The only color photo of Soviet tanks (T-34/85 Model 1944s near Odessa) I've ever seen!
In January 1943, the Russian captured their first PzKpfw. VI Tiger outside Leningrad, and by the spring of 1943 Russian intelligence also got to know about the PzKpfw. V Panther. This resulted in a need of a new tank design for the Russian engineers, which was to counter the new German tanks.
At first it was planned to up-armor the T-34/76 Model 1943. One prototype was built, known as T-43. On this vehicles glacis armor had been increased to 70mm, turret armor to 90-110mm. The extra armor resulted in increased weight to 32.000kg, by thus resulting in decreased mobility. However, the front armor did not guarantee a "bounce-off" off German 88mm rounds, and the 76.2mm F-34 gun was insufficient against the new German tanks. Due to this, the T-43 project was dropped. In April of 1943 the Artillery Design Bureau was authorized to examine the possibility to fit a T-34 chassis with a gun of greater caliber. Ironically, one of Red Army's greatest victory at Kursk in July 1943, was won when the Soviet armored forces qualitatively were weakest when compared to the Panzerwaffe. In the summer of 1943, Soviet tank brigades depended on their greater number of tanks available to counter the more powerful Panther and Tiger tanks. It was only under very favorable conditions, like at the close-range fighting at Prokhorovka in July of 1943 when the 76.2mm F-34 gun became a dangerous threat to the thick armor of the Panther and Tiger tanks.
A knocked out German PzKpfw. VI Tiger Ausf. E
In August of 1943, work began on a 85mm-armed T-34
Three design teams worked on the new design;
1) Team of General F. Petrov, who had developed the
85mm D-5 gun used on the KW-85, SU-85 and IS-1.
2) Team of V. Grabin, belonging to TsAKB (Central Artillery Design Bureau)
3) Team of A. Savin, belonging to Zavod #92 in Gorki.
By the fall of 1943, all three prototypes was sent to
the Gorokhovieski Proving Grounds outside of Gorki for trials. In the meantime, Krasnoye
Sormovo Zavod #112 in Gorki started the development and later production of a three-man
turret. The now larger turret was designed by V. Kerichev. However, it was soon discovered
that the ZiS-53 gun would not mate properly with the new turret. On 15th of December 1943,
even though there only existed two prototypes missing their armament, production of the
T-34/85 was ordered. Firing trials with a new modified ZiS-53 gun revealed more problems,
and as a stop-gap measure, the runner-up D-5T gun was fitted on the first production batch
of T-34/85 Model 1943s. These entered production in January of 1944 at Zavod #112. In the
same month, Savin solved the ZiS-53 guns problems and it was approved for production. In
March of 1944, the new ZiS S-53 Model 1944 gun replaced the D-5T gun on the assembly lines
at Zavod #112, resulting in the most common version, the T-34/85 Model 1944. By early
spring of 1944, two other factories began the production of T-34/85s;
Zavod #174 in Omsk and Zavod #183 in Nizhni Tagil. The former KhPZ #183 factory (now Zavod #183) built most of the T-34/85s, ending up with about 35.000 by May of 1945. Second factory was Krasnoye Sormovo Zavod #112 with some 10.000 built in 1944-45.
The T-34/85 first entered service with the 1st Guards Tank Army in early 1944. It was a welcome counterweight to the German Panther and Tiger tanks encountered in the Soviet offensives through Byelorussia, Ukraine and into Poland. Except for being the only vehicle with the potent ZiS S-53 gun, it was the Soviets first vehicle equipped with a three-man turret (Commander, gunner, loader).
A T-34/85 company being briefed in the outskirts of Berlin before the final drive.
Photo provided by Nicholas Brooks.
The T-34/85 was far superior in mobility, firepower and armor to its German counterpart (in weight), the PzKpfw. IV Ausf. H/J. While some analysts compare the Panther as clearly superior to the T-34/85, it should be kept in mind that, by Soviet standards, the Panther was a heavy tank in the same class as the IS-2. The costly and advanced production of the German Panther tank, paved the way for a far superior number of T-34/85's in the field.
T-34/85 Model 1944 with ZiS S-53 gun.
The T-34/85ii appeared in 1947.
The T-34/85 remained in production in Soviet Union until late 1940s. The T-34/85ii was a modernized version that appeared in 1947 and featured an improved engine as well as sightings, communications and other smaller modifications. In early 1950s, production of T-34/85 was initiated in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The Czech and Polish versions were almost identical to the Soviet version, but however the Yugoslav vehicle differed a lot from the original version. It used a new gun, and the hull front was modified. Production of all models ceased in 1956. In late 1960s the Soviets remanufactured the T-34/85 for export and war reserve use. Specified as T-34/85M, they had a V-54 engine, T-55 style roadwheels and several internal modifications. Some of those have seen action in Vietnam and Angola. After WW2, the largest single involvement of T-34/85 was their use in the Korean 1st Tank Brigade in 1950. Other major employment's of the T-34/85 has been in Europe and the Middle east in 1956 (Hungary), 1967 (6-day war) and 1973 (October war). Most of the Arab T-34/85 were ex-Czechoslovakian vehicles. The T-34/85 is still in service in third world countries. Total output of the T-34 is in the area about an incredible 80.000 vehicles, making it to the most widely produced tank ever, with the possible exception of the T-54/T-55.
Types of shells used and penetration abilities:
APHE (Armor Piercing High Explosive) 53-UBR-365,
weight: 9.02kg, velocity: 792 m/s
Armor penetration at 500m: 111mm
Armor penetration at 1.000m: 102mm
Armor penetration at 1.500m: 93mm
Armor penetration at 2.000m: 85mm
APDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot) BR-365P,
weight: 4.99kg, velocity: 1.200 m/s
Armor penetration at 500m: 138mm
Armor penetration at 1.000m: 100mm
HE (High Explosive) F-365, weight: 9.5kg, velocity: 792 m/s
HE-frag (improved HE-round) O-365K (OF-365), weight: 9.5kg, velocity: 792 m/s
Technical info, T-34/85 Model 1944