Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

T-34 Crew Surivability: A Soviet Assessment

Discussion in 'Weapons & Technology in WWII' started by Triple C, Mar 21, 2009.

  1. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,598
    Likes Received:
    230
    Russian tanks which used diesel were often touted as more survivable AFVs, being less likely to burn than gasoline powered tanks after being hit because diesel's ignition temperature is higher than gasoline. This Soviet paper reveals that diesel is highly combustible and dangerous when hit by munitions, and the less than optimal placement of T-34's fuel tank--in front of the crew compartment--in fact increased the danger of fuel tank explosion when hit by armor piercing rounds and shaped charges.

    Kudos to Andrey Ergorov for finding and translating this document! He had also annotated this report.

     
    Slipdigit, Sloniksp and razin like this.
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    11,755
    Likes Received:
    1,126
    Location:
    Michigan
    I saw a study once the average casualties per tank knocked out for different tanks and nationalities. One interesting fact was that the Soviets lost more crew per tank killed than the western allies even for the same tank type. It could be due to a number of different factors but ...
     
  3. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2008
    Messages:
    1,900
    Likes Received:
    90
    Maybe the Germans executed the tankers that got out? The war in the East was a much more brutal affair.
     
  4. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,598
    Likes Received:
    230
    Maybe poorer training in some respects combined with the Russian indifference to casaulties? I imagine western tank crews drilled at firefighting and to quickly get out of their vehicles when the commander says abandon ship. Considering the huge casaulty rates and the speed with which they must rebuild their units, I am dubious at the average tactical training and drill the Red tankers got. I also doubt the Russian tankers were as well equipped with fire extinguishers as the Western tankers.

    In the Korean War a M4A3E8 hit by penetrating fire on average lost 1-2 crewmen. The Russian made T-34-85s on average lost 3-4 men. Of course, there was crew training--NK tankers would hit an American tank until it stopped moving, but the Americans would hit an NK tank until it burned. But the numbers do suggest that something in the T-34 made it more dangerous after armor breach.
     
  5. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2008
    Messages:
    1,900
    Likes Received:
    90
    I think it may also have to do with doctrine. The Soviets did not field mechanized armored infantry in quantities in WW2- they reverted production resources towards more tanks.

    So you have Soviet tanks aggressively pushing into enemy territory largely without heavy support from armored personnel carriers and armored cars to keep enemy infantry away. Their tank riders could only do so much, and were highly vulnerable to all elements.

    I can see knocked out Soviet Shermans and Churchills having their crews gunned down by enemy infantry as they tried to escape.

    I think Allied armor was generally better integrated with infantry and, due to doctrine, not usually so aggressive.
     
  6. marc780

    marc780 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2008
    Messages:
    585
    Likes Received:
    55
    To the designers perhaps it made sense to put the T-34 fuel tank in the front of the hull. The thickest armor on a tank is always in its front (and on the turret) and this is so with the T-34 . Also the armor on a T-34 is sloped and this adds to its thickness. So perhaps the designers chose to locate the fuel tank in the most heavily armored portion of the hull. If i were the designer i think i would put it anywhere but inside the crew compartment though.

    Ergonomics, safety or comfort have in the past not been a strong point of Russian (Soviet) tank designs. After WW2, the T-54 and T-62 were so cramped inside the crews were chosen first on the basis of height - since anyone over about 5 foot 6" tall is too big to be an effective crew member. Also the transmissions were so bad, crews were said to be issued sledge hammers to get the transmission lever into gear.
     
  7. Erich

    Erich Alte Hase

    Joined:
    May 13, 2001
    Messages:
    14,439
    Likes Received:
    617
    don't forget the Soviet optics were not the best in the early tanks as well, as pointed out cramped quarters, limited personell in the tank, the CO was doing 2 positions many times
     
  8. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    11,755
    Likes Received:
    1,126
    Location:
    Michigan
    My guesses as to the difference in crew casualties are two that line up pretty well with some mentioned.

