. This was the Christie M.1928, an experimental vehicle built by John Walter Christie’s new company, the US Wheel Track Layer Corporation. Christie called his brainchild “M.1940”, implying that this was a design ahead of its time. The main feature of the tank was the independently sprung suspension, known as the Christie suspension today.
The late 1920s were a dark time for British tank building in general and the Vickers company in particular. Sir George Thomas Beckham, the company’s chief designer, died on May 9th, 1928. Order for new tanks began to decrease. New designs, the A1E1 Independent and A6 Medium Tank, were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Vickers received their first overseas order, selling a Medium Tank Mk.C to Japan. The next foreign sale was a Medium Tank Mk.D to Ireland, plus the Medium Tank Mk.II piqued the interest of some foreign buyers. This pushed the company, united with Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Company into Vickers-Armstrong Limited in 1927, to work on creating tanks purely for export. The result of this work was the Vickers Mk.E, a tank that cemented its creators and the Vickers company in world tankbuilding history.
The Swedish military waited for a long time to get respectable results out of their tank industry. Sweden began working on its own tank in the late 1920s, but it took almost 10 years to see satisfactory fruits of their labour. Thanks to the fact that the Germans were using Swedish industry as a test lab for their own experiments, Sweden gained rich tank building experience by the second half of the 1930s. The Lansdverk L-60, developed under German engineer Otto Merker, became the first Swedish tank available for export. The design of the tank became the base of two similar tanks, the Strv m/38 and Strv m/39 that were used by the Swedish army.
The T-54, a logical improvement on the T-44, was designed at factory #183 in Nizhniy Tagil (the future UralVagonZavod), and was the main tank of the first post-war decade. The first T-54 prototypes were created during WWII, in late 1944 and early 1945. The tank was accepted into service in 1946, and production began that same year. The T-54 was ahead of other tanks in its class in all parameters. The design was so progressive that the Soviet Army had no need to develop a replacement for over a decade. This success can be largely explained by the fact that Nizhniy Tagil was home to a unique group of engineers who created the legendary T-34 during the war and the first few post-war years. They were evacuated along with factory #183 from Kharkov and continued working in the Urals.
The American tank building school began with building tanks based on foreign designs. For example, the first real success of American builders was based on the Renault FT. The reworked version of the tank, M1916 6-t Light Tank, became the main vehicle for American tank units for fifteen years. A foreign design was also the base of the first American medium tank accepted for service: the Medium Tank T1E1. American cooperation with Britain was even closer than with the French, resulting in the Mark VIII International heavy tank: a tank that was designed in Britain, equipped with an American engine, and built in the United States. Of course, analogous tanks were also designed in the US, but it was the designs with foreign roots that became the catalyst for the development of American heavyweight tanks.
The most numerous tank in French service in 1940, the Renault R 35, was naturally the most numerous tank among the Wehrmacht’s trophies. Many tanks fell into German hands either completely intact or damaged so superficially that they could quickly be repaired. In total, the Germans captured 800-840 Renault R 35 tanks, an impressive number, but the name change to Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731(f) didn’t add anything to the tank’s qualities. The tank’s career with its new masters was long, but complicated: it served as an SPG, an engineering vehicle, a tractor, and a mobile crane. The first use of the Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731(f) in combat was still during the summer campaign of 1940. Having quickly mastered their trophies, the Germans sent them into battle against their former masters.
French light tank development after WWI opted to continue modernizing the Renault FT. After long experiments that resulted in the Renault NC, infantry command decided to develop a tank that weighed 12 tons. This project resulted in the 14 ton Renault D1, whose size and mass was closer to a medium tank. The D1 was pursued by technical problems, and it was not very numerous: compared to the 3,500 Renault FTs that it was supposed to replace, 160 of these tanks were a drop in the sea. French commanders thought long and hard, and the result was the new Renault R 35 tank which played an important role in the defeat of France in the summer of 1940.
The Wehrmacht’s pincer closed around Vyazma on October 7th, 1941. Soldiers of the West and Reserve Fronts, about 600,000 men, were trapped in side. On the next day, Commander-in-Chief I. Stalin sent a telegram to Lieutenant-General M. Lukin, the commander of the surrounded forces. It began with the words “If you don’t break through, I will have nothing and no one to defend Moscow. I repeat: nothing and no one!” The chief wasn’t joking. A new line of defense had to be built between the Germans and Moscow after the West and Reserve Fronts fell. This cost time, time that the enemy wasn’t about to donate. Precious days and hours were won in fierce battles. The battle for the Maloyaroslavl fortified region (37th UR) was one of them.
When one thinks of the German blitzkrieg and its weapons, one first thinks of tanks and airplanes. Meanwhile, the 3.7 cm Pak anti-tank gun could very well be one of the symbols of the early war. First used with great success in Spain, forcing its enemies to develop tanks with shell-proof armour, it ended up as a useless “doorknocker” against T-34 and KV tanks. What is the history of this little cannon? Soon after tanks appeared on the fields of WWI, the issue of fighting against them was raised. Germany was particularly sensitive to its rapid resolution, and several anti-tank measures were quickly developed, which were inherited by the post-war Reichswehr. In the mid 1920s, it was obvious that these measures were obsolete, and it was necessary to design a new gun that could fight against tanks.
Polish armoured forces were pitted against the Panzerwaffe, one of the main instruments of German strategy. Even though battles in September of 1939 showed that the light 7TP tanks could resist German tanks on a technical level, but the numerical difference left no chances for Poland. It was already clear during WWI that wars of the 20th century will be “wars of the motor”, both in the air and on the ground. However, this did not mean that all nations hurried to fill their arsenals with aeroplanes and tanks. Losing nations were prohibited from having them by peace treaties.