Uncovering the Expertise of a Cutting-Edge Armoured Monster: Investigating the Russian T-28 Tank

I must confess that I didn’t anticipate encountering such impatience while exploring a museum exhibit. It’s not that the T-28 isn’t a distinctive relic from the First World War era, highlighting Tukhachevsky’s somewhat misguided decisions. It’s just that when you compare it to the robust multi-turreted T-35 tank, which could genuinely fight and hold its ground, the T-28 seems somewhat ordinary.

By the summer of 1941, the T-28 had become hopelessly outdated, particularly in terms of its multi-turret design. I concur, but only when it comes to this specific layout. If you consider the T-34, it’s like comparing a sports car to a bus. The T-28 was somewhat sluggish and lacked maneuverability.

The same applied to its German counterparts. The average German tank of the time, the Pz.Kpfw III, had a distinct advantage in speed and maneuverability. It was only natural that the T-28 seemed monstrously long in comparison. The length-to-width ratio (L/B) was 2.04 for the T-28, while it was 1.2 for the German tank (and 1.5 for the T-34). This ratio plays a critical role; the smaller it is, the more maneuverable the combat vehicle.

However, when it came to armor and weaponry, the T-28 could stand up to most German medium tanks, with the exception of perhaps the Panthers. The L-10 cannon, just like the KT-28, could effectively engage Wehrmacht tanks from a safe distance.

This leads to some puzzling questions. If the T-28 was a capable tank (and it was, trust me), why did its career come to an abrupt end in the early months of the war?

First and foremost, one must examine the T-28 within its broader context. At the time, the Red Army’s tank units didn’t have separate units equipped with medium tanks. Medium tanks were viewed as a means of reinforcing standard tank units, nothing more.

By June 1941, the tank units were a chaotic mix of various types of machines, both old and new, alongside incomplete equipment. For example, the 6th Tank Regiment of the 3rd Tank Division, as described in various sources, had one battalion with T-28s, another with BT-7s, and a third with T-26s. In some cases, KV-2s or T-34s replaced the T-28.

What’s the point? The bottom line is that once combat orders were received, starting from June 22, 1941, it was chaos. BT-7s and T-34s surged ahead, while the others lagged behind. The command screamed for speed, mechanics burnt out the engines and shredded the gearboxes.

If you flip through photo albums from the summer of 1941, you’ll see abandoned tanks on the roadsides, often with minimal signs of enemy engagement.

Add to that the T-28’s sluggishness and size, and the air superiority of the Luftwaffe. Could the Ju-87 dive-bombers, known for their precision, target a slow and inadequately armored behemoth? Of course, they could, and that’s exactly what the Luftwaffe pilots did.

I believe there was another factor at play, possibly sabotage. It’s the battle doctrine of the Red Army’s Armored Forces. This doctrine only recognized one type of battle: attack.

In 1941, tank crews attacked without changing their oath and military duty. They attacked even when given meaningless orders that didn’t suit the situation, all while enduring enemy bombing and artillery fire.

It’s not surprising that only three out of the 503 T-28 tanks produced have survived to this day.

By the way, the T-28 we had the chance to visit had only recently been restored to working condition. This tank had served as a bunker on the Karelian front, slowly rusting away. Nevertheless, it was rescued, brought to Verkhnyaya Pyshma, and restored.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t witness the T-28’s capabilities in action. It started, rumbled, and then suddenly refused to continue. These things happen.

There might be “proof” that the tank can still run, but it’s finicky and unreliable.

Apart from this tank, there’s also a model of a T-28 with a KT-28 cannon in the Central Museum of the Armed Forces in Moscow and a T-28E with reinforced armor, featuring an A-10 cannon, in the Tank Museum in Parola, Finland.

The T-28 holds an important place in history.

The T-28 was the first Soviet medium tank mass-produced, developed from 1930 to 1932 by engineers at the Tank-Tractor Design Bureau, under the guidance of S. A. Ginzburg.

It saw action in the Polish Campaign, the Soviet-Finnish War, and during the early stages of the Great Patriotic War.

The majority of these tanks were lost in June and July 1941, but on the Leningrad and Karelian fronts, they were in use until 1944. The last recorded combat use of the T-28 by the Red Army was in 1944.

The T-28’s history began in 1930 when a Soviet purchasing commission, led by S. A. Ginzburg, went to the UK to acquire the most modern armored vehicles for study and potential use in Soviet armored production.

Their interest was primarily in the Vickers medium tank A6, known as the Vickers 16-ton.

However, Vickers declined to sell a complete tank sample due to its secrecy and offered rather inconvenient terms for acquisition.

