The limited space not only affected crew performance but turned the T-34 into a deathtrap. A US study from the Korean War (based on the T-34/85 that was roomier than the T-34/76) concluded that due to the limited internal space a penetration by an A/T round usually led to the destruction of the tank and loss of 75% of the crew. In the Sherman the figure was only 18% (1).
One was the lack of turret basket (a rotating floor that moves as the turret turns) for the loader. This meant that the person loading the shells had to follow the movement of the gun and at the same time keep an eye on the floor so he doesn’t trip on the spent casings.
The other major issue was the two-man turret which forced the commander to also act as the gunner. This drastically limited combat performance as the commander could not focus on leading the tank but instead had to engage targets.
‘The quality of the armor steels ranged from poor to excellent. Wide variations in production technique were indicated; some rolled armor components were well cross-rolled while others were virtually straightaway rolled………The bow casting of the T-34 tank was very unsound and would have been rejected under American standards.’
A German test of tank pitching motion at the Kummersdorf testing facility (1km undulated track) showed that the T-34 had the worst stability compared to the Pz IV, Tiger, Sherman and Panther (2).
According to the study ‘Engineering analysis of the Russian T34/85 tank’ the main problem was the lack of shock absorbers.(3)
The Christie suspension was a technological dead-end and the Aberdeen evaluation says: ‘The Christie's suspension was tested long time ago by the Americans, and unconditionally rejected’.
It was replaced in postwar Soviet tanks with the torsion bar system, same as the T-34M and T43 prototypes intended to replace the T-34 during the war.
Difficulty in shifting due to the use of a spur gear clash-shift transmission (no synchronizers, no clutches) and a multi-disc dry clutch, undoubtedly make driving this tank a difficult and very fatiguing job.’
Initially the powerful V-2 engine (500hp) could not be used to the fullest due to the 4-speed gearbox (5). Changing gears required excessive force on behalf of the driver. The T-34 could use the 4th gear only on a paved road, thus the max speed over cross-country was theoretically 25 km/h but in practice it was only 15km/h because changing from 2nd gear to 3rd required superhuman strength.
For example the initial round velocity (m/s) for the Soviet guns (7) (using the standard A/T round) was: L-11 - 612, F-34 - 655 (a German test with Pzgr39 ammo showed 625), ZiS S-53 - 792. The comparable German stats (8) were: KwK 38 L/42 - 685, Kwk 39 L/60 - 835, Kwk 40 L/43 - 740, Kwk 40 L/48 - 790, Kwk 42 – 925.
The KwK 40 75mm used by the Pz IV and Stug from mid 1942 had far better penetration performance and accuracy than the F-34 and the Panther’s KwK 42 was also superior to the ZiS S-53 85mm in the same areas.
Lack of radio
‘In a Russian tank it is difficult to command a Panzer or a unit and at the same time serve as the gunner Therefore fire direction for the entire Kompanie is hardly possible, and the concentrated effect of the unit’s firepower is lost. The commander's cupola on the T 43 makes it easier to command and fire at the same time; however; vision is very limited to five very small and narrow slits.’
There were constant problems with the gearbox and the engine filters. The Aberdeen evaluators noted:
The same problems were identified in a T-34/85 built in 1945. The US study ‘Engineering analysis of the Russian T34/85 tank’ noted (12):
‘Wholly inadequate engine intake air cleaners could be expected to allow early engine failure due to dust intake and the resulting abrasive wear. Several hundred miles in very dusty operation would probably be accompanied by severe engine power loss.’
The mental image of the T-34 travelling hundreds of kilometers without stopping is fantasy.
Soviet tests on newly built T-34’s (14) showed that in April 1943 only 10.1% could complete a 330km trial and in June ’43 this went down to 7.7%. The percentage stayed below 50% till October 1943 when it rose to 78%, in the next month it dropped to 57% and in the period December ’43 - February ’44 the average was 82%.
The V-2 engine had serious reliability problems (15). Depending on the source in 1941 it supposedly lasted for 100 hours on average (16). This figure went down in 1942 since some T-34’s could not travel more then 30-35 km.
The T-34 tested at the Aberdeen centre was built at the best factory using materials of superior quality but its engine stopped working after 72.5 hours. This was not due to American interference as there was a Soviet mechanic (engineer Matveev) charged with maintaining it. Still it was much better than the standard tanks since it covered a distance of 343km. According to the head of the Armored Directorate of the Red Army N.Fedorenko, the average mileage of the T-34 to overhaul during the war, did not exceed 200 kilometers. This was considered adequate since the T-34’s service life at the front was considerably less. For example in 1942 only 66km. In that sense the T-34 was indeed ‘reliable’ because it was destroyed before it had a chance to break down on its own!
Still there are examples of T-34’s breaking down during assaults even late in the war (17). For instance the 5th Guards Tank army in 1943 lost as much as 31.5% of its tanks during its march to Prokhorovka. In August ’43 the 1st Tank army lost 50% of its tanks due to malfunction. As late as the second half of 1944 tank units tried to replace engines with more than 30 hours of operation before a major attack.
Note that the
manhours figure for the T-34 probably refers only to the construction of the
hull and turret, not a finished tank (20).
In the period 1941-44 the production difference in AFV’s was 2-1 in favor of the Soviets (slightly higher if we add Lend Lease) but the exchange ratio was 3.5-1 in favor of the Germans. This means that if the Germans could concentrate all their production in the East the Soviets would run out of tanks.
The endless stream of T-34 tanks
T-34 % of total
T-34 production and losses
Comparison with German and Western tanks
T-34 vs PzIII
Despite its theoretical inferiority the PzIII was able to fight against the T-34.
As a weapon system however the M4 was superior. It had the same good ‘soft’ qualities as the German tanks (internal layout, optics, radio), It had significantly better stability over rough terrain plus it was very reliable mechanically. In armor and firepower it was the same as the T-34.
The Sherman proved its superiority in the Korean war, when US M4 tanks demolished the North Korean armored units equipped with T-34/85 tanks.
In the Korean conflict of 1950-53 the T-34 again suffered disproportionate losses against Allied vehicles with comparable capabilities. The opinion of a Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps tanker is worth reading (28):
‘And now, Sir, a few words for your private ear on the T 34. I assume that the tks given by Joe to Mr. Wu are old models. Even so they were grossly overrated in press reports in the early days of the KOREAN Camaign. (A well placed HE shell from a 20 pr will lift the turret off). Only about 4 per Sqn have wrls and their armour is of poor quality. The whole tk is of the crudest workmanship, and breaks down with the greatest ease. (In fairness I must add that this may be due to inexperienced CHINESE crew). They would have to be used in mass, RUSSIAN fashion, to be any treat to a well trained, well equipped Army, as they have been proved somewhat inferior to the SHERMAN. A CENTURION will do to them what a TIGER did to the SHERMAN. They got their initial build up as a scapegoat to cover the natural and understandable, fact that the first American tps over here were raw, frightened boys who were also soft from occupational duties in JAPAN. The T 34, I am convinced, should be de-bunked. It is a workable tk, but NOT a wonder tk’.
Pics: T-34 fuel tanks from ‘Engineering analysis of the Russian T34/85 tank’ (p109), Kummersdorf test from ‘Panther & Its Variants’, damaged gear pics from ‘Engineering analysis of the Russian T34/85 tank’ (p263-269), destroyed T-34 pics from ‘T-34: Mythical Weapon’.