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Chinese Cold War MBTs

Type 58 and T-34-85 (Chinese Service)

Chinese P.L.A. (1950-~1990) Medium Tank 1800+ Supplied (T-34-85) – Unknown Number Converted (‘Type 58’)

The Chinese Upgrade of the T-34-85

‘Type 58’ is an unofficial name which refers to the mysterious Chinese upgrade package to the T-34-85. All T-34-85s in operational service with the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) came to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the USSR between 1950-1955, along with all types of military materiel as part of the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance (1950). These were briefly the PLA’s most numerous tank, but once license production of the T-54 MBT began in 1958 (I.e. the Type 59), the T-34-85 appears to have been relegated over time to lesser roles, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s. Nevertheless, seeing as though the majority were still in active service even by that time, it appears as though most T-34-85s were given an upgrade package which has come to be known as the ‘Type 58’. Little is known about the details of this package, and what is confirmed is only obtained through photographic evidence. What is evident, despite varying stories from different sources, is that the PRC never produced the T-34-85 or any sort of variant of the design. However, it is more than evident that the T-34-85 had a long and varied service life in the PRC.
Image result for Chinese T-34-85
Chinese T-34-85 ‘406’ in the Beijing Tank Museum, 2013. On the left are two IS-2s. Source: Wikipedia

Context: Tanks of the PLA as of 1st October 1949

The PLA held a major victory parade to mark the foundation of the PRC on 1st October 1949 in Beijing (with lesser parades in other major cities). All types of military materiel took part in this parade, including tanks. However, by 1949, most of these tanks were outdated and were in need of replacement. Perhaps the majority of these tanks were ex-Japanese which were mostly captured by the NRA (National Revolutionary Army – the army of the Nationalists – the Kuomintang / Guomindang, KMT / GMD) during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and then captured by the PLA during the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949). Most of these Japanese tanks were the Chi-Ha, Chi-Ha Shinhoto, and the Ha-Go, but other types were in service in lesser numbers such as the Type 94 TK, Type 95 So-Ki, and so on.
The PLA also captured many of the NRA’s M3A3 and M5A1 Stuart tanks, along with other American vehicles such as the LVT(A)-4, LVT-4, M3A1 Scout Car, and many others. These were originally supplied via Lend-Lease to the Chinese Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the Burma Campaign (1942-1945) but were retained and used in the Civil War. The CEF’s M4A4 Shermans were all confiscated by the USA after the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War for fear that they may be used aggressively and not defensively, thus sparking a civil war (a war which came nonetheless).
The PLA also fielded some rarer vehicles, such as an M4A2 Sherman, and at least one T-26 M1937, to name just a couple of examples.
As such, one can understand just how desperate the Chinese PLA was to obtain new tanks. Therefore, the PRC turned to its Communist ‘ally’, the USSR, for aid. Despite ideological differences and a chequered history of relations between the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), under the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance (1950), the USSR agreed to supply the PRC with all the assistance that a new Communist state would need to prosper (although this fell short of nuclear weapons technology, despite persistent Chinese demands).

Context: Soviet Arms Sales to the PRC, 1950-1955

In the years 1950-1955, the PRC purchased a huge variety of weapons and military equipment of all types from the USSR to replace their outdated weapons. Over 3000 vehicles are reported to have been supplied to the PLA from the USSR 1950-1955.

  • 1950 – 300 T-34-85s, 60 IS-2s and 40 ISU-122s (to be clear, the original model armed with the 122mm A-19S, not the later ISU-122S with the 122mm D-25S), which were organized into 10 regiments (30 T-34-85, 6 IS-2 heavy tanks, and 5 ISU-122s in each).
  • 1951 – 96 T-34-85s, and 64 SU-76s, which were organized into 4 regiments.
  • 1952 – 312 T-34-85s, and 208 SU-76s, which were organized into 13 regiments.
  • 1953 – 480 T-34-85s, and 320 SU-76s, which were organized into 13 regiments (based on a total number of 40 regiments at this point).
  • 1954 – 649 T-34-85s, 320 SU-76s, 22 IS-2s, 99 SU-100s, 67 ISU-152s, and 9 ARVs (at least 2 of which were based on the ISU chassis, the others likely being based on the T-34).
  • 1955 – No figures are available, but there were known shipments in 1955. Based on varying estimates for the number of T-34-85s in China, 127 T-34-85s might have been included in this shipment, but this is not confirmed.
  • 72 additional ARVs and engineering vehicles were also supplied in this period.

Total 1950-1954: 1837 T-34-85s (some estimates suggest as many as 1964 by 1955), 82 IS-2s, 40 ISU-122s, 67 ISU-152s, 99 SU-100s, and 704 SU-76s. This gives a total of 2829 tanks, (excluding ARVs and engineering vehicles) organized into 67 regiments between 1950 and 1954, although some estimates suggest that 3000 armored vehicles were sold to the PRC between 1950 and 1955. No T-34/76s are known to have been supplied to the PRC, even though many were supplied to North Korea.
These T-34-85s were a huge mixture of tanks from different factories including Krasnoye Sormovo 112, Omsk 174, and UTZ 183. No Czechoslovak or Polish T-34s were supplied to the PRC via this set of programmes.
These arms sales were not without some controversy. If not from the outset, then from early on, the PRC’s leadership was aware that they were being sold outdated weapons at very high costs. This is typical behaviour of the USSR, as one need only look at Soviet arms deals to the Spanish Republicans (1936-1939) or the Chinese Nationalists (1937-1941) to see examples of this. In fact, the PRC’s leadership would later, during the Sino-Soviet Split in the mid-1950s / early 1960s allege that the USSR had scammed them.

Chinese Production of the T-34-85?

Whilst sources on early PRC tanks are sketchy (and likely untrustworthy), there is a story which circulates across various modern Chinese sources that suggests T-34-85 was intended for production in the PRC before the T-54 was accepted instead. This is not the same story as typically derived from western sources, which suggest the ‘Type 58’ was a Chinese copy of the T-34-85. There are multiple versions of this story, two of which will be reproduced below and then critiqued. One version of the story is as follows:

Story One

In 1954, the PRC asked the USSR for permission to produce the T-34-85 indigenously by 1958. This is because the Chinese leadership felt that the PRC should be self-sufficient in producing its own military materiel, as well as maintaining it. The USSR agreed to this request, seeing as though they had superior replacements for the Soviet Army in production anyway (namely the T-54 and its variants). The PRC had managed to translate all the documents of the vehicles provided to them and therefore began to organize license-production of the T-34-85 in the same year with the designation ‘Type 58’ [this is a highly dubious claim]. However, production was slow to start.
The simple fact is that the PRC was unprepared for any form of large scale industry in the years following the Communist victory in 1950 because industry across the country was heavily disrupted and damaged due to the war. In many respects, it was also never ready for serious tank production beyond a few workshop conversions.
Despite the poor state of the Chinese industry, some workshops had managed to produce a set of tracks in 1955. By May 1956, a gearbox was also successfully made. Finally, in February 1957, a prototype V2-34 diesel engine was made, meaning that the PRC was ready to organize production lines for the T-34-85 and was due to begin manufacture of the tank in 1958.
However, as the trials for manufacturing T-34 parts had gone on for so long, negotiations for the licenses and relevant documents to produce the T-54 had come to fruition and the T-54 was accepted for production instead. This is supposedly just shortly before a completely Chinese-made T-34-85 prototype was produced, OR just before trials of Chinese-made prototype T-34-85 were complete (evidence for which is lacking), OR just after a short production run of Chinese-made T-34-85s had been complete (evidence for which is certainly lacking). There is even a suggestion that ‘Type 58’ was to be the name for the indigenously produced T-34-85, but evidence for this is lacking. Whatever the case may be, once production of the T-54 (or more accurately, ‘Type 59’, as the locally-produced Chinese variant was known) began, Chinese production of the T-34-85 was abandoned and only replacement parts were made for their repair facilities.

Story Two

Another version of the story is thus (Source: Weibo):
The PRC began considering production of its own tanks in the years 1953-1954 but these were not fruitful experiments. As a result, the PRC decided, after long negotiations with the USSR, to produce the T-34-85 indigenously. It was expected that they would be able to fully produce the T-34-85 by 1956, with mass production able to commence by 1958. The PRC also began to assemble Soviet-produced spare parts, but into what is unclear seeing as though the USSR is unlikely to have supplied spare hulls.
In 1955, Plant 674 (a military factory in northeastern China) was able to fully overhaul T-34-85s. By 1956, the plant had produced the main components of the tank including the hull and turret. However, it became increasingly obvious that the T-34-85 was an obsolete design. From this, the PLA began to develop other designs based on the T-34-85 design. These, supposedly, include designs called the ‘T-34-1’, ‘T-34-2’, and ‘T-34-3’. Some redesigns of the turret and engine were proposed. However, these designs never left the drawing boards. These developments supposedly led to the ’59-16′ light tank (of which scale models existed, and possibly one full scale prototype), but development was scrapped when the USSR supplied the rights to produce the T-54A as license production, thus leading to the Type 59 MBT series.

Reality?

Whether these stories of the PRC producing T-34-85s are true or not remains a mystery. However, it is the author’s belief that sources with this story have, at best simply confused various true events, and at worst circulated pure rumors and inaccuracies. One could argue that the story of Chinese T-34-85 production has too many variations and inconsistencies between sources to be true – for example, there is dispute over whether a T-34-85 prototype was nearly produced, produced and partially trialed, or whether a short production run of T-34-85s was made. Nonetheless, it is the author’s belief that some reality can be salvaged.

Factory 674

It is certain that the Chinese wanted repair facilities for the T-34-85, and it is known that major repair centres were set up in Beijing, Baotou (in Inner Mongolia, where the Type 59 was later produced), and Plant 674 at Harbin (as referred to in Story Two) is also real. According to Engineering Communist China: One Man’s Story By Youli Sun and Dan Ling, in 1952, Harbin First Machinery Factory (Factory 674) (Heilongjiang Province, northeastern China) was organised to produce tanks (probably T-34-85s), with 3000 workers employed in the complex. Thirty Soviet Russian advisors, some ranking as high as Colonel (Polkovnik), were also stationed there and helped run the workshops on a day to day basis. They were apparently very arrogant, constantly chasing after Russian women in the town, and were much envied by locals. Despite being intended to produce tanks, all that the factory did at that time was repair T-34s damaged in Korea. The damage often concerned repairing large holes in the glacis plate. The Chinese workers at this factory sometimes only had two hours of sleep and worked overtime frequently, with tanks coming in and out at night, but did so willingly because they genuinely believed that they were building a new socialist society that would bring them prosperity. By contrast, Soviet advisors at the plant only worked eight hour shifts, which one worker believed was because they had already achieved communism in the USSR.

Repairs with Spares or Local Production?

These repair facilities would have needed spare parts to function. It is known that the USSR supplied most of these parts, although it is reported by Weibo, and proven through photographic evidence that some parts, such as radios, were locally produced. However, it is unclear just how many types of parts were produced locally. For full repairs, parts including replacement tracks, engines, lights, electronics, gearboxes, and so on, would need to be produced. This is close indigenous production of the T-34-85 but is, of course, not the same thing.
It is highly plausible that the production of these parts began as early as 1956, seeing as though some tanks would have been in service for over six years and would need replacements, especially those damaged in Korea. It is also likely that it took until 1956 or 1957 for all to be ready, seeing as though Chinese industry needed rebuilding after the civil war – something which took time. Thus, it is perfectly plausible that the PRC began producing its own replacement parts for the T-34-85. Thus, it is very believable, almost certainly true, that the PRC produced all kinds of its own spare parts for T-34-85s.
However, the question remains as to whether the PRC actually produced, or began consdering production of the T-34-85. These are separate points which must be dealt with.
Story Two is fairly plausible regarding the former, but only up to a certain point. Again, despite the PRC’s leadership being aware of the T-34-85 being outdated, it was, indeed, their best option for production. Local Chinese designs had, if they existed (see Sidenote II below), fallen flat. The difficulty with Story Two is that it refers to designs such as the ‘T-34-1’, ‘T-34-2’, and ‘T-34-3’ and accepts their historicity uncritically. If these are the designs presented in infamous videogame, World of Tanks, this detail can be immediately dismissed (see Sidenote II). In fact, the source makes many claims which are now widely rejected (see Sidenote V below). The result is that it is difficult to accept any assertion made in the story without corroborating evidence (such as contemporary photographs). Nonetheless, it is plausible that the PRC had locally produced a prototype hull and turret, but this remains to be proven by photographic or literary (such as an army document) evidence.
There are three key reasons to doubt the PRC ever produced a full T-34-85:

  • Most sources, both western and Chinese, suggest that an agreement with the USSR was made as early as 1956 to produce the T-54 in the PRC. The first batch of these ‘Type 59s’ was delivered in 1958 using Soviet-supplied kits, and was accepted into service in 1959, hence the designation ‘Type 59’. Thus, it makes no sense for any work on full-scale T-34-85 production to take place in the PRC as late as 1957. Whether the PRC intended to produce the T-34-85 back in 1954 or 1955 remains unclear, but plausible. If any work on the T-34-85 was taking place by 1958, it must have been stopped in favor of Type 59 assembly and production.
  • Yuri Pasholok, a famous Russian tank historian, reports that all the ‘Type 58s’ and T-34-85s he studied whilst in the PRC had Soviet serial numbers.
  • Stories of Chinese T-34-85 production proliferated in the post-World of Tanks era, which is a video-game full of historical inaccuracies. (See Sidenote II below).

Therefore, without further evidence, the story of Chinese T-34-85 production (beyond major overhauls using some indigenously produced designs) is perhaps best regarded as nothing more than a rumor until more evidence can be found. Nonetheless, the following is a reconstructed history of Chinese T-34-85 production:

Chinese T-34-85 Production: The Likely Story

At some point around 1952, the PRC had begun experimenting with its own tank production. The PLA had created its own armored cars during the Civil War, and there is some tentative evidence to suggest tank production was considered in the years following the Civil War. When these projects fell flat, the PRC decided, sometime around 1952 and 1954, that it would be best to produce its own T-34-85s. This was for a variety of reasons such as the sheer cost of Soviet imports, and the desire to be self-sufficient (as the Sino-Soviet relationship was largely expedient, and the two only had a veneer of ideological unity). The USSR agreed to allow the PRC to begin license production of the T-34-85, seeing as though they were producing more modern vehicles such as the T-54 MBT. It was thought that the PRC could produce their first prototype T-34-85 by 1956, and begin mass production by 1958.
However, production was plagued by teething problems. Whilst the PRC is likely to have produced parts such as tracks, wheels, and other smaller components at Factory 674 by 1956 it is unclear if they actually produced a turret and hull (although highly possible that they did). Factory 674, nonetheless, remained the most important repair station for T-34-85s, and chiefly made repairs using Soviet-supplied parts. However, all this progress was quickly dashed because in 1956, the PRC had reached an agreement with the USSR to produce the T-54 MBT, starting with assembly of Soviet parts (rather like kits), with a gradual shift towards indigenous production as the Type 59.
T-34-85s were repaired in the PRC even after the Type 59 entered production because the PRC did not produce enough modern MBTs or light tanks (such as the Type 62 light tank, starting officially from 1962, with prototyping taking place from 1958) to fully replace the T-34-85. The Sino-Soviet Split of the 1960s meant that the PRC no longer received Soviet-made spare parts and therefore, some components from the Type 59 and Type 62 are believed to have been used for repairs. This is likely where the idea of Chinese T-34-85s being given new diesel engines comes from, seeing as though the Type 62’s 12150L-3 V-12 was a diesel engine, although the use of this engine on T-34-85s is not confirmed.
The so-called ‘Type 58’ was a totally separate upgrade, to which this article now turns.

‘Type 58’ Upgrade Package

Photographic evidence clearly shows that Chinese T-34-85s were fitted with an upgrade package, perhaps beginning in 1958, although the exact date cannot be ascertained. In any case, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, this package, widely known as the ‘Type 58’, became increasingly common. The difficulty with understanding this upgrade is that no official military documents are available to corroborate stories told in Chinese internet sources, and it is difficult to discern what exactly the package consisted of, seeing as though period photos are too few and not detailed enough to show characteristics. It is also clear that some other upgrades took place on a local scale, meaning that these, too, must be separate from the ‘Type 58’ design. To complicate matters further, many ‘Type 58s’ in Chinese museums today have been modified and often inaccurately restored for display purposes, which means that some technical details are not original.
In any case, ‘Type 58’ does not refer to Chinese-produced T-34-85s because, as related above, such tanks did not exist.

Design Features

Photographic evidence suggests that this ‘Type 58’ package consisted of:

  • A hard point for stowing a Type 54 12.7mm machine gun, always on the right cheek of the turret, which appears to be a copy of the stowage mount as seen on the rear of the T-54 and Type 59 turret. The machine guns would be covered with a canvas for foul weather. The machine gun, when stowed, would face the rear.
  • A distinctive second ‘cupola’ in place of the original loader’s hatch. The original hatch was removed and a simple steel cylinder fitted over the hatch hole. Some of these cupolas had crudely made vision slits (apparently without optics or even simple glass) although others did not feature vision slits (meaning these are more accurately described as ‘superstructures’). On top was a crude hatch door, and a mount for a Type 54 machine gun, apparently a copy of the T-54’s mount. Some ‘Type 58s’ also had a small ‘V’ shape (as viewed from above) piece of metal welded at the front, connecting both cupolas, but not all have this feature.
  • A new rear transmission-rear hull plate hinge system. This was an exterior rod type, and essentially strengthened the joint when opening the rear of the tank for inspection, making it superior to the stock factory hinge system. Chinese SU-100s and T-34-based ARVs were also given this upgrade. However, the reader should note well that some seemingly non-upgraded T-34-85s (IE, non-‘Type 58s’) feature this hinge system also, possibly meaning that this hinge system was a separate but equally as popular upgrade. However, there do not appear to be any ‘Type 58s’ without the hinge system, casting doubts onto such a conclusion.


‘Type 58’ turret detail, showing the new 12.7mm Type 54 stowage hardpoints. The ‘8-1’ star was not often painted on this side of the turret, and the small size indicates it to be an inaccurate museum addition. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

‘Type 58’, with the new rear hinge detail. The exhaust pipes have been cut short, likely by museum staff. Source: chinesearmory.blogspot
Some internet sources also suggest that the ‘Type 58’ package included a new Chinese-produced diesel engine, but this cannot be confirmed. As related above, this is likely the result of using Type 62 parts to repair T-34-85s. Furthermore, it is reported that the ‘Type 58’ package included a new belly escape hatch, but photographic evidence for this is lacking.
There are other details which may have been included in the package, but are either internal (and therefore not noticeable with current photographic evidence) or are difficult to discern from inaccurate museum restorations. These features include: new optics (chiefly headlamps), removed Type 54 stowage hardpoints, new fenders, new fuel tanks, new or non-standard handrails, removed engine covers, and so on. Most of these changes appear to be museum conversions, but due to the mysterious nature of the package, not everything should be taken as totally confirmed. Local repairs, upgrades, and modifications to the T-34-85, likely taking place on a regional level are a certainty.

