The evolution of medium tanks in 1942-1943 in the USSR. T-43

The evolution of medium tanks in 1942-1943 in the USSR. T-43
The evolution of medium tanks in 1942-1943 in the USSR. T-43

In the previous articles of the cycle dedicated to our famous "thirty-four", the author briefly reviewed the stages of the evolution of German medium tanks. At the time of the invasion of the USSR, the Wehrmacht had two of them: T-III and T-IV. But the first one turned out to be too small and did not have reserves for further improvement: even in its most "advanced" version, it had a maximum of 50 mm armor (although in the frontal part it was reinforced with an additional 20 mm sheet) and a 50-mm long-barreled cannon, the capabilities of which, however, were no longer considered sufficient to combat the latest Soviet armored vehicles. This, of course, was not enough, and the production of the T-III was curtailed, in fact, in 1942 - although in the 1st half of 1943 the tank was still in production, its production did not exceed 46 vehicles per month, although in February- September 1942 the Germans came close to producing 250 tanks monthly.

As for the T-IV, in fact, until the very end of the war, it remained a reliable "workhorse" of the Wehrmacht and fully retained its relevance. A very powerful 75-mm long-barreled anti-tank gun, created on the basis of the famous Pak 40, was installed on it, and the thickness of the vertically located frontal parts was brought to 80 mm. But even the frontal projection was not fully protected by such armor, and the sides had only 30 mm protection without rational angles of inclination, and could be penetrated by almost any anti-tank means. In other words, the combination of good frontal armor and a very powerful cannon made the T-IV a rather formidable and efficient tank until the very end of the war, but at the same time it also had very significant drawbacks, which the German tankers, of course, wanted to eradicate. However, within the framework of the T-IV design, this could not be done.

As a result, the Germans tried to create a completely new medium tank, with armor "like the T-34" and weighing up to 35 tons, as well as a new gun, even more powerful than that of the T-IV. The result was a "Panther" with its "indestructible" frontal armor 85-110 mm (and 85 mm - at a rational angle of inclination) but with very vulnerable sides of the hull and turret 40-45 mm thick. The 75-mm gun "Panther" was a super-powerful anti-tank gun, surpassing even the famous 88-mm gun in terms of armor penetration at a direct shot distance, but all this had to be paid for a huge weight for a medium tank of those years - 44.8 tons. the excellent medium tank "Panther" turned into a heavy tank of very controversial merits, the main drawback of which was the impossibility of producing it in quantities sufficient to equip tank divisions.

And what was happening at that time in the USSR?

As mentioned earlier, the shortcomings of the pre-war T-34 arr. 1940 was not a secret for either the designers or the military. Therefore, even before the war, in parallel with the fine-tuning and organization of serial production of the T-34, the so-called T-34M was developed, which can be considered as a deep modernization of the "thirty-four", or it can be a new tank, created taking into account the experience gained during the creation of the T -34.

The evolution of medium tanks in 1942-1943 in the USSR. T-43
The evolution of medium tanks in 1942-1943 in the USSR. T-43

From the point of view of armament and thickness of armor protection, the T-34M copied the T-34, but judging by the drawings, the angles of inclination of the side armor plates of the hull and turret were less than that of the thirty-four, which gave slightly worse protection. But the tank received a relatively spacious turret for three crew members, the number of which finally increased from four to five. A commander's cupola was also envisaged, despite the fact that the tower itself, of course, had a wide shoulder strap. Christie's suspension was changed to a more modern torsion bar, the gearbox at the first stage was left with the old one, although the creation of a planetary gearbox for the tank was carried out at an accelerated pace.

The T-34M project was presented in January 1941. In general, we can say that, at the cost of a slight weakening of the armor protection, the T-34M got rid of most of the defects of the T-34 and in this form it was an excellent medium tank, significantly superior to the German "troikas" and The Quartet with which Germany entered the war in almost all respects. In addition, the design had a weight reserve of about a ton, which allowed the military to demand an increase in frontal booking up to 60 mm.

