From the ashes of the Civil War to a titanic armored force

The « Russky Reno »

Was the very first Russian tank, a copy of a White Russian Renault FT captured in 1918. It was completely disassembled, studied and reproduced by workers of the factory “Red Sormovo” in 1920. It took the name “Comrade Lenin, The Freedom Fighter”. But the lack of manpower, resources, largely obsolete tooling and devastated infrastructure resulting from four years of relentless civil war delayed the introduction of the first proper Russian tank by six years.

This first vehicle was the T-18, derived from prototypes based on the FT. Its official designation was Maliy Soprovozhdeniya, Perviy (Small Support Vehicle Number 1), which is why it was also known as MS-1. It was produced from 1928 to 1931, armed with a 37 mm (1.46 in) and a machine-gun. 960 were built, used later for training. They saw little action before being phased out, while only a handful rearmed with a 45 mm (1.77 in) gun soldiered during the summer of 1941. The next one, the T-19, was an improved version, which never came into full production. The British Vickers Mark E was replicated instead, as the T-26. The British tank, bought in 1931, was a revelation for Soviet engineers and was immediately copied. After the initial series, armed with low velocity guns, with limited armor and relatively weak engine, the model was completely redesigned, emerging as the model 1933 T-26. This led to the biggest peacetime tank production ever, with 10,600 built and an impressive number of variants. It was widely exported and fought throughout the world, before and during the first stages of WW2.

The T-24 was the first true Soviet medium tank. Only 25 were produced by the Kharkov Locomotive Factory (KhPZ) in Ukraine. Armed with a 45 mm (1.77 in) gun and three machine-guns, with one mounted in small turret on top of the main one, it was essentially an enlarged T-18 (18.5 tons), with a slightly reworked suspension. Although the project was dropped in 1931, the suspension was kept for the highly successful Komintern artillery tractor (2000 built) and Voroshilovets heavy artillery tractor (230). This project helped form a team that would prove successful later on.

The T-27 tankette was greatly inspired by the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI. The local version was larger, but still light enough to fulfill typical tankette duties, such as reconnaissance and supply. “Airborne armored support” tests included tankettes and amphibious light tanks like the T-38. A few of the 2700 originally produced still served actively in the summer of 1941.

The T-19 was a light tank designed in 1929 by engineer Semyon Alexandrovich Ginzburg to fulfill multiple and contradictory specifications from the RKKA (Workers and Peasants Red Army). The requirements were changed many times, even during trials, and further complicated the delivery of a suitable preseries vehicle. It had to be fully gas-proof and amphibious, fast, well armored and armed, and easy to manufacture as well. The project was eventually dropped in favor of a licence-built version of the Vickers 6-ton.

Inspection of T-34s and crews, before departing for the front. With bigger industrial capabilities, huge forced manpower and a more pragmatic way to build tanks, the Red Army overwhelmed the Wehrmacht, despite their superior tanks and tactics.

All variants of the T-16 and T-18, the first Soviet tank that entered mass-production.

The T-26, the most widely produced tank of the thirties. It was the most successful derivative of the British Vickers 6-ton (Mark E).

The BT-2 on trials. The BT series (Bystrokhodny Tank meaning “fast tank”) was directly based on the Walter Christie’s “race tank”. This was a convertible machine, which could travel on paved roads on its wheels only, without tracks. The Soviets bought two Christie M1931 and the license to produce them. Soon after, they derived the BT-1 prototype, BT-2 and BT-3 pre-series, and mass-produced the BT-5 and BT-7. These were the fastest tanks in service in 1939, as the BT-2 was capable of 100 km/h (62 mph). It suited the Soviet “deep battle” doctrine and around 6000 machines were produced.

The T-28 was the standard medium “infantry tank”. It was typical of the late thirties, with its sluggishness, heavy armor and multiple turrets. It took a strong influence from the Vickers A1E1 Independent, and was produced from 1933 to 1941. By then, it was completely obsolete.

The BT-7 cavalry tank was derived from the Christie design. It was fast, but still lacking protection and firepower, at least compared to the standards of 1941. It was then the second most common Soviet tank besides the T-26 and played an instrumental part in the victories at Khalkin-Gol against the IJA.

The BT-7M was the last version of the Soviet cruiser tanks, upgraded in many ways. The biggest change came from the engine, derived from a diesel already tested on the experimental BT-8. The transmission, gearbox, tracks and drive sprockets were also changed, and in 1941 the protection was increased.

For the BT series, protection and firepower were sacrificed. In 1939-40, new designs reversed this trend and, through the A-20 and A-32, created a brand new breed of “cruisers” turned into true medium tanks. These were the direct precursors of the legendary T-34.

The T-34/76 was the most successful Soviet tank of the war. It came from a long series of cruiser tanks. The 1st pre-series vehicle is pictured here. In 1941, it was superior to any German design, successfully covering the very difficult “magic triangle” (protection, mobility, firepower), with the bonus of easy mass-production.
The T-34/85, a 1943 version of the legendary T-34, the most produced and widely used tank of WWII. This tank greatly contributed to the victory achieved by the Red Army. It was pivotal in all offensives, still sporting decent speed and protection, along with an upgraded armament and many mass-production improvements.

The Soviet KV-1 was named after “Kliment Voroshilov”, a famous Soviet defense minister. It became as famous as the T-34 because of its strong armor. 5220 were built from 1939 to 1943. It was the mainstay of the Soviet heavy tank units until 1944.

The KV-1S was a late attempt (fall 1942) to bring back some mobility to the KV-1, while sacrificing some armor and introducing a brand new, lighter cast turret. A few were built, but their development paved the way for the more ambitious KV-85.
The KV-85 was a hybrid, transitional model built in small numbers. It was originally the KV-85G, which was meant to feature a modified KV-1S turret with an 85 mm (3.35 in) gun jammed inside, and would have made a horrible stopgap. The KV-85G almost entered production, but trials of the IS-85 turret on a KV-1S chassis took place, and this trial variant was accepted into stopgap production as the KV-85.

Soviet IS-1

The IS-1 lacked firepower against the Tiger, so the engineers managed to equip the largely remodelled hull and turret with a massive 122 mm (4.8 in) gun, re-designating the vehicle as the IS-2. Although reaching a new level in raw firepower, the new gun was slow to reload and it could only carry a limited number of shells. Nevertheless, it gave new confidence to the crews which could have a fighting chance against the best German tanks.

The Iosif Stalin 3 was the last of the wartime heavy tanks series.


Iosif Stalin

It was only entering service when Berlin fell. The turret inspired later Cold War designs. The series continued on until the death of Stalin in 1953. The last was the IS-10 (T-10 after 1953), which came after the prototypes IS-6 and IS-7, and the postwar IS-4 (only 250 built).