In service with the army of the Russian Empire during the First World War, there were many types of tractor equipment in limited numbers, among which one can distinguish the fully tracked heavy Holt-Caterpillar and the Allis-Chalmers half-track truck tractor. These vehicles largely became the prototypes of future self-propelled armored vehicles, but in Russia no steps were taken to introduce the production of such equipment. Only on the basis of Allis-Chalmers were two armored tractors "Ilya Muromets" and "Akhtyrets" (later "Red Petersburg") developed by Colonel of Artillery Gulkevich were manufactured. Half-tracked "Akhtyrets" and "Muromets", according to the historian of armored vehicles Mikhail Kolomiets, in general can be considered the first Russian tanks, albeit on foreign units. At the same time, in some respects, they even surpassed similar French-made machines. Of course, it is impossible to talk about any influence of the two operating vehicles on the course of hostilities on the fronts of the First World War.
However, the tsarist government, to the best of its capabilities, nevertheless spent money on promising developments - we all remember the frightening Lebedenko wheeled tank ("Tsar-tank"), which is frightening in its size.
In the post-revolutionary period, during the troubles of the Civil War, only 15 copies of the Russian Renault (a copy of the French Renault FT) were made on our own - this was the first domestic tracked vehicle assembled almost from scratch. It was only in 1926 that the first three-year plan for the development of tank building in the USSR was drawn up, one of the first products of which was the T-12 / T-24. This unsuccessful tank was produced in a scanty circulation of 24 copies and, according to some historians, was developed under the influence of the American T1E1. In the late 1920s, domestic designers made another attempt - they built two prototypes of the T-19 light infantry support tanks. Among the novelties in the car were implemented protection against chemical weapons, the ability to overcome water obstacles with pontoons, as well as a special way to overcome a ditch using a rigid coupling of cars in pairs. But it was not possible to bring the tank to readiness for mass production.
In February 1928, the Kremlin spent 70 thousand dollars on the German designer Josef Volmer, who was supposed to develop for the USSR a project for a light tank weighing up to 8 tons. They turned to Volmer for a reason - it was he who was developing the famous German A-7V, as well as the Leichter Kampfwagen kids. The design proposed by the German engineer was not implemented, but served as the basis for the Czech KH tanks, as well as the Swedish Landsverk-5 vehicle and the Landsverk La-30 tank. With a certain degree of certainty, we can say that Soviet dollars paid for the emergence of the tank industry in Sweden - many of the developments obtained in the USSR, Volmer later implemented in a Scandinavian country.
In parallel with the development of new technology, in November 1929, the "Directorate of mechanization and motorization of the Red Army" was created under the leadership of Innokentiy Khalepsky. In tsarist Russia, Khalepsky worked as a telegraph operator, later headed the communications in the Red Army, and the peak of his career was the post of People's Commissar of Communications of the USSR. Convicted of conspiracy with the Nazis and shot in 1937, rehabilitated in 1956. And at the end of November 1929, Khalepsky made a landmark report at a meeting of the Collegium of the Main Directorate of the Military Industry, in which he raised the issue of a serious lag between domestic tank building and foreign ones. Like, they themselves tried, but failed, it's time to turn to the West for help. Khalepsky was then heard, and on December 5, 1929, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided to invite foreign designers, send their own engineers for internships, purchase tanks and relevant licenses, as well as receive technical assistance from foreign companies.
At that time, the Soviet Union already had the first developments in generalizing foreign experience. So, in the Soviet-German tank school "KAMA" (Kazan - Malbrandt), the experienced Grosstraktor and Leichttraktor were tested, with which Russian tankers also got acquainted. The developments on these machines were used by domestic designers to create the PT-1 amphibious tank.
