Categories
WWII Soviet Light Tanks

KhTZ-16

Soviet Union Soviet Union (1941) – Tractor Tank – 70-90 built

A necessity

The tests done between 1930-1932 by the Red Army to create a fighting vehicle based on tractors were totally unsuccessful, so the appearance of  the KhTZ-16 was a sign of sheer desperation by the USSR. In 1941, as a result of the Soviet need for more tanks and slow production of more conventional designs, numerous improvised vehicles appeared on the front-lines. The KhTZ-16 was Kharkov’s improvised tank, and showed similar traits to its brothers, such as the NI, which was produced at the same time. Featuring a 45 mm (1.77 in) gun and a crude, yet sophisticated-looking superstructure, the KhTZ-16 was actually good enough to almost enter mass-production. As with all improvised vehicles, there is little available documentation on the KhTZ-16, and, therefore, sources are often of a questionable nature. However, unlike its other improvised cousins (such as the NI, and ZiS-30), there are many photos, which provide us with plenty of details.
An author’s note on credibility of sources
Using internet sources only is terrible practice for a real historical account. Direct links to them have been included. Using photographs and fair reasoning, this article tries to piece together the story of the KhTZ-16. It must be noted that Kharkov is not a Hero City, and thus little has been written on the story of what was a very valiant defense. The KhTZ-16 will perhaps remain a mystery – so much so that it had Zaloga stumped in his book “Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two”, stating: “the Kharkov Tractor Tanks had fixed superstructures armed with 45mm guns. It is not known where these vehicles were built, but photographs exist of several vehicles which were all obviously based on a standard plan.” This is, perhaps, as much as we can actually confirm as true, although photos certainly show more than three KhTZ-16s.

Design process

After huge defeats in 1941, Soviet authorities went to desperate measures to stop the German advance. After a series of meetings, by July 20th, 1941, Resolution 219 was adopted, which ordered agricultural tractors to be fitted with armor plates and AT guns. The Kharkov (HTZ) and Stalingrad (STZ) tractor factories were ordered to produce these improvised fighting vehicles. However, STZ was unable to start work on the vehicle because they were experiencing supply problems. Desperation meant that production needed to be hurried, so four engineers from Moscow were sent to the HTZ plant – E.G. Popov, A.V. Sapozhnikov, V. Slonimsky and A.M. Cherepin.
At first, they tried to mount a 37 mm (1.46 in) AA gun, but this was deemed unsatisfactory. Instead, a 45 mm (1.77 in) 20K was tried, and this was deemed suitable.
Once the weaponry was agreed upon, they experimented by using various tractors – the STZ-5 and STZ-3 (sometimes called STZ Nati) artillery tractors. The cab was removed from these tractors, and a new cab with armor ranging from 10-25 mm (0.4-0.98 in) was fitted.  Both of these tractors shared a common suspension, but were different shapes. The STZ-3 looked more like a traditional agricultural tractor, and the STZ-5 was a much boxier shape. However, unlike the NI tank producers in Odessa, HTZ opted to use the STZ-3 (hence the rather difference shape between the NI and KhTZ-16). They did this because the front mounted engine meant that they would not have to redesign the structure of the vehicle in order to accommodate the weight of a rear mounted gun. The vehicle became known as the KhTZ-16, but some few wartime documents refer to it as the T-16.


Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!


This KhTZ-16 has had its ammunition unloaded, possibly after a breakdown. All hatches on the vehicle are clearly open. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged.
This KhTZ-16 has had its ammunition unloaded, possibly after a breakdown. All hatches on the vehicle are clearly open. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged.
The design of the hull was simple – welding and riveting held metal sheets together, which protected the crews from bullets and shrapnel. The vehicle was also divided into two sections: the front was for the engine, and the rear for the crew. The engine was protected by four sheets of rolled steel, and was fastened away with bolted armor, clearly seen on photos. The exhaust was also moved to the bottom of the vehicle, with steel shutters closing it off if necessary. For maintenance of the front hull, the vehicle had hatches on the side. Frontal armor was about 25 mm (1 in) thick, and the sides were roughly 10 mm (0.4 in).
Entering and exiting the vehicle was reportedly done by a hatch on the right hand side of the vehicle, but an emergency hatch was installed in the rear. The roof also featured two hatches. According to photographic evidence, the rear hatch and two top hatches were used more than any others, especially when abandoning the vehicle. Just to the right of the main gun, there was a small slit for the driver to look out of. The tank also featured three slit holes to fire personal weapons out of, just in case, but often, these were used by DT machine guns.
The chassis was changed slightly to accommodate the new weight. Rubber rollers were reportedly installed in order to improve the ride of the vehicle, and therefore the accuracy of the weapon, as well as crew comfort, but no photos show this.
Production commenced, even despite supply problems, but due to evacuations of factories as a result of the German advance, the KhTZ-16 (and similar vehicles) producing factories were evacuated from eastern Ukraine shortly after production began and only 70-100 KhTZ-16s were built. However, there was such a huge demand for tanks by August 1941, as a result of the huge losses, 800 vehicles were actually ordered.
There were still supply issues, however. Delivery of the armor plating was falling behind and it became increasingly difficult for the NKZM 9 factory (which produced the armor plates) to keep up with demand. According to some incomplete statistics, they sent up to 100 armor sets, but it is not known how many made it to HTZ. One of the last reports from HTZ before the evacuation stated that “809 KhTZ-16 tanks have been demanded, but this could not be produced due to the lack of steel armor plates.” Production finally ended on 20th October, when German troops surrounded the city.
A Romanian soldier poses next to a broken down KhTZ-16
A Romanian soldier poses next to a broken down KhTZ-16.
However, the STZ plant was actually reorganized to produce the KhTZ-16 on September 16th, 1941, under the order of People’s Commissar of the NKPT (Ministry of Transport Machine-Building Industry) Malyshev. A document he sent reads as followed:
“With the view of imminent production of an armored tractor KhTZ-16: A. Immediately ship STZ five hundred tractors to be prepared for upgrades B. Immediately send Plant N264 the drawings and specifications for the KhTZ-16 [referred to as the Bronektraktor in this document] C. Ship the relevant sets of weapons (guns, machine guns, ammunition). Ensure the plant has purchased these products. Delivery for STZ  is to start no later than October 1 by the following schedule: the first five days – 10 units a day, the second five-days – 15 pieces a day, then 20, and more … “
However, these production targets were far too ambitious and were actually short-lived. STZ shortly after switched to T-34 production. It was not possible to open up a second production line for the KhTZ-16 due to a lack of resources and skilled workers. Having said this, during the autumn of 1941, STZ did produce an unknown number of KhTZ-16s, estimated to be at around 30, probably all made using evacuated hulls and materials from HTZ.
Kharkov managed to produce 50-60 units all in all, and Stalingrad did not manage to make more than 30.
A KhTZ-16 missing some armor plates and a track, having been knocked out. In this image, the STZ-3 tractor it is based on can be seen clearly, as well as the personal weapons port on the left of the gun
A KhTZ-16 missing some armor plates and a track, having been knocked out. In this image, the STZ-3 tractor it is based on can be seen clearly, as well as the personal weapons port on the left of the gun.
A knocked out KhTZ-16 which appears to have been painted with camouflage
A knocked out KhTZ-16 which appears to have been painted with camouflage.

The KhTZ-16 in action

Detailed information on how well it fared in combat is scarce. The KhTZ-16 was never referred to as a tank, but an improvised self-propelled gun. Its main role was to knock out enemy armor. Reports suggest that the 20K 45 mm (1.77 in) gun was able to knock out a German tank at a distance of 200-300 m (220-330 yd). Sources suggest that the gun was fixed in position and therefore, aiming required the entire tank to move, but photographs reveal this not to be the case. In fact, it is more likely that the gun had a very limited firing arc, which meant that the tank often had to move.
The 14th Tank Brigade received 8 of these tanks. Roughly 10-15 of these vehicles formed a separate battalion that took part in the defense of Poltava, in September, 1941, where they were quickly lost. In both of these cases, all tanks were totally destroyed. Reports do suggest that some were sent ‘modestly’ to the defense of Kharkov in October, but German armor had a huge advantage as a result of Soviet high command allowing the Germans to break through to the Vyazma and Bryansk areas.
A group of Romanian soldiers inspect a KhTZ-16 in a rural town near Kharkov
A group of Romanian soldiers inspect a KhTZ-16 in a rural town near Kharkov.
Almost all of these tanks were sent to the western defenses. However, defenders of the city put roughly 47 of these vehicles into a separate battalion. These units were sometimes fielded with T-27 tankettes, as well as no more than four T-35s and five T-26 tanks of various models, ranging from 1933 to 1938. Organized defenses in Kharkov effectively failed, but according to some memoirs of the KhTZ-16, these tanks were able to withstand the brunt of urban combat.
There is some evidence that 16 KhTZ-16s were used on another sector on the Eastern Front, with the 133rd Tank Brigade, and fought until the end of October on the Bryansk front. Available documents on the 133rd Tank Brigade do state that they had KhTZ-16 tanks, but do not state anything else about them. However, the existence of these tanks as part of the 133rd Brigade are not mentioned in a later report from 9th November, 1941, and it may be possible that the KhTZ-16 never served in combat with the 133rd.
In recent times, it has been suggested that the KhTZ-16 served near Leningrad in autumn, 1941, and in the May 1942 attack near Kharkov. It is almost impossible that these tanks served near Leningrad, but as for serving in at Kharkov, there are plenty of photographs of them in the city.
In summary, main disadvantages were low speed, poor armor, high silhouette, poor visibility and a stationary gun that required the entire tank to move to aim (if not a small gun arc). However, despite being based on a tractor, being hastily made and the whole design being deemed unworkable in the first place, their combat success is relatively commendable, especially in the demanding environments of urban and rural combat. Many of these tanks served in rural areas and fared less well. We know this, simply because of the number of photos of them knocked out and being inspected by Romanian troops in rural areas. It is probable that these tanks were knocked out because they were not suited to the terrain, and could not engage the enemy as effectively, or maneuver, like they would be able to do in urban combat. It was obviously a tank of particular interest to Romanian photographers, as well as the citizens of Kharkov, who wanted to see what they had managed to make in their most desperate hours.
A German soldier looks at an abandoned KhTZ-16. There appears to be a dead crew member hanging from the rear hatch, and may be the same tank as the one reportedly outside the Kharkov central department store
A German soldier looks at an abandoned KhTZ-16. There appears to be a dead crew member hanging from the rear hatch, and may be the same tank as the one reportedly outside the Kharkov central department store.
This knocked out KhTZ-16 appears to have been bogged down before being knocked out, hence the large amount of grass on the tracks.
This knocked out KhTZ-16 appears to have been bogged down before being knocked out, hence the large amount of grass on the tracks.
A rather poor quality photograph apparently shows a Soviet crew abandoning a KhTZ-16
A rather poor quality photograph apparently shows a Soviet crew abandoning a KhTZ-16.
An interesting photo shows a KhTZ-16 being inspected by a Romanian soldier. It appears as though there was a large internal explosion which blew the rear hatch off
An interesting photo shows a KhTZ-16 being inspected by a Romanian soldier. It appears as though there was a large internal explosion which blew the rear hatch off.

