The previous article talked about the T-27 tankette. In the flaws that were identified during the operation of this vehicle, and attempts to eliminate them, a new class of small amphibious tanks was born as a continuation of the ideas of a lightly armored tracked reconnaissance tank.
The main thing is the weapon. For simply effective use of weapons (even if only a 7, 62-mm machine gun), it must be placed in a circular rotation tower. Well, at the same time they decided that the reconnaissance vehicle simply must be able to swim.
And yes, in 1933, a completely new machine was adopted by the Red Army armored forces under the name "T-37A small amphibious tank".
The tank had a riveted (or welded) sealed hull made of rolled armor plates. The transmission was located in the front of the hull, the driver was located on the left, the commander (also known as the shooter) was on the right in the direction of travel.
The engine - all the same automobile "Ford-AA" as in the T-27, was located at the back, along the axis of the tank.
To increase buoyancy, floats filled with cork were attached to the fenders.
Movement afloat was provided by a propeller, maneuvering - by a rudder. In this case, the propeller blades could rotate, thus providing a reverse stroke afloat.
During serial production, 1909 line tanks, 643 T-37 TU radio tanks with radio stations, as well as 75 so-called "chemical" tanks with a flamethrower installation were produced.
How quickly were our designers able to deliver a new vehicle to the army?
This time, the insidious British helped too.
At the end of 1930, the British company Vickers Armstrong, already known to us, developed a project for a light amphibious tank. Initially, the new vehicle was named in the documents as "Vickecrs-Carden-Loyd amphibious tank". Amphibious tank.
The tank had a riveted trough-shaped hull and a turret with a machine gun, borrowed from the 6-ton Vickers Model A. The buoyancy of the car was provided due to the displacement of the hull and massive balsa floats installed along its sides. Yes, the same timber from South America, from which, 20 years later, Thor Heyerdahl built his famous Kon-Tiki raft.
But the tank did not reach the court of His Majesty. Therefore, the Vickers company, as in the case of the 6-ton Vickers Model A tank, was counting on foreign orders from the countries of the "second world". And buyers were found, albeit not in such a quantity as we would like.
Eight tanks were acquired by the leadership of the Department of Mechanization and Motorization of the Red Army and in 1932 the tanks arrived in the USSR. And upon arriving, they were assigned to the NIBT landfill in Kubinka and to the factories. For the purpose of thoughtful study.
It should be noted here that buying British tanks looks like some kind of insurance today. “In England, you can't clean guns with bricks,” because everything is better there.
In fact, when the Vickers arrived in the Soviet Union, we were already in full swing testing samples of THREE tanks in this direction, T-33, T-41 and T-37. Therefore, to say that most of the technical solutions of the first domestic amphibious tanks were copied from the "Vickers" is somewhat silly. And we will not become like fools.
In fact, the new car was a symbiosis of three samples. It was decided that the tank would be similar in layout to the T-41, but with a suspension from the T-37. The floating part was borrowed from the Vickers.
On August 11, 1932, even before the production of a prototype, a new light amphibious tank was adopted by the Red Army, which received the designation T-37A.
Naturally, there were some problems. The manufacturers already had experience with the T-27, but one can agree that the T-37A was much more complicated than the tankette.
Almost immediately, from the beginning of production, the tanks began to undergo upgrades. For example, cars of the second and subsequent series had a wave-reflecting shield on the nose, and floats above the tracks replaced flat fenders with cork filler.
The side armor was increased from 8 mm to 10 mm. Beginning in 1935, the T-37A tanks began to use a stamped aft hull sheet (before that it was bent on a special press), the front sheet of the tower began to be bolted, and the fenders began to be made empty, without stuffing them with a cork (such hulls in the documents of that time were sometimes called "non-float").
During serial production, T-37A tanks were equipped with two types of hulls and towers - riveted and welded. The first type was manufactured at the Ordzhonikidze Podolsk Electric Cracking Plant and was the most widespread. During acceptance tests, all tanks, loaded to full combat weight and with a crew of two, made a 25-kilometer march to Bear Lake near Moscow, where they were tested afloat.
By the way, some issues of equipping the T-37A were approached more seriously than the T-27. For example, radio frequency. The tanks were equipped with a 71-TK radio.
The first two T-37A with radio stations were ready in the fall of 1933 and took part in the November parade on Red Square. The handrail antenna was installed on the fenders.
A total of 643 T-37A radium tanks were manufactured. For that time - a number!
In 1935, in the design bureau of the Compressor plant, in the same place where they worked with the T-27, they developed a set of removable chemical equipment for the T-37A tank.
It was no longer just a knapsack flamethrower adapted for a tank, but a full-fledged set that allowed both to throw fire and to put a smoke screen, depending on what to fill the containers of the set with.
