Sunday 7 July 2013

Shopping for Tanks

In the late 1920s, the Soviet Union was faced with a problem. The MS-1 (T-18) tank that was adopted by the Red Army was pushed to the limits of its modernization. The tanks captured from interventionist forces during the civil war were obsolete long ago. While Soviet engineers were doing their best to develop original solutions to this problem, the only short term solution was to buy foreign tanks. That is how the T-26 (Vickers 6-ton) and BT (Christie M1940) came to be.

A massive project to digitize Stalin's personal document archives has recently been completed at, allowing us to trace the purchases of these new tanks. Let's read on.

RGASPI 17-3-767. December 5th, 1929.

"The project presented by the commission was approved. The commission made the following points:
  1. The Red Army only has the small T-18 tank.
  2. The T-18 tank does not sufficiently match modern requirements.
  3. There are no designs for a medium or a large tank.
  4. The five year plan of tractorization and motorization are currently tied up with supplying the army and country with powerful tractors.
  5. It is necessary to solve the questions of tank and tractor building, as well as to receive modern tanks and tractors.
  6. No later than December 20th, send a commission abroad to
    1. Select and purchase samples of large and medium tanks.
    2. Investigate the possibility of technical aid.
  7. The tank building program must be completed towards the end of 1932-33.
  8. The tank building program for 1929-30 must be completed by October 1930. 
  9. Extend the Politburo commission until January 3rd, 1930. The commission must investigate and take measures to complete the plan for one year from now and 4 years from now."
RGASPI 17-3-777. February 23rd, 1930.

"We have decided the answers to Halepskiy's questions.
  1. Instruct Halepskiy and Budnyak that they are to deal with Vickers and other companies not as paupers begging for scraps, but as masters, since the customer is the master on the market.
  2. Tell them that the practice of buying tanks for cash is not widespread. Other countries are allowed to purchase tanks, and other items, on a long-term credit, while we are the only ones required to pay right away.
  3. Accept Halepskiy's proposed purchasing program, increasing the number of tankettes to 20.
  4. Demand that only 20-30% be paid in cash, and obtain a guarantee of armour quality.
  5. Instruct Halepskiy that telegrams must be precisely enciphered, and exceptionally sensitive materials be sent by mail."
RGASPI 17-3-782. April 15th, 1930.

"On the purchase of the Christie tank (Voroshilov), it was decided to:
  1. Allow the purchase of two Christie tanks. The People's Commissariat of Trade should find the budget for them in the existing discretionary imports budget.
  2. Consider it reasonable to request technical aid for construction of Christie tanks."
RGASPI 17-3-910. December 7, 1932.

"On the subject of  Christie, it was decided that:
  1. Halepskiy should begin talks with Christie to purchase one non-flying tank. 
  2. If there is a model 1932 tank already built, one unit should be bought.
  3. Christie is not to be invited to the USSR."
RGASPI 17-3-946. June 9th, 1934.

2. Buy a Perkins 50 hp diesel motor to install on the T-37 amphibious tank. 1500 rubles from the reserve fund has been allocated for this task.
3. Buy two Vickers tanks of the latest model..."

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