Over 35,000 T-34s were produced during World War Two. Production of the T-34 alone significantly outnumbered the total production of all types of German tanks. Considering this enormous production run, the vehicle remained remarkably standardised.
All T-34s shared a welded hull featuring very advanced, ballistically effective, sloped armour on all sides; a 500 horsepower 12 cylinder "V-2" diesel engine combined with a four speed transmission (plus one reverse gear) powering rear-mounted drive sprockets; "Christie" sprung suspension; five large paired roadwheels on each side of the vehicle and a wide, two-part track link. Apart from minor details, this basic configuration remained unchanged for the entire production run.
The main variations between T-34 models were in armament, turret design, roadwheels and track links.
The first production version of the T-34, the Model 1940, was equipped with an L-11 76.2 mm gun as its main armament. Even this early, relatively short gun was more than a match for contemporary German armour. The Model 1941 introduced the "F-34" model 76.2 mm tank gun of 42 calibres. This remained the main armament for all subsequent T-34/76 variants.
A programme to replace the T-34 was initiated in 1941. The new developments concentrated on improving armour, suspension and crew ergonomics. However, during the battle of Kursk in summer 1943, the Red Army first encountered the Tiger and Panther tanks. These heavy Panzers proved a shock to Soviet tank troops, whose previously superior T-34 tanks were ineffective against the big German newcomers.
The F-34 76.2 mm gun was now useless against the heavy frontal armour of the Tiger and Panther, so priority was redirected away from a T-34 replacement and toward supplying more punch for the basic T-34 chassis. The T-34/85 was the Soviet's expedient answer to these powerful new adverseries.
It is a credit to the basic design of the T-34 that it was possible to add a heavier, three man turret and a more powerful main gun on a virtually unaltered chassis and turret ring.
The designations commonly used to describe different types of T-34/85s did not originate with the Soviets. Most variations were due to local production techniques or minor design improvements. There was never any official label for different T-34/85 "models".
Nevertheless, despite significant ambiguity and an apparently endless range of combinations, there are a number of common configurations that justify categorising similar vehicles.
The turret holds most of the clues needed to identify T-34/85 variants.
The T-34/85 Model 1943 was a stopgap measure while acceptance trials were being finalised for the ZiS-S-53 85mm gun.
The Model 1943 turret displayed a unique style of bolted collar and was equipped with the shorter D-5T 85mm gun. This interim model also featured a rounded front-hull join, rounded front fenders and no turret fillet. Approximately 800 T/34/85 Model 1943 were produced at Gorkiy early in 1944.
The Model 1944 was equipped with the definitive ZiS-S-53 85mm gun, a redesigned mantlet and altered turret interior. The alternate turret layout required the commander's cupola to be relocated 40cm aft of its original position. All but the first production batch of the Model 1944 featured this relocated cupola.
From the Model 1944 onward, the hull was adapted to the larger turret by the addition of steel fillets welded to the upper hull directly below the turret overhang at the front and sides. The front fillet joining the glacis plate and lower hull was also changed to a sharp angle, and fenders were sometimes simplified and squared off.
A number of different construction techniques became evident during Model 1944 production. The "standard" Model 1944 developed flattened lower-mid turret sides; while significant numbers were produced in a composite (using two separate castings) or laminate steel finish. Other Model 1944 T-34s featured a diagonal join at the turret side front instead of the more common step join and welded rectangular fillet.
The Model 1945 T-34/85 actually entered service during 1944. It featured a larger cupola that extended very close to the port edge of the turret, requiring a tiny "lip" underneath on the turret side. The cupola hatch was revised from the original two-part split hatch to a large, single "flap" hatch. The lower turret sides had a "flattened" lateral profile on vehicles produced at Nizhniy, Tagil and Chelyabinsk. A small, rectangular bulge was added to the casting for the Model 1945 and all subsequent models to accommodate an electric turret traverse. Smoke racks and dispensers were added to the rear hull of this model as a standard item, although late-production Model 1944s were also equipped with these. (Photo Courtesy of Vasily Goncharov)
The Model 1946 entered service during 1945 and saw front-line action in the closing days of "The Great Patriotic War".
It could be distinguished from the Model 1945 by its "fuller" lower turret sides and the new configuration of ventilator domes. Previous models of the T-34/85 had twinned ventilator domes toward the rear of the turret roof. The Model 1946 introduced separate domes - one at the rear and one toward the front of the turret roof (note that some Model 1944 Laminate Turret T-34/85s shared this feature).
