Sunday 31 July 2016

T-60: A Small Tank in a Big War

The history of the T-60 tank is atypical for Soviet tank building. The tank was accepted into service before even the first blueprint was prepared, and thousand of units were ordered immediately at three factories. Even though the final results were a lot more humble, more than 5500 completed vehicles is a very impressive number. Remaining in production for just under a year, from September 1941 to July 1942, the T-60 became the most numerous small tank in history. These vehicles appeared on the front lines during the most heated part of the Battle for Moscow, and made a noticeable contribution to the war during its most difficult point. On July 20th, 2016, the T-60 turned 75 years old.

Simpler, Lower, Thicker

On July 17th, 1941, State Committee of Defense decree #179ss "On production of light T-60 tanks at factory #37" was signed. Instead of the planned T-50, the factory would produce a simplified version of the T-40 amphibious reconnaissance tank. N.A. Astrov and V.P. Okunev's idea was approved at the very top, since the T-50 would not be available before October at best, and factory #37's equipment was not appropriate for producing such a heavy tank.

Meanwhile, making the T-60 from the T-40 was also far from simple. The problem was that the Ordzhonikidze factory in Podolsk produced rather complex hulls and turrets. The biggest problem was with the turret, which had a complicated shape. A large amount of rejected parts was one of the reasons why the T-40's production was behind schedule, and moving to homogeneous armour in mid-July only partially mitigated the problem.

Meanwhile, on July 20th, 1941, decree #222ss "On producing 10,000 light tanks" was signed. According to the decree, one of the main producers of the T-60 was KhTZ (Kharkov), with a quota of 3500 tanks. Another 3000 would be build at the Molotov GAZ factory, the main supplier of engines, gearboxes, road wheels, and other components for the T-40. Even with homogeneous armour, the T-40 was unsuitable for this kind of mass production, and its design had to be simplified.

On July 23rd, NKSM order #360ss was issued, according to which factory #37 was to design a simplified T-60 hull and turret. Only two days later, a technical meeting was held at factory #37 to discuss the design of the T-60 tank on the basis of the T-40 and its production at GAZ and KhTZ. However, real work on a simplified T-40 began earlier. The earliest drafts are dated July 22nd, even before the order was given. Astrov's design bureau set a world record in designing their tank: the final blueprints were ready on July 28th, so all documentation on the tank was developed in less than a week. This is confirmed by the dates on blueprints.

One of blueprints for the 060. The first date is July 22nd, 1941.

A problem arose during the design. According to the GKO decree, two tanks with the index T-60 were developed at factory #37. The problem was solved by giving the new tank the index 060, which is also periodically used in correspondence. There was also an attempt to assign the index T-70 to the 060, and even though this index is applied only a few times, it is enough to confuse any researcher. The tank is also called "T-60 with simplified hull", T-60M, or simply T-60. The last of these finally took hold by the fall of 1941, but even in 1942 some factories still occasionally refer to it as T-70 or T-60M.

Despite the fact that a series of components was identical on the T-40, T-30, and T-60, the "simplified" variant was a new tank. Since there was no longer a requirement for the tank to be amphibious, the hull of the T-60 was completely redesigned, lowering the height of the tank from 1905 mm to 1735 mm, a record low for mass produced tanks of WWII. The armour was also different compared to the T-40. The hull was shaped like a wedge, and the sides were made of two halves to aid production.  As requested by the technical specifications, the front armour was increased to 20 mm and the side armour was increased to 15 mm. Overall, the mass grew slightly to 5800 kg. The turret was also simplified. It now had a polygonal shape, which noticeably eased production. The thickness of the front armour was 20 mm, the sides were 15 mm thick.

Experimental TNSh gun, tested in a T-40.

The last item that needed work was the armament. Here, the story of the T-60 repeats what happened with the T-30. Initially, the DShK was supposed to remain as the main gun, but it turned out that factory #507 could not supply enough of them. As a result, an alternative was found: the converted 20 mm ShVAK aircraft gun. The tank version of the gun, indexed TNSh, was accepted into service before a prototype was built.

The solution of the armament issue delayed the delivery of documentation on the T-60 to its producers.

Victims of Delays

The deadlines set by GKO decree #222ss were too harsh. The plans were to send out documentation on the 060 by July 27th. In reality, documentation for installation of the armament was not finished by then, and the blueprints were only sent out on July 28th. KhTZ received the first blueprints on July 28th, but did not receive most of them until August 10th.

