Formation of BT-7 Model 1937 Fast Tanks

Formation of BT-7 Model 1937 Fast Tanks

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Russian Tanks of World War II, Stalin's Armoured Might, Tim Bean and Will Fowler. A good overview of the development of Soviet Tanks from the early models based on British and American originals to the excellent Russian designed T-34 and the heavy IS tanks. Bean and Fowler also look at the development of Soviet tank doctrine, the impact of Stalin's purges on the tank forces, and their use in combat from the small-scale clashes in the Far East to the apocalyptic fighting on the Eastern Front between 1941-45. A little lacking on precise details of the sub-variants of some of the tanks, but otherwise very good.

BT-7 (Bystrochodnij Tankov)

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 11/11/2020 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

In the latter portion of the 1920s, the Soviet Army began looking to modernize their fleet of aging tanks. As such, it held a relatively open competition for its design bureaus to find the right mix of armament, speed and armor protection utilizing the best facets of existing tanks from all over the world. One of the designs of note became the M1931 light tank designed by American J. Walter Christie (1865-1944), a race car mechanic, inventor and mechanical engineer by trade. The M1931 utilized his globally-recognized "Christie" suspension system which used torsion bars that provided for a high degree of flexibility at above average speeds. As such, it played well in the creation of a "light" - or "fast" - tank system. While the development of his Christie suspension system was often overlooked in the United States, it found fame elsewhere in the world as the British, French and Russians all took note. Christie attempted to sell the US Army on his M1931 "Christie Tank" without success.

Between 1930 and 1931, Russia received delivery of two prototype examples (sans turrets and armament) of the Christie M1931 for evaluation (these sent under falsified papers claiming them to be farming tractors and not combat tanks). Utilizing an existing design for the Russians held some merit for they proved a more cost-effective engineering endeavor in the long run. After trials, the Russians liked what they saw in the Christie and reengineered the type for their own ranks as the BT ("Bystrochodnij Tankov" or "Fast Tank") light tank. A license to mass produce the Christie design was subsequently obtained by the government. The original production versions - the BT-1 and BT-2 were essentially direct copies of the Christie design and, of these two, only the BT-2 was the version that first featured Soviet-inspired modifications. The series ultimately evolved to include subtle variations to help simplify production and were powered by an engine originally utilized in aircraft. The BT-2 prototype was finished in October of 1931 and production began the following year. Primary armament centered around a 37mm main gun but ordnance shortages ensured that some were machine gun-only tanks. The subsequent BT-5 model was then up-gunned to a 45mm main gun armament. At any rate, this mating produced a fast and agile tank, giving birth to the definitive BT-7 model of 1935 with its new turret, new transmission, stronger armor and more powerful engine. Operational service for the BT-7 began in 1937 under the formal designation of BT-7-1 - these were identified by their cylindrical turret designs that were only later upgraded to a more conical shape.

Taken as a whole, the BT-7 design exhibited excellent cross country mobility thanks to her Christie suspension system and displayed equally excellent speeds on roads. The suspension was linked to eight large road wheels - four positioned to a track side - and each were independently mounted. To exploit the BT-7's adaptability for off-road actions, tracks of differing width could be adapted offering varying degrees of traction against varying terrain types as needed. The design of the BT-7 was such that the tracks could be completely removed within 30 minutes by the crew to allow for on road driving of the tank on its own wheels, the "drive" now being relocated to the rear sprockets and rear wheels while the front road wheels were used for steering. This feature, however, proved a novelty and was hardly ever used in practice, ultimately dropped from later BT production models. The idea behind this drive mode was to supply the tank with excellent wheeled road speeds in getting from point A to point B but this was really only effective on road driving. In a country where paved roads were limited in number, it made little sense in keeping the feature on future production forms. Furthermore, the track removal process was noted as laborious and complex for practical use.

Despite her light armoring throughout, the BT-7 was well-armed for the time in fielding a 45mm main gun in a rounded traversing turret, putting her on par with many of her contemporaries elsewhere. The main armament was further backed by a 7.62mm general purpose anti-personnel machine gun in the turret as a co-axially mounted weapon. Generally, 172 to 188 x 45mm projectiles were carried within the tank along with 2,394 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition. Some BT-7 models also fitted an additional 7.62mm machine gun, this in a rear-facing, trainable ball-mount along the back facing of the turret to protect the tank's rear against direct infantry attacks. Within time, it was found that this fitting was somewhat useless when pairing the tank with infantry squads. Infantry squads could now protect the BT-7 from direct, close-range enemy attacks.

Early production forms of the BT-7 sported riveted turret designs which brought about another level of danger to the crew. If suffering a direct hit from an enemy shell, the rivets holding the turret armor of the BT-7 in place presented bullet-like projectiles within the turret itself, able to cause severe damage to the crew, ammunition and critical systems alike. As such, production inevitably moved to a welded turret system. Once in practice, the BT-7 proved a reliable and sound mechanical implement of war, respected by her crews for her performance and ease of maintenance if properly maintained.

