CHAPTER XII


Tanks


"In the building of bridges toward peaceful engagement nothing, of course, should be done which would threaten our national security."

William Blackie, Chairman,
Caterpillar Tractor Company


Production facilities for tanks and armored cars combine features required in automobile and truck production with those required for locomotive and tractor production. Consequently, agricultural tractor, locomotive and automotive plants can be and are used to produce tanks, although mass production of tanks requires equipment changes and new machine installations.

Such civilian-to-military plant conversions for tank and armored-car production have been successfully undertaken in automobile and locomotive plants in many countries. In the United States the Ford Motor Company, Cadillac, and Chrysler have mass-produced tanks. In Italy the Fiat Company and in France the Renault Company, Citroen, and other automobile manufacturers have produced tanks. In England the Vauxhall Motor Company was a tank producer in World War II. Among locomotive manufacturers both Baldwin Locomotive and American Locomotive in the United States produced tanks in World War II. Tractor plants have been successfully converted to tank production for example, Massey Harris in the United States and all Caterpillar tractor plants in the Soviet Union.

A tractor plant is well suited to tank and self-propelled gun production. The tractor plants at Stalingrad, Kharkov, and Chelyabinsk, erected with almost complete American assistance and equipment, and the Kirov plant in Leningrad, reconstructed by Ford, were used from the start to produce Soviet tanks, armored cars, and self-propelled guns. The enthusiasm with which this tank and armored-vehicle program was pursued, and the diversion of the best Russian engineers and material priorities to military purposes, have been responsible for at least part of the current Soviet problem of lagging tractor production and periodic famines.

Since 1931, up to a half of the productive capacity of these "tractor" plants has been used for tank and armored-car production.34

In both the State Department and the German Oberkommando files, there are reports confirming the planned adaptability of Soviet general-equipment plants for war use that is, the plants were originally planned for war use. For example, "The heavy industry plants are fitted with special attachments and equipment held in reserve which in a few hours will convert the plants into munitions factories."35

Tank assembly, like the production of automobiles, trucks, and tractors, is normally straight-line with components fed into the main assembly operation from subassembly lines. The components required for tanks are usually peculiar to such weapons. Tank power-plants and tank power-trains are not normally used in commercial-type vehicles in the West. However, in the Soviet Union commercial engines have been used in tank installations by combining two power plants in one tank, for example, the SU-76 self-propelled gun with two standard Dodge automobile engines, or by adapting aircraft engines.36

Machinery and machine tools for tank production are similar to those used in the production of heavy equipment, with additional special-purpose tools. Transfer machines required for automotive-type engines, large boring mills, large planers, radial drills, and heavy welding equipment are also utilized.

Consequently, any automobile, truck, locomotive or tractor production plant with straight-line assembly operations can be converted to the mass production of tanks by the addition of certain specialized equipment and by utilizing components and subassemblies made elsewhere for the specific tank vehicle to be assembled.

Soviet tractor plants were established in the early I930s with major U.S. technical and equipment assistance. The Stalingrad tractor plant was completely built in the United States, shipped to Stalingrad, and then installed in prefabricated steel buildings also purchased in the United States. This unit, together with the Kharkov and Chelyabinsk plants and the rebuilt Kirov plant in Leningrad, comprised the Soviet tractor industry at that time, and a considerable part of the Soviet tank industry as well. During the war, equipment from Kharkov was evacuated and installed behind the Urals to form the Altai tractor plant, which opened in 1943.

Three postwar tractor plants were in operation by 1950: the Valdimir plant opened in 1944, the Lipetsk plant in 1947, the Minsk plant and the Kharkov assembly plant in I950. This was the basic structure of the Soviet tractor industry in the 1960s and 1970s.

These plants produced tractors with a heavy emphasis on crawler (caterpillar-tread) models rather than the rubber-tired tractors more commonly used in the United States. The 1959 USDA technical delegation estimated that 50 percent of the current output was in crawler models, as contrasted to only 4 percent in the United States. The military implications of this product mix is obvious from Table 12-1.

Table 12-1
Soviet Tank Models Produced in Tractor Plants

 
Tank
Model Number
Tractor-Tank
Plant:
Where Tanks
were used:
T-26 (8-ton) A, B,
C versions
 Ordzhonikidze
   (Kharkov)
Spanish Civil War
Manchuria
Finland
T-37 (3-ton) Stalingrad
Chelyabinsk
Russo-Finnish War
World War II
T-32 (34-ton) Kirov works
   (Leningrad)
Russo-Finnish War
World War II
BT (12-ton) Chelyabinsk Spanish Civil War
Russo-Finnish War
BT-28 (16-ton) Chelyabinsk Tusso-Finnish War
PT-76 Volograd
   (Stalingrad)
Indo-Pakistan War
Vietnam

 
The Development of Soviet Tank Design

Before World War II Soviet tanks derived from American, British, and, to a lesser extent, French and Italian designs. Little German design influence can be traced in the period before 1939. During the 1920s and 1930s the Soviets acquired prototypes from all tank-producing countries and based development of Soviet tanks upon these foreign models. The Soviet tank stock in 1932 is shown in Table 12-2.