According to pre-war plans, the factories producing the T-34 were to gradually switch to the production of the T-34M, and the first 500 machines of this type were to be made already in 1941. Alas, the T-34M was never embodied in metal, and the reason for this was 2 of the most important factor: firstly, with the beginning of the war, the number of combat vehicles supplied to the troops came to the fore, and it was considered erroneous to reduce the production of the T-34, which even in its unmodernized version represented a formidable military force, in favor of mastering new technology. The second factor was that the T-34M was supposed to use a new tank diesel V-5, the development of which was delayed. And it was apparently impossible to force it with the beginning of the war, since all forces were thrown into eliminating the "childhood diseases" of the existing B-2, and even this task was not solved immediately.

Thus, the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, in fact, put an end to the further fate of the T-34M - the matter was limited to the release of 2 hulls with a suspension, but without engines, rollers and transmissions and 5 towers, and it is unclear whether they were equipped with guns that Kharkov the plant was taken out during the evacuation, but in the future it did not find use. The designers of the USSR concentrated on improving and increasing the manufacturability of the T-34 design, and at the same time organizing the production of the thirty-four at as many as 5 factories …

But this did not at all mean stopping work on new medium tanks for the Red Army.

“The king is dead. Long live the king!"

Already in December 1941, the design bureau of plant No. 183 (Kharkov) received an order to develop an improved version of the T-34, and now the key requirements were not improved ergonomics and visibility, as well as the addition of a 5th crew member, but increased armor protection and a cheaper tank. The designers immediately got down to business, and already in February 1942, that is, literally, a couple of months later, they submitted it to the NKTP for consideration.

In this project, we will no longer see a wide shoulder strap, or a commander's cupola, or a new engine, and the number of crew was not increased, but, on the contrary, reduced - we got rid of the radio operator gunner. Thanks to the corresponding reductions, the thickness of the armor was brought to 70 mm (hull forehead) and 60 mm in the sides and stern. Of course, no one stuttered about the new engine, but they thought to make the suspension torsion bar (although, it seems, this was quickly abandoned) and put an improved gearbox.


In other words, if the project submitted by the design bureau of plant No. 183 for consideration by the NKTP had something in common with the pre-war T-34M project, it was only that it can also be considered as a deep modernization of the thirty-four. But the logic of this modernization was completely different, which is why the Kharkovites got a tank that was completely different from the T-34M of the pre-war model. However, a fair amount of confusion was created by the fact that this new modification received the same name as the pre-war tank that did not go into series, that is, the T-34M. At the same time, the T-34M mod. 1941 and T-34M mod. In 1942, there is very little in common - only that the T-34 was taken as the "source". And T-34M mod. 1942 cannot be viewed as an evolution of the pre-war T-34M - these are completely different projects, which should not be confused in any way.

By the way, the NKTP did not accept the project of the new T-34M. The military remembered in time about the "blindness" of the "thirty-four" mod. 1940, and therefore offered the designers to create an even more protected tank, with the armor being increased to 60-80 mm, subject to a maximum speed of 50 km / h, reliability, guaranteeing a mileage of up to 1500-2000 km and providing a high-quality view for the tank commander, and his driver. At the same time, the chassis and engine had to remain the same as on the T-34.

This new tank received the name T-43, and in its design, of course, the design groundwork obtained in the course of work on both previous "versions" of the T-34M was used, but still talk about some kind of continuity with the "pre-war" T-34M - it is forbidden. In essence, the T-43 was originally a T-34M mod. 1942, on which a new, three-man turret was installed, again bringing the number of crew members to 4 people. And again - except for the "triple" tower had nothing to do with the one that was installed on the T-34M arr. 1941 g.