Externally, the BT-7 retained much of her original Christie appearance. She sported a highly identifiable sloping glacis plate straddled on either side by the track mud guards. The sides of the hull superstructure were equally well-sloped and helped to an extent in delivering awkward angles against incoming enemy projectiles. The hull was of all-welded construction. The driver sat at the forward center of the hull with an entry/exit hatch showcasing a simple forward vision slit. Directly to driver's rear was the traversing turret holding the main gun. The BT-7 was operated by a crew of three including the driver in the hull and two personnel situated in the turret to man the armament.

The BT-7 weighed in at just 13.5 tons and was powered by a single M-17 V12 diesel engine of 450 horsepower. This allowed for speeds in excess of 32 miles per hour with a range out to 217 miles. Armor was 6- to 22-mm thick across all facings providing for modest protection at the expense of speed. The BT-7 had a length of 18 feet, 7 inches with a height of 7 feet, 11 inches.

The chassis of the BT-7 served well to produce offshoot designs such as the close-support BT-7A artillery tank mounting the short-barreled 76.2mm cannon. The 76.2mm cannon was quickly found to be the cannon of choice when contending with the thicker German tank offerings and became standard armament of the upcoming - and highly successful - T-34 series of medium tanks. Beyond this variant, the BT-7 was also developed into a command tank under the designation of BT-7-I(U) with its increased communications equipment at the expense of additional ammunition. Offensives relied on such vehicles to promote clear communications and leadership between tanks in the field. The BT-7M (or BT-8) was later produced as an improved BT-7 form with a 500 horsepower V2 twelve cylinder diesel engine in a revised hull for improved survivability. Along with its 76.2mm main gun armament, the BT-7M also fitted a pair of 7.62mm machine guns for self-defense - one mounted in the turret and the other in the hull. Experimental versions went on to include bridging and amphibious models that never went to production.

As the previous BT-5s proved viable in the Spanish Civil War, it was only logical to expect success with the BT-7 when they were used en mass in the Soviet invasion of Poland. The tank became the primary armored vehicle to spearhead the Red Army in the operation. Poland was inevitably conquered by a combined force of Germans in the West and Soviets in the East with little help from the Allies.

However, the future of the BT-7 was put in doubt in subsequent actions in the Winter War with Finland and in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Anti-tank weapons fielded by the Finns led to many a loss for the BT-7 ranks. By the time of the German invasion (under "Operation Barbarossa") in 1941, the BT-7 was in full operational service, available in some number, but essentially already having peaked in terms of effectiveness. Despite her having "modernized" Soviet tank forces some years before, the type was quickly shown to have major deficiencies, particularly in armor protection, when combating the new breed of German tanks. As can be expected, losses for the under-gunned and lightly armored system quickly mounted. Couple these inherent limitations with poorly trained commanders and crew and ill-maintained vehicles and one develops a recipe for battlefield disaster. After all, the BT-7 was, at its core, a light tank design and never truly meant to tangle with medium or heavy tanks by any regard. If anything, a light tank design was counted upon to provide armored reconnaissance or infantry support in carefully planned outings. As a direct assault implement, however, the BT-7 was obviously lacking in the key areas of protection and offensive output. By the end of 1941, large collections of BT-7 were either knocked out of action by the enemy or placed out of service through logistics. Any examples captured by the German army were reconstituted only for security duty to cover the rear from Soviet flanking maneuvers and not as frontline tools.

At any rate, the surprised Russians utilized whatever was in their stocks at the time to ultimately stave off extinction at the hands of the Germans. The German assault was eventually slowed down and halted, only to be repelled by a determined and, sometimes suicidal, Soviet resistance. Despite her obsolescence by the summer of 1941, the BT-7 no doubt played a role in the recovery of the Soviet Union and lent its successes into the design of the war winning T-34 medium tank still to come. In 1937, a new collection of Soviet talent was brought together to find the planned successor for the BT series. The group delivered the what ultimately became the T-34 itself.

With the BT-7's role all but completed in the West, Soviet authorities rerouted the tank for use in the August 1945 Soviet invasion of Manchuria in operations against the Japanese Army along the Russian border. The Soviet Army was put into action once more, just three months removed from the end of the European War, after an agreement was reached with Allied forces at the Tehran Conference in November of 1943. In these actions, the BT-7 proved far superior to all the armored infantry vehicles the Japanese could field. This would be the last recorded combat actions for all BT tanks, her legacy already having been secured in history. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria marked the largest operation in the 1945 Soviet-Japanese War with the end result being the liberation of Manchukuo (Manchuria) by the Russians. The resounding Soviet victory here played a role in the final surrender of the Empire of Japan to end World War 2.

Close to 5,000 examples of the BT-7 were ultimately produced, making up a large portion of the near 8,500-strong BT series family as a whole.

Combat History

BT-1 - copy of Kristie
BT-2 - first Russian copy of Kristie
BT-3 - developing of BT-2
BT-4 - BT-3 Twin Turret
BT-5 - developing of BT-2 with 45 mm gun and new turret
BT-6 - middle variant between BT-5 and BT-7
BT-7 - .
Etc. with modifications.

This story was born by linear logic with minimum information from original sources and it is absolutely incorrect! Unfortunately, linear logic is not for us (Russians).

There was the official Government Plan of Experimental Designing Works, 1933, Works Program of New Projecting Section of designing bureau T-2K (located on Kharkov's Stem-Locomotive Factory), 1933, Jan. 27, signed by the Leader of T-2K program V.V. Fokin. Many Russian sources have reference on this program.

The most serious sources with serious historical discovering should be noted:
-Maxim Kolomiets "Series of BT light tanks. Flying tank of 1930th", Moscow, "EKSMO, 2007
-Magazine "Armorcollection", 1996, N1(4), under redaction of greatest Russian military historian Baryatinskiy M.B.

T-2K Programm is long and I think to translate it fully makes little sense. There are different requests of many experimental samples, many of them were not built or had no visual difference with serial samples, or were pre-serial samples, so, I'll translate only the essence of the most interesting items.

According it must be done next:
BT-3 - release to serial production of drawings with metrical sizes of threads, but corresponding to a all features of BT-2 manufacturing (remember that BT-2 was as initial Christie variant with American sizes. They use inches!)

BT-4 - was a factory prototype by "Kharkov Factory"

BT-5 with different engines and one project with 76 mm gun.

BT-6 - assembly drawings of vehicle, arranged as BT-5 with 45 mm gun , with fully welded body, it's segments and units, with weld seam from non-carbonized side of armor, according to BT-experiments in 1932, summer. Production of working drawings to manufacturing of experimental samples.

"BT" - only drawings project with minimal weight, maximal speeds especially on track-links drive with heaviest weapon. As result, we can see, that BT-3 is the same as the BT-2, but with metrical treads.

BT-6 is BT-5 with fully welded body, cheaper carbonized armor against molybdenum.

Concerning BT-5 - it was planned as a transient vehicle to a BT-3, because last one planned to have only metrical treads, but BT-5 had both metrical and inches. (No linear logic)

Some sources have information about BT-6, that one sample was almost ready, but was stopped, because the government issued an order with main target to improve quality of BT-5. Reject rate of last one reached approx 50%.

In BT-6 section you will find photos of BT-6, this info is confirmed! According to the designing program listed above, the BT-6 was geometrically equal to BT-5, but with difference in driver's hatch.

BT-SV and BT-SV II "Turtle"
In section BT-SV there are photos. You'll find that construction on the top is not an armor, metal sheets are very thin
-on the front photos you will find standard turret of BT-SV inside this construction. This is not an APC. This is just a construction for transportation, as described in different sources. Why this is, nobody knows. It looks like a technology money-eater. They were in use in large quantity during the 1930th in the USSR.

Alexander Kolbasov - (Rusline LMS Leading Engineer)

The BT-7 model 1937 (BT-7-2)

The next step, which would become the main BT-7 sub-series, was started in 1937 at KhPZ (Kharkov). The most important feature was the new conical turret, derived from the T-26 model 1937, with horn periscopes. It was sloped and better protected, while storing more rounds (44) and having a rear basket niche-mounted DT machine-gun. Night fighting capabilities were rendered possible by the use of two special projector-type headlamps, and a mask was placed on the gun to decrease flashes. By 1938, improvements were made to the the gearbox, tracks, drive wheels and the night fighting equipment was retro-fitted on all models.
The BT-7-2 1938 saw the installation of a gun sighting system, called TOS, developed by V. A. Pavlov and A. Z. Tumanov, to fire on the move more effectively. 1939 models received an additional bracing on the hull for extra strength, an escape hatch under the hull and a new air filter. The conical turret (nicknamed “Mickey Mouse” by the Germans, due to the appearance of the two round hatches in raised position) was upgraded along the same lines as the T-26 late turret. Production figures vary wildly, from 2700 to 4900 or even 5328 (without the BT-7 Artillery), according to various sources. The command version BT-7TU had a rod antenna and 71-TK radio set, and could carry up to 156 shells.

The BT: Russia's 'Hot-Rod' Super-Fast Tanks (Made in America?)

John Walter Christie was a larger-than-life figure. Born in 1865, the New Jersey native built his own cars which he showed off in early-20 th century races, becoming the first American to compete in the French Grand Prix, where he debuted with the largest engine ever used. (It conked out after only four laps.)

After being badly injured in a race later that year in Pittsburgh, Christie focused his efforts on developing new vehicles such as front-wheel drive taxis and fire tractors and so forth. As World War I consumed Europe he observed with interest the first tanks deployed by United Kingdom and France. Most of these were lumbering beasts that sometimes struggled to keep up with infantry on foot and routinely broke down after a few dozen miles. Even the relatively mobile French FT-17 light tank could not really exceed 5 to 6 miles per hour!

But Christie didn’t see why a tank shouldn’t be able to go as fast as a car. All you needed as a big enough engine—and a suspension system to match. However, the cantankerous Christie was notoriously unwilling to modify his design concepts to fit U.S. Army specifications—and the conservative Army leadership was already skeptical that tanks would play anything other than a supporting role in future conflicts. Unfortunately, the speed of Christie’s early designs was not matched by good cross-country capability—an important attribute for a battlefield tank.

However, Christie’s Model 1928—built over five years at a cost of $382,000 ($5.7 million in 2020 dollars) finally saw his perfection of the “Christie Suspension.” This circumvented the size limitations of vertical suspensions springs by attaching the road wheel to a horizontal lever which then compresses the spring (see animation here), rather than placing the spring directly above the wheel’s axle with the attendant vertical size problems.

The Christie suspension was also designed such that the tracks could be removed entirely allowing the tank to roll down a road using wheels driven by a chain drive at much higher speeds, sparing the tracks a long road march (on which many tanks were likely to break down in that era). Swapping out the tracks could be accomplished in about 30 minutes The switch from tracks to chains could be accomplished in about 30 minutes.

But despite his M1928 displaying impressive speed, Christie could not elicit interest from the U.S. Army beyond the order for a single prototype in 1931. Short on cash, he began marketing his tanks to foreign buyers.

This is where the Soviet Union stepped in—a state not yet recognized by the U.S. State Department! The Soviets nonetheless conducted business in the U.S. through the Amtorg Trading Corporation in New York. Agents from Amtorg arranged a purchase.

Christie then removed the turret and armament from two Model 1928s and shipped them off to the Soviet Union as an “agricultural tractors.”

The UK too expressed interest in Christie's last remaining prototype--which he had mortaged!--as the British Army was drawn to the concept of fast tanks at the time. But, ironically, this time the over £10,000 order was blocked by customs. Again Christie stripped away the armament and enough systems that his prototype could be labeled as an agricultural tractor. But this time he secretly shipped the turret separately in a box labeled as “grapefruit.”

The British also made extensive use of Christie suspension in their A10, A13 and Convenanter Cruiser cavalry tanks, followed by the more robust Crusader A15 family. These played a major role in the Battle of France and war in North Africa, though proved too thinly armored.

More successful Christie-equipped successors were the Cromwell—the fastest late-war medium tank to serve in large numbers—and the up-gunned Comet, the finest British tank of World War II. But Christie didn’t have any sort of licensing arrangement, and profited not a cent from these later developments.

The Bystrokohdny Tank

The two model 1928s were received at the Kharkov Locomotive Factory in Ukraine. There the Soviets wasted no time in creating a reverse-engineered vehicle from the Model 1928 Bystrokhodny (“Fast”) Tank or BT-1, resulting in the domestic BT-2. Three turretless prortotypes in 1931 were followed by production models in 1932 with a turret 37-millimeter gun and a coaxial turret Degtyaryov machinegun. (Some were delivered with an additional two machineguns in the turret instead of the cannon.)

They 10-ton BT-2 was powered by a Mikulin M5-400 petrol engine reverse-engineered from the American 400 horsepower Liberty V12 engine. For comparison, the 18-ton British Valentine infantry tank which entered service in 1940 had only a 131 horsepower engine!

That BT-2’s remarkable power-to-weight ratio resulted in a genuine hotrod. With their tracks removed, the BTs could attain speeds of 62 miles per hour on roads, and around 40 cross-country. A famous recording shows a BT tank leaping a remarkable 40 meters off a ramp. Ironically, however, the neat chain-driving mode appears not to have been used operationally.

The BT received such a warm reception because forward-thinking Soviet Marshall Mikhail Tukhachevsky envisioned a future of large-scale mechanized warfare in which fast tanks played an important role prosecuting a “deep battle.” (Unfortunately for the Red Army, Tukhachevsky was executed by Stalin in 1937 exactly four years prior to the Nazi invasion.)

650 BT-2s were built, but the vehicle had its flaws—it was maintenance-intensive and a gas guzzler. Moreover, its 37-millimeter gun lacked armor-piercing performance and its 6-12 millimeters of armor meant it could potentially be penetrated by rifle or machinegun rounds.

The BT-2 was succeeded by the 11.5-ton BT-5 in 1935 with a redesigned flatter turret mounting a punchier 45-millimeter gun, around 2,000 of which were built. In 1937, the Soviets shipped off 50 BT-5s to Spain where they easily trounced machinegun-armed Italian and German tanks, but in turn proved vulnerable to anti-tank artillery.

The same year, the Soviets concluded the BT-series with the BT-7, which finally bumped up maximum armor protection to 22 millimeters and featured a sloped elliptical turret design. The two circular turret hatches on the BT’s turret led to it being dubbed the ‘Mickey Mouse’ when both were raised. Both the BT-7 and BT-5 came in radio-equipped command variants and fire support models (the BT-5A and BT-7A) armed with large-caliber but lower velocity 76-millimeter guns. There were even prototype remote-control BT teletanks with flamethrowers!

Nearly 5,000 BT-7s were built. Between September and December 1939, the Red Army in short order used BT-5s and -7s in battles in Mongolia (versus the Japanese), Poland and Finland. In all cases, though the BT’s armament proved effective, thin armor and mechanical unreliability resulted in heavy losses for the relatively expensive and sophisticated tanks.

Thousands of all three BT-series tanks remained in Red Army service when the Nazis invaded in June 1941—and thousands were lost in a few months—despite the BT-5 and-7’s effective armament and genuinely high speed. In part, this was because of the BT’s persisting high maintenance demands coinciding with a breakdown of Red Army logistics and command-and-control in the early months of the war. But early experience confirmed that in a tactical-level engagement, moving really fast was simply no substitute for adequate armor.

Fortunately, the Soviets had already begun working on a much more ambitious concept evolved from the BT tank. This became the legendary T-34 tank, which in 1941 represented a near platonic ideal combination of armor, firepower and speed. During Russia’s darkest hour in 1941, the T-34’s robustness played a key role in bringing the Nazi invasion to a halt. Even when its defensive-edge faded, the Soviet ability to mass-produce T-34s proved just as decisive.

The small numbers of surviving BT-tanks after 1941 were shunted off to secondary theaters where they continued to see action. As a result, BT tanks in the Far East were still being used in combat in the final chapter of the war when the Soviet Union attacked Japanese forces in Manchuria in August 1945.

BT-5 Links and references

BT-5, early pre-series production (1933), with the early heavy type roadwheels and cylindrical turret with basket.

BT-5, early type, with the cylindrical turret. One of the 100 BT-5s sent to the Spanish Republicans in 1937. This one was part of the 3rd Bandera Aragon, later captured by the Nationalists.

A model 1933 from the Spanish Nationalist forces, 1938. The turret roof was painted white with a large black cross.

BT-5 TU Model 1933, radio command version, Khalkin Gol, August 1939.

BT-5, late production equipped with the T-26 turret, Southern Front, spring 1942. Notice the wooden beam, attached with leather straps.

BT-5 model 1934 in winter camouflage, Winter War, Finland, December 1939.

Camouflaged model 1934 of an unknown unit, summer 1941.

BT-5, late type, Ukraine, summer 1941. "Forward to Victory" slogan.

BT-5 with a three-tone camouflage, British-Soviet Invasion of Iran, August 1941.

BT-5, late model, stripped winter camouflage, December 1941.

BT-5A, howitzer support version, summer 1941.



As the Second World War progressed, the Soviets were fielding better and better tanks. The Finnish Army, on the other hand had to make do with a large number of captured tanks, which were for the most part lightly armored and armed.

The Finns decided to redesign the BT-7 Model 1937 tank so they constructed a new turret and armed it with British-made 114.3 mm howitzers that had been supplied by the British during the Winter War (Q.F. 4,5 inch howitzer Mark II, also known as 114 Psv.H/18 in Finland). Eighteen BT-42 were built and these were pressed into service in 1943.

The Finnish military also converted one BT tank into an armored personnel carrier called the BT-43 but as it was unsuccessful and was never pressed into production.

Operational History

The BT-42 was used for the first time in 1943, at the Svir River, where it was used against enemy pillboxes. The design worked reasonably well against soft targets but was completely unsuitable for anti-tank warfare. To counter this, the Finns copied a German-designed HEAT round for the gun and it was initially thought that it would be effective against the sloped armour of the T-34. However, this was not the case.

These converted vehicles quickly became very impopular with their crews. The weaknesses could mainly be attributed to the new turret, which apart from giving the tank a high-profile also added significant weight to the vehicle, stressing the suspension and the engine.

The BT-42s were used again during the major Soviet offensive in 1944. They were deployed in the defense of Vyborg. In one encounter, a Finnish BT-42 hit a Soviet T-34 18 times, failing even to immobilize the enemy vehicle as this vehicle's fuses failed to work correctly. Eight of the 18 BT-42s in action made no significant contribution to the fighting. At the time Finnish armored units were still composed mostly of older designs such as the Vickers 6-Ton, T-26 and T-28 tanks, and all of these suffered losses.

Emergency supplies of Panzer IV tanks and StuG III self-propelled assault guns from Germany, as well as captured T-34s, made it possible for the Finns to replace its losses with more effective vehicles. The BT-42 was retired soon after the Vyborg battles, replaced in their intended role by German-made StuG IIIs.

Formation of BT-7 Model 1937 Fast Tanks - History

Gates of Leningrad:
The NKVD&rsquos Armor
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
April 2021

The People&rsquos Commissariat of Internal Affairs - the NKVD - came into existence on 10 July 1934, bringing together the Soviet Union&rsquos internal security forces under one directorate answerable directly to Josef Stalin. The new organization included the secret police, formerly known as the OGPU, border guards and railway and factory protection troops.

The NKVD also fielded conventional troops, for use against organized &ldquobanditry&rdquo (usually meaning uprisings against the Soviet state). After the annexation of the Baltic States, eastern Poland and Bessarabia in 1940, NKVD regular troops were used to arrest potential dissidents, and men from these formations carried out the massacre of Polish military officers at Katyn. Formally, they were considered part of the border guards until February 1941, when the NKVD added a separate command for its own private army.

The centerpiece of this small army had been part of the various secret police umbrella organizations since 1918. By June 1941 the Dzerzhinsky Special Purpose Motorized Rifle Division included three motorized rifle regiments, a cavalry regiment, a rifle battalion and a tank regiment of two battalions. Other NKVD formations included three more motorized rifle divisions (the 21st stationed in Leningrad, the 22nd in Riga and the 23rd in Kiev), the 76th motorized rifle brigade at Tblisi, four separate motorized rifle regiments, two rifle regiments, two cavalry regiments, three independent rifle battalions and an independent rifle company.

NKVD border guards and their dog. He is a bad dog.

Each of the separate motorized rifle regiments included a tank company each of the motorized rifle divisions on paper should have had a tank battalion though at least one division (the 21st) kept the older organization with each regiment having its own tank company. To supply those formations with crews, the NKVD maintained two armored training battalions.

The NKVD operated tanks from its inception, with 500 T27 tankettes included in its initial formation in 1934 - about one-fifth of the total production run. The T27 was a tiny two-man vehicle, barely armored against small-arms fire, and so small that very short crewmen had to be recruited to operate it. The NKVD put them to use right away in the Caucasus against Muslim dissidents.

In July 1937, the Dzerzhinsky Division formed a special tank battalion of its most politically reliable crewmen and dispatched them to Chinese Xinjiang, as part of a special secret expeditionary force supporting the pro-Soviet warlord Sheng Shicai against pro-Kuomintang Uighur forces. The Dzerzhinsky battalion received new BT-7 fast tanks and T38 light tanks on arrival in Central Asia, and took them into Chinese territory. There Soviets decisively defeated the Uighurs and occupied all of Xinjiang - the Chinese had no anti-tank weapons and no experience of fighting against tanks. The secret operation was wildly successful, but during its course the Japanese attacked China and the Soviet Union reversed its political course to support the Kuomintang against the Japanese.

This BT-7 has met a bad end in Latvia.

In 1938 the NKVD tank battalions began to take delivery of the BT-7 fast tank. By 1940, NKVD tank units had received 329 BT-7 tanks including the standard BT-7 model, the improved BT-7M and the BT-7A &ldquoartillery&rdquo tank with a short-barreled 76.2mm gun in place of the standard 45mm high-velocity gun. The NKVD troops also received 72 T38 light tanks to equip the reconnaissance battalions of the motorized rifle divisions. Most of the divisional tank battalions had only small allotments of tanks, but the OMSBON special forces brigade had a full-strength battalion with 54 BT-7 tanks and a dozen T38 light tanks, with an additional 17 BT-7 and five T38 assigned to each of its two regiments.

By June 1941 the NKVD tank park, like that of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants, had been reduced by mechanical failures and only 260 of its BT-7 tanks were still in running order. That still represented a significant armored force, and on 27 June Lt. Gen. Ivan Maslennikov, commander of the NKVD&rsquos conventional forces, ordered the Dzerzhinsky Motorized Rifle Division to form a new 1st NKVD Tank Division, to be part of a new NKVD mechanized corps including that division and a newly-raised motorized rifle brigade. The tanks and crews would come from the Dzerzhinsky Division&rsquos battalion and the Omsbon tank units, as Omsbon shifted to an unconventional warfare role.

That plan lasted for all of two days. The Red Army had been in action for one week and already suffered repeated defeats and catastrophic losses. Maslennikov cancelled the plans to form a mechanized corps and instead directed that NKVD troops form the cadres of 15 new rifle divisions and the staff of the new 29th Army, which Maslennikov would command himself. The tanks remained with the motorized rifle divisions, with the OMSBON battalion and companies apparently joining the new 2nd Special Purpose Motorized Rifle Division which fought in front of Moscow alongside the Dzerzhinsky Division (which now became the 1st Special Purpose division).

The NKVD tank battalions don&rsquot appear to have received new vehicles after the German invasion, and so their strength steadily wore away as their tanks broke down or were lost in combat. They saw action as late as the Battle of Stalingrad, where the two tank training battalions fought under the direction of the 10th NKVD Rifle Division. The tank battalions of the two Special Purpose divisions and the 8th Motorized Rifle Division remained intact, at least on paper, until at least June 1943.

NKVD troops served three years rather than the two years of Red Army soldiers, and were generally better trained. That made them valuable cadres around which to form new divisions of recent conscripts, but the tankers don&rsquot seem to have been used for the same purpose. The NKVD held onto these men, at least until they no longer had tanks for them. Unlike the new divisions formed with NKVD cadres, the motorized rifle divisions with which the NKVD began the war had no artillery, greatly limiting their combat effectiveness.

NKVD troops appear in Panzer Grenadier: Gates of Leningrad, and they bring their tanks with them. Not very many tanks, and not very good tanks, but they do have determined crews.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published vast tracts of books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.


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Mussolini founds the Fascist party

Benito Mussolini, an Italian World War I veteran and publisher of Socialist newspapers, breaks with the Italian Socialists and establishes the nationalist Fasci di Combattimento, named after the Italian peasant revolutionaries, or 𠇏ighting Bands,” from the 19th century. Commonly known as the Fascist Party, Mussolini’s new right-wing organization advocated Italian nationalism, had black shirts for uniforms, and launched a program of terrorism and intimidation against its leftist opponents.

In October 1922, Mussolini led the Fascists on a march on Rome, and King Emmanuel III, who had little faith in Italy’s parliamentary government, asked Mussolini to form a new government. Initially, Mussolini, who was appointed prime minister at the head of a three-member Fascist cabinet, cooperated with the Italian parliament, but aided by his brutal police organization he soon became the effective dictator of Italy. In 1924, a Socialist backlash was suppressed, and in January 1925 a Fascist state was officially proclaimed, with Mussolini as Il Duce, or “The Leader.”

Mussolini appealed to Italy’s former Western allies for new treaties, but his brutal 1935 invasion of Ethiopia ended all hope of alliance with the Western democracies. In 1936, Mussolini joined Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in his support of Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, prompting the signing of a treaty of cooperation in foreign policy between Italy and Nazi Germany in 1937. Although Adolf Hitler’s Nazi revolution was modeled after the rise of Mussolini and the Italian Fascist Party, Fascist Italy and Il Duce proved overwhelmingly the weaker partner in the Berlin-Rome Axis during World War II.

In July 1943, the failure of the Italian war effort and the imminent invasion of the Italian mainland by the Allies led to a rebellion within the Fascist Party. Two days after the fall of Palermo on July 24, the Fascist Grand Council rejected the policy dictated by Hitler through Mussolini, and on July 25 Il Duce was arrested. Fascist Marshal Pietro Badoglio took over the reins of the Italian government, and in September Italy surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. Eight days later, German commandos freed Mussolini from his prison in the Abruzzi Mountains, and he was later made the puppet leader of German-controlled northern Italy. With the collapse of Nazi Germany in April 1945, Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans and on April 29 was executed by firing squad with his mistress, Clara Petacci, after a brief court-martial. Their bodies, brought to Milan, were hanged by the feet in a public square for all the world to see.

Fire in the Steppe: Soviet Tanks, Part One by Mike Bennighof, Ph.D. February 2018

When Nazi aggression brought war to the Soviet peoples in June 1941, the Red Army of Workers and Peasants had more tanks in its inventory than any other army on the planet possibly as many as all the rest combined.

These tanks had heavier armament and thicker armor than those behind the Nazi blitzkrieg, yet proved unable to stop the Germans. Poor maintenance, poor tactics and poor leadership all combined to hamstring the powerful Soviet tank force.

In Panzer Grenadier: Fire in the Steppe the Soviet arsenal includes a huge array of vehicles. Here we look at just a few of them those designed and produced under the Revolutionary War Council&rsquos 1931 effort to create a large and modern armored force. The council identified four types of vehicle: a small infantry-support tank that could be produced in huge numbers a fast cavalry tank a medium support tank to provide artillery support and finally a huge &ldquoland battleship&rdquo to break through enemy fortifications. All of them remained in the Red Army&rsquos arsenal when the Hitlerites attacked a decade later.

Helmsman of the Soviet Peoples

Josef Stalin&rsquos January 1931 speech regarding the First Five-Year Plan addressed his country&rsquos defense needs. With Japanese troops pouring into Manchuria, war in the Far East seemed imminent. The Red Army would repel the invaders using the most modern techniques and weapons.

&ldquoWe refuse to be beaten!&rdquo Comrade Stalin ordered. &ldquoOne feature of the history of the Old Russia was the continual beatings she suffered because of her backwardness. . All beat her &mdash because of her backwardness, military backwardness, cultural backwardness, industrial backwardness, and agricultural backwardness.&rdquo

The First Five-Year Plan, launched in 1928, accelerated even faster when the Sixteenth Party Congress called for &ldquoThe Five-Year Plan in Four Years&rdquo in the summer of 1930. Massive effort resulted in rapid industrialization and great expansion of heavy industry: including hugely increased production of armored vehicles. What is noteworthy about these tanks is their modern design (for the time) and the ability of Soviet industry to begin pouring out hundreds of them within months of the Red Army placing its orders.

Vickers, the British armaments conglomerate, introduced its &ldquoSix Ton&rdquo tank in 1928. Hundreds of them were exported to countries ranging from Bolivia to Thailand, and licensed versions were built in Poland, the United States and the Soviet Union. The British Army, however, did not adopt the tank.

The Revolutionary War Council accepted the vehicle as the T-26 in February, 1931 and ordered it into series production before testing was even complete. They liked its simple design, which would allow production in multiple factories using existing equipment, and relative ease of maintenance. They found its low speed acceptable for an infantry support vehicle, although even when new the T-26 had a tendency to break down.

The earliest versions carried only machine guns, in small twin turrets, but in 1932 a new model appeared with a single turret carrying a 45mm gun. This became the standard, and by 1936 over 5,000 had already been built. Over 300 of them were shipped to Spain for use in the Spanish Civil War, and others were exported to China and Turkey.

Experience in Spain led to a re-design, and the T-26S (sometimes called the T-26C or T-26 Model 1937) had a conical turret designed to deflect shellfire. This is the vehicle depicted by the T-26 game piece the handful of 1932 models still in service in 1941 did not have sufficiently different characteristics to warrant their own piece and available records don&rsquot distinguish between them in the Soviet inventory.

T-26 tanks armed only with machine guns appear on the inventories of several Soviet tank divisions involved in the Brody-Dubno tank battles, but these were relegated to training purposes by 1941. Many were not even mobile, and few if any appear to have seen actual combat.

Along with the Vickers tank, the Revolutionary War Council had also purchased two examples of the American engineer W.J. Christie&rsquos T-3 fast tank. They ordered their own version, to be known as the BT-2, into series production in May 1931.

Like the British Army, the Red Army sought two types of tank: one for infantry support and another to equip fast cavalry-like formations. The BT series had great speed on its tracks, and these could be removed to allow it to run on its wheels alone at even greater road speeds. Unlike most of the world&rsquos tanks, which were steered by levers changing the relative speed of each track, the BT series had a steering wheel like an automobile. Each of the road wheels had a hard rubber tire but the ability to run directly on them meant each also had its own suspension. This made maintenance a nightmare for the crew, and the BT broke down early and often.

The BT-2 met its speed requirements, but Soviet tankers found the turret cramped and its 37mm gun weak. In 1933 a new version appeared, the BT-5. This tank had the same turret as the T-26 Model 1932, with a 45mm gun. The BT-5 saw action against the Japanese in 1939, and 64 of them went to Spain.

The BT-5 appears in Fire in the Steppe. Only a few of these remained in service, mostly with the tank regiments of mechanized and cavalry divisions rather than the tank divisions. A number of the tank divisions stationed in Central Asia and the Far East that came to the front in July and August 1941 still had this vehicle.

In 1935 the BT-5 gave way on the production line to the BT-7, a very similar tank. The BT-7 had a new welded turret the earliest handful had the old cylindrical turret but soon a conical one designed to deflect shells took its place. The BT-7 also had a welded hull, thicker armor and a new, more powerful engine. They still had insufficient protection for the battlefield of 1941, but appeared there in large numbers. They remained in production until 1940, when the new T-34 took their place.

The Revolutionary War Council had a busy 1931 along with the Six-Ton and Christie samples they also tested the Vickers 16-ton Medium Tank Mark III. Designers at the Kirov Works produced a similar tank, but unlike the T-26 or BT-2 this was not a direct copy of the foreign model.

The T-28, first appearing in early 1933, was to provide artillery support to the Red Army&rsquos tank forces. It had a short-barreled 76.2 mm gun in a wide turret, and a pair of machine guns in separate turrets as well. To aid in the support mission, unlike Soviet light tanks every T-28 medium tank had a radio. The Kirov Works produced just over 500 of them between 1933 and 1940, and they equipped the Red Army&rsquos heavy tank brigades. Some of the last models had the same L-11 tank gun as the early models of the T-34.

These tanks did not go to other countries, but did see significant action in the Winter War against Finland and in the 1941 campaign.

The Revolutionary War Council also tested two samples of the Vickers &ldquoIndependent&rdquo tank, a 32-ton monster with five turrets. The British vehicle had five turrets: one with a 47mm gun, the other four each bearing a machine gun. Soviet designers went much further, building a tank with a 76.2mm short-barreled gun in a central raised turret, two turrets (the same as those on the T-26 Model 1933) with 45mm guns, and two more (identical to those on the T-37 tankette) with machine guns.

The T-35 weighed 45 tons and had a crew of 10. The Kharkov Locomotive Works built 62 of them in 1935, and six more improved versions in 1939. The T-35 served in the showpiece 5th Heavy Tank Brigade stationed in Moscow, and rumbled through the city during military parades. During the 1940 reorganization this became part of the 34th Tank Division. The 34th Tank Division fought in the Brody-Dubno battles. A handful of other T-35 tanks attached to armored training schools also fought the Germans in 1941. The T-35 is the coolest-looking tank ever built there are three of them in Fire in the Steppe.

Soviet tank designers continued in their fascination with multi-turreted tanks. In August 1938 the State Defense Committee directed the Kirov Works to develop a new heavy breakthrough tank to replace both the T-28 and the T-35. Engineer S.J. Kotlin put three proposals in front of Comrade Stalin later that year: the T-100 and SMK (Sergei M. Kirov), each with two turrets, and the KV (Klimenti Voroshilov), with one. Stalin liked them all and allowed development to proceed on all three.

The SMK had a 76.2mm gun in a raised turret, and a 45mm gun in a smaller turret in front of the large one. The SMK had sufficient armor to keep out 37mm shells, and did so during testing against the Finns in the Winter War. But the KV proved much superior in those same tests, and was ordered into series production instead.

The SMK does not appear in Fire in the Steppe. The KV, a mainstay of the Soviet tank force in the Great Patriotic War, belongs to the wartime generation of Soviet tanks and we&rsquoll cover that beast in Part 2.

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.

Watch the video: Uruchamianie silnika T-34 Fordon, Bydgoszcz (May 2022).