History

As explained above, the history of the package is incredibly sketchy. According to Weibo, the Jinan Military Region is believed to have been the first region to upgrade T-34-85s with the so-called ‘Type 58’ package. The reason was simple – it was felt that the vehicle needed greater anti-aircraft protection. As a result, work began to install a mount for a 12.7mm machine gun on a new cupola. The machine gun chosen was an upgraded version of the Type 54 featuring a set of high-altitude sights known as the Type 58 (although this remains unconfirmed). Is is believed by Weibo that this is where the unofficial name ‘Type 58’ comes from for upgraded T-34-85s, but others suggest that it is because the package was created in 1958. (See Sidenote I below).

What is believed to be an example of the ‘Type 58 12.7mm machine gun’, albeit in an infantry-use mount. Source: sadefensejournal.com
Only around forty or fifty T-34-85s in Jinan were upgraded with the package, but it is obvious that countless more T-34-85s, the majority of them outside Jinan, were upgraded, too. Weibo reports, and the author is inclined to agree, that the ‘Type 58’ package was copied over time by other military regions, perhaps taking place over a long time between the 1950s and 1970s. This accounts for many slight differences in the package, such as the style of hinges used, the cupola’s crudeness (some had vision blocks, others did not), and the use of joining plates on the cupolas on some but not all examples. This also accounts for the existence of some non-upgraded T-34-85s in the PRC in the 1960s and even preserved in museums today.

Operational History

1950 – 1966

Some question why no ‘Type 58’ was ever recorded or photographed as part of offensive units operating during the Korean War. The simple and straightforward answer is that they did not exist at this time. Many T-34-85s were fielded by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), along with reports suggesting that SU-76s, and even IS-2s were fielded (the latter almost certainly did not see combat). The story of T-34-85 ‘215’ is, of course, mythical, and on par with CCP myths such as ‘Gongchen Tank’, or ‘Comrade Lei Feng’.
Regardless, by sheer numbers, the T-34-85 formed the bulk of the Chinese armored divisions until being replaced over time by the newly-built Type 59s and Type 62s starting from the 1960s. However, this was a process which took thirty years.

1966 – 1980

Photographic evidence seems to suggest that the ‘Type 58’ was gradually phased out, especially from the 1970s and were used instead as gate guardians, training vehicles, and in other lesser roles. This is likely due to the replacement of T-34-85s with Type 59s and Type 62s. However, it also reported that the ‘Type 58’ could not return to repair facilities at Baotou due to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 (although no more specific reason is given), which might contribute to the abandonment of stocks of T-34-85s.
According to Weibo, during the 1960s the PLA transferred many of its WWII-era vehicles for militia anti-tank training purposes, and such efforts were accelerated in 1969 as a result of the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict. Despite this, dummy tanks – of varying quality (some were made from mud, some from scrap metal, some from real tank wrecks, and some were real tanks) – were more common for training purposes.

A Chinese anti-tank training booklet dated to 1965. Source: Weibo.
Whilst it is believed that the ‘Type 58’ never saw combat, although T-34-85s (or, possibly, ‘Type 58s’) were reportedly issued to the Tank Regiment attached to the 54th Army Corps (likely the 11th Armored Brigade) during the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979). However, these T-34-85s are not believed to have seen active combat during the war. Weibo reports that the unit was the only unit equipped with T-34-85s at that time, but such a detail is unlikely.

1980 – 1990

In the 1980s, the PRC’s economy had significantly improved and it was able to produce more MBTs to replace the T-34-85. Weibo reports that in 1981, the 28th Army conducted exercises in Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, simulating a Soviet attack on the area. This exercise prompted major reforms of the PLA, with a desire for infantry fighting vehicles, gunship helicopters, and the need to retire older vehicles such as the T-34-85. As a result, most T-34-85s and SU-100s were retired shortly after.
The fate of a retired T-34-85 or ‘Type 58’ was one of the following:

  1. Sent to a museum or memorial.
  2. Cannibalised for parts for the few T-34-85s which remained in service.
  3. Test vehicles for new technologies such as an automatic fire extinguisher, laser ranging devices, and night vision sights. The latter features would be used on the Type 69 MBT.
  4. Sent to scrapyards and destroyed.
  5. Abandoned on the spot.


Note that this T-34-85 (or ‘Type 58’) apparently was used to test laser sights, which can be seen above the gun barrel. Source: Weibo.
According to Weibo, in the 1980s, some T-34-85s belonging to the marines were placed on shore defence duties until they were replaced with the Type 59. These were likely the last T-34-85s in active service, although some sources report that the last to be retired were stationed on the Sino-Russian border.

1990 – Present Day

In May 1987, the so-called Black Dragon Wildfire broke out in the Greater Khinghan Range. This was the largest wildfire to hit China in over three-hundred years, and the flames spread into the USSR. A drought had caused dry vegetation around the Amur River, and due to a sparse population, the flames were left to spread at first, and Chinese reports suggest that the fire was caused by a careless worker who spilt oil from a brush cutter. Conventional firefighting vehicles could not be used to enter the area because the fire was so immense that the oxygen supply in the air was cut off, and burning projectiles were raining down across roads. Weibo repots that as a result, the Shenyang Military Region gave firefighters twenty T-34-85s, and water cannons were added to them in place of their main guns.
However, according to the Liaoshen evening news, the idea came later in 1994 from firefighting engineer and captain of Shenyang Firefighting Squadron (1969-1983), Chen Songhe. Chen was inspired by a chemical fire in the 1970s, saying:
Once, a truck full of gas tanks was on fire, and two gas tanks exploded in the air. The heat radiation [forced] the firefighters to slam [onto] the ground. I saw with my own eyes that the fragments of the cylinder that exploded later would flatten trees more than three meters high [up to] twenty or thirty meters away. While fighting the oil fires, the firefighters generally could only stand outside the danger [zone] because of their outdated equipment. [However,] If a tank rushes into the sea of ​​fire, you are not afraid.
In 1994, Chen obtained permission for the project and went to a tank repair centre in Shijiazhuang (Heibei Province) where he found many old T-34-85s. The T-34-85 in the best condition was chosen, and testing showed that even this old vehicle could still reach 60 km/h. The vehicle was converted and tested by 1996. It features two 1.5m long water cannons, one 50mm and another 100mm in diameter, in place of the main gun. However, the tank did not have an internal water supply, so it had to have a support vehicle pump water into it. To control the worst effects of the heat, the tank tracks were sealed together, and water sprinkler systems were added to the side of the hulls in order to control the immediate outside temprature. A dozerblade was also added to the front of the tank to tackle obstacles and push down walls. Since then, more firefighting tanks have been built using more modern chassis such as the Type 69.

Chen Songhe’s firefighting T-34-85. Source: tran.news.so

Another view of Chen Songhe’s firefighting T-34-85. Source: Liaoshen Evening News.
Some T-34-85s participated in flood fighting operations in the June-September floods. These were later handed over to Heilongjiang province and were replaced with Type 63 and Type 62-based firefighting vehicles. Some bulldozer conversions were reportedly used both militarily and commercially for construction projects.
The ‘Type 58’ and the remaining few T-34-85s are believed to have only been totally retired in the 1990s, when some were still stationed along the Soviet (later, Russian) border.

T-34-85s or ‘Type 58s’ being used in 2016 as target practice by the airforce for guided missiles. Source: Weibo.

Conclusions

The ‘Type 58’ appears to be nothing more than a fairly standardized upgrade package applied to most of the PLA’s Soviet-supplied T-34-85s. It probably originated shortly after the Type 59 entered production as a local upgrade which was copied by most regions operating the T-34-85. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that the PLA started work on producing the T-34-85 indigenously or any sort of copy or variant based on the chassis save for their own unique version of the SU-100T and the flamethrower-carrying prototype. Whilst many Chinese T-34-85s saw combat in the Korean War, the so-called ‘Type 58′ never saw combat and was likely retired by no later than the early 1990s, having mostly been in lesser roles for years. Evidence on the T-34-85 and ‘Type 58’s’ history in the PRC is scant, and many sources make dubious claims. Nonetheless, some historical fact can be tentatively pieced together.

‘Type 58’ ‘404’ in the Beijing Tank Museum. To its right is a Type 59, followed by two M3A3 Stuarts. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Different view of the above.  Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Chinese T-34-85s on a parade to mark the one year anniversary of the founding of the PRC, 1st October 1950. Source: Wikipedia

A mixture of Chinese tanks, unknown location. On the right is a ‘Type 58’, as discerned by the new ‘cupola’, but the tank on the far left is a T-34-85, as discerned by the lack of cupola and DShK stowage hardpoints. Source: chinesearmory.blogspot

‘Type 58’ cupola detail. This type does not feature vision slits in the new cupola (left), but does feature a ‘V’ shaped piece of armor connecting the two. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

A supposed ‘T-34-85’ at the Korean War Museum in Dandong, Liaoning Province. In reality, the museum has taken a ‘Type 58’ and reconverted it to look like a Korean War era T-34-85 by removing the new cupola and the turret DShK hardpoints. Tellingly, the upgraded torsion bar hatch has been kept on the engine access hatch. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

T-34-based ARV in the Beijing Tank Museum. Although not visible in this photo, the engine access hatch also had the improved torsion bar hinge system. Source: net-maquettes.com

T-34-85s, SU-76s, and a Type 62 in Nankou, 1964. Note that these vehicles appear to show no upgrades, thus suggesting that the ‘Type 58’ was, indeed, a local upgrade which spread out to other regions of the PRC over time. Note well that these vehicles have been fairly well-maintained, as discerned from the fresh coats of paint.

Most T-34-85s and ‘Type 58s’ had three-digit tactical markings in white, but these tanks from a women’s battalion in 1952 have four-digit ones. It is also noted that T-34-85s belonging to the marines had ‘H’ followed by a three-digit number. Source: Weibo.

A ‘Type 58’ with a 12.7mm machine gun stowed in the turret and tarp deployed to protect the machine guns. To see a machine gun stowed on a ‘Type 58’ is quite rare. Source: Weibo.

Splashboard Upgrade?

It is reported by Weibo that after the Korean War, many Chinese T-34-85s were damaged and needed major overhauls. From 1952, Plant 674 began organising their repairs using imported Soviet-made parts. By spring 1956, the factory began organising local production of the T-34-85 (supposedly – see earlier comments) and began to modify the design based on combat experience and Soviet consultancy.
One particular issue to be dealt with was adding a splashboard to protect the driver and DT machine gun from mud and water. This was essentially a thin strip of metal held in place by two mounts below the DT mount and driver’s hatch, but above the spare track fasteners.
It is reported that all T-34-85s in the PRC had this upgrade, but this does not appear to be the case. Only T-34-85s on the 1955 National Day Parade can be seen with this feature, so if true, it is likely that only T-34-85s of the Beijing military region were upgraded with this feature.
Another, more complicated difficulty with this assertion is that the addition of a splashboard was a standard Soviet post-war production feature as proven by photographic evidence. However, Soviet production ended in 1946, long before the addition of splashboards to the PRC’s tanks was raised, so one can rule out the splashboard development being a joint PRC-USSR development. Furthermore, whilst Soviet splashboards varied from tank to tank (indicating local, not national upgrades), none of the examples on Chinese T-34-85s look different from ones seen on Soviet T-34-85s.
Therefore, on the balance of evidence, one can rule out the idea that the Chinese upgraded all of their T-34-85s with a new splashboard design. The difficulty is working out if all of this story about splashboard upgrades is untrue or not. Additionally, this conclusion only casts more doubt on the validity of Weibo’s other claims.

Chinese T-34-85s on parade in Tiananmen Square in 1955. Note that all of these have splashboards, and are also a mixture of factory subtypes, as discerned from the turrets. Source: Weibo.

Exhaust System Changes

One serious problem with the T-34-85 is that owing to the Sino-Soviet Split, the PRC was unable to receive spare parts for repairs for the vehicle. The air filter and exhaust systems were in dire need of replacing by the mid-1960s. One problem was that the fighting compartment would fill with exhaust gases meaning that the crew would suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. Another was that water would enter the tank, especially when fording rivers or other water obstacles.

According to Weibo, the Nanjing Military Region hit upon a crude but effective solution. The original exhaust system was removed entirely, welded over, and replaced with a new system at the top of the engine deck extending from the cooling grills. They also installed a set of water-fording equipment.
In 1967, one vehicle was successfully tested with this design, so by 1968 all their ‘Type 58s’ (and likely other T-34-based vehicles) had been modified. However, in September 1969, the region was transferred a batch of Type 62s, so their Type 58s were transferred to Wuhan.
This exhaust upgrade was apparently quite rare, with only a handful of examples of the type known to exist today. The design has also been seen on at least two SU-100s and an ARV T-34 at the Beijing Tank Museum.

A ‘Type 58’ with the replacement exhaust system. Source: Weibo.

SU-100 at the Beijing Tank Museum with the exhaust upgrade and the new torsion bar hinge system.

Sidenote I: ‘Type 58’ name

There is a debate as to whether the designation ‘Type 58’ is an unofficial name or not. Modern Chinese sources only use the name ‘T-34-85’ and state that it is difficult to declare with certainty that ‘Type 58’ was ever officially used. One source reports that the name came from the 12.7mm Type 54 machine gun being upgraded in the late 1950s to feature high-altitude sights, with such upgraded models being known as ‘Type 58’ (although this is unconfirmed), and these were installed as part of the ‘Type 58’ package. Other sources say that the name comes from the package being created in 1958. Others, still, suggest that it is because the T-34-85 was intended to be locally produced in the PRC in 1958.
Without any firm conclusion on the origin, if only for the sake of differentiation, tanks with the upgrade package will be referred to as ‘Type 58’, and those without as ‘T-34-85’.

Sidenote II: Supposed Chinese Variants

The video-game, World of Tanks, is infamous for featuring fake tanks and designs which have had serious creative liberties taken. Seeing as though the PRC is a major market for the game, Wargaming (the creators of World of Tanks) contracted a client company, Kongzhong, to do ‘historical research’ for them to help create tanks to put into the game. Unfortunately, it appears as though Kongzhong have invented many tanks for the game, some of which were based on the T-34 design.
It should be made clear that there is no evidence for the PRC ever experimenting with T-34-based designs such as the so-called ‘T-34-1’. With regards to the ‘T-34-1’, World of Tanks gives a very inconsistent historical synopsis:
In 1954, the Chinese government considered the possibility of launching production of the T-34-85 in China. At the same time, Chinese engineers proposed an alternative project: the T-34-1. While based on the T-34-85, the T-34-1’s transmission compartment and suspension were to be rearranged, reducing the overall weight and lowering the hull. In 1954, several designs of the vehicle, with varying turrets and armament, were developed. However, a prototype was never built.
Such a design is ludicrous because it would be impossible to lower the silhouette of the T-34-85 without giving it a much smaller engine. However, World of Tanks suggest it featured a Type 12150L engine (a copy of the T-54 engine), the same engine as used on the Type 59 – not only a much larger tank, but one which was produced four years later in 1958 – thus making the design impossible. The suggestion of a design featuring a Type 62-like turret as early as 1954 is also ludicrous.
It is likely that the so-called ‘T-34-1’ design was inspired by an inaccurate identification or training drawing which attempts to depict a T-34-85 but is squatter than in reality.

Sidenote III: The ‘Chinese OT-34-85’

According to Weibo, in November 1955, to test the PLA’s combat capabilities, especially regarding amphibious landings, the PRC organised a field exercise at the Liaodong Peninsula. Here, it was found that one of the greatest weaknesses of the T-34-85 was its inability to deal effectively with bunkers. A Soviet adviser offered to sell the PRC OT-34-85s, but this was rejected by Defence Minister Peng Dehuai. Instead, the PLA developed its own design. This featured twelve TPO-50 flamethrowers, with six mounted either side of the turret in boxes. Whilst it is reported that it passed trials, the design seems to have been rejected and prototype remains in tact at Oriental Oasis Park in Shanghai to this day.
This story is the only reported explanation of this mysterious tank and the reader should be careful of this claim, as there is no evidence that this it is true. (See Sidenote V below).

The only example of the experimental Chinese ‘OT-34-85’. Note well that the searchlight cage on the right side of the hull is likely a feature from a restoration. Source: reddit.

T-34-85s at the Liaodong Peninsula exercices, 1955. Source: Weibo.

Sidenote IV: A Chinese-made SU-100T ARV

According to Weibo, when the USSR handed over the Lushun base to PLA control it left behind three SU-100T ARVs and these vehicles were very popular with the PLA. At the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Beijing stands an SU-100 which has been converted into an ARV. Special features include winches, a redesigned radio station, replacement of the periscopes, and a firing port for Type 56 submachine guns. This vehicle appears to be a unique Chinese conversion of an SU-100.

The locally-produced Chinese ‘SU-100T’. Note at the top right of the superstructure the two pistol ports for the Type 56 machine guns. Source: Weibo.

Sidenote V: The Weibo Article’s Plausibility

The article by Weibo relates some exceptionally useful details about the T-34-85 in the PRC, but it also relates some fantastical details, too. These are as follows:

  1. The uncritical acceptance of the story of T-34-85 ‘215’ from the Korean War, which is widely regarded as a PLA myth.
  2. The ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ is reported to be a Chinese design, despite the current consensus being that it was a local NVA upgrade.
  3. The apparently false assertion of the splashboard upgrade being a Chinese design.
  4. The possible uncritical acceptance of tanks presented in World of Tanks as historical.
  5. The apparent false reporting on the Chen Songhe’s firefighting tank.

The result is that one must engage hypercritically with any claim made in the article. Where Weibo was the source of a claim, this has been clearly stated in the article. Some details it relays are quite plausible, if not likely.

Sidenote VI: Polish T-34-85s in the PRC

The PRC captured at least one (but possibly two) Polish T-34-85 during the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979). The PLA never operated any Polish or Czechoslovak-built T-34-85s, however.

