The T-38 amphibious tank was designed to replace the T-37, and was wider and lower than the earlier vehicle and performed better in the water.
The T-37 was the first Soviet amphibious tank to enter mass production, and around 1,200 were built in 1933-36. It was designed by a Moscow based team led by N. Kozyrev. In 1931 this team had begun work on preparing for mass production of the British Carden-Loyd A4E11 amphibious tankette, as the T-33. The same team also produced their own design, in two versions – the amphibious T-41 and non-amphibious T-34 (not to be confused with the famous medium tank). All three designs reached the prototype stage, but none impressed, and the team began work on a new design, which entered production as the T-37.
The T-37 was a two man light tank powered by a GAZ AA engine with the power train from the GAZ AA truck. The crew were located side by side, with the commander in a small turret on the right and the driver in the fuselage on the left. Buoyancy came from two pontoons carried above the tracks. It was considered good enough to enter production in 1933, but the Soviets were never entirely happy with it.
In 1934 the first attempt was made to find a replacement. Two design teams produced different designs for tanks with convertible tracks, to allow them to run on their wheels on the road, as the T-43-1 and T-43-2. However neither of these were considered suitable.
The next attempt to produce a replacement was led by N. Kozyrev working at Zavod No.37 at Moscow. The new tank was wider and lower than the T-37. The turret was swapped to the left and the driver to the right, and perhaps because of the lower fuselage a rectangular structure was built over the driver’s position. The turret had a circular plan and vertical sides, with a box on the front to carry the 7.62mm machine gun. Pictures of the T-38 don’t show the pontoons over the tracks. Like the T-37 it used coil spring suspension based on that used on the French AMR light tank. In the field some tanks were given a 20mm cannon in place of the machine gun.
The first prototype was built in 1936 and the T-37 entered full production in 1937. About 1,300 examples were built before production ended in 1939.
In 1940 the T-38 was used as a command tank for a remote controlled version of the T-26 light tank. The T-26 would be filled with explosives, and a controller in the T-38 would then guide it onto its target and detonate it. Some are said to have been used during the Winter War, but with uncertain results.
In 1939 work began on a replacement for the T-38. At Gorki a GAZ team produced the TM amphibious tank, which used T-38 components, but this was too similar to the older tank. The Moscow team that had produced the T-38 worked on an entirely new design, the T-30, which would eventually enter service as the T-40.
The T-38 first saw combat in the Winter War, but its thin armour meant it was even vulnerable to machine gun fire.
When the Germans invaded in 1941 the T-38 was forced into combat as a light tank because of the devastating losses of other types, and suffered very heavy losses.
The T-38-M1 was developed late in 1937. It used a new planetary transmission system, which was technically superior to the system used on the standard T-38, but was too complicated to be mass produced. As a result it wasn’t accepted for service use.
In 1938 the T-38-M2 entered production. This used the power train and engine from the new GAZ-M1 truck.
Hull Length: 12ft 4.8in
Hull Width: 10ft 11.1in
Height: 5ft 4.2in
Weight: 3,300kg/ 7,275lb
Engine: 40hp GAZ AA or 40hp GAZ M1 petrol engine
Max Speed: 24.9mph road
Max Range: 105.6miles road
Armament: One 7.62mm MG as built, one 20mm ShVAK cannon in field