The history of the Hungarian tank forces during WWII still has many “blank spots”. The existing sources are contradictory and data is difficult to verify. However, the depths of the Russian archives hold hidden treasures. One of the finds in the Russian archives sheds light on the first combat engagement of the Hungarian Tiger Tanks in 1944. There is strong evidence that on 26th July 1944, Hungarian tankers clashed with the Soviet 1448 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment, which supported the advance of the Soviet 18th Army.
By the beginning of July 1944, the Soviet 18th Army consisted mainly of infantry and artillery units, supported by the 1448 self-propelled artillery regiment, perhaps the only armored formation in the whole army. It was fighting in what is now Central Ukraine.
Interestingly enough, the command of the 18th Army knew that there were enemy tank forces in the area of operation since 28th June 1944. They also recognized that some of them were equipped with Tigers, but did nothing to reinforce the anti-tank capabilities of the troops.
According to the Soviet intelligence, the enemy tank forces included the 2nd Hungarian Tank Division, the 16th Panzer Division and the 10th Reserve Tank Battalion (possibly the 10th Panzer Regiment).
Subsequently, after July 26, POWs provided Soviet intelligence with more details on the Hungarian 2nd Tank Division. They testified that the 2 TD was formed in 1938, consisting of 3 motorized infantry regiments, 3 tank regiments and 2 RO battalions (Rohamtüzérosztály, assault artillery), as well as a medical battalion, 2 signal battalions, and two artillery battalions (2nd and 6th). The 2 TD in full force had operated in the direction of Kolomyia since April 1944, but at the beginning of May, it was withdrawn to the reserve and was located in the area of Maidan Sredni, Delyatyn, Molotkuv (north-west of Nadvorna).
The 2nd Tank Division was part of the 1st Hungarian Army, but acted as a separate division. By the end of July 1944, it consisted of 1 reconnaissance detachment – 150 troops, 2 battalions and 2 companies of Hungarian tanks, one battalion of German tanks and SPGs.
In total, the division had a paper strength up to 90 tanks:
2 battalions of Turan I tanks divided into 4 companies. A total of 40 tanks;
2 companies of Turan II tanks, a total of 20 tanks;
One battalion of German tanks and self-propelled guns.
According to Dr. Leo Niehorster, the actual strength of the Hungarian 2nd Tank Division on the 22nd of July 1944 was 27 Hungarian Tanks, 8 Panzer IVs, 4 Tigers, and 11 StuG IIIs.
The 2nd Tank Division was being kept in the reserve of the 1st Army and had to be used for mobile defense and counterattacks.
With the intensification of the actions of the Red Army, the tanks were moved from one intermediate position to another, but the order to retreat was not given.
1448 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment
The Soviet 1448 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment or SAP was formed in April 1943.
Some sources claim that 1448 SAP (Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, Samokhodno-Artilleriyskiy Polk) was formed according to the reduced Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) Nr. 08/191 (1942). The unit included 289 personnel and 20 self-propelled guns, divided into 5 batteries of 4 armored vehicles each. Three batteries were armed with SU-122, two other batteries with SU-76M.
However, the unit’s war diary shows that by July 1944, the unit had been out of TO&E, as it had 33 SPGs in 7 batteries. It should be noted that such an organization and the number of self-propelled guns are quite uncommon for Soviet self-propelled artillery regiments. Usually, SAPs were armed with 12 to 21 SPGs in 5 batteries. Which TO&E used the 1448 SAP is not yet known.
From 1st May 1944 to 1st August 1944, the 1448 SAP was part of the 18th Army. On 23rd July 1944, the regiment was attached to infantry units of the 18th Army. Five batteries (23 SPGs) were attached to the 66th Infantry Division of the 95th Rifle Corps, 2 batteries (10 SPGs) to 226th Infantry Division of the 11th Rifle Corps. The 1448 SAP was tasked with helping infantry to break through the enemy line of defense in the area between Mikhalkuv-Cheremkhuv (now Mihalkov-Cheremhov) and supporting the further advance.
After reconnaissance and establishing contact with units of 66th and 226th ID, the Army commander decided to attach self-propelled guns to the assault battalions to break through the enemy’s front line. In the first line, the SPGs were distributed throughout the entire breakthrough sector of the 18th army in order to deceive the enemy, showing the presence of many armored units in the area.
On the night of July 23, SUs moved up to their forward positions. After the artillery preparation they started the offensive, firing from short stops and supporting the infantry. When crossing the minefield, 6 SPGs were destroyed by mines. However, the right group of 8 SUs and the left of 10 SUs passed through the minefields along the passages made and continued to support the advancing units of 66th and 226th IDs.
After the breakthrough of the enemy’s frontline in the Yuzefovka area, two more SUs were lost to mines, and another self-propelled gun was hit by artillery fire. The regiment’s losses amounted to 9 SPGs in total, 8 lost to mines and 1 destroyed by artillery. Five personnel were killed, of which 2 were officers in addition to 15 wounded, of whom 3 were officers.
On 24th July, self-propelled guns continued to support the advancing units. They were divided into two groups – left (8 SUs) and right (12 SUs). The right group was in turn divided into two detachments of 7 SUs and 5 SUs, respectively.
The right group fought in the area to the north and south of Hill 344.4. One of the groups (7 SUs), together with 195th IR, captured Grabich. The second group (5 SUs) operated in cooperation with 193th IR and captured Glyboka (Glubokaya), and by the end of the day the station Goloskuv (Goloskov). The left group of 8 SUs acted in collaboration with units of the 226th ID. By 10:00 hours that day, Soviet troops took the southern outskirts of Khlebichen-Lesny (Lesnoy Khlebichin).
On 25th July, 1448 SAP divided into two groups continued to support the offensive of rifle units. The first group by the end of the day took the village of Kamenna (Kamennoye) to the north of Nadvornaya, and the second approached the Nadvornaya station, where it met strong enemy resistance.
Self-propelled guns, together with units of the 985th IR managed to break through from the northeastern direction, by 16:00 hours on the same day they completely captured the city of Nadvornaya. By 19:00 hours, Soviet units crossed the Bystritsa River (Bystritsa-Nadvornyanskaya) and developed an offensive northwards along the Nadvorna- Bogorodchany highway.
It is noted in the regiment’s war diary that units of 1448 SAP fought with enemy tanks, two of which were knocked out and subsequently captured.
The results of the battles on July 24-25 show that no self-propelled guns were lost. Thus, the regiment continued to operate with at least 20 SU.
On 26th June 1944, at 20:30 hours, self-propelled guns of the right group took tank desants (tankovy desant), infantry soldiers who rode into an attack on tanks, onboard and after a swift march captured the Bogorodchany. The left group was less fortunate, as it subsequently faced the Hungarian Tigers of the 2 TD.
The following account is based on the account from the 1448 SAP found in the war diary of the unit in the Russian archives. A group of 5 self-propelled guns progressed towards Bogorodchany, with the reconnaissance detachment of the 985th IR moving ahead of the main group.
The enemy allowed the avant-garde to pass towards Hill 386.0. Having let the SUs advance at a distance of up to 200 meters, the Hungarian tanks opened fire, 2 self-propelled guns were burned and 2 were knocked out, 4 men were killed and 5 wounded.
According to the war diary of the 1448 SAP, there were 5 tanks in the ambush, including 3 Tigers supported by an infantry company. The ambush itself was prepared at the southeastern edge of the forest east of Dombrovka (present-day Dibrova).
Immediately after that, the Hungarian units launched a counterattack in the Ostre region, but were forced to withdraw, leaving one Tiger and one Turan II at the intersection of roads in Lyakhovitsa, possibly due to mechanical failure or lack of fuel.
“The enemy withdrew, leaving two tanks at the intersection of roads in Lyakhovitsa, one Tiger and one Hungarian Turan II”. The excerpt from the war diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment. Source: TsAMO
Other self-propelled guns of the 1448 regiment continued to fight in the Solotvin area, west of Nadvornaya.
The results of the day for the regiment were the loss of four SUs, 4 crew members were killed and 8 wounded.
Soviet troops reported that they had burnt out 2 tanks in the Banya district, destroyed 12 machine guns and 3 mortars, had killed 150 soldiers and officers and 75 enemy soldiers were captured.
Additionally, Soviet troops captured more than 4 tanks, one of which was an operational Pz. IV, which was used against the enemy.
The Hungarian forces continued to retreat westward.
A Note of Identification
Combat is a confusing experience and it is certainly true that tanks have often been misidentified as something else across different theaters. In recording these events it is important to consider this possibility here to – that the Soviet soldiers misidentified tanks in the ambush as Tigers.
The prospect of misidentification, however, seems very unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, the crew members who survived could have claimed any number of any enemy vehicles. Yet it is emphasized in the war diary, that only 3 of 5 tanks were Tigers.
Secondly, the 1448 SAP had enough time to get familiarized with new German tanks between January 1944 and May 1944 when it was employed near Chernovtsy. There is a note in the war diary, that on 8th April the unit held an exercise with live fire on captured Panther tanks.
Besides, the unit had fought with Hungarians units, including armored, since May 1944. Thus, soldiers and officers most likely were experienced and able to identify enemy AFVs.
On this basis it is unlikely that the Soviet troops misidentified Hungarian tank forces as using Tiger tanks in this action.
According to Soviet documents, the battle at Nadvornaya or, to be precise, near Hill 386.0, was not as successful for the Hungarian tankers as mentioned in some sources. Most likely for propaganda purposes, the number of destroyed Russian AFVs was simply doubled.
Unfortunately, the documents do not mention the exact types of SPGs the ambushed group of the 1448 SAP was equipped with. However, it can be assumed that if these were SU-122 assault guns, Hungarian tankers could confuse them with T-34 tanks, as they used the same chassis.
It should be noted that neither lightly armored SU-76 armed with a 76 mm cannon, nor the SU-122 with a short-barreled howitzer were able to fight with Tigers and newer models of Pz. IV.
The Hungarians competently organized an ambush, fully using the advantages of their tanks, resulting in success in their first battle. They did not suffer any losses this day. Later, during the retreat, Hungarian tankers were forced to abandon their vehicles due to lack of fuel or mechanical breakdowns.
The Russian forces continued to advance towards the Hungarian border. The next major clash with enemy tank forces happened at Dolina, on 31st July.
1. War diary of the 18A, 4th Ukrainian Front, 31.07.1944, TsAMO, F 244, O 3000, D 890, PP 1-72 [Russian: Журнал боевых действий 18 А 4 УкрФ. ЦАМО, Фонд: 244, Опись: 3000, Дело: 890]
2. 18th Army, dislocation map on 13.07.1944. TsAMO, F 315, O 4440, D 410 [Russian: Карта расположения частей армии на 13.7.44 г. – 13.07.1944 г. – ЦАМО, Ф 315, О 4440, Д 410]
3. War diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment, TsAMO, F 4438, O 0445095с, D 0003, PP 19-30 [Russian: Журнал боевых действий 1448 сап. ЦАМО, Фонд: 4438, Опись: 0445095с, Дело: 0003]
4. TO&E of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment. [Russian: Штат 1448 САП]
5. Tactical map of the 18 Army, July 1944, TsAMO, F 371, O 6367, D 468 [ Отчетная карта боевых действий 18 А за июль 1944, 31.07.1944 г., ЦАМО, Ф: 371, О: 6367, Д: 468]
USSR (1931) Armored Tractors – 1 prototype of each built
At the beginning of the 1930s in the USSR, several global interrelated processes were going on. These parallel processes had a severe impact on military effort and procurement. Firstly, there was a need to re-equip and reform the army, in particular, the armored forces. The armored forces of the USSR mainly consisted of outdated tanks and armored cars, such as the British Mark V and Medium Mark A Whippet tanks or Garford-Putilov armored cars captured during the Civil War, and T-18 (MS-1, Maly Soprovozhdenya) tanks. These vehicles no longer met the needs of the tank units, The Red Army wanted a tank with a more powerful engine, better speed, maneuverability, ergonomics, and installed radios. Secondly, the country’s leadership realized a serious setback in the industrial field. On July 15, 1929, the program of mechanization and motorization of the Red Army for the next 5 years was approved. By 1933, it was planned to have 3,500 active tanks in the army and another 2,000 in the mobilization reserve. At the same time, the RVS (Revolutsionniy Voenniy Sovet – Revolutionary Military Council, the supreme military authority of the Soviet Union) adopted a new system of auto-armor-tank-tractor armament, which was based on the modern requirements of combat and tactics.
When trying to implement the adopted plans for the development and production of new weapons and military equipment, the industry faced “enormous difficulties.” Thirdly, both the production and the army suffered from a shortage of qualified personnel. New cadres (specially trained professionals) were not yet ready and did not have enough experience, and a significant part of the old and experienced specialists, for political reasons, were “cut off” from military service and leadership positions.
There were many different causes for rejecting specialists or young recruits “for reasons of political and moral inferiority”, such as affiliation to the “wrong ”class (bourgeoisie, clergy etc.) or professional backgrounds — service in the White Army or administration of the Russian Empire.
The military leadership, however, followed the global trends in the field of armaments and tactics and tried to keep up with them. At this time, new military theories were actively developed.
One of these theories was developed by the Soviet military theoretician and Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky. According to that theory, simple and cheap armored tractors could be used as tanks of the 2nd and 3rd echelons (troops and armor of the 2nd and 3rd lines in a formation), even at the expense of reducing important combat characteristics.