A Polish-built T-34-85M1 formerly operated by the NVA on display at the Tank Museum, Beijing. This was captured by the PLA during the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979). Fittingly, it is on display next to T-62 “545”, which was captured by the PLA during the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict (1969). Source: Zack Vincent Sex via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Sidenote VII: T-34-85 “215” in the Korean War

The PRC make quite bold claims about their use of armour during the Korean War. Perhaps the most famous story is of T-34-85 “215”, of which variations exist, but is generally as follows:
T-34-85 “215” and two other T-34-85 belonging to the 2nd Tank Division of the 2nd Tank Regiment (of the PVA) were deployed along with elements of the 200th Infantry Regiment on 6th July 1953. Their task was to fortify positions on Hill 346.6 (known as 砚洞北山 to the Chinese) against the advancing American 7th Infantry Division.
Upon arriving at the hill on 7th July, the T-34-85s were tasked to find and destroy three M46 Patton tanks reported in the area. The T-34-85s took up ambush positions around the hill but unfortunately the Americans were able to hear their engines roar as they were approaching, thus ruining the element of surprise for the PVA. The Americans began to barrage the Chinese positions with artillery and as a result, “215” was inadvertently entrenched between two artillery craters and was unable to get out.
The Chinese were met with a serious dilemma. Would they abandon the tank and lose a large part of their firepower or would they concentrate manpower on digging the tank out? In the end, the crew of “215” spent half the day attempting to dig the tank out with help from infantry but were unsuccessful. It was only until the day got dark when the crew gave up and instead decided to make do with their current situation by camouflaging the tank with mud and foliage.
The following day, the Chinese began their assault and three American M46 Pattons appeared to fend off the Chinese infantry. Upon revealing themselves the Pattons immediately came under fire from “215”. At a range of approximately 1,450m, the first Patton was reported to have been taken out with a single armour piercing shot which caused an ammo rack explosion. The second Patton was seemingly also reported to have been taken out with a single shot at approximately the same range. The third Patton, however, was taking cover behind a hill which prevented “215” from hitting it. As such, “215” fired twelve high explosive rounds at the hill which exposed the Patton. A couple of these shells supposedly hit the Patton and crippled it.
Having somehow not attracted any attention, “215” waited for night to fall, at which point it began revving its engine in such a manner as to make it sound as though the tank was reversing away. A PVA artillery unit then rescued “215” from the crater and the tank escaped down a road.
At this point, “215” encountered another column of three Pattons. Cunningly, the crew waited in a nearby woods until the column was close, and then somehow stealthily joined the column as the second tank. “215” stayed with the column until the convoy reached a US checkpoint, at which point “215” destroyed the Patton behind it (thus trapping the rearmost Patton), chased down and destroyed the leading Patton, and also proceeded to destroy a number of US bunkers and supply lorries. “215” escaped and the crew were celebrated as heroes, with the tank still standing today in the Tank Museum, Beijing.
Undoubtedly, this story is untrue because there are no records of these Pattons being lost at this stage of the war (although in a private conversation with the authors, Steven Zaloga advises that US records were poorly kept). In fact, the story fits in well with other CCP myths such as ‘Gongchen Tank’ and the more famous (although non-tank related) story of ‘Comrade Lei Feng’ and should therefore be dismissed as fake.

Chinese volunteers with T-34-85 ‘215’ during the Korean War. This tank was famous for having reportedly destroyed five UN tanks, nine artillery pieces, a command post, a staff car, and twenty-six bunkers. This story, however, is regarded as somewhat fantastical and a typical piece of PLA propaganda. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Sidenote VIII: Camouflage and Markings of Chinese T-34-85s

Chinese T-34-85s and ‘Type 58s’ appear to have had mostly standardized markings.
The first T-34-85s in the PRC appear to have been repainted by the PLA into a dark green (darker than Soviet 4BO), and were given what appear to be large stickers or decals on the turrets (although it is difficult to tell, they may have been painted on. These consist of a red and yellow 8-1 star with a broken border, and a three-digit tactical number in white behind it. Later photos show for certain painted emblems and tactical markings. These were apparently the most common and perhaps even standard marking system throughout the operational history of T-34-85s and ‘Type 58s’. Some repainting of tanks must have taken place multiple times throughout their service lives, so some variation in colours, dimensions of markings, and marking systems are certain. However, one must be cautious when using examples of T-34-85s or ‘Type 58s’ in museums as being painted in accurate military markings, as it is clear that many have been repainted by museums.
Most ‘Type 58s’ do not appear to have the 8-1 star painted onto the side with the machine gun stowage hard points, but some examples do. Chinese PVA T-34-85s in the Korean War did not have any 8-1 stars at all.
Some variation on the white three-digit marking system is noted. For example, a photograph, reproduced above, shows a T-34-85 in 1952 with a four-digit white tactical marking. ‘Type 58s’ belonging to the Marines had no 8-1 star, but had a white H preceding the three-digit tactical marking.
Some examples exist of T-34-85s and ‘Type 58s’ with no markings on them at all well until the 1960s and 1970s.
It is believed three-tone camouflage schemes seen on a few T-34-85s and ‘Type 58s’ were painted on after their retirement, especially ones used as museum exhibits or gate guardians. Such a three-tone scheme matches ones used by the PLA on its Japanese tanks during the 1949 founding of the PRC parade, and on other tanks such as the Type 59.

‘Type 58s’ of the Chinese Marines, circa 1980s. Note the tactical markings. Source: Weibo.

Additional Photographs


‘Type 58s’ which had been used for construction projects. Note that the vehicle in the foreground has been converted into a bulldozer. Source: Weibo.

Sources

The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1949” by Zhang Zhiwei.
Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950” by Odd Arne Westad
Tuo Mao: the Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army“, PhD dissertation by Martin Andrew, submitted to Bond University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2008.
Tieda.baidu.com
Liaoshen Evening News
weibo.com
The author also extends his tanks to the members of the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook for their discussions with the author on the T-34-85 in the PRC and the ‘Type 58’, especially Francis Pulham, Tim Roberts, Yuri Pasholok, and Saúl García.
Article originally published on 9th November 2014, rewritten by Will Kerrs on 3rd February 2019.


Type 58 illustration by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis, paid for by our Patreon campaign.

Categories
Cold War Vietnamese Tanks

Type 63/65 SPAAG

Democratic Republic of Vietnam (c. early 1970s)
Improvised SPAAG – 2+ built

“You catch fish with both hands” (Vietnamese Proverb)

‘Type 63 SPAAG’ and ‘Type 65 SPAAG’ are unofficial names for a mysterious improvised self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. Put simply, the vehicle is a Soviet-supplied T-34-85 chassis with a new superstructure which features a Chinese-supplied 37mm Type 65 anti-aircraft gun. The vehicle was made by was put together by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War (1965-1975) but captured and put on display at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, USA. Many have concluded that only one vehicle of the type exists, but a wartime photo shows what appears to be another T-34-85 with a similar superstructure to the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ featuring a 57mm S-60 AA gun.

The ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’, as it once stood at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Note that this paint scheme is not original. Source: Wikipedia

Context: AA Weapons in the Vietnam War

American air support was one of the biggest features of the Vietnam War, so it is no surprise that Communist forces heavily invested in anti-aircraft (AA) weapons. Most of these were received from the USSR (as well as some from the People’s Republic of China) as either Surface-to-Air missiles (SAMs), or as AA artillery pieces. In fact, during the war, the USA lost an estimated 10,000 aircraft of all types, 5,607 of which were helicopters, due to Communist AA fire, with the majority belonging to AA artillery fire.
Helicopters perhaps played the most important role of all, being so versatile. Perhaps their greatest strength was the ability to land in small spaces, allowing them to quickly insert and evacuate ‘search and destroy’ teams, where riverboats and APCs would not be suitable. However, frequent low-flying and low-speed vis-à-vis winged aircraft meant that they were prone to enemy AA fire of all kinds.

Context: Soviet Armour Supplied to North Vietnam

The NVA’s first armoured unit is believed to have been formed in October 1959 consisting of an estimated 35 T-34-85s. However, it is known that the NVA was given more T-34-85s (and other Soviet vehicles) throughout the 1960s. For example, a declassified CIA Intelligence Memorandum dated May 1969 reports:

  • 1965: 30 T-34-85s, 30 T-54s (“T-54” likely being used as a generic term to refer to T-54s and T-55s of any variant), 25 PT-76s, 25 BTR-40s, 8 ZSU-57-2s, and 20 SU-76s supplied.
  • 1966: 5 PT-76s, 10 BTR-40s supplied.
  • 1967: 40 T-54s, 10 PT-76s, 40 BTR-40s, 3 BTR-50s, 30 SU-76s supplied.

These vehicles were all supplied alongside other weapons including SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles), and aircraft such as IL-28s, MiG-21s, MiG-17s, Mi-6 helicopters and others.
This is not the total number of Soviet armour supplied to North Vietnam, but estimates on the types of vehicles supplied are not forthcoming. Exact numbers of the T-34-85 supplied to the NVA are difficult to trace, but it can be tentatively assumed that they were supplied perhaps no more than 100.
In addition to Soviet arms sales, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) sold armor and other weapons to North Vietnam from circa 1970 until around 1975, including the Type 59, Type 63/65 APC, Type 63 Light Tank (and perhaps others), but no Chinese SU-76s or T-34-85s (or ‘Type 58s’) were sold.
T-34-85s are believed to have mostly been used for training purposes, although some engagements are noted:

  • The NVA’s 3rd Battalion fielded 33 T-34-85s, in addition to 22 T-54s (or similar), and 33 PT-76s during ‘Campaign Z’ (the abortive invasion of Laos, 17th December 1971 – 30th January 1972).
  • It is also reported that an unknown regiment fielding T-34-85s saw service at the Quang Tri Offensive in 1972 near the demilitarized zone, but was reportedly destroyed by American B-52 bombers.
  • T-34-85s were also used during the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979) where at least two were captured by the Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and are now on display in the Tank Museum, Beijing.


NVA T-34-85s of the 2nd Armored Regiment, c. 1971. Source: soha.vn

‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ Description

Note on Name

The earliest known reference to the name “Type 63” comes from Christopher Chant’s A Compendium of Armaments and Military Hardware (1987). However, ‘Type 65’ is somewhat more fitting, as the main gun of the vehicle is a Type 65 AA gun. That said, if there was another vehicle of the type featuring a 57mm S-60 (see below), then neither name is fitting. The author settled on ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ because it combines the two most common names, and helps differentiate the vehicle from other AFVs with the name ‘Type 63’.

The Chassis

The chassis of the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ is a T-34-85 chassis which was made at UTZ 183 (Uralsky Tankovij Zavod) in the USSR sometime between 1944 and 1947. This is evident from the design of the tow hooks, the rear plate arrangement, rear plate hinges, fuel tank brackets, and the angled nose plate. The chassis appears unchanged except for the engine deck’s cover, which has been partly cut off, apparently with a power tool, to fit the turret superstructure. Onto the remains, a hinged turret lock was added. There is also a welded wall of sheet metal to protect the traverse system consisting of three pieces (one large central piece, and two smaller pieces either side). A small, non-standard fastener, possibly for a fuel tank, was also seen on the rear, just above the gear cover. Both hull sides have crudely made stowage bins welded on, although the lids were apparently lost during the war. The hull DT’s ball mount was also removed. Strangely, the headlamp was moved to the opposite side of the hull.

The ‘Turret’

The original T-34-85 turret was replaced with a new and apparently fully rotatable superstructure. This superstructure appears to be a welded box consisting of twenty-four main plates and some more creating a ‘lip’ at the top of the superstructure. The rear of the superstructure has a small access hatch, and there are four handrails evenly spaced on the superstructure. Some cut-outs were also added either side of the front of the superstructure to allow the gunners to aim. This superstructure was not bulletproof, as some small arms fire penetrations can be seen. Two gunners were needed in the superstructure, perhaps with a commander, also. The turret could traverse completely.

The Gun

The main gun is a ‘Type 65’ anti-aircraft gun. This is essentially a double-barrelled Chinese copy of the Soviet 37mm 61-K AA gun, with modern variants of the gun still being in service today. The ‘Type 65’ features two separately loaded 5 round clips of armor-piercing ammunition. The main gun was supplied by the PRC at some stage during the Vietnam War, but further details are lacking (see below for supposed technical specifications). Electrical power for the main gun’s sights was given by a cable coming from the driver’s compartment.

A standard Type 65 AA gun on display at Fort Lewis Military Museum, Washington, USA. Source: Wikipedia

Technical Specifications

Christopher Chant’s A Compendium of Armaments and Military Hardware (1987) suggests the following:
“Crew: 6 Combat weight: 32000 kg (70,547 lb) Dimensions: length, guns forward 6.432 m (21.10 ft) and hull 7.53 m (24.70 ft); width 3,27 m (10.73 ft); height to top of turret 2.995 m (9.83 ft)
Armament system: two 37-mm cannon with ? rounds in an electrically-powered turret
Armour: cast and welded steel.
Powerplant: one 373-kW (500-hp) V-2-34 diesel engine with 590 litres (130 Imp gal) of internal fuel Performance: speed, road 55 km/h (34 mph); range, road 300 km (186 miles); fording 1.32 m (4.33 ft) without preparation; gradient 60%; vertical obstacle 0.73 m (29 in); trench 2.5 m (8.2 ft); ground clearance 0.41 m (16 in)
Main gun: FRAG-T and AP-T ammunition loaded in five-round clips (and replenished from boxes attached to the outside of the hull); the turret can traverse through 360 degrees, and the cannon can be elevated in an arc from -5 to +85 degrees; fire-control is of the basic optical type, and the cannon have a practical rate of fire (per barrel) of 80 rounds per minute; the projectiles have a muzzle velocity of 880 m (2,887 ft) per second, the effective slant range being 3000 m (3,280 yards) and armour-penetration capability 46 mm (1.81 in) at 500 m (550 yards); the cannon[s] have a horizontal range of 9500 m (10,390 yards)
“.
Caution: These figures are likely to be inaccurate due to the book’s generalistic nature.
That said, the scale-modelling magazine ‘AFV G2 Volume 5 Number 12 (May-June 1977)’ reports that the vehicle was nine feet high. The ‘turret’ was nine feet and ten inches long, nine feet and nine inches wide, and four feet high. The armor thickness was also reported to be five to eight inches thick (the latter figure surely being wrong).

Design History

The ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ was an improvised design, as can be seen from its crude construction. However, it is likely that it was not a one-off, but possibly built in a small series. A photograph on display at the Vietnam People’s Air Force Museum in Hanoi shows three SPAAGs ‘moving to the front’, one of which is a T-34-85 featuring a superstructure which resembles the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’s’, although the gun is a single-barrelled Soviet 57mm S-60 AA gun. Another similar detail is the removed DT mount in the hull. The other two vehicles in the photograph are SU-76Ms that have been given new superstructures and one was given a 37mm 61-K, and the other featured a 23mm ZU-23-2 (or their Chinese copies).

Three improvised NVA SPAAGs ‘going to the frontlines’. The T-34-85 SPAAG resembles greatly the Type 63/65 except that its superstructure appears to be more complex (featuring hinged gunshields on the front), and instead has a 57mm S-60 AA gun. The SU-76M SPAAG in the middle is clearly of a crude welded construction and features a 37mm 61-K. The other SU-76M SPAAG is apparently less complex than the one in the middle, instead featuring a new firing platform (possibly without any substantial armor for the gunners, and an NVA roundel painted on the front. Further details are lacking. Source: Steven Zaloga via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.
From this, it can be concluded that the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ (and other improvised SPAAGs) were made during the early 1970s in order to use up outdated chassis and mobilize desperately needed AA weapons.
The ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ was captured by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s (ARVN) 4th Infantry Regiment on 13th August 1972 during the ‘Spring – Summer Offensive’. The vehicle was then given to the USA and was sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in 1975 for testing where it was on display before being moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Type 63/65 SPAAG after being captured in Vietnam. Note the loose lid for the hull stowage. Note also the original markings on the tank of ‘045’. The ends of the gun barrels appear to have the remains of foliage camouflage. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Different view of the above. Note the ARVN graffiti on the front of the superstructure indicating the unit which captured the vehicle and when. Source: ‘AFV G2 Volume 5 Number 12 (May-June 1977)’.

Fiction / Rumour

There are many rumours circulating the internet on the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ including:

  1. The ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ was produced in series in the PRC using a ‘Type 58’ chassis.
  2. Type 65 and ”Type 63” (effectively the Type 65 but with vertical stabilization) AA guns were used for two separate SPAAG projects using a T-34-85 or ‘Type 58’ chassis made in the PRC.
  3. The ‘Type 63 SPAAG’ was operated by the PLA using the ”Type 63” AA gun for a short period before being phased out because it was unable to effectively engage jet aircraft. The ‘Type 65 SPAAG’, using the Type 65 AA gun was designed but never left the design phase.
  4. The Chinese PLA operated the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ for a short period.
  5. The PRC sold the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ to North Vietnam.
  6. The USSR sold the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ to North Vietnam.
  7. The US has two separate ‘Type 63/65 SPAAGs’ on display.

The evidence debunking these rumours is thus:

  • The PRC does not appear to have had anything to do with the design. There are no records of any Chinese SPAAG being based on the T-34-85 or ‘Type 58’ chassis (the latter being a mild upgrade on the original Soviet-supplied T-34-85 chassis). As mentioned earlier, no Chinese T-34-85s or ‘Type 58s’ were ever supplied to North Vietnam. The source of this rumour has been traced to the scale-modelling magazine ‘AFV G2 Volume 5 Number 12 (May-June 1977)’ issue which states that ‘it is not known if this is a standard Chinese Communist modification to provide anti-aircraft protection to mobile units; however, the example shown in the pictures [the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’] was undoubtely supplied to the North Vietnamese by the Chinese.’ As shown, this is a misinformed opinion.
  • There is no evidence that the USSR had anything to do with the design. The USSR sold the NVA more sophisticated designs such as the ZSU-57-2 en masse.
  • ‘Type 63’ does not appear to be a real AA gun. As mentioned earlier, the only Chinese AA guns related to the Soviet 37mm 61-K are the Type 55 (a direct copy) and the Type 65 (the dual-barrelled copy). ‘Type 63’ is more commonly used to refer to the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’.
  • Due to the vehicle’s crude nature, it is unlikely that the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’s’ main gun featured vertical stabilisation.
  • It is true that the Type 65 AA gun would not be able to effectively engage jet aircraft, but there were many other types of aircraft fielded during the Vietnam War which it could engage such as helicopters and transport aircraft.
  • Due to the vehicle being repainted at least several times, some people think that there are two separate vehicles on display. This is not true, as the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ is the only one of its kind that was captured and then handed over to the US for evaluation.


Type 63/65 SPAAG as seen in Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The vehicle was originally light gray. Illustrated by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

The ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ after being repainted at Fort Sill, c. July 2016. Note the removed DT mount. Note also the welded non-standard stowage bin on the hull with the lid missing. Also note the squashed headlamp, which has strangely been moved to the other side of the hull. Source: Charlie Pritchett via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.
Front view of the above. Source: Charlie Pritchett via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Different view of the above. Note the damaged hull stowage box. Note also the UTZ 183 fuel tanks and rear hinges. Below the handrail on the side of the superstructure, one can also see a small arms fire penetration. Source: Charlie Pritchett via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Different view of the above – engine deck details. One can clearly see that the deck’s covers have been cut off to allow the turret to traverse. Note also the turret lock frame. Source: Charlie Pritchett via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Different view of the above. Turret interior details as viewed from behind. Source: Charlie Pritchett via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

Different view of the above. Turret interior details as viewed from the front. Source: Charlie Pritchett via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.
Side view of the ‘Type 63/65 SPAAG’ when it was on display at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Source: globalsecurity.org

Rear view of the above. Note the non-standard k bracket just above left gear cover. Source: globalsecurity.org

Type 63/65 SPAAG after arriving in Bayonne, New Jersey, USA in 1975. Note that the superstructure is traversed around completely. Source: ‘AFV G2 Volume 5 Number 12 (May-June 1977)’.

