Monday 20 June 2022

"Tigers" from Lvov

Yuri Ozerov's cinematic series Osvobozhdenie (Liberation) began in 1968 with the film Ognennaya Duga (Fiery Salient). Its battle scenes were shot a year prior in the Kiev Military District on the territory of the Rzhyshchiv training center. The 1827th regional army base issued a large number of captured German weapons for filming, but there were no German armoured vehicles in storage in the Kiev Military District or anywhere else. The 17th Tank Repair Factory of the Carpathian Military District was tasked with production of replica Tiger tanks in the spring of 1967. This factory was formed in Lvov in July of 1944 to repair vehicles of the 1st and 4th Ukrainian Fronts.

"Tiger" tanks built at the Lvov Tank Repair Factory, Ognennaya Duga (1968)

Why was this factory chosen? The Lvov Tank Repair Factory (BTRZ) was the first of more than 20 tank repair factories in the USSR to have earned every possible award given to industrial organizations. Its list of honours included the title of Organization of Communist Labour, and memorial banners from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Council of Ministers, and Central Soviet of Professional Unions. A well organized factory with a high manufacturing culture, the 17th BTRZ was considered a sort of headquarters for the Tank Forces Directorate. It hosted conferences of tank repair factory directors (led by, among others, the Marshal of the Armoured Forces A.H. Babajanyan) and conferences with representatives of allied armies. Foreign officers studying at the Military Academy of the Armoured Forces and students of Moscow's N.E. Bauman school did their internships here.

Marshal of the Armoured Forces A.H. Babajanyan and Colonel-General V.I. Varennikov at the 17th BTRZ, 1975

The factory repaired over 1200 T70s, T-34, SU-76, SU-100, IS-1, IS-2, and ISU-122 during the war. It began to repair T-44s in the late 40s and IS-3 tanks since 1952. In 1955-65 the factory refurbished rocket launchers on heavy tank chassis (Objects 801 and 803). In 1965-1985 the factory refurbished and modernized T-54 tanks to the T-54B and T-54M standards and the T-55 to the T-55M and T-55MB. Repairs of T-72 tanks and production of special vehicles on their chassis began in the 1980s.

Overall, the factory developed and produced 20 types of tracked AFVs on tank chassis. The factory specialized in rapid development of documentation and could produce an experimental vehicle in mere days. Because of this ability, the Main Armour Directorate tasked it with development of the BMR-1 mine removal vehicle for Soviet troops in Afghanistan in 1982 and the BREM-3 ARV in 1983.

In 1963-1964 the factory delivered up to 30 units of refurbished of modernized vehicles monthly. These were usually T-55 tanks and a handful of BTS-4 tractors. T-44 and T-54 tank turrets removed during conversion into tractors were sent to the border with China to be installed as fortifications. In 1986, the factory delivered 60 vehicles of 12 different types monthly. The record was 65 refurbished tanks in a month (3-4 per day).

Considering the 17th BTRZ's ability to quickly convert obsolete tanks into new vehicles, it was given special tasks dealing with Great Patriotic War era vehicles. For example, for the 40th anniversary of victory the factory was tasked with refurbishing 40 T-34-85 tanks to full combat readiness. These tanks drove down Red Square in May of 1985. BTS-4 tractors built from T-44 tanks at this factory were also used in Moscow during parades for technical help in case combat vehicles broke down.

T-34-85 tank refurbished at the 17th BTRZ.

Instructions to produce Tiger tanks were also given to this factory in 1967. The factory used T-44 chassis in storage. It was easier to disguise them as Tigers than post-war tanks or better known T-34s. The conversion project was prepared at the factory design bureau. All required equipment including turret modifications was produced at workshop #4, which produced all sorts of equipment for tanks (from radiators and fuel tanks to toolboxes and brackets). Various sources give different numbers, but only 20 tanks were converted to "Tigers" at the 17th BTRZ. It is known that a veteran of the Great Patriotic War worked on these replicas. Welder V.K. Pinchuk fought as an artillery observer since the spring of 1942 and personally encountered Tiger tanks in battle. 

T-44 tanks converted into Tigers for the Osvobozhdeniye films at the Lvov Tank Repair Factory.

The T-44 tanks disguised as Tigers became the best tank replicas used in Soviet cinema. In addition to the Osvobozhdeniye series they were used in Goryachiy Sneg, Aty Baty Shli Soldaty, and other war movies.

Since the old T-44 tanks came from factory storage, there was no need to convert them back into working tanks for the army. They also could not be handed over to Mosfilm to be used in a wider array of movies due to the difficulty of keeping these tanks in service. For example, the T-34-85 tanks sent to Moscow in 1985 were kept there for regular participation in various events. A factory team was sent annually to check and service the tanks. Because of this, the T-44 "Tigers" were kept at the factory and shipped to movie sets, which made them harder and more expensive to use. The T-44 "Tigers" never became true movie stars. As they broke down, the tanks were disassembled and scrapped.

Screenshots from Aty Baty Shli Soldaty (1976) showing Tiger tank replicas built by the Lvov Tank Repair Factory. These tanks were much more authentic looking than commonly used Pz.Kpfw.IV replicas on the T-54/T-55 chassis.

In 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster the factory was tasked with developing bulldozers with a high level of radiation protection in only two weeks' time. A lead liner was installed on 10 T-44 tanks and BTS-4 tractors present at the factory. 5-12 mm thick lead sheets were delivered from the Urals by aircraft. The factory melted this lead into 30-40 mm thick coating for the vehicles. It is not known whether former movie "Tigers" ended up being used in liquidation of the disaster.


  1. These "Tigers" look like a cross between TigerI and Tiger II tanks (the hull, TIger I; the turret, Tiger II). Any particular reason behind this hybrid creation?

  2. Looks like they were trying to make a Tiger I but had to build around the much longer, narrower turret of the T-44. Hence the turret looking a little like a Tiger II turret.