The Best (And Most Dangerous) Tanks from Russia

Caleb Larson

Russia inherited a formidable and highly varied inventory of tanks after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The arc of Soviet tank design has prized simplicity of manufacture, to help mass production, and ease of operation, to partially negate tank crew’s lack of training. Compact design and lightweight are also staples of Soviet/Russian tank engineering. Here are the deadliest tanks that Russia ever designed— some of which are still in active use around the world today.

T-34

No discussion about tanks is complete without mentioning the Soviet T-34. The iconic T-34 debuted in 1940 and was designed to address the shortcomings of the BT series of cavalry tanks, which were light, fast, lightly armed, and thinly armored.

By contrast, the T-34 was more heavily armored. Its hull front was 45–47mm thick and steeply angled, reducing the effectiveness of German anti-tank guns, particularly the German Pak 36, whose 37mm round reportedly bounced off T-34 hulls.

Early production models were relatively light at twenty-six tons and had wider tracks, giving it a higher degree of off-road mobility— a decisive advantage when traversing soupy Russian terrain during spring weather conditions.

The initial T-34s were equipped with a 76.2mm gun that was effective against early-war German armor. Late-war German armor necessitated the introduction of an upgraded 85mm gun.

Despite the superior overall design of the T-34, combat effectiveness was hampered by highly variable manufacture quality. Testing of the T-34 by the United States at the Aberdeen Proving Ground showed that hulls were made of several types of steel which was not always properly hardened and often too soft or too brittle.

Tank tracks often snapped, and low-quality turret drives plagued the T-34, as did the very cramped interior, which fatigued the crew and further reduced combat effectiveness.

Still, the T-34 and its variants are thought to be the second most-produced tank in history—and holds the sad distinction of having suffered the most losses of any tank ever, although this is likely due in large part to poorly-trained tank crews.

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