1.A one-time payment of £20,000 (about 200,000 rubles in gold) for access to design and development information.

2.An order for 10 tanks of this type from the firm “Vickers” at a price of £16,000 each (160,000 rubles in gold) for a tank without weapons.

Given these unfavorable terms, the Soviets decided to pursue their own tank based on the information they had gathered about the Vickers A6.

The project for the new tank was undertaken by the VOAO design bureau, with key developers being bureau head S. Ginzburg, his deputy V. Zaslavsky, and design engineers O. Ivanov and A. Gakkel.

The design incorporated data from the study of the Vickers A6, as well as knowledge gained during early 1930s Soviet-German collaboration (including the development of the TG tank and testing of German tanks at the Kazan testing grounds.

Interestingly, the concept of multi-turreted tanks wasn’t unique to the British and Soviets. Both the Germans and the French also experimented with multi-turreted tanks.

According to the project, the tank was expected to weigh around 16 tons and carry armament consisting of 45mm cannons and machine guns in the main turret, along with two more machine guns in smaller turrets. The tank’s armor was planned to be 20mm thick on the front of the hull and 16-17mm on the other vertical surfaces, with 10mm thick roof plates and 8mm thick bottoms.

For the engine, they selected the aviation 5-liter M-400 engine, already used in BT-2 tanks. Many other components and design solutions were also borrowed from the BT-2 and T-26 tanks already in production.

The T-28’s production was based at the Leningrad Plant “Red Putilovets.” It’s worth noting that as a mass-produced object, the T-28 was a complex machine, but “Red Putilovets” had the production capacity and skilled personnel to handle it.

However, problems emerged almost immediately. The equipment in the MX-2 workshop, dedicated to T-28 production, was woefully worn and poorly suited for manufacturing parts that required high standards. To address this, machine tools dating back to the First World War were refurbished, modernized, and put into operation. Some machines were even brought in from other Leningrad factories.

S. M. Kirov personally oversaw the organization of T-28 production.

The first batch of 12 tanks was ready by April 1933, and by May 1st, ten of them were part of a parade on Red Square in Moscow.

However, these tanks were conditional units for the parade as they lacked weapons, optical sights, external and internal communication devices, and more. After the parade, they were sent back to the factory.

Serial production of the tank continued for eight years, from 1933 to 1940.

The tank’s body was box-shaped, fully welded (using homogeneous armor) or riveted-welded (using cemented armor). Tanks with riveted-welded hulls were produced for a short period in 1936-1938 and 1939-1940, while the rest featured fully welded hulls.

Functionally, the hull was divided into four sections: control, combat, power, and power transmission. The combat compartment was separated from the engine compartment by a hatch for engine access.

The vertical walls of the upper part of the driver’s cab were welded to the front sloping sheet, located between the machine gun turrets. At the front, the cab was covered by a folding armored door with an upward-opening flap. The door had a viewing slot covered with bulletproof glass. Above the cabin, there was another hatch to facilitate the driver’s entry. During the Winter War, additional 20mm armor plates were added to reinforce the driver’s front door, and the cab’s surrounding protective fence was welded to prevent jamming from shell fragments during bombardments.

On the exterior of the hull, on both sides of the combat compartment, there were boxes for smoke-producing devices. The configuration of these boxes varied depending on the tank’s production year. There were two round openings on the sides of the hull for access to smoke-producing devices from inside the crew compartment.

Much like the hull, the main turret came in two types – welded and riveted-welded. In terms of design, the main turret was identical to the main turret of the heavy tank T-35.

The turret had an elliptical shape with a prominent rear niche and was constructed from rolled armor plates with thicknesses ranging from 15mm to 20mm. The turret roof was reinforced with stiffeners, featuring large star-shaped stampings and two strips with rounded edges.

Initially, there was one rectangular hatch on the turret roof, which was replaced in 1936 with two hatches – one round for the gunner with an anti-aircraft machine gun installation, and the other rectangular for the commander. Two openings for periscopic devices, protected by armored covers, were located on the front part of the turret roof, and there was an antenna entry hole in the rear part on the right. On the sides of the turret, external handrails for the antenna were mounted. Viewing slots, covered with bulletproof glass, were positioned on the right and left turret walls, below which were embrasures for firing personal weapons, protected by armored shields.

For crew convenience, the main turret had a suspended floor raised above the hull bottom and fixed to the turret chassis with four brackets. This allowed access to the turret from the driver’s point when the turret was rotated at a certain angle. To be honest, I didn’t attempt to climb in.

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