Wednesday 8 January 2014

Tanks in the Water

The "System of tractor, tank, and armoured car armament of the Worker and Peasant Red Army", defined in 1929, contained 5 main types of tanks, one of which was the reconnaissance tank. One of the characteristics was "all-terrain capability (including water)". However, the tanks developed to match these requirements (T-37, T-38, T-40) were lightly armoured, and armed only with machine guns. Before the T-50's failure as the Red Army's next light tank, an attempt was made to make it amphibious at factory #37.

CAMD RF 38-11355-251

"Currently, work is being done on an amphibious tank with thickened armour based on the existing T-50 tank. In order to finalize the thicknesses of armour plates that can be used, and the tactical-technical characteristics of the vehicle, the factory needs detailed component and overall blueprints of the T-50 tank.
The aforementioned blueprints are stored at the 1st department of NATI, under the index T-135. 
We ask you to order NATI to urgently send the aforementioned blueprints to our factory for temporary use (10-15 days), until we can receive blueprints from factory #174, or to allow our workers to copy the blueprints in NATI."

However, even a T-50 doesn't exactly represent a decisive force. Now, a KV, that's something!

CAMD RF 38-11355-1717

"People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding
Central Construction Bureau #32

To the Chief Tank Directorate

This is a request for the dimensional and weight data on the "KV" type tank, currently active on the front. This data is necessary for the development of a raft that can carry a "KV" type tank on assault operations. Independently from this, we ask what type of tank weighs 46 tons, as it was the tank we were suggested to use for planning. 
We ask the head of the 5th Chief Directorate to confirm the necessity of receiving data on the KV tank.

Central Construction Bureau #32 Chief Fokin
Chief Engineer Nogid"

And then there are more improvised and less fortunate solutions.

Floating a tank over the surface of a water hazard is only one way of getting it across. If the shore is constantly under fire from the enemy, a more creative tactic must be used. During the Nevsky Pyatachok operation to break through Leningrad's blockade, F. Krylov, chief of EPRON (a nominally civilian rescue and underwater engineering organization, included in the Navy at the start of the war) proposed that the heavy vehicle and artillery be dragged underwater. This maneuver was practiced at the EPRON base, but its execution in battle was more difficult: sunken boats and vehicles, as well as constant artillery fire, impeded the divers' work. In total, only a handful of tanks (including two KVs) made it across. Vehicles that sank halfway across the crossing occasionally continued their journey to the other shore in this manner. However, far from all vehicles lost at that crossing were recovered. A number of tanks have been recovered fairly recently by the "Poisk" diving group.

While the river may be an engineer's enemy, it is a historian's ally. If a vehicle is lost in battle, odds are that no one knows where, and even if they do, it can still be hit by artillery, dragged away as scrap, stripped by looters after the war, etc. A vehicle that is lost in a river, especially if the location of the crossing is well recorded, is safe until some archive diggers can find it and recover it. 

"Order to the 58th Independent Tank SPG Regiment
March 30th, 1944

During execution of a combat order, the regiment was performing a march on the route Kremte-Sloboda-Sarny. On February 3rd, 1944, the bridge over Sarny broke, and tank #3038 fell into the river with a crew of 4. 

Tank #3312, while on a march on the Alexandria-Klevan route, was crossing a bridge over the river Goryn' in the region of Tuchino on February 9th, 1944, when the bridge broke, and the tank sank in the river. I order that the following tanks be stricken from the inventory of the 58th Tank Regiment:
  1. SU-76I T-3 #3038, engine #3440
  2. SU-76I T-3, #3312, engine #542867
as irrecoverable losses during the execution of a combat task.

58th Independent Tank Regiment SPG commander, Major Novikov
HQ Commander, Major Sinchura"
CAMD RF 3783-161190-2

This, of course, is the SU-76I SPG mentioned in this article, the only 100% authentic SU-76I to have been found to date.

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