Saturday 30 July 2016

T-30: Simplicity Itself

75 year passed on Sunday July 17th 2016 since the decision to produce the T-30 small tank. This tank remained in obscurity for a number of reasons. Born at a time of difficult for its country, it was overshadows by its "older brother", the T-40, and "younger brother", the T-60. In addition, the tank was indexed T-60 for some time, complicating the process of figuring out what tank is mentioned in reports. Lost among almost 6000 "real" T-60s, this tank played an important role on the battlefield in the fall and winter of 1941.
The First T-60

Right after the start of the Great Patriotic War, tank production plans in the Soviet Union were revised. Heavy KV-4 and KV-5 tanks were shelved, even though work continued until August of 1941. Plans regarding the KV-3 also changed: it was now going to be produced in Chelyabinsk instead of Leningrad.

The new amphibious T-40 reconnaissance tank was not that lucky. According to USSR SNK decree issued on June 25th, 1941, Ordzhonikidze factory #37 (Moscow) was ordered to stop producing semi-armoured T-20 Komsomolets tractors and T-40 tanks. Instead, it would start producing T-50 tanks within two months, with the hulls coming from the Ordzhonikidze factory in Podolsk. About 50 factories in Moscow and its surroundings would be involved in the production of components for the T-50 tank.

Factory management took this request seriously and began working on allocating a new building. There was also talk of future reconnaissance tanks on the T-135 chassis (the occasional name of the T-50 at factory #174). At the same time, it was quickly obvious that factory #37 is unsuitable for producing the T-50. Making reconnaissance tanks and tractors with automotive components is one thing, but the production of a 14 ton tank is completely different. In addition, factory #174, the main producer of the T-50 was also having trouble.

Factory #37's management treated this information like bad news from the front. In strict secrecy, the factory design bureau began work on a simplified T-40. On one July evening, a letter written by engineer N.A. Astrov and military representative at factory #37 V.P. Akunin was deposited into the mailbox at the Kremlin's Nikolsky gates. The letter, addressed to Stalin himself, explained that it was impossible to produce the T-50 at factory #37 and instead proposed production of a small tank on the T-40 chassis, which would be produced in much larger volumes. In addition, letting the factory's production facilities sit there at such a difficult time would be almost criminal.

The letter made it to Stalin on the same day, and intrigued him. The next morning, the deputy chair of the Council of Commissars V.A. Malyshev (he was also the People's Commissar of Medium Machinebuilding) arrived at the factory, tasked by Stalin with curating the project. After studying the situation and hearing out the proposal, Malyshev wrote to Molotov on July 14th, approving of the new tank's production. The chief of GABTU, Lieutenant-General Ya.N. Fedorenko, was also in agreement. With permission from deputy chair of the SNK N.A. Voznesenskiy, Molotov approved teh cancellation of the T-50 at factory #37.

On July 17th, 1941, Molotov signed GKO decree #179ss "On the production of light T-60 tanks at factory #37". 1600 tanks were expected before the end of December, and the first 150 tanks were expected in August. The same decree cancelled the production of the T-20 Komsomolets tractor.

Three days later, GKO decree #222ss "On production of 10,000 light tanks" was released, according to which factory #37 had to produce 3500 tanks. The Kuybyshev factory in Kolomna was added as a supplier of hulls to the Ordzhonikidze factory in Podolsk. Around this time, factory #37's design bureau began working on a simplified hull for the T-60, which resulted in the T-60 that we know. This was a complicated situation where two tanks, both indexed T-60, were in production at the same time. Both were based on the T-40, had the same turret ring diameter, but differed in most other ways.

An improvement for the front tow hook was developed for the T-40, but only implemented on the T-30.

Understanding the drawbacks of this situation, the design bureau separated the projects by their blueprints. The "first" T-60 received the index 030, and the "simplified" T-60 was indexed 060. In order to avoid duplicating work, compatible parts were used from 030. In addition, many parts migrated unchanged from the T-40, with blueprint index 010.

In the end, in order to prevent confusion, the T-60 with the index 030 was renamed to T-30. This index first appears in correspondence in late July. Officially, this index is first used in GABTU documents on August 31st, 1941. The first tank to receive it had the serial number #13766. The first official T-30 tanks were received by Rotmistrov's 8th Tank Brigade (21 T-40s and 11 T-30s).


By the end of July, the T-30 was completely formed. This tank looked like the T-40, but without amphibious equipment or the bay for it. The thickness of the armour increased to 20 mm, and it became homogeneous instead of cemented. There were now two tow hooks, since the central hook on the T-40 frequently broke. The armament also changed. At first, it was supposed to be the same as on the T-40: a DShK machinegun and a DT machinegun. The plans had to be changed, as factories producing the DShK (in part, factory #507 in Lopasnya, modern Chekhov) could only produce a few hundred machineguns per month.

