Always cross-reference your sources
This tank is a little known fake, but a little too close to home to be ignored. In fact, the first ever illustration of this vehicle came from Tanks Encyclopedia, and is a result of not cross-referencing sources very carefully. The concept is simple – a T-34 with an IS-85 turret mounted on top. The direct reference to such a vehicle came from WWIIvehicles.com, but was picked up on by the author of our own T-34/85 article. In this Fake Tanks article, we will explain exactly what happened…
The only information given on this tank concept is on WWIIvehicles.com (the page can be viewed here under the title “variants”) and it states:
“T-34-85-I – Had turret that was designed for the KV-85. The turret ring had a diameter of 5.2′ / 1.56 m. Issued to Guard Tank units. The main gun was reported to be able to penetrate the front armor of a Tiger or a Panther.”
The source cited is “Russian Tanks of WWII, Stalin’s Armoured Might“, a book by Tim Bean and Will Fowler. It states under the title of T-34/85-I (page 103):
“With its 85mm (3.34in) gun, the T-34-85-I that appeared in 1943 was basically an upgunned T-34. The T-34-85 had a new turret originally designed for the KV-85 tank with a ring diameter of 1.56m (5.2ft). This created the space for an extra crew member and simplified tasks of the commander, who previously had helped with the gun. The T-34-85-I was first issued to elite Guards Tank units, and the new gun soon proved its worth. Based on the prewar M-1939 85mm (3.34in) anti-aircraft gun, it had an effective range of 1000m (1100yd) and, it was claimed, was able to penetrate the frontal armour of the German Tigers and Panthers.”
This paragraph is clearly referring to the T-34/85, but it was given a strange designation – T-34-85-I. Focusing on a particular problem with the paragraph “The T-34/85 featured a new turret originally designed for the KV-85 tank…”, we can clearly say that the book has made a blatant error.
Explaining why the source is wrong
What the book says is wrong, and it appears the authors have misunderstood how the M1943 T-34/85 turret came about. The KV-85 was put into battle by September, 1943, and the T-34/85 was only put into service in February 1944, meaning the KV-85 came first. The T-34/85’s M1943 turret was never going to be fitted to the KV-85, as by the time production of the T-34/85 started, the KV-85’s production (which was a stopgap) was replaced by the IS-85.
In reality, more detailed sources refer to elements of the KV-85G turret being used in the making of the M1943 T-34/85 turret. The KV-85G was the prototype of the KV-85, and it featured an 85mm gun jammed in a cast KV-1S turret. However, before production of the KV-85G began, the IS-85 turret was completed and was then mounted on the KV-85 chassis (essentially a modified KV-1S chassis) for testing, and this prototype was considered much more suitable for stopgap production. To reiterate, there was no immediate intention to serially produce the IS-85 turret on the KV-1S chassis, this was merely a means to test the IS-85 turret. However, it was deemed suitable for stopgap production because the KV-85G was not fit for service. The turret was simply far too small for a five man crew, the huge 85mm gun, and sufficient munitions. As a result, during testing of prototypes for the KV-85 project, the KV-85G was totally dropped as a design, and did not participate in any such testing.
The KV-85G turret was apparently not forgotten entirely, and was actually adapted for use on the T-34 (in order to make the T-34/85) in the summer of 1943, when Morozov took over from Koshkin as chief designer. However, it was immediately deemed unacceptable because, again, it lacked sufficient space, but did influence the M1943 T-34/85 turret. However, it must be noted that the M1943 turret was mostly influenced by the T-43’s turret, except it was simplified for production by removing some periscopes, etc, but nevertheless, the KV-85G turret proved that a simplified design was easier for production.
Nothing in the last three paragraphs is what the source suggests. Based on what the source actually says, you would expect that there would also be another prototype – A KV-85 hull with an M1943 T-34/85 turret, if Fowler and Bean were correct. However, this is not the case.
Explicit references to the fake tank
The first explicit mention of the T-34-85-I as a concept appeared on WWIIvehicles.com and cited “Russian Tanks of WWII, Stalin’s Armoured Might” as their source for this variant. To explain how this misconception appeared, we have to explore linguistics and semantics.
