Upgrading a Legend
As early as 1940, the Red Army was searching for new and improved guns to install onto their latest tanks. The T-34 “Exterminator” (or T-34/57, both are common designations, but indeed, unofficial) was a standard T-34/76 chassis with the new and improved ZiS-4 57 mm (2.25 in) gun. However, it was not until the autumn of 1941 that this vehicle would see action, with small numbers of this tank defending the heart of the USSR – Moscow.
The prototype of the 57 mm ZiS-4 tank gun – Credits: Central Archive of the Russian Ministry of Defense
In 1940, the standard 45 mm (1.77 in) K-20 and Model 1934 guns were deemed inadequate for modern anti-tank duties. Therefore, Factory Number 92 was ordered to begin work on a new gun with a caliber between 55 and 60 mm (2.17-2.36). It was meant for use as the latest standard anti-tank gun. On May 19th, 1941, testing began on the new 57 mm ZiS-4 anti-tank gun. This gun was designed by V.G Grabin, and was based on the ZiS-2 57 mm (2.25 in) gun. It could fire a 3.14 kg warhead. At a range of 1000 m (1100 yd), the ZiS-4 could penetrate 70 mm (2.76 in) of armor at a 30-degree angle. This gun was also to be modified for mounting on the new T-34.
A prototype T-34 was tested with this new gun installed. It was almost identical to a standard production Model 1941 tank, except with a longer barrel and a flat gun mantlet nose. The trial results were highly impressive. However, noticeable wear was spotted on the gun after only 100 rounds. In addition, the gun had very poor accuracy due to improper rifling on the barrel. This was rectified when the barrel rifling was re-bored. The 57 mm armed T-34 was tested again later and accepted for production in July 1941.
A right-side view of the T-34/57 prototype at the Artillery Research Testing Grounds in the spring of 1941. The gun is at maximum elevation – Credits: Central Archive of the Russian Ministry of Defense
Production of this T-34 variant soon commenced, but ended in September, after 10 examples had been produced. The official name of these tanks in Soviet documents was simply “T-34 with ZiS-4”. However, post-war, these tanks gained the new name: Exterminator. While this can be used to name the tank, it is technically incorrect. These tanks are also sometimes called the “57” or “T-34/57”. The cancellation of the production run was due to may factors, including inadequate resources to manufacture the guns and the lack of AP shells for the 57 mm (2.25 in) ZiS-4. Most importantly, the RKKA did not want to disrupt production of a vital tank such as the T-34. After all, between June 1941 and September 1941, the USSR had lost 20,000 tanks. In October 1941, the number of Soviet tanks fell (for the first and only time) below that of the German army.
Another photograph of the first T-34/57 prototype. Note the flat recoil mechanism armor on the gun nose. On production vehicles, the gun mantlet would be identical to regular T-34/76 tanks, except for a small ring at the base of the gun.
However, the Red Army was still very interested in the installation of a 57 mm (2.25 in) gun onto T-34 tanks. In 1943, the project was restarted. This time, the ZiS-4M gun was installed in a T-34 model 1942/43 tank with the 6 sided “nut” turret. This tank was sent to the front on August 15th, 1943 with the “Special Tank Company 100”, but it did not see combat. After this, the 57 mm (2.25 in) gun concept was dropped, as the new D-5 85 mm (3.35 in) gun was already in production.
The only T-34 Model 1943 with a ZiS-4M gun. These photographs were taken during the Kursk/Orel offensives.
Chassis and Types
The basic prototype of the T-34 Exterminator was a standard Factory No.183 (Kharkov) tank. It had a welded turret, the early driver’s hatch and the Model 1940 POP periscope in the turret hatch.
A column of T-34/76 tanks produced at Kharkov. Note the early pattern track, the cast turret and the early pattern driver’s hatch.
Unfortunately, not much information exists of the individual tanks. However, some images of some of the used chassis have survived. The 57 mm (2.25 in) guns were sent to plants 183 (Kharkov) and 264 (STZ Stalingrad). The most famous and recognizable T-34 “Exterminator” was a late 1941 produced 183 tank, with the new driver hatch, a cast turret, simplified tow hard points and V-type 41 track. However, a supposed photo shows a tank with the welded model 1941 turret.
A standard T-34/76 produced at Stalingrad (STZ 264). This tank served with the 116th Tank Regiment in April 1942.
Killer on the prowl
T-34 Exterminator tanks were most notably fielded during the Battle of Moscow. The ten tanks, belonging to the 21st Tank Brigade, and were on the Kalinin front. On the 15th and 16th November 1941, this brigade claimed to have destroyed 18 enemy tanks in ambushes. In addition to this, on October 14, 1941, the 21st Brigade was deployed in the region of the Demidov rail station and a day later it was ordered to advance on Turchinovo-Pushkino-Troyanovo and make a flank strike on German troops deployed near Kalinin.