On July 23rd, 1941, the People's Commissar of Defense Marshall Kulik called for an urgent meeting to discuss the T-60's armament. The situation called for a replacement of the DShK, and an alternative was quickly found in the modified 20 mm ShVAK aircraft gun.

Experimental installation of the TNSh on T-40 tank #11726.

GKO decree #289ss "On the armament of the T-60 tank" was released on July 26th, equipping it with the 20 mm ShVAK autocannon developed by OKB-15 (in September it was indexed TNSh/ShVAK mod. 1941). The decree was signed before any gun existed in metal: the first one was installed on a T-40 tank and tested between August 7th and 10th. The penetration was similar to that of the DShK, but the range of complete penetration increased. The tank with the first TNSh is still "alive" and can be seen on display at Patriot Park. It also served as a testbed for the dual towing hooks.

Loading of T-30 tanks belonging to the 5th Tank Brigade, renamed to 42nd Tank Brigade. As you can see, some tanks lack amphibious equipment, but some can still swim. Naro-Fominsk, September 1941.

This was all theory, but practice was different. The Podolsk Ordzhonikidze factory already had a stock of T-40 hulls and turrets. Since T-60 production was behind schedule, both for organizational and technical reasons, the factory first simply stated making T-40 hulls out of homogeneous armour. It's worth mentioning that using homogeneous armour was discussed since July 14th, when the T-30 didn't exist yet. Due to thickening of some plates, the protection of the hull remained the same.

In order to preserve amphibious qualities, it was decided that the engine compartment bulkhead and other non-critical parts would be removed. Tanks with homogeneous hulls were still amphibious. The factory could just as easily make T-30 hulls, but there was a problem: a lack of 20 mm plates. The same problem plagued other factories that provided KhTZ and GAZ with T-60 hulls.

These tanks had the old tow hook.

The T-30 also had problems with armament. Despite orders, the production of guns and ammunition was delayed. It wasn't only an issue of arming factory #37's tanks: even the first T-60s in Kharkov and Gorky had issues. Meanwhile, factory #37 reached an agreement with factory #507 about shipping 300 DShK machineguns by October 1st, 1941. By September 1st, factory #37 had 289 DShK machineguns.

T-30 tanks from the 1st Tank Brigade, which also received some tanks without amphibious capability. One can easily distinguish early T-30s from T-40s by the singular headlight.

As a result, early T-30s were almost indistinguishable from the T-40. Formally, the tarp was not carried on the T-30 like it was on the T-40, as it would impact its already decreased buoyancy. Realistically, telling the two tanks apart by just the tarp is likely impossible.

Not all September T-30s could swim. In late August, the Podolsk factory shipped 25 hulls without amphibious equipment, but the bay for the propeller and rudder remained. The factory also "forgot" the opening for the external starter mechanism on these tanks. These tanks were named T-40S in post-war documents, and later by historians, but this index never existed. Formally, these tanks were indexed T-40 in the army and T-30 in factory #37 documentation. They were produced in September of 1941, and they were sent to, at least, the 1st and 5th (renamed to 42nd) Tank Brigades. Most T-30 tanks remained amphibious.

Knocked out T-30 near Moscow, with the new hull but still with a DShK as the main gun.

The T-30 approached its intended form in early October of 1941. By then, Kuybyskev factory in Kolomna began shipping hulls with thickened armour and without the rear bay. It's easy to distinguish these tanks by the lack of rake, which became unnecessary as the tank could no longer swim. Instead of one tow hook on the front, two were used, one on each side. The fuel tank access hatches were simplified and the rear tow hook was lowered. As the technical specifications required, the thickness of the armour was increased from 13 mm to 20 mm.

Another T-30 with the new hull and a DShK. The rear bay was missing from the thicker hull.

The T-30 only approached its intended form by the end of its production in Moscow. By then, 20 mm TNSh guns became available in necessary amounts, and the stockpile of DShKs ran out. Only 63 T-30 tanks were armed with the TNSh at factory #37. In total, 200 tanks were build in September (of those 3 had cracks and were used for training) and 140 in October.

The only known photograph of a Moscow produced T-30 with a TNSh gun.

T-30 tanks were used in 10 tank brigades, with the 27th brigade receiving them last. 10 tanks were used in the 151st and 152nd Motorized Infantry Brigades, and 25 more T-30s were used to make M-8 rocket artillery platforms.

In Evacuation

Some sources say that 335 T-30s were produced, but this number only includes tanks built in Moscow, as well as chassis used to make M-8s. However, the production of T-30s didn't end here. They were produced at two factories evacuated in the fall of 1941.

