T-34-76 Medium Tank – Designations and Variants

The various versions of the T-34 have been known by at least three different designation systems in English language publications. At the root of this problem was the secrecy inherent to the Stalinist state, which meant that the official designations (if any) were not well known outside the Soviet Union. As a result the first system for indentifying different versions of the T-34 known in the West was the one adopted by German military intelligence during the war. In this system the 76mm armed T-34s were known as the T-34/76, and were given letter designations from A to F to identify perceived variants.

This system began to be replaced by one similar to the standard Soviet system for tank designations. The T-34/76 thus becomes the T-34-76, while different versions of the tank were given year based model numbers. Four standard designations have been used – Model 1940 for early L-11 armed tanks, Model 1941 for the first F-34 armed tanks, Model 1942 for a simplified version that first appeared late in 1941 and Model 1943 for the final major version with the new hexagonal turret.

A third system, said to reflect official Soviet practise, used the same system but with different years, with Model 1941 used for all F-34 armed tanks and Model 1942 for those with the hexagonal turret.

There is also a fourth, very credible alternative, put forward in Robert Michulec’s monumental T-34 Mythical Weapon. His examination of wartime Soviet documents found no official system for identifying the different versions of the T-34, suggesting that the Soviet system mentioned above was actually a post-war attempt to produce order out of the chaos of wartime production.

What is clear is that each production run of the T-34 from each factory was different, sometimes in quite significant ways. The first two factories to produce the T-34 – at Kharkov and Stalingrad – were both knocked out by the Germans, and the Kharkov plant forced to move east of the Urals. A series of other factories produced the T-34 in varying numbers. As modifications were developed they were introduced at different speeds in different factories, while other modifications were specific to a particular plant. The number of modifications introduced is staggering – factory No.183 made over 5,500 changes in 1940-41, and at least 10,000 more before the end of the war! These changes were not introduced in big batches, further supporting Michulec’s view on the wartime designation system of the T-34.

Here we will look at the three main production versions of the T-34 – the early L-11 armed tanks, the mid-production F-34 armed tanks and the late version with the hexagonal turret.


T-34 Model 1940 T-34 Model 1940

Early Production - First Gun – 7.62mm L-11 L/30.5

The first version of the T-34 to enter service was armed with the 7.62mm L-11 gun with a length of 30.5 calibres. This gun was mounted towards the base of the turret, making this variant very easy to identify. Production began in the summer of 1940, and lasted well into 1941.  This version of the tank was given the German designation T-34A, and is now normally referred to as the Model 1940.

Mid Production - Second Gun – 7.62mm F-34 L/42

The L-11 gun was soon replaced by the longer 7.62mm T-34, easily recognised by the position of the gun at the top of the mantlet. This version of the tank entered production in small numbers in 1941, and production merged into that of the hexagonal turreted version late in 1942. It was known as the T-34B and T-34C to the Germans and as the Model 1941 and 1942 in recent western histories.

T-34 Model 1941 or 1942, Crimea 1942 T-34 Model 1941 or 1942, Crimea 1942

The T-34 gun was designed in 1940 and entered production at the start of 1941. A small number of tanks were produced armed with this gun in the first half of 1941, and it became the standard version in the second half of the year.

During 1942 the Soviet Union ran very short of rubber. A new all-steel road wheel was developed for the T-34. This was used at all of the T-34 factories, although in different proportions as the supply of rubber remained variable. The Stalingrad plant was most likely to produce tanks with no rubber tired wheels, the No.183 factory to produce tanks with no all-steel wheels. Most factories attempted to use rubber tires on the front and last road wheels.

The designation Model 1942 is normally given to tanks with a series of modifications introduced from the end of 1941. These include the use of a waffle pattern on the tracks, which increased grip (but was often removed on tanks with all steel wheels), a new drivers hatch, 45mm side armour and a circular access hatch above the transmission.

A mixed version was produced at Stalingrad. Here the glacis plate was interweaved with the side armour, a flat plate was used to make the rear of the turret, and a single plate was used for the front of the gun recuperator housing, giving it a distinctive “chisel” shape.

Late Production - Hexagonal Turret

T-34 Model 1943 Medium Tank, Poland
T-34 Model 1943 Medium Tank, Poland

The last version of the T-34 is now generally known as the Model 1943, although many of its distinctive elements appeared during 1942, and it is sometimes referred to as the Model 1942. The Germans gave the same tank three different designations – D, E and F.

The most obvious visual change introduced on this model of the T-34 was the new hexagonal turret. This had been designed by M.A. Nabutovsky at the new Factory 183 in the Urals during the winter of 1941-42 as part of the effort to simplify the production process. Photographic evidence proves that a small number of tanks equipped with this turret entered service in July 1942, in the aftermath of a State Defence Council resolution of 1 July 1942.

The new turret was produced in stamped and cast versions, with two versions of the cast turret, known as the “softedge” and “hardedge” versions. The hardedge version was made up of a larger number of individual cast components, the softedge version from three – the walls, the ring and the armoured roof. The stamped version was made from a single 45mm armoured plate forced into shape by a 5,000 ton press.

The new turret was a slight improvement on the original design. Its sides were less sloped and it was slightly taller, increasing the amount of internal space, but it was still a cramped two-man turret. Most had two hatches on the roof, producing the “mickey mouse” profile when both were open.

The turret was modified against in the summer of 1943 when a commander’s cupola was finally added, eventually appearing on 5,740 T-34s.

The second external change introduced on the “model 1943) was the use of cylindrical external fuel tanks on the side of the tank in place of the rectangular tanks of earlier models, and the use of box-shaped tanks on the rear of the tank, increasing the fuel capacity of the tank by up to 150 litres.

Other changes included the use of a new type of track, the provision of an armoured mantlet for the hull machine gun, and the provision of hand rails on the hull and turret. This last change produced the most famous image of the T-34, with infantry clinging to the sides and perched on the back of the tank.

Statistics

Number produced

L-11 gun

F-34 gun

Length

5m 92cm

6m 61cm

Hull Width

3m

3m

Height

2m 4cm

2m 60.4cm

Crew

4

4

Weight

28 tons

30 tons

Engine

V-2 diesel

V-2 diesel

Max Speed

48kmhr

47 km/hr

Armour – Front

45mm at 60 degrees

45mm at 60 degrees

Armour – Side

40mm at 40 degrees

45mm at 40 degrees

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 September 2008), T-34-76 Medium Tank – Designations and Variants , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_t-34-76_variants.html

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