Meanwhile, the Ordzhonikidze factory in Podolsk produced a hull of the experimental tank by mid-August. Assembly of the first 060 began at factory #37 on August 17th, 1941. The turret was taken from the T-40, with the stock DShK machinegun. The machinegun never installed, however. The experimental tank used cast road wheels with spokes. Factory #37 developed them as an alternative to Molotov GAZ stamped and welded wheels.

Experimental T-60, Gorkiy, 1942.

By late August, the experimental T-60 was completed. Astrov and Okunev personally drove it from Moscow to Gorkiy, where the tank became the prototype for all production at the factory. This stunt created the myth that allegedly Astrov and Okunev remained in Gorkiy. This is not correct, as both of them returned to factory #37, which was just starting production of T-30 tanks. No one in their right mind would have robbed the factory of its chief designer and senior military representative at such a crucial time.

Meanwhile, the situation at KhTZ was difficult. As of August 16th, the factory still had no technical conditions for QA and no requirements for a parts and instruments kit. Despite a delay in blueprints, the factory began preparations for production in early August. A meeting was held between KhTZ and KhEMZ (Kharkov Electro-Mechanical Factory), spreading the required workload between the factories.

The main problems were the supply of hulls and turrets. Subcontractors involved in the production of hulls were, for various reasons, delayed production. One of the reasons was the need to redesign the turret to use the TNSh. As a result, documentation on turrets was completed by the end of August.

In addition, the hull and turret manufacturers were loaded with other orders. A series of problems led to the quotas for August not being met. The first experimental 060 hull was assembled at the Voroshilovgrad October Revolution factory only by the end of the month.

As you can see by the lower left part of the blueprint, some components were shared between the KhTZ-16 armoured tractor and the T-60.

The problem was that the factory proposed the KhTZ-16 armoured tractor on its own initiative, built in cooperation with NATI on the SKhTZ-NATI tractor. Its production was approved on the same day as the production of the T-60 by GKO decree #219ss. The problem with the KhTZ-16 was the same: too many chassis, not enough hulls. For obvious reasons, KhTZ gave preference to their own design. The factory management also entertained the thought that they would be freed from the T-60, but Malyshev himself arrived at the factory to bust some heads, after which work on producing the T-60 suddenly sped up.

T-60 hulls captured by the Germans in Kramatorsk which never reached KhTZ.

Despite Malyshev's measures, production of parts was behind schedule. A series of KhTZ plants continued working on parts for the armoured tractor. On September 10th, KhTZ received the first two sets of hulls and turets from the Krasniy Kotelshik factory (Taganrog). On September 13th, 1941, almost a month after the scheduled start of production, the first T-60 was assembled using a hull and turret from the Voroshilovgrad factory. At that moment, the factory had 12 sets of hulls and turrets from three different subcontractors. However, only seven tanks were assembled and sent out in September, which equaled the amount of available engines.

On September 17th, partial evacuation of KhTZ began. Some of its equipment was moved to Krasnoarmeysk, a suburb of Stalingrad. The story of T-60 tanks produced at factory #264 is worthy of its own article. As for Kharkov T-60s, their fate is unclear. Two tanks were delivered to the 71st Independent Tank Battalion, but it is unknown where the others went.

Tanks, not Trucks

Molotov GAZ encountered the same issue as KhTZ. Delays with subcontractors receiving T-60 documentation meant that the production quotas were not met. Even though the Vyksa Particle Size Reduction Equipment Factory (DRO) assembled an experimental hull in mid-August to prepare for production, mass production was still a pipe dream. According to GABTU representatives, real supplies from contractors to GAZ could not be expected earlier than September 1st. Meanwhile, the factory continued preparations for the new tank. The factory design bureau, like their KhTZ colleagues, made their changes to a significant portion of received documentation.

Molotov GAZ production T-60 from fall 1941 to the winter of 1942.

The factory also had production problems. As of August 1941, in addition to the T-60, the factory was producing a whole spectrum of wheeled vehicles. MS-1 hulls were sent to the Vyksa DRO factory to be converted into BA-20 armoured cars, GAZ-07 chassis were sent to the Izhor factory for BA-10M armoured cars. The factory was also the sole producer of 1.5 ton trucks, which were worth their weight in gold at the front, and GAZ was still responsible for them. In addition, production of the GAZ-64 reconnaissance car and GAZ-61 command car began in August, with the latter using the same engine as the T-40 and T-60. The GAZ-61-461 truck was developed on the chassis of the GAZ-61, which was adopted as the main prime mover for the 57 mm ZiS-2 gun after the cancellation of the T-20 Komsomolets.