A Polish-built T-34-85M1 formerly operated by the NVA on display at the Tank Museum, Beijing. This was captured by the Chinese PLA during the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979). Fittingly, it is on display next to T-62 “545”, which was captured by the PLA during the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict (1969). Source: Zack Vincent Sex via the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.
Sources:
Green, Michael, Armoured Warfare in the Vietnam War: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2014).
AFV G2 Volume 5 Number 12 (May-June 1977)
Skulski, Przemyslaw, T-34-85: Camouflage & Markings 1946-2016 (Sandomierz: Mushroom Model Publications, 2018).
Intelligence Memorandum: Communist Military Aid Deliveries to North Vietnam During 1968 (A declassified CIA report dated May 1969).
worldwariiafterworldwarii.wordpress
Special thanks to the members of the ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook for their comments.
For sources of rumours on the vehicle, see:

AFV G2 Volume 5 Number 12 (May-June 1977)
Chant, Christopher, A Compendium of Armaments and Military Hardware (London: Routledge, 2014). (Routledge Revival e-book of the original 1987 book).
The Type 63 SPAAG on globalsecurity.org
The Type 63 on Wikipedia
The Type 63 on Militaryfactory.com
The Type 65 on wiki.warthunder.com (Note: In a separate article, the developers of the game note some more accurate conclusions)

Categories
Cold War Chinese Fake Tanks

Type T-34 (Fake Tanks)

Chinese PLA
Medium Tank

Fake Until Proven Real

“Type T-34” is a made-up designation for the T-34/76 in Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) service. The only suggestion of the PLA operating the T-34/76 comes from the video game, World of Tanks, and their Chinese client company, Kongzhong. It is claimed that these tanks were supplied to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) in the early 1950s by the USSR, along with thousands of other tanks. Whilst it is true that the PRC was sold as many as 3000 AFVs in the years 1950-1955, neither company can provide any proof for the T-34/76 being included in these arms sales. As such, the use of the T-34/76 by the PLA can only be concluded to be a hoax, intended as a credible means of filling up the World of Tanks “Chinese tech tree”, which is riddled with both historical inaccuracies and pure fantasies but remains presented as historical fact, rather like the rest of the game.

Supposed History

World of Tanks gives the following information for historical background to the “Type T-34”:
Among the 1,800 T-34 tanks supplied by the U.S.S.R. to China in the early 1950s, there was a number of T-34-76s. After the tanks saw service in the PLA, almost all of them were sent to North Korea. The usefulness of these tanks was extended by Chinese-designed upgrades, including a new engine and modernized suspension.

Reality

Known T-34 Exports

The T-34/76 was a fairly rare export compared to the T-34-85 but still made its way to various countries including (but not limited to) North Vietnam, East Germany, (who used theirs mainly for training), Poland, Czechoslovakia, and North Korea. As such, it is plausible that other countries, such as the PRC, received the T-34/76.
However, arms sales from the USSR that took place between 1950 and 1955 are not recorded as including the T-34/76. Dr. Martin Andrew (a historian of the PLA) reports that the PRC received 1837 T-34-85s, 82 IS-2s, 40 ISU-122s, 67 ISU-152s, 99 SU-100s, and 704 SU-76s between 1950-1954, as well as 89 ARVs at least some of which (possibly even most) were based on the T-34 chassis (some others were based on the ISU chassis – at least two; almost certainly more). These numbers are estimates, and other sources have slightly different figures. For example, Zhang Zhiwei (author of The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1949) claims that the PRC received as many as 1964 T-34-85s by 1955. Regardless of exact figures, Dr. Andrew advises that there is no evidence of the PLA receiving the T-34/76, or any suggestion predating World of Tanks that he is aware of.
Furthermore, if “almost all” of the alleged PLA’s T-34/76s were sent to North Korea, then this raises two questions: ‘Where are the implicit rest of these tanks?’ and ‘Why has no evidence of these tanks (which were “later given new engine[s] and modernized suspension[s]“) come to light?’
In reality, North Korea received all of its tanks directly from the USSR in February 1950, when a military advisory group was sent along with small arms, aircraft, artillery, and other military equipment types. This was enough to equip eight field divisions and other combat units consisting of 100,000 men. A such, the idea that all North Korean T-34/76s are actually ex-Chinese T-34/76s falls flat.

Chinese Upgrades?

The suggestion of the T-34/76 receiving Chinese-designed upgrades sounds highly dubious, too. The only known Chinese upgrade to the T-34 is the Type 58 upgrade standard of the T-34-85, and this did not include a suspension upgrade. The context of the World of Tanks description does not make clear if the Chinese designed upgrades were done to the remaining Chinese T-34/76s, or North Korea’s T-34/76s. Some images of North Korean T-34/76s in the post-Korean War era indicate that some modernization features were added such as sidesaddle fuel tanks, starfish roadwheels (first introduced by the Soviets in 1969), and perhaps some other smaller details. It is plausible that these upgrades were designed with Chinese assistance, which might be the source of this suggestion, but very little is known about the post-1953 service of North Korean T-34/76s, and there is nothing to suggest that their suspensions have been upgraded based on the highly limited evidence that there is.
Furthermore, in World of Tanks, the “Type T-34” can be fitted with a 57mm gun designated “55-57FG”, which appears to be a copy of the Soviet 57mm ZiS-4. Without a doubt, this is not real because the Soviets abandoned the 57mm gun for tank use in 1943, as it was considered obsolete. Having said this, the PLA is known to have fitted an unknown number of LVT(A)-4s and LVT-4s with 57mm ZiS-2 and 76mm ZiS-3 field guns in the 1950s, but details around these conversions are lacking. Regardless, these LVT conversions were done using Soviet-supplied field guns and should not be used as even circumstantial evidence of the Chinese developing their own 57mm tank guns, which, again, would have been totally obsolete by the 1950s for anti-tank duties. As such, the LVT conversions were most likely a means of having mechanized artillery as opposed to tank destroyers.

Name

The name “Type T-34” seems rather dubious as no sources pre-dating World of Tanks make reference to this name. It is likely that name was made up by World of Tanks and/or Kongzhong to distinguish the vehicle from the Soviet T-34/76 in their video game.
For reference, the designation “T-34/76” is also a fairly modern designation. The USSR used “T-34” to refer to the /76 variant, and “T-34-85” to refer to the 85mm gun variant in Divisional records. However, sometimes these are not differentiated in historical documents. In such documents, unless a reference is made to ammunition type, it is difficult to be sure which variant is being referred to. Therefore, documents with “T-34” written are not sufficient proof enough of a Chinese T-34/76 unless guns and/or munitions are also explicitly referenced, or other contextual details suggest the /76 variant.

Korean War museum T-34/76, Liaoning Province

There is a widely circulated photograph of what appears to be a Factory 183 built T-34/76 in the Korean War Memorial Hall in Dandong city, (Liaoning province, PRC) which is sometimes cited as evidence of PLA T-34/76s. In short, the vehicle’s provenance is somewhat unclear, but its construction suggests it to be a modern rebuild for museum purposes as opposed to a former PLA-operated vehicle.

A T-34/76 (most likely Factory 183 built) in the Korean War Museum in Dandong, Liaoning Province, PRC. The tank is made from a mixture of odd parts and is clearly not original. The SU-100 may actually be Chinese, as 99 were sold to China by the USSR in 1954. This SU-100, like the T-34, does not have any apparent PLA markings. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.
The vehicle is made from a mixture of odd parts such as T-34-85 modernization wheels (almost certainly modern acquired, as they were made in 1969 at the height of the Sino-Soviet Split), the tracks are T-55 style, the sprocket is also from a T-55, the engine deck handrails are non-standard (probably handmade), and there is also a T-55 searchlight cage on the glacis plate (next to the driver’s hatch)Most tellingly, the tank has a pressed turret’s gun mantlet, but the tank is a soft-edge turret – this indicates that the tank is an inaccurate museum restoration, and may be simply a Type 58 made to look like a T-34/76 using parts which (may) have been acquired recently. That said, the handrails on the hull are typical of T-34/76s (although they may be handmade), and the hull machine gun position may also be that of a T-34/76 tank (this is not entirely clear, as the only indicator of this would be the casting nubs, not visible in these photos). It is therefore also possible that the hull is a T-34/76 hull that was acquired recently but has nevertheless been restored inaccurately. It is even possible that this tank was acquired from North Korea, as some modern footage shows a North Korean T-34 to have very similar production features to this T-34.
Most tellingly of all, the vehicle also does not have any PLA markings on it, thus suggesting that the tank is not intended to portray a PLA T-34/76, but may instead be intended to portray a North Korean T-34/76.
It can therefore be concluded that this tank is a post-Korean War acquisition that underwent an inaccurate restoration for museum purposes and should not be seen as evidence of the PLA operating T-34/76s.

The Historiographical Problem

As indicated, the crux of the issue is that there is no credible evidence (be it photographic or literary) to suggest any T-34/76s being used by the PLA that is available for scrutiny by non-Chinese historians. As mentioned, Soviet evidence for arms sales to China which indicates T-34/76s being sold is also lacking.
Kongzhong are reportedly able to access Chinese military archives and report what they find to Wargaming in order to make Chinese tanks for the video game. It is said that Kongzhong’s researchers are only allowed to take personal handwritten notes whilst researching, and materials found in the archive cannot be reproduced (which is the case with many archives). As such, the existence of the “Type T-34” hinges on the word of Kongzhong, which is highly problematic.
Kongzhong is known to frequently take substantial creative liberties, or even to totally make up Chinese tanks (for examples of this, see the Type 59-Patton, 121B, WZ-132A, WZ-132-1, and the ‘tank destroyer tree’ which is filled with imaginary riffs on existing or semi-existing chassis), meaning that their credibility as a historical source is completely lacking. World of Tanks, too, is infamous for being jam-packed with fake tanks (a jarring example being the G.W. E-100, amongst many others), and having tanks operated by the wrong country (for example, the 10.5cm leFH 18/3 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen B2(f) being in French service). Given that World of Tanks also has this reputation, they cannot be trusted as a credible source either. Such imaginations are not in of themselves an issue, but their presentation as real tanks is.
In sum, no credible evidence to suggest the existence of the “Type T-34”, or any of these supposed Chinese upgrades, is available to non-Chinese historians, and with the claim being made by two companies of dubious reputations as historical sources, it can only be concluded that the “Type T-34” does not exist until further evidence is put forward and evaluated.
 


Artist’s interpretation of a T-34/76 (produced by Factory 174, Omsk) painted in regular PLA colors based on T-34-85s as seen on National Day parades in the 1950s.

Artist’s interpretation of a T-34/76 (produced by Factory 174, Omsk) painted in typical PLA camouflage as seen on Chi-Ha Shinhotos and a T-26 M1937 on the 1st October 1949 foundation of the PRC parade. The same scheme has been seen on Type 59s in the early 1960s on National Day parades.
Both tanks were illustrated by Tank Encyclopedia’s own Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis based on technical drawings by Mark Rethoret.
Image result for Type t-34
The ‘Type T-34’ as it appears in World of Tanks.

T-34/76 (an inaccurate rebuild of a Factory 183 tank) in the Korean War Museum in Dandong, Liaoning Province, PRC, albeit at a different point in time to the other photo in this article. The tank is wrongly labelled as a T-34-85. Unfortunately, the plaque gives no hints as to the tank’s origin, but merely generic (if somewhat inaccurate) information about the T-34. Put simply, this tank is not proof of the Chinese PLA operating a T-34/76 because it is a modern restoration and rebuild for the museum. Source: ‘Surviving T-34/76 Tanks.pdf

‘Type 58’ ‘404’ in the Beijing Tank Museum. To its right is a Type 59, followed by two M3A3 Stuarts. Source: ‘T-34 Interest Group’ on Facebook.

A still from a North Korean propaganda film, reportedly from the 1960s, showing two T-34/76s. The tank in the foreground has a turret manufactured at Factory 112 (Krasnoye Sormovo), but also shows signs of T-34-85 modernisation such as sidesaddle fuel tanks (112 did issue some tanks of this type with this fuel tank arrangement, but most were post-WWII upgrades) and starfish roadwheels which were first introduced in 1969. The tank in the background has a ‘hexagonal’ style turret and also sidesaddle fuel tanks. The North Koreans are believed to have been supplied their T-34/76s by the USSR via China as an intermediary. Source: wwiiafterwwii.wordpress
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A Soviet-made T-34T Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) in the Beijing Tank Museum. Up to 79 ARVs were supplied to the USSR between 1950 and 1954, most of which were T-34-based. Source: militaryreview.su 
The museum’s information panel reports the following:
“T-34 Tank Recovery Vehicle is a technical support vehicle produced in 1940s by the former Soviet Union. This vehicle began to enter service with Soviet Army in 1940, and was withdrawn from service in the late 1960s. T-34 Tank Recovery Vehicle, as a support vehicle for T-34 tank, is used for towing and recovering the trapped, toppled, or damaged tanks in the war. In 1950s, China began to buy this vehicle and put them into service with PLA, now all the vehicles are phased out of service. The vehicles bought by China went into the front line of Korean War together with Chinese volunteer troops, and played a significant role in the technical support in the war.
Specifications: Combat weight: 22-25 tonnes. Max speed: 55km/h. Max range: 300km. Max traction: 1584N(14t). Armament: 1 x 7,62mm machine gun.”
Source: Beijingman.blogspot


One of Kongzhong’s blatant imaginations – the so-called ‘T-26G FT’ as it appears in the video game ‘World of Tanks’. World of Tanks reports that “during the 1946–50 civil war, a number of vehicles were captured by the People’s Liberation Army in eastern China in 1949. In 1950, they were used as a basis for the creation of at least two modifications of tank destroyers.” In reality, three T-26s were captured from the Kuomintang (Nationalists) during the Huai Hai Campaign (6th November 1948 – 10th January 1949) one of which was pressed back into service and was photographed on the October 1st 1949 Victory Parade in Beijing. It is likely that this tank was phased out shortly after, seeing as though Soviet arms sales of more modern tanks began in 1950. Some other T-26s were captured during the Civil War, but appear to have been lost before October 1949. The other two vehicles may have been wrecked beyond repair. There are other vehicles that World of Tanks suggests the PLA used but there is no proof for, such as the Renault NC-31.
Discussion with Francis Pulham regarding T-34 production variants.
Discussion with Dr. Martin Andrew regarding Chinese T-34s and Soviet arms sales to the PLA.
Special thanks to Leo Guo for providing translations.
Special thanks also to the members of the “T-34 Interest Group” on Facebook for their comments.
Tuo Mao: the Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army“, PhD dissertation by Martin Andrew, submitted to Bond University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2008.
The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1949” by Zhang Zhiwei, Humanism Print.
Worldoftanks.eu
Beijingman.blogspot
Chinese Tanks Q&A with Will Kerrs” – thearmoredpatrol.com
“KongZhong: WG’s Certified Fake Tanks Provider” – thearmoredpatrol.com

Categories
China Pre-1950

M4A2 Sherman (Chinese Service)

republican flag Republic of China (1947-1949?) – 7? Donated
 Chinese PLA (C. 1949) – At least 1 captured
Medium Tank

From USMC to KMT to PLA

The only known photograph of a Chinese M4A2 (Sherman) shows one in PLA (People’s Liberation Army) service on a victory parade in 1949, apparently with a non-standard main gun. The history of this specific tank, with the  serial number “012403”, is not fully known. However, the only other confirmed user of the M4A2 in China was the United States Marine Corps’ 1st Tank Battalion, who were repatriating the Japanese after WWII, thus giving some clues as to the origin of “012403”. However, as this article will show, more questions are raised than answered about the history of the M4A2 in China.

Context: The Chinese Civil War

The Chinese Civil War was a struggle between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalists (the Kuomintang / KMT / Guomindang / GMD) which began as early as 1927. Typically, however, the Chinese Civil War refers to the period of 1945-1949, which led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the Republic of China in Formosa (Taiwan).
For an excellent introduction to the Chinese Civil War, see “Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950” by Odd Arne Westad.

USMC M4A2s in China, 1945-1947

Prior to the discovery of the photo of “012403”, the only M4A2s in China were thought to belong to the USMC’s 1st Tank Brigade, who were part of a repatriation programme to return Japanese nationals home.

Context: Japanese Repatriations from China

At the end of WWII, an estimated 1.5-1.6 million Japanese were left in China, with 1.1 million being in Manchuria (formerly Manchukuo), and just over 500,000 in other areas (overwhelmingly these were in Formosa, nowadays Taiwan, with 479,000, but Hong Kong and other areas also hosted thousands).
In the years 1945-1948, a mass repatriation effort was initiated by the United States under Kuomintang auspices to repatriate those nationals back to Japan. This was chiefly because it was in the US’s interests to have a strong central government in China – regional instability would be intolerable as it may lead to further war – but also it was necessary for that government to be headed by the KMT because of the threat of communist expansion in the region, especially considering the Soviet invasion of Manchuria (9-20 August 1945) and its subsequent occupation. The existence of so many Japanese nationals with an effective refugee status presented questions of law and order, and therefore the KMT regime’s stability. Similarly, these nationals presented an implicit threat to the KMT because many of them had extensive military, economic, and technical expertises, and could be used as pawns in the civil war by the Communists. This fear was not unfounded, as on at least one occasion the Communists were able to force Japanese technicians to repair tanks to equip the first ever armored division of the PLA. (See Gongchen Tank for more).
The resumption of the Chinese Civil War in 1946 meant that the potential for trouble between the Japanese, CCP (Chinese Communist Party), and the Kuomintang was high. Even without the outbreak of war, such a large number of people would need policing by the military to maintain order. Therefore, repatriations in northern China were highly militarised and done with the supervision of US Marines.

The 1st Tank Battalion in China

Included in the USMC’s efforts in northern China were the 1st and 6th Tank Battalions. The former was equipped with M4A2 Shermans and the latter with M4A3s. Towards the end of WWII, the M4A2 was being phased out of US service because of its diesel engine. Put simply, diesel engines complicated logistics because most other US vehicles were petrol-fuelled, meaning that two types of fuel would have to be supplied if the M4A2 was kept in service. Therefore, it was logical to phase the tank out as soon as possible.
The 1st TB was left with only seven M4A2s after the Battle of Okinawa (April-June 1945), along with some M4A2 wrecks, but was not immediately re-equipped with new tanks. This is because the Battalion was not expected to participate in fighting immediately after the Battle of Okinawa. Instead of being earmarked for participation in the next major part of the war against Japan, Operation Olympic (an invasion of Kyushu scheduled for November 1945), the 1st TB was instead going to participate in the later Operation Coronet, a landing at the Kanto Plain near Tokyo which was scheduled for some-time in 1946. As a result, sending the 1st TB new equipment was not a priority and no immediate plans were drawn up for the re-equipment of the 1st TB. However, these Operations were scrapped due to the surrender of Japan in September 1945, and the 1st TB was scheduled for deployment to China as part of aforementioned repatriation operations in October.
For this, the 1st TB was originally going to be reequipped with new M4A3 (105)s, which were stored among new and old equipment in the 5th Depot in Guam. However, when these tanks were requested by the 1st TB, the Lieutenant-Colonel in charge of the depot claimed he did not have them in his inventory. After protests by the 1st TB, the Lieutenant-Commander of the depot was reprimanded by Lieutenant-General Keller E. Rockey, and the base was searched. Sixty M4A3 (105)s were found, but too late to be prepared for deployment to China due to the debacle. As a result, the 1st TB’s M4A2s were sent from Okinawa to China instead.
The 1st TB had its headquarters in Tianjin (Tienstin) from October 1945 until May 1947. They made regular convoys of trucks between Tianjin and the 5th Marines’ garrison in Beiping (nowadays Beijing), a journey of roughly fifty miles. These convoys were mail and supply runs, typically carrying drivers only.
Robert M. Neiman, the commanding officer of the 1st TB, records in his memoirs that one of these convoys was stopped by a fallen tree in the road (the date is not given, but presumably this is before he went back to the US, working in insurance and lumber industries some-time in 1946). When the drivers tried to remove the tree, they came under fire from unknown assailants (possibly bandits or even Communist guerrillas) forcing them to return to Tianjin. As a result, a platoon of M4A2s (reported as ‘almost half of the available tanks’ by Neiman) was attached to the convoy including one with a dozer-blade. When the tanks arrived at the scene, the tree was still in place, and the dozer tank went to move it. The convoy then came under small arms fire again (believed to be just from mere rifles), but the assailants were sent running by the 75mm guns of the tanks. Several tanks were left there to camp the night, surrounded by some concertina wire with noisemakers attached to them. That same night, the noisemakers were set off and the M4A2s lit up their headlights and fired their machine guns, killing ‘a couple of intruders’. From then on, convoys were escorted by tanks, but these tanks were worn-out. Therefore, they were sent out in sections to this camp from Tianjin or Beiping, so that no tank had to cover the full distance in a single run.