“… we need to strive to have military tanks in numbers up to about one-third of the total, to perform special tasks, fight against anti-tank artillery, etc. The remaining tanks, usually advancing in the 2nd and 3rd echelons, can have somewhat lower speed, larger size, etc. And this means that such a tank can be an armored tractor, just as we have armored cars, trains and railcars, which will allow us to field armored tractors in huge masses.”
The Red Army required a large number of inexpensive, easy to manufacture and operate combat vehicles. The latter was especially important due to the acute personnel shortage – Soviet military theorists understood that the skills of the available manpower were not sufficient in the early 30s, and in the event of a major war, they would not have time to train qualified soldiers to man complex military equipment.
The Experimental Design Office of the Department of Mechanization and Motorization of the RKKA (UMM RKKA – Department of Mechanization and Motorization, Upravlenie Mekhanizacii I Motorizacii) was instructed to develop a “tractor tank”, like the American dual-purpose machine, the six-ton tractor Disston.
Most likely, the information about the Disston tanks was obtained from mass-media or during the so-called “Khalepsky Commission” visit to the USA. At that time, Nikolai Ivanovich Dyrenkov, a talented and extremely ambitious self-taught engineer, headed the Department of Mechanization and Motorization of the Red Army. Under his leadership, at the end of 1930, the development of so-called “surrogate tanks,” an infantry transporter and a number of other vehicles, began.
The “Kommunar” tractor, a licensed version of the German tractor Hanomag WD50, was taken as the basis for the D-10 and D-14, and the American Caterpillar-60 tractor was taken as the basis for D-11.
The production of “Caterpillar-60” was planned to start in Chelyabinsk (a city east of the Ural Mountains, which became a very important transport hub and industrial center during 1930s). “Kommunars” were already in production in Kharkov.
The Department of Mechanization and Motorization of the Red Army was charged with building prototypes of so-called “surrogate tanks”: D-10, D-11, APC D-14 (“desantniy tank”). In Russian, the word “desant” is often used for troops which ride into the battle on top or inside the armored vehicles. Thus – “desantniy tank”. The same word is used for airborne troops – “vozdushno desantniye voyska”) and the D-15 “chemical tank”. All vehicles were created in the Moscow MOZEREZ plant (Moscow Railway Repair Plant, Moskovsky Zheleznodorozhny Remontny Zavod). By February 1931, they were ready.
The design of all three vehicles was approximately the same: an engine was located in the front and, behind it, in the middle and aft part of the hull, there was a crew compartment, combined with a fighting compartment or compartment for troops. A fuel tank was also at the back.
On the roof of the fighting compartment there was a fixed commander’s cupola with viewing slots. Neither of the three vehicles had a rotating turret.
The D-10 and D-11 surrogate tanks were equipped with a 76.2 mm cannon on a pedestal mount as a primary weapon and two 7.62mm DT (Degtyaryov Tankovy) machine guns in the front and aft armor plates, as an auxiliary armament. Two more spare DT machine guns were stowed in the fighting compartment. There were two ball mounts for additional machine guns on each side armor plate. Worth noting is that the main gun mount was placed in the aft of the tank. In fact, this solution was the same as that of the Garford Putilov armored vehicles.
In the case of the Garford-Putilov, this decision was reasonable because the armored car had two driver positions and often went into battle ‘backwards’, but it was a significant flaw for the armored tractor, since it has to be turned around to fire the main gun.
According to some records, the ammunition did not fit into the tank and it was supposed to be carried on a towed trailer, but there is no information about the trailer itself. The D-14 APC was armed with two DT machine guns – one in the bow and one in the aft ball mounts.
The D-10 and D-11 tanks had a crew of 3 men – commander, driver, and gunner. D-14 APC had a crew of 2 men – driver and commander.
It is difficult to imagine how the engineers behind the design saw the distribution of crew duties between just two people. It can be assumed that firing was possible only after the vehicle stopped, so the driver or commander could take gunner positions.
All three vehicles had riveted hulls made of rolled armor plates. The D-14 had three doors on each side of the hull used for the entrance and exit of the crew and dismounts. The D-10 had one door on each side; on the left side, the door was closer to the stern, on the right, to the aft. The D-11 had one door in the middle of each side.
A distinctive feature of all three armored vehicles was a massive armored engine in the front, which blocked visibility for the driver and made it difficult to fire a machine gun.
Propulsion was provided by a water-cooled four-cylinder, four-stroke engine with a carburetor and a vertical arrangement of cylinders. Kommunar 9GU and Kommunar 9EU had a 75 hp (55 kW) 4-cylinder petrol engine, and Caterpillar-60 had a 60 hp (45 kW) 4-cylinder gasoline engine.
Chassis and Suspension
All 3 vehicles used reinforced tractor chassis’ used as a basis with minimal changes. Transmissions were the same as on the original tractors. The D-10 and D-14 had a spring suspension with two springs for each bogie. The D-11 had a semi-rigid suspension.
Trials and Results
In 1931, all three vehicles were tested at the NIABT Test Site (Nauchno Ispytatelny Avtobronetankovy Poligon, Scientific armored vehicle proving ground in Kubinka, also NIABP). Most likely, the tests of all three vehicles (D-10, D-11 and D-14) were conducted in May-June 1931. This fact is confirmed by the document with the preliminary test results dated July 1931.
On July 18, 1931, the Scientific-Technical Committee of the UMM RKKA considered a report on the testing of three vehicles: a “Kommunar 9GU” armored tractor (D-10 tank), a “Kommunar 9EU” armored tractor-infantry carrier (D-14 APC) and an armored tractor “Caterpillar 60” (D-11 tank).
The total weight of the tank exceeded by 1.5 tonnes the original projection. As a result, the average speed and mobility decreased. Instead of the estimated speed of 7-8.5 km/h on roads and 5-6 km/h off-road, the tractor-tank showed 6-6.2 km/h on roads and only 3.2 km/h off-road. When the outside air temperature was above 15 °C and the radiator was closed, the water boiled after 1-1.5 hours of the engine being in use.
Obstacle overcoming tests were unsatisfactory. The tractor-tank coped with a 1.25 m wide and 1 m deep trench dug in sandy soil, which was no worse than MS-1 tank. But the vehicle did not cope with a 1.5 m wide trench. D-10 could cross, tear or crush barbed wire barriers only if the stakes did not fall between the tracks, because the bottom of the tank was not protected by armor.
The report also mentioned the fact that the engine could not be started from inside the tank and the absence of a vacuum apparatus for supplying fuel, both considered to be further negative aspects of the armored tractor. The D-10 had a ‘gravity fuel feed’, so if the tank got in an unfavorable position, for example, when crossing the trench, the fuel supply to the engine would be interrupted and the armored tractor would stop. It should be noted that the problem was old, and known since the days of the British Mark I Tank.
The following two problems were distinctive for most Soviet armored vehicles of the 1930s-40s. First, the tests showed difficulties with visibility due to the inconvenient location of the viewing slits. This applied, in particular, to the driver’s position. Secondly, it was noted that there was a lack of ventilation in the crew compartment.
Front view of a D-10 with the D-11 in the background. Source: RGVA
Right side view of the D-10. Source: Domestic armored vehicles. XX century
Left side of the D-10. Source: Domestic armored vehicles. XX century
D-14 Troop Carrier
The weight of the tank, as in the case of the D-10, was exceeded, this time by 2 tonnes. Due to the increased length of the hull, the load on the rear bogies was also increased; as a result, these bogies collapsed during the tests. Problems with the visibility and fuel supply were similar to those of the D-10.
There was also a problem with ventilation, although, in the case of an infantry carrier, it was more acute. According to the designer’s idea, the transporter was supposed to fit 18 riflemen (dismounts) with weapons, plus the crew, since the compartments for crew and dismounts were combined.
Poor ventilation made the conditions inside the APC such that after a few hours of being inside the vehicle, the soldiers and crew would be unable to perform their duties due to heat, cramped space and noise.
The engineer who designed the D-14 placed the doors for entering and exiting the armored tractor on the sides of the hull, with 3 on each side. The doors opened backward in relation to the nose of the vehicle. There were no hatches or doors in the stern. This decision made exiting the vehicle quite dangerous, as soldiers could not hide behind either the doors or the hull of the APC and would be exposed to enemy fire.
Subsequently, the number of troops carried decreased. Later Soviet experimental armored personnel carriers were designed for 14 (TR-1) and 15 riflemen (TR-4). For comparison, the crew of the French Lorraine 38L consisted of 12; driver, commander and 10 infantrymen – four in the troop compartment and another 6 in the armored trailer. It is noteworthy that the exit of the troops through the side hatches or doors returned to the Soviet APCs in the 60-70s, namely the BTR-60P and BTR-70.
Front view of the D-14. Source: Domestic armored vehicles. XX century
D-14 Prototype. Side doors and engine starting handle are clearly visible. Source: RGVA
Rear view of the D-14. Source: Domestic armored vehicles. XX century
Illustration of the D-10 Tank (armored tractor) based on the “Kommunar 9GU” tractor.
Illustration of the D-11 Tank (armored tractor) based on the “Caterpillar 60” tractor.
Illustration of the D-14 Troop Carrier (armored tractor) based on the “Kommunar 9EU” tractor.
These illustrations were produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign
As in the case with the D-10 and D-14, the weight of the vehicle was exceeded by 2.7 tonnes with similar consequences. The speed dropped to 4.7 km/h on roads and 3.9 km/h off-road. In addition to the familiar problems of D-10 and D-14 with fuel supply and engine overheating, the D-11 had its own unique ones.
According to test engineers, the armored hull was attached to the chassis extremely poorly. Firstly, the hull blocked access to the most important parts of the tractor, such as rear axle and gearbox. Secondly, during the tests, the armored hull of the tank tore off the bolts that attached it to the tractor and fell on the tracks.
Additional problems were reported: poor ventilation – during movement, “dust filled the crew compartment”. When trying to cross a trench, the tractor-tank “sticks the nose into the ground”.
It is not known whether this was a distinctive feature of this particular machine (which was the one based on the Caterpillar 60), or if it was also the case on the machines based on the “Kommunars”. In addition, D-11 has a reduced off-road capability in comparison with D-10 and D-14, because of the shorter base. The report noted a reduced cross-country capability and reduced mobility of this vehicle compared to the D-10 and D-14.
Left side view of the D-11. Source: Domestic armored vehicles. XX century
Test Results and Recommendations
On August 6, 1931, the test results were confirmed in another document, where conclusions and recommendations were presented.
General conclusions were as follows:
“Surrogate tanks” were not suitable for clearing barbed wire fences due to unarmored bottom. Adding armor to the bottom meant increasing the weight, which means a decrease in the combat performance of already heavy and slow vehicles. In the second document, the general conclusion was much harsher: “nullifies the combat use of this type of armored vehicle”;
The speed and maneuverability were considered insufficient, even for tanks of the 2nd to 3rd echelons. The chairman of the Scientific and Technological Committee UMM, Ivan Andrianovich Lebedev, noted that the average speed being “less than 4 km/h”;
Suspension elements were destroyed or worn out due to the excessive weight of the vehicles;
The artillery armament with which it was equipped was deemed unsatisfactory;
There was another important point that influenced the decision. It was considered that the “Kommunar” tractors surpassed the “Caterpillar-60” capabilities. But, firstly, “Kommunars” were produced by the KhPZ factory (Kharkov Locomotive Factory) in quantities that barely met the needs of the army in tractors for towage of artillery and other weapons. Secondly, the production at KhPZ was, in fact, custom-made. There was no exchangeability of parts even within the same series of machines.
The conclusion for Dyrenkov was disappointing: according to Lebedev, the main purpose of these tractors was towing artillery, therefore it was recommended to remove the armored hulls and convert the surrogate tanks D-10 and D-11 into self-propelled guns and test them.
In the case of the infantry transporter D-14, the UMM committee decided to retest it in order to “obtain more detailed data, both from the technical and from the tactical side.” Alterations included reduction of the troop compartment to 12 soldiers instead of 18. The rear part of the armored hull had to be partly cut off in order to reduce the load on the rear rollers.
In general, it was recommended to reduce the weight of the machine to 10 tons. To achieve this, it was proposed to remove or lighten individual armor plates. And, finally, to install an additional fuel tank, with the ability to pump fuel from the main fuel tank. Lebedev noted that “it is not possible to get a surrogate tank, even with reduced combat capabilities, without a major overhaul of the design.” In fact, it was easier to design a new tank.
Dyrenkov managed to create in 1931 armored vehicles that had the flaws of tanks of the Great War. The Red Army quit experiments with armored tractors but returned to them as an emergency measure in early 1941.
There was a plan to charge the faculty of mechanization and motorization of the Red Army to develop a personnel carrier on the chassis of the tank MM-1 (aka TMM-1, based on the Vickers Mk. E), as it was one of the most robust and common tanks of the Red Army. Further experiments with armored personnel carriers continued and the next attempt was the TR-1 (TR-26) transporter based on the T-26 tank. Nevertheless, the Red Army entered World War Two without any indigenous APC.
As for Dyrenkov and Tukhachevsky, they were both arrested and executed in 1937 during the “Great Purge”.