On October 9th, 1941, GKO decree #752ss "On evacuation of factories #37, KIM, Podolsk, and tank production in Kolomna", ordering the evacuation of these factories to Sverdlovsk. The Sverdlovsk Rail Car Repair Factory grounds would be their new base of operations. At the same time, the Ordzhonikidze factory in Podolsk was also evacuated to Sverdlovsk. The main supplier of hulls and turrets for factory #37 moved to the territory of the Metallist factory. The factory was expected to produce 50 hulls and turrets in November, 200 in December, begin producing 12 units per day by January, and finish setup of equipment by January 20th.

Training exercises with T-38 and T-30 tanks, winter of 1942. These are likely some of the first T-30 tanks produced in Sverdlovsk.

Factory #37 was supposed to begin production of T-60 tanks, but the reality was different. 187 T-40 and T-60 hulls were brought to Sverdlovsk, and the 45 T-60 hulls from that amount were really not 060 hulls, but T-30 hulls.

Since the amphibious equipment was not available, the factory began converting the hulls. At the same time, work on producing T-30 hulls with 20 mm of armour and no rear bay began. Existing hulls with thicker armour were used up first. 22 tanks were assembled in December, 20 of which were accepted. Problems with supplies of TNSh guns led to five tanks being armed with DShK machineguns. The first tanks built in Sverdlovsk drove in a parade through city streets. Due to a mix-up with indices it is often written that these are T-60s, but they were really T-30s.

About half of all T-30s built in Sverdlovsk looked like this.

Tanks built in Sverdlovsk differed from the ones made in Moscow. The biggest difference was in the cast spoked road wheels. They were developed back in August of 1941 by enlarging the Komsomolets tractor road wheels. These wheels were first tested on the 060, but there was not enough time to put them on the T-30. They were first used on T-30 tanks at the new factory.

The plate edges and welding seams on Ural T-30s were rougher. The numbering system also changed. Early T-30s had four digit registration numbers. For example, one tank in Patriot Park has the serial number 3025, meaning that it was built in early January of 1942. Unlike Moscow T-30s, some of which had radios, all Sverdlovsk T-30s were released without them.

T-30 with additional armour from the 90th Tank Regiment, knocked out by Finns in battle on August 2nd or 3rd, 1944.

In total, 200 T-30 tanks were built in Sverdlovsk between December 1941 and February 1942. Of those, 101 received additional armour in the front according to GABTU's requirements for more armour. These tanks were the last to see battle. The 90th Tank Regiment that fought in Karelia in 1944 had these tanks. Finnish footage dated early August 1944 shows some of these knocked out tanks.

The second factory to produce the T-30 was the Kuybyshev factory. In October of 1941, according to GKO decree #752ss, it began partial evacuation to the 1st of May Kirov Machinebuilding Factory (Kirov). November and December were spent on organizing the factory at it new grounds. The new factory received the name "Kuybyshev factory #38". Its first director was E.Ye. Rubinchik, who headed the Kolomna factory before the war. M.N. Schukin was the chief designer at the factory.

Cast turret for the T-30 and T-60 developed by M.N. Schukin.

Even before the evacuation, a new cat turret was developed under Schukin's supervision. The turret could be installed on the T-30 or the T-60, and was easier to produce. The mass of the turret was 311 kg (the welded turret weighed 203 kg), and the thickness of its armour was 22-24 mm. The experimental turret was tested against the DShK, and was impenetrable from 100 meters.

By September 29th, 14 cast turrets were made. Orders were given to install them on hulls and send them to factory #37. The orders were confirmed in a memo on October 7th, but it is not known what happened after. In October, factory #37 was evacuated to Sverdlovsk and there is no information about T-30 tanks with cast turrets produced at the new location. It is likely that these tanks remained in Kolomna and were shipped to Kirov from there.

Production of hulls and turrets was organized at factory #38 starting in December, but the new factory had enough production power to build complete tanks. It's worth mentioning that several dozen hulls and turrets built in Kolomna were still at the factory. A decision was made to produce T-60 tanks at factory #38, with a quota of 200 tanks in February.

The only known photograph of a T-30 built at factory #38. The picture was taken in late July of 1942. This was the last shipment of T-60s from Kirov, but not the last shipment of T-30s.

For a number of reasons, production at factory #38 was delayed. As a result, only 4 tanks were accepted in January out of 200, and these were T-30s and not T-60s. 060 tanks became the main production of the factory in February, but there were still some 030s. All tanks produced by the factory were recorded as T-60s, so the only way to establish the type of tank is to look at the serial numbers (T-30s built at factory #38 had 2### serial numbers). 

Less than 10 T-30s were shipped in February. Later, T-30s are occasionally encountered, and one can confidently set the number of T-30 tanks built in Kirov at 50. The last tank with serial number 2096 left the factory on October 12th, 1942. Externally, the Kirov tanks resembled the late Moscow produced ones. Factory #38 quickly began production of stamped road wheels. These are the wheels used on the T-30 which appears on the photograph from the summer of 1942.

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