Changing Ownership

The 1st TB was eventually relieved from China and sent to Guam in January 1947, except for Company B. Company B remained in China presumably until May 1947, when the entire Battalion was sent back to the US mainland (except Company A, which presumably stayed in Guam). The KMT was handed control over the 1st TB’s camp, likely in January 1947, and was later given the M4A2s when the new M4A3 (105)s arrived for the 1st TB as replacements (presumably these were for Company B and arrived in January 1947) – consider also that the USMC wanted to phase the tank out anyway. It is unknown, however, whether the KMT ever fielded these M4A2s.
Regardless, at least one M4A2 was captured by the PLA, but exactly when, where, how, and if any others were captured remains unclear.

Number of M4A2s

With the 1st TB: In 1944, the average USMC Tank Battalion would have had 46 tanks, but it is unlikely that by 1947 the 1st TB fielded this many. Tanks, especially larger vehicles such as Shermans, are known to have been particularly strained by the Chinese climate, meaning that many would have needed serious repairs. (For an example of the Chinese climate’s effects on tanks, see the Panzer I in KMT service). Seven tanks were serviceable after the Battle of Okinawa, which may give a very rough indication on numbers. Neiman’s memoirs seem to indicate there to have been no less than a dozen tanks.
With the KMT: When the tanks were given to the KMT, they almost certainly did not come with spare parts and maintenance equipment. This means that of the tanks left by the 1st TB, only some of them are likely to have been serviceable, and for how long these tanks could be kept running is unclear. Nota bene – There is no evidence that the KMT even used these tanks at all.
With the PLA: Rather like the PLA’s T-26 M1937, it is very possible that there was only one M4A2 which made it into the PLA. Other M4A2s that were left for the KMT may have been destroyed in combat, too badly damaged, or in need of far too many repairs to be pressed back into service.

Where, when, and how

Neiman remarks that the Chinese Communists eventually captured the 1st TB’s camp after it was given to the KMT, which he believes explains the M4A2 in the Beijing Tank Museum (see below). However, this may not necessarily account for every M4A2’s loss, seeing as though there must have been more than one.
The PLA did not come to control Beiping and Tianjin until January 1949 (as part of the Pingjin Campaign, November 1948 – January 1949), meaning that if the KMT fielded these tanks (indeed, a large ‘if’), then the M4A2s could have been captured at any point between May 1947 (when the 1st TB withdrew) and October 1949 (when the Chinese Civil War ‘ended’), and at any possible front.
However, with regards to the only known M4A2 in PLA service, “012403”, it is most likely that the tank was captured directly from the 1st TB’s former base(s), like Neiman suggests for the one in the Beijing Tank Museum, which is likely to be the very same tank (see below).

M4A2 ‘012403’ of the PLA

One sole photo shows M4A2 “012403” of the PLA’s East China Field Army in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, circa October 1st, 1949. The tank is on a local parade for the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (the main parade took place in Beijing), and the vehicle’s markings reflect this. All PLA tanks around this time appear to have been marked with the large ‘8-1 star’ (typically on the turret), and the six-digit serial number stencilled on the vehicle in white (typically on the hull). It is unclear if the tank was repainted to the common ‘PLA tank green’, but quite probable given the other decorations.
Some of the vehicle’s technical features (such as the radio mount) are hard to see, not only because of the low resolution of the image, but also because the men on the tank obscure them. Nevertheless, the tank also appears to have some type of box attached to the rear of the engine deck – likely a locally-built stowage box set, perhaps for fuel cans. This remains a mystery, however.

012403’s Main Gun

Whilst ‘012403’ clearly has a heavy machine gun mounted on the turret rear (almost certainly an M2 .50cal), it does not appear to have the standard main gun. There is something in its place which resembles a gun of a much smaller caliber.
Exactly what this new gun is has attracted some debate, with suggestions including: 1. A second M2 .50cal machine gun in a non-standard mount. 2. A 20mm gun of some sort. 3. A Ha-Go’s 37mm gun. 4. A dummy gun for parade purposes. Again, the quality of the image makes it very difficult to suggest any of these with any degree of certainty.
Close analysis of the photo suggests that the original M34A1 mantlet is in place, thus the most likely conclusion is that the gun is simply a dummy gun for the parade. Having established that the gun is a dummy, with part of the original mantlet in place, this means that the M4A2 Sherman in the Beijing Tank Museum is almost certainly ‘012403’ (see below).
It is unclear why the main gun might have been modified. It is possible that the gun was damaged during a battle, whether in service with the USMC, KMT, or PLA. However, more likely is that ‘012403’ may have had its original main gun removed by the KMT and taken as a spare part, or destroyed by the KMT to prevent the PLA from capturing and reusing the vehicle. ‘012403’ may never have actually been operational with the KMT at all, because when the USMC left it behind, it could have been wrecked beyond their repair capabilities but needed scuttling all the same. This may also explain the lack of evidence for the KMT use of the M4A2s. PLA engineers, nonetheless, may have decided and been able to repair at least one M4A2 and replace the missing main gun with something – as mentioned, most likely a dummy gun.

Standard M4A2 Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 5.84 x 2.62 x 2.74 m
19’2” x 8’7” x 9′
Total weight, battle ready 30.3 tons (66,800 lbs)
Crew 5 (Commander, Driver, Assistent Driver/Bow Gunner, Loader, Gunner)
Propulsion General Motors 6046 twin inline diesel engine; 375 hp (280 kW)
Transmission Spicer manual synchromesh transmission, 5 forward and 1 reverse gears
Maximum speed 22–30 mph (35–48 km/h)
Suspension Vertical Volute Spring (VVSS)
Armament (Standard) Main: 75mm Tank Gun M3 Sec: 1x Browning M2HB 50. cal (12.7mm), 2 x cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4
Number in Service Unknown


Artist’s rendition of the M4A2 ‘012403’ of the PLA’s East China Field Army in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, circa October 1st, 1949.

The only known photo of the Chinese use of an M4A2 Sherman. This one is in PLA service in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, circa October 1st 1949. Source: xdza.gov.cn

M4A2 in the Beijing Tank Museum

There is an M4A2 on display in the Beijing Tank Museum, which is missing its main gun. This tank used to have a barrel of an M4A2(76) fixed in place (probably captured during the Korean War 1950-1953, seeing as though China would not have come into contact with such a gun elsewhere), but this has since been removed by the museum. It is also painted in US livery, but the markings do not match ‘102632’ of the 1st TB in Tianjin. The tank was also fitted with a T6 flotation device, as evidenced by weldpoints across the tank (see photos). The sum of these details indicate that the tank has been inaccurately restored.
Regardless, it is certain that this is one of the M4A2s left behind by the 1st TB. Again, Neiman remarks that the Chinese Communists eventually captured the 1st TB’s camp after it was handed over to the KMT, which explains where this M4A2 came from. No M4A2s are known to have been fielded in Korea by the US, thus ruling out the idea that it was captured there like other vehicles in the museum such as the M26 Pershing, M4A3E8, M24 Chaffee, M36 Jackson, M19 GMC, among others. The tank being sourced otherwise, such as through the Lend-Lease programme, is impossible (see below).
If the US colors were original, it would affirmatively indicate that the KMT never used the tank, and that it could have been beyond their repair capabilities and scuttled. When the Beijing museum restores tanks, it is known to usually keep the tanks in the colors of their last user, even if the exact scheme is slightly wrong (for example, some PLA Type 58s were painted in anachronistic three-tone camouflage). Therefore, it could then be argued that this tank was never used by the KMT because it retained its US colors. The upshot of this hypothesis is that the original main gun may have therefore been taken by the KMT as a spare for serviceable vehicles, or even destroyed as part of a scuttling effort. As mentioned, this could well be the case for ‘012403’, too. However, this hypothesis rests on the flimsy assumption that the museum restored it accurately – to be clear it seems odd that the tank would have been repainted into US colours, in contrast to other vehicles in the museum, such as the Chi-Ha tanks, M3A3 and M5A1 Stuarts, which retained their PLA colors – but this M4A2 seems to be an exception, especially considering that the paint scheme does not match ‘102632’. 
As a result, the more likely theory is that the tank is ‘012403’ itself because of the distinctive missing main gun. The upshot of this is that ‘012403’ therefore definitely had a dummy gun placed into the remainder of the original barrel for the parade as opposed to being fitted with a new main gun. Further conclusions are difficult to make with such scant evidence. It also remains unclear why this tank, and not others, was repainted into US colors, when other tanks retained their PLA colors.

M4A2 on display in the Beijing tank museum. Source: flamesofwar.com

Different view of the above, with evidence of a T6 flotation device having been fitted, as highlighted in red. Source:  the.shadock.fr
M4A2 75mm
Different view of the above, at an earlier point in time. The vehicle also has evidence of a T6 flotation device on the rear right-side Source: the.shadock.fr

The same M4A2 as above, but with the 76mm barrel added. It is believed that this was part of an inaccurate restoration using a gun captured in the Korean War. Source: “The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1949” by Zhang Zhiwei.

M4A2 ‘102632’ of the USMC’s 1st TB in Tianjin, date unknown. Note that the markings do not match the M4A2 in the Beijing Tank Museum. Source: com-central.net

M3A3 Stuart in the Beijing Tank Museum, which retained its PLA colors. Source: Beijingman.blogspot

Lend-Lease Programme?

M4A2s cannot originally have come to China via Burma as part of the Lend-Lease programme to the Kuomintang, because no M4A2s were included in this. Moreover, the M4A4 Shermans left operational in Burma were taken back by the US as part of an attempt to avoid escalation of hostilities in China leading up to the resumption of the Civil War in 1946.
On the other hand, 4,100 M4A2 Shermans were sent to the USSR, but it is unlikely that this is where the PLA got any M4A2 from, as the USSR did not deal arms to the Chinese Communists until 1950 due to Soviet policy on the Chinese Civil War. The USSR is, however, reported to have given the PLA weapons captured during the Soviet occupation of Manchuria including small arms and even Japanese tanks.

Conclusions

The KMT was given an unknown number of M4A2 Shermans from the USMC’s 1st TB circa 1947. These tanks were worn out and perhaps beyond KMT’s repair capabilities, meaning that the KMT might have never even used them. A single M4A2 is known to have been in PLA service – ‘012403’, which was probably captured near Tianjin. This tank has dummy gun stuck in the remains of the original barrel most likely for parade purposes. This M4A2 eventually found its way to the Beijing Tank Museum, probably following Soviet arms sales to the PLA in the 1950s, at which point much materiel captured during the Civil War, including Japanese tanks, were phased out. The tank was inaccurately restored with US colors for an unknown reason whilst at the museum. As such tentative conclusions suggest, further sources on the Chinese use of M4A2s are wanting.

Links, Resources & Further Reading

The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1949” by Zhang Zhiwei
MacArthur in Japan: The Occupation: Military Phase: Volume I Supplement (Reports of General MacArthur)” by Douglas MacArthur
Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950” by Odd Arne Westad
Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War” by Robert M. Neiman
xdza.gov.cn
The author extends his thanks to Adam Pawley, Leigh Cole, and Stephen Wisker for their help on sources on the USMC’s 1st Tank Battalion, and Saúl García for comments on the technical features of M4A2s.


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American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

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Categories
WW2 Soviet Fake Tanks

T-26s with Kremlin Armory Cannons (Fake Tanks)

Soviet Union Soviet Union (1941)
SPG Concept – 0 Built

April Fools’

This article was originally published on Tanks Encyclopedia on 1st April 2018, as part of our April’s Fools Day celebrations. The information contained within is mostly fictional but some parts are actually true, such as the use of the prototype vehicles from Kubinka in combat, or the use of an antique cannon in the Syrian Civil War. Some other things are partly true, such as improvised AT mines made from tin cans, which actually happened at the siege of Odessa, 1941.

Old Weapons, New Invaders

Since the opening up of Soviet archives following the collapse of the USSR, all fields of history have been enriched by the flood of esoteric knowledge. In the field of military history, archival access has proven invaluable to those studying tank prototypes and concepts. In February 2018, Russian historian, Iourii Kasholot, announced he had found evidence of a previously unknown Soviet endkampf plan, regarding the fear of Moscow being entered by the Wehrmacht in 1941.
Among other things, the documents he found revealed that all of Moscow’s citizens, regardless of age and sex, would have been conscripted to fight in the Red Army and armed using archaic weapons of the Kremlin armory museum. Moreover, another suggestion of the plan was that if tanks began to run out of munitions, a new battalion should be formed of tanks equipped with gunpowder cannons from Kremlin armory stocks. As a result, the concept of T-26s with Kremlin Armory cannons was suggested. Even today in the Syrian Civil War, evidence of gunpowder cannons being used can be found, proving that archaic weapons are still relevant.
Fortunately, the plan was never implemented due to the German halt on 5th December 1941.

The Documents

The documents in question are the minutes and transcripts of a secret meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and some Marshals of the Soviet Union which took place on October 22nd 1941. This meeting took place following various early defeats around Moscow, such as the Red Army’s 21st Tank Brigade’s failed assault on Kalinin.
Unfortunately, the documents from the meeting themselves cannot be reproduced, rather like other secret documents such as those on Chinese prototype tanks destroyed in nuclear testing or blueprints of Japanese superheavy tanks. However, Kasholot provided some summaries with some direct quotes.
A basic outline of key points of this endkampf plan is thus:

  • All factories are to continue production of war materiel until they are captured or ‘turned to rubble’ (Rus: гребаный разбитый) and will be subordinated to a specific battalion’s needs. Reference here was made to avoiding supply problems as witnessed in Kiev in 1939, during mobilizations for the invasion of Poland.
  • All soldiers are to initially stand their ground in Moscow’s suburbs, fighting building by building.
  • If the suburbs of Moscow are captured, all remaining units must withdraw into the center.
  • Discussions were made on the possibility of total conscription of all civilians and arming them with weapons from the Kremlin armory, but no plans were agreed.
  • All armored vehicles were to withdraw to the Kremlin and fight from there.
  • A suggestion was made about equipping tanks with cannons from the Kremlin armory, but this appears to have been rejected in the meeting.
  • Scrap and prototype tanks from the Polygon were to be put into service (Note: this part of the plan was actually enacted in December 1941)
  • The destruction of all bridges and railway lines leading away from Moscow should take place following any Soviet withdrawal as part of a scorched earth policy.
  • Discussions of partisan operations following the capture of Moscow.
  • The relocation of the capital city to Kazan.
  • The possibility of negotiating a treaty with Hitler was mentioned but quickly dismissed by Stalin.

Mobilizing the People

During the Battle of Moscow, an estimated 250,000 women and teenagers had already been conscripted to build anti-tank fortifications and dig trenches at the Mozhaisk defense line, protecting the west of Moscow as far as Kalinin. All civilian production centers had long since been converted to wartime production.  By the start of October, twenty smaller factories were producing (or were at least organizing production of) weapons and munitions. Many of the weapons produced by these factories were improvised, such as trench flamethrowers made from soda water cylinders, and even AT and AP mines, made from tin cans (thus, somewhat humorously labeled ‘Caviar’, ‘Khalva’, etc). However, this was not seen as enough. 660,000 Red Army soldiers were already encircled at the towns of Vyzama and Briansk, approximately half of the Red Army’s overall manpower at the Battle of Moscow, meaning that more manpower might be necessary if the Wehrmacht were to advance further into Moscow.
According to transcripts provided by Kasholot, there was talk of ‘total conscription’ (Rus: каждый человек для себя) of all peoples in Moscow, regardless of age and sex. When Marshal Zhukov asked Stalin what the people were to be armed with, Stalin replied: ‘We had to find our own weapons in the civil war, now we have an entire armory [meaning the Kremlin armory] here in Moscow – find some old rifles and cannons – everything can be mobilised against the Fascists!

T-26s with Kremlin Armory Cannons

Discussions then went on to talk about the effectiveness of such a move and whether it was really worth risking the lives of civilians armed with outdated weapons against Panzer armies. After a while, Stalin suggested that if Moscow’s suburbs were breached, the citizen conscripts would not be fighting alone because tanks should be pulled back to the Kremlin walls to fight using indirect fire methods. Marshal Vasilevsky then replied that if the tanks pull back to the Kremlin, they would be useless because they would not have any munitions besides some machine guns.
Stalin replied that these tanks, too, can be armed with weapons from the Kremlin armory, suggesting that ‘If a huge blunderbuss is good enough for a small boy, then a great licorne is good enough for a T-26. We will defeat the invaders with the weapons that the last ones [IE, Napoleon, thus referring to Napoleonic war cannons] used!‘ Kasholot suggests that this caused a moment of silence at the meeting, before Stalin continued that such tanks could be converted even now, and form an independent battalion. However, the conversation was quickly moved on by Zhukov’s suggestion of taking prototype tanks out of the Polygon testing ground, and fielding them instead. This was agreed upon, and further matters were discussed.
Fortunately for the Politburo, and indeed, the citizens of Moscow, this endkampf plan as a whole came to nothing because the German advance was halted on 5th December. Soviet resistance and counter-offensives had managed to stave off attempted further German advances from mid-November. By this time, the cold weather had set in, and the winter of 1941-1942 was the coldest winter of the 20th century. As a result, no further German advances were attempted, and the Soviets began their successful counterattacks.

Prototypes in Combat

Despite the plan coming to nothing, one part was enacted. Between November and December 1941, various tanks were taken from the Polygon and were then pressed into service. This included regular vehicles in the scrapyard such as T-26s, which were reassembled from discarded parts, but also various prototype / experimental vehicles.
The T-100Y and SU-14 prototypes were used for indirect fire roles as part of an ‘Independent Artillery Division for Special Duties’ to the west of the Polygon at Kubinka. At least one SU-14 is believed to have engaged targets from a long range, but no further information on their combat is known. The T-100Y and one of the SU-14 prototypes stand today in Kubinka Tank Museum (the other SU-14 prototype was scrapped in 1960).
The T-29 medium tank, as well as the A-32 and A-20 (T-34 prototypes) are reported to have been fielded in 1942 as part of a special detachment, also. Information is limited, but the T-29 was last photographed at Zavod 100 in Chelyabinsk in 1942. It was recycled in 1943 along with several other experimental vehicles, including the KV-7.
 