After the factory lost its GAZ-11 engine production plant in late 1940 (the space was used to produce M-105 aircraft engines), production of these vital engines was only restarted by the mid-summer. In addition to everything else, GAZ was responsible for a large amount of components for small tanks. 

Due to a lack of supplies, most tanks built during the early war had no headlights.

Production at GAZ stalled due to a lack of hulls. By mid-September, the Murom factory began only 4 sets of hulls and turrets, not having finished a single one. The Novokramatorsk factory began 32 sets, but also hadn't completed any. The Vyksa DRO factory began 6 sets, having completed two. The first hull arrived on the 17th, and the first tank was assembled on that day.

A new assembly plant was dedicated to the T-60, plant #5. As with KhTZ, involvement from the top was necessary to get production off the ground. In early September, factory director I.K. Loskutov was summoned to the Central Committee of the VKP(b) for a meeting. At the meeting, chaired by G.K. Malenkov, GABTU demanded that directors of tank producing factories accelerate the start of production. This was fully applicable to Loskutov. From that moment on, GAZ began shifting its priorities from trucks to tanks.

T-60 tanks from the 33rd Tank Brigade on parade, November 7th, 1941.

Real mass production of the T-60 at GAZ only began in October of 1941. In the middle of the month, Astrov and Okunev moved to the factory from factory #37. Astrov became the assistant chief designer, and Okunev the senior military representative. Over the first five days, 5 tanks were completed instead of the required 15. By October 20th, 69 T-60 tanks were accepted.

On October 20th, a telegram from Stalin arrived at the factory, demanding increase of T-60 production to 10 tanks a day. Malyshev arrived in Gorkiy to study the situation, and his energetic management helped to improve production significantly. Despite other issue, GAZ managed to not only meet the October quota, but surpass it.

The cost of T-60 production was high. By late October, production of cars at GAZ was almost paralyzed. GAZ-61-73 and GAZ-61-416 were removed from production, since they used the much needed engine. Production of GAZ-64s stopped, and GAZ-AA and GAZ-AAA production dropped drastically.

The evacuation of factory #37 to Sverdlovsk added to the confusion. Seeing the disaster with hulls and turrets, the factory management offered to send some T-30 hulls and turrets. In addition, 9 T-30s in need of repairs were sent to GAZ. The exact amount of T-30 hulls and turrets is unknown, but 47 sets were still at the factory as of the summer of 1942. The hulls were never used, but a few dozen T-60s with conical turrets were produced. These tanks could be found in the 33rd Independent Tank Brigade, whose vehicles showed up in photos of the November 7th parade in Red Square. Some amount of cast road wheels were also sent from factory #37.

T-60 tanks with T-30 turrets.

Due to problems with using the tank in the winter, more development had to be done at the factory. Longer and wider track links were developed, as well as removable spurs for the tracks. A reworked suspension was also proposed, reducing the size of the wheels and increasing their number to 8 per side in order to even out the ground pressure.

The GAZ design bureau also designed a spring suspension in case there were problems with supplies of torsion bars. In case of problems with rubber, the idea of using wooden liners instead of tires was explored. The radio station on the tank had to be removed. As a result, the T-60 was the only Soviet wartime tank where no radios were installed at all. Other electrical equipment had to be simplified.

Despite the fact that GAZ couldn't carry out decree #222ss, the titanic effort at the factory managed to kickstart full scale production of these necessary tanks. Only 3 tanks were accepted in September, then 215 in October. In all of 1941, GAZ produced 1314 tanks. Of those, 137 were chassis mounting the M-8 rocket artillery system. GAZ turned from a subcontractor to one of the largest tank manufacturers in the USSR and the world.

Soon after Astrov's arrival in the design bureau, GAZ became a leading developer in the field of small and light tanks. Further work on the 060 continued in Gorkiy. As for factory #37, it lost the status of the chief developer and producer of the tank as a result of the evacuation.

Knocked out T-60 tanks, November-December 1941. One of them is equipped with cast spoked road wheels. Molotov GAZ released only a few of those tanks.

The creation and production of the T-60 was a necessity. The firepower of the 20 mm gun was only enough to fight lightly armoured targets, and the armour could protect it from, at best, high caliber machineguns. Of course, a tank like this is better than no tank at all. The T-60 was fine as an infantry support tank or a reconnaissance tank. Small, agile, and quiet, this tank played its own role in battle from late 1941 to early 1943. On the Leningrad Front and in Karelia, these tanks served until the fall of 1944.

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