Total weight, battle ready
~ 12,000 Kg
4-cyl petrol, 75 hp (55 kW)
6-6.2 km/h forward, 3.2 km/h reverse
120 km on road
1 x 76-mm gun M1913 on Garford mount;
1 x 7.62-mm DT machine gun
Front – 16 mm; Back – 16 mm; Sides – 11 mm, Top – 6 mm
Total weight, battle ready
~ 12,500 Kg
2 + 18 passengers
75 hp (55 kW) engine
6 km/h forward
120 km on road
2 x 7.62-mm DT machine gun
Front – 11 mm; Back – 11 mm; Sides – 11 mm, Top – 6 mm
Total weight, battle ready
~ 13,250 Kg
60 hp engine
4.7 km/h forward, 3.9 km/h background
100 km on road
1 x 76-mm gun M1913 on Garford mount;
2 x 7.62-mm DT machine gun
Front – 16 mm; Back – 11 mm; Sides – 11 mm, Top – 6 mm
RGVA f. 31811 (Russian State Military Archive (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvenni Voennyi Arkhiv- RGVA)
Domestic armored vehicles. XX century: Scientific publication: In 4 volumes / Solyankin A.G., Pavlov M.V., Pavlov I.V., Zheltov I.G. / Vol 1. Domestic armored vehicles. 1905-1941 – M .: Exprint Publishing Center, LLC, 2002. – 344 pp. Ill., P. 61, pp. 88-89
Domestic Armored Vehicles 20th Century Vol 1 1905-1941 (Solyankin 2002)
Tukhachevsky / Boris Sokolov. – M: Molodaya Gvardiya, 2008. – 447  s: il. – (Life of remarkable people: ser. Biogr .; issue. 1104)
Kirindas A.M. “Artillery tractor“ Comintern””, – Moscow: Yauza-Catalog, 2017
A.Bezugolny. “The Source of additional power of the Red Army …”, Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2016
In 1928, the Soviet Union dispatched a military commission with the aim of finding an adequate and advanced foreign tank design. While visiting the USA, they came across the automotive designer J. W. Christie, who presented them with his own tank design. The Soviets were impressed, leading to the acquisition of two vehicles, followed up by a license for production of that design in the Soviet Union. The vehicle which was built in the Soviet Union was known as the BT-2 and, while not perfect, it would be built in relatively large numbers and serve as the basis for future more successful developments.
Why a fast tank?
The BT-series tanks have often been associated with the theory of Deep Operations. While BT tanks eventually found their place and role within the cutting-edge doctrine, the reasons why BT tanks were adopted into service with the RKKA (The Red Army of Workers and Peasants, Russian: Raboche Krestyanskaya Krasnaya Armiya) are much more complicated.
In the mid-twenties, the Soviet leadership found themselves in isolation aggravated by deteriorating international relations. At the time, Great Britain was considered the primary enemy of the young Socialist Republic.
Troubled with rising tensions with the international community, the Soviet leadership decided to inspect the RKKA and determine its readiness for a future war. On 26 December 1926, the General Staff of the Red Army prepared the report “The Defence of the USSR”. The results were disastrous. Presenting the report to the Soviet leaders, the Chief of Staff of the RKKA, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, admitted the unpleasant fact ‘Neither the Red Army nor the country are ready for war.’
The consequences were twofold: firstly, the situation forced the Soviet leadership to pay attention to defense issues and urgently start a massive reorganization of the Red Army; secondly, the Soviets and Stalin himself, who, by that time, had increased his influence significantly, got an opportunity to use the ‘war scare’ as a part of internal policy, justifying the most extreme measures.
In December 1927, Tukhachevsky sent a memorandum to Voroshilov entitled “On the radical rearmament of the RKKA”. The document stressed the fundamental technical rearmament of the army as a key aspect of a successful defense policy. Later, that notion became more precisely formulated ‘to keep up with our enemies in the strength of the mobilized army and surpass them in materiel’.
Accordingly, the cornerstone of the technical rearmament of the Ground Forces was the plan to increase the level of mechanization dramatically. Eventually, technical rearmament and mechanization of the Red Army even got its own name and became known as tankization, or ‘tankizatsiya’ in Russian.
The first three-year plan presented in January 1927 anticipated producing only 150 tanks by 1930. The next plan, part of the first five-year plan, anticipated the growth of the tank fleet fifteen times compared to 1928/29. This was quite an ambitious rate considering the state of the economy and industrial development of the USSR at the time.
The plans for future production were based mostly on projections that clearly overestimated the industrial capacity and technological potential of the country. In reality, the Soviet tank program bumped into numerous difficulties with both development and production. The RKKA had only adopted into service its first indigenously developed tank, the T-18 (MS-1), in July 1927, and started its low-rate serial production in mid-1928, with only 30 tanks being built that year.
In 1928-29, production was moving slowly, experiencing constant delays of delivery and poor quality of production. For example, on 24 September 1929, the Ordnance-Arsenal Trust reported that the Bolshevik factory (No 174) would delay production for 1-2 months and the MMZ (Motovilikhinskii zavod No 172) for 8-10 months.
Additionally, in 1929, a new system of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of the RKKA was adopted. The document made the T-18 tank obsolete and envisaged the adoption of even more sophisticated armored vehicles in increasing numbers. Knowing these circumstances, the command of the RKKA and Tukhachevsky himself had every reason to question the ability of the Soviet industry to cope with the plan on its own and within an acceptable time frame. In November 1929, the Department of Mechanization and Motorization (Управление по механизации и моторизации, UMM) of the RKKA had to admit that ‘there is no certainty that the program will be completed’.
The remedy to this situation was quite obvious — to seek technological help abroad. The decision was made, and on 30 December 1929, the commission led by the head of the Directorate of Mechanization and Motorization of the RKKA (UMM RKKA), Innokentii Khalepskii, went abroad. The plan envisaged visiting the US, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, and Germany in order to purchase technologies and armaments.
It was a juxtaposition that the Soviets were determined to find help in hostile bourgeois countries (as they were presented by official propaganda) including Great Britain, the most likely enemy state in case of war. There was another significant point regarding the connection between the Deep Battle/Deep Operations doctrine and BT tanks. Despite the fact that some elements of the future doctrine were developed by Tukhachevsky back in 1926, he was not an active supporter of mechanization until 1928-29 and saw cavalry as a main maneuver element of the army. In May 1927, presenting the new plan of military development, Tukhachevski did not even mention armored forces or tanks at all.
Although Soviet advocates of mechanization were well aware of the technological and tactical developments in other countries, including British experiments with the Experimental Mechanized Force and convertible tanks, there were no fast tanks in the system of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of RKKA of 1929.
The system, however, included convertible tankettes with a maximum speed of 60 km/h on wheels and 40 km/h on tracks, but their tactical role was confined to reconnaissance, surprise assault, or anti-tank defense in a variant armed with a 37 mm gun. Obviously, not even close to the role of fast tank, which was a crucial part of the independently acting mechanized formations and the Deep Battle doctrine in general.
Eventually, having appreciated the advantages and high potential of the new combat vehicles acquired from the US, the Soviet military command began to see Christie tanks as a unified platform capable of performing different tasks. ‘This type could be used not only as a tank but as a troop, machine gun, artillery, and ammunition transporter, etc., also as an armored car for the motorization of the cavalry… it could be used as a platform for carrying AA-guns, machine guns, and searchlights. Field artillery could also be put on Christie’s chassis, which surely addresses the problem of the motorization of artillery… Chemical forces, signal, and technical troops could also use Christie’s vehicle’ said the note on the organization of armored forces abroad issued on 20 January 1930.
We can assume that combat vehicles with characteristics similar to Christie’s tanks were not considered in the early stages of working on the novel theory of Deep Operations. The adoption of the BT-2 tanks luckily coincided with the development of the theory in the early 1930s and the capabilities of the military equipment successfully corresponded with the needs of the innovative theory of Deep Battle.
During the Great War, Christie was involved in designing tracked self-propelled artillery vehicles. When the US Army obtained a number of French FT tanks, Christie noted that the tank, and especially its suspension, was prone to malfunctioning and breakdowns during long distance marches. The solution used at the time was to use trucks as transport vehicles to avoid unnecessary wear of tank engines and running gear. While quite effective, this way had also some drawbacks, such as the necessity to have a large fleet of trucks (also prone to breakdowns), hard limits on weight and dimensions, and a relatively low speed of movement.
During this time, Christie came up with a new concept for a convertible armored vehicle. He simply devised a plan of using a track suspension system that could, if needed, be easily modified and used as a normal wheeled vehicle by simply removing the tracks. His first tank prototype to use this kind of suspension was presented to the US Army in early 1921, named ‘M1919’. While the vehicle was trialed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), a number of problems were noted. For this reason, Christie spent some time modifying and improving his design, which he again presented to the Army in 1923.
Once again, this tank was rejected due to many flaws in the design. Once more, Christie completely redesigned his suspension system. This time, he incorporated four larger road wheels, with the idler in the front and the drive sprocket at the rear. The last road wheel was connected with a chain belt to the drive sprocket, and was used to provide drive power when the track links were removed. The front road wheels were used for steering. During 1928 (thus the name ‘M1928’), Christie himself made great efforts to advertise his vehicle, especially to the US Army, but also to customers abroad. He actually managed to gain attention from Poland and from Soviet Army representatives.
At that time, the military and political relations between the US and the Soviet Union were almost non-existent, as the US did not even recognize the USSR as a state. Thus, any possible cooperation with Christie would be difficult to achieve.
At the time, the main base of operations for the Soviets in the US was the Amtorg Trading Corporation entrenched in New York. Amtorg was founded in 1924, with the official goal of facilitating trade operations between the Soviet Union and the United States and help with import-export operations as an intermediary. Additionally, the Soviets also used Amtorg as a cover for intelligence operations. Interestingly, Amtorg was an officially registered stock company embedded into the American market and legal system, meaning the Soviets could obtain valuable intelligence without any covert operations.
Amtorg could officially request information about any company registered in the USA on the grounds that they wanted to make a deal. Moreover, it was impossible to prevent them from doing this, since by submitting official requests, they did not go beyond the legal field, being an incorporated subject of economic activity. In this regard, federal officials called Amtorg a “bridgehead of Soviet espionage” and the oldest Soviet intelligence agency in the United States. Through Amtorg, the Soviets managed to acquire a number of technologies and, later, even weapons from the USA.
With the Amtorg Corporation, the Soviets had stationed a group of undercover military officers whose task was to try to obtain more modern military equipment under the guise of purchasing equipment for civilian purposes. While American authorities from the early twenties were strictly opposed to selling any kind of weapons or military equipment abroad, and especially to the Soviet Union, by the end of the decade, this attitude changed. To this end, at the end of 1929, Amtorg officials asked for permission to buy 50 Cunningham T1E2 light tanks (this tank never actually entered production beside the prototype), but nothing came from this, mostly as the Christie design looked more promising and was available.
In 1930, a Soviet delegation led by I. Khalepskiy, who was in charge of the Red Army Mechanization and Motorization Directorate (UMM), and D.F. Budniak, the Defence Industry representative, visited a number of American weapons and arms manufacturers, including Christie’s own plant. The Soviets were highly impressed with the M1928 vehicle and, after they informed the People’s Commissar for Defence, Kliment Voroshilov, it was agreed to acquire two vehicles for testing and even to obtain a production licence.
In June 1930, after long and difficult negotiations, Christie signed a contract with the US Army to deliver one tank for $55,000, along with $7,000 allocated for trials and fine-tuning of the engine. In the meantime, he was approached by Amtorg representatives with their own proposal and also managed to sign a separate contract with Poland to deliver one M1940 tank for $30,000 along with spare parts worth $3,000 and the production licence for another $90,000.
Knowing the Soviet fears and unwillingness to allow Poland to get any advantage over the USSR in tank production, Walter Christie skillfully used the situation in his favor. By the end of April 1930, an agreement was signed between Christie and Amtorg for purchasing two vehicles at a total price of $60,000 (over $933,000 in 2020 values), spare parts worth $4,000, followed by an agreement for a licence production and technical support for another $100,000.
The total sum was high enough to cover the costs resulting from breaking the previous contract with Poland. At the same time, to better familiarize with the construction and design of the M1928, about 60 Soviet engineers spent nearly a year at Christie’s company.
Although the contract had already been concluded, the actual delivery of these vehicles, on the other hand, was slowed to a halt by the US government. At that time, US government officials were unanimous that no weapons of any kind should be allowed to be exported to the Soviet Union. At the end of 1930, American authorities tried to find out what happened to the two M1928 vehicles. They were probably shocked and agitated to discover that these had already been dispatched to the Soviet Union under disguise as ‘tractors’.
The first Christie tanks in the Soviet Union
The Christie tanks finally reached the Soviet Union in early 1931. These two were of the M1940 model (based on the M1931 model), which had a more simplified frontal hull design. In order to ship them to the Soviet Union, they were disguised as tractors by removing the turrets, which had to be left behind.
Consequently, the Soviets had to design and build their own turrets. One of the two vehicles was moved to the Nakhabino Proving Ground for operational trials. The second vehicle was moved to the Ordnance-Arsenal Trust (GKB-OAT) in Moscow. The testing of the M1940s was completed by May 1931 and production orders were placed shortly thereafter. During the testing phase, the M1940 showed itself to be an unrefined design, but was nevertheless put into production. One of the reasons for this somewhat hurried attempt to start production was based on the false and incomplete information that the Poles were trying to adopt the same vehicle. While the Poles had indeed expressed interest in Christie’s tanks and experimented on improving the tank design, with what would be known as the 10TP, only a single prototype would be built by 1939. The other reasons lay within industrial and economical aspects and will be discussed further. Interestingly enough, the Soviets also obtained one M1932 tank model for further testing.