KhTZ-16 specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 4.2 x 1.9 x 2.4 m (13.8×6.23×7.9 ft)
Total weight, battle ready Approximately 7 tonnes
Crew 2-4, however photos seem to suggest crews were usually two men
Propulsion 4 cyl. kerosene, 52 hp
Speed (road – off-road) 20 – 5 km/h (12.4-3 mph)
Range 120 km (75 mi)
Armament 45 mm (1.77 in) 20K AT gun
7.62 mm (0.3 in) DT machine gun
Armor 10-25 mm (0.25-1 in)
Total production 70 to 90

Sources and external links

Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two” by Steven J. Zaloga and James Grandsen
05m6.de
Tankarchives.blogspot
Aviarmor.net (Russian)
Army.lv (English and Russian)
Alternathistory.com (Russian)
Armor.kiev.ua (Russian)
Tsushima.su forums (Russian)
Feldgrau.info forums (Russian)
Fishki.net (Russian)
WW2history.ru (Russian)
Panzer.net forums (Spanish)
ww2 soviet armour
All ww2 Soviet Tanks Posters

Gallery

A camouflaged KhTZ-16 (probably in a rush, with a large paintbrush) as shown in photos
A camouflaged KhTZ-16 (probably in a rush, with a large paintbrush) as shown in photos.
A KhTZ-16. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged.
A KhTZ-16. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged.
A KhTZ-16's crew surrender in a rural area near Kharkov
A KhTZ-16’s crew surrender in a rural area near Kharkov.
A knocked out KhTZ-16, supposedly near the Kharkov central department store. The charred corpse of a crew member can be seen hanging from the back, possibly killed by an engine fire
A knocked out KhTZ-16, supposedly near the Kharkov central department store. The charred corpse of a crew member can be seen hanging from the back, possibly killed by an engine fire.
A broken down KhTZ-16 is inspected by citizens of Kharkov
A broken down KhTZ-16 is inspected by citizens of Kharkov.
Another view of the broken down KhTZ-16 being inspected in Kharkov
Another view of the broken down KhTZ-16 being inspected in Kharkov.
A KhTZ-16 on a farm is inspected by a local. He may be salvaging parts for local partisans.
A KhTZ-16 on a farm is inspected by a local. He may be salvaging parts for local partisans.
An intact KhTZ-16 is stuck in the side of a fence. Despite being produced in small numbers, there are a remarkable number of photos of this tank, when compared to its other improvised cousins
An intact KhTZ-16 is stuck in the side of a fence. Despite being produced in small numbers, there are a remarkable number of photos of this tank, when compared to its other improvised cousins.
A reproduction NI tank with a ShVAK cannon on display - despite being labelled as an NI, it is often presented as a KhTZ-16
A reproduction NI tank with a ShVAK cannon on display – despite being labelled as an NI, it is often presented as a KhTZ-16. The historical accuracy of this tank is dubious. There is no credible information or historical photographs suggesting that it was armed with this weapon. Also, the construction and shape of this tank is dubious, although, it does appear to be based on an STZ-3 tractor, and there was an attempt in the design process of the KhTZ-16 to mount a ShVAK.
Another supposed reproduction KhTZ-16 or NI tank. The historical accuracy of this tank is extremely dubious
Another supposed reproduction KhTZ-16 or NI tank. The historical accuracy of this tank is extremely dubious. The construction of this vehicle does not resemble that of a KhTZ-16 or an NI for that matter – especially with regards to the turret, main gun, and the suspension of the vehicle. Despite being presented as a KhTZ-16 or an NI, this was a postwar creation based on a postwar tractor as a replica, and looks nothing like any of the WWII improvised tanks.
This tank, said to be near Mongolia, is often presented as KhTZ-16. However, this is a Disston Tractor tank with Afghan markings on it
This tank, said to be “near Mongolia”, is often presented as KhTZ-16. However, this is a Disston Tractor tank with Afghan markings on it. It is actually in a now-closed Kabul museum in this photo and it now probably lies in a scrapyard.
A KhTZ-16 has its track repaired. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged
A KhTZ-16 has its track repaired. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged.
Now that some rivets are missing, this Romanian soldier is inspecting this abandoned KhTZ-16's engine compartment
Now that some rivets are missing, this Romanian soldier is inspecting this abandoned KhTZ-16’s engine compartment.
Another abandoned KhTZ-16. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged
Another abandoned KhTZ-16. The vehicle also appears to be camouflaged.
Another broken down KhTZ-16 is inspected by Romanian troops in a rural area
Another broken down KhTZ-16 is inspected by Romanian troops in a rural area.
A perfect side-view of a KhTZ-16
A perfect side-view of a KhTZ-16.
Another broken down KhTZ-16
Another broken down KhTZ-16.
A STZ-3 tractor. The KhTZ-16 was based upon these tractors
A STZ-3 tractor. The KhTZ-16 was based upon these tractors.
A broken down KhTZ-16 is inspected and posed on by Romanian troops
A broken down KhTZ-16 is inspected and posed on by Romanian troops.
A rather poorly lit photograph shows what appears to be a German AT gun crew having just successfully engaged a KhTZ-16
A rather poorly lit photograph shows what appears to be a German AT gun crew having just successfully engaged a KhTZ-16 (upper left).
A group of Romanian soldiers pose on a knocked out KhTZ-16. This photo reveals that the gun had a firing arc. Sources have previously suggested that the gun was fixed in place.
A group of Romanian soldiers pose on a knocked out KhTZ-16. This photo reveals that the gun had a firing arc. Sources have previously suggested that the gun was fixed in place.

Categories
WWII Soviet Light Tanks

Odessa Tank / NI

Ukrainian SSR (1941) Tractor tank – Estimated 55-70 built

Odessa’s Forgotten Glory

The NI, or Odessa Tank, was one of the many improvised tanks of WWII. Due to the shortages of tanks at Odessa in 1941, Soviet workers in one factory began producing an improvised tank, seemingly without any substantial heavy machinery. The tank was little more than thin naval steel plates with a turret placed onto a militarized tractor. Despite their crude design, dozens were produced and sent out to the front-line to fight against Romanian soldiers, with claims of superb combat results. Their cultural significance and symbolism in the post-war Ukrainian SSR and wider USSR has been proven by at least four replicas (although each highly inaccurate) being built, and at least two films based on the defense of Odessa featuring the tanks as a plot-point.
These tanks were seldom photographed, compared to other improvised tanks, such as the ZiS-30 and KhTZ-16, and, therefore, not a great deal can be confirmed about them. There is much speculation about this vehicle on the internet, and various reproductions have been cited as the original. However, this article has found the most credible sources available, and will piece together the true story, as well as explain and debunk some of the myths.

Designation

The NI did not have an official designation. During the war, it was known to be referred to as – На Испуг, Romanized as “Na Ispug” (shortened to “NI” pronounced ‘Nee‘). This is sometimes translated as “For Fright” or sometimes wrongly translated as “Bluff into retreat“, which, whilst an accurate description of their role, is incorrect. In “Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two” by Zaloga and Grandsen, “Na Ispug” is translated as “Terror Tanks“. In the memoirs of Marshal of the Soviet Union Krylov, “Glory Eternal, the defence of Odessa 1941“, they are translated as “Strike Terror“, shortened to “ST tanks“, and are sometimes called “Odessa Tanks“, “Armored Tractors“, and so on.
Sometimes, they are called “Tractor Tank” or “Armored Tractor“, and in modern Russian accounts, usually all types of tractor tanks are referred to as Bronetraktor (or Bronetraktory). They are also referred to as “НИ-1″ or “NI-1” on replica NI tanks, but the -1 designation may have just come from a film.
In any case, the best candidate for the official designation is “NI” (“Na Ispug”), because it was the wartime nickname, but for clarity’s sake, “Odessa Tank” is perhaps a better designation, even if it is not historically accurate.

Design process

Background: Military production in Odessa

The vast majority of the credible information about the tank is taken from Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolay Ivanovich Krylov’s memoirs – “Glory Eternal, Defence of Odessa, 1941“. During the defense of Odessa, he was a Polkovnik (western equivalent rank – Colonel), serving as Head of the Operations Department of the Army, and, after August 21st, 1941, he was Chief of Staff of the Maritime Army. His memoirs provide excellent first-hand accounts of otherwise poorly documented events…
In 1941, due to the sudden enemy advance, most factories in endangered areas, such as Odessa, were evacuated along with most of their heavy and important machinery. The little remaining machinery at Odessa was to be used to produce crude or improvised munitions, and even repair tanks that made it back from the front during the defense of the city. Worse still, there was a massive shortage of skilled labor, because men were conscripted into the army, meaning that housewives and untrained youths were the ones now working in factories. By the end of August, twenty Odessa factories were producing (or were at least organizing production of) weapons and munitions – many of which were improvised, such as trench flamethrowers made from soda water cylinders, and even AT and AP mines, made from tin cans (thus, somewhat humorously labelled ‘Caviar’, ‘Khalva’, etc).

Tanks in Odessa

On the whole, the Red Army was suffering from a lack of firepower in Odessa – especially tanks. At the start of the war, there were roughly 70 tanks, mostly T-37s, T-26s, and BT tanks, but most of those were knocked out after brutal fighting on the outskirts of the city during the early days of the siege, because the Romanians attacked on a daily basis. These 70 tanks were repaired numerous times, some receiving improvised up-armoring. Krylov recalls that at least three damaged tanks were loaded onto flatbed trucks, and were escorted behind Soviet lines to be repaired at the January Uprising Factory.
The January Uprising Mechanical Plant (note: the exact name of the factory has been subject to debate) was perhaps the best equipped factory in Odessa, and it had already made one thousand 50 mm (1.97 in) and two hundred 82 mm (3.23 in) mortar shells, as well at least one improvised armored train. It was also the main repair center for tanks. After they ran out of tanks to repair, there was another heroic, but wacky idea. They were going to make improvised tanks. They received help from workers from smaller factories, as well as engineers from the local naval base. Led by P.K. Romanov (the Chief Engineer of the factory) and Captain U.G. Kogan (an Artillery Instruments Engineer from Naval Base HQ, later transferred to Odessa Defense Area HQ), they decided to equip artillery tractors as tanks. Reportedly, “военинжинер” Obednikov (there appears to be no translation of his title) was also involved, but this name does not appear in more than a single unverified internet source, and it may be that this is a movie character from a postwar film (see Cultural Significance below).
The idea of armoring up civilian vehicles was not exactly new. There was a suggestion to turn even tram cars into armored trains, if fighting within the city took place. It is known that at least one tram was converted (as a contemporary Romanian newspaper article shows one after the fall of Odessa), but is seems likely that this idea was taken no further – perhaps Odessa Tank production was considered more important.
The idea of tractor tanks was met with some mistrust, too, but nevertheless, three STZ-5 tractors were set aside for an experiment. Captain Kogan received a letter stating that all city organizations were to assist on finding the necessary materials for the conversion experiment. They found a boring machine and turning lathe at the local tram workshop, which was necessary for making turret traverse parts (although possibly to make improvised turrets as well). Overall, the plan for the tank was actually fairly modest – a boxy, improvised hull built around the tractor, and a scavenged turret on top. All this was seemingly without any blueprints with which to heavily standardize production, although the few known images of the tank reveal a fairly high level of standardization.

