The T-37 amphibious tank was a light amphibious tank that entered production in 1933, and was produced in large numbers before being replaced by the improved T-38.
Work on an amphibious tank began in 1931 when a Corden-Loyd A4E11 amphibious tankette was delivered to a design team at Moscow led by N. Kozyrev. They were given the job of preparing for licence production of this vehicle, with the Russian designation T-33. The T-33 relied on two pontoons, one on either side, for buoyancy, had a flat sided circular turret mounted towards the rear, with the driver sitting in front of the turret under an armoured cover. It had a long almost flat front deck. When in the water power came from a single propeller at the rear.
At the same time Kozyrev’s design team worked on an alternative amphibious tank, the T-41, which was somewhat larger, and used a different buoyancy system. They also produced a non-amphibious version, the T-34 (not to be confused with the famous medium tanks!). Prototypes were built of all three, and they were put through rigorous trials. None of them performed well, so Kozyrev’s team moved onto a new design.
The new tank was given the designation T-37. It had very little in common with the British original, apart from the basic concept and the use of pontoons above the tracks to provide buoyancy. It had four road wheels on each side, with a raised drive wheel at the front, and added a raised idler at the rear. Power in the water came from a single propeller and rudder at the rear. One big change was that the two crewmen now sat side-by-side, about half way along the vehicle, with the turret offset to the right and the driver sitting to the right. The driver’s position was covered by a large hatch which could be opened to give good visibility. In combat with the hatch closed the driver had a small vision slot in the small vertical front of the superstructure. The coil spring suspension was based on the type used in the French AMR light tank. Power was provided by a 40hp GAZ AA petrol engine using the power train from the related GAZ-AA lorry. The turret was similar to that used on the T-33, with a circular plan, flat sides and a boxy mount for its 7.62mm machine gun.
On 11 August 1933 the T-37 was accepted for service as a replacement for the T-27. At the same time a special unit was formed at Leningrad to put the T-37 through its paces. In eleven days the tanks travelled 600km in water, an impressive performance.
A number of changes were made to the production version, which was initially designated as the T-37A, before officially becoming the T-37. Around 1,200 T-37s were built between 1933 and 1936/7.
Several different versions of the T-37 were produced. The T-37TU was a command tank, with a ‘clothes line’ antenna running around the outside of the hull. This was used by unit commanders to keep in touch with higher formations. However as the normal tanks didn’t carry radios, any orders would then have to be passed on using signal flags.
Later in the production run some tanks were built using a welded turret that was also used on the T-28 and T-35, although this still carried the single machine gun. Some late production vehicles were built without the pontoons.
One T-37 was given a Model 1941 37mm anti-tank gun, and used to test the idea of using it as a tank destroyer to accompany the machine gun armed tanks.
Work on a replacement for the T-37 began in 1934, with the designation T-43. This vehicle would have had running gear where the tracks could quickly be removed to allow the vehicle to move faster on roads. Two versions were produced, the T-43-1 at Moscow and the T-43-2 at Leningrad, but neither design was accepted.
Instead the T-37 would be replaced by the T-38, another tank designed by N. Kozyrev’s team. This was wider and lower than the T-37, and had the turret swapped to the left. The T-38 entered production in 1937.
Although the T-37 was meant to be used as a scout tank, the heavy loses suffered by the Soviet tank forces in 1941 meant that some were pressed into combat in the desperate battles of 1941-42, and as a result by the end of 1942 just about all of the T-37s had been destroyed.
Hull Length: 12ft 3.6in
Hull Width: 6ft 10.7in
Height: 5ft 11.7in
Weight: 3,200kg/ 7,055lb
Engine: 40hp GAZ AA petrol engine
Max Speed: 22 mph
Max Range: 115 miles
Armament: One 7.62mm machine gun