When the M1940 was adopted for production, it received the BT-2 (Bystrokhodny tank – ‘fast tank’) designation. As claimed by S. J. Zaloga, the BT-1 designation was not used, as this name was already taken for a failed GKB-OAT (Head Design Bureau of Ordnance-Arsenal Trust) design project dating back to 1927. According to other sources, such as T. Bean and W. Fowler (Russian Tanks of World War Two), the BT-1 name was actually used for a direct copy of the Christie vehicle armed with machine gun armament. These sources claim that it was built in small numbers. J. F. Milsom (Russian BT series), on the other hand, notes that the BT-1 designation was used for the first prototype armed with twin machine guns.
Russian sources are more certain. The two prototypes purchased in America were designated as Original-1 and Original-2 (‘Оригинал-1’ and ’Оригинал-2’ in Russian). Mikhail Svirin claims that, in 1930, the head of the UMM RKKA, Innokentii Khalepskii, rejected the idea to name the new tank in accordance with the standard Soviet designation, using the letter “T” and sequential numbering, as tanks of this type were not presented in the System of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of RKKA. Thus, he proposed to designate that type of combat vehicles as “ST” or “BT”, meaning skorokhodnii tank and bystrokhodnii tank in Russian. Both names could be translated as fast moving tank or simply – fast tank.
From February 1933, all tanks armed with 37 mm gun or twin-machine gun mount were officially designated as BT-2 tanks. Interestingly, according to the same author, the BT was also unofficially known by the nicknames ‘Tri Tankista’ (three tankers) and ‘Betka’, which he translates as beetle, even though this particular word does not mean anything in Russian. It was also known by other nicknames as ‘Bete’ (phonetic pronunciation from the Russian БТ, БэТэ – BeTe) or ‘Beteshka’ (little BT) by its crews.
In the late 20s and early 30s, the Soviet industry was in a state of disorder and deep systemic crysis. There were many factors affecting the military industry and the rearmament, from political and administrative to a lack of technologies and experienced personnel.
The leaders of the Soviet Union wanted ‘too much too fast’ following their policy of the war scare emerging in 1927. Making things harder, the first five year plan (1928-1932) and, accordingly, the industrialization had just begun and had not produced any significant results yet. Simply put, the Soviet industry was not ready to meet the demands of the political and military leadership of the USSR within the acceptable time frame.
The proposed schedule was pretty tight even by contemporary standards: by 20 September 1931, the UMM RKKA wanted six prototype BT tanks to be ready; by 1 January 1932, the Kharkov Locomotive Factory (KhPZ) was to finish 25 BT tanks and 25 sets of spare parts, with another 25 tanks to be ready for acceptance trials. The first 100 BT tanks were to be ready no later than 15 February 1932.
By 1 December 1932, the Red Army expected to receive 2,000 BT tanks. Totally, by the end of the reorganization, the RKKA planned to have 4,497 BT tanks. This was quite an ambitious plan for a country which had started producing the indigenously developed T-18 tanks only in 1927 and, according to the previous plan of 1927/28, wanted 1,600 MS-1 tanks, 210 maneuver tanks and 1,640 Liliput tankettes by 1933.
As it was mentioned previously, there were no ‘fast tanks’ in the System of tank-tractor-auto-armored weapons of RKKA, which emerged in August 1929. Thus, the concept was completely new not only to the military, but also to the industry.
In order to start large scale production as quickly as possible, the Kharkov (KhPZ) locomotive plant was chosen. This choice was not random, as the KhPZ already had enough expertise in tank and tractor production and possessed almost all the necessary equipment to build M1940 Christie-type tanks.
On the other hand, KhPZ was already involved in the development and production of the T-24 medium tank and T-12 (A-12) ‘maneuver tank’ (manevrennii tank in Russian). Notably, the T-24 project was costly and progressed at snail speed, which was unacceptable for the senior leadership of the RKKA. Probably the main reason why the foreign project was chosen was its high readiness for serial production. The leaders of the UMM believed that putting Christie’s tank into production would be much faster, simpler and would not allow the management of the KhPZ to use deficiencies in the design as an excuse in case the factory would derail the production schedule.
Needless to say, the management of the KhPZ was unhappy with the strict plans and, in fact, was wary of producing the new combat vehicle. Moreover, the director of the plant, Bondarenko, tried to stigmatize the tank by naming it ‘wrecking’. According to Gustav Bokis, at the time deputy chief of the UMM, “It took much effort, pushing and direct orders, up to the Government level, to force the KhPZ to build BT tanks and to make necessary amendments to the design in the course of manufacturing.”
To some degree, the concerns of the factory’s leadership were understandable. KhPZ was never designed for the mass production of tanks on such a large scale. The factory needed to expand, thus it needed new production facilities, workshops, raw materials, machine tools, and equipment which required resources and more importantly – time. Some machinery crucial for the production was not even available in the USSR and had to be ordered abroad from Germany, Switzerland, and the USA.
The BT tank project at KhPZ was entrusted to the special design bureau led by military engineer of the 2nd rank Nikolai Mikhailovich Toskin, beginning its involvement in the BT’s development on 25 May 1931. On 20 September 1931, KhPZ received the No. 70900311 order. According to the order, by 20 September 1931, the factory had to build six prototypes. Of them, only three tanks were ready by the deadline. The prototypes were to participate in the military parade in Moscow in November 1931, but only two of them actually made it. The third tank caught fire originating from the engine compartment before even entering the Red Square. According to Zaloga, these prototypes lacked any kind of weapons and were built using mild-steel plates.
The production moved slowly despite all the efforts being made. In addition to the issues mentioned before, the Izhorsky factory bumped into a series of problems producing armor plates for the hulls and turrets. By the end of the year, it had produced only three sets of armored hulls and turrets from a planned 50. Another source gave different numbers – the initial series of 13 hulls and 66 turrets were to be built using mild steel. Following all the unfortunate events, on 6 December 1933, Toskin was recalled back to Moscow and another engineer, Afanasii Firsov, took over the project.
On 23 May 1931, the BT-2 was adopted into service with the RKKA and serial production began in the same year. The production plans for 1932 were overly optimistic, with an estimated production number of 900 vehicles. This number would be reduced to 482 vehicles, as it became obvious that the previous number would be impossible to achieve with the existing production capabilities.
On 3 October 1932, the chief of the Directorate of Military and Naval Inspection, Nikolai Kuibyshev, reported to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union, that on 1 September 1932, out of the 900 tanks envisioned with the initial plan and 482 according to the corrected plan, only 76 tanks were ready. Of these 76 tanks, 55 were manufactured in August. The reduced plan for September was also derailed with only 40 tanks out of 120 completed.
Kuibyshev believed it was a clear indication that the factory intentionally lowered the standards of quality control in order to commission as many tanks as possible so they could take part in the autumn maneuvers. He also stressed that the quality of the produced tanks was low. All the BTs went to the army units as training vehicles.
According to the available reports from the military maneuvers of the Belorussian Military District, on the first day of the maneuvers, half of the vehicles were out of order. After the fourth exercise (250-300 km long march), out of 28 tanks, only 7 remained operational. In 1932, some 35 BT-2 were given to the 5th Tank Battalion for testing, but 27 required extensive repairs at the end of the year. The overall attempts to increase the speed of production greatly affected the mechanical reliability of these vehicles and the quality of spare parts and components, such as tracks, engines, transmissions, gearboxes, and others.
By the end of 1933, some 620 were built with 3 being built in 1931, 393 in 1932, and the remaining 224 in 1933. D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetskog Rata-SSSR) mentions that 610 were built, but this does not correspond with the numbers in archive documents.
The Hull and Superstructure
The BT-2 tank had a standard hull configuration, with a front crew compartment and a rear positioned engine, separated by a firewall with doors. The M-5 Liberty engine, an oil tank, radiators, and a battery were mounted in the engine compartment.
The hull had a simple box shape design with the front part having a wedge shape. While the original Christie vehicle was built using welded armor, the BT-2 was actually assembled using armored plates which were connected with rivets for ease of construction.
Suspension and Running Gear
Probably the main distinctive feature of the design was the ability to move on wheels or on tracks, which, in fact, predetermined many technical solutions of the future BT-series tanks.
The BT-2 used the Christie suspension system which consisted of four large road wheels on each side, one front idler, and rear positioned drive sprocket. Each road wheel was suspended with helical springs. The springs on the steering wheels were positioned horizontally and were installed inside the combat compartment. The rest of the springs were positioned vertically inside pipes and installed between the outer armor plate of the hull and the unarmored inner wall. The suspension allowed a road wheel vertical travel of up to 287 mm.
While this suspension offered much better drive performance than previous ones, it had a huge disadvantage. It required a lot of space inside the hull. For this reason, the hull interior was cramped. Another huge issue was the maintenance and replacing of damaged or worn-out parts of the suspension.
Maintenance was, in fact, the most exhausting and time-consuming part of the crew routine, as BT-2 tanks required all the bearings of the roadwheel arms to be lubricated every 10 hours, and all bearings had to be lubricated every 30 hours of travel.
The design of the road wheels was changed during the BT-2’s service life. Originally, the front wheel had 12 small holes in it, while the remaining wheels had 6 spokes each. All four road wheels had rubber rims. The diameter of these wheels was 815 mm, while the width was around 200 mm. In later years, some vehicles were equipped with solid road wheels taken directly from the improved BT-5 vehicles. These wheels were slightly larger – 830 mm.
The BT-2 could be driven using only the wheels by removing the tracks. In this case, the drive was provided to the rearmost road wheel, while the first set of road wheels was used for steering (similar to ordinary cars). The driver would use a standard clutch and brake system when driving with tracks, and a steering wheel when driving with the wheels. Once the tracks were mounted again, the steering wheel was stored inside the vehicle. Moving on wheels, the BT-2 could achieve much greater speeds on good roads. Another benefit of using the road wheels was lower fuel consumption.
A disadvantage of this system was the time needed (some 30 minutes) to remove or put back the tracks. The procedure was pretty laborious and challenging even for 3-men crews, not to say for two men. The weight of each track was about 345 kg. The crew had to remove the tracks, disassemble them into four parts and fasten them to the track shelves with belts. The problem was so acute that, in May 1932, UMM RKKA ordered to ‘Mechanize the removal and putting back of the tracks, as the time of 30-45 minutes required for removal and 15-30 minutes for putting back the track is extremely long.’ After changing from tracks to wheels, the crew had to adjust all the springs to align the vehicle and get the road clearance even at 350 mm.
The wheel configuration could only effectively be used on good roads, which were rare and far apart in the USSR during this period. Driving with them off-road was generally a bad idea. However, the wheeled set-up was in no way meant to be used anywhere near the front lines. When approaching the enemy, the tanks would change to tracked configuration before proceeding. Once removed, the tracks were usually placed atop the track guards.
The tracks used were of the Christie type, which were 255 mm wide with 46 links (23 of them flat and 23 with grousers). As this track was produced in the Soviet Union, its quality was poor and was frequently prone to malfunctioning.
The BT-2 tanks were powered by a 400 hp (294 kW) Liberty L-12 engine and its reverse-engineered Soviet copies produced under the name M-5. In its essence, it was a 12-cylinder V-shaped liquid-cooled carburetor aviation engine. With a full weight of 11 tonnes (the precise tonnage differs between the sources), the BT-2 had a power-to-weight ratio of 33.2 hp per tonne. Normally, the engine worked at 1,650 rpm. The engine could be started with two 1.3 hp ‘Mach’ (Russian “МАЧ”) starters or one 2 hp Scintilla electrical starter. There was also the possibility to start the engine with a hand-crank.
According to official specifications, the serial BT-2 could reach a maximum speed of 70-72 km/h on a dry paved road (some sources even mention an astonishing 110 km/h, which sounds like an exaggeration). The maximum and average speeds in different road conditions are given in the table below:
Road conditions/Speed km/h
Dry paved road
Unpaved back road
Source: RGVA F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1141
When using tracks, the speed was a reduced, but still a respectable 50-52 km/h. Depending on the drive type (tracks or wheels), the operational range with a full fuel load of 360 liters ranged from 120 to 200 km. Older sources, such as J. F. Milsom (Russian BT series), give a range of 300 km, although this is doubtful. The gearbox had four forward and one reserve gears. The crew had to come out to switch from wheels to tracks or back. About 30 minutes was required to fulfill this operation.
On top of the engine compartment, a hatch door with a large air filter was placed. Originally, the BT-2 tanks were not provided with a protective mesh fence that protected the air intakes, but in later years, some vehicles were equipped with it. In addition, the large external mufflers would also be replaced with simpler twin exhaust pipes.
Capricious carburetor engines were prone to overheating, malfunctions, and even caused fires. While the Liberty L-12 and its M-5 copy were somewhat problematic, the main reasons for accidents were inexperienced crews and technical services, poor manufacturing quality, and even fire safety violations. Some Russian sources mention numerous accidents caused by the crews smoking near the fire-prone engines or while refueling.
On the other hand, the Head of the UMM RKKA, Khalepsky, in his report to Voroshilov on 29 April 1934, mentioned “…all BT tanks have Liberty-type aircraft engines purchased in America and partially M-5 engines transferred from aviation to industry for installation on BT tanks… Practical experience has established that these engines can operate in tanks 400-450 hours before overhaul…”. The number is quite remarkable on its own. Besides the fact that some BT-2 tanks survived to 1944 in the harsh conditions of the Northwestern Front, indicates that the engine itself was reliable enough when handled carefully, even taking into account that the Northwestern Front was quite static until 1944 and BT tanks were constrained to guard duties.
