Saturday, 4 May 2013

Soviet Tractor Tanks

Armoured tractors have frequently shown up in the 20th century, both as improvised fighting vehicles built by militias or resistance movements, and as organized attempts at creating a cheap and dirty armoured vehicle for a real army. This article covers armoured tractors built in the Soviet Union as more or less organized production efforts.

Masttyazhart AA Daimler

In 1925, as a part of the Mechanization and Tractorization of the Army program, Masttyazhart (Heavy Artillery Workshops) installed a 76.2 mm Model 1915 AA gun on a Daimler tractor (the model was not specified). The gun could rotate 360 degrees, had an elevation of up to 75 degrees, and depression of 0 degrees. The tractor towed a cart with 192 rounds of ammunition and a crew of six. It could only fire while stationary, with spades deployed. The vehicle was not mass produced.


Image from Solyankin et al, "Soviet Light Tanks 1920-1941", Zeughaus, 2007

This tractor-tank was developed in 1930 in Moscow. It was based on the Kommunar 9GU tractor, with 6-16 mm of armour, 4 machine guns, and one 76.2 mm model 1927 regimental gun facing backwards. The tractor could achieve 9 kph with a 75 hp engine. It was designed as a support tank, with one variant (D-14) capable of carrying infantry in it. The off-road capability was good, but reliability, crew ergonomics, and vision for the driver were deemed unsatisfactory. It is interesting to note the presence of a commander's cupola, giving the commander excellent 360 degree view range. The tank was not mass produced. 


Image from Solyankin et al, "Soviet Light Tanks 1920-1941", Zeughaus, 2007

The D-11 was a similar project to the D-10, but based on the Caterpillar-80. It had the same armament, but a weaker 60 hp engine, and a smaller fuel tank. It was not mass produced for the same reason as the D-10. The failures of the D-10 and D-11 projects made the Red Army seriously reconsider the viability of future tractor-tank projects.

SU-2 and SU-5

Image from Solyankin et al, "Soviet Self Propelled Guns 1923-1941", Zeughaus, 2008

The SU-2 self propelled gun was developed in 1931, at the Bolshevik factory. A 76.2 mm model 1902 divisional gun was mounted on a Kommunar 9GU tractor, behind an armoured shield. The gun could rotate 360 degrees. The tractor chassis had to be reinforced, and the driver's seat removed, in order to fit this modification. Armour thickness of the hull was 10 mm. The 75 hp engine accelerated the vehicle up to 12 kph. One of these vehicles was built. The vehicle had a crew of five.

In 1932, another, project at the Bolshevik factory put a 76.2 mm model 1915 AA gun on the same tractor. To compensate for the extra weight, the vehicle had no armour, and had four spades deployed when firing. One of these vehicles was built and passed trials, but the project was not continued due to the insufficient capacity of the Kommunar chassis to support 76.2 mm guns. This vehicle was designated SU-5, not to be confused with the SU-5 light triplex on the T-26 chassis.


Early NI tank. Due to the highly improvised nature of manufacturing, two NI tanks can look vastly different.

NI, or Na Ispug (For Fear) was an improvised armoured vehicle, produced in Odessa. A STZ-5 tractor was equipped 10-20 mm of armour, or even mild steel with wooden boards, which would protect it from bullets. Armament varied based on what was available. NI tanks went into battle with 37 mm or 45 mm guns, 1-2 DT machine guns, sometimes only with a pipe to simulate a cannon. Some sources say that a 76.2 mm model 1938 mountain gun was used. The idea of the tank was not to combat other tanks, but to combat infantry, unprepared for the arrival of tanks, and lacking anti-tank weapons. The loud noise produced by this contraption contributed to the psychological impact of the tank. 55 of these tanks were built. The name NI was given to the after the war. During the war, they are designated as "tractor-tank". Three NI tanks exist to this day, at least one a reproduction for movies.


Reproduction of a HTZ-16 tank in Kiev

Kharkov's approach to an armoured tractor was similar, but more uniform. A STZ-3 tractor was chosen for the job. It was equipped with 10-25 mm of armour, a 45 mm gun for enemy tanks, and a DP machine gun for enemy infantry. The turret of the tank did not rotate. Unlike with the NI, the HTZ-16 was set to be mass-produced, but problems with supplies limited the total production run to 60 at Kharkov and 30 at Stalingrad. At least one tank made it through the war and returned to its life as a tractor.


CAMD RF 38-11355-190, a record of a meeting on turning obsolete tanks into tank destroyers, proposes installing the 57 mm ZiS-4 tank gun and, 37 mm and 25 mm automatic AA guns in the STZ-5 tractor "with extended hull and ZiS-16 engine". Meeting notes from Factory #92 list "SU-2-2, 57 mm tank gun on the fast artillery tractor STZ-5" as a potential option for production. However, this option was not chosen.

Voroshilovets 105-K

The same document proposes installing an 85 mm AA gun on a Voroshilovets tractor. The project was deemed unlikely, but launched at Factory #8 under the index 105-K anyway. A prototype was built, but not mass produced, due to the army's lack of heavy tractors.


The ZiS-30 project was created by mounting a ZiS-2 57 mm anti-tank gun on a T-20 Komsomolets artillery tractor. This vehicle had 10 mm of armour in the front, and 7 mm on the sides and rear. It could reach a speed of 40 kph. The center of gravity was very high, leading to a chance of flipping the tank if the gun was fired without spades deployed. 101 of these vehicles were assembled over the course of about a month, and one with a 45 mm gun. The ZiS-30 performed well in combat, due to its powerful gun. However, the T-20 tractor was no longer produced in 1941. There were no spare parts for vehicles that managed to survive combat. Today, no ZiS-30s remain.


CAMD RF 38-11355-238

Despite a similar name, this project has nothing to do with the SU-2. It was developed in the fall of 1941, ten years later, at the Chelyabinsk Tractor Factory. A Stalinets-2 tractor, with a torsion bar suspension, had a 122 mm M-30 howitzer installed, and was armoured with anti-bullet armour (the Soviet "anti-bullet" category encompassed 4-20 mm of highly hardened steel). However, ChTZ became the new home of the Kirov factory, and started producing KV tanks, which were more important than this improvised solution. The M-30 howitzer found its way to an armoured hull in a few months, but one from a real tank.

Stalinets Tank Destroyer

CAMD RF 38-11355-639, fragment

In 1942, two engineers from the Ural Heavy Machinery Factory proposed a tank destroyer project. They intended to arm a Stalinets-2 tractor with a ZiS-5 gun, in a fully enclosed armoured hull. The resulting vehicle would have a crew of 3 and a height of only 1.8 meters. With only 25-32 mm of armour, and a reduced mass of 6-7 tons, the tank could theoretically reach a speed of 40 kph. The project was technically sound, but Stalinets-2 tractors were not built since 1941, and no compatible chassis was currently produced for this vehicle to ever be built.

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