Tuesday 2 May 2023

Long Living T-50

1941 was a year of great calamity for the Red Army and for the USSR. The war that broke out on June 22nd was not at all like the war that was predicted. The Germans and their allies tore deep into the USSR with the Red Army suffering defeat after defeat. However, through great effort, the flywheel of the Blitzkrieg lost momentum. The enemy continued to move forward, but not at the rate predicted by Plan Barbarossa. The Germans were supposed to have reached the Archangelsk-Astrakhan line by September-October of 1941 at the latest, but they were far from their goal at that point. They were so sure in their victory that they did not even prepare for the arrival of winter, which then turned into complaints about "General Frost". Soviet tank forces also played a big role in stopping the Germans. At the cost of heavy losses, they managed to stop the German divisions moving towards Moscow and allowed a counteroffensive to begin on December 5th, 1941. Tank brigades played a key role in these battles.

One of the nine T-50 tanks delivered to Kubinka, fall 1941. It was used to test winter camouflage.

Heavy losses suffered by tank forces in 1941 meant that few tanks that fought at that time survived until today. Information about where and when certain tanks fought also were not preserved. Nevertheless, some witnesses of this difficult period survive to this day on display at Patriot Park. For example, a T-34 tank from the 6th Mechanized Corps that fought in June of 1941. BT-2, BT-5, and two T-26 tanks from the museum fought in besieged Leningrad. There is also a British Valentine II tank that reached the front lines in December of 1941. Not everything is known about these vehicles, but information is slowly coming to light.

Production tanks looked like this.

There are a number of unique vehicles on display at Patriot Park. Some are sole survivors that saw quite a bit of action. The T-50 tank is one of those relics. Only two tanks of this type survive to this day. One with serial number K-11217 was knocked out near Petrozavodsk in July of 1941 and captured by the Finns. Today it can be seen at the Parola tank museum. The fate of the second tank is more interesting. This tank fought for two years and its combat career ended in the North Caucasus in 1943. Before then, it took part in the early part of Operation Typhoon. 

The location of tools and observation devices changed compared to the prototypes.

By sheer coincidence, 50 T-50 tanks were finished in Leningrad. Most of them fought to defend the city. Only one shipment was made to the outside world. Train #20096 departed towards the NIBT Proving Grounds on August 13th, 1941. It carried 9 T-50 tanks. Before that, on August 10th, 1941, 8 T-26 tanks departed to Kubinka. Factory #174 didn't send any more tanks after that and prepared for evacuation.

The identity of the tank was established by the serial number of the gun.

The tanks sent to Kubinka belonged to late July-early August batches. 40 tanks were due in July, 10 of which were to be equipped with radios, but in reality only 15 were built, all with radios. Among them was tank K-11232, which was delivered on July 31st, 1941. This tank was identified thanks to the record keeping of the military acceptance department. Their documents recorded not just the tank's serial number, but the number of its engine and its gun. The location of the T-50's serial number is still a mystery.

Shipping manifest that includes T-50 tank K-11232. Almost all of them went to the 150th Tank Brigade.

The NIBT Proving Grounds turned out to be a hub for these tanks. One remained at the proving grounds and was used for winter camouflage trials. Photos from these trials are the only detailed photos of T-50 tanks known today. Most photos taken at the factory were of the prototype, which was different. For example, the production tank had no side observation devices, since there weren't any left at the factory. The driver could only see forward. The turret observation devices changed, the tools changed, there were plenty of changes compared to the prototype.

One of the four tanks from the brigade that were lost in battle between September 29th and October 3rd. This tank was hit in the rear.

The T-50 tanks did not stay long at Kubinka. The 150th Tank Brigade was formed out of the 50th Tank Division on September 7th, 1941. Colonel B.S. Bakharov was appointed as its commander. 12 T-34 and 8 T-50 tanks were assigned to this unit. The brigade formed in Deryugino (Kursk oblast) and moved out to the front as a part of A.N. Yermakov's operational group. The brigade met the start of Operation Typhoon here, fighting to defend Glukhov. The unit lost 4 tanks and claimed to have destroyed 9 German ones. After that, the brigade took part in a lengthy battle with the German 2nd Panzer Army. While breaking out of encirclement from September 30th to October 3rd, the brigade lost another 7 tanks, claiming to have destroyed 4 German tanks and 2 armoured cars. The brigade remained in Yermakov's group until October 25th, 1941. In this time, the brigade wrote off 4 T-50 tanks and 3 more were knocked out but later repaired. This was the end of the T-50's career in the 150th Tank Brigade. 

A brief report on the T-50's performance. This is one of the few known reports on the tank.

Despite such a brief fighting career, the brigade managed to compose a report on the T-50. It was, shall we say, mixed. About half of the tanks were undergoing repairs due to a number of defects. The transmission was the biggest problem, but there were also complaints about the engine and inertial starter. One can't blame inexperienced crews, since they arrived from the factory and were already familiar with their tanks. The losses of T-50 tanks took place between September 29th and October 3rd. At least one tank was destroyed after it was hit in the rear. There were other cases of tanks being destroyed that way reported in the summer of 1941. 