The Armor Protection
The BT-2 tank was relatively lightly armored. Initially, the UMM RKKA wanted the BT tank to have not less than 20 mm frontal armor, 13 mm side armor, and 6 mm armor for the roof and bottom.
Early production models were made of mark D armor plates and had armor thickness ranging from 6 mm to a 13 mm maximum. The hull’s frontal armor was 13 mm thick, sides 10 to 13 mm, while the rear was 13 mm. The top hull was 10 mm and the bottom was protected with 6 mm armor. The turret was protected by 13 mm all-around armor, while the roof was protected by 6 mm of armor.
BT-2 tanks of the later production batches had 13 mm thick front, side, and rear armor. The roof armor thickness was slightly increased from 6 mm to 10 mm. The turret was protected by 13 mm armor all around. After the Izhorsky plant started manufacturing the new type of armor named PI (Russian “ПИ”) in September 1932, the maximum thickness of the hull and turret increased to 15 mm.
The small frontal driver plate was positioned mostly at a 90° angle, with the rest of the front having a pyramidal shape placed at a 31° angle. Notably, the BT-2 tanks had no vision slits protected with ‘Triplex’ glass nor pistol ports protected with armored shutters.
The two Christie’s tanks purchased in America had no turrets at all. As the Soviet leadership wanted a tank armed with a gun, it was necessary to design a new turret from scratch.
According to Zaloga, the Soviets appointed engineer Anatoliy Kolesnikov to design a turret. Kolesnikov indeed worked at the KhPZ Design Bureau under the leadership of Afanasy Firsov. However, Kolesnikov finished his education at the Leningrad Tank Academy and joined the Design Bureau at KhPZ in 1931. Given the tight schedule (three prototypes should have been ready by 15 September 1931), it seems doubtful that the leadership could have entrusted the design of the turret to the young designer and without any supervision. It was most likely a team effort and Kolesnikov was part of the design group.
Due to the importance of faster project implementation, the Soviet engineers chose to design a simple cylindrical turret. The armor plates were held in place with rivets. The top of this turret consisted of a flat rear part, where a square-shaped hatch door was placed. Additionally, there was a small hatch for flag signaling to the left of the hatch. The frontal half of the turret top was angled downward.
The early turret designs did not have the two additional square-shaped protective covers over the gun mantlet, which were added later for better protection. During production, the turret was also provided with small vision slits. Some turrets had pistol ports closed with armored plugs.
Initially, the BT-2 tanks were to be armed with a 37 mm PS-2 gun developed by Petr Syachentov and a coaxial machine gun. This gun was actually a Soviet attempt to improve the performance of the French Hotchkiss 37 mm gun. This plan was discarded once the Soviets decided to adopt a copy of the German Rheinmetall 37 mm anti-tank gun instead, as it was a more modern design.
Based on the German gun, the Soviets developed a tank version named the 37 mm B-3 tank gun (factory designation 5K – K stands for the Kalinin plant where this gun was developed). In the summer of 1931, it was decided to adopt a mount with the 37 mm B-3 tank gun and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun as standard armament for the BT-2 tanks.
There are different interpretations of the decision:
According to Russian sources, GAU RKKA (Main Artillery Directorate) failed to design the prototype of the mount and, therefore, canceled its serial production. As a result, in the first quarter of 1932, the Izorsky plant had to alter the blueprints of the turret to accommodate two separate mounts (one for the 37 mm gun and the second for the machine gun) and then change the whole first batch of 60 already produced turrets.
After that, the Mariupol factory and Izhorsky plant produced the second batch of tank turrets, now redesigned for separate mounts. Each factory produced 120 turrets, 240 in total.
It was planned to switch to a new mount with a 45 mm 20K gun and coaxial DT machine gun, starting with the 301st tank. However, extensive testing revealed that the small size of the serial turret simply did not allow to do that. Instead, the Soviet engineers designed a new bigger unified turret which was subsequently used on T-26 and BT-5 tanks and on some armored cars, like the BA-3 and BA-6.
According to Zaloga, the initial batch of 60 turrets was designed for the canceled PS-2 Syachentov’s gun. As the B-3 gun was bigger, it was quickly realized that the turret’s design did not allow it to accommodate both the new gun and a coaxial machine gun. The Red Army’s command did not agree with the idea to omit the machine gun, thus the Izhorsky factory had to find another solution. Eventually, the first 60 turrets were altered to accommodate two separate mounts – the B-3 in a gun mount and DT machine gun in a ball mount to the right of the gun. To add more confusion, there are also different opinions on the adoption of twin-machine gun mounts as the main armament for BT-2 tanks.
According to the version given by Russian authors M. Pavlov, I. Pavlov, and I. Zheltov, Factory No. 8 was able to deliver only 190 B-3 guns to the KhPZ factory (Kharkov Locomotive Factory). As there were not enough tank guns, in May 1932, the Soviet leadership decided to arm the remaining BT-2 tanks with two 7.62 mm DT machine guns in twin-machine gun mounts named DA-2. The DA-2 was tested and adopted into service in the fourth quarter of 1933. Curiously enough, the DA-2 mounts were installed by the army repair services.
In turn, S. Zaloga sticks to the version that the Kalinin factory No.8 (which was the main production center of this gun) received orders to stop the production of the B-3 guns in 1931 due to the decision to switch production to the new 45 mm gun. At that time, only 352 B-3 guns were actually built.
Eventually, the solution to modify the BT-2 turret to be able to house the new 45 mm gun failed. Despite much testing and modification of the turret by adding a rear bustle, this was not possible, mostly due to the turret’s small size. Another suggestion was to reuse any available PS-1 guns, which were initially used to arm the obsolete T-18 tanks. This proposal was also rejected due to the PS-1’s poor armor-piercing performance.
As there were only enough B-3 guns to equip slightly more than half of the BT-2s, the remaining vehicles had to be left without any main armament, at least until another solution could be found. Despite lacking its weapons, some of these BT-2 were still used on military parades. As a result of all the given circumstances, BT-2 tanks had four different sets of armament:
1. Only a 37 mm gun
2. A 37 mm gun and a 7.62 mm DT machine gun in a ball mount
3. Two 7.62 mm DT machine guns in a twin-mount plus another 7.62 mm machine gun in a ball mount
4. Two 7.62 mm DT machine guns in a twin-mount and the third machine gun removed
The latter variant appeared for two reasons. Firstly, at some point, it became apparent that the commander was not able to operate two machine gun mounts efficiently at once, and secondly, the third machine gun took too much space in the already cramped turret. Therefore, a certain part (the precise number is currently unknown) of the BT-2 tanks armed with twin machine gun mounts had the ball mount removed, with an armored shutter being placed instead.
However, a document dated 29 June 1939 indicated two variants of standard armament for BT-2 tanks — a 37 mm gun and one DT machine gun or three machine guns.
The standard armor-piercing round for the B-3 37 mm tank gun had a weight of 0.66 kg and a muzzle velocity of 820 m/s. It could, at a range of some 500 m, penetrate 28 mm armor (at a 30° angle). The BT-2 was also provided with 0.645 kg high-explosive rounds.
B-3 tank gun
45 mm tank gun
37 mm gun PS-2 mod. 1930
(Russian – 37-мм пушка ПС-2 образца 1930 года)
37 mm gun B-3 mod. 1930
(Russian – 37-мм танковая пушка образца 1930 года Б-3)
45 mm tank gun mod. 1932/38
(Russian – 45-мм танковая пушка образца 1932/38 годов)
Factory No 8
Rate of fire, rpm
Initial velocity, m/s
820 AP (Shirokorad)
825 HE (Shirokorad)
760 AP (RGVA)
335 HE (RGVA)
Armor penetration at
300 m at 0 degrees
500 m at 0 degrees
500 m at 30 degrees
30 mm (Shirokorad)
2,15 (2,135 – RGVA)
* Was not approved for serial production.
Sources: S. J. Zaloga (2016) BT Fast Tank; RGVA F. 34014, O.2, D. 858; http://battlefield.ru/b3-1930.html ; А.Широкорад “Энциклопедия отечественной артиллерии”, 2000;
The ammunition load for the main gun was 92 rounds stored in ammunition bins located in the hull. The elevation of the gun ranged from -5° to +21° (some sources mention -4° to +40°, but this seems unlikely).
The secondary armament consisted of a 7.62 mm machine gun with 2,709 rounds of ammunition. BT-2 tanks armed with twin-machine guns had 5,166 ammo rounds. The machine gun ammo was stored in drums, with 63 rounds in a drum. BT-2 gun-armed tanks had 43 drums onboard and machine gun BT-2 tanks had 82 drums.
The original Christie tank design included only two crew members, with one placed in the hull and the second in the turret. In Soviet service, the BT-2 employed both one and two-man turret configurations. As previously noted, due to shortages of proper guns, some vehicles had to be rearmed with twin-machine gun mounts. These vehicles had only two crew members, the driver and the overburdened commander, who had to also act as a gunner and loader in addition to his primary role.
The standard gun-armed vehicles had three crew members. The driver, the commander who was also the gunner, and the loader, who was also responsible for operating the turret machine gun. In this case, the third crew member had to be added as the commander would simply be too overburdened otherwise.
The driver’s position was in the front hull of the vehicle. To access his position, he had two rectangular hatches. The upper hatch had a small vision slit in it. The loader and commander (or only the commander in the machine gun variant) were placed in the turret. The commander was positioned on the left side of the turret, while the loader was behind him, to the right. On the turret top’s rear, they only had one small hatch.
As the BT-2 was not provided with radio equipment, the commander had, for communication between different vehicles, to use either a signal flag or a pistol flare. For internal communication, the crew members used light signals.
The BT-2 is often assumed to have been an unreliable vehicle during its use by the Soviet Army, but this is not entirely correct. The primary factors which caused frequent malfunctions and mechanical breakdowns were poor manufacturing quality, inexperienced personnel, and insufficient technical service. Thus, the problem could be considered typical for any Soviet material at the time. While some attempts were made to improve its performance, during the following years in service, it was replaced by the newer and improved BT-5 and BT-7 vehicles.
One of the first combat actions of the BT-2 was during the Soviet invasion of Poland, which started on 16 September 1939. As stated by Zaloga, of 1,764 BT tanks deployed in the campaign, 1,617 were newer BT-7 tanks and the remaining 147 were obsolete BT-2 and BT-5 tanks.
As Poland’s main defense focus was facing the Germans, there were only minor engagements involving Soviet armor. The losses were incurred mostly due to mechanical breakdowns.
Some were also used during the wars between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1940 and 1941. A large number of BT series tanks were used by the Soviets near Lake Ladoga. Due to nonexistent roads and poor terrain conditions, the BTs (and all other armored vehicles, for that matter) had limited mobility. The BT vehicles were more affected as, due to poor road conditions, they could not use their great speed and maneuverability as an advantage.
Another problem was a lack of spare parts which forced the Soviets to use them as static defense bunkers. Finnish soldiers managed to capture a number of BT-2s. These were not employed by their new Finnish owners. In 1943, there were some 15 BT-2s available in Finnish stocks. From 1944 onwards, some turrets were used as static defense emplacements. A few BT-2 turrets were even modified to be armed with the Finish 37 Psv.K/36 anti-tank gun.
According to Zaloga, by the time of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, there were some 323 BT-2s in service within the Mechanized Corps. Russian archive sources suggest other numbers – 515 BT-2 tanks in May 1940, distributed to various units
During 1940 and 1941, Soviet tank formations were used mainly in infantry supporting roles. During the German invasion of the East, the BT-2, like other Soviet armored vehicles, were pressed into combat, where they were outmatched by their more tactically and technically superior German counterparts. While having good speed, the BT-2 tanks were plagued with mechanical unreliability, caused by general wear, poor mechanical maintenance, and lack of spare parts. By the end of 1941, the surviving BT-2 vehicles were mostly removed from the front line. However, some of the BT-2 tanks were actively used until mid-1942 and probably even until 1943.
It is worth noting that obsolete but still operational tanks, such as the BT vehicles, were often allocated to quieter sectors to perform guard or logistical duties or to the training units in the rear. Thus some of them survived even until 1943-44. Some turrets were used as static defense bunker emplacements
The modifications of the BT-2
The Soviets tested a number of modifications based on the BT-2 chassis. These included an artillery support vehicle, a flamethrowing version, an engineer support variant, an amphibious tank, and various minor modifications.
The BT-3, BT-4, and BT-6 projects
From December 1931 to September 1932, the KhPZ Design Bureau led by Firsov developed the BT-3 tank. This was simply a serial BT-2 with all the measurements of the threads recalculated from inches to centimeters. In the RKKA, this modification retained its old designation, BT-2.
The BT-4 was developed in July 1932 by the same design team at KhPZ. The main difference of the project from the BT-2 and BT-3 tanks was the use of a welded hull instead of a riveted one. The BT-4 also got side towing hooks and a mechanism that allowed the driver to open and close engine louvers from his seat. Additionally, the engineers changed the design of the hull and running gear, allowing easy access to the side springs. In the autumn of 1932, three prototypes were built, but as opposed to the planned welded hull, they had a combined riveted-welded construction.
The BT-6 was another experimental model developed in 1932. It was mainly based on the BT-4 prototypes, but its turret and armament were taken from the BT-5. Other improvements included restoring the BT-2-like towing hooks and a different design of the driver’s hatch, which now had a lock and ensured protection from splinters. The BT-6 also had redesigned rear armor and the protection of the reduction gear. Work on the BT-6 was discontinued in late 1932.