Khalepsky buys tanks
On December 30, 1929, Innokenty Khalepsky, together with a team of engineers, went on a "tour" with visits to Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Great Britain and the United States in order to purchase samples of armored vehicles, as well as possible place orders. After an unsuccessful visit to Germany, the delegation went to the British company Vickers, which at that time held the palm in world tank building. Initially, Khalepsky's team had a cunning plan to purchase four tanks in single copies with the provision of complete technical documentation. It was supposed to buy from the British the Carden-Loyd wedge, the Vickers 6-ton light infantry support tank, the Vickers Medium Mark II 12-ton medium and the A1E1 Independent heavy. Of course, this did not suit the British, and the first stage of negotiations ended in nothing. From the second call, our delegation already had a larger amount, and Vickers sold 20 tankettes, 15 light tanks and 3 to 5 medium tanks to the USSR (data vary). The British refused to give the A1E1 Independent, which at that time was in the status of an experimental vehicle (by the way, it never went into production), but offered to build a new tank on a turnkey basis, but with the condition of purchasing another 40 Carden-Loyd and Vickers 6-ton. The Soviet side was not satisfied with this option with a heavy machine.
I must say that in the Khalepsky delegation, as his deputy was Semyon Ginzburg, a graduate of the Military Technical Academy. Dzerzhinsky, responsible for the technical side of the negotiations. In the future, he will become one of the leading designers of Soviet armored vehicles, and in 1943, as punishment for the unsatisfactory quality of the new SU-76 self-propelled guns, he will be sent to the front, where he will die. And in Great Britain, in Khalepsky's team, he tried himself as a scout. While inspecting the equipment of interest at the training ground, Ginzburg saw the newest 16-ton and three-tower Vickers Medium Mark III. Naturally, the engineer wanted to get to know him better, but was refused, they say, the car is secret and all that. Semyon Ginzburg was not at a loss and, with a blue eye, reported to the ignorant British testers that the car had long been bought by the Soviet Union and now all the documents were being processed. We managed to inspect the vehicle, fix all critical parameters and create the T-28 “from memory” in the USSR. By the way, the general concept of the A1E1 Independent, which was not sold then to the USSR, formed the basis of the heavy T-35. The Vickers 6-ton became, as you know, the T-26, and the Carden-Loyd was reborn into the T-27. Such is the "import substitution".
After Great Britain, Khalepsky's delegation left for the United States to work out the issue of purchasing a copy of the mentioned light tank T1E1 Cunningham, of course, with all the documentation. However, firstly, the car was not as good in business as the Americans advertised it, and secondly, the Yankees set very unfavorable conditions for the USSR. The contract for the purchase of 50 tanks with a prepaid half of the vehicles was immediately rejected, and Khalepsky's gaze turned to the cars of John Walter Christie. The characteristics of the M1928 and M940 machines were amazing - the then fashionable wheeled-caterpillar track and a maximum speed of 100 km / h were ideal for the strategy of conducting an offensive war, which then prevailed in the Soviet Union. Christie sold in 1931 for 164 thousand dollars, in fact, everything for this project - two copies of the tank with documentation, as well as the rights to manufacture and operate the machine within the Soviet Union. Walter Christie was lucky to have negotiations with the Poles, who also wanted to buy tanks. This made Khalepsky's delegation much more accommodating - no one in the USSR wanted to give American cars to a potential enemy.
After the United States, there was France and negotiations with Citroen for assistance in the production of a GAZ-AA truck with a Kegresse half-track engine - in the USSR there were problems with the development of such a complex unit. Khalepsky asked, according to the old scheme, to sell a couple of cars with a propulsion unit and a complete set of documents, as well as help in organizing production. But the French agreed only to large deliveries of half-tracked vehicles, and the request to show new tanks was generally refused. The same outcome awaited the delegation in Czechoslovakia - no one wanted to sell individual cars along with a full package of documents. But in Italy, with the company Ansaldo-FIAT, Khalepsky's team managed to find a common language and sign a letter of intent in the joint construction of a heavy tank. I don't know, fortunately or unfortunately, but this protocol remained a protocol - heavy tanks in the Soviet Union had to be developed independently.