    1) Training. I suspect the Western allies trained their crews to bail out quicker or at least didn't train them not to. In the East there may have been more emphasis on fighting the vehicle as long as possible.

    2) Given the terrain and the relative forces the Germans may have been able to shoot up the crews more often in the east than in the west.

    Could be either or both or some other factor(s). Note that a lot if not all the Shermans used by the Soviets were diesel so if anything they should have been less flammable than those used in the west.
     
  9. razin

    razin Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2008
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    83
    Also consider the escape layout of the T34, the hull crew climb out through the front hatch which is quite cumbersome and the crew is expossed to enemy fire. In the early 76mm gun tank the turret hatch is similarly cumbersome and replaced by smaller individual hatches in the later models- 3men to 2 hatches in T34/85. I have to say that T34 hatches are virtually jam proof which could not said for British tanks.

    The ergonomics in this case the small size of the tank would lead to deaths as a hit means the shell will probably hit a crewman or more, conversely in theory the small size gives better armour, but again the fuel tank and ammunition stowage was not good.

    Some German vehicles notably the JGPzIV have a crew compartment fuel tank in gasoline, (for that matter so does the British Scorpion Recce tank).

    Steve
     
  10. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,598
    Likes Received:
    230
    Yes indeed. M4A2 LLed to Russia were all diesel models and in fact Russian veterans had said they felt safer in a Sherman than T-34... though reality v. perception is always a problem with assessing the validity of veteran's claims.

    A veteran tank battalion commander, some Loza in one of the Guards Mechanized Corps, spoke highly of the land lease tanks with which he was equipped. I found his technical knowledge wanting, but this also says quite a bit about what's important on the battlefield.
     
  11. razin

    razin Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2008
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    83
    The British who used M4A2 75mm model in large numbers found no difference in the flamability it was the ammunition stowage which was the problem, fortunately apart for a small fuel tank for the aux generator the Sherman had all its fuel in the engine compartment, however oil coolers, transmission fluid even crew personal effects such as clothing added to the combustability of a tank.
     
  12. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2007
    Messages:
    1,460
    Likes Received:
    89

    Infantry usually dont enjoy being around when tanks are fighting so I dont think executed would be the correct word.

    But if an enemy tank lit-up and men were trying to bail I imagine that any smart MG gunner would shoot them rather then them living to fight another day.
     
  13. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2008
    Messages:
    1,900
    Likes Received:
    90
    I remember reading a quote from a british tanker who fought in North Africa talking about how they generally tried to kill off the German panzer crews (rather than let them run away) with whatever was available- mgs, mortars, etc. if need be...because they knew that training a quality Panzer crew (which made up the high quality Afrika Korps) was expensive for the Germans.
     
  14. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,598
    Likes Received:
    230
    Yes, this is true from what I have read of ETO. A veteran in the Railsplitters writes that in a tank battle he and his riflemen buddies would just murder any German tankers bailing out of a KO'ed tank during a fight. After the immediate action and fury, though, it would be customary to effect a truce so medics could treat and stabalize the wounded.

    This doesn't seem to have anything to do with hating the enmy. Just soldiers doing their job.
     
  15. razin

    razin Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2008
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    83
    It was common practice to fire a HE shell at a KOd tank to kill the crew. Machine gun crews tasked with protecting PAK guns would also fire a few bursts in the direction of a disabled tank. However for the most part both Tank Crews and infantry have more pressing things to do like move to the next target or looking out for attacking infantry, added to which the smoke beginning to shroud the damaged tank makes hitting escaping crew more difficult.

    As you said in your post is just want they are trained to do.

    Some reports show how quickly the battle moves on, with crews of damaged tanks climbing on to rear decks and turrets to aid injured compatriots.
     
    Wolfy likes this.
  16. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2008
    Messages:
    1,900
    Likes Received:
    90
    To add to that, it was known that the escaped veteran crew would simply jump into another tank and come back to haunt them another day...
     