Location of the 22nd Tank Brigade's tanks as of November 28th, 1941. The camouflaged T-50 will be destroyed a few days later.

The story of the camouflaged T-50 tank that remained at the proving grounds also has an unhappy ending. The tank took part in the Battle of Moscow much closer to the capital. The tank was included in the 22nd Tank Brigade alongside the experimental A-20 tank. The T-50 burned out during fighting for Yuryevo-Chesnokovo on December 2nd, 1941. The A-20 was also knocked out here. By sheer coincidence, the brigade was also subordinate to Yermakov, but a different one, this time a Colonel.

Half of the T-50 tanks from the 150th Tank Brigade survived Operation Typhoon. One of them ended up in Chelyabinsk.

4 tanks out of the 8 that went into the 150th Tank Brigade survived: K-11232, K-11238, K-11239, K-11240. One of them settled at a tank school in Chelyabinsk, the rest were sent to factory #174 in Chkalov (modern day Orenburg). The tanks were modernized here. Scale model enthusiasts who want to see the original road wheels can still see them in Parola, although little else of the tank remains unchanged. Refurbishment was completed in March of 1942. These three tanks were delivered alongside 2 brand new vehicles. 

K-11232 as of 1943.

The tank was once again in a fighting unit in May of 1942: the 488th Independent Tank Battalion. Tank K-11232 was given to Lieutenant V.Ye. Yefimov, who himself was from Chkalov. The tank and its commander ended up in the North Caucasus by October of 1942, where the 488th ITB fought alongside the 152nd ITB and the 9th Rifle Corps as a part of the 44th Army. These tanks are sometimes mistakenly reported as T-60s. For instance, on November 21st, 1942, the battalion is described as having 20 T-60 and 2 T-34 tanks. In reality, it continued to use T-50s. The next time it's mentioned in reports was on December 3rd, when it had 16 T-50s and 1 T-34 left. The battalion was actively used in October-December 1942. By January of 1943 only three T-50s and one T-34 remained. Lieutenant Yefimov and his tank excelled in these battles, as a result of which he earned the Order of the Red Star.

The award order of the tank commander. He was born in the same city where factory #174 settled by 1942.

North Caucasus was the last chapter in this T-50s battle biography. The tank was repaired once more, but then sent to the NIBT Proving Grounds which was collecting armoured vehicles. The tank came to Kubinka in poor but running condition. It remained with the proving grounds until 1972, when it turned into a proper museum.

The tank was already quite worn, especially when it comes to the fenders.

The tank was treated in a typical Army fashion. Traces of similar treatment can be seen on a number of exhibits in the modern day Patriot Park and Technical Center. Since the front and rear fenders were very worn, they were simply cut off and new ones were attached in their place. Over the years, the tank lost its original toolbox and a number of other components that weren't nailed down. The exhibit spent almost 20 years as a gate guardian, which didn't help its condition.

The front and rear fenders were later replaced.

This tank was one of the subjects of the museum's volunteer painter brigade. Since rows of identical green vehicles is not the most appealing sight, a decision was made to apply appropriate camouflage and markings. Little was known about the T-50's career at the time, but it was known that it fought in the North Caucasus, and so turret markings could be found.

Application of a turret number, March 2007.

It is a mystery as to how closely these markings match this exact vehicle during its service with the 488th Tank Battalion, but tanks from that unit had white numbers and red stars like these. The result was quite good, but the museum invited a team from a repair factory that began to do its thing. Markings were applied in March of 2007, but by August the tank was repainted in primer, right over everything else. And then they wondered why the paint was peeling...

The tank looked like this until August of 2007.

The serial number of the gun was found during inventory carried out in 2011. This allowed us to more precisely determine the tank's origins. The T-50 remained outdoors until its turn for restoration finally came. The author has many questions about its details, for instance the toolbox that looks nothing like the original and the steel step instead of a rubber one in front of the driver's hatch. Nevertheless, it's better than nothing, and none of the changes are irreversible.

August came and the T-50 "ripened". The tank was primed right over the existing paint. And then the army wonders why its tanks start peeling so quickly...

The T-50 was restored to running order in 2020 and took part in the Army-2020 international technical forum as a part of the "100 years of tank building" exhibition. After that, it was installed as an exhibit at pavillion #1 at Patriot Park in the Battle of Moscow sector. In August, a decision was made to liven it up a little bit.

The tank as it stands today.

Since the tank's interior was preserved, a logical idea arose to open the driver's hatch and add lighting. The idea was voiced by Roman Alymov, who used to direct the repair group and now works at Patriot Park. Now visitors can see the T-50 from the inside as well.

The interior of the T-50 tank.

This T-50 got lucky three times. It survived Operation Typhoon, the Battle of the North Caucasus, and then survived to modern day with minimal damage. This is one of the few surviving tanks from the Battle of Moscow and deserves its honourable place at Patriot Park.

Original article by Yuri Pasholok.

1 comment:

  1. Well, that looks like a pretty comfy seat for the time.