Production

Prototypes

The first three NI tanks were ready within ten days and were presented on August 20th. The first two were reportedly armed with two DT machine guns, and the third with a 37 mm (1.46 in) mountain gun. This exact event is subject to debate – not least because it has been recreated in two films, and sources cite these as historical fact. According to some spurious internet sources, the first was pulled from the factory using ropes. According to another source, a worker wrote “СМЕРТЬ ФАШИЗМУ” (“Death to Fascism”) in chalk on the side of the tank. Two more NI tanks produced were reportedly called “Пролетарец” (Proletariats), and “Черномор” (‘Chernomor’, an evil Sorcerer from Pushkin’s 1820 poem ‘Ruslan and Ludmila‘). Writing “Death to Fascism” on a NI actually happened in a 1986 film – “Feat of Odessa, the second series“, and the others appear to be from the same film. The notion that the tanks had to be pulled from the factory using ropes is also spurious, and likely untrue.
According to newsreel footage (see clip #1 here), which is believed to show the first (if not a recreation of the first being presented for newsreel cameras, or perhaps one of the first NI tanks being produced), the tank drove out from within the factory and was presented by various factory workers and the foreman to Soviet officers and sailors. The tank was demonstrated by doing a 360 degree turn. As a result of the engine rattling the hull, it made a terribly loud noise when moving. The sailors, who were intended to drive the vehicle, thanked the workers, before driving off with the cry “On to Sevastopol!”.
The prototype NI tanks were sent to the Southern Sector with a repaired ‘real’ tank, although which tank this was is unknown. It is unclear exactly when this combat test was, but according to limited combat reports, it was possibly between August 28th and September 3rd. The crews of the NI tanks consisted of volunteers – sailors, soldiers, and reportedly even factory workers who were familiar with the vehicles. After the vehicles returned from their successful baptism of fire, the ODA Military Council immediately ordered 70 more tanks to be built, and three other factories were organized to help with the order.

Total production figures

The exact number built is unknown. Many internet sources refer to the memoirs of N.G. Lutsenko. According to these spurious sources, he oversaw the project and that he was the “former secretary for the ‘Leninist Party Committee“, but perhaps mean just a local party secretary. Lutsenko is never mentioned by Krylov in his memoirs of the Defense of Odessa, and he may not have even existed, or he was perhaps a film character. In any case, he did not oversee the project – this was done, as recalled by Krylov, by Kogan and Romanov. According to the almost certainly made-up memoirs of Lutsenko: “from August 20 to October 15, [we] manufactured 55 tanks, refitting them from the tractor STZ-5.” By September 14th, it is suggested that 31 tanks were made, but this figure is taken from another spurious source.
Spurious accounts aside, more common figures from sources suggest the total number produced to be 68 (a claim made by Steven Zaloga), 69, and 70. Other sources suggest the figure to be closer to 55, as the Odessa area “did not have sufficient resources or time to make more NI tanks“. According to the Romanian source, “Armata Romana 1941-1945” by Cornel I. Scafes, Odessa made 70-120 “tankettes, by transforming some tracked tractors“, but this is likely an overestimation.
It is known that three prototypes were made, and 70 more were ordered. It seems as though the four factories organized for the production of Odessa Tanks were actually part of a production chain, as opposed to each making tanks. It is likely that the tram workshop was used for making turrets, one factory was used for cutting the naval steel into shape, one factory was used for stripping down STZ-5s, and the January Uprising Factory was used for final assembly. Thus, it may be that the number produced is quite small. The bombing of the tram workshop late in the siege may also account for some turretless Odessa Tanks.
All in all, according to limited combat data, an estimated 33 – 40 NI tanks can be accounted for, and only 6 – 8 have been photographed.

Odessa Tanks after the siege

According to photographs, after the evacuation and fall of Odessa on October 16th, it seems as though all remaining NI tanks were abandoned. Some appear to be abandoned in the street along with other tanks, such as a BT-5, and others appear to be abandoned in a vehicle graveyard in the city, along with military trucks. These remaining tanks were reportedly either scrapped or used by Romanian troops for training. Romania is reported to have captured two Odessa Tanks at least, but their fate is unknown. The exact number of tanks that were left in Odessa after the evacuation is uncertain, but it is suggested by spurious claims to be about 10 – hardly an unreasonable claim. Photographs are believed to show four abandoned after the siege was over. It is more than likely that no Odessa Tanks existed after mid-1942.

Turrets

According to photographic evidence, it is apparent that various turrets were used – a T-26 M1932 turret modified to fit a DT (instead of a 37mm gun) was used for the first. It is also known that some NIs had improvised turrets, and it is the current belief of the author that most had improvised turrets. It is also highly likely that some NI tanks had no turrets at all, due to photographic evidence.
January Uprising Factory was the main repair station in Odessa, and turrets were reportedly taken from wrecked or damaged vehicles which were taken back behind Soviet lines for repairs, or perhaps to be melted down as scrap. The turrets that could be used had to be under a certain weight and size limit. Single man turrets were likely to be the only ones ever used, due to weight and space restrictions. It is unknown how many different types of turrets were salvaged, and the only salvaged turret known (beyond all doubt) is the prototype, with its modified turret.

T-26 M1931/2 turrets

The most commonly photographed turret was a T-26 M1932 turret that has been modified to feature a DT ball-mount instead of the 37 mm (1.46 in) gun. It is believed that this particular tank was the first Odessa Tank ever made. Whilst many of these turrets may have been stored after 1935 modernization of the T-26, the turret actually came from a wrecked T-26 M1932 tank still in service in the Ukrainian SSR. It was commonplace for outdated tanks to be used by Soviet Republics outside of the RSFSR. In fact, an estimated 1316 T-26 tanks (of various variants) were in service on the Southwestern Front (approximately 35% of all Soviet tanks on that front). Roughly 2037 T-26 M1931 tanks were ever made, but many were poorly built in the Izhora factory in Leningrad and used low quality, mild steel, so these vehicles may have been out of commission long before 1941. As well as this, there was a conversion program to turn twin-turreted models into single turreted models, too, so the overall number of T-26 M1931/2 tanks still in service by 1941 are unclear, as is the number in service at Odessa. It is believed that other T-26 M1931 turrets were salvaged and used for the construction of NI tanks, but it remains unclear due to a lack of photographic evidence.

T-37A/T-38 turrets?

According to a piece of footage from Roman Karmen’s 1965 documentary film “Great Patriotic War“, at least one Odessa Tank had a T-37A or T-38 turret. Due to their small size (and the fact that they have been known to be interchanged with a T-26 Model 1931 at least once by the Germans), there is nothing to suggest that a NI with a T-37A/T-38 turret could not have existed. Close examination of stills show that whilst it looks exactly like the T-37A/T-38 turret, the side viewport is too close to the front of the turret. Perhaps the unorthodox location of the viewport can also be accounted for by some kind of hasty repair or up-armoring. It is also highly likely that this is an improvised turret, but it is unlike other types seen. Until a better image can be uncovered, it will remain unknown.

Improvised turrets

Mathematically, even by taking the lowest NI production figure of 55, the majority of NI tanks would have to have improvised turrets, seeing as though most of the 70 original ‘real’ tanks defending Odessa would not necessarily have been recovered or have even had suitable one-man turret which could be mounted on NI tanks.
The existence of improvised turrets is also based on an inference from Zaloga, Krylov, and at least two known photos showing an improvised turret. This first photo clearly shows a non-standard turret. In the photo, there is a turret that looks nothing like any seen on other Soviet tanks. These turrets appear to have had a square armor box to house the main gun which was slightly offset to one side. It also appears to be larger, and more cylindrical than other turrets, as well as having a flat top, as opposed to the T-26 Model 1931’s ‘lipped’ design. Its weapons also appear to have been removed, but based on the diamond-shaped hole in the armor box, it appears as though this individual improvised turret would have featured a DT.
Two photos taken near the entrance to the port of Odessa show a NI with an apparent simple cylinder used as a turret. It probably had a hole to poke a DT machine gun through, but due to the quality and angle of the images, nothing more can be said. It may have had an armor box like the other non-standard turret, but it remains unclear due to a lack of photographs.

Turretless

There are three photos of NI tanks (all taken after the capture of Odessa) without turrets. The first without a turret may perhaps the the same turretless NI as seen outside the entrance to the port – this is something that is still in debate. There are two possible explanations of this, both based on pure speculation. The first is that they (assuming that these are separate tanks) had their turrets knocked off during combat. The second is that they never featured a turret and were sent out to fight with just the hull-mounted DT. Both are plausible explanations, but the turretless theory does make sense, seeing as though making improvised turrets would be quite laborious, and, if tanks were needed, they could be sent out to fight without turrets, in order to speed up production. As mentioned, the turning lathe from the tram station was appropriated for the production of the turrets, and the tram workshop was bombed later in the siege, so it may be that turret production was stopped.

Weapons

A variety of weapons are reported to have been used by the NI – a DT machine gun, a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, a 45 mm (1.77 in) gun, a Maxim machine gun, a DShK, a ShVAK cannon, and even a trench flamethrower. In any case, there was always an option for a hull-mounted DT.

DT machine guns

All known photographs and videos show the NI tanks to be armed with a DT machine gun (with the exception of two which are unarmed). DTs were also optionally mounted in the hull, and were operated by a third crew member. One modified T-26 M1931 turret seems to feature a machine gun that is substantially longer than any DT available at that time (in fact, it looks a lot like a DTM, but this gun was not made until 1944). It is more than likely that it is a DT-29 with a flash hider which looks narrow and short due to the photo’s lighting.

37mm guns

There is some written evidence across various sources to suggest that a NI could also have had a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun. The candidates for the exact 37 mm gun are the PS-1, M1930 1K, and the M1915 Trench Gun.
Only some T-26s had a 37 mm PS-1 gun, and in 1933, a single 3-man turret was put into production with a 45 mm gun (the most commonly seen version of the T-26), thus ending the short-lived 37 mm gun variant. There is no photographic evidence of a NI ever having a 37 mm M1932 turret. However, in one photo, it appears as though a T-26 M1931 turret featuring a 37 mm PS-1 gun has been modified to fit a DT instead. There are a variety of plausible explanations for this, but if they removed a 37 mm gun, then it therefore seems unlikely that the 37 mm PS-1 gun was mounted on the NI.
In “Glory Eternal, Defence of Odessa 1941“, it is reported that a 37 mm mountain gun was mounted on the third prototype NI tank. There are at least two candidates for what this gun is. The first is the M1930 1k gun, which was known to be in service during WWII, albeit in unknown, and probably small numbers. The second candidate is referred to in “Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two”, where Zaloga suggests that the 37 mm gun used was a Model 15R mountain gun, possibly meaning the 37 mm trench gun M1915, which was compact enough to fit into machine gun emplacements, and was smaller than the 1K. Both accounts do not state how such guns were mounted. Zaloga suggests that NI tanks without a T-26 M1931 turret had “new turrets“, presumably improvised, and it is not a leap of the imagination to assume that a 37 mm gun was mounted in an improvised turret, although it remains unknown which specific 37 mm gun it was.

