The BT series of cavalry tanks were the second most numerous Soviet tanks of the 1930s (after the T-26), and also the second most numerous type produced anywhere in the world in the same period. They were fast cavalry tanks based on the American Christie tank, and went through a series of updates between the original BT-2 of 1931 and the much improved BT-7 of 1936.
Zaloga's book takes us through the design history of the BT series, starting with the purchase of two Christie tanks from the United States and the production of the original BT-2 in the Soviet Union. We then move on to the improved BT-5 and BT-7 variants and the numerous special types that were produced (or imagined – including a flying tank and several floating tanks). The last third of the battle deals with the service record of the BT family. The text is supported by an excellent selection of wartime pictures and modern illustrations.
None of the technical updates were of much use when the Germans invaded in the summer of 1941. Just over 6,000 BT tanks were in use with front line units in western Russia at the start of the invasion, and the vast majority of them had been lost by the end of the year. Technically the BT-7 was on a par with, or superior to, over half of the German tanks involved, but many suffered from mechanical breakdowns because of a shortage of spares, and had to be abandoned as the Germans advanced. By 1942 a relative handful of BT tanks remained in use in the west.
Zaloga's account makes it clear that the BT series tanks didn't perform much better in their earlier battles. A small batch was sent to Spain, but was badly used and quickly used up. During the fighting against Japan at Khalkin Gol in 1938-39 the BT proved to be vulnerable to the Japanese antitank guns, a worrying sign given that those same guns would struggle to damage the second line Allied tanks deployed to the Far East. During the Winter War against Finland the BT tanks proved to be equally vulnerable, and the Finns were always short of anti-tank weapons.
The section on the development of the BT series makes it clear just how damaging Stalin's purges and paranoia were. Afanasiy O. Firsov, the chief designer for the BT series from early in 1933, was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for the rapid introduction of the BT-7 in 1935, demoted in 1936 after problems with the design emerged, and denounced and executed in 1937. His main critic, a young tank designer called N.F. Tsyganov, was killed in 1938. As the author's book on the T-64 makes clear the Soviet tank design system was somewhat dysfunctional during the Cold War, but not on this scale!
The BT-5 Tank
The BT-7 Tank
The PT-1 Amphibious Tank
BT Artillery Tanks
Engineer Support Tanks
Author: Steven J. Zalonga