All these experimental works were discontinued in 1932-33 due to the introduction of the improved version of the fast tank – the BT-5.
Artillery support tank project (D-38)
Following the introduction of the BT-2, several different projects were initiated with the aim of increasing its firepower. In 1931-33, a few design bureaus proposed designs with new armament and turret designs for the BT-2. These included the tank department of the KhPZ, NATI, the design bureau of the UMM RKKA led by Dyrenkov, the design bureau of the “Krasny Proletary” factory, and the design bureau of the “Krasny Putilovets” factory. Numerous variants of armament, including 37 mm, 45 mm, 76.2 mm Syachentov’s gun, and 76.2 mm Garford ‘anti-storm’ gun were suggested.
In 1931, Dyrenkov’s bureau proposed a variant armed with a 37 mm gun in a rotating turret and a 76.2 mm gun in the hull. The same idea was being utilized in the design of the French B1 tank. This design was rejected due to the insufficient space in the fighting compartment and the poor design of the transmission. As this was just a design proposal, no mock-ups or prototypes of this vehicle were built.
After the first design was rejected, Dyrenkov developed another one, which was more successful and subsequently was named D-38. In January 1932, the first prototype was built. This D-38 project had two variants of the turret. The first was welded, made of flat armor plates, whilst the second variant was cupola-shaped and made of pressed steel. Initially, Dyrenkov wanted to install two guns, a 76.2 mm ‘anti-storm’ Garford gun and a 37 mm tank gun, but then dropped that idea and used a PS-3 76.2 mm gun. Ultimately, the project was rejected and only one prototype was built.
Flamethrowing BT-2 (KhBT-2)
At least one BT-2 was tested with a flamethrowing system. The vehicle, known as KhBT-2 (Kh-Khimicheskiy means chemical), but also as KhBT-II and BKhM-2, had its main gun replaced with a KS-23 flamethrower. Possibly (but it is not clear in the sources) only one was built. At least one vehicle was also tested with smoke emitting equipment, but no production order was given. This flamethrowing idea was also trialed on the BT-5 and BT-7.
Amphibious tank project (PT-1)
During 1931-33, Soviet Army officials were interested in the idea of adapting the BT-2 tank as an amphibious vehicle and the industry responded. The first prototype, the PT-1 amphibious tank, was developed in 1931-32 at the technical department of the EKU OGPU (The Economic Directorate of the OGPU) and built at the ‘Krasny Proletary’ (Red Proletarian) factory. In Autumn 1932, the PT-1 was demonstrated to the Soviet leadership and Stalin himself, who approved the design, albeit admitted that it was quite unusual.
The second prototype, PT-1A (actually there were two of them, but the second prototype was never finished) was built and tested in 1934 at Kirov’s factory (No 185) in Leningrad. The PT tanks proved themselves surprisingly good. According to Russian sources, there existed plans to continue the development of the PT-1 in two directions — amphibious and non-amphibious tanks. Moreover, in 1933, there existed a plan to alter the system of armaments and replace older BT tanks with PT-1 tanks.
The project ended in 1935 when the USSR Council for Labor and Defence (STO – Sovet Truda i Oborony) decided to leave BT tanks in serial production.
Engineer version (SBT)
Probably the only successful adaptation of the BT-2 was the SBT (Saperniy bystrokhodnoy tank – engineering fast tank). During 1934, one BT-2 was modified by removing its turret and replacing it with an armored box-shaped casemate. Additional bridge-carrying equipment was also added to the hull.
In 1936, the project was modernized by adding a small turret, initially taken from the T-26 twin-turret version tank, which was replaced with a T-38 light tank turret. It also received improved bridge-caring equipment. According to S. J. Zaloga (BT Fast Tank), some 51 BT-2 tanks would be used in this configuration. But, according to Russian authors Solyankin, Pavlov and Zheltov, only two prototypes were ever built.
BT-2 with underwater tank driving equipment (BT-2 PKh)
Generally, the BT-2 PKh (PKh or ПХ in Russian stands for ‘podvodnogo hozdeniya’) was not a modification of the serial BT-2 tank, but an experimental optionally mounted equipment which allowed for deep fording.
The BT-2 PKh was developed in 1933-34 at Factory No 183. The equipment was tested in the Belorussian military district. The testbed BT tank managed to cross a 4 m deep ford. It took 1.5 hours to prepare the tank for the deep fording by the crew of three.
The fording equipment was not adopted into service with the RKKA or approved for serial production. However, it was tested and served as a basis for future experiments with other models, such as the T-26, T-28, and others.
The BT-2 PKh tank differed from the serial BT-2 due to the special devices that ensured the hermetic sealing of the hull, as well as provided the air supply and the removal of exhaust gases.
BT-2-IS early prototype
In the spring of 1934, a group of enthusiastic engineers led by Nikolai Tsiganov started working on a new tank, the BT-2-IS (IS stood for Iosif Stalin). The major goals of the project were to improve its driving performance, survivability, and cross-country capability.
The main feature of the BT-2-IS tank was its completely redesigned running gear. The first pair of wheels remained steered, but the pairs from second to fourth became driving wheels. As a result, the turning radius was halved to 5-6 meters, and cross-country ability on wheels was increased four to five times. Only one prototype was built and tested in 1935, with generally positive results. Tsiganov continued to work on the BT-5-IS.
Today, there are no complete BT-2 vehicles left. In Russia, there are at least three surviving turrets that were used as stationary bunker emplacements. One can be found in the Museum of Military Archeology Petrovsky Island at St. Petersburg. A second is at the Siege of Leningrad Museum. The third turret was placed on a BT-5 chassis and can be seen at the Kubinka Military Museum. Some 5 turrets that were used on the Finnish Salpa defense line, also surviving to this day.
The BT-2 is often criticized by historians for its poor design, mechanical unreliability, a multitude of technical deficiencies, and flawed performance on the battlefield. While the majority of these problems may seem really significant, historians frequently ignore the fact that the positive factors outweigh the negative ones.
First of all, the early BTs were an off-the-shelf weapon system ready to be quickly put into serial production. Secondly, the BT-2 became a valuable asset for the Red Army as a testbed for the new generation of Russian engineers and technicians. The experience gained while working on the BT-2 tanks was really invaluable. It gave the Soviet engineers the necessary experience in tank design, which would eventually lead to the development of far more sophisticated and successful models like the BT-5, BT-7, and T-34 series.
Moreover, having a relatively simple armored vehicle helped to train hundreds of Soviet tankers in the early 1930s. When the newer models started arriving in the Red Army in increasing numbers, there were trained instructors able to share their knowledge and experience.
Perhaps the most outstanding fact concerning the BT-2 is that an armored vehicle with such capabilities or ‘fast tank’ had not even been considered by Soviet theoreticians during the early stages of the Deep Battle doctrine evolution. Adoption of the BT-2 gave impetus to the further development of the Deep Battle. Eventually, combat units armed with fast moving tanks became striking arms of the large mechanized formations and, to some extent, could be considered as a benchmark of the novel Russian doctrine in general.
One could easily conclude that the BT-2 became one of the armored vehicles that determined the way Soviet and ultimately Russian tank-building schools developed, as well as the priceless part of the learning process for the whole army.
From its first actions in Poland in 1939 to fighting in fierce battles during the Great Patriotic War between 1941 and 1943, the BT-2 has proven itself as a versatile and effective weapon system that passed the test of time. Despite all the criticism coming from modern researchers, the BT-2 indeed has earned its place among other legendary armored combat vehicles of the Red Army.
All specifications are given for gun and machine gun versions of the BT-2 tank with a cylindrical turret (without a bustle) as of June 1939.
Machine gun version
Dimensions (L-W-H), m
5.5 x 2.23 x 2.17
Full weight (combat ready), tons
Loading weight, tons, without crew, fuel, oil, water and ammunition
Road Clearance, m
1 x 37 mm gun;
1 x 7.62 mm DT machine gun in a ball mount;
2 x 7.62 mm DT machine guns in a twin-mount
1 x 7.62 mm DT machine gun in a ball mount;
92 AP and HE rounds, 2,709 rounds of MG ammunition in 82 drums
30-60 depending on road conditions and type of terrain
Christie type, 4 forward and one reverse gears
Maximum speed on tracks, km/h (road)
Maximum speed on wheels, km/h (road)
The Author of this article wants to thank the co-author Alex Tarasov, without whose help this article would have been impossible. Additional thanks to Patryk Cichy for some translation work and to Francis Pulham for allowing to use some of his BT-2 pictures.
BT-2 model 1932, 37 mm (1.46 in) gun only.
A BT-2 1932 model, twin machine-gun variant.
BT-2 of the reserve force, 1940.
Winter war, Karelian front in eastern Finland, December 1939.
A BT-2 during the battle of Moscow, winter 1941/42.
Hofmann G.F. A Yankee Inventor and the Military Establishment: The Christie Tank Controversy // Military Affairs. 1975, February. Vol. 39. № 1. P.
Mikhail Svirin, Tanks of the Stalin’s Era. Encyclopedia ‘The Golden Age of the Soviet Tank Building’, Moscow. Yauza, Eksmo, 2012, Page 108 [Russian: Танки Сталинской эпохи. Суперэнциклопедия. «Золотая эра советского танкостроения»]
A. Shirokorad. ‘Encyclopedia of the Domestic Artillery’, Minsk, Harvest, 2000
Сборник – KhKBM, 2007
Magazine Bronekollektsiya No 1, 1996. Light tanks BT-2 and BT-5. [Russian: Бронеколлекция №1 1996. Легкие танки БТ-2 и БТ-5]
Igor Shmelev. The History of a Tank (1919-1996) An Illustrated Encyclopedia. [Russian: История танка. 1916-1996. Энциклопедия техники. Шмелев Игорь Павлович]
RGAE. F. 4372, Op. 91, D. 519, L. 67—42, 39. Signed copy.
RGAE. F. 2097, Op. 1, D. 1073, LL. 9—10 (with rev.). Original.
RGVA F. 31811, Op.1, D.1, ll. 11-12
RGVA, F. 31811, Op. 1, D. 7, LL. 1–2 s ob. Protokol #29, ‘O sisteme tanko-traktoro-avtobrone-vooruzhenija RKKA, 1 avgusta 1929 goda’ [Minute #29, ‘On the system of tank-tractor-auto-armoured weapons of RKKA’, 1 August 1929].
RGVA F 31811, O 1, D. 107, LL 5-7 [Russian: Справка об организации и применении высших механизированных соединений в армиях иностранных государств]
RGVA F. 31811, O. 1, D. 38, L. 236
RGVA F.4, O.1, d. 761, ll. 232-33, “Protokol No.16 zakrytogo zasedaniya RVS SSR”, 9 March 1928”
GA RF. F. R-8418, Op. 6, D. 45. LL. 141—145. Original
RGVA F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1141
TsAMO F. 81, O. 12040, D. 372
RGVA F. 34014 O.2 D.858. Отчет по весовым данным танкового вооружения.
RGVA, F. 4, O. 14, D. 2631, LL. 138–45. Document is dated 27 May 1940. Sistema vooruzhenij 1940 – Postanovlenija Glavnogo voennogo soveta RKKA o sistemah vooruzhenija RKKA [The system of armaments 1940 – Resolutions of the Main Military Council of the Red Army on systems of armaments of the Red Army].
TsAMO, F. 229, O. 0000157, D. 0014, P 718
RGVA, F. 4, Op. 14, D. 628, LL. 8-16. Original. – 10 May 1932. — A Summary of the Headquarters of the Red Army based on the materials of the Directorate for Motorization and Mechanization of the Red Army on the progress of the implementation of the armored weapon system. [Russian: Заключение Штаба РККА по материалам Управления по моторизации и механизации РККА о ходе реализации бронетанковой системы вооружения]
RGVA, F. 31811, O. 2, D. 1083. A report on all tanks received from industrial plants for the period from 1931 to March 1, 1940
Soviet Union (1943-1944)
Experimental wheeled infantry support gun (1 built)
The SU-76 remains, to this day, one of the most well-known Soviet self-propelled guns of the Second World War. Yet, at the start of its production, it was plagued by unreliability and mechanical issues caused by its drivetrain. Thus, production was halted at only 560 units in order to remedy these problems. Solutions came with the SU-76M in 1943, but in between this period, another vehicle was designed, not to replace the SU-76, but rather supplement it. This was the GAZ-68 (also later referred to as KSP-76). Meant as a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bolster tactical mobility, it was meant to provide close support artillery for rifle and cavalry units through direct fire. The GAZ-68 was based on a truck chassis, and the main gun would still be the famous ZiS-3 field gun.
Throughout the early stages of the Second World War, the Soviet military found itself in a dire need of a fast vehicle, with good firepower, able to take on German Panzers but also other targets. Mainly, it would assist the infantry units in dealing with armored and unarmored targets, but also have the capability of responding quickly, moving and penetrating deep into enemy lines, accompanied by infantry attacks. Until 1943 and ‘44, the RKKA had no designated infantry support vehicle, relying entirely on towed artillery. Using a wheeled chassis as a basis, would allow much greater on-road speed, while also, theoretically, keeping production and maintenance costs down. On paper, a vehicle like the GAZ-68 was just what the Red Army needed, but in reality, it was the complete opposite, a consequence of the Soviet war and industrial struggle. Contrary to popular conceptions, this vehicle was not meant for artillery units for indirect fire or ‘shoot and scoot’ purposes, rather just an infantry support gun.