45 mm guns

A 45 mm (1.77 in) gun does not seem to be an unreasonable claim. There is no photographic evidence for a 45 mm gun being fitted. A claim of a 45 mm gun is made commonly across internet sources. The idea may have come from sources thinking that a KhTZ-16 (which was another improvised tank) and a NI are the same thing, but Zaloga, who certainly knows the difference, suggests that a new turret was made for both 37 mm and 45 mm guns. There is no real issue of weight load, and, seeing as though some turrets might have been improvised, there might be no issue of space in such a turret. It remains a mystery what these turrets might have looked like.

Trench Flamethrowers

One credible source, a documentary from Channel “PТР“, makes reference to trench flamethrowers being used by NI tanks. Krylov talks about trench flamethrowers made from soda water cylinders in his memoirs, but does not state that they were used on NI tanks. The NI tank’s success was based on its propaganda and psychological value, so it seems strange that more sources do not talk about trench flamethrowers, as these would be a perfect psychological weapon. In fact, flamethrowers would be highly conspicuous. It is possible that they were rarely fitted to NI tanks, seldom-used, or that NI tanks did not use trench flamethrowers at all. If they were, it is most likely that they were operated by the secondary gunner in his port, as firing a trench flamethrower from the turret would require it to shoot over the poorly enclosed engine deck and both crew compartments, which would be highly dangerous. It is also possible that the idea of trench flamethrowers came from a film “Feat of Odessa, the second series“, 1986, which seems to show an Odessa Tank firing a flamethrower (or perhaps a very fiery discharge from the firing of the main gun).

Maxim guns

According to one internet source, a document entitled “A report on the defense of Odessa” gives the most information. It states (the following has been slightly edited to make grammatical sense): “In mid-August, the plant, January Uprising, October Revolution [the meaning of this is unclear] was organized by tanks and armored equipment [made] from tractors and trucks. They have installed 45 mm cannons and two Maxim machine guns.
This supposed report seems very spurious, and has not been seen by the author, although it is referenced in below sources. This report is believed to be a hoax, or highly inaccurate, having been supposedly written in 1943. However, the reference to “two Maxim machine guns” is backed up by a Russian documentary from Channel “PТР“. In it, an eye witness of the Defense of Odessa suggests that Maxim guns were mounted. It is probable that over the years, the witness has been confused by the names of the guns, like so many veterans are, and the claim of Maxim guns can probably be dismissed, due to a lack of evidence.

ShVAK cannons and DShK heavy machine guns

Internet sources discuss a DShK heavy machine gun and a ShVAK cannon as weapons, but neither Zaloga nor Krylov talk about a DShK, and it is a weapon only referred to by internet sources, and commonly seen on modern NI tank scale models. Similarly, the ShVAK (12.7 mm or even 20 mm) may come as a result of a replica NI which has one. It is possible that both weapons could fit inside a one-man turret, but there is no credible sources to suggest that they ever were.

Other weapons and turrets?

A final note on weapons and turrets is needed. It is more than possible that the NI tanks had more turrets than is known. It is possible that they featured the DT sub-turret from a T-28, seeing as though many were in service on the Southern Front, and because such a turret is a perfect size – however, it is unclear how turrets from wrecked T-28s would get back to the factories, as most other tanks were loaded onto flatbed trucks and transported back. A T-28 would be too big to be towed or loaded onto a truck. Single-man turrets from armored cars could also be used. Again, there is no evidence for this, but it is plausible. It cannot be overstated that they could seemingly only use single-man, small turrets, probably almost exclusively machine gun turrets, due to a lack of artillery gun munitions, seeing as though a 37 mm PS-1 T-26 ‘Model 1932’ turret was modified to fit a machine gun instead, and, finally, only turrets available in Odessa at that time could be seen on a NI.
According to a documentary, “Altar of Victory 6 – The Defense of Odessa” by Channel HTB, pipes were also welded over smaller guns to give the impression that they were larger than they are. This suggestion is not backed up particularly well by other sources, but this would, if true, explain sources claiming to have seen other guns larger in caliber than 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine guns – this is particularly important, seeing as though photographs do not show any guns other than DT machine guns. However, this claim was previously dismissed in this article because it was believed that this suggestion only came about as a result of post-war replica Odessa Tanks featuring pipes to represent their main guns. Unfortunately, this will likely remain a mystery.

Hull

The NI was a very asymmetrically shaped vehicle from the front. The commander’s hatch was located further from the front than the secondary gunner’s hatch. Also, the secondary gunner’s hatch was lower down than the commander’s hatch. There are also some differences between NIs, and it is unclear whether or not this depended on how far into production each vehicle was. There appears to be the inclusion of an emergency escape hatch close to the front of the tank on either side of the hull, next to where the driver or hull DT machine gunner would sit. The WWII footage of the first NI being presented shows there to be no hatch, whereas a later photograph of a supposed improvised-turret NI shows an almost square-like hatch being fitted.
However, the NI with the T-37A/T-38 turret appears to be much taller. It is unknown whether or not the hatch shape corresponded to the turret used, and whether the shape of the hatch was always a standard shape as seen from known examples. It is likely that as production went on, hatches were added as per the request of soldiers, and the choice of turret was simply down to what was available. The other varying feature is the inclusion of small mudguards. All NI tanks had front mudguards, but the supposed improvised turret NI has a set of rear mudguards, too. It seems as though all NI tanks also had a large toolbox mounted on the rear of the vehicle. As well as this, they all appeared to have a small, rectangular hole towards the rear of the sides of the hull. The function of this is unknown, but it could be for light, ventilation, or, more likely, a pistol port.

Armor

The armor of the tank was totally improvised. Thin naval steel was provided from ship repair yards and the naval base. The armor had several layers – wood and rubber sandwiched between naval steel. It was approximately 10-20 mm (0.4-0.8 in) thick. Tests in the factory showed that the armor could withstand bullets and shrapnel at least, if not artillery shells. On the inside, wooden beams held the superstructure in place. There were two compartments – the engine at the front, and the crew compartment at the rear, with the driver sitting in the middle-right. A second gunner could sit on the middle-left of the vehicle in a compartment similar to the driver’s, where he could fire a machine gun from.
According to this cleaned up footage, at least the first Odessa Tank may have also not been fully painted the standard 4BO. It appears as though the rear was, for the most part, bare naval steel, with some sloppy paint which has streaked down over the hull sides. The front and sides appear to be covered (judging by the shading of the T-26 M1932 modified turret compared to the rest of the hull), but the rear appears a different color, with the paint streaking over. It is unknown whether others had the same sloppy paint job.

In combat

The NI was only intended to be a bluff, in order to fool the Germans and Romanians into thinking that the Soviets had more armored vehicles. It is said that they were slow, traveling at only 7 km/h (4 mph), and they were prone to toppling over in small ditches or when overcoming small hills. However, footage of the NI with the supposed T-37A/T-38 turret proves that the NI can travel much faster. In fact, Krylov even suggests in one account that the infantry the tanks were supporting could not keep up with the tanks!

Prototypes in combat

The first three NI tanks produced, the prototypes, were sent out to fight with volunteer crews of sailors, soldiers, and factory workers (who were familiar with the machines). They were organized under Senior Lieutenant Yudin, whose tank platoon headed one of the Chapayevites’ counter-attacks beyond Dalnik in the Southern Sector. Before any reports were even made, General Petrov made a request to Army HQ to leave them in his division. The results of the first combat involving NI tanks were remarkable. According to some sources, it was a night-time engagement. The Romanians in the Southern Sector had never seen any Soviet tanks there before, and as a result, retreated from their trenches by miles. This may have happened between August 28th and September 3rd, as the exact date is unclear.
Similarly, according to an article written by Alexi Krotov, almost certainly referring to the same incident: “Their baptism of fire took place on September 1st [although this date is dubious]. The Bronetraktory led a counterattack with the 25th Chapayev Division in the southern defense sector. When a hell of roaring engines, eerie rumbling slabs, and plated monsters, Romanian infantry hurriedly retreated into reserve positions due to the psychological impact. The NI tanks, left unharmed, were ordered to return to fall back, supposedly the order was given saying ‘Let the enemy [go], they [the NI tanks] will remain a mystery.
An order from [Ion] Antonescu to the 4th army stated ‘I demand all moral stamina and energy… Are you afraid of the tanks? The whole of our [front] ran 4-5km, only at the appearance of 4-5 tanks. Shame on such an army.’
From the same article, a report (albeit written in rather difficult to comprehend Russian) seems to refer to a NI tank crewman raving about how German shells hit the vehicle at least two times, but as they were not direct hits, the vehicle kept on moving. This may be possible if there were no direct hits to any vital components (engine, suspension, etc) or any wounds inflicted on crew members. In fact, Krylov’s account supports this claim: “After the first battle, the tanks clanged through the city streets again and returned to the factory for inspection. As had been inspected, the [shrapnel] and bullets had only dented them. A 45mm shell that had hit one of the tanks went right through the stratified armour, and fortunately, neither the crew nor the engine was damaged. On the whole, the tanks had passed the test.
Other sources commenting on this incident suggest and agree that the success of the tank was based on the psychological effect that it could create. They moved without artillery support to the Romanian trenches. However, it is clear that the Romanians retreated because they had no effective AT weapons, and did not expect to see the tanks in the sector.

Western Sector

At some point between August 30th and September 2nd, whilst reinforcements for Odessa were being organized, Major General Vorobyov was given several NI tanks, which served in the Western Sector (perhaps with the 95th Division). Krylov recalls: “On my way back from the 95th division, I was thinking about the people I had met there, Vorobyov in particular. He was having a hard time of it. A good deal had to be done differently from the way he had seen it from his academic chair or at staff games. … The war had taught him to disregard nothing that might help intensify our blows at the enemy. One could imagine his reaction to tractors covered with sheets of iron, had he been shown them in peacetime. But now he was happy that his division had been given a few of these machines, and kept asking for more, convinced that the fascists feared even such tanks.
By September, all normal tanks at Odessa had either been drastically repaired, and the rest were NI tanks, mostly under the command of Yudin. Crews were, for the most part, trained on the spot, but the tank battalion was a real fighting force. Krylov even states “Wherever there were a few tanks, the men went into the counter-attack with confidence.” However, there were simply not enough to go around, Krylov recalls later at a counter-attack that “we could not provide the 421st Division with Odessa ST [NI] tanks.” In fact, when 70 more NI tanks were ordered, even with four factories organized to produce them, Krylov states that there was little chance they could be produced particularly quickly.

