The T34 tank was developed by the Russians both before and during World War Two. The T34 revolutionised the way tanks were designed and made. Close up in battle, the T34 proved to be more than a match for the powerful Tiger tank. The T34 combined developments from both America and, ironically, Germany.
In 1931, the Russians purchased two American Christie tanks. The suspension system found on the Christie was incorporated into the T34. It was powered, in general, by a 500-horsepower V-type diesel engine developed from a BMW diesel engine.
The first prototype of the T34 was completed in early 1939. In September 1940, the T34 went into production armed with a 76mm gun. The T34 was accepted for service before official trials had been completed. It was made at six different factories and more T34’s were made than any other tank in World War Two.
The T34 was a very cramped tank as little consideration had been given to the comfort of the crew. The T34 was also considered to be a noisy tank and could be heard from a distance of 450 to 500 metres, thus giving the Germans an early warning as to their whereabouts.
The great value of the T34 was its simple design which made it easy to manufacture and easy to repair. The T34 was also reasonably light while its water-cooled engine made an engine fire rare and increased the distance at which a T34 could operate. The speed of the T34 was also a major advantage over German tanks. The average top speed of German tanks was 25 mph while the T34 had a top speed of 32 mph. Its sloped armour also gave the T34 a very good defence against German shells.
The Russians could afford to lose many T34’s in battle as their factory system allowed for the building of thousands of them. Whereas German factories were bombed by the Allies, the T34 factories based deep in the Ukraine were relatively free from German bombing. When factories were damaged by German bombing, other factories were simply ordered to step up their production to make up the shortfall.
The T34 was later equipped with an 85 mm gun to allow it to compete with the Tiger tanks on the eastern front. Later versions were also given better armour. The T34/85 had a flatter turret, making a smaller target – an innovation that was copied in many tanks after the war.