The chemical kit consisted of a reservoir with a capacity of 37 liters, a compressed air cylinder (3 liters), a reducer, a hose with a rubber hose, an incendiary device and a burner, and a pipe for a smoke outlet. The weight of all equipment was 89 kg. When the tank was fully charged with a fire mixture, 15 shots could be fired at a distance of up to 25 meters.
The installation hose was placed on the upper inclined front sheet of the hull on the right and, due to the articulated connection, had guidance angles from -5 to +15 degrees vertically and 180 degrees horizontally. For the production of a shot or smoke release, a foot pedal was introduced, which was at the tank commander.
All equipment was made removable, it could be installed on the T-37A with minimal alterations. After testing, 75 of these tanks were manufactured (34 in 1935 and 41 in 1936). In the documents of that time, these tanks resembled "T-37 chemical". However, the operation of the chemical T-37A was short-lived - already in 1938 -1939 most of the equipment was dismantled from them. As of April 1, 1941, the Red Army had only 10 T-37 chemical, of which 4 were in warehouses.
We also worked on the T-37A in terms of airborne delivery of tanks. Thus, it was supposed to use these machines as part of airborne units, to capture various objects in the rear of the enemy. The delivery of the tanks was supposed to be carried out by hanging them under the fuselage of TB-3 bombers. It should be noted that during the flight, the crews of the T-37A were not in tanks, as some sources write, but in the plane. After landing, the tankers uncoupled the vehicle from the suspension and went into battle.
We also tried to dump tanks directly into the water. To protect the tank when hitting the water, special shock-absorbing devices of various types were mounted under the bottom of the vehicle: oak beams, a tarpaulin screen with pine slats and spruce branches. During the tests, three T-37A tanks were dropped into the water with various depreciation options, of which the most successful was the version with spruce branches.
However, all three tanks suffered serious damage to the bottom when hitting the water and sank. Therefore, further experiments on dumping the T-37A into the water were discontinued.
Performance characteristics of the light amphibious tank T-37A.
Combat weight, t: 3, 2
Crew, people: 2
The number of issued, pcs: 2566
Body length, mm: 3730
Width, mm: 1940
Height, mm: 1840
Armor type rolled steel homogeneous
Body forehead, mm: 8
Bottom, mm: 4
Body roof, mm: 4
Tower forehead, mm: 8
Gun mask, mm: 8
Machine gun DT 7, 62 mm
Engine power, hp from: 40
Speed on the highway, km / h: 40
Water speed, km / h: 6
Cruising on the highway, km: 230
Tanks received baptism of fire during conflicts in the Far East. But they were used there very limited and it cannot be said that they were effective. During the battles on the river. Khalkhin-Gol from May to October 1939, 17 vehicles were lost.
T-37A took part in the "liberation" campaign of the Red Army in Western Ukraine and Belarus as part of rifle and cavalry units as support and reconnaissance vehicles. In occasional clashes with Polish troops, the tanks did not show themselves very well. It was said about the actions of amphibious tanks during the Polish campaign that they, as reconnaissance vehicles, did not correspond to the tasks assigned to them. During the entire operation, they did not keep up with the T-26 tanks, which cannot be called fast. Tanks T-37A during the marches often failed, lagging even behind the infantry units.
The T-37A had to take part in hostilities with Finland. The most, from my point of view, the stupid attempt to use amphibious tanks, since the season simply nullified all the dignity of a floating tank.
In general, under the conditions of a specific theater of operations on the Karelian Isthmus, low-power, weakly armored and lightly armed amphibious tanks showed themselves to be unimportant. The hulls of the tanks were destroyed by the explosion of anti-personnel mines, the armor was penetrated by the fire of anti-tank rifles. Almost everywhere amphibious tanks suffered heavy losses and were often out of action for technical reasons.
And then there was the Great Patriotic War …
It is worth recalling, perhaps, that the armored troops of the Red Army met that war with mechanized corps. Bulky and poorly controlled, but each corps had to be staffed with 17 amphibious tanks. Although somewhere they were not at all, but somewhere more than needed.
As of June 1, 1941, the Red Army had 2,331 T-37A tanks. Not all of these machines were in combat readiness, a significant number were in repair or in reserve. The bulk of the tanks was lost in the first month of the fighting. Mostly, tanks threw or undermined their own crews due to breakdowns and malfunctions. Only in a few cases, with proper use, these vehicles were able to provide effective support to our infantry.
The whole problem was precisely in the fact that it was necessary to be able to sensibly use the amphibious tank. If you read our (and German) memoirs, it becomes clear that throwing the T-37A into a counterattack, supporting the infantry, is just idiocy. The T-37A is good against infantry and motorcycles, for example, but absolutely useless if the enemy had at least one 37mm cannon or a tank with a 20mm cannon.