Yudin’s Battalion

The greatest combat that the NI tanks saw was yet to come. On October 2nd, a new Soviet offensive began. Krylov recalls: “It was the tankmen who particularly distinguished themselves that day. Senior Lieutenant Yudin’s battalion consisting in the main of armoured tractors (of the 35 machines committed to action there were only a few real tanks) actually operated independently, because the infantry could not keep up with it. Crushing the enemies with their tracks and mowing them down with fire, the groups of tanks had reached the depression of west Lenintal. Yudin later reported that his battalion had killed close to 1000 enemy soldiers. Even if this figure was not very exact, there can be no doubt that on October 2nd, the tanks built in besieged Odessa inflicted the enemy the heaviest losses since the first time they had been committed to action. Seeing that the infantry could not catch up with them, the tanks finally turned back. But they did not return empty handed. They steered straight for the positions of the enemy batteries, crushing and scattering the gun crews (none of the enemy hurled themselves with grenades against the tanks as our men did. Sofronov was right when he said that now no special resistance of the enemy in defense could be expected. The undamaged guns were then hooked on to the armoured tractors like the ploughs or combine harvesters these machines had originally been designed to tow. Thus the tankmen brought back with them 24 guns of various calibers, and as many mortars and machine guns as they could fasten to their tanks and guns. But the tank battalion also suffered some losses. Six or seven armoured tractors were damaged by artillery fire or immobilised through technical defects. Most of the crews of these tractors were rescued by other crews. Among those who were missing was the commissar of the battalion – Senior Political Instructor Mozolevsky.

Leningrad and Saaremaa Island?

Some NI tanks were rumored to have served at Leningrad, but this is impossible, as all NI tanks fought at Odessa, mostly the western sector. However, very few may have served near Sevastopol.
It is rumored that there was another tractor tank made at Leningrad which had similar features to the NI, such as the use of an STZ-5 tractor, supposedly known as the Izhora Bronetraktor. However, there is exceptionally scarce information on this vehicle and it is hard to confirm any further details. There are also rumors of some kind of improvised tank based on an STZ-5 serving at Saaremaa Island (Moonsund), Estonian SSR. This explanation seems more likely, and explains the Arsenal Crossley armored car as seen in purported photos. Having said this, neither story about the “Izhora Bronetraktor” can be substantiated with credible sources.

Cultural Significance

The Odessa Tank has been a true symbol of Soviet / Ukrainian resistance against fascism. At least four replicas have been made (to varying degrees of accuracy) and are on display at museums across Russia and Ukraine. Not only this, but the Odessa Tank has appeared in two films! Often enough the events in these films are reported as irrefutable fact, when, in reality, some scenes are clearly enhanced for the audience’s enjoyment.
The first was in 1971, Vadim Lysenko’s “The Train to the Distant August“, where two mockups were made for the role. Despite only being on screen for a couple of minutes, photos taken during the film production are very famous, and are often mistaken for real Odessa Tanks. The second film to feature Odessa Tanks was Vladimir Strelkov’s “Feat of Odessa, the Second Series“, 1986. It featured a short scene of Odessa Tanks in battle, but also a reenactment of the original presentation of the first Odessa Tank to soldiers and civilians, which was shot on location at the January Uprising Factory! At least four were made for this film, but it is clear that there was a high level of postwar symbolism that was taken into account, and therefore, they were made more exciting and memorable with bold slogans painted on the side (which some sources cite as a real event), and shooting what appears to be a post-war jeep. Nevertheless, it captured the general euphoria of Odessites and soldiers who were glad to see that all could play their part in the resistance against fascism. All of this footage has been compiled here.

Odessa Tank / NI specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) Estimated 4.3 x 2.3 x 3 m (14’1” x 7’7” x 9’10”)
Total weight Estimated 7 tonnes
Crew 2 or 3 (driver, commander, and an optional secondary gunner)
Propulsion 1MA, 4-cyl. petrol, 42-56 hp
Speed (road) Estimated 29 km/h (18 mph), but at least 21 km/h (13 mph) – Sources state 7 km/h (4 mph), but a short piece of newsreel footage shows it to travel much faster, and Krylov’s memoirs state that the infantry the tanks were supporting could not keep up!
Range Estimated 140 km (87 mi)
Armament See notes
Armor 10-20 mm (possibly as much as 25 mm) (0.4-0.8 in) improvised
Total production 55-70

Sources and external links

“Glory Eternal, Defence of Odessa 1941” by Marshal of the Soviet Union N. Krylov
“Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two” by Steven J. Zaloga and James Grandsen
“Armata Romana 1941-1945” by Cornel I. Scafes et al, accessed from Romanian archives
“Altar of Victory 6 – the Defence of Odessa”. One of a documentary series by Channel НТВ. First broadcast 17th October, 2009
“Great Patriotic War”, 1965, a documentary film directed by Roman Karmen
“Thirst” – A documentary on the Defense of Odessa by Channel PТР
“The Train to the Distant August”, a film by Directed by Vadim Lysenko and written by Gregory Pozhenyan, Odessa Film Studio, 1971 (Russian)
“Feat of Odessa, the second series”, Odessa Film Studios, 1986. Directed by Vladimir Strelkov
Forums and internet sources: (Note: These are not necessarily accurate, and some caution is taken as to the validity of their content. Some are only included as the source of photographs. Nevertheless, commentary on the validity of their suggestions has been included)
Odesskiy.com (Russian)
Alernathistory.com (Russian)
Amor.kiev.ua (Russian)
048.ua (Russian)
Tsushima forums (1st page) (Russian)
Tsushima forums (2nd page) (Russian)
o5m6.de – Tractors of the Red Army
Tankarchives.blogspot
Armchairgeneral.com

A final author’s note on credibility of information

It is very difficult to trace such an obscure and poorly documented vehicle. Specifics about this vehicle, such as the guns it used, its true armor thickness, and some of the names and roles of people involved (particularly N.G.Lutsenko) often remain unclear. Furthermore, no supposed wartime documents (such as the 1943 ‘Report on the Defense of Odessa’) have been seen by the author, but are referred to in the sources listed. Using internet sources is very bad practice for researching. Since discovering the book “Glory Eternal, Defence of Odessa 1941” by Marshal of the Soviet Union N. Krylov, a wealth of information about the NI tanks has been discovered, such as their true combat history and names of people involved, but little has been revealed about their exact physical construction details. By using photos and newsreel footage, more commentary about the vehicles, as well as the plausibility of the claims that sources make has been made.
ww2 soviet armour
All ww2 Soviet Tanks Posters

Rendition of a NI improvised tank with a T-26 Model 1931 turret - Illustrator: Donald Stevens
Rendition of a NI improvised tank with a T-26 Model 1931 turret – Illustrator: Donald Stevens
Rendition of a NI improvised tank with a DShK, only one photo shows a NI with what is believed to be a round improvised turret. It is also speculated that an improvised turret would be needed to fit a DShK. Slogan: Death to Fascism.
Rendition of a NI improvised tank with a DShK, only one photo shows a NI with what is believed to be a round improvised turret. It is also speculated that an improvised turret would be needed to fit a DShK. Slogan: “Death to Fascism”. In reality, slogans were probably never painted on Odessa Tanks, but in Vladimir Strelkov’s 1986 film “Feat of Odessa, the second series”, a worker wrote this slogan on in chalk – an event sometimes presented as reality by some sources.Rendition of a NI with a T-38/T-37A turret. There is a piece of footage that shows this type, except the location of its side viewport is moved higher and closer to the front of the turret, which has never been seen on other examples of T-37A/T-38s.
Rendition of a NI with a T-38/T-37A turret. There is a piece of footage that shows this type, except the location of its side viewport is moved higher and closer to the front of the turret, which has never been seen on other examples of T-37A/T-38s. It is most plausible that the turret that has had a repair, forcing the viewport to be moved. It is also highly likely that this is, in fact, an improvised turret.

All known footage of the NI tank, as taken from documentaries, films, and newsreels.

Gallery

Workers present a NI tank with what appears to be some kind of long DT, believed to be a DT-29 with a flash hider. The turret is taken from a T-26 Model 1931 and reportedly would have had a 37mm PS-1 gun; it appears as though it has been removed and replaced with a DT
Workers present a NI tank with what appears to be some kind of long DT, believed to be a DT-29 with a flash hider. The turret is taken from a T-26 Model 1931 and reportedly would have had a 37mm PS-1 gun; it appears as though it has been removed and replaced with a DT. This was likely done because of a lack of sufficient ammunition. The top hatch is also open in this photo. Senior Lieutenant N. Yudin (sometimes called Artillery Lieutenant) has been speculated to be the man second from the right.
Different view of the above. The top hatch is closed in this photo. Mysteriously, the DT appears to be shorter in this photo, when compared to the above. There remains no explanation for this.
Different view of the above. The top hatch is closed in this photo. Mysteriously, the DT appears to be shorter in this photo, when compared to the above. There remains no explanation for this.
ni-first-presentation-clear-photo-unwatermarked
Another view of the above – all three photos are believed to be on August 20th, 1941. It is unclear whether this photo has been altered for clarity of the image.
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Sideview of the above. This image is taken from a screenshot from footage. Whilst sections of this footage are available in this article, footage of this side of the tank is not.
A photograph of a NI with an unknown turret, speculated to be an improvised turret - this turret appears totally cylindrical and is facing 7 o'clock in this photograph. A Romanian soldier stands on top.
A photograph of a NI with an unknown turret, almost certainly an improvised turret – this turret appears totally cylindrical and is facing 7 o’clock in this photograph. A Romanian soldier stands on top. Notice how it also features an almost square-like emergency hatch and a set of rear mudguards. The toolbox is also clear on the right-hand side of the vehicle. The divisional marking is unknown.

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Unknown Odessa Tank, unknown date, unknown location. This vehicle is likely one of the three first production vehicles on its way through Odessa to the Southern Sector to fight at Dalnik under Senior Lieutenant Yudin. Screenshot from untraceable footage.

new-odessa-tank-with-strange-div-marking
Different view of the above. The turret appears to be a T-26 M1931 turret. There appears to something above the toolbox, possibly a crowbar, but possibly another escape hatch. The divisional marking is unknown. Screenshot from untraceable footage.

A still from Roman Karmen's 1965 film
A still from Roman Karmen’s 1965 film “Great Patriotic War” (approximately 25 minutes in) showing a NI tank with what might be an improvised turret similar to a T-37A/T-38 turret. Close examination shows that the viewport is in a very unorthodox location for it to be a T-37A/T-38 turret – however, it may have just been repaired, thus moving the viewport forward. It is also quite likely to be an improvised turret.

A very grainy photo of a NI. It is unclear where this photo is taken, but it appears to be original. This one appears to feature some additional plates below both sides of the crew compartments at the front of the hull. These may be additional armor plates or additional escape hatches, but it remains a mystery.
A very grainy photo of a NI. It is unclear where this photo is taken, but it appears to be original. This one appears to feature some additional plates below both sides of the crew compartments at the front of the hull. These may be additional armor plates or additional escape hatches, but it remains a mystery. The engine access hatch also appears flatter than other examples, but, due to the quality of the photo, this, too, is unclear. The turret it features is very unclear, but according to shading, it seems to be an improvised turret. Three crew members can be seen, the commander and driver are easy to spot, but the third crew member of on the right of the gun, just a little to the below-right of the commander.
e3ef5c8e8bc1
Different view of the above, albeit in higher quality. Screenshot from untraceable footage.
At least two Odessa Tanks can be seen in this photo near the entrance to the port of Odessa. According to the below photo (judging by the amount of snow), this was taken any time between November 1941 and January 1942. The one on the left has an improvised turret, and one without a turret is just behind it. This equipment was probably left behind after the Soviet withdrawal. The hatch on the turreted Odessa Tank appears to be tall, as in the above photo. Credits: Will Kerrs, private collection.