Senior Political Officer E.Gmurya drove his tank along the Volokolamsk highway and met a large column of German trucks. It is claimed that he single-handedly destroyed the whole column that stretched for 3 km (1.8 mi) in length. After that, he advanced with haste towards a recently captured German aerodrome and destroyed a bomber aircraft parked there. The tank was knocked out by German artillery and two crew members were killed. Politruk Gmyrya and Sergeant Ishenko escaped and rejoined the Red Army. It is unknown whether this tank was a “57”.
Strangely, 8 ammunition-less T-34 “Exterminators” were claimed to have been fielded with the 8th Tank Brigade on the Kalinin front on October 19th, 1941. This seems unlikely, given that ten T-34/57s were made.
After 4 days, the 21st Tank Brigade claimed to have killed about 1,000 soldiers, destroyed 34 tanks, 210 trucks and 31 guns. However, the brigade took heavy losses, including the Commander – Hero of the Soviet Union, Major Mikhail A. Lukin and the Commander of the 1st Battalion, Hero of the Soviet Union Captain M. P. Agibalov.
It is notable that one Soviet tank ace, Jr.Lt. Gorobetz S.H, was deployed with the 21st Tank Brigade and is credited with 7 kills. The most famous T-34 “Exterminator” is the so-called “white 20”, commanded by major Mikhail A. Lukin, and was lost at Troyanovo.
It would appear that no T-34 Exterminators survived the battles around Moscow. However, the tanks had made a name for themselves.
White 20 commanded by Major Mikhail A. Lukin. Notice the cast turret, the improved tow hard points and the V-type 41 track. This is by far the most famous Exterminator T-34 built.
There is one T-34 Exterminator on exhibit. However, this is a replica made from parts of real STZ T-34, a hull and wheels from an 183 T-34 and a dummy barrel. While not a poor replica, it does not accurately depict an Exterminator tank as it would have appeared in 1941.
The replica T-34 Exterminator is an interesting mix of parts, including an STZ turret and an 183 hull.
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Regular T-34 with ZiS-4 in 1941, commanded by Major Mikhail A. Lukin.
T-34 with ZiS-4, model 1943. This prototype was sent to the front in August 1943, but never saw action due to the 85 mm (3.35 in) armed T-34/85 coming into service.
The famous White 20. There is some speculation that the other tanks in this unit were labeled 20-29, but there is no evidence supporting this claim. This tank is the only known example of a T-34 Exterminator with the white divisional markings.
The earliest photo of White 20, before the snow started to fall. The V-type 41 track is very obvious in this photograph.
White 20, note the ring at the base of the gun.
White 20. Notice the standard T-34 vision hatch.
Again White 20, after heavy snowfall. This image indicates that there was a radio installed on the tank. Only 1 in 5 tanks were equipped with a radio.
The second confirmed T-34 with a 57mm gun, lost just after the first snows fell. This photograph is too blurry to make out the major details, however the long barrel can be clearly seen.
The same tank as previous. This angle, while blurry, shows that the turret is the Kharkov made “8 Bolt” simplified turret.
The same machine as previous, all be it with no snow. Some features can now be more easily seen, such as the strengthening patches below the vision ports on the turret. The track could either be the early 550mm track, or the V type 41 track.
The T-34/57 prototype during obstacle trials. The gun, which very nearly touches the ground, is level with the tank, or at 0 elevation – Credits: Central Archive of the Russian Ministry of Defense
Sidenote: Other tank with 57 mm guns
The ZiS-2 57 mm gun was used on several vehicles, including as the famous ZiS-30 assault gun. This was simply a T-20 Komsomolets tractor with the ZiS-2 gun mounted on the rear. Roughly 130 of these little machines were converted, and were meant for nothing more than making the ZiS-2 mobile – their tactics reflected a field gun more than an AFV. The Komsomolets tractor was outclassed by 1941 and was only suited for artillery towing. While not ideal for the mobile artillery/anti-tank role, they served well. All but a hand full were lost in the battles at Moscow.
A ZiS-30 Assault Gun in action around Moscow. Roughly 130 of these vehicles were made. Only a handful survived the battles.
Sidenote: Misidentified photos
This photograph is often presented as one of the T-34/57 prototype. However, comparison with the actual photos of the prototype reveals that the barrel is too short and too wide to be a 57 mm ZiS-4. It is in fact a photograph of the prototype of the T-34 fitted with the F-34 76 mm gun.
This T-34 is also often represented as being an Exterminator. However, the length and width of the barrel are not consistent with those of other T-34/57s on record. A circle on the mantlet seems to be visible, but due to the low-resolution of the image, it might very well be an illusion or a photoshop.
This image seems to be of the same vehicle as the above. It is clearly a regular T-34/76. The white circle divisional marking is also visible in the above photo, as seems to be the “7” in “T-17” – Picture from Ebay.
This tank has been quoted as a “57”, however it is clearly a 76mm gun. The barrel is too thick, there is no ring around the base of the barrel and the barrel on this tank has a buldge at the tip, which indicates this to be an F-34 gun.