Tank T-35 – The development of the tank started in 1930

At the turn of the twenties and thirties, not only European powers were hit by the fashion for more turret tanks. The theory was that multiple turret tanks could fire at multiple targets at once and would therefore be very effective. Machines of this concept were developed and tested in England, France, and illegally in Germany, but mostly always quickly abandoned again. The Soviet Army, of course, did not want to be left behind and so the Russians also started work on similarly designed medium and heavy weight tanks. However, while other European armies came to the realization that the advantages were outweighed by the drawbacks brought about by the complex design, the Russians went ahead and brought two of the multi-tower machines to mass production. These were specifically the T-28 medium tank and the T-35 heavy tank.

The development of the T-35 tank began in 1930 by the Leningrad design section led by N. W. Barjakov. A prototype of the new tank was completed in July 1932 and military trials were immediately started, first at the Moscow Military Academy and later at the Kubinka test range. In 1933, a second prototype was completed and tests continued on it as well.

The first prototype weighed 37.7 tonnes. Its chassis consisted of six running wheels on each side, a rear drive wheel, a front tension wheel and six support pulleys on which the belt sat from above. Almost the entire running gear was covered with sheet metal to protect it from sniping. The fuselage was made up of straight steel plates which were joined by welding and riveting. The prototype differed in many ways from later mass-produced tanks. For example, the frontal armour of the hull was designed differently. Its wall was bevelled and the machine gun’s firing range was recessed into its right half.

A total of five separate turrets were arranged above the front two-thirds of the hull length. The main turret was, of course, in the centre, positioned symmetrically to the longitudinal axis of the car. Unlike the production cars, the first prototype had a main turret with a rounded transition between the roof and the side walls. The main turret housed the tank’s main weapon, a 76.2 mm PS-3 cannon, coupled with a 7.62 mm DT machine gun. In front of and behind the main turret were two additional turrets. One of them was always artillery with a B-3 gun of 37 mm calibre and the other was machine gun only. In front, the artillery turret was located on the right and the machine gun turret on the left. At the rear, it was mirror reversed. The artillery and machine gun turrets were very similar in size and construction.

In the rear of the fuselage was the engine compartment and in it was the M-17 M gasoline unit with a maximum output of 500 hp and a four-speed transmission. The crew of the prototype consisted of nine men. A driver and a gunner sat side by side in the very front of the hull. The driver on the right, the gunner on the left. The rest of the crew had their stations in the turrets. In the main turret was the tank commander, gunner and loader. In each additional turret there was one man who was both gunner and loader of his gun.

The second prototype represented an intermediate step on the way from the first example to the production machine. Like the later production tanks, the main one already had a turret with a flat roof and a sharp edge between it and the side walls, which was much easier to manufacture than the rounding of the first prototype. However, the chassis remained in its original form with only six wheels. The weight of this second prototype was 42 tonnes.

The results of the tests carried out on both prototypes apparently convinced Soviet officials of the qualities of the new heavy tank, for on 11 August 1933 its serial production was approved. Production was put in charge of the Kharkov plant number 183. Before that, however, several design modifications were made to increase the value of the production tanks compared to the prototypes. First of all, the design of the chassis was changed. In the serial machines, the chassis consisted of eight running wheels on each side with a rubber bandage around the perimeter. The wheels were suspended and sprung in pairs. By increasing the number of wheels on the production tanks, the designers aimed to improve the driving characteristics.

The main turret of the production machines received new armament. The serial tanks also received new additional artillery turrets, significantly larger than the machine gun turrets. At the same time, the armament of these turrets changed. The original 37 millimetre guns were replaced by 20K guns of the 1932 pattern with 45 mm calibre. In addition, machine guns were added to the small artillery turrets. However, the machine gun installed in the prototypes in the front wall of the hull disappeared because the design of this part was completely changed. The positioning of the turrets is unchanged from the prototypes. The ammunition supply on board was about one hundred rounds for the heaviest gun, 225 rounds of 45 mm calibre ammunition and nine to ten thousand rounds of machine gun ammunition.

The number of crew members increased to 11 for the production tanks. As more spacious additional gun turrets were installed, a loader was added to each of them. Instead of a hull gunner, who had lost his machine gun, there sat a mechanic to deal with any technical problems the tank might have. The driver and the mechanic used a common hatch, located above the driver’s seat, for entry and exit. The turrets had their own ceiling hatches. The machine gun turrets had one hatch, the artillery turrets and the main turret each had two hatches.

The tank reached truly impressive dimensions. It measured 9.72 metres long, 3.20 metres wide and 3.44 metres high. The front armour of the hull was 30 mm thick, the side and rear armour 20 mm. The armour of the main turret was 25 mm on the front and 20 mm on the sides and stern.

From 1937, tanks began to receive three millimetres thicker armour, bringing the total weight up to 52 tonnes. Due to the increase in weight, the power unit was also upgraded. A new M-17 engine was installed with a capacity of 46.9 litres and a maximum output of 580 horsepower. The engine was properly thirsty and ingested around six hundred litres of petrol per hundred kilometres on the road. In the field, consumption was even higher. Considering that the volume of the fuel tanks was „only“ 900 litres, the tank’s range was not staggering. A radio station for communication with other tanks was not part of the standard equipment. Tanks that did have it could be identified by the frame antenna mounted on beams around the main turret. The TPU-7 internal telephone set was then used for internal communication between the large crew.

Serial production of the T-35 tank of the described version ran from 1934 to 1938. However, only 43 of these tanks were built during the entire period. In 1939 a modernized version entered production. All five turrets of the new version were replaced by new turrets whose walls were sloped and thus more resistant to gunfire. In addition, the frontal armour of the hull was strengthened to 50 mm. However, this also increased the weight to 55 tonnes. However, only six examples of the modernized T-35 were produced.

The T-35 tanks had their golden era during the pre-war years when they literally amazed the audience at military parades. But only experts and insiders knew the truth behind these parades. Before such events, selected tanks were parked in garages and given the best care. Their crews had very little useful experience as they could not even train with their tanks. Soviet propaganda, meanwhile, boasted of photographs and pictures of steel colossi like no other country in the world. Other countries recognized early on that the whole concept of multiple turrets did not bring the expected benefits and therefore did not waste resources on producing similar monsters.

The war with Nazi Germany that broke out on June 22, 1941 fully exposed the shortcomings of the T-35 tanks. During the movement of the machines from the Ukraine further eastward, most of these tanks were lost not because of the Wehrmacht’s combat activities, but mainly because of technical failures that could not be quickly resolved. The Germans then encountered abandoned wrecks from which the Russians removed the weapons and either blew them up or left them to their fate. However, T-35 tanks also actively intervened in the fighting with the Germans. Their accomplishments are not well known which only proves that there probably were none.

To this day, only one example of the T-35 tank has survived and can be seen in the Kubinka Tank Museum.

Hmotnost52 t
Délka9,72 m
Šířka3,20 m
Výška3,44 m
Pohonná jednotkaM-17m
Maximální výkon580 koní
Maximální rychlost30 km/h
Dojezd – silnice150 km
Pancéřování věže20-25 mm
Pancéřování trupu20-30 mm
Výzbroj1 x kanon ráže 76,2 mm1 x kanon ráže 45 mm5 x kulomet DT ráže 7,62 mm
Osádka11 mužů

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