This is a different view of the above, taken in February, 1942 (according to writing on the reverse of the photo). The shot is taken from the other side. It reveals that one Odessa Tank has no turret turret, and that the other probably had a simple cylinder for a turret. The ZiS truck is visible in the left of the shot, and can be seen in the above. Because they are so close to the port, it is probable that they were used to police the evacuation of the city and were abandoned after. Credit: Frankie Pulham, Private Collection.

On the left, we can see the rear of a NI. In the background right, we see a NI without a turret. It is possible that there were no turrets left to scavenge, and this one had to make do with just the hull DT. This is believed to be taken after the defense of Odessa was over.
On the left, we can see the rear of a NI. In the background right, we see a NI without a turret. It is possible that there were no turrets left to scavenge or that no turrets could be made, and this one had to make do with just the hull DT. This is believed to be taken after the defense of Odessa was over. It is very possible that the two tanks in shot are the same as the above photos, and that the traffic known near the port of Odessa has been shifted by the occupiers, during 1942, however, this is still in debate. Note: This photo appears to have been lightly edited by use of a cloning tool on photoshop software. This photo has also been seen, heavily watermarked by CEGESOMA. It is unclear why CEGESOMA has a photo of the Odessa Tank.
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Traffic near the entrance to the port of Odessa. The small ‘pavillion’ hut structure between the closest telegraph pole on the right, and the one just to the left of it. It is probable that the Odessa Tanks were abandoned upon the evacuation of the city.
A technical drawing of an STZ-5 tractor
A technical drawing of an STZ-5 tractor.
A T-26 'Model 1932' with a 37 mm gun (left turret) and a DT machine gun (right turret). The NI fitted turrets from wrecked T-26 Model 1931 tanks, but there are only photographs of the NI with the DT T-26 Model 1931 turret.
A T-26 ‘Model 1932’ with a 37 mm gun (left turret) and a DT machine gun (right turret). The NI fitted turrets from wrecked T-26 Model 1931 tanks, but there are only photographs of the NI with the DT T-26 Model 1931 turret.
This abandoned factory is believed to be the January Uprising factory. It appears as though it was abandoned decades ago, but was reportedly operational in the 1970s building cranes.
This abandoned factory is believed to be the January Uprising factory. It appears as though it was abandoned decades ago, but was reportedly operational in the 1970s building cranes. Credits: yangur.livejournal.com (More photos)
odessa-train
Photograph from a Romanian newspaper of what appears to be an armored tram at Odessa. This idea was likely quickly dismissed in favor of Odessa Tank production. The turrets are improvised and probably similar to those that Odessa Tanks would be fitted with.

Reproductions and Misidentified NIs

Some slightly odd-looking NI tanks leave the gates of the Odessa factory called January Uprising. Despite apparent authenticity, this is actually a photo from a scene from Vadim Lysenko's 1971 film The train to the distant August (Поезд в далекий август).  These tanks were specially made for this film and were probably scrapped afterwards
Some slightly odd-looking NI tanks leave the gates of the Odessa factory called “January Uprising”. Despite apparent authenticity, this is actually a photo from a scene from Vadim Lysenko’s 1971 film “The train to the distant August” (“Поезд в далекий август”).  These tanks were specially made for this film and were probably scrapped afterwards.
Another supposed reproduction KhTZ-16 or NI tank in a museum in Odessa. This tank is the most common vehicle cited as the NI across internet-based sources. The historical accuracy of this tank is extremely dubious.
Another supposed reproduction KhTZ-16 or NI tank in a museum in Odessa. This tank is the most common vehicle cited as the NI across internet-based sources. The historical accuracy of this tank is extremely dubious. The construction of this vehicle does not resemble that of a KhTZ-16 or a NI – especially with regards to the turret, main gun, and the suspension of the vehicle. Despite being presented as a KhTZ-16 or a NI, this was a postwar creation based on a postwar tractor as a replica, and looks nothing like any of the WWII improvised tanks.
Despite looking more like a KhTZ-16, this tank is actually labelled as a NI. The historical accuracy of this tank is dubious. There is no credible information or historical photographs suggesting that it was armed with this ShVAK weapon, although the KhTZ-16 prototype did feature one.
Despite looking more like a KhTZ-16, this tank is actually labelled as a NI. The historical accuracy of this tank is dubious. There is no credible information or historical photographs suggesting that it was armed with this ShVAK weapon, although the KhTZ-16 prototype did feature one. Also, the construction and shape of this tank is dubious, although, it does appear to be based on an STZ-5 tractor. All mentions of a ShVAK being fitted to a NI may have come from this replica.
This tank is often presented as a NI tank, but it is a reproduction. This replica is facing right. The historical accuracy of this tank is dubious. It does appear to be based on an STZ-5 tractor, but the shape of this tank could be mistaken for a KhTZ-16
This tank is often presented as a NI tank, but it is a reproduction. This replica is facing right. The historical accuracy of this tank is dubious. It does appear to be based on an STZ-5 tractor, but the shape of this tank could be mistaken for a KhTZ-16. Despite being presented as a NI, there is no credible information or historical photographs suggesting that this armor shape was that of an original NI. The turret, however, is likely somewhat accurate. Its gun was also probably stolen for scrap by criminals. Copyright Dmitry Lubomirsky, 2006.
A fairly (but still far from) accurate replica NI tank in Prokhorovka Park, Odessa. It shows an improvised turret with a supposed 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. This is not proof that the NI ever mounted this gun
A fairly (but still far from) accurate replica NI tank in Prokhorovka Park, Odessa. It shows an improvised turret (likely quite accurate) with a supposed 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. This is not proof that the NI ever mounted this gun. This vehicle has been vandalized with paint in May, 2015, as seen in the photograph.
A rear view of what appears to be an Izhora Bronetraktor, next to an Estonian Arsenal Crossley armored car. The suspension of this vehicle would suggest that it is a NI, but it is actually a different vehicle.
A rear view of what appears to be an Odessa Tank. This can categorically be dismissed as being an Odessa Tank as the hull is totally the wrong shape. Other sources report two rumors of what this vehicle is – the ‘Izhora Bronetraktor’ at Leningrad, or a vehicle built on Saaremaa Island, Estonian SSR. Whilst it remains unclear if these rumors are true, it is fairly evident that the tractor tank in the photo is most probably a policing vehicle made by the Soviet Navy at Tallinn, Estonian SSR, for the unrest of June, 1941. See Soviet Navy Improvised ADG article.

Seemingly another Izhora Bronetraktor in the above photograph. It appears to have toppled over into a ditch and is being inspected by Germans and locals. The turret is facing the rear, and it is possible that it was trying to flee before it fell over.
Seemingly another strange type of Odessa Tank, as in the above photograph. As mentioned, this is more than likely a Soviet Navy policing vehicle in Tallinn. It appears to have toppled over into a ditch and is being inspected by Germans and locals. The turret is facing the rear, and it is possible that it was trying to flee before it fell over.

Categories
WWII Soviet Light Tanks

T-26

Light tank (1931-41) Soviet Union – around 10,300 built

Based on the Vickers Mark E

The Soviet T-26 was the illegitimate offspring of the successful Vickers Mark E export light tank. The “Vickers 6-ton” had no customers when it was first released, in 1931. However, this well-balanced, modern and relatively cheap tank immediately drew the attention of Soviet officers, who felt the need to keep in touch with western technologies.
The previous Soviet mass-production tank, the T-18, a local design, was based on the small WWI era Renault FT. One decade had already passed, and the new Vickers tank embodied the advances of the time, or so they were advertised. This confidence in Vickers designs was renewed after the license for the Mk.VI Carden-Loyd tankette was acquired, built locally as the T-27. Another Vickers design also led to the amphibious T-37A. At the first press meetings and public tests, the tank drew the attention of Semyon Ginzburg, head of the Soviet buying committee, searching for tractors, cars, trucks and tanks.
They signed a contract for 15 Vickers 6-ton Model A (twin-turret) vehicles was signed on May 28, 1930, including full documentation and plans for domestic production. The 15 tanks were assembled in 1930 at Vickers, under the careful attention of Soviet engineers. The first vehicles arrived in the USSR during that fall, and the others in 1931-32 when the first domestic T-26 design was almost ready for production.

The most produced tank of the thirties

The T-26 was, at the time, by far the most produced tank in the world, to a level which could only be achieved in the USSR. At that time, Stalin desperately pushed this gigantic rural country to a forced, careless march towards industrial might. With less engineering sophistication than contemporary western models, the T-26 was ideally suited for mass-production and ultimately the 10,000th vehicle was built in September 1939.
This tank alone made the Red Army, by far, the biggest armored force the world had ever seen. Even in the summer of 1941, German armor was overwhelmed by a four to one ratio and the Panzers would soon be confronted, on a daily basis, with swarms of such light tanks. Simply put, it was the mainstay of the Red Army, playing the same task during these pre-war years as the T-34 during the “Great Patriotic War”.

Development

In 1931, the first three British Vickers tanks, under the designation of V-26, successfully passed all tests at the Poklonnaya Hill proving ground near Moskow. At the same time, S.Ginsburg had already conceived the T-19, a possible competitor for the Vickers, and the Special Commission for the Red Army (RKKA) was charged with seeking the better of the two for the needs of the Red Army.
But as the complex T-19, although not ready on schedule, had some advantages over the Vickers, Ginsburg suggested the construction of a kind of hybrid, retaining only the engine and transmission from the Vickers. However, in January 1931, there were serious concerns about the purchase of the Vickers and Christie tanks by Poland, with mass-production possible afterward. At that time, the USSR only possessed an obsolete lot of WWI vintage British and French tanks and the now obsolescent fleet of T-18s.
So an order came to urge production of the T-26 with existing components. There were concerns about the better quality of British armor (the Vickers S.t.a Plat, high-quality cemented plates). This first prototype was a Vickers equipped with Soviet-built turrets, which was put under heavy machine-gun fire to check protection.
At the same time, the Faculty of Mechanization and Motorization of the Military Technical Academy produced two “low power tanks”, TMM-1 and TMM-2, proceeding with several engines and parts from other vehicles. They were not retained and the final T-26, if very close to the original Vickers, had many alterations. The T-26 was first produced by the Bolshevik Factory in Leningrad, the only one with equipment and significant experience, having recently mass-produced the T-18.
Later on, Factory No. 174 joined the effort, headed by chief engineer S. Ginzburg. But until 1935 quality flaws were frequent. In 1933, the production was also assumed by the Stalingrad Tractor Factory (STZ). In February 1941, the last T-26 left Factory N°174. The production lines were converted to the more complex T-50 but still managed to build spare parts, armor kits, turrets and convert about 130 T-26s as flame-throwing versions, with a KhT-133 device. They also repaired around 846 T-26 in active duty.

T-26 model 1931-32: The twin-turret version

The earliest production model was a twin-turret type. Each turret had an observation slit, a round firing port for the DT machine-gun, armored plates riveted to a frame and even sealed zinc shims for improved waterproof performance and fording. The following year, a cover for the engine main air outlet window was added. The next models (1932-33) had a mixed construction, with a welded and riveted hull. Turrets were either riveted or welded, sometimes both, mixed with all-welded or riveted hulls.
These turrets existed in four different models and configurations, although still mounted in the same locations, with the same height and generally same features. All had a 240° arc of fire and armor ranging from 13 to 15 mm (0.51-0.59 in), although the very first 1931 models had only 10 mm (0.39 in) of mediocre alloy, susceptible to machine-gun fire. The model 1931 (100 units), 1932 (1361) and 1933 (576) were all twin-turreted versions. About 2038 were built in all. Their fighting value in 1939 was insignificant, so many were converted to other duties, and some for training.

