The T-18 light tank was the first Soviet designed tank to enter mass production, and played a major role in the development of the Red Army’s armoured forces.
The T-18 was developed by a Tank Bureau which had been set up under Professor V Zaslavskiy in the mid 1920s. One of his first tasks was to produce a 3 ton tank armed with a 37mm gun, changed in the spring of 1925 to a five ton tank. He focused on improving the Renault FT, a standard approach in several countries in the 1920s. It was given a 35hp engine from a Fiat 14 ter lorry, an improved version of the French Hotchkiss SA 18 37mm, and a new vertical spring suspension system.
The resulting T-16 had six pairs of road wheels on each side, mounted on three bogies, each of which was mounted on a vertical spring which was connected to the fuselage at the same point as the three return rollers. It had a rear drive wheel and raised front idler. On the T-18 a seventh pair of road wheels was added at the front, mounted on its own suspension spring which was mounted diagonally.
The prototype of the T-16 was finished in either March or May 1927 and underwent trials in June. On 6 July 1927 the modified version was approved for production as the T-18 and an order for 108 was placed, to be built at the Bolshevik Factory in 1928-29. The first batch of 30 were handed over to the Army in May 1929 and were able to take part in that year’s Red Square parades on 7 November.
However production of these tanks had been difficult. The factory was unable to produce electrical equipment, ball bearings or carburettors, all of which had to be imported. Production also had to be stopped from time to time to fix problems with the design. As a result production of the tank was paused while the design was improved. It was given a 40hp engine, a bustle on the back of the turret to give space for a radio and a new gearbox and cast wheels were introduced. Production resumed later in 1929 and about 960 examples were built before production ended in 1931.
The first version of the tank was also known as the MS-1 (for Maliy Soprovozhdyeniya-Pierviy – First Small Support Vehicle). The main production version was the MS-1A/ T-18 Model 1928. Some sources suggest that later versions of the T-18 may have been designated as the MS-2 and MS-3, although this isn’t clear.
The T-18 had a rather unusual arrangement of its turret guns. On one side of the turret front it had a ball socketed machine gun, while on the other side it carried its 37mm gun in a swivelling mount, so the gun could be moved from side to side without moving the turret.
A company of T-18s were sent to the Far East in 1929 to resist border incursions from Chinese Manchuria. In the Far East the T-18 performed well. In one clash around Dzhalaynor Station a force of eight T-18s helped the 106th and 108th Rifle Regiments attacking dug-in Chinese troops, providing cover and fire support. However the Chinese weren’t well equipped with anti-tank weapons, so this wasn’t an entirely fair test.
In 1938 over 700 of the surviving T-18s were ordered to be re-armed for use as mobile firing positions along the Polish and Romania borders. Some saw combat with the IX Mechanized Corps after the German invasion in June 1941, when they were rushed into combat to replace the heavy losses of BT and T-26s. Unsurprisingly they performed poorly and were soon eliminated.
A team under Team under S. Prakhie at the Bolshevik Factory produced two improved versions of the T-18. The T-19 of 1931 had a 90hp engine, a crew of three and better suspension. The T-20 had a 60hp engine.
Hull Length: 438cm
Hull Width: 176cm
Weight: 5.9 tonnes
Engine: 35hp T-18
Max Speed: 17km/h (road)
Max Range: 50km (road)
Armament: 37mm gun and Fiodorov machine gun