The first problem is that the paragraph had the title of “T-34-85-I” (on page 99, it is referred to briefly as the “T-34-85-1”, both of which are unique to the book) which would throw the reader off because they had probably never heard of the designation before. Secondly, the notion of the T-34-85 having a turret which was “originally designed for the KV-85” shows that the reader from WWIIvehicles.com must have thought that the IS-85 turret was intended for the KV-85, which they assumed to be true, and, as explained, is not true. Thirdly, the fact that the book is well-bound, well-produced, and seemingly well-written would perhaps make it a very credible source, as opposed to some spurious page on the internet. These three things combined must have meant that the author at WWIIvehicles.com thought that there was such a thing as the T-34-85-I – a T-34 with an IS-85 turret, which “was first issued to elite Guards Tank units…”
As a result of this mistake made on another website, Tanks Encyclopedia used this bad information in the writing of the T-34-85 article leading to the drawing of the T-34-85-I. In fact, this even made its way onto the Asian World of Tanks forums in May 2014, with nobody pointing out that this is a fake vehicle.
Overall credibility of the book
The book as a whole is a superb guide for beginners, because it offers detail on the behind the scenes of Soviet tanks. For example, detail is given about the political decisions made with regards to tanks, the problems the engineers faced, and Soviet armored warfare tactics. This book is also well-presented and has a plenty of photos and technical drawings.
However, the book does not appear to be a trustworthy source, which seriously compromises everything contained within it. There is no mention of any sources. This means that all of the information of the book is, as far as any reader is concerned, based on the word of Bean and Fowler – which may also be dubious for the following reasons.
Will Fowler is a prolific author. He mostly writes on special forces (at least 12 books) such as the SAS, but he is also a general historian of WWII (mostly general books, and mostly on the Eastern Front) and WWI (the Somme and Ypres). He has even written some reference books on weapons such as rifles, pistols, machine guns, etc. Fowler is not an expert on tanks. Furthermore, because reviews (although not academic reviews, they are numerous) of Fowler’s other works tend to condemn the accuracy of his works with regards to smaller details, it is possible that his credibility as a historian is somewhat undermined.
Tim Bean is perhaps more credible. He is stated to be “a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He is a specialist on the Red Army in the interwar years…” However, the entire Soviet military-political scene undergoes some drastic changes during the Great Patriotic War, as do Soviet tank designs, so his credibility on the subject of Soviet tanks of WWII is somewhat diminished. But on the other hand, his knowledge of military-political interactions is not worthless, because these drastic changes do not take place really until 1943/1944. This may perhaps explain why focus of the book tends to be on early war tanks, and skips over late-war tanks in a single chapter; because this is closer to Bean’s field of supposed expertise. Above all, he is able to refer to the way in which engineers and Soviet political elites interacted, which is seldom seen in tank reference books, but due to the lack of sources, what he says cannot be confirmed.
The book also seems plagued with inaccuracies. They have made up a designation for the T-34-85 (as mentioned), but have also labelled a photo of an ISU-122S as an IS-2 (page 26), confused a T-12 for a T-24 (page 63) (these are different but related designs), labelled a photo of an ISU-122S as an ISU-122 (page 134) (the designs feature different guns), and wrongly refer to an IS-2 (M1944) as an IS-2M Model 1944 (page 141) (the IS-2M was a postwar modernization), just to name a few problems. These small inaccuracies, combined with the aforementioned issues with credibility of the authors, and the overall issue of a lack of source citation all point towards this book being an unreliable source.
Plausibility of the T-34-85-I
This vehicle would have been fairly pointless to produce, as the IS-85 turret was not designed for the T-34/85, and the turret rings do not match. Even if they were made to match, the excess weight would slow the tank down, all in exchange for roughly 10mm more armor. It is possible that there would be an increased ammunition capacity at the expense of the radio operator (like on the KV-85 and IS-85), but the gun would be exactly the same as on the T-34/85, and there would be no other tangible benefits.
If it was made, it would likely take on the exact same roles as the T-34/85, as opposed to being used like the KV-85 or IS-85 (heavy breakthrough tanks), because its armor would not be as strong as real heavy tanks (the KV-85 had up to 30mm more hull armor, and the IS-85 hull had 75mm more armor than the T-34-85-I would have).