So it is not surprising that by the spring of 1942, there were very few T-37As left in combat units. But on the Leningrad front, the T-37A held out for a long time, until about the end of 1943. There, in Leningrad, it was possible to repair cars at local enterprises.
On the Leningrad Front, one of two operations carried out during the entire war was carried out (the second was carried out in 1944 on the Karelian Front), in which amphibious tanks were used to force a water barrier and capture a bridgehead on the opposite bank.
One of the two aforementioned operations - the operation to cross the Neva, began on the night of September 26, 1942. In the first echelon there was an OLTB company - 10 vehicles. At 4.30 the tanks went down to the water, while one of them broke, and the other two had their tracks flying off during maneuvering (they were later evacuated to the rear). The remaining seven vehicles entered the Neva and rushed to the left bank.
The Germans, noticing the crossing, lit up the river with rockets and opened strong artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire on the tanks. As a result, only three tanks came to the left bank. But due to the fact that the infantry of the 70th Infantry Division was delayed with the crossing, all three vehicles were quickly knocked out. Their crews tried to swim to the right bank, but in the water they were shot by the enemy and died.
The T-37A fought the longest on the Karelian front. By the summer of 1944, all the T-37A remaining in the ranks, as well as the vehicles transferred from the Leningrad Front, were reduced to the 92nd separate tank regiment. In preparation for an offensive in Karelia, the front command decided to use this regiment "for crossing the Svir River and seizing a bridgehead in order to ensure the passage of the rest of the troops." This operation was the second (and most successful) episode in which amphibious tanks were used to cross a water barrier.
Together with the 92nd Tank Regiment, which had 40 T-37A and T-38 by July 18, 1944, the 275th Separate Motorized Special Purpose Battalion (OMBON) was to operate, which consisted of 100 Ford GPA amphibious vehicles received from the United States by lend-lease program.
The operation began on the morning of July 21, 1944. The beginning of the crossing of the Svir River was preceded by a powerful artillery preparation, which lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes. 40-50 minutes before the end of the artillery fire, the 92nd Tank Regiment took up its initial positions.
At the same time, the 338th, 339th and 378th guards heavy self-propelled artillery regiments (63 ISU-152) came to the river bank. Tanks and amphibious vehicles with a landing of machine gunners and sappers began crossing even before the end of the artillery preparation. Firing machine guns on the move, the vehicles quickly reached the opposite bank. With the support of the fire of heavy self-propelled regiments, firing direct fire at the bunkers and firing points of the enemy, the amphibious tanks overcame barbed wire obstacles, three lines of trenches and, with the support of amphibious troops, engaged in battle in the depths of the captured bridgehead.
Powerful artillery preparation and surprise attacks by amphibious tanks and amphibious vehicles did not allow the enemy to use all firepower and ensured a quick capture of the right bank of the Svir River at a front of up to 4 kilometers. At the same time, the losses of the 92nd tank regiment amounted to only 5 vehicles. Later, as the infantry units crossed and the bridgehead expanded, by the evening of July 23, a tank brigade, a tank regiment and four self-propelled artillery regiments were transported to the right bank of the Svir, which expanded and deepened the breakthrough.
The operation to force the Svir River was the last known episode of the participation of Soviet amphibious tanks in the Great Patriotic War.
Bottom line. The result, let's say, is not happy. The idea was good. The tank turned out. But it was possible to use amphibious tanks correctly only TWO times in 4 years of the war. One of them was successful.
In conclusion, I will have such a question. I was able to listen to several stories of the soldiers who stormed the Dnieper (there is no other word). How much could a hundred amphibious tanks ease this September operation in 1943?
A hundred machine guns and a hundred armored boxes around which a defense could be built on the other bank of the Dnieper. Moreover, the armor and machine guns were able to cross to the other side by themselves.
Alas, this did not happen, and the Svir operation became the only successful one during the war.
In modern (especially in modern) opinions, the T-37A and other similar tanks are very often criticized for thin armor and weak weapons. Well, you can’t tell what time it is, such are the “experts”.
The main advantage of the T-37A is the ability to force water obstacles without assistance. It is precisely to swim across a river / lake, grab onto the opposite bank with caterpillars, support the infantry with fire and armor (yes, not enough, but much better than nothing) - this is the main, in my opinion, the task of a small amphibious tank.
Why these tanks did not become weapons in the hands of the commanders of the Red Army, I think, should not be spread. They simply did not understand what the value was and how it could be used effectively. Alas.
Therefore, instead of throwing over a water barrier with access to the rear, the tanks rushed into land frontal attacks on the enemy. Then they ended pretty quickly.
And when the offensive operations began, across the numerous rivers of the European part, it would be here to use amphibians, but they were no longer there.
Here is the story of a seemingly weak and unsuccessful tank in the smoke. In fact, it’s quite normal, but in straight hands and under the control of a bright head.