Saturday 23 November 2013

Dig In

What do you do when you have a ton of old tanks kicking around? If you're the Germans, you throw away the turret, and put a bigger gun on top. However, that approach means you still have half of an obsolete tank, with no spare parts for it. The Soviets had different ideas: bury them.

Not entirely, of course. Think about the parts of the tank that wear out the most: the engine, the tracks, the road wheels. A tank can be immobilized by broken parts, and waste a perfectly good gun in the process. If you have a bunch of broken or nearly broken tanks, might as well drop them off somewhere they can be useful. Also, dig them into the ground, since they're not going anywhere anyway.

The following photos show some more MS-1s. These are armed with 45 mm guns, and have their "tails" removed. They haven't been dug into the ground yet, but they are going to be.

Interestingly enough, not all MS-1s met their end in a ditch. This page lists 3 MS-1s as a part of the 150th Independent Tank Brigade as of February 26th, 1942. 

Here's a rare one. That's not just any tank dug into the ground. That's a T-46 tank! They were meant to replace the T-26, but never quite managed to. A lot of them also ended up as fortifications as their final role.

Pre-war light tanks weren't the only ones to end up in the ground. A letter from the GAZ factory to GABTU from 1942 talks about 379 hulls for obsolete T-40 and T-60 tanks, and states that 150 hulls are available to GABTU to use as pillboxes.

Of course, not only light tanks became obsolete. Another letter to GABTU, this time from a tank school, states: "The school has 4 T-35 tanks and 8 T-28 tanks, which, after long use and numerous repairs, have become unusable and cannot be restored with the resources of the school. I await your instructions regarding transfer of these tanks to the armoured train directorate in order to install them as weapons platforms or immobile gun batteries in fortified regions." This letter was sent in 1943, long after those tanks would have been useful in combat. Let's see how this turned out:

CAMD RF 38-11355-963

Instead of leaving the turret on and using the tank's cannon, this pillbox design simply re-uses the hull. 

Something similar was done with the KV-1S:

CAMD RF 38-11355-963

During the defense of Leningrad, everything that could shoot was used, including the experimental Kirov T-50 tank. A curio of the Winter War, the T-100-Z, contributed to the defense, but not in its entirety.

"Leningrad Front. A tank that became a pillbox. Photograph by special correspondent A. Kapustyanskiy."

The Soviets were far from the only ones to bury their old tanks. Here is a British Medium Mk III buried at Mersa Matruh. 


  1. That's a Mk II, Mk III never reached operational service AFAIK (only one used during the Salisbury Plain exercises in 1934).

  2. Look up "panzer stellungs" or Pantherturms The Germans, Fins, and other dug in guns as well.

    "If you're the Germans, you throw away the turret, and put a bigger gun on top" thats a pretty partisan statement, can't think of one instance where this is true I can however think of at least one situation in regard to the USSR: the T-34/76 vs the /85 , Turret was thrown out and obsolete gun replaced with larger one.

    1. "If you're the Germans, you throw away the turret, and put a bigger gun on top" is true. The German Marder (and other) tank destroyer lines used obsolete French and German tanks and other armoured vehicles with a fixed superstructure with a more powerful gun.

    2. With the superstructure replacing the turret.

    3. And let's not forget the Wespe while we're at it. And also the Panzer IV variants.

  3. "If you're the Germans, you throw away the turret, and put a bigger gun on top" I think it's actually: put the biggest gun you possibly can on it.