On the pre-war T-34M model, it was supposed to find a place for a gunner by increasing the turret ring from 1,420 to 1,700 mm. On the first T-43 models, the designers tried to solve a completely non-trivial task - to create a three-man turret in a small pursuit, that is, the same 1,420 mm that the original T-34 model had. Of course, there was absolutely not enough space, so several options were tried. Among other things, they tried to make a tower similar to the one that was installed on the T-50, in which the problem of accommodating three crew members was somehow solved: but you need to understand that having the same epaulet as the T-34, the T-50 tower was equipped not with a 76, 2-mm F-34, but only with a 45-mm cannon. In the end, it was possible to "tamp" one more crew member, but how? It seems that no other tank in the world has had a similar layout.


In this form, the drawings of the T-43 were ready in September-October 1942, and the prototype in December of the same year. I must say that despite the presence of a very original tower, other solutions were technically reasonable - the fact is that the bulk of the T-43 components and assemblies by the end of 1942 had been "tested" on conventional T-34s in order to identify and eliminate all kinds of childhood diseases. Interestingly, some of this was later received by the serial T-34s: for example, the 5-speed gearbox, which began to be installed on serial T-34s in the spring of 1943, was developed for the T-43, but so well "fit" in the T-34, that it was decided to take advantage of this.

Of course, such a unification entailed a natural desire to embody the new T-43s on the production T-34s to the maximum, and therefore in October 1942 the T-34S ("C" - high-speed) was created - a hybrid of the T-34 mod. 1942 and T-43. From the "forty-third", this machine received a three-seat turret, the aforementioned 5-speed gearbox and an increase in the frontal armor of the hull to 60 mm. But tests showed that in this form, the ergonomics of the T-34S left much to be desired, and even with 45 mm armor, its mass exceeded 32 tons, while a number of mechanisms were unstable. The three-man tower of the original layout caused a lot of criticism. The commander's turret did not have its own hatch, that is, the commander first had to climb into the turret using another hatch, then lower the sleeve catcher, then take his place, and raise the sleeve catcher back. The diagram clearly shows that the commander should have had a height of no higher than average. There were also complaints about the leg support, the installation of prisms in the commander's cupola, etc.

In general, the modernization failed, and from December 1942 all work on the T-34S was stopped, and on the T-43, on the contrary, was forced. By this time, the first prototype of the T-43 was just ready "in metal". The tank turned out to be, let's say, very original. Its crew consisted of 4 people, but now three of them were in the turret with a narrow shoulder strap of 1,420 mm. The designers honestly tried to alleviate the position of the tank commander, and achieved something in this area - for example, in order to "penetrate" into his place, he no longer had to move the sleeve catcher. The radio operator was abolished, the driver was transplanted from the left side of the tank to the right, that is, where the radio operator was previously located, and a 500 liter fuel tank was "installed" on the former place of the mechanic. The driver's hatch was abandoned, which, in combination with the new layout, to a certain extent increased the reliability of the frontal projection protection, but worsened the ability to evacuate the driver. The course machine gun was fixed motionless, while the fire from it had to lead the mechanic, guided by the special risks in the observation device. But the most important innovation, of course, concerned the reservation - the T-43 received 75 mm hull forehead, 60 mm hull sides and stern, and 90 mm turret forehead. In other words, the level of protection of the T-43 was roughly the same as the KV-1.


Nevertheless, in this form, the T-43 is not that it did not pass state tests - it was not even allowed to see them. But on the other hand, its factory tests continued almost until the end of February 1943 and were very intensive - suffice it to say that during this time the T-43 prototype traveled 3,026 km. The tank turned out to be heavier than the T-34: the mass of the "thirty-four" mod. at the beginning of 1943 it reached 30.5 tons, and the T-43 - 34.1 tons (or 33.5 tons, it is not entirely clear here) Of course, this reduced the driving performance of the tank. So, the ability to overcome obstacles fell by about 5%, the speed of "pure movement" was 30, 7 km / h versus about 34, 5 km / h for the T-34, and the specific ground pressure reached 0.87 kg / sq. see what was found to be excessive.