The hull was similar to previous models but stowage of on-vehicle equipment was revised. Later Model 1946 T/34s reduced the external fuel drums from three to two.
(Photo James Blackwell)
The features described above relate to external differences. Many internal modifications took place over the same period, but these will not be covered in this article. A summary of the external distinguishing features is provided in the following tables:
Table 1: Turret Identifying Features
Note 1: The bulge on the turret side was to accommodate an electric turret traverse
Note 2: Late production laminate and angle jointed turret T-34/85 examples were seen with separate domes
Table 2: Hull Identifying Features
For such a standardised vehicle, the T-34 sported a surprising diversity of wheels. The T-34/85 was fitted with five distinctly different types of wheels and two different styles of tracks.
It was common for T-34/85s to wear either a matching set of wheels or a combination of wheel types. No firm rules apply for the type of wheel fitted to the particular type of tank.
The diameter of the combined wheel and tyre was XXX mm for all types. All T-34/85 wheels were secured to the suspension by six bolts around the hub. All wheels also featured a small, domed hub cap attached with five small bolts.
The terminology used to describe these wheels is based on common usage and common sense. The names are not official.
Early Dished Wheels
The "Early Dished Wheel" was a solid dished steel wheel with a solid rubber tyre. The tyre was perforated at the edges and along the outside walls. These wheels were commonly seen on Model 1943 and Model 1945 T-34/85s.
(Photo Courtesy Andreas Lärka)
Late Dished Wheels
The "Late-Dished Wheel" was similar to the "Early Dished" style, but the tyre did not have perforations. The "Late Dished Wheel" was sometimes seen on very late-war T-34/85s, but more commonly on post-war vehicles.
(Photograph Coutesy Vasily Goncharov)
Half Spider Wheels
The "Half-Spider Wheel" was a cast steel wheel featuring 12 large lightening holes around the outer edge of the rim, 6 smaller lightening holes closer to the hub, and 6 narrow reinforcing ribs radiating out from the hub to the rim between the holes. The rubber tyre was perforated in the same manner as the "Early Dished Wheel". "Half-Spider Wheels" entered production in late 1943, and therefore may have been fitted to any T-34/85 variant. (Photograph Courtesy Andreas Lärka)
Full Spider Wheels
The "Full-Spider Wheel" was similar in design to the "Half-Spider" variety, but with 12 small lightening holes close to the hub instead of 6. The full-radius reinforcing ribs also doubled to 12. The "Full-Spider" tyre was solid rubber with no perforations. Curiously, the Full-Spider Wheel" entered production at about the same time as the "Half-Spider" variety, although it is more common to see this type of wheel installed on very late-war and post-war vehicles. (Photo Brett Green)
This cast steel wheel is reinforced by incorporating a "wave" pattern around its radius. One lightening hole correspond to the highest point of each of five "waves" near the wheel’s rim. Tyres are of the non-perforated variety. It is possible that some late-war vehicles may have been fitted with this style of wheel. There is at least one photograph which seems to support this claim. However, it is more usual to find this style of wheel on very late post-war vehicles. (Photo Brett Green)
Once source suggests that at least one T-34/85 was equipped with the rubber-saving, all steel wheels. However, it is likely that this would have been a very isolated occurance if it happened at all.
There were 11 main categories of T-34 tracks, with a few additional sub-types. Of these, only 2 are thought to have been fitted to the T-34/85.
The first, and most common type, is the 500mm wide M-1942 "Waffle Track". This type of track was in fact the most common track for all T-34s and their variants. It was a two-part, cast steel track with one hollow guide tooth on every other link and a raised waffle pattern on the outside of each link to maximise traction.
The M-1944 "Waffle Track" was also fitted to some late-war T-34/85s. This track was identical to the M-1942, except where the waffle pattern was extended and reinforced on the guide-tooth link to improve the rigidity of the link.
This is by no means a conclusive or comprehensive list of T-34/85 disctinguishing features. However, it should supply enough information to allow identification of the major T-34/85 sub-types.
"BT/T-34 Tank Vol. 1"Ground Power Magazine (no. 013 - June 1995) by Hirohisha Takada, Delta Publishing Co Ltd, Tokyo, Japan. ISBN Not Known.
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