Friday 3 February 2023

T-34 as an Ersatz APC

The Red Army began to explore the issue of transporting infantry around the battlefield in special vehicles in the 1930s. A number of vehicles were developed for this purpose, primarily on the chassis of the T-26 tank. Most of the time, the result was not what the army needed. The vehicles ended up too bulky and uncomfortable, and so work did not progress past prototypes. A program to develop an APC on a tracked chassis (T-40 tank) and wheeled chassis (GAZ-62 truck/LB-62 armoured car). This work reached the technical requirements stage before priorities shifted in the summer of 1941.

Handrails were added to the T-34 and KV-1 tanks to help carry infantry riders.

As a result, the Red Army entered the Great Patriotic War with no armoured personnel carriers at all. This might seem like a considerable disadvantage compared to the Germans, but it wasn't as bad as it sounds. The Germans were definitely better equipped in this regard, but the lack of mechanization in the Wehrmacht affected its infantry as well. APCs were prioritized for mechanized units, while the majority of the infantry remained on foot. Most of the time, if an infantryman rode into battle, it was on the back of a StuG. The USSR solved its lack of APCs in a similar manner. The T-34 quickly became the most common way of getting infantry to battle. It was sufficiently large, sufficiently common, and could drive where other tanks couldn't pass. Tank riders on T-34 tanks were a common sight.

Major G.M. Kazimirov, the creator of the armoured infantry boxes for T-34 tanks.

The Red Army was the first to look into establishing at least rudimentary comforts for its tank riders. An order to install handrails on T-34 tanks was given in April of 1942. Factory #112 was the first to install them. Factory #183 and others took until the fall. Handrails appeared on the KV-1S heavy tank at around the same time. A number of other suggestions linked to improving the T-34's ability to carry infantry began coming in 1942. Some involved armoured sleds or trailers, including ones that used T-34 hulls. Others suggested equipment that would make life easier for riders on the tank itself. These suggestions weren't limited to paper. There was demand for these solutions and they were implemented in workshops. One of these implementations was directed by Major G.M. Kazimirov, a senior inspector of tank forces in the political department of the 38th Army. Some people have a set idea of what a politruk's job involved, but there was no shortage of smart and involved people in those departments. Grigoriy Markovich Kazimirov was one of them.

A T-34 tank with armoured boxes.

After observing the use of the 38th Army's tanks in mid-July and August of 1942 on the Voronezh Front, Kazimirov came up with an idea to improve the tank's firepower. His suggestion consisted of "armoured pockets" installed on the sides and rear of the tank. The "pockets" were made of 8 mm thick steel, which reliably protected their inhabitants from rifle fire. The armour was not too heavy, which was important when the T-34 and KV-1 neared their weight limits. Kazimirov referred to the infantry in the "pockets" as "external crew". According to his idea, a T-34 or KV-1 tank could take 8 "external crewmen". Four were machine gunners and four were submachine gunners. One submachine gunner took an anti-tank rifle with him. One machine gunner and one submachine gunner lay down in both side pockets. The rest of the riders sat in the back. The side "pockets" were open from the top and had firing ports in the front and rear. It was also possible to shoot a little bit to the side. The rear "pocket" had folding sections and an exit hatch.

The rear box contained four infantrymen.

This idea didn't come from nothing. Accompanying infantry was often split from its tanks, after which they fell victim to flanking fire. Statistics showed that more than half of the shots at T-34 and KV-1 tanks came from the side. The addition of the "pockets" gave the tank higher density of fire to fight off enemy infantry and protect the tank. Kazimirov suggested issuing the riders 10 grenades each, half of which would be anti-tank grenades. The armour would protect them from the blast. 

This proposal was more than just a proposal. T-34 tanks from the 96th Tank Brigade were equipped with these "pockets" and used in battle. The brigade's commanders were happy with this addition, which gave Kazimirov cause to write to the GABTU.

Diagram of the tanks' use in battle.

Kazimirov also offered special tactics for using the modified tanks. The idea was reasonable. The tanks and infantry offered a great density of fire and the tanks themselves were better protected from the sides and rear. Night fighting tactics were also original. Two spotlights would be installed in the rear compartment to blind the enemy's troops and illuminate their positions. This idea seems odd, but night fighting lights remained in use even after the war, plus their use at Seelow Heights gave results. The combination of these tactics with the use of smokescreens was also suggested. All of these ideas were sent to the GABTU in September of 1942, but did not get an answer. Kazimirov submitted his materials a second time in December of 1942. As it often happened, his ideas were rejected.

Kazimirov wrote to Stalin personally about his creation, but even that didn't help matters.

To conclude, let us cover the fate of Major Kazimirov. By February of 1943 he was moved to the position of party secretary at the 22nd Automobile Brigade. He excelled at that role and returned to the tank forces in April of 1945. Now the Guards Major was a deputy political chief of the 22nd Guards Tank Brigade. His war ended in September of 1945, by which point he was already a Colonel. Over the course of the war, Grigoriy Markovich was awarded the For Battle Merit medal, Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class, Order of the Red Star, Order of the Red Banner, as well as the Victory over Germany, Victory Over Japan, For Taking Vienna, and For Liberation of Prague medals.

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