However, apparently, the main "stumbling block" was a three-man tower with a narrow shoulder strap - despite all the tricks of the designers, it was not possible to provide more or less acceptable ergonomics in it. In any case, NKTP, demanding improvements to the tank, decided to install a three-man turret with a wide shoulder strap on it, as well as some smaller modifications, including a new type of caterpillar (with pinned engagement) and a new radio station.

According to the documents, this tank passed already as an improved T-43, the abbreviation T-43 (T-34M) was not applied to it. Work on it began already in January 1943, and A. Morozov insisted on using two T-34s as "laboratories", that is, a new tower with a wide shoulder strap was tested on them. Of course, this required a fair amount of refinement of the T-34's design, because, for example, the new ring shoulder strap did not fit into the hull - a special ring insert had to be made to raise the turret above the hull so that it could freely rotate over the over-engine casing.

I must say that the new turret with a 1,600 mm shoulder strap was a success, everything worked well in it, except for the commander's single-leaf hatch, which was unsuccessful, and was subsequently replaced with a two-leaf one. As planned, a new radio station and tracks were installed: otherwise, the new version of the T-43 differed little from the previous one, except that a full-fledged hatch was returned to the driver.

The new tank, called the T-43-II, turned out to be a very successful vehicle, surpassing the T-34-76 in almost everything.


True, the torsion bar suspension was never installed, but with the new gearbox it turned out not so bad. The crew was still only 4 people, but now the "economy" was achieved at the expense of the radio operator, which was still a better solution than combining the functions of the gunner and tank commander. The armor was 75 mm for the front of the hull and 60 mm for the sides and stern, at rational angles of inclination - but they could not be preserved in the turret, but the thickness of its frontal armor reached 90 mm. The tower itself, having received a shoulder strap of 1,600 mm, turned out to be quite successful, and gave a significantly greater armor volume, while the armament remained practically the same - the 76, 2-mm F-34M cannon.

Why didn't he go into the series?

There were, perhaps, two main reasons for this. The first was that the tank was simply too late to be born. It was ready to be transferred to mass production by July 1943. It is interesting that the T-43 even managed to fight a little as part of the so-called "special tank company No. 100", which, along with the T-43, included several more promising tanks. such as, for example, the T-34 with a 57 mm cannon. The specified company was sent to the Central Front on August 19 and returned on September 5, 1943, and the company commander gave the T-43 an excellent certification, and the T-43 crew of junior lieutenant Mazhorov was even presented with government awards for the destruction of three German anti-tank guns and two armored vehicles or armored personnel carriers. Interestingly, in his company, from 1 to 11 enemy shells fell into each T-43, but not a single tank was disabled. However, all this does not negate the fact that the tank was ready only at the beginning of the Battle of Kursk, in which the Germans massively used their "Tigers" and "Panthers", and to fight these German tanks the 76, 2-mm cannon was no longer enough …

In other words, the T-34 had a great potential for modernization, and in the T-43 it was used to strengthen the armor and improve the ergonomics of the tank. As a result, it was possible to achieve a sharp increase in armor protection, and the new tower was good, but the "limits" were chosen even a little more than completely - the T-43 turned out to be the limiting one, excluding further modernization, and at the same time appeared at the moment when its main armament ceased meet the requirements of the time.

Why was the creation of the T-43 so delayed? Apparently, its designer A. A. was to blame for this. Morozov. Considering the history of the T-43, we see a strange step back in comparison with the T-34M mod. 1941 - although the ergonomic benefits of a turret with a wide shoulder strap were clear even before the war, for a long time they tried to install a turret with a narrow shoulder strap on the tank, looking for original ways to "stick" a third crew member there. In the end, they came to the conclusion that it was impossible to create such a tower, returned to a tower with a wide shoulder strap, but lost time at this - it can be assumed that if the T-43 was immediately created with a "wide-run" tower, then the chances to go into the series at the beginning 1943 or even at the end of 1942 he would have had quite a lot.

