T-34, an illustrated history of Stalin's Greatest Tank

T-34, an illustrated history of Stalin's Greatest Tank

Wolfgang Fleischer
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
T-34, an illustrated history of Stalin's Greatest Tank by Wolfgang Fleischer
Foreword by Anthony Tucker-Jones. ISBN: 978 1 78438 495 1.

Wolfgang Fleischer is a historian and works at the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden. His many publications include: Military Technology of the First World War; German Artillery 1914-1918; Panzerfaust and other German Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons; The Wehrmacht Weapons Testing Ground at Kummersdorf; Russian Tanks and Armoured Vehicles 1917-1945; Military Vehicles of the Reichswehr; German Infantry Carts, Army Field Wagons and Army Sleds 1900-1945. (Don't some of those titles just roll off the tongue?)

Anthony Tucker-Jones is a former defence intelligence officer and a widely published expert on regional conflicts, and Armoured and Aerial Warfare. He is the author of numerous books, including Slaughter on the Eastern Front; Stalin's Revenge; Armoured Warfare on the Eastern Front and Kursk 1943.

The T-34 was one of the most remarkable tanks of World War Two and one of the few tanks to be built from the beginning of the war until it ended, with only the German Panzer IV sharing it's longevity. It was one of the triumvirate of tanks to become a household name along side the German Tiger and the American built Sherman.

It was quite a different story however, when the T-34 first entered service in 1941. There were too few of them, leading to Soviet High Command relying on outdated and obsolete tanks. The first versions of the T-34 were under-gunned due to the low velocity of it's main gun. There were also many problems with the engine and transmission, shortages of ammunition and fuel and badly-trained crews.

At the start of Operation Barbarossa, many T-34s were simply abandoned by their inexperienced crews and those lacking the skills to manoeuvre proper!y became easy targets for the German dive-bombers and artillery. Tanks were either blown apart or flipped on their backs like struggling tortoises. The Red Army set about overcoming the problems of training, and rebuilding the engine. The first issue to solve was relocating the tank building plants to the East, away from bomber range. Crews were put through an intensive training course and for the first time in many months, the Russian Tanks mauled the Panzer IV's, even though they had had a larger gun fitted. General Heinz Guderian, the Panzer Commander, demanded an immediate replacement.

The T-34 was produced in thousands and General Georgi Zhukov dubbed the Tank the "Russian miracle" as the Tank was produced in time for the defence of Moscow. The T-34's utilitarian and robust design made it easy to mass produce, and with adequate training, easy to use in battle.

Probably the best innovation for the Russians were the wider tracks, enabling the tank's weight to be spread across the width of the vehicle. It proved a blessing in the muddy winters and spring thaws, fighting in some of the worst weather conditions possible. The T-34 proved extremely reliable and rugged and accounting for 75% of all Panthe Germzer IV losses in World War Two. The T-34, importantly, was built with a turret ring that allowed a larger turret and larger gun to be installed. With the T-34/85 entering service in 1944, it's 85mm gun out it on a level playing field with the heavy Panzers. The T-34 chassis was also used as the foundation for the SU-85 and SU-100 tank destroyers which proved to be deadly against the Tigers of the Wehrmacht.

The book is 9" x 6" , contains 210 pages and is in hardback form. The author has included live photos and incorporated diagrams and scale drawings of the Tank and it's various improvements. There is also a section of coloured prints showing T-34's as Gate Guardians, in museums or rotting away in fields. The author also includes a veritable plethora of information on the Tank and it's versions in table format.

Although the book is only divided into 5 chapters after the introduction, they are fairly well packed with information. Chapter one deals with the place of the T-34 in Tank History; chapter two covers the development, improvement and Production of the T-34; Chapter three introduces us to the variants, including the Flame thrower, Mine Clearance, Recovery and Bridgelaying tanks; chapter four is solely devoted to the Self-propelled Guns, while chapter 5 contains all of the data tables.

As well as being an interesting book for the historian, it also sits well as a story and is well worth reading from cover to cover. I think, for the model-maker, it is invaluable; containing everything needed to build the internal and external parts, or even a variant. It will also serve well as a reference source for the student of military history.

A thoroughly definitive study of one of the world's historic engines of war.

I rate and recommend this book very highly. Five out of Five.

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