  17. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,598
    Likes Received:
    230
    That was the rationale behind it. The principle applies equally to aerial combat; while most pilots detested this behavior, some combat aviators would machine-gun the enemy pilot parachuting out of a stricken fighter.

    Clive "Killer" Caldwell, an Australian ace, practiced this after seeing a fellow Australian pilot being killed by a German that way. Latter, he would say the lesson he learned that day is that aerial war is about the enemy pilot, not his machine. "Budd" Anderson, a less ruthless American ace, witnessed something like this at 1945 and in retaliation, he hunted down the German personally and made sure he was dead.

    War really is very ugly.
     
  18. marc780

    marc780 Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2008
    Messages:
    585
    Likes Received:
    55
    To add to the debate the T-34 had its flaws but the supposedly invulnerable German tigers and panthers had them too. Aside from reliability issues and over complex design, probably the Germans biggest mistake wa designing their tanks to use gasoline. This was a bad decision for two reasons, the obvious reason being gasoline is so much more dangerous to store, to handle and to have in your tank when you are hit by a shell. The flash point of gasoline is of course much lower than that for diesel, gas burns much more readily. Just as important, diesel fuel is easier to refine than gasoline as when making diesel fuel from crude oil you eliminate several steps from the refining process. thus you can make more of it, and faster.

    It seems people must constantly make the same mistakes over and over again sometimes costing many lives. During the Vietnam war 1964-1975, thousands of American M-113 APC's were sent there for use by US and ARVN forces. The M-113 was initially equipped with a gas powered engine. The armor on the M-113 was relatively thin 1/2 - 3/4" thick aluminum. When met by the then-new RPG 2 in use by Vietcong and NVA forces the usual result was that anyone inside the M-113 was not protected but merely "neatly packaged for destruction" as one officer put it. The M-113's often caught fire when hit by anything heavier than AK fire. After a couple dozen burned up M-113's and several dead troops, the commanding General ordered that all gas engines in the M-113's be replaced by diesel engines. This decision no doubt saved many lives.
     
  19. razin

    razin Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2008
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    83
    You make a number of reasonable points. Despite being in on the early development of diesel engines the Germans failed to develop them for AFVs (for the most part) . Of course successful large diesels were used in U Boats etc. Perhaps it might make a good topic for another thread -why Germany did not develop a successful 600-1000hp motor for tank use.

    Regarding the M113 most Nato countries were about to turn over to Diesel for Ist line combat vehiclesl by the time of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam the incidents with gasoline fueled M113 and the controversal M114 recce vehicle in Vietnam only hastened it. While I am not wanting to deminish the effect of the RPG2 and 7 many instances such as the tactically significant ambush at Ap Bac when a column of ArVn M113 APCs was ambushed was done with mainly satchel charge tactics (reverting to WW2 japanese tactics.) and above all M113s were mainly vulnerable to mines of various sorts, anyway that probably is another thread too.

    ~Steve
     
  20. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2007
    Messages:
    11,755
    Likes Received:
    1,126
    Location:
    Michigan
    Earlier in this thread it was pointed out that diesel M4s were not significantly less flamable than gasoline powered ones. One problem with going with diesel is that then you have to have two types of fuel or give up most of the few trucks the Germans had. The logistics problems introduced by multiple fuel types can be significant and the German logistic structure could never be classified as robust. Furthermore haveing two fuel types requires more fuel as you have to have adequate reserves of both types at numerous points. In practicle terms vs the existing threats I'm not convinced that diesel would have saved the Germans much. Note that the US Marines and the Soviets used Diesel M4s and the US army and allies in Europe used the gas version. That was due mostly to logistics (the navy used diesel most army vehicles used gas). Furthermore I believe (and am sure I'll get corrected on this if I'm wrong) that the power density of diesel engines was less than that of gasoline ones at least during WWII.
     

Share This Page