T-34 Medium Tank equipment may have been basic, but it was enough to beat back the Nazi invasion. The T-34 went into action on June 22, 1941, near the Belorussian city of Grodno.
But it wasn't until after the fall of Kiev and the start of the new German offensive in the direction of Orel by the II Panzer Army on September 30, 1941, that the T-34 really came to the attention of German armored forces. On October 6, T-34s attacked and mauled the II Panzer Division of the II Panzer Army near Mzensk.
The Prinadlezhit-Chetverki-Russian for 34 -- as it was known to Soviet tankers -- was the first tank to carry rounded and sloped armor, based on specific engineering studies, to gain additional protection.
The rationale was logical: If 2 inches of steel plate can withstand a hit delivered by a warhead traveling at a specific velocity, then angling that steel plate so the warhead has to penetrate more steel will make the armor more effective.
Armor on the T-34 turret face was 2.36 inches thick and sloped at 30°. Armor was thicker on Germany's Panzerkampfwagen III and IV tanks, but the T-34 could outrange both tanks.
To penetrate German armor, the T-34 mounted a 41.2 caliber 76.2mm main gun, capable of penetrating more than 3 inches of armor at 500 yards.
At first the T-34's turret was made of rolled plates welded together. This type of turret was expensive and time-consuming to manufacture, and it was soon replaced with one of cast steel.
The T-34 was powered by the same 500-horsepower diesel engine that was used in the BT-7M Fast Tank. The T-34 had a top speed of 31 miles per hour and a range of 186 miles.
Minor changes were made to the T-34 during the course of the war. A new turret configuration with two hatches was designed. The new turret also eliminated an overhang at the rear, a popular place for German infantrymen to slip mines.
Armor thickness on the front was increased to nearly 3 inches, and external fuel tanks were added, which increased range to 270 miles.
The most significant change, however, occurred in late 1943 after the Battle of Kursk, when a new gun was mounted. The 85mm Model 1934 main gun of 51.5 caliber had been developed specifically to penetrate the armor of the newly deployed German Pz.Kpfw V Panther.
The old 76.2mm gun was barely able to penetrate the thick armor of the Panther and the Tiger I when T-34s were used in massed formations, as they had been at Kursk. But the new gun, adopted from the Model 1939 antiaircraft gun and used on the KV-85 heavy tank, had a muzzle velocity of 2,600 feet per second and could penetrate 3.7 inches of sloped armor at 1,000 yards.
The 85mm gunned T-34 was produced until 1949, when it was replaced by the T-54. The final variant of the T-34 was the T-44, which entered service in the last days of the Great Patriotic War, as World War II was commonly called in the Soviet Union. The T-44 proved unsatisfactory, and only limited numbers were built. They were used to quell the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.
In all some 40,000 T-34s and 85mm-gunned T-34s were built. They saw service not only with Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces but also with Egypt and Syria in the 1956, 1967, and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars.
Copies of the T-34 were built in many Communist Bloc nations, including the People's Republic of China.
See the next page to find specifications for the T-34 Medium Tank.
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