Thursday, September 26, 2013

Another nail in the T-34’s coffin

The well known Soviet T-34 tank has been called the best tank of WWII in countless history books. I have presented a very different picture of its capabilities and performance here.

I’ve also written about the experiences of a German unit that used the T-34 model ’43 in combat and also presented information on the German response to the KV and T-34 tanks.
In order to find more information on various aspects of WWII I always have a look online at various sites and forums. Sometimes one can find an interesting link or a quote from a book that reveals new information. Unfortunately most of the time I’m left shaking my head at the moronic arguments, circular reasoning and lack of common sense that one often finds online.

However with a bit of luck some diamonds do turn up in the most unlikely places. In the comments of a piece at the world of tanks site ‘For the record’ the commenter ‘ Mo’ (comment of September 6, 2013 at 1:17 am) linked to a US study of Soviet equipment that doesn’t seem to paint the Soviet equipment in such a good light:

Good quality WWII Russian armor and shell steel? The CIA disagrees.
Check out another CIA analysis of Russian armor and welding.
It must be an unlucky coincidence that his link lo longer works.

The report ‘Review of Soviet ordnance metallurgy’ is dated 10 April 1953 and can be downloaded from here.
It has interesting details on the quality (or lack thereof) of Soviet weaponry. I’m particularly interested in the T-34 evaluation so here are some quotes:

‘The ordnance Corps's first contact with modern Soviet tank armor was in 1943 when two tanks were provided to this country by the Soviet government for performance tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground. These tanks were the T-34 medium tank and the KV-1 heavy tank.’
Note: The T-34 sent to the US for testing belonged to a special batch built in spring 1942 at Nizhny Tagil. Five T-34 were built with one being sent to the USA, one to the UK, two to the front and the last remaining at the plant.

The plant was specifically chosen because it had the highest quality of T-34 production, at that time. All components were built with the outmost attention to quality. As such the tanks were not indicative of the average production but were of much higher quality. Source: ‘Tankovy udar. Sovetskie tanki v boyakh. 1942-1943’

What was the US assessment? Let’s see:
‘The armor components of the T-34 tank, with the exception of the bow casting which was unheat-treated, were heat-treated to very high hardnesses (430-500 Brinell), probably in an attempt to secure maximum resistance to penetration by certain classes of armor-piercing projectiles even at the expense of structural integrity under ballistic attack.’

‘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.’
'The design of the welded joints was characterized by dovetailing such that the edges of the lighter plates were set into niches machined or flame-cut into the heavier sections so that the surfaces of the lighter plates were approximately flush with the edges of the heavier sections…..Although the fundamental design of the joints appeared excellent, the fit-up, appearance, and execution of the joint design and welding was generally poor.’

Shallow penetration, poor fusion, severe undercutting, porosity, and cracking was observed in most of the welds and probably resulted from improper manipulation of electrodes which might not have had suitable operating characteristics….. These obvious defects, together with low strength and pour metallurgical structure of ferritic weld deposits, indicate that the welded joints would have poor resistance to severe shock.’
Now I know what you’re thinking. It was 1942 so the quality problems were undeniably due to the war situation and the relocation of industry to the Urals. Obviously the US report will mention this:

‘The results obtained from the metallurgical examination of these early world war ii Soviet tanks have been described in some detail since they are exactly the same as have been obtained from all examinations performed since then of Soviet tanks which were recovered in Germany after the end of world war ii, and on Soviet tanks which were captured in Korea during 1950-52. The Ordnance Corps has examined several Soviet JS-II which were found in Germany and several Soviet T-34 tanks from both Germany and Korea.’
Hmm I guessed wrong…. No worries let’s continue with the quotes:

‘Some of the armor steels have surprisingly high toughness considering the very high hardness levels but many of the armor steels, even the softer ones, are very brittle.’
‘The very high hardness encountered in most Soviet tank armor has caused much unnecessary concern regarding the relative ballistic performance of the hard Soviet armor and the softer American armor. Many people associate high hardness with high resistance to penetration. Although this is true, within limits, in the case of attack of armor by undermatching projectiles (i.e. caliber of shot is less than the tnickness of the armor) particularly at low obliquities of attack, it definitely not true when the armor is attacked by larger caliber shot at higher obliquities of impact’

You don’t say…. So maybe the T-34’s 45mm hull armor was not the best choice given the widespread use of the German KwK 40/Pak 40 75mm gun? (used in Pz IV, Stug and self-propelled vehicles). Who would have thought?
‘Although welds in Soviet tanks are inferior in quality and much more brittle than corresponding, welds in American tanks, this condition has not been a major factor in impairing the battlefield performance of  Soviet armor. Poor joint fits, sloppy appearance, jagged and rough finishes should not divert attention from the fact that the Soviet tanks are rugged and battleworth and require many fewer man-hours of labor and precision machine tools, jigs, and fixtures to construct than American tanks of corresponding offensive capabilities.

This is a very interesting argument. Quantity over quality. But notice that there are no numbers to back it up. The author simply assumes that poor construction means a Soviet emphasis on production and not an inability of Soviet industry to produce quality products.
This is confirmed in the next sentence:

‘it would be very interesting to compare, for example, the relative man-hours of labor and investment in machine tools to construct equivalent numbers of the American 76 mm, Gun Tank T41 and the Soviet T-34/85.’
Yes that would be interesting but the author hasn’t done it, probably due to lack of reliable Soviet data…

The study concludes:
‘It must be borne in mind that the Soviet ordnance materiel described in this paper was mostly of world War II manufacture and represents design concepts which, for the greater part, were established as early as 1940-1942. It cannot be said with any certainty that these design concepts are, in all cases, still adhered to by the Soviets.’

‘From  a metallurgical point of view, it would appear that the Soviets have attained equality with this country in the matter of technical information but not in technological development or in skill and training of metals workers such as weldors, foundrymen and machinists.’
There is also a restatement of the quantity over quality argument, again however with no data to back it up.

‘In closing, it should be emphasized that this country could do well to emulate the Soviet practice of employing finely machined finishes only where needed. The same applies to high quality, carefully prepared welded joints, castings, and other metal products. Detailed attention to aesthetic appearances is costly, time consuming, and, throughout the history of man, is not known to have won a single war.’
My advice is to read this study if you’re interested in Soviet WWII equipment.


  1. The T-34 is definitely over glorified more so nowadays thanks to irresponsible authors of "history" publications (those duel books are by far the worst), documentaries( "History" channel), & blogs for certain fantasy games that cherry pick excepts to justify their bias.

    According to the US parts of the T-34 the turret ring was not heat treated: I stumbled on this picture of a T-34 in WWII:
    That's a good ragged hole bigger than the penetrating round suggesting poor quality.

    1. Also check this report: