One of the most numerous armoured vehicles during World War II, the Soviet Union’s T-34 medium tank is considered by military historians to be one of the most important and influential tanks ever to be built.
Evolving out of the BT series of fast tanks (Soviet cavalry tanks with thin armour and high mobility), the T-34 at its introduction was the first tank to sport a complete balance between firepower, mobility, protection and longevity – something that modern tanks now take for granted. Further, it was an especially refined and simple design that allowed for costs (135,000 rubles) and production time frames to be kept low, meaning that many tanks could be produced in very little time and allow Russia to mitigate its higher-than-average losses quickly and cheaply. Indeed, this became a very important factor towards the end of the war when the superior – but hard and expensive to manufacture – German Tiger and Panther tanks could not be replaced fast enough.
The T-34 was fitted with a good balance of weaponry, sporting a 76.2mm F-34 tank gun – ideal for taking down medium and light armoured enemy vehicles – and twin 7.62mm DT machine guns, perfect against unarmoured targets and to suppress advancing soldiers. Its armour also offered a great balance between protection and weight, with up to 63mm of armour plating standing between its crew and the shells and bullets of the enemy. This meant that only the largest of enemy cannons – such as the 88mm beast fitted to the German Tiger tank – could breach its hull or turret and, considering its high top speed of 33mph, this was only possible if it became entrenched or caught unawares. By keeping the armour thickness to a medium level though, the total weight of the T-34 was kept down to 26 tons, under half that of the German Tiger and allowing the T-34 unrivalled dynamism in the field.
Historically, the T-34 will be remembered as the vehicle that swept German forces from Russia, advancing from Stalingrad all the way to Berlin in 1945. However, its usage continued right up to 1958, when it was finally replaced by its successor the T-54. Despite its official retirement however, the T-34 has continued to be used in Third World militaries right up to the present day and has also found itself bought and operated by both private collectors and military museums.
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