Shortly after the battle of Kursk (July – August 1943), where the use of mobile defenses and counter-attacks (plus numerical superiority) proved key for the Soviet victory, the mobility of artillery and self-propelled guns proved crucial. Thus, the Gorky Automobile Plant (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, GAZ) started the development of a wheeled infantry support gun with the approval of the head of GAZ, V.A. Grachev, who was head designer of the project, while N. Astrov was head of the project. Already in August of 1943, the design office and plant management approved the idea. Grachev, a lesser-known name within western literature, was the chief designer at GAZ between 1941 and 1944 when he created many vehicles, most notably the GAZ-64 and BA-64. Post-war, he continued his career at ZiL, where he created, among others, the famous ZiL-157 and BTR-152.
The first ideas involved mounting a ZiS-3 gun on a 1½ tonne truck chassis, with only minor modifications. Clearly, the main goal here was to get a mobile vehicle for as little money as humanly possible.
The idea of a wheeled infantry support gun interested the Soviet military, leading to a go-ahead to the project from the People’s Commissariat (Ministry) of Medium Machine Building and the Main Armored Directorate of the Red Army (GABTU). Previously, all self-propelled artillery projects were under the command of GAU (Main Artillery Directorate), until all the SPGs were re-subordinated to GABTU as Stalin personally was outraged that the GAU adopted SU-12 (SU-76) in an unsatisfactory condition. Thus, the Directorate of the Self-Propelled Artillery of the GABTU was established on the 21st of May 1943.
Work started in October of 1943 under the name ‘Izdelie 68-SU’, but this was changed to GAZ-68. By December, a wooden mockup was already completed and documentation on the vehicle from GAZ was sent to the GABTU in mid-December. The GABTU approved the project for further development. On the 7th of February, 1944, the GABTU gave a green light for the production of a prototype. It was around this time that the name ‘KSP-76’ appeared, most likely a product from GABTU to remove the GAZ factory name. It stands for Wheeled Self-Propelled Gun with a 76 mm gun (‘Kolyosnaya Samokhodnaya Pushka’, KSP).
Following the approval for a prototype, the design bureau quickly sent the plans and documents to the workshops, which meant that, by April, the armored hull was completed. This was designed by Y. N. Sorochkin and A. N. Kirilov and was to protect from small arms fire and splinters. To keep weight down, the top was left open. On the 4th of May, the prototype was already completed.
An important part of this quick development and production process was the use of an already tried and tested chassis (not that this meant much for the Soviets, as there were plenty of prototypes in all fields made pre-war, but in this case, it did help boost development). The GAZ-68 was based on the GAZ-63 truck, however, it needs to be pointed out that the production of the GAZ-63 began only in 1948. Rather, the GAZ-68 was based on the experimental GAZ-63 developed in 1939. Essentially this was an all-wheel-drive GAZ-51, which itself was made to replace the aging GAZ-MM. Ironically, a GAZ-MM superstructure was used for the prototype. A Dodge D5 Diesel engine was used, outputting 76 horsepower, coupled to a 4-speed transmission. These trucks were tested at Kubinka in 1940, with good results. Mass production was to begin in 1942, but the start of the Great Patriotic War (as WW2 is called in Russia) meant that all projects were canceled.
Grachev, very sensibly so, claimed that using this already finished and tested chassis would greatly increase the development speed and trials. The advantages of a wheeled vehicle over a tracked one are also clear, with cheaper maintenance and higher speeds on roads. The designers wanted to use as many readily available components as possible for reliability and production purposes. This idea was, however, the one that led to the GAZ-68’s demise.
The GAZ-68 was surely an unorthodox vehicle, especially by Soviet standards. However, at its core, it was essentially a SU-76 on wheels, albeit 69 cm narrower, 65 cm lower, and 135 cm longer.
The superstructure was thinly armored, made from a simple box, and no roof. The gun was mounted slightly behind the front wheel axle. The driver was located to the right of the gun, and with the gunner to the left. Ammunition was stowed to the sides of the casemate and behind. Thanks to the long wheelbase, the vehicle was very low to the ground, ideal for ambushes and camouflage, but also offered good stability. The engine was located at the back, over the rear axles. The design was rudimentary and simple, allowing for a very cheap vehicle to manufacture if the situation of Soviet truck plants was not as disastrous as it was. The top could be covered with a tarpaulin to protect from precipitation and wind. Two large fenders would protect the front wheels. As a result of the lack of resources, automotive plants were forced to take shortcuts during production, such as fitting just a single headlamp. On the GAZ-68 it was placed on the left side fender, to not further impair the view of the driver. Coupled with the low-mounted gun, these give the GAZ-68 its iconic look.
The vehicle had a crew of only 3, a gunner (who also served as a commander and radio operator), a driver, and a loader. The gunner was responsible for aiming and firing the main gun. He had two vision slits through which he could see, plus the scope of the ZiS-3 gun, extending above the frontal shield. If in doubt, he could just stick his head up to get a clear 360° view using a pair of binoculars. The gunner also had a panoramic sight at his disposal.
Overloading the gunner/commander with so many tasks is unusual for the Soviets, especially in a late 1943 design and it is noteworthy that there was also enough space in the vehicle to put a fourth crew member, although test reports claim other crew positions were cramped. It is also worth mentioning that the Soviets had already suffered catastrophic losses, especially in specialized troops, such as tankmen. This might have been a deciding factor.
As mentioned previously, the driver sat on the right. He had a slightly larger viewport to view out of compared to that of the commander. Oddly, the large steering wheel went above the viewport, which could have been inconvenient for taller drivers.
The loader was seated behind the gunner, on a foldable seat. He had a ready rack behind him, incorporated into the engine compartment and in front of the fuel tank, which was not very safe, but considering the overall protection, or lack thereof, it did not matter. Forty-one rounds were stored here, in a horizontal position. 13 more rounds were stored on the other side, vertically, behind the driver. The crew also had 2 PPSh submachine guns for self-defense, with 12 magazines (852 rounds).
The armament of the GAZ-68 was the trusty 76 mm M1942 ZiS-3 divisional gun, one of the most common guns within the Red Army at the time, and also the main weapon of the SU-76. The field gun was capable of both direct and indirect fire (once mounted on the GAZ-68 it was not). Over 100,000 units were produced by the end of the war and saw service post-war with many nations. It had a range of above 10 km and could use a variety of shells.
The KSP-76 would have most likely used AP and HE shells, but there were AP, APHE, HE, HEAT, Fragmentation, and other shells available. Most shells weighed around 6 kg and had a muzzle velocity between 680 and 700 m/s. On the KSP-76, 54 rounds were stored in total. The position of the gun in such a low profile vehicle affected its ergonomics compared to a regular field gun mount. The gun could only be elevated to +15° and depressed to -3° and had a horizontal traverse of 37°, 18.5° to both left and right sides of the gun.
The gun was supported by a travel lock mounted on the edge of the frontal slope. Despite the rather large compartment, the estimated rate of fire was 8 rounds per minute (one round in 7.5 seconds). The ergonomically well-placed ammo rack could have allowed an experienced loader to shorten the reload time even more.
The vehicle lacked any secondary armament, which was a common defect in Soviet SPGs, making them extremely vulnerable in close range combat with infantry, exactly the type of engagements the KSP-76 was meant to tackle.
The armor of the vehicle was thin, only being able to withstand rifle fire and shrapnel. The GAZ-68 was never meant to be well armored in order to keep costs and weight down, plus its low silhouette would have played a big role in improving its survivability. The frontal plate was initially 10 mm thick, later increased to 16 mm. The top of the sides was 7 mm and the inwards angled bottom side plates 4 mm. This was not even bulletproof but would provide some protection against shell splinters and ricochets. The roof of the engine compartment was 5 mm thick but there was no protection over the heads of the crew apart from their own helmets leaving them, and some of the ammunition dangerously exposed. The cutting of corners and economy made in this aspect of the vehicle made it have a low unit production cost but would have clearly made it vulnerable to even rifle rounds from the side. The tires were bulletproof, filled with an elastic substance.
Engine and Chassis
The chassis was, as previously stated, that of the GAZ-63 model 1939 truck. The engine and transmission were changed from the truck to a single GAZ-202 (some sources state that the engine was a GAZ-202, but the TsAMO document states that it was a GAZ-203), engine outputting 85 hp, mounted in the rear compartment, offset by 276 mm to the right. To the left of the gun, a 140 liter insulated fuel tank was placed. In front of this, the 41 round ammo rack was placed. A very scary thought, considering the armor was only a few millimeters thick! An upwards-facing cooling grille was placed in the back. The transmission was a 5-speed manual (4 forwards, 1 reverse) coupled to both axles. However, the rear axles could be disconnected from the drive when not needed such as on a long road march. The suspension was standard and common to the truck consisted of simple leaf springs and shock absorbers.
Trials and Fate
As soon as the prototype was finished, it began factory testing around May 1944 and had finished tests by autumn of the same year. From the Gorky factory, the GAZ-68 went to the Kubinka test range. Allegedly, it traveled under its own power and with an impressive speed of 60 km/h. Again, this information has to be taken with a grain of salt.
In September-December 1944 the experimental SPG was tested at Kubinka proving grounds and Gorokhovetskii artillery range. During a 2,528 km test drive, it is claimed to have reached a top speed of 77 km/h on-road, but this seems hardly possible in regular conditions. Even if it was true, the limited view of the driver would make such a speed hazardous, to say the least. The vehicle only had an 85 horsepower engine and weighed 5,430 kg battle-ready. During firing trials, 409 shots were fired of unspecified type at the Gorokhovetskii artillery range.
However, testing was not all going to plan for the Soviets. The original chassis took a hard beating and broke down frequently, putting into question the validity of the tests made at Kubinka of the GAZ-63. The driveshafts, gearbox, leaf springs, and frontal axle suffered some form of damage. To be fair, the GAZ-68 did weigh over 2 tonnes more, with different weight distribution. It was also noted that the crew compartment was too small and uncomfortable for some of the crew, especially the driver, who was cramped up by the gun and steering wheel.
The small silhouette and profile of the vehicle were deemed as a plus. However, there were significant issues with accuracy, thanks to the chassis and the suspension, which made the ride very bouncy. This also caused the sight and barrel to become misaligned after driving. Off-road tests were a mixed bag. On one hand, the GAZ-68 proved satisfactory, on the other, it was far inferior to what a tracked vehicle was capable of. Testing was finished by the 24th of December. The Military Council of the Armored and Mechanized forces of the Red Army (Военный Совет БТ и МВ КА, Voennii Sovet Bronetankovyh i Mekhanizirovannyh Voisk Krasnoi Armii), proposed to GOKO (State Committee on Defence) to produce the initial test batch of 10 units at the GAZ factory and undergo army tests. However, this was not achieved and, instead, the project was terminated altogether.
The situation of the war in mid-1944 was very different than that of a year earlier. The Red Army had been on the offensive for almost a year, pushing the Axis almost back to the pre-war borders, and the Allies had just landed in Normandy, sealing the fate of the war. The implementation of the GAZ-68 made even less sense now than it did before, and the questionable combat value it would have brought would far outweigh the industrial strain, despite the seemingly cheap production price.
Doomed from the start
Even before starting prototype production, the fate of the GAZ-68 was predetermined. The straightforward fact that it was based on a truck chassis, which for the designers certainly seemed like an advantage, but the industrial capabilities and resources of the USSR could not deliver. The Soviet industry could not keep up production of ZiS-5 and GAZ-AA simple flatbed trucks, even with help through the Lend-Lease program, let alone the mass-production of an even more complicated truck designed in 1939 and canceled because of the German invasion.
Automotive factories could not start assembly of a new, complex, and relatively new design, in the conditions that they could not even keep up with simple production models. It is important to note, both of these truck models were standard commercial trucks, with little to no improvements for off-roading or any sort of military specialization. Before the war, the Red Army only had the GAZ-M1 and no off-road trucks.
The GAZ-68/KSP-76 was also doomed through its design. The use of wheels would have given it faster speeds on good terrain, but most of the western Russian terrain was flat plains and forest, with poor road connections. This is not to take into account the harsh conditions of thick winter snow or deep muds, where even tracked vehicles could struggle. The supply of tires before and during the war was also a big issue for the Red Army. While the situation to some extent improved during the war, they still relied on imported tires for around 33% of their needs.
In modern eyes, a wheeled vehicle might seem superior, as we now have many roads and good infrastructure, plus more advanced technologies, but this was Russia in 1943. The GAZ-68 was simply not compatible with Soviet military doctrine, industrial capabilities, and the terrain of Eastern Europe.
Compared to the SU-76, the GAZ-68 was far cheaper to build and maintain, was 54 cm lower, but with similar protection levels and firepower, in addition to the pros and cons of a wheeled chassis. Whether the KSP-76 was an improvement over the SU-76 is up to debate, but it clearly was not enough to justify the changing of truck production lines to a new vehicle this late into the war.
GAZ-68 / KSP-76 specifications (Source: TsAMO)
Dimensions (L-W-H) mm
6,350 / 2,050 / 1,550
Total Weight, Battle Ready
3 (Commander, Driver and loader)
76 mm gun ZiS-3 M1942 Regimental gun (662 m/s muzzle velocity)
Maximum speed, km/h
Average speed on a paved road, km/h
Average speed on an unpaved road, km/h
GAZ-203 (with an aluminum head) outputting 85 hp
Fuel type and range
KB-70 or B-70 fuel,
140 liters for 430 km range
(frontal hull, fighting compartment), 7-16 mm
(Sides, rear hull and fighting compartment), 4-7 mm
During WWII, Hungary was one of Germany’s allies with a significant domestic production of armored vehicles. While these locally produced vehicles were fine by the standards of the early war, unfortunately for the Hungarians, by the time these were fielded in larger numbers, they were already obsolete. To bolster their ally’s firepower, during the war, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with a selection of armored vehicles, including a small number of the famed Tiger tanks in 1944.
