T-34-85 Medium Tank

The T-34-85 Medium Tank was the main Soviet tank in the last year of the Second World War, and was the only significantly improved version of the basic T-34 to enter production during the war.

The T-34-85 was armed with one of two variants on the 85mm anti-aircraft gun. The first, the D-5, was produced by F.F. Pietrov of Factory No.9, and was used in the first version of the T-34-85, produced late in 1943 and early in 1944. This was then replaced by the S-53, a rather longer gun which was used in the vast majority of T-34-85s. Both of these guns were installed in a new much larger turret which required a 1600mm turret ring.

Column of T-34-84 tanks in Brandenburg, 1945
Column of T-34-84
tanks in
Brandenburg, 1945

The new turret and main gun were the only important changes introduced with the T-34-85. The hull, armour and suspension were the same as on the T-34-76, meaning that the T-34-85 was just as vulnerable to German 88mm guns as the earlier version.

The larger turret also allowed three crewmen to be carried, with the gunner and tank commander on the left and the loader on the right. This finally solved one of the biggest problems with the T-34-76 – the inefficient two-man turret – and allowed for more effective tank tactics. The new turret was only slightly larger from the front than the hexagonal turret of the T-34, but was much longer, with more space at both ends.

Although a small number of T-34-85s were built in 1943 at Factory No.122, large numbers of the new tank did not appear until 1944, when three factories produced nearly 12,000 of the S-53 armed version. Production continued until at least 1950 in the Soviet Union, and the T-34-85 was also built under licence in several eastern bloc countries.

T-34-85 Medium Tank at Gleiwitz
T-34-85 Medium Tank at Gleiwitz

The T-34-85 was at best a partial solution to the problems faced by the Red Army after the appearance of more powerful German tanks such as the Panther or Tiger I. The 85mm gun was capable of damaging the German tanks, but the 45mm armour of the T-34 was now painfully vulnerable. Given the right circumstances the T-34-85 could defeat even the Tiger II, but despite this the Red Army still lost four times as many tanks as the Germans during 1944. Only in 1945, as the German army finally collapsed, did this situation finally improve.

The T-34-85 had a long post-war career, serving in the armies of at least 39 countries, 27 of which still had some in service as late as 1996! The T-34-85 was an important part of the North Korean army at the start of the Korean War in 1950. At first it was overwhelming successful, defeating everything thrown at it until the Americans rushed some M26 Pershing tanks to Pusan.

1st version – D-5 Gun

The first version of the T-34-85 was armed with the D-5 L/51.6 gun, and was produced by No.112 Factory. This version of the tank was produced in very small numbers – 250 standard tanks and 5 command tanks – before the D-5 gun was replaced.

2nd version – S-53 Gun

The second version of the T-34-85 was armed with the S-53 L/54.6 gun. This gun was lighter than the D-5, easier to use, and was 25cm longer, giving it a faster muzzle velocity. Neither gun was quite as good as the German 88mm guns in use in the last years of the war, but both were a great improvement on the 76.2mm gun of the original T-34.

As with the T-34-76 a constant stream of changes were made to the design of the T-34-85, often used to distinguish between a large number of sub-variants, but again as with the T-34-76 these changes were introduced piecemeal onto the production line, and not in big batches while the different factories introduced changes at different times.

Production of the S-53 armed tank began at Factory No.112 in February 1944, at No.183 Factory in March and in No.174 Factory in June. Other factories involved in T-34 production switched to tank destroyers and assault guns at this point.

Production of this basic version continued for at least five years after the end of the war, and it was these post-war tanks that gained a reputation for the quality of their construction and reliability.

3rd version – Model 1960

The T-34-85 was modernised twice after the end of the Second World War, producing the Model 1960 and the Model 1969. These tanks were produced by modifying existing tanks, and not from new construction.

The Model 1960 was given night-driving capability with the installation of an intra-red sight and head liht. The 9R radio of the wartime tanks was replaced with a 10-RT-26R radio. Improved air filters were installed. A new engine – the V-34-M2 replaced the surviving V-2-34 wartime engine.

4th version – Model 1969

The Model 1969 was a less significant update. Better infra-red equipment was installed and the R-123 radio replaced the 10-RT-26R, but by now the T-34 was used by the reserve forces, and far more modern tanks were available for the front line units.


8m 10cm

Hull Width



2m 70cm




32 tons



Max Speed


Armour – Front

45mm at 60 degrees

Armour – Side

45mm at 40 degrees

Armour – Turret Front


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 September 2008), T-34-85 Medium Tank , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_t-34-85_medium_tank.html

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