Monday 6 January 2014

Tank Inscriptions

Along with sponson guns and engine rooms, WWI British tanks inherited another thing from battleships: proper names. The first series of Soviet tanks continued that tradition. The practice of naming each tank waned as tanks became significantly more common than battleships, but returned in the time of war. The following photograph, for instance, is pretty famous.

That is a T-34 model 1942 #212-570, with an inscription that reads "Leningradets" (citizen of Leningrad). The tank belongs to the 1st Red Banner Tank Brigade, other members of which were also awarded titles.

"Order to the 1st Red Banner Tank Brigade #0124
November 4th. 1943

An announcement of order #0111 of the Commander of the Amoured and Mechanized Forces of the Leningrad Front follows:

"In order to preserve the proud traditions of great Russian commanders, whose names were cemented in the history of the art of war, in honour of the leaders and organizers of the heroic struggle of the Russian people against German fascism, in honour of our best soldier and officer tankers, loyal sons of the Soviet people, who demonstrated bravery, courage, and heroism, I order the naming of heavy and medium tanks in frontline units.
I am certain that the crews of the war machines that bear these glorious names, and their commanders, will exterminate the fascist scum with their skill in battle, and will write new pages of victory in the history of the Red Army, pages that are worthy of those names that serve as a symbol of selfless and heroic war of our people against a hated enemy.

I order the naming of these medium tanks of the 1st Red Banner Tank Brigade:
  • T-34 tank #212-309: For the Motherland
  • T-34 tank #212-342: Alexandr Suvorov
  • T-34 tank #212-640: Sergei Kirov
  • T-34 tank #212-570: Leningradets
  • T-34 tank #212-691: Petr Kraizelburg, after a courageous tanker, commander of the 1st Red Banner Tank Brigade, and later a Guards Breakthrough Tank Regiment, who died the death of brave men in defense of our Motherland.
  • T-34 tank #212-90: Vladimir Kiryanov, after a courageous sergeant, posthumously awarded an Order of the Red Banner, whose crew destroyed two field guns, 2 AT guns, 2 mounted machineguns, a mortar battery, two motorcycles, and up to 50 soldiers and officers of the enemy, who died the death of brave men defending the city of Lenin.
  • T-34 tank #212-303: Nikolai Ovchinnikov, after a cavalier of the Order, a courageous tank officer that skilfully combined his personal courage with excellent command of his unit, who died the death of brave men in defense of our Motherland.
  • T-34 tank #212-611: Alexandr Nevskiy
  • T-34 tank #212-737: Semyon Dulkin, after a loyal son of the Soviet people, twice cavalier of the Order, commander of a tank battalion, who skilfully and remorselessly defeated German invaders and gave his life for the Motherland and its people.
  • T-34 tank #212-150: Mihail Sokolov, after a fearless and wilful tank officer, cavalier of the Order, radiating honour and glory, a loyal Bolshevik, who committed his life to defending the Motherland and died the death of brave men in defense of the city of Lenin.
  • T-34 tank #340-33: For the Soviet Ukraine
The application of inscriptions should be done in accordance with an order that was sent out earlier (order #017 from April 15th, 1943).

The vehicles with the aforementioned names should be handed over to the crews according to appendix #2 of the Combat Manual of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Red Army.

Commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Leningrad Front, Hero of the Soviet Union, Major-General of the tank forces, Baranov
HQ Chief of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Leningrad Front, Colonel Plevoy"

The commanders of the 1st and 2nd battalions should transfer the vehicles to the crews according to the manual. I am certain that the crews of these tanks that carry the names of brave warriors and loyal sons of the Russian people, fearless defenders of the Motherland, will be examples of endurance and defiance, skill, courage, and bravery, and will multiply the glory of their comrades that gave their lives for happiness of our people and independence of our country.

Commander of the 1st Red Banner Tank Brigade, Colonel Volkov
HQ Chief of the 1st Red Banner Tank Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Afanasyev"

Tank names were in no way unique. Kirov's name previously was assigned to the SMK tank (Sergei Mironovich Kirov), and "For the Motherland" was the name of another prototype heavy tank, the KV-220. Alexander Suvorov and Alexander Nevskiy also had their names on captured StuGs in the 1228th Guards Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment. "Suvorov" was also written on the side of a KV-1 from the 10th tank brigade.

LKZ manufacture KV-1, belonging to company commander Markov.

A tank's name wasn't just some paint on the side of the turret, but a proper name. For example, Markov's KV above is identified as "Suvorov tank" in his Hero of the Soviet Union award order.