By 1944, it was obvious that the Axis were on the losing side of the war, and due to the huge losses sustained while fighting on the Eastern Front, the overall military and political situation for Hungry was dire. In an attempt to leave the war, the Hungarian Regent Vice-Admiral Miklós Horthy secretly began negotiations with the Allies. It seems that this was not kept a secret, as the Germans found out about it and launched the Margarethe Operation. This was the German secret contention plan to deal with Hungary in the case its government attempted to change sides during the war. Horty was arrested and a puppet government was formed under the leadership of Dome Sztojay instead. This way, the Germans managed to force Hungarians to stay active on the Eastern Front.
The Hungarians deployed their 1st Army in support of the German front line in eastern Galicia. The 2nd Armored Division (which was part of the 1st Army) was equipped with obsolete Hungarian-built vehicles such as the Turan I and II tanks. During its first engagement with the Soviet Armor, the Turan II tanks claimed to have destroyed two T-34/85 tanks. During a short Axis offensive in this area in April, despite having a disadvantage in armor and firepower, the Hungarian tanks claimed to have destroyed 27 Soviet tanks (26 T-34/85 and 1 Sherman) with the loss of 22 of their own vehicles (8 Turan I, 9 Turan II, 4 Nimrods, 1 Toldi, and 1 Csaba armored car).
It appears that the bravery of the Hungarian tank crews was noted by the Germans. By the direct orders of General Walter Model, the Hungarian 2nd Armored Division was to be reinforced with 10 to 12 (depending on the source) Panzer IV Ausf. H, a smaller number of StuG III and even with a group of Tiger tanks.
Panzerkampfwagen ‘Tiger’ Ausf. E
The German Tiger tank is one of the most iconic tanks in history. While the development of a heavy tank began in Germany prior to the war, only after encountering the advanced Soviet tanks in 1941 was the whole program sped up. Two firms, Porsche and Henschel, were involved in designing the chassis of the new heavy tank, with Krupp being responsible for the turret and gun. While the Porsche design was favored, in the end, due to mechanical problems, the Henschel design would be adopted. The heavy tank that would be known as the Tiger was an immense vehicle, armed with the deadly 8.8 cm gun and well protected by a 100 mm thick frontal and 80 mm side armor. With its weight of 57 tonnes, it was also a fairly mobile vehicle thanks to its strong 650 hp engine and wide tracks. By the time of its introduction in 1942, few enemy weapons were able to do anything against it and, with its gun, it could efficiently destroy any enemy tank type. Its production began in August 1942 and ended in August 1944. By that time, only slightly more than 1,340 vehicles had been built.
While certainly a terrifying tank to be encountered on the battlefields, it was far from perfect and was plagued with many problems. The cost to build one was significant and this was one of the reasons why only small numbers were built. As there were never enough of them, they were allocated to separate special units that would be, depending on the need, attached to other units. The maintenance of these vehicles was time-consuming. The suspension system, while providing good drive, was overly complicated. Despite these issues, the Tiger tanks remained a potent threat to Allied tanks right up to the war’s end. Due to the small numbers available, they were regarded as elite vehicles reserved only for the German Panzerwaffe, but surprisingly few would be supplied to Germany’s allies.
Origin of the Hungarian Tigers
It is common to find information that the supplied Tiger tanks belonged to the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion (schwere Panzerabteilung, s.Pz.Abt. 503). The 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion was created in late 1942 and was initially equipped with 20 Tigers and 25 Panzer III Ausf. N. From early 1943 until April 1944, this unit was mainly engaged on the Eastern Front. Then, it was transferred to France for recuperation and conversion to Tiger II tanks. By that time, only 12 Tiger IIs were available for this unit. In order to fully equip it, 33 additional Tiger Is were allocated to this unit.
According to T. Jentz and H. Doyle (Tiger I Heavy Tank 1942-45), three Tiger tanks from the ordnance depot were delivered to the Hungarian Army on 22nd July 1944. In addition, an unknown number of Tigers were acquired from the 503rd and 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion. The 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion was formed in September 1943 and had 45 Tiger tanks. It was engaged on the Eastern Front up to September 1944, before being sent back to Germany to be reequipped with the Tiger II.
The total number of supplied tanks is not clear, but most sources give a number of around 10 vehicles. For example, authors C. Bescze (Magyar Steel, Hungarian Armour in WWII) and S.J.Zaloga (Tanks of Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45) mention that 10 vehicles were supplied.
But, according to Dr. M. Durden (Leopard’s guide: The Tiger I tank), between 6 and 12 Tigers were used by the Hungarians. Authors C. K. Kliment and D. Bernard (Maďarská armáda 1919-1945) note that up to 15 Tiger were supplied.
To complicate matters more, authors F.W. Lochmann, R. Freiherr Von Rosen and A. Runnel (The Combat History of German Tiger Tank Battalion 503 in World War II) noted that no Tigers were ever supplied to the Hungarians! They also state that the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion gave all its surviving Tiger tanks to the 509th Heavy Panzer Battalion on 14th May 1944. While they state that Hungarian crew members were trained, due to a shortage of tanks, no Tigers were given to the Hungarians. They were instead issued with Panzer IV vehicles.
Interestingly, author G. Finizio (Wheels and Tracks No.27) suggests the possibility that some Hungarian tank crews operated Tiger tanks but in German units. This significant disagreement between different authors shows how difficult finding accurate and precise information can be.
Another issue is which type of Tigers were provided by the Germans. As it was late in the war, we can assume that any Tiger that was available was used for this purpose. So it would not be a surprise if this was a mix of early to late production types.
Regardless of how many vehicles were supplied by the Germans, it was essential for the Hungarian crews to receive necessary training before they could even see combat. For this reason, some members of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion served as instructors for their allies. While the majority of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion was repositioned in France, the 3rd Company was chosen for this task.
What was available of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion’s vehicles and equipment (including the 3rd Company) was therefore renamed to the 1st Tiger Demonstration Company of the 1st Panzer Demonstration Group North Ukraine. The main base of this unit was Nadworna near Stanislau in South Poland. The Hungarians provided a group of tank crew members to be trained there. The training only lasted from 6th to 14th May 1944, before the unit was disbanded. Interestingly, while it appears that during this occasion, the Hungarians did not receive any Tigers, their High Command awarded several German instructors with high military recommendations. These include Feldwebels Fritz Großmann and Herbert Schünrock, Obergefreiters Ernst Reinhardt, Gotthold Wunderlichn and Gefreiter Hans Bartels. Ironically, while the information about these recommendations was found in Hungarian archives, these awards were never actually given to the Germans instructors due to political machinations.
The Hungarian Tigers, alongside the remaining German supplied vehicles, were allocated to the 2nd Armored Division, 3rd Battalion. They were divided into two Tank Squadrons. The 2nd Tank Squadron was commanded by First Lieutenant Ervin Tarszay, probably the most famous Hungarian tank commander, and the 3rd by Captain Janos Verdess. Besides the German vehicles, the 2nd Armored Division also had some 40 Turan I and 20 Turan II tanks.
Unfortunately, information about the Hungarian Tigers’ performance in combat is hard to find. The following information is from C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WWII) supplemented with Russian archive documents. The Hungarian Tigers’ first combat engagement took place on 26th July 1944 near Nadvornaya. It was a triumph. A single Hungarian Tiger ambushed a Soviet armored column, destroying 8 Soviet tanks, several guns, and several transport trucks. For this successful action, the Tiger’s gunner, Istvan Lavrencsik, was awarded with the Gold Medal for Bravery.
According to Russian archive sources, elements of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment (Samokhodno-Artilleriyskiy Polk) were caught in this ambush. A group of 5 self-propelled guns, which was supported with a reconnaissance detachment of the 985th Infantry Regiment, after leaving Nadvornaya, were on 26th July advancing toward Bogorodchany.
The Hungarians forces prepare an ambush just before the position recorded as Hill 386. After letting the infantry support pass by, they waited for the advance of the Soviet armor. When the advancing Soviet armored vehicles approached at a distance of about 200 m, the Hungarian tanks opened fire. In the ensuing engagement, the Soviets lost 2 self-propelled guns which were burned, and 2 which were knocked out, with the loss of 4 men dead and 5 more wounded. The fate of the fifth Soviet self-propelled vehicle is not clear. It could have already passed by with the reconnaissance detachment of the 985th Infantry Regiment or was left behind for some reason, but these are only speculation.
The war diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment mentioned that there were 5 enemy tanks (3 of them were Tigers) supported by an infantry company. The precise type of the Soviet vehicles participating in this encounter is not clear, but it is likely that these were the SU-122, as the Hungarians could easily misidentified them as T-34 tanks (the SU-122 was based on the T-34 chassis).
The Hungarians attempted a counterattack against the Soviets near the Ostre region. The counterattack failed and the Hungarians were forced to abandon two Tigers and one Turan II tanks at the intersection of the road in Lyakhovitsa. In total, the Soviets reported to have lost 4 self-propelled guns with 4 men dead and 8 wounded. The Soviets also reported to have burned down two enemy tanks in the Banya district. In addition, they captured 4 enemy tanks, with one Panzer IV in working condition (which was used against the enemy), destroyed 12 machine guns and 3 mortars, killed up to 150 soldiers and officers, and captured 75 enemy soldiers.
The question remains which sources to trust. For both sides it was in their interest to falsify the data for propaganda reasons.
The Hungarians Tigers are also claimed to have managed, during a 30-minute long fight, to take out around 14 Soviet tanks near “Hill 514” (possibly near Dolina), but the precise location and date of this action are not specified in the source, unfortunately. If these numbers of destroyed tanks were real or exaggerated for propaganda purposes is almost impossible to tell.
In the following days, despite these short term successes, the few Tigers could not change the overall war situation for the Hungarians. By the middle of August 1944, the Axis forces, including the Hungarian 1st Army, were pushed back to the Carpathian Mountains. It seems that, by this time, the Hungarians had lost at least 7 Tigers. While not all were combat losses, some were lost due to a general lack of fuel and spare parts. The Hungarians did not have any kind of towing vehicle capable of moving the huge Tigers, which also presented a problem with recovering any damaged vehicle. From this point on, it seems that the surviving Tiger were probably pulled back to Hungary. They may have been also returned to the Germans as author Dr. M. Durden (Leopard’s guide: The Tiger I tank) suggests, but once again the sources are conflicting.
In late August 1944, the Romanians changed sides and joined the Soviet Union and almost immediately engaged with the Hungarians in combat. The 2nd Armored Division was part of the Hungarian offensive toward Romania. If the Tigers were used there is unknown, but it is unlikely. Due to the increasing presence of the Soviet Army, the Hungarians were beaten back.
The 2nd Armored Division would be reinforced with new German vehicles, including Panther tanks. The Panthers were used by the 2nd Tank Squadron commanded by First Lieutenant Ervin Tarszay. The majority of the 2nd Armored Division would be destroyed during the siege of Budapest. The few elements that avoided destruction managed to reach Slovakia, where the last armored vehicles were blown up by their crews.
The final fate of the Hungarian Tigers is not clear. Author C. Bescze (Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WWII) notes that the last three vehicles were lost in Transylvania due to a lack of fuel and supplies.
Author G. Finizio (Wheels and Tracks No.27) claims that at least 4 Tigers were reported to be in repair in December 1944. By the end of January 1945, one Tiger was reported to be still operational.
The Tigers were the strongest armored vehicles that the Hungarian tank armored force operated during the war. While certainly deadly, it was supplied in too small numbers and too late to really have an influence on the war’s development. Despite fielding obsolete tanks, the Hungarians managed to destroy many Soviet tanks. This shows that, while the Hungarians lacked modern equipment, they did not lack effective tank crews. Had the Germans supplied them much earlier in the war with more modern equipment, the Hungarian tank force may have been a more important element in the war in the East.
Hungarian Ausf.E from the 3rd Regiment, Ukraine, near Nadvirna, May 1944
Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Sd.Kfz.181, ‘Tiger I’ specifications
Height: 8.45 m Long x 3.23 m Wide (rail transport) x 3.547 m Wide (normal tracks) x 3 m Height
54 tonnes (combat), 57 tonnes by February 1944
5 (commander, gunner, loader, driver, and radio operator)
Maybach model HL 210 TRM P45 21-litre V-12 petrol engine producing 650 hp at 3000 rpm (early production vehicles), Maybach model HL 230 TRM P45 V-12 700 hp petrol engine (later production vehicles)
1.5 m without preparation – submersible to 4.5 m with preparation (vehicles prior to August 1942)
45 km/h (road max.), 30 km/h (road sustained), after February 1944 this was 40 km/h, 20-25 km/h (firm ground sustained)
348 litres sufficient for a range of up to 120 km road, 85 km firm ground. Two spare 200-litre fuel drum could be carried on the back deck for long road marches.
8.8 cm Kw.K. 36 L/56 gun, coaxial 7.92 mm M.G. 34, hull mounted M.G. 34, roof mounted anti-aircraft M.G. 34
92 rounds 8.8 cm, ~4,500 – 4,800 rounds 7.92 mm ammunition
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