T-26 early production version (model 1932) under maintenance. Credits: Wikipedia

T-26 model 1933

The biggest production run of the T-26 was the single-turret variant. In fact, it was inspired by the British Vickers 6-tons Type B, but both the turret and armament were purely Soviet in design. The turret was cylindrical, relatively low, simple in design, with rear storage, housing a high velocity 45 mm (1.77 in) gun with antitank capabilities. This was in stark contrast to the British Type B’s low velocity 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, designed for infantry support.
The Soviet gun, the 19K model 1932, was supplied with 122 rounds. Secondary armament consisted of a frontal coaxial 7.62 mm (0.3 in) DT machine gun and an additional one mounted on a rear external anti-aircraft cradle. In 1935, an extra one was mounted in a turret rear ball mount, all supplied by a total of 2961 rounds.
These three machine-guns were provided to cope with dedicated anti-tank crews and effectively did their job against Japanese suicide squads at the battle of Khalkin Gol in 1939 (Mongolia). The 19K (and later 20K) 45 mm (1.77 in) guns fired anti-tank rounds with a muzzle velocity of 820 m/s (2,700 ft/s), but a supply of traditional high explosive rounds were also carried.
By 1933, only commander tanks were equipped with radios, the early model presenting the cumbersome hand-rail radio antenna on the turret, while later ones had the more conventional buggy-whip antenna. This later type was a product of the experience both during the Spanish Civil War and various incidents with Japan on the Chinese-Mongolian border, showing that visible commander tanks were more likely to be targeted.
The drivetrain and transmission were both straightforward designs. The small but torque-full 90 bhp flat row 4-cylinder air-cooled petrol engine was a very careful copy of the British Armstrong Siddeley. It was somewhat simplified for mass-production and adapted to harsher climates, extreme both in summer and winter. Its major flaw was the absence of a mechanical speed limiter, which caused overheating and accidental breakdowns at first.
This engine also required top-grade refined petrol to run in good order. It was ventilated by a cooling fan mounted in a special shroud and the exhaust muffler was affixed by three clamps. The engine was alimented by an 182 l fuel tank, upgraded in 1932 to 290 l, increasing the overall autonomy.
The transmission included a single-disk main dry clutch and five gear gearbox. It was mounted in the front part of the hull. The original two-boggy, four twin rubber-covered road wheels suspension was kept. The cast box connecting these wheels was suspended by balancing levers and two one-quarter elliptic leaf springs. The drive wheel with removable sprocket ring was at the front and the idler at the rear (with a crank lever tightener). The 108-109 chrome-nickel steel links tracks were supported with four twin return rollers. The T-26 was reputedly easy to drive and capable of fording 80 cm (2.62 ft) of water, crossing 75 cm (2.46 ft) high obstacles and 2.1 m (6.89 ft) wide trenches.

T-26 model 1938

From 1933 to 1938 the T-26 was virtually unchanged, except for the use of buggy-whip antennae, VKU-3 command system, TPU-3 intercom and an electric breechblock and vertically stabilized (or TOS model) TOP-1 gun telescopic sight. The main armament will remain unchanged until the end of the production in 1941, but the model 1938 received a brand new cast turret with sloped angles, the same armor and a PTK commander’s panoramic sight for newly radio-equipped commander tanks.
This turret was also factory-equipped with a rear gun port, first introduced in 1935, for a third DT machine-gun. After the battle of Lake Khasan in August 1938, the turret base was reinforced with a sloped underturret plate, 20 mm (0.79 in) strong. This late model was called the model 1939 or T-26-1 in some sources.
In all, 4,826 model 1938 and 1939 tanks were built. Around 670 of these were fitted with AA machine-gun mounts in 1939-40. At the same time, many obsolescent twin-turret models were converted as flame-throwers or dispersing tanks for chemical battalions. In 1940, the Factory of Carrying-and-Conveying Machines S. Kirov in Leningrad was responsible for the modernization of 340 1933 models T-26, replacing older road wheels with new reinforced ones. Other change included some armor increase for the headlight, driver’s hatch lower door and new armored PT-1 or PTK observation devices were fitted, as well as a common hatch above the engine compartment and fuel tank access. The latter’s capacity was increased. This unit and Factory N°105 were responsible for repairing many disabled T-26s.

T-26 variants

Model 1931 twin turret variants

Mixed armament (gun and machine-gun) model 31
The first 10 pre-series vehicles were equipped with mixed armament, one of the turrets being equipped with a Russian variant PS1 or PS2 of the French Hotchkiss 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, designed by engineer P. Syachentov. Only three later model 1931s were fitted with the PS2 gun in the right turret, but ultimately 392 were converted later to this configuration.
The T-26 BKP were 20 or 30 vehicles equipped with the B3 recoilless gun designed by engineer L.V. Kurchervsky in 1933. These 1934 models were few because of the shortcomings of the “dynamic reaction gun”, as it was called. Although the muzzle velocity (500 m/s or 1640 ft/s) and range (4 km/2.48 mi) made them very effective as anti-tank weapons, they were impossible to reload on the move, the procedure being long and uneasy, fully exposing the gun crew and the rear jet blast proving dangerous for accompanying troops.
T-26TU: This twin-turret variant was the command tank model 1931, with a hand-rail frame antenna affixed on the hull. Because they were to be equipped with the No.7N simplex radio, then in short supply, only three were converted.
T-26E: The “E” stands for “ekranirovanny” (screened). The vehicle was protected by additional appliqué armor, made of 30-40 mm (1.18-1.57 in) iron plates bolted to the hull and turret, developed by Factory No. 174 on the eve of the Winter war, in 1939. This armor, assembled by blunt bolts and electric welding, was adaptable to either model 1933 or model 1938 tanks. They were strong enough to stop a 45 mm (1.77 in) anti-tank shell fired at short range (400 m/1312 ft). As it was shown during the Winter War, no Finnish anti-tank gun was powerful enough to do any damage. During operation Barbarossa, these up-armored T-26s, although much slower, also proved resistant to many German guns. However, only a few were converted, RKKA receiving 69 modified T-26E models, including some flame-thrower versions.

Self-propelled artillery variants

T-26 A43: The first artillery variant was a model 1933 chassis equipped with an A43 turret developed by engineer N. Dyrenkov for the RKKA experimental unit. The two-man turret housed an ordinance 75 mm (2.95 in) model 1927 gun and a coaxial DT machine-gun in a ball mount. This model, plagued by many flaws, like a lack of visibility and no ventilation for the turret, was never accepted by the army.
T-26-4: Also called T-26 A, “A” standing for “artilleriysky”. It was equipped with a bigger turret (similar to the one used by the T-28) designed by the Bolshevik Factory and sported a 76.2 mm (3 in) model 1927 gun. It was more successful and all tests were passed. Three were built with this gun and three others with the new, powerful and advanced PS-3 gun. However, it appeared quickly that the latter was too powerful for the T-26, causing blast damage to the turret ring, roof and suspension. After an accident during trials, the initial order for 50 machines was canceled. Other conversion attempts were abandoned due to risks of overloading the chassis.
SU-5: These models were relatively successful. 33 were developed by the Leningrad Factory of Experimental Mechanical Engineering.

Flame-thrower variants

These models were fitted with internal tanks for the flamethrower liquid, generally placed on the sides of the hull, and given to Chemical battalions. They fought in Manchuria, Finland and during various operations at the beginning of WW2.

Special duty variants

T-26T: These were turretless artillery tractor variants, of which 197 were produced.
TT-26 (TU-26): Remote-control tanks used for minelaying operations or to deal with fortifications. 162 were built in all.
ST-26: Bridge layer variant, of which 71 were produced.
There were many others, most being prototypes or short series, developed and built by the Leningrad Factory of Experimental Mechanical Engineering.
The SU-5 SPG, with a 75 mm (2.95 in) mortar. Only 33 were produced using T-26 chassis - Credits : M. Kolomiets, M. Makarov
The SU-5 SPG, with a 75 mm (2.95 in) mortar. Only 33 were produced using T-26 chassis.

Battle records and active service

Being one of the most widely produced tanks in history, the T-26 was also one of the most well-balanced, at least during the 1930s. It was a perfect compromise between reasonable speed, good armor and generous firepower. It was not a pure infantry tank, nor a fast cruiser tank, but a modern, well-balanced light tank, versatile, relatively cheap and easy to maintain. During its long career, starting in Spain and ending in China, it was not only used by the Soviets, but by Spanish Republican forces, the Finns and Germans (captured ones), nationalist Chinese, Turkey (60 sold), Romania and Hungary (captured during Operation Barbarossa) and even Afghanistan.

The Spanish Civil War

After years of training with the BT and T-26, which formed the bulk of Soviet tank force, the first engagement came in Spain, during the Civil War. The “natural ally” of the socialist and communist dominated Republican party was the USSR. The Soviets sold them a total of 281 T-26 tanks (297 according to other sources), starting in October 1936, alongside a dozen BT-5s and hundreds of armored cars. During the first engagements, the T-26 showed itself clearly superior to the bizarre collection of antiquated machines acquired from the most improbable sources and also to the tanks fielded by the Nationalists, ranging from Italians tankettes to the small Panzer I.
Except for an ever present aviation threat, the T-26 ruled the battlefield and raised some concerns among German tank specialists. During the battle of Guadalajara (March 1937), Republican T-26s completely eradicated armored opposition (mostly CV-33 and 35 Italian tankettes). It was a stunning victory, but the last for the “Rojos”.

Soviet-Japanese border conflicts

By 1935, the Soviets had reclaimed former Far Eastern Tsarist territories. The new borders of the USSR, now reclaimed with full force, encompassed Korean, Chinese and Mongolian frontiers. Northeast China and its blurry frontiers (the landscape of these remote, icy cold, bone dry wastelands didn’t help either) had been, starting in 1905, a source of vivid tensions between Moscow, Pekin, and Tokyo. The South Manchurian Railway especially became the casus belli which triggered the second Sino-Japanese war, as well as hundreds of “border incidents” (ranging from mere infantry skirmishes to fully fledged large scale battles) fought between Mongolian or Soviets forces against the IJA.
The first large engagement was the Changkufeng Incident, which occurred at Lake Khasan in July-August 1938, alongside the disputed Changkufeng Heights, near Korea. The 2nd Mechanized Brigade, 32nd and 40th Separate Tank Battalions went into action with their 276 tanks, ending with a Russian crushing victory. This was the prelude to the last, decisive battle of Nomonanh (Khalkin Gol) in 1939, concluded with a status quo with few territorial gains for the USSR.