T-34-85-I Estimated specification
|Dimensions (L-w-h)||4.95m×2.71m×1.82m (16.24×8.89×5.97 feet)|
|Total weight, battle ready||36 tons|
|Propulsion||V12 diesel GAZ, 400 bhp (30 kW)|
|Speed (road)||32km/h (20mph)|
|Range||170km (106 miles)|
|Armament||Main: 1 x 85mm (3.35in) D-5T. Secondary: 3 x 7.62mm (0.3in) DT machine guns|
|Armor||30 – 90mm (1.18- 3.54 inches)|
The original T-34-85-I drawing that was featured on our very own T-34-85 page. It is a T-34 with an IS-85 turret on top.
A KV-85 with T-34/85 turret; a possible variant that could be inspired by the source’s suggestion that the T-34/85 turret was originally designed for the KV-85. This is, of course, not true.
An IS-2 tank disguised to look like a KV-1 from the film “Battle of Moscow”, 1985. This was most likely done with a dummy turret. In this illustration, we have made the turret the correct size, but the turret features an M1942 gun mantlet, but an M1941 turret shape.
The KV-85G prototype. It was just a KV-1S with an 85mm gun jammed in the turret. It was rejected for having insufficient internal turret space.
The cover of the book which inspired this fake. It is well presented, but often inaccurate.
In a Russian film – Battle of Moscow, 1985, you might spot IS tanks with KV-1 turrets. No, this is not a rare variant of the IS as a result of some kind of battlefield makeshift conversion, in fact, this film wants to portray a variety of tanks, including the KV-1 and Tiger (or Panzer IV, it is unclear which vehicle they tried to replicate). It is often that tanks such as the KV-1 or Tiger are not available, so available tanks are disguised to look like others. In this film, we see an IS-2 tank disguised to look like a KV-1 (probably with a dummy turret), and even other Russian tanks (probably T-34s) are disguised to look like Tiger tanks. Similarly, in the recent Russian 2012 film – White Tiger, an IS-2 tank is also disguised to look like a Tiger, although it gives a laughable likeness.
Could an IS feature a KV-1 turret for real during WWII? This is highly unlikely, as the turret rings would probably not match. If the IS’ original turret were damaged, and there just so happened to be a KV-1 turret lying around, it seems very unlikely that such a conversion would be made unless the Red Army was absolutely desperate, which, by the time the IS-85 was rolling off production lines, it hardly was. What would most likely happen is that the IS tank would be sent off for repairs, or it would be abandoned, and a replacement tank would be requisitioned.
Other known movie props include: an IS-2M with a KV-2 dummy turret (Tank: Kliment Voroshilov-2, 1989), a T-44 disguised as a Panzer IV (Battle of Moscow, 1985), an IS-2 disguised as a Panther (Liberation: The Fire Bulge, 1971), an IS-3 disguised as a Tiger (unknown film), and a T-54 disguised as a Tiger (One-Two, Soldiers Were Going, 1977).
A still from the Russian film “Battle of Moscow”, 1985, showing an IS tank disguised to look like a KV-1. It was probably done with a dummy turret as opposed to a real one, hence why the turret is ridiculously over-sized and why the paint appears different between the turret and chassis. It appears as though this dummy turret has a general M1941 shape, but a M1942 gun and mantlet.
A still from the Russian film “Battle of Moscow”, 1985, showing Russian tanks disguised as Panzer IV or Tiger tanks.
A still from the Russian film “White Tiger”, 2014, showing an IS disguised to look like a Tiger. It looks more like the Porsche design for the Tiger.
“Russian Tanks of WWII, Stalin’s Armoured Might” by Tim Bean and Will Fowler
“The T-34, the Red Army’s Legendary Medium Tank” by Anthony Tucker-Jones
“T-34-85 vs M26 Pershing: Korea 1950” by Steven Zaloga
“Battle of Moscow”, Mosfilm, 1985
“White Tiger”, Mosfilm, 2012
Fair commentary from the Tanks Encyclopedia Staff was used in the writing of this article.