Artist’s interpretation of a T-26 with a cannon from the Kremlin armory by Tank Encyclopedia’s own Amazing Ace.
Image result for kremlin arsenal guns
Example of a cannon at the Kremlin Armory, as used in the Napoleonic Wars. Source: russianreport.wordpress
Female Muscovite volunteer workers digging trenches for the defence of Moscow. Source: wikipedia.

The T-29 at Zavod 100, 1942. Source: Tankarchives.blogspot

Syrian Civil War antique cannons

The Rahman Corps, a Syrian rebel group in Damascus, was seen operating an antique cannon strapped to the rear of a lorry. Videos show the vehicle in use between July and November 2016. This proves that despite weapons being antiquated, they can still be viable for a war effort.

Rahman Corps footage of their antique cannon SPG, Damascus, July 2016.
Sources:
A summary of the transcript from a meeting of the Politburo of the CPSU, October 22nd 1941, provided by Iourii Kasholot
The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II” by Andrew Nagorski
Battle of Moscow 1941–1942: The Red Army’s Defensive Operations and Counter-offensive Along the Moscow Strategic Direction” by Richard W. Harrison
Rukkas, Andriy, ‘The Red Army’s Troop Mobilization in the Kiev Special Military District during September 1939’, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 16 (2003), 105-136.
Barnes, Steven, ‘All for the Front, All for Victory! The Mobilization of Forced Labor in the Soviet Union during World War Two’,  International Labor and Working Class History 58 (2000), 239-260.
tankarchives.blogspot
Note: The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the Tanks Encyclopedia team, or reality.

Categories
WW2 Spanish Tanks

Panzer I Breda

spanish nationalist flagNationalist Spain (1937-1939)
Light Tank Destroyer – 4 converted

The Nationalists Strike Back

The ‘Panzer I Breda’ (an unofficial name) is a rare conversion from the mid-Spanish Civil War. It was intended as a means of countering the Republican army’s Soviet-supplied vehicles (mainly the T-26 and BA-6). Nationalist forces only typically had CV-35s and Panzer Is armed with machine guns, which were not able to perform AT (anti-tank duties), and as a result, a proposal to mount a 20mm gun onto a tank chassis was put forward. However, as large numbers of captured Soviet-supplied material became available to the Nationalist forces, the Panzer I Breda was no longer required, and only four vehicles were converted. Two are known to have been knocked out before the end of the war, and it is quite possible that the other two did not survive either due to gun barrel damage.





Panzer I Breda “351” of the 3a Compañia (3rd Company, Command). Undated, unlocated. Usually, a black ‘M’ would denote ‘Mando’ (Command), but this vehicle has an ‘E’, believed to still indicate that it belonged to the Command unit. Artemio Mortera Perez, however, believes that this indicates it belongs to the 3a Sección (not least because it is sometimes pictured with a T-26 M1936 of 3a Compañia/3a Sección. The black ‘E’ in the white diamond may mean ‘Especial’ (Special), but this is not proven. This vehicle suffered a broken piston connecting rod on 26th January 1939, and on 28th March, the engine set on fire. The righthand side exhaust is also missing.

Context: First Nationalist encounter with a T-26

Even the most generalist histories on the Spanish Civil War remind the reader that with their 45mm guns, Soviet-built Republican vehicles were able to outfight Nationalist vehicles, which were armed with only machine guns. Moreover, Republican armored forces were also able to outfight Nationalist/Nationalist-allied forces at a basic level leading to unnecessary Nationalist losses, even despite losing the initiative, suffering significant losses to Condor Legion aerial attacks, and engaging in suicidal offensives (examples including the Battle of Brunete, 1937, and the Ebro Offensive, 1938).
Soviet military hardware for the Republicans arrived in Spain on October 4th, 1936, and the first Nationalist encounter with a T-26 tank is reported as taking place during one of two Republican counterattacks as late as late-October or early December 1936 at Seseña (situated south of Madrid, and northeast of Toledo). Nationalist forces also had to rely on towed artillery or exceptionally brave soldiers armed with local variants of the Molotov cocktail (as in this case) for AT duties, which was not considered viable.
Subsequently, the Nationalists had to develop an AFV that was able to provide significant AT duties that was at least on par with the Republican T-26 and BT-5. As a result, a proposal to mount a gun capable of AT duties onto an existing tank chassis was put forward.

The early design stages

Two 20mm guns were put forward for the conversion. These were the Flak 30 and the Breda Model 1935. Whilst both guns were capable of destroying armored vehicles from reasonable distances, the Breda was likely chosen because it was simpler in design and had fewer moving parts, meaning that the gun would be more reliable, and maintenance would be substantially easier.
In summer, 1937, a request was made to a delegation of the CTV (Corpo Truppe Volontarie, an Italian unit) to donate a CV-35 and a 20mm Breda Modelo 1935 gun to the Nationalist army for tests. CV-35 chassis number 2694 was eventually handed over and work began on installing the new gun.
Before the work was complete, Spanish Generals involved in the project decided that the developments seemed very promising, and as a result, General HQ ordered 40 more CV-35s to be modified. However, this order amounted to nothing because General García Pallasar wrote to General HQ about the possibility of having a 20mm gun mounted on a Panzer I, which he thought would be better as it is a much larger vehicle. This was accepted, and a request was made to a German delegation to transfer over a Panzer I for modification.

The Panzer I Breda is born

A Panzer I Ausf. A was transferred and modified with the new gun at some point before late September 1937. Importantly, the new Breda gun was given a gas protection shield, in order to prevent gas from leaking into the tank and harming the crew, and a gun shield for additional armor. The Panzer I’s turret had to be modified in order to mount the large 20mm gun, specifically to allow vertical aiming for its intended AT duties.
The turret of the Panzer I was enlarged for the purposes of mounting the new, larger gun by welding a new superstructure to the existing turret. The original gun mantlet was also removed and replaced by bolting on a much larger, curved mantlet. The original turret hatch was even retained and mounted on the new superstructure. A viewport was also cut into the structure which allowed the gun to be aimed.
By late September 1937, both the modified CV-35 and Panzer I were ready for trials and were then brought to the recently-captured city of Bilbao via lorries (as many tanks were transported in Spain).  Results of the tests showed that the modified Panzer I was the superior vehicle, likely owing to it having a traversable turret and more internal space. Shortly after tests ended, three more Panzer I Ausf. As were converted in the Fábrica de Armas in Seville, and other conversion tests on the Panzer I were later attempted (see sidenote below).
However, a spanner was thrown into the works by General Von Thoma, commander of the ground elements of the Condor Legion. The aforementioned viewport was simply just a hole and was therefore totally unarmored. As a result, it became the subject of significant criticism.

Condemnation from Von Thoma

One commonly mentioned reason as to why only four vehicles were built is that by 1938, the Nationalists had captured significant numbers of T-26s and BA-3/6s, which were being incorporated into the army. With their 45mm guns, these were superior in design to the Panzer I Breda, and therefore the vehicle was effectively redundant. The basic facts of this are correct – the Panzer I Breda was, indeed, made redundant, but this is not the real reason for the project’s termination. The suggestion in contemporary documentary evidence is clear in that Von Thoma was strongly opposed to the conversion because of the poor crew safety resulting from the unarmored viewport, and as a result, he was able to convince the Cuartel General del Generalissimo to cancel the order for more vehicles.
On 6th January 1938, General Pallasar ordered Tentiente Coronel Pujales, the commander of Agrupación de Tanques del Legion Española to deliver six more Panzer I Breda tanks. Two days later on 8th January, Von Thoma penned a letter with significant criticisms, stating: “The people who built it call it the ‘Death Car’“, suggesting that the vehicle’s aiming port, being just a hole, was insufficiently protected with no apparent solution. Von Thoma even reported that crew members refused to even get in the vehicles because they considered them so dangerously unprotected. He also stated, as a final nail in the coffin, that there were simply not enough tanks to go around, and the vehicles could not be spared for the conversion. As a result of this letter, the order for more conversions was canceled the following day by the Cuartel General of the Generalissimo.
General Pallasar was clearly unhappy with the decision and responded to Von Thoma’s complaint by asking General HQ a simple question. He asked whether it would be better to remove the only highly mobile AT duty tank they had, or to run the risk of some tank crewmen receiving injuries inside the tank because of a lucky rifle shot through the aiming port (which he even suggested should be closed until aiming was necessary in order to prevent this minuscule danger).
The Cuartel General del Generalissimo gave their reply on 24th January, suggesting that Von Thoma and Pallasar should see if mounting bulletproof glass over the hole, supplied by the Germans, would resolve the issue. It seems as though on 25th January, Pallasar agreed. The glass must have eventually been fitted, as Lucas Molina Franco (a modern scholar) reports an invoice for “Bullet-proof glass for tanks” costing a total of 4861.08 Reichsmarks.
Despite the effort to improve the safety of the crew, it seems as though no more vehicles were modified thanks to Von Thoma’s successful complaint campaign.
There is, indeed, a question to be asked on how genuine Von Thoma’s fears for crew safety were. An enemy rifleman being accurate or lucky enough to shoot through the small unarmored aiming port seems quite unlikely. It is entirely possible, given Von Thoma’s hint towards an insufficient number of German AFVs, that he was potentially trying to sell the Spanish more tanks – something which may not have happened due to the capture and integration of Soviet-supplied vehicles into the Nationalist army.

Operational organization of the Panzer I Breda

On 1st October 1937, the vehicles were supplied to Primer Batallón de Carros de Combate. On 1st March 1938, they were reassigned into Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión (which existed between 12th February 1938 and 31st November 1938). The Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión was formed by two Grupos which were subdivided into Compañias. 1a Compañia, 2a, and 3a were in 1er Grupo, and 4a, 5a, and 6a were in 2o Grupo. The Panzer I Bredas are believed to have been divided into these four Compañias:

  • 1a Compañia (Primera – First)
  • 2a Compañia (Segunda – Second) Note: It is possible that this may actually have been 5a, according to combat reports, see below.
  • 3a Compañia (Tercera – Third)
  • 4a Compañia (Cuarta – Fourth)

On 1st October 1938, the vehicles were reassigned to Agrupación de Carros de Combate de la Legión – apparently their final user.

Operational Colours and Identifying Individual Vehicles

The camouflage scheme of the Panzer I Breda has been the subject of significant speculation. The original chassis of the vehicle would have been the usual three-tone Buntfarbenanstrich – Panzer grey was not instituted until July 1940.
Over time, it is known that the vehicles would have their new turret superstructures painted (and the rest of the turret would also likely be homogenized). This means that there is quite a variety in camouflage schemes between all four vehicles, some of which are closer to the original Buntfarbenanstrich scheme than others. In any case, all of the vehicles appear to have used a three-tone scheme similar to Buntfarbenanstrich, using roughly the same colors (in reality, likely local Spanish military grade paints that were not quite the same shades as German paints).
Tactical / unit / operational markings also changed at least two or three times. Prior to December 1938, Spanish tanks used a letters system, whereby they would be given a letter of the alphabet to distinguish their units. After December 1938, a standardized system was put into place, whereby each tank had unit markings based on shapes – diamonds and circles, and were given a Spanish Legion marking in white. However, not all vehicles can be accounted for in both of these systems due to a lack of photographic evidence.
Regardless of the changes in camouflage and markings, by breaking them down into the Compañias system of Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión (for a standardization of reference), the following can be used as a general guide for differentiation between vehicles (attempting, as best as possible, to keep in mind that some vehicles may have changed Compañias):

  • 1a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda’s markings are unclear because of a lack of photos. According to one photo (far too grainy to be conclusive), there might have been a large ‘H’ in white on the upper glacis plate. There was also a Nationalist flag painted a few inches to the right of the driver’s viewport. It may generally be assumed that, like the other Panzer I Bredas, this tank was painted in a three-tone scheme of some sort.
  • 2a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda is shown in the little available photographs to have had a (faded) white ‘L’ on the lower glacis plate, and a Nationalist flag a few inches to the right of the driver’s viewport, with a small, white circle painted next to the flag. The ‘L’ indicates that these are the vehicle’s markings before December 1938, as from that date, the markings of Nationalist armor was being standardized from the original letters system into a numbers system. This tank is also believed to have had a three tone camouflage, painted on locally. The colors are likely to have been similar to Buntfarbenanstricht, but much more radiant. The new turret superstructure, for example, appears to have been painted with a very dark color (possibly dark green), whereas the rest of the vehicle is likely to be lighter green or sand and brown. In fact, one photo seems to indicate the hull to have retained the original Buntfarbenanstrich.
  • 3a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda is shown in extant photos to have had a white Spanish Legion symbol (a halberd and crown crossed with a crossbow, and blunderbuss) on the right hand side of the driver’s port, and a white diamond with a black letter ‘E’ in the middle of the diamond (possibly meaning ‘Especial’) on the right of the Spanish Legion symbol. It also had the number 531 in white on the upper glacis plate behind the central headlamp. These markings were painted on from any point after December 1938, and the vehicle likely had fewer markings before that date.
    The colour scheme visible in most photographs (likely painted also painted after December 1938) appears to be very close to the original Buntfarbenanstricht, except the white (or very light brown, as colour footage seems to indicate) stripes are much more radiant (most evidently on the turret and side of the hull). The turret also appears to have been painted darker. This may be an optical illusion caused by the painting of the same paint onto two different metal types (IE the original turret and the new superstructure), or perhaps even an effect caused (or exacerbated) by shadows resulting from the slight outwards sloping of the new superstructure.
    The vehicle is also missing its right-hand side exhaust pipe.
  • 4a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda had a large white cross on the hull below the driver’s port. Whilst it might seem to be an aerial recognition Saint Andrew’s Cross, it is actually more likely a unit marking pre-December, 1938. A Nationalist flag was also painted directly on the right of the driver’s port.
    The turret appears to be painted with a sort of ‘globular’ or ‘amoeba’ paint scheme, whereas the hull looks to be kept in its original Buntfarbenanstrich.
    According to one photograph, after transfer into Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión in March 1938, the tank had a crudely painted Cruz de Borgoña on the right side of the hull, (a red cross with a white background) indicating that the crew were Carlists. Carlist crews are known to often display their own insignia on their vehicles, even despite General Franco’s official orders for unity among the Nationalist. The photo also shows that the tank had a long Spanish Nationalist flag painted on the rear of the hull (above the engine deck, but below the turret). The only evidence for the vehicle with the Cruz painted on being from 4a Compañia’s is that Mortera Perez reports this vehicle to belongs to 2o Grupo de la Bandera de Carros (thus, if he is correct, it must belong to 4a Compañia, because 4a was the only Compañia in 2o Grupo with a Panzer I Breda). He also reports that the photo was taken after fighting at Vinaroz, thus on, or shortly after, April 15th, 1938, thus allowing us to date Cruz’s painting to around March 1938, when the tank was transferred into Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión.

Extant photos clearly do not show the full history of their paint schemes and markings, and it is probable that as more photos show up, it will become even more evident that as the vehicles saw more combat, additional lines, dots, and dashes may have been added to the paint scheme by the crew.
Consider also that photos may show the vehicles after long marches, from which sometimes a significant amount of dust would gather onto the hull, thus creating the appearance of the tanks being repainted. However, this is not always the case, and often, Buntfarbenanstricht is mistaken for dirt and dust, leading to many tanks being painted a dusty panzer grey by illustrators, scale modelers, and even Spanish museums such as at El Goloso.

Combat

Specific combat data on the Panzer I Breda is lacking. Whilst the vehicles undoubtedly saw combat, the majority of what can be ascertained is roughly where and when the vehicle was fielded, and with which units.
Some photos seem to indicate that the vehicle was sometimes dug into a position, camouflaged in shrubbery, and used as an ambush tank, but specific tactics are not recorded in any literary primary sources.

Panzer I Breda (believed to be of 2a Compañia but there are not enough identification details), camouflaged by shrubbery, likely for an ambush attack. Unknown date and location. As taken from “La Maquina y la Historia No. 2: Blindados en España: 1a. parte: La Guerra Civil 1936-1939” by Javier de Mazarrasa.
They were apparently first photographed in Guadalajara, and Soria, in December 1937, at which point, they would have been operated by Primer Batallón de Carros de Combate.
4a Compañia’s vehicle belonging to served throughout and survived the Aragon Offensive (March-April, 1938), as photos show one during the offensive, and at the end after fighting in Vinaroz.

Fate of the vehicles

None of the vehicles are believed to have survived the war due to their destruction or faulty guns.
2a/5a Compañia’s: One vehicle was fielded at the Battle of the Ebro (July-November, 1938), reportedly with the 5a Grupo de Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión (this is where the possibility of 2a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda actually being 5a Compañia comes from, or the probability of vehicles changing Compañia). During the Nationalist counter-offensive, on 6th August, three armored groups were formed under two Tentiente Coroneles (Lieutenant Colonels), Linos Lage, and Torrente y Moreno, who controlled sixteen vehicles consisting of T-26s and Panzer Is (one of which was a Panzer I Breda) belonging to the 2a, 3a, 5a, and 6a Compañias de Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legión. The offensive started at the Vesecri Plateu and eventually reached the River Ebro. During this counteroffensive, the Nationalists suffered four casualties – two wounded (one Captain, and one Legionary), and two dead (two Legionaries), resulting from the Panzer I Breda being “struck by an enemy projectile“. It is unclear if the vehicle was left operational or not.
4a Compañia’s (and likely 1a Compañia’s): On 19th November 1938, the gun of the Panzer I Breda from 4a Compañia (then fielded with 2a Batallón de Agrupación de Carros de Combate) was reported as having suffered an internal explosion. Two new guns were requested in a note of the Staff of the Jefatura de M.I.R. addressed to the Cuartel General del Generalissimo (dated in Burgos, 11th November 1938 – meaning either the date of the internal explosion or the date of the note is wrong). The chassis of multiple Panzer I Breda tanks were reported as in perfect condition. Two days later, General Pallasar replied that there were no more Breda Modelo 1935s available and that the broken guns on the vehicles should be sent to the artillery arsenal at Saragossa for repairs. No further information is available on this, but it seems to imply that two vehicles had broken guns, which was likely to be 4a and 1a Compañia’s, by deduction.
3a Compañia’s: On 26th January 1939, a piston connecting rod broke on the 3a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda in unreported circumstances. On 28th March, the engine caught fire, and the vehicle was disabled, also in unreported circumstances.

Conclusion

The Panzer I Breda, whilst quite a sound idea on paper, was evidently flawed because of the limitations of the chassis it was based on, and a handful of problems are apparent in the design. The Panzer I, without any modification to the armor, was clearly vulnerable to the guns of the Republican army’s Soviet-supplied vehicles. The Panzer I Breda’s turret was, even with the new superstructure, too small for the purpose, also. The somewhat feeble 20mm gun was also simply not on par with the 45mm gun of Soviet-supplied vehicles, and it seems apparent that there were not enough spare parts for the Panzer I Breda to be viable in the long term. Whether the aiming sight, even with the bulletproof glass, also made the conversions hazardous to the crew or not is debatable. Indeed, the capture and integration of Soviet-supplied tanks made the need for more vehicles redundant anyway.
With only four Panzer I Breda tanks built, the extent of the photographic evidence of the tank is quite surprising – an estimated thirty photos of the vehicle are known. Many of these are private photos taken by Condor Legion soldiers. It is quite probable, if not certain, that more Condor Legion private photos exist in other private collections which will reveal more on the still somewhat mysterious tanks.