Invasion of Finland

In the west, the uneasy non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, which helped them buy extra time to strengthen and prepare their armies, was celebrated in the blood of their common hatred neighbor, Poland. Most of the Soviet armored forces which participated were made of separate T-26s light tank brigades. Three months later, the same units formed the brunt of an even bigger invasion force on Finland’s southeastern frontier (Karelian Isthmus). Flame-thrower versions were notably used en masse against the Mannerheim line. However, the Finns, with excellent anti-tank guns and clever ad-hoc infantry tactics, butchered swarms of T-26s and demonstrated that this model had finally reached a state of obsolescence. Back in the USSR, it triggered an acceleration in tank design, towards the next generation of the forties. As a reward for their resilience, the Finns captured perhaps two hundred T-26s of all versions, which were refurbished and pushed back into service with the swastika in 1941 against their former owners. Some Finnish T-26s were still on active duty in 1960.

Eastern front during World War Two

In June 1941, the Red Army had 10,268 T-26 tanks of all models and variants. The last produced, a T-26 model 1939, ran out of the factory line in February. But despite moderate modernization, the T-26 felt its age. The first sketches of their ancestor, the British Mark E, were drawn in 1928. They formed the bulk, by far, of every mechanized corps in border military districts.
But despite a clear superiority over the German Panzer I, II and some parity with the Czech-built Panzer 35(t) and 38(t) fielded by the Wehrmacht, they were no match for the 50 mm (1.97 in) and 75 mm (2.95 in) armed Panzer III and IV which formed the main part of every Panzer Division. Their relatively thin armor could withstand Pak 36 gunfire, but not any other German antitank gun.
During the early stage of Operation Barbarossa, the Soviets lost thousands of T-26s, and not only due to enemy action. With the chaos following the German swift advance creating large pockets, many broke down or were immobilized because of the lack of spare parts, fuel and poor maintenance. But overall, enemy gunfire and air strikes took their toll. By December 1941, perhaps less than a third of existing T-26s in the USSR were left in eastern sectors and in the Far East. However, the remainder fought at Moscow, Stalingrad, in the Caucasus and on the Northern front (around Leningrad) as far as 1944.
Many of them were specialized variants. Those still in great numbers in the Far East, participated in the attack on Manchuria in August 1945, the last great offensive action of the war, against the Kwantung army. Some T-26s, part of those 82 sold to the Chinese nationalist forces in 1938-42, after being opposed to IJN forces and playing a significant role at the Battle of Kunlun Pass, fought against the communists in 1946-47.

T-26 specification

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.55 m x 2.31 m x 2.30 m
(14ft 11in x 7ft 7in x 7ft 7in)
Total weight, battle ready 9.6 tons
Crew 3
Propulsion 4-cyl gas flat air cooled Armstrong-Siddeley, 90 bhp
Speed (road/off-road) 31/16 km/h (19.3/9.9 mph)
Range (road/off road) 240/140 km (150/87 mi)
Armament Early versions: 2xDT 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine-guns
Late versions: 45 mm (1.77 in) VK model, 1 DT machine-gun
Armor 6 to 15 mm (0.24-0.59 in)
Track width 28 cm (11 inches)
Track link length 12.5 cm (4.9 inches)
Total production 10,300

Sources

“Tough Armor: History of the Soviet Tank 1919-1937” Mikhail Svirin / Броня крепка: История советского танка 1919-1937. Михаил Свирин.
“Soviet Light Tanks 1920-1941.” A.G. Solyankin, M.V. Pavlov, I.V. Pavlov, E.G. Zheltov / Советские легкие танки 1920-1941. А.Г. Солянкин, М.В. Павлов, И.В. Павлов, Е. Г. Желтов.
“Soviet Flame and Chemical Tanks 1929-1945.” A.G. Solyankin, M.V. Pavlov, I.V. Pavlov, E.G. Zheltov / Советские огнеметные и химические танки 1929-1945. А.Г. Солянкин, М.В. Павлов, И.В. Павлов, Е. Г. Желтов.
“T-26 Light Tank” Steven Zaloga, Osprey Publishing
The T-26 on Tank-Hunter.com

The first early production T-26 or model 1931. It had two turrets, being the domestic version of the Vickers Mark E.
The first early production T-26 or “model 1931”. It had two turrets, being the domestic version of the Vickers Mark E. This model, with unit red stripes, was posted with border units in case of a Polish attack, a constant worrying of the general staff in 1932. The Polish army had just acquired the Vickers Mark E (6-ton) license and, like the USSR, would produce a new home-based model, the 7TP. Interestingly enough, the first ten preseries tanks were all equipped with mixed armament, the right turret being equipped with a low velocity 37 mm (1.46 in) derived from the French Puteaux.
Soviet T-26 model 1932 at Khalkin Gol, August 1939
Soviet T-26 model 1932 at Khalkin Gol, August 1939. All mod. 1932 tanks were twin-turreted and most were equipped solely with DT machine guns.
A 1933 late twin-turret T-26. Many of these were retrofitted to the model 1935 standard.
A 1933 late twin-turret T-26. Many of these were retrofitted to the model 1935 standard.
A HT-26 (converted from a model 1931) of the 210th Separate Chemical Tank Battalion, Karelian Isthmus, January 1940. The tactical unit number is on the rear part of the turret.
A HT-26 (converted from a model 1931) of the 210th Separate Chemical Tank Battalion, Karelian Isthmus, January 1940. The tactical unit number is on the rear part of the turret.
A model 1933 single turret T-26.
A model 1933 single turret T-26. Unknown unit. In this configuration, there was a single high-velocity 45 mm (1.77 in) gun firing conventional HE and AP rounds and two DT 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine-guns, one coaxial and one in a removable anti-aircraft mount, at the rear of the turret. It was rarely mounted in practice, but showed itself useful in Mongolia in 1939 when repelling waves of Japanese anti-tank infantry squads.
A model 1933 T-26 hastily hand painted white during the Winter War in Finland, unknown unit, Karelian Isthmus, December 1939.
A model 1933 T-26 hastily hand-painted white during the Winter War in Finland, unknown unit, Karelian Isthmus, December 1939.
T-26 model 1934 Ehkranami, up-armored with extra 30-40 mm (1.18-1.57 in) bolted plates, 5th Armored Brigade, Leningrad sector, November 1941
T-26 model 1934 Ehkranami, up-armored with extra 30-40 mm (1.18-1.57 in) bolted plates, 5th Armored Brigade, Leningrad sector, November 1941.
A model 1933 (in reality produced in 1936) T-26 of the Nationalist forces, Spain, battle of Guadalajara, March 1937
A model 1933 (in reality produced in 1936) T-26 of the Nationalist forces, Spain, battle of Guadalajara, March 1937. This one was part of the first shipments which were made to the Spanish Republicans from the USSR, and it was later captured and pressed into service by the Nationalists. The Soviets claim to have shipped 362 tanks, but with losses at sea and returned shipping, perhaps only 281 to 297 T-26s were actually delivered. It was by far the best tank deployed in this conflict. Its armor and main gun were superior to anything the Italians and German could deploy.

Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) T-26 of the 200th Division.
T-26 model 1935 of the 39th Tank Division, part of the 16th Mechanized Corps. Uman, early August 1941
T-26 model 1935 of the 39th Tank Division, part of the 16th Mechanized Corps. Uman, early August 1941.
A T-26 model 1936-37 command tank version, with the characteristic hand-rail radio antenna, extra twin headlights, a DT P40 anti-aircraft mount and rear turret DT mount. Unknown unit, Mongolian frontier, August 1939.
A T-26 model 1936-37 command tank version, with the characteristic hand-rail radio antenna, extra twin headlights, a DT P40 anti-aircraft mount and rear turret DT mount. Unknown unit, Mongolian frontier, August 1939.
T-26 model 1933 built in 1937, 20th Tank Brigade. Western Front, November 1941.
T-26 model 1933 built in 1937, 20th Tank Brigade. Western Front, November 1941.
T-26 model 1933, equipped with additional storage and a rear-turret aerial machine-gun DT mount. Unknown unit, battle of Khalkin Gol, August 1939.
T-26 model 1933, equipped with additional storage and a rear-turret aerial machine-gun DT mount. Unknown unit, battle of Khalkin Gol, August 1939.
T-26 (welded hull) model 1938, 6th Armored Brigade, South-Eastern Front, August 1942.
T-26 (welded hull) model 1938, 6th Armored Brigade, South-Eastern Front, August 1942. The model 1938 introduced a brand new turret with sloped armor as a compromise between the need for extra protection and the limitations of the original licence-built Armstrong Siddeley engine.
T-26 model 1938, unknown unit, South-East Front, Anglo-British invasion of Persia, August 1941. This three-tone livery pattern was unusual, but seemed specific to the tanks involved in this particular operation, as photographic evidence testifies.
T-26 model 1938, unknown unit, South-East Front, Russo-British invasion of Persia, August 1941. This three-tone livery pattern was unusual, but seemed specific to the tanks involved in this particular operation, as photographic evidence testifies.
T-26 model 1938 positioned on the Far East Border with Manchuria, August 1940. Note the rear DT mount.
T-26 model 1938 positioned on the Far East Border with Manchuria, August 1940. Note the rear DT mount.
T-26 model 1938 with winter camouflage, with the strange grid pattern which can be found in many photographic archives. It seems to have been used to create a third tone, seen at great distances, without the need of an extra color. Central front, Battle of Moscow, winter 1941/42.
T-26 model 1938 with winter camouflage, with the strange “grid” pattern which can be found in many photographic archives. It seems to have been used to create a third tone, seen at great distances, without the need of an extra color. Central front, Battle of Moscow, winter 1941/42.
T-26 model 1939, unknown unit, Polish invasion, September 1939.
T-26 model 1939, unknown unit, Polish invasion, September 1939.
T-26 model 1939, 39th Tank Division of the Red Army's 16th Mechanized Corps, Uman, August 1941.
T-26 model 1939, 39th Tank Division of the Red Army’s 16th Mechanized Corps, Uman, August 1941.
T-26 model 1939, possibly of the 40th Light Brigade, Karelian Isthmus, Finland, winter 1939.
T-26 model 1939, possibly of the 40th Light Brigade, Karelian Isthmus, Finland, winter 1939.
A T-26 with a three-tone vermicelli camouflage pattern. This strange livery is present in several photographs, belonging to the 18th Tank Division of the Red Army's 7th Mechanized Corps. Belarus, early July 1941.
A T-26 with a three-tone vermicelli camouflage pattern. This strange livery is present in several photographs, belonging to the 18th Tank Division of the Red Army’s 7th Mechanized Corps. Belarus, early July 1941.

Surviving T-26 tanks

Red Army T-26 twin-turret Light Tank model 1931 at the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War Museum 1941 - 1945, Park Pobedy, Moscow, Russia
Red Army T-26 twin-turret light tank model 1931 at the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War Museum 1941 – 1945, Park Pobedy, Moscow, Russia
T-26 model 1933 tank with radio at the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War 1941 - 194, Park Pobedy, Moscow, Russia
T-26 model 1933 tank with radio at the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War 1941 – 194, Park Pobedy, Moscow, Russia
T-26 tank captured by the Finnish and painted in their markings - not German markings
T-26 tank captured by the Finnish and painted in their markings – not German markings
ww2 soviet armour
ww2 Soviet Tanks Poster

David Lister General War Stories

By David Lister

A compilation of little known military history from the 20th century. Including tales of dashing heroes, astounding feats of valour, sheer outrageous luck and the experiences of the average soldier.

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