But the fact is that it was A. A. Morozov stood for the narrow shoulder strap of the tower. On the one hand, there seems to be retrograde and shortsightedness, but on the other hand, A. A. Morozov mentioned in his correspondence that increasing the turret ring to 1,600 mm would increase the weight of the structure by 2 tons. At the same time, A. A. Morozov was very well aware that a medium tank should remain just a medium, and not go into the heavy category, he was well aware that there would be less problems with organizing the mass production of the T-43, the closer its design was to the T-34. Of course, A. A. Morozov acted within the framework of the TTZ supplied to him, but he obviously understood the whole validity of weight discipline and did not strive to create a "wunderwaffe" for 40 tons of weight. And for a tank weighing 32-34 tons, it is very difficult to find two tons "for the sake of ergonomics", and, probably, it is possible only due to the deterioration of some other fighting qualities, but A. A. Morozov was tasked with creating a much better protected tank than the T-34 …

The creation of a medium tank is always a path of compromise, designed to fit the maximum of combat qualities into a limited weight. An attempt to create a three-man tower in a narrow pursuit, of course, was erroneous, but in conditions when from A. A. Morozov needed to radically strengthen the armor protection of the tank, he obviously did not consider it possible to afford to "throw" tons of weight on ergonomics. The designer had very good reasons to go exactly this way, and therefore, according to the author, one cannot blame him for being mossy or retrograde. Nevertheless, I repeat, the attempt to squeeze a third crew member into the turret with a shoulder strap was definitely a wrong decision. She, as expected, was not crowned with success, but delayed the development time, shifted to the right the time of the tank's readiness for mass production, perhaps for a period from a quarter to six months.

So, by the middle of 1943, an excellent medium tank was created in the USSR, but alas, for 1942 it was


And in 1943, a promising tank of this subclass no longer needed a 76, 2-mm, but an 85-mm artillery system: but then the question arises, why not try to install it on the T-43, and not on the T-34? And here we smoothly come to the second reason why the T-43 never went into mass production.

Of course, as mentioned above, the T-43 turned out to be the ultimate in design, even with a 76, 2-mm gun, but, nevertheless, there were options to install an 85-mm gun on it. One of them is to reduce the tower's capacity to two people again. In this case, the 85-mm cannon "climbed" onto the tank without critical overload. But, on the other hand, the crew size of the T-43 was reduced to only 3 people, which would be clearly unreasonable.

Another approach to installing an 85-mm gun could be to reduce the tank's protection, it is quite possible that it could be balanced at some intermediate level between the T-34 mod. 1943 and T-43. But … in general, in the author's opinion, the fact that the work on the further improvement of the T-43 was curtailed is the same A. A. Morozov.

As mentioned above, this in every respect talented designer, realizing the extreme importance of increasing the reliability of the future tank, and in order to minimize any "childhood diseases" of the latter, practically throughout the entire history of the development of the T-43 tested its individual components and assemblies on conventional " thirty-fours ". Towers with a wide shoulder strap were no exception. So, when it became clear that it was necessary to equip tanks with an 85-mm artillery system, it quickly became clear that the new turret was perfect for this purpose. However, this tower very successfully "stood" on the T-34. And in the end it turned out that it turned out to be much easier and faster to modify the turret for an 85-mm artillery system on an ordinary "thirty-four" than to continue work on the T-43, despite the fact that the modernized T-34, again, would be much easier and faster run into series. And the front urgently needed tanks with 85-mm guns.

And therefore I. V. Stalin was absolutely right when he told A. A. Morozov at one of the meetings is approximately the following:

"Comrade Morozov, you have made a very good car. But today we already have a good car - the T-34. Our task now is not to make new tanks, but to improve the combat qualities of the T-34, to increase them release".

This is how the history of the T-34-85 began.

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