Carro Breda
Panzer I Breda of 4a Compañia with a Cruz de Borgoña. The other side of the vehicle is shown in photos to have the Cruz, but it is possible that this side also had one. The camouflage scheme appears to be a locally painted amoeba pattern on the turret, painted over the original Buntfarbenanstrich, still visible in photos on the hull.

A depiction of 4a Compañía’s Panzer I Breda fictionally illustrated in a two-tone livery. The correct scheme should be three tone. This three tone scheme was, as indicated above, probably a mix of the usual three-tone Buntfarbenanstrich of pre-WWII Panzers on the hull, and a new scheme on the turret. The Cruz de Borgoña has also been mistaken for a typical aerial ID cross in this depiction.

Panzer I Breda, illustrated here in another fictional livery, likely based on 3a Compañía’s vehicle. The Panzergrey base is particularly anachronistic, but the sand stripes are in fact quite accurate. In reality, the scheme should, in fact, look more like this, with green, dark-grey-ish brown, and sand stripes.

Panzer I Breda “351” of the 3a Compañia (3rd Company) with a T-26 M1936 of the 3a Compañia/3a Sección, dated to some time between 1st December 1938, and 28th December 1939. Usually, a black ‘M’ would denote ‘Mando’ (Command), but this vehicle has an ‘E’, believed to still indicate it belonged to the Command unit. The ‘E’ in the white diamond may mean ‘Especial’ (Special), but this is not proven. Weld beads are also visible where the original turret meets the new superstructure.

A different view of the above, along with a Panzer I Ausf. B of 3a Compañia, Mando. From this angle, the white (or, again, very light brown) stripes and dots on the Panzer I Breda’s hull side and turret are clearly visible. As taken from “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 1a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.

Panzer I Breda, undated, unlocated. There is a flag on the vehicle’s mantlet, likely a signal flag. The vehicle is missing its right-hand side exhaust, indicating it to belong to 3a Compañia. This is likely from before December 1938, as the new camo scheme and markings seen in other photos are not visible in this photo. Source: Author’s collection.


A different view of the above. Source: Author’s collection.

Panzer I Breda from 2a Compañia, apparently marked with the letter ‘L’ on the lower glacis plate. at Guadalajara or Soria, December, 1937. As taken from “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 1a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.

Panzer I Breda reportedly of 2a Compañia, with the turret clearly showing a three-tone camouflage. This was almost certainly Buntfarbenanstrich, or, more likely a Buntfarbenanstrich scheme in non-standard and more radiant tones (as evidenced by the turret). The hull appears to have remained in the original Buntfarbenanstrich. Unknown date and location – possibly at the Battle of the Ebro (July-November, 1938).


Panzer I Breda reportedly of 2a Compañia. Unknown date, unknown location – possibly at, or just after (based on the soldier’s overcoat) the Battle of the Ebro (July-November, 1938).


Panzer I Breda of 4a Compañia with a Cruz de Borgoña on the right side of the vehicle (a red cross with a white background). The tank also had a long Spanish Nationalist flag painted on the rear of the hull (above the engine deck, but below the turret). “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 2a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez reports this to belong to 2o Grupo de la Bandera de Carros (if correct, this vehicle can only belong to 4a Compañia, as this is the only unit in 2o Grupo that had a Panzer I Breda). The photo was taken after fighting at Vinaroz, thus on, or shortly after, April 15th, 1938.


Panzer I Breda of 4a Compañia, likely at an earlier point in time to the above, with a large white cross on the hull (likely a unit marking). The turret hatch is also open in this picture, apparently the Panzer I’s original hatch. Credit: Museo del Ejercito.

One of few photos available believed to show 1a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda. The hull is apparently marked with a large, white ‘H’, but this is unclear.

A different view of 1a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda. Even in this poor resolution image, the white ‘H’ (indicating this to be 1a) is clear, as is the Nationalist flag on the hull. To the left of the flag may be a small white dot, similar to 2a Compañia’s Panzer I Breda, but the image is too poor resolution to be sure.

Unidentified Panzer I Breda (more likely 4a Compañia, but possibly 2a – although there are no useful identification details visible), at the Aragon Offensive, 1938. As taken from “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 2a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.

A still from some original color footage of a Spanish Panzer I Ausf. A (belonging to 2a Compañia/1a Sección). This clearly shows the type of Buntfarbenanstricht three-tone camouflage used on Spanish Panzer Is. Note: This particular vehicle may have additional camouflage markings, as it appears as though it has been repainted since it was supplied by the Germans (beyond the addition of unit markings).

Sidenote: Panzer I with 37mm and 45mm guns?

On October 23rd, 1937, shortly after testing the Panzer I Breda and CV-35 20mm, the Ejército del Centro was ordered by National Command to send a Panzer I to Seville in order to study the possibility of mounting captured Soviet 45mm guns. A month later, the Ejército del Norte also sent a 37mm McLean field gun (AKA Maklan), captured in Asturias in order to test being fitted to a Panzer I. In spite of the orders, these tests do not appear to have gone much further than concepts with the possibility of some design work. As such, there only appear to have been two major Panzer I modifications done in Spain – mounting a Breda Modelo 1935, and another project concerning mounting a flamethrower in the original turret.
Sources:
Private Correspondence with Guillem Martí Pujol regarding the Panzer I con Breda 20mm – its paint scheme, its organization, and scholarship on the vehicle.
Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 1a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.
Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 2a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.
Heráldica e historiales del ejército, Tomo VI Infantería” by Ricardo Serrador y Añino.
La Maquina y la History No. 2: Blindados en España: 1a. parte: La Guerra Civil 1936-1939” by Javier de Mazarrasa
La Base Alemana de Carros de Combate en Las Arguijuelas, Caceres (1936-1937)” by Antonio Rodríguez González
AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco
Spanish Civil War Tanks: The Proving Ground for Blitzkrieg” by Steven J. Zaloga
panzernet.com
Discussion of Panzer colours on flamesofwar.com
Colour footage of the Spanish Civil War, including some tanks

Categories
China Pre-1950 WW2 French Prototypes

Renault ZB

France (1935)
republican flag Republic of China (1938-1942?)
Light Tank – 19? built

Upgrading the AMR 33

The Renault ZB was essentially a lengthened test (and later, export) version of the AMR 33 fitted with a more versatile suspension type. The suspension type influenced later designs, such as the Renault R35, but the Renault ZB was rejected for French service. However, in 1936, the Kuomintang and Yunnan Provincial Government ordered sixteen vehicles which appear to have served in Burma in the early 1940s, where they were presumably lost.

Design

As early as 1934, Louis Renault realized that the AMR 33 was in need of modernization. The engine was one concern, which was replaced with the more powerful Nerva Stella 28 CV engine, and it was also moved to the rear of the vehicle instead of the front. Testing showed that the vehicle could hit speeds of up to 72km/h, with 48.5 km/h as an average road cruising speed. Whilst impressive, officers pointed out that the engine, originally used for a sports car, was too delicate, and was replaced with the Renault 432 22 CV 4-cylinder engine, which was originally used for commercial buses. With a weight of just over five tonnes, the vehicle could hit a maximum speed of just under 64km/h, and an average cruising speed of just over 35km/h. An order of 92 was placed on 3rd July 1934, and was named AMR 35.




However, there was another upgrade to be done concerning the suspension. The AMR 33’s suspension was intended to be used for the AMR 35, but was considered rather delicate and unreliable for cross-country driving. Moreover, the oil shock dampeners were rather maintenance heavy, and therefore quite unsuitable for military service. As a result, Renault began to work on a total redesign of the suspension, which led to three different types being developed, tested on AMR 35 chassis number 79758.
One type had the idler wheel on the ground, which was rejected. The second type had two bogies and five roadwheels, and the vehicle was known as the Renault ZB. This suspension type later developed further and used on the Renault R35. The third suspension type, mounted on the Renault ZT, was similar to the ZB, except it only had four roadwheels, and one bogie, and it was accepted for service.

Chinese Service

According to “World War II and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide” by Leland Ness, in March 1936, the KMT ordered 12 Renault ZB (which he refers to as AMR-ZB). Half of these were armed with 37mm SA-18 guns, and the other half had 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929s. Included in this order were 1500 HE shells, 1500 HE tracer shells, 3000 AP shells, and 300 practice rounds. Four more were ordered by the Yunnan Provincial Government a few months later, which were apparently all armed with 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929 machine guns.
These were likely ordered because the Germans, who were closely allied to China (read more here), were unable to meet the demands of the Chinese armed forces, and thus the KMT began searching for other military hardware suppliers. France had previously sold vehicles to China – as early as 1919, they had sold Renault FTs to Warlord Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-lin) and later sold some to Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang in 1928.
Yunnan received their vehicles in October 1938. The KMT’s tanks were shipped to Haiphong, French Indochina (now Vietnam), but the Japanese applied pressure to the French government, and they were not delivered immediately. Two vehicles finally arrived in China in February 1940, and another eight in June 1940. The other two are unaccounted for. The French also sold the KMT an estimated ten modified Renault UEs with 7.7mm machine guns in August 1936, which reached China in 1940 for the same reasons.
The Renault ZBs were apparently used by the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in Burma, but further information is unclear. One photo shows a Renault ZB with 13.2mm Hotchkiss machine gun in Burma, 1942. These vehicles are likely to have been lost or abandoned in Burma, as they are not known to have taken part in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949).

Renault ZB of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Burma, 1942.
Renault ZB of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Burma, 1942. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet



Renault ZB “30” with Hotchkiss M1929 (a 13.2mm machine gun) of the Chinese Expeditionary Force, Burma, 1942. The vehicle appears to be camouflaged by shrubbery.

Renault ZB, reported wrongly by some sources to be in China. This is actually the trial vehicle in France in 1934.

Renault ZB of the Yunnan Provincial Government, armed with a 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929 machine gun.

Sources

“World War II and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide” by Leland Ness
“Все китайские танки. «Бронированные драконы» Поднебесной” by Andrei Chaplygin
blog.sina.cn

Categories
WW2 Spanish Tanks

Panzer I “Lanzallamas”

spanish nationalist flagNationalist Spain (1936-1939?)
Light Flamethrower Tanks – 2 converted

The Civil War Heats Up

Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ is an unofficial name for two Panzer Is which were converted into flamethrower tanks during the early Spanish Civil War. Little is known about the vehicles due to a lack of primary sources, and as a result, there are significant discrepancies between modern sources on their history. Two different modifications of Flammenwerfer 35s were mounted onto a Panzer I Ausf. A and an Ausf. B respectively, but it seems as though neither design saw combat. The Both Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ were most probably only used for testing and training, likely being dismantled before the war’s end.

Brief Context: The Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War is said to have officially begun on 17th July, 1936 with a rebellion from right-wing / conservative / monarchist officers in the Spanish army (who would later become known as the Nationalists) against the left-wing / anti-Catholic / pro-Soviet Republican government. However, as Stanley G. Payne notes that only by late July or early October was this uprising to become a civil war, as Franco was able to airlift (with German and Italian assistance) the Army of Africa (essentially seasoned Moroccan colonial soldiers) into mainland Spain, where the rebels began to face significant Republican and Republican-allied resistance, thus starting the Spanish Civil War.




Read more here.

Context: Flamethrowers in Spain

The Gruppe Von Thoma supplied eighteen flamethrowers of three types to the Nationalists: nine standard, four light (known to be Flammenwerfer 35 models), and five heavy ‘trench’ (i.e. improvised) types. As early as mid-October, 1936, (barely three months after the initial Nationalist uprising) the Nationalists began training of flamethrower infantrymen under the direction of Commander Peter Jansa (Chief of the Condor Legion’s anti-tank artillery instructors).
The orders for flamethrower training were issued by telegram to General Varela on 17th October, 1936 and read:
“… with the utmost urgency, make the arrangements so that an officer and thirty soldiers chosen among the Banderas from those columns are sent to Caceres to be dispatched to Arguijuela [sic – Las Arguijuelas Castle] where they will be trained in the use of flamethrowers. Training timetables will be established by Mr. Thoma. Once the training is finished, they will join their units to operate these devices.”
Despite what the telegram asserts, soldiers from the Tercio (an elite unit) are reported to have actually been sent to Oropesa, Toledo (roughly 100 miles east of Caceres) for this flamethrower training. Nine days after the initial telegram, on 26th October, having apparently received their training, these soldiers were sent to the Talavera front along with their flamethrowers.
Flamethrower training was likely initiated primarily for anti-fortification (and possibly anti-infantry) purposes, as the Nationalists were acutely aware of the need to quickly and efficiently destroy any Republican fortifications, probably with the potential for a Republican version of the Siege of the Alcázar (July-September, 1936) taking place kept firmly in mind.
The use of flamethrowers was unlikely to have been conceived for AT duties, as Soviet military hardware for the Republicans arrived in Spain only from October 4th, 1936, and the first Nationalist encounter with a T-26 tank is reported as taking place during one of two Republican counterattacks as late as late-October or early December at Seseña (situated south of Madrid, and northeast of Toledo). Thus, the order for flamethrower training actually predates the Nationalists encountering serious Republican armored forces.
However, it must be remembered that there are no actual combat records of any flamethrowers in the Spanish Civil War. Although, as a point of interest, flame-based weapons (primarily local forms of Molotov cocktails, but some others including what can only be described as trench lighters known in Spain as Chisqueros) were used against the T-26 throughout the Spanish Civil War to great effect.

History of the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’

Two of the four Flammenwerfer 35s supplied to Spain were given to General Varela (the other two are supposedly accounted for by the Tercio). Photos (which cannot be reproduced in this article for copyright reasons) clearly show that Varela’s two Flammenwerfer 35s were different from each other – one had a short, fat barrel, and the other had a long, thin barrel. Both appear to have been, at one point or another, mounted onto a Panzer I, but from this point there is a significant discrepancy in sources regarding the fitting of flamethrowers to Panzer Is.
One account on the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ comes from “Soldiers of Von Thoma: Legion Condor Ground Forces in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Lucas Molina Franco, José Mª Manrique García, and Raúl Arias Ramos. The book states that only a Panzer I Ausf. A had a flamethrower, but this is known to be untrue because of the photographic evidence.
Lucas Molina Franco (et al) then suggest that the sole vehicle was sent to the Talavera front on 27th October 1936, along with two tank companies and some anti-tank guns. However, in an earlier work by Lucas Molina Franco, “AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty“, he actually states that the vehicle was kept at the Escuela de Carros in Casarrubuelos and never saw combat. As mentioned earlier, there is no combat data available on the use of flamethrowers in combat in Spain, and these claims cannot be confirmed.
However, another account on the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ comes from “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 1a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez. This book states that two Panzer Is had Flammenwerfer 35s installed on them in October 1936, and also states that both vehicles stayed in Las Arguijuelas Castle for training, Crucially, there is no mention of them being sent to Talavera with the soldiers from the Tercio.
To complicate matters even more, another discrepancy occurs here because footage showing the Panzer I Ausf. A. ‘Lanzallamas’ during training is reported to be at Cubas, in the north of Spain, 1937. However, this is reported by other sources to be at Oropesa, Toledo, south of Madrid.
Many of the discrepancies here cannot be resolved with current sources. Moreover, there are apparently no primary sources (such as photographs, military inventories, or even an interview with a veteran) which suggest that either of the two Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ models saw combat or were issued to a fighting (i.e. non-training) unit. Despite this, a general description of the vehicles can be ascertained from the few extant sources.

Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ Designs

Panzer I Ausf. A ‘Lanzallamas’
The Panzer I Ausf. A ‘Lanzallamas’ had the Flammenwerfer 35 which had the longer barrel. Unlike with the Ausf. B ‘Lanzallamas’, the vehicle mounted a machine gun in the turret (in the left side port). On the rear of the hull, a white ‘2’ was painted on.
The vehicle was a Panzer I Ausf. A, and therefore had turret hooks either side and had four road wheels on either side.
Panzer I Ausf. B ‘Lanzallamas’
Only one photo is known to show the Panzer I Ausf. B ‘Lanzallamas’. This might be explained by it being sent to Talavera with the Tercio, but whether or not it was actually sent with them is, again, unsubstantiated.
This vehicle had a Flammenwerfer 35, modified with a short and fat armored cover with some ventilation slots to avoid overheating. This was mounted in the right MG port, which could apparently not close due to the barrel being too thick (see below).
The tank’s left machine gun port appears to have been welded shut, meaning a machine gun could not be used. This was likely done as a safety feature, because the machine gun would otherwise be too close to the flames, and might suffer damage.
Another detail is the small white ‘2’ on the vehicle’s hull near the vision hatch.
The vehicle was a Panzer I Ausf. B and therefore had no turret hooks on the sides of the turret (as with a Panzer I Ausf. A, had five road wheels on either side, and did not have the additional engine deck protection (no Panzer I Ausf. Bs in Spain had this feature).

Design History

Due to the lack of primary sources, the design history of the vehicles is unclear, and as such, details about the decisions made around the project are also unknown. However, it could be argued that the conversion of the Panzer I Ausf. B came first, as the Ausf. A-based conversion appears to improve on two issues that the Ausf. B-based conversion suffered from.
Firstly, the flamethrower on the Ausf. B-based design appears to have been too short, so the opposite MG port appears to have been welded shut in order to prevent an MG being mounted and subsequently damaged by the flames. The Ausf. A-based design had a much longer barrel, which seems to mean that an MG could be mounted in the opposite port, and thus it may follow that the design is an improvement on the Ausf. B-based design.
Secondly, the Ausf. B-based design appears as though it could not have the MG port closed around the flamethrower (whether this is actually the case or not is difficult to ascertain, but the sole photograph seems to suggest this to be the case), whereas the Ausf. A design definitely could have all of its hatches closed. The open hatch might endanger the crew, a criticism which actually made von Thoma try to shut down the Panzer I con 20mm Breda Modelo 1935 project.
It is also entirely possible that the vehicles were built at the same time – their designs different only out of what equipment was available, as opposed to what was desired by the designers.

Fate of the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’

Aforementioned sources all suggest that the range of the Flammenwerfer 35 (around 20-25 meters) was considered insufficient, and this likely meant that the project was discontinued. Installation of heavier flamethrowers (of which, there was a number in Spanish hands as mentioned earlier) is thought by Mortera Pérez to have been impossible due to them not fitting in a Panzer I without the use of an external fuel tank. This can be confirmed as it is known that these were used on Bilbao Modelo 1932s (referred to in ‘Soldiers of Von Thoma‘ as “some armored trucks”), and were apparently more successful flamethrower conversions, also likely adding another reason to discontinue the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ project.
The fate of the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’ is unknown – as stated, it is unclear whether or not either design even saw combat. According to photos, the Panzer I Ausf. A ‘Lanzallamas’ was seen as late as November 1937 during joint infantry and mechanized flamethrower training. It is unclear if the Panzer I Ausf. B ‘Lanzallamas’ was still in service as late as November 1937 because of a lack of evidence.
After November 1937, there are no more sources available regarding the vehicles, literary or photographic, and it seems as though they were most likely dismantled, if not retired, scrapped, or wrecked beyond repair.

Panzer I Ausf A. 'Lanzallamas'
Panzer I Ausf A. ‘Lanzallamas’, illustrated in a Buntfarbenanstrich camouflage scheme – the colour all Panzers would have been supplied in to the Nationalists.

Panzer I Ausf B. 'Lanzallamas'
Panzer I Ausf B. ‘Lanzallamas’. Both Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Panzer I Ausf. B based ‘Lanzallamas’ equipped with a modified Flammenwerfer 35. The left MG port appears to be welded shut, and it seems as though the right port with the flamethrower could not be closed properly because the flamethrower’s barrel is too thick. The turret is clearly marked with a Saint Andrew’s aerial recognition cross, and the hull is marked with a two-tone Nationalist flag and a small white ‘2’. The turret appears to be an Ausf. B turret, as there are no turret hooks. Source: Private collection of Ruy Aballe, as taken from “AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco. This image also appears in “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 1a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.


Panzer I Ausf. A ‘Lanzallamas’. The number ‘2’ in white is visible on the lower rear of the hull. The much longer barrel for the flamethrower can be seen, along with a machine gun in the left port. A pig is apparently stowed on the engine deck. As taken from “Soldiers of Von Thoma: Legion Condor Ground Forces in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Lucas Molina Franco, José Mª Manrique García, and Raúl Arias Ramos.

Still from footage of the Panzer I Ausf. A ‘Lanzallamas’ during training at Cubas, 1937. In this photo, the vehicle (especially the turret) is clearly painted in a usual three-tone Buntfarbenanstrich scheme. The turret appears to be an Ausf. A, as a turret hook can be seen.

Different view of the above, discharging flames at around 20-25 meters.

Footage showing flamethrower training at Cubas, along with the Panzer I Ausf. A ‘Lanzallamas’ from 1937.

Sources

Private correspondence with Guillem Martí Pujol and Francisco Javier Cabeza Martinez regarding the Panzer I ‘Lanzallamas’.
Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil Española: Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón, y Cataluña, 36/39 1a parte” by Artemio Mortera Pérez
La Base Alemana de Carros de Combate en Las Arguijuelas, Caceres (1936-1937)” by Antonio Rodríguez González
Soldiers of Von Thoma: Legion Condor Ground Forces in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Lucas Molina Franco, José Mª Manrique García, and Raúl Arias Ramos
AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco
Camion Blindado Bilbao Mod. 1932 “Lanzallamas”” by Ángel P. Heras
The Spanish Civil War” by Stanley G. Payne

Categories
China Pre-1950 WW2 Japanese Tankettes

Type 95 So-Ki

Imperial japanese Army IJA (1935-1943) Armored Railroad Car / Tankette – 121-138 built

Occupational Hazard

The Type 95 So-Ki was an armored railroad car and tankette. It had the niche ability to drive on both the ground with its tracks, and on railroads with its retractable railroad wheels. It was technically classified as an engineering vehicle by the Japanese, and was developed likely in response to significant Chinese guerrilla resistance campaigns around the railways in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, where the vehicles appear to have seen most of their service. A small (but unknown) number were also fielded in Burma, and a handful were captured and reused by the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalists) in Manchuria at some point between 1937 and 1945. These KMT So-Ki tankettes were later captured by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950) and reused by their new owners.

Type 95 So-Ki of the People’s Liberation Army, on display in the PLA Tank museum in Beijing. Note the damage on the right of the large hull hatch.

Context: Occupation of Manchuria

The Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of Manchuria began on September 18th, 1931, following the Mukden Incident. The Mukden Incident was a staged operation by the Kwantung Army in order to justify further expansion into China. In short, a Japanese officer planted a small amount of dynamite near the Japanese-owned South Manchuria Railway in Mukden, which caused very light damage to a bridge. The Japanese blamed the incident on local Chinese dissidents and as a result, the Kwantung Army invaded Manchuria and established the puppet-state of Manchukuo.
Significant movements to resist the occupation were undertaken by Chinese guerrilla fighters, despite orders from the Chinese President, Chiang Kai-shek, not to do so. One of the biggest examples of this resistance was on 4th November, 1931, when the acting governor of Heilongjiang, General Ma Zhanshan, set up a defense on Nenjiang bridge (which was a railway bridge over the Nen River) in order to prevent the Japanese crossing into Heilongjiang Province. The bridge had been dynamited earlier during fighting against the puppet Manchukuo Imperial Army forces of General Zhang Haipeng, but the Japanese sent a repair team escorted by 800 soldiers to fix the bridge.
Ma fielded an estimated 2500 soldiers who opened fire on the Japanese forces late in the day on 4th November in a skirmish that lasted more than three hours. By the end, 120 soldiers of Ma’s forces were dead, but only 15 Japanese were killed in the fighting. Ma’s forces were eventually chased off but later counterattacked. However, they were unable to recapture the bridge due to significant Japanese artillery fire and the presence of Japanese tanks. Between November 5th and 15th, the Japanese managed to kill 400 of Ma’s forces, and wound 300 more.
By this point, Ma’s forces were holed up in the nearby city of Qiqihar, and were ordered to surrender by the Japanese. This order was refused, and on 17th November, the city was besieged by 3500 Japanese soldiers of the 2nd Division. The city was defended by an estimated 8000 Chinese soldiers, but the defenders were inferior in training, leadership, and equipment to the Japanese. Japanese cavalry made the initial breakthrough, and artillery and airpower prevented any Chinese counterattacks which could otherwise have prevented the breakthrough. On November 18th, Ma began evacuating the city, and the next day, his remnant forces fled to other cities to put up their final resistance.
Many other resistance fighters later retreated into nearby Rehe Province (which was still part of Nationalist China at that time), but tens of thousands of others split into smaller guerrilla forces in order to continue resistance. An estimated 120,000 guerrilla fighters were operating in 1933, declining to 50,000 in 1934, and then declining by 10,000 every year until 1938. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) began to appeal to many of these guerrillas, who willingly signed up with the CCP in order to continue resistance.
Against this background, it seems as though the Japanese wanted an anti-partisan vehicle that was capable of safely transporting soldiers in order to defend railways from these guerrilla fighters. The Kwantung Army had been in favor of light patrol vehicles which could patrol railways independently of large locomotives. The Type 93 So-Mo armored car was one such development, which had wheels for tracks, and wheels for the road. Around 1000 of these were made, and were perfect for transporting railway repair teams. However, it seems as though the Kwantung Army also wanted a tankette in order to provide greater protection for its crews, and the fear factor of a tank. This appears to have been the genesis of the Type 95 So-Ki.

Design Process

The Type 95 So-Ki was produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Tokyo Gas Electric Industry. Production lasted from 1935 – 1943, but total production figures are somewhat unclear. Akira Takizawa reports 121 built, but Steven Zaloga reports 138 in “New Vanguard 140 – Armored Trains“. Leland Ness also reports that in 1941, 29 were built, 16 in 1942, and only 9 in 1943, but does not provide total figures.
In any case, the vehicle was a very sophisticated design, loosely based on the Ha-Go chassis, but featured tank tracks for the ground, and retractable wheels for railways. These retractable wheels were hidden either side of the tracks below the hull, and as such, they are usually out of sight in photos.
Takizawa reports that it took only a minute to turn from railway to track mode, and only three minutes to turn from track to railway mode, and this could be done from within the tankette, making the operation safe for the crew. Takizawa also reports that the vehicle’s wheels could be changed to fit narrow (1067mm), standard (1435mm), and broad (1524mm) gauge tracks, although Zaloga only makes reference to the tankette being able to fit on narrow gauge tracks.

Technical drawing of the Type 95 So-Ki.
The vehicle had only 6 mm of armor, except for the turret, which had 8 mm. This was just enough to defend against small arms fire, which was acceptable because Chinese guerrillas did not typically field anything larger than the usual small arms consisting of rifles and grenades. The tankette could carry a commander/driver and five soldiers. The passengers were typically armed with rifles, and sometimes a Type 11 machine gun, which would be shot from the various firing ports around the vehicle. The vehicle had no standard mounted armament because it was officially classified as an engineering vehicle, and if it were to receive an standard armament, the vehicles would no longer belong to the IJA’s engineers, but to their tankers.
Top speed on rails was up to 45 mph (72 km/h), and if towing a trailer, this was reduced to a mere 25 mph (40 km/h). On its tracks, it could reach up to 19 mph (30 km/h). Photos also show that several So-Ki tanks could link up in order to tow heavier loads on rails.
Crane-carrying vehicles were also developed on the chassis of the So-Ki for larger engineering operations, this almost certainly being the Type 2 Ri-Ki, but further information on this rare vehicle is lacking.

Combat

The vehicle was deployed primarily in Manchuria from 1938, with an estimated 98 being fielded there. They were deployed in every railroad regiment typically as a guard vehicle, or as a transport for munitions and equipment. In non-combat roles, photos show that several So-Ki tankettes would link up to tow heavier loads.

Type 95 So-Ki on rails. Undated, unlocated, likely Manchuria pre-1937.
So-Ki tankettes are also reported to have seen service during offensive invasion operations (presumably railway-borne operations only), but this seems to have been a very rare occurrence. Even when used defensively, these vehicles were particularly troublesome for the Chinese troops (of various armies and warlords) that they encountered, because none of them had any effective anti-tank weapons.
A small but unknown number were also used during the Burma campaigns, although further details are unclear. These, too, were likely used for patrol duties.
One vehicle currently stands in Kubinka tank museum, apparently captured by the Red Army in Manchuria in August, 1945 during the Manchurian Strategic Operation Offensive. Another vehicle was captured by the US in Burma, and was shipped back to the US for further study.

Chinese Service

At the end of WWII, an estimated 1.5-1.6 million Japanese were left in China, with 1.1 million being in Manchuria (formerly Manchukuo), and just over 500,000 in other areas (overwhelmingly these were in Formosa, nowadays Taiwan, with 479,000, but Hong Kong and other areas also hosted thousands). In the years 1945-1948, a mass repatriation effort was initiated by the United States under Kuomintang auspices to repatriate those nationals back to Japan. However, in 1945, the ageing warlord of Shanxi Province, Yan Xishan (閻錫山), secretly recruited thousands of former Japanese soldiers into his private army who took their equipment with them. This was kept secret from both Communist and American forces. Estimates suggest that up to 10,000 Japanese soldiers were among his ranks, including a small number of Type 95 So-Ki tankettes.
Like many warlords during the civil war, Xishan was ostensibly allied to the KMT, but only in that it served his personal interests to have a stable and relatively conservative government in control of China which was let him maintain de facto control of the province. As such, Xishan and his private army were instrumental to keeping Shanxi Province from falling into Communist hands.
It is reported that the tankettes of the Xishan Army were used patrol the Tongpu (nowadays Datong–Puzhou) and Jingjing railway lines, and saw major combat duties during the PLA’s Taiyuan Campaign (5th October 1948 – 24th April 1949). This campaign was swift and brutal, leaving only a few cities either side of each railway line under Xishan’s control by late 1948. At the end of the Taiyuan Campaign, these tankettes were abandoned and at least one was captured and reused by the PLA. This So-Ki is now on display in the tank museum in Beijing with PLA markings.
Several Type 95 So-Ki tankettes were photographed by Mark Kauffman for TIME Magazine in February 1947, in Laiwu, Shandong Province. However, it is unclear with whom these tankettes were serving. The soldiers in the photo appear to be Nationalist soldiers, but could be soldiers of the Xishan Army. That said, it is not known that the Xishan Army operated in Shandong Province. Therefore, these could be other Type 95 So-Ki tankettes in service with another army, most likely the NRA.

Type 95 So-Ki specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 4.9m x 2.6m x 2.54m (on railroad), 2.43m (on tracks) (16.1 ft x  8.53 ft x  8.3 ft OR 7.97 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 8700kg (9.59 US tons)
Crew 6 – 1+5, (Commander/driver and 5 passengers)
Propulsion Unknown gasoline engine, 84hp @2400 RPM
Top speed On tracks – 30 km/h (19 mph). On rails – 72 km/h (45 mph). On rails, towing a trailer – 40 km/h (25 mph)
Armor 6-8 mm (0.24 – 0.31 in)
Armament None – passengers carried rifles and sometimes a Type 11 machine gun.
Range Unknown.
Total production 121 – 138


Type 95 So-Ki in regular Japanese livery.


Type 95 So-Ki in PLA service.


Several Type 95-So Ki tankettes linked up to tow a larger load. This photo clearly shows the wheels on the rails. The soldiers do not appear to be PLA, but could be NRA or of the Xishan army. Laiwu, Shandong Province, February, 1947. Credit: Mark Kauffman for TIME magazine.

Different view of the above. Credit: Mark Kauffman for TIME magazine.

Knocked out Type 95 So-Ki. Unknown date and location.

Type 95 So-Ki of the People’s Liberation Army, on display in the PLA Tank museum in Beijing. The museum’s layout has changed a number of times, hence why tanks appear to have moved from photo to photo.

Type 95 So-Ki, with passengers riding on top of the vehicle, Manchuria, 1940.
Type 95 So-Ki in Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia. Source.

Type 95 So-Ki turret and upper hull. Source.

Type 95 So-Ki suspension detail. Source.
Sources and further reading
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard 140 – Armored Trains” by Steven J. Zaloga
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard 137 – Japanese Tanks 1939-1945” by Steven J. Zaloga
World War II and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide” by Leland Ness
The Manchurian Myth: Nationalism, Resistance, and Collaboration in Modern China” by Rana Mitter
Manchuria under Japanese Dominion” by Shin’ichi Yamamuro
“中國人民解放軍戰車部隊1945-1955” by Zhang Zhiwei.
www3.plala.or.jp, author – Akira Takizawa
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2004北京军博纪实:坦克装甲车篇(组图)“, an article on the Beijing Tank Museum.
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Categories
WW2 Spanish Prototypes

Tanque Barbastro

republican flag Second Spanish Republic (1936?)
Light Tank – 1 built with 3 partially complete

The Republican Behemoth

The “Tanque Barbastro” is an unofficial name for a handcrafted light tank built by local (not government) initiative early in Spanish Civil War. The first and only completed tank was an improvised design, but production of several more was sanctioned when the project was raised with government officials. Large in size, but poorly armed, poorly armored, and suffering from a bureaucratic mess, their combat value, if any even saw combat, was probably limited. There are only two known photos of the mysterious prototype tank, and all four vehicles have an unknown fate; but they were all likely scrapped before the war’s end.

Design

The Barbastro’s design was rather pachydermic and rhombus-shaped, with the driver’s compartment apparently raised quite far off the ground. The vehicle featured a round but squat (and fully traversable) turret armed with a light machine gun – reportedly a non-Spanish variant of the Hotchkiss machine gun. There were two distinct side hatches on either side of the tank’s fighting compartment for entry of the reported four crew members. Photos show that the first version had “Grupo Construccion Tanques Barbastro” written on the side of the hull, between each of the tracks.

First Version

The Barbastro Tank was designed by the Grupo de Construccion Tanques de Barbastro (Tank Construction Group of Barbastro) in the town of Barbastro (northeastern Spain), presumably in late 1936 or early 1937. This was not a government project, and appears to have been built locally in much the same way as the scores of improvised armored cars were built in the early Spanish Civil War. These vehicles were collectively known ‘los Tiznaos’ in Spanish (referring to their grimy appearance – Tiznar meaning ‘to smudge’), and were varied in design. Some were merely trucks with improvised uparmoring of sheets of metal over the original bodywork, others, such as the Constructora Field, had completely new bodywork and turrets.
Design and construction work of the Barbastro Tank was done at the workshop of Constancio Rámiz, which is thought to have been one of the best-equipped workshops in the Huesca province, as crucially, it had turning lathes to make turret parts.
This first version of the Barbastro Tank was built using recycled/salvaged materials; examples include the tracks being taken from an agricultural tractor, the engine coming from an old Ford commercial truck, and the body of the vehicle being made from scrap metal. The vehicle was given a coat of grey paint to make the scrap metal look homogeneous. The turret was fully traversable and armed with a light machine gun, believed to be a foreign-built (IE not Spanish) Hotchkiss machine gun.
There were reportedly four crew members – a driver, commander, and two others (who were presumably machine gunners).
Upon its completion, the vehicle drove to the railway station of the town of Barbastro from the workshop and was sent to Sariñena. Upon arrival, it drove to the headquarters of the Eastern Army. The tank is believed to have been used in the defense of Sariñena, where it was apparently captured in 1938, and later probably scrapped by Nationalist forces shortly after. No information is available on the vehicle’s combat performance.

Official Production

After the first vehicle’s completion, production of the Barbastro tank was presented to the Ministry of War, who authorized more standardized production of three more Barbastro tanks. However, there were some changes to be made. The new model was to be lighter, to have thicker armor, to feature two machine guns instead of one (one hull-mounted, and one turret-mounted), and to feature a more powerful Ford V-8 engine. It is unclear if the overall shape of the tank would have been much different to the first version.
Instead of improvised armor, real armor plates were used which are reported to be 6.35mm thick (each plate being 12 x 1.5 meters in size). These were made in Valencia, and had originally been intended for gunshields of field guns. These were brought in to the workshop in Barbastro via trucks, and were fixed in place with electric welding points, and rivets.

Production Problems

Production began by assembling the basic lower hull. The engine compartment and the fighting compartment were then given four lateral holes cut in the hull in order to fit the track return rollers and running wheels.
Initially, the three vehicles were built simultaneously, however production quickly became complicated by bureaucracy, leading to two major issues.
The first issue was that the tracks were due to be made in a foundry in Barcelona, and the designers had wanted to use rubber, but due to the circumstances of the war, this was impossible, likely due to a rubber shortage. Therefore, the tracks had to be of a different material – probably some type of metal. However, the foundry workers would not start work without a striking a deal with the Barbastro’s designers. The workers wanted steel in order to reinforce the windows of their headquarters in exchange for building and fitting the tracks. This complicated the construction of the tank significantly, but one tank was eventually sent for final assembly in Barcelona. Whether or not a deal was reached with the workers in Barcelona remains unclear.
The second issue was obtaining engines for the tanks. After long negotiations with a local Ford branch, the vehicles were due to have modern and powerful Ford V-8 engines, but these apparently never arrived. The circumstances around this remain unclear, however, it is reported that the Ford branch in Barcelona (presumably the branch in question) did not start producing V-8 engines until 1939, which is a likely explanation for the issue.
As a result of these two issues, it seems as though the project was abandoned. One tank was sent to Barcelona for final assembly, with an unknown fate. The other two hulls were ready for final assembly (IE, they were missing tracks and engines), but these presumably never left the town of Barbastro.

Conclusion

The Barbastro tank is a mystery of the Spanish Civil War. Sources suggest that all that is known about the vehicles comes from photos, and some recollections from one of the designers of the project that are too scarce to provide a clearer history of the tank. The combat effectiveness of the first version of the Barbastro tank, with its improvised armor, modest armament, and huge size, was probably negligible, and it likely only served as a mobile bunker at the defense of Sariñena.

Barbastro
First version Barbastro tank by David Bocquelet.

First version Barbastro Tank, date and location unknown, likely Sariñena.

First version Barbastro Tank, date and location unknown, likely Sariñena, after it was taken by Nationalist forces.
Sources:
Private correspondence with Guillem Martí Pujol and Francisco Javier Cabeza Martinez regarding the Barbastro Tank.
vehiculosblindadosdelaguerracivil.blogspot
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