Of course, you didn't have to die for the Motherland to name a tank. You could always buy your way in. A few examples are described in Wargaming's article, "Small parts of a large victory".

"The war with fascist forces was fought not only at the front, but in the rear. Millions of people of many professions that have never before held a rifle grabbed the levers of a tank or an airplane, pulled victory closer and closer with their labours. Many did not end there, and spent their own savings on the needs of the front. Over the four years of the Great Patriotic War, Soviet citizens donated money for several thousand tanks, about 2500 airplanes, 8 submarines, many guns, mortars, hundreds of thousands of shells and bombs.

The money was collected in factories, farms, various government offices. For example, in 1943, a T-60 named "Malyutka" (child) fought at Stalingrad. The tank was built using money donated by kindergartens. The tank was driven by a woman named Ekaterina Petlyuk.

Many individuals bought entire vehicles. Mariya Oktyabrskaya, who bought a T-34 tank, fought in it as a part of the 26th Guards Brigade of the 2nd Tatsin Tank Corps. A peasant named Ferapont Golovatiy sent two fighters to the front, a Yak-1 and a Yak-3. A performer named Vladimir Yakhontov purchased an IS-2, and named it after his favourite poet: Vladimir Mayakovskiy. There are a great deal of these examples. We would like to remember some lesser known people that made their contribution to a great deed.

Vehicles were frequently purchased for specific soldiers, about which people read in newspapers. In February of 1944, a railroad worker named G.M. Kozyrev bought a Yak fighter for A. Bulgakov, using money he was saving for a house. Bulgakov made 136 sorties with that fighter, shooting down 14 enemy airplanes.

The story of one T-34-85 of the 36th Guards Tank Brigade is interesting. The head of a farm, Y. Shulga, sent it as a gift to his adopted son, Lieutenant I. Kisenko. The inscription on the tank read "From father Shulga to son Kisenko". The tank participated in liberation of Shulga's home village, and then fought in Yugoslavia and Hungary.

Another T-34, titled "Gift to my son", was given to A. Shirmanov by his parents, Ilya Andreevich and Maria Fillipovna on the day of the 25th anniversary of the Red Army. This tank fought starting on June 1943. A. Shirmanov died during battles for the Zhitomir region.

In many cases, tankers and pilots bought vehicles that they themselves fought in. The T-34 named "Amur Avenger" was paid for by N. Agapov, L. Rudnichenko, and I. Binyukov. The vehicle was used by the 12th Guards Tank Bridage. Agapov and Rudnichenko fought as a part of its crew, but Binyukov could not, due to an injury. Pilot L. Chaiko, gunner K. Shishkin, and mechanic P. Bobrov purchased an Il-10 airplane, and then fought in it as a part of the 2nd Baltic Front. Shishkin's father helped with the purchase of this expensive vehicle.

It is impossible to list all such cases in a short article, but every person that sacrificed their earnings for the front contributed to the victory over the most menacing enemy humanity has ever known."

Kolomiets and Moshanskiy add to the list of named tanks in Camouflage of Red Army Tanks 1930-1945, Zeughaus, 2007, grouped by year, but even the vast collection in the book does not fully exhaust the proper names of all tanks used by the Soviet Union in WWII.

The vehicles that survived the war in a condition suitable for further service had their names unceremoniously painted over during refurbishment.


  1. Great article. A question. Were the names and inscriptions painted on by hand, did they use stencils, some other method? Thanks.

  2. Didn't know any of this, certainly not that it was so common to buy certain tanks for example. I though that it would have been only money donated to the army.

    I always wondered about the insciptions for Soviet tanks in WoT, like "Tula baker" etc. Now I know the story behind those, thankyou once again for improving my knowledge! :)


  3. Here's a fine example:

    Citizen Oktyabrskaya not only paid 50,000 rubles (every asset she could liquidate) to purchase her tank, "Fighting Girlfriend," but operated it, in vengeance for the death of her tanker husband. The name "Fighting Girlfriend" was requested in her petition to Stalin, and granted. Posthumously she was the first woman tanker in the Red Army to be awarded as Hero of the Soviet Union, after winning quite a few battles before the Germans finally got her with a mortar round.

    Invading Russia is probably always a very bad idea.


  4. Is there somewhere I can see a more complete list of Soviet tank names? Thank you.

    1. I don't think there is a complete list anywhere, there were simply too many of them. Tank Front has a larger list, but still far from complete: