In 1937 the Kharkov Tank Factory in the Soviet Union began work on a new "shellproof" tank. Instructions were given to design a tank that could be mass-produced and would be easy to maintain during battle. The T-34 was accepted by the Red Army in December 1939 and by Operation Barbarossa 1,225 had been built.
The T-34 was provided with sloped armour to deflect shells that was welded instead of riveted. Fitted with a powerful diesel engine, its main armament was a high-velocity 76mm gun.
The existence of the T-34 was kept a secret and the German 17th Panzer Division was shocked to discover their shells bouncing off the tank's armour when it was used for the first time in June, 1941. It was clear that the ability to produce large numbers of the T-34 would be vital if the Red Army was to prevent the Germans occupying the Soviet Union. As the German Army threatened to overrun the Kharkov Tank Factory in the autumn of 1941, the factory was moved east and reassembled at Nizhni-Tagil.
The Germans attempted to develop anti-tank guns that could destroy the T-34. The Soviets responded by improving the tank. Soviet tank commanders complained he turret was the most vulnerable part of the vehicle. It was discovered that the turret on the KV-IC tank was better and this was now used on the T-34. The new turret was mounted with an 85mm gun and the armour thickness was increased to 110mm on the front and 90mm on the turret. A new five-speed gearbox was also installed.
During the Second World War the Kharkov Tank Factory produced 40,000 T-34 tanks. In the opinion of many experts, the T-34 was the best designed tank of the war.
Tanks must be fast. That, I would say, is the most important lesson of the war in regard to tank design. The Panther was on the right lines, as a prototype. We used to call the Tiger a 'furniture van' - though it was a good machine in the initial breakthrough. Its slowness was a worse handicap in Russia than in France, because the distances were greater.
The Stalin tank is the heaviest in the world; it has robust tracks and good armour. A further advantage is its low build - it is 51 cm lower than our Panzer V, the Panther. As a 'breakthrough' tank it is undoubtedly good, but too slow.
It was at Targul Frumos that I first met the Stalin tanks. It was a shock to find that, although my Tigers began to hit them at a range of 3,000 metres, our shells bounced off, and did not penetrate them until we had closed to half that distance. But I was able to counter the Russians' superiority by manoeuvre and mobility, in making the best use of ground cover.
Fire-power, armour protection, speed and cross-country performance are the essentials, and the best type of tank is that which combines these conflicting requirements with most success. In my opinion the German Panzer V, the 'Panther', was the most satisfactory of all, and would have been dose to the ideal had it been possible to design with a lower silhouette. A main lesson I learned from all my experience was that much more importance should be placed on the speed of the tank on the battlefield than was generally believed before the war, and even during, the war. It is a matter of life or death for the tank to avoid the deadly effect of enemy fire by being able to move quickly from one fire-position to another. Manoeuvrability develops into a 'weapon' and often ranks equal to firepower and armour- protection.