From this stock of Western models, together with technical-assistance agreements with foreign firms and the continuing purchase of foreign prototypes, the Soviets developed a formidable tank force for World War II.

The Carden-Lloyd (the predecessor of the British Brengun carrier of World War II) was a 1.69-ton machine-gun carrier first produced by Vickers-Armstrong, Ltd., in 1929. The Mark-VI model sold to the Soviets had a Ford Model-T 4-cylinder 22.5-horsepower water-cooled engine and a Ford planetary transmission. This became the Soviet T-27 light reconnaissance tank produced at the Bolshevik plant in Leningrad.

The Ordzhonikidze Tractor Plant at Kharkov started work on the T-26, based on the British Vickers-Armstrong 6-tonner at about the same time. There were three versions A, B and C of which B and C became the standard Soviet models produced until 1941. Similarly, the Soviet T-37 and T-38 amphibious vehicles were based on the Carden-Lloyd Amphibian, known as the Model-A4 E 11 in the British Army.

Table 12-2
Soviet Tank Stock in 1932

20 Cardem-Lloyd Mark-VI Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. (U.K.)
1 Fist Type-3000 Fiat (Italy)
20 Renault Renault (France)
16 "Russian-Renaults" Made in France, modified in USSR
70 light tanks Vickers 6-ton, Alternate-A (U.K.)
40 Vickers Mark-11 Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. (U.K.)
2 Christie M-1931 U.S. Wheel Track Layer Corp.
(U.S.A.)
8 Medium Mark-A Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. (U.K.)
   
Sources: R.E. Jones et al., The Fighting Tanks Since 1916 (Washington, DC: National Service Publishing Co., 1933), p. 173.
R.M. Ogorkiewicz, "Soviet Tanks," in B.H. Liddell Hart, ed., The Red Army (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1956).


Walter Christie, a well-known American inventor with numerous automotive and tank inventions to his credit, developed the Christie tank the basis of World War II American tanks. Numerous Soviet versions of Christie tanks and armored vehicles were produced in the late 1920s and 1930s. Two chassis of the Christie M-1931 model medium tank (MB) were purchased by the Soviet Union in 1932 from the U.S. Wheel Track Layer Corporation. After further development work this became not only the Soviet T-32 (the basic Soviet tank of World War II), but also several other development models in the USSR: first the BT (12 tons), followed by the BT-5 and the BT-28 produced at Chelyabinsk.

The Soviet T-34 and the American M-3, both based on the Christie, had the same 12-cylinder aero engine, a V-type Liberty of 338 horsepower. Ogorkiewicz comments on the Christie model series as follows:

The power-weight ratio was actually higher than could be efficiently used, but the Russians copied it all and confined their development largely to armament, which increased from a 37-millimeter gun on the original models of 1931, to 45-millimeter guns on BT-5 of 1935, and eventually to short 76.2-millimeter guns on some of the final models of the series.

Both the Soviet T-28 medium 29-ton tank and the T-35 45-ton heavy tank resembled British models the A-6 medium tank and the A-1 Vickers Independent, respectively. Imported French Renault designs also contributed to Russian tank knowledge. During the 1933 entente between France and the Soviet Union, the Renault Company delivered $11 million worth of "small fast tanks and artillery tractors" to the Soviet Union and supplied experts from the Schneider works and Panhard Levasseur, skilled in the armored-car and tank field.


The Famous T-34 Medium Tank

The Soviet T-34 and the modified T-34/85 were first introduced in World War II and used extensively against Americans in the Korean War. The model was later used in the Hungarian revolt and in "wars of liberation" to the present day. The T-34 is an excellent design and a formidable weapon. It emphasizes the ability of the Soviets to design weapons while still dependent on the West for production facilities and basic technical advances.

In 1931 the Russians bought two Christie tanks from the U.S. Wheel Track Layer Corporation in the United States. The Russians copied these, built Christie tanks, and then incorporated the Christie suspension system into the T-34. The first Russian Christies had the same engines as the U.S. Christie a Liberty 12-cylinder V-type of 338 horsepower with forced-water cooling. In the 1920s the Chase National Bank of New York (now Chase Manhattan) attempted to arrange illegal export of large quantities of these Liberty engines to the Soviet Union at the price of $2,000 each.

In any event, the T-34 incorporated the Christie suspension from the United States, but generally used a 500-horsepower V-type diesel developed from the German B.M.W. diesel engine. The T-34/85 was the T-34 with significantly increased firepower. Ball bearings on the T-34 and T-34/85 were manufactured on Swedish equipment.

The welding work on the T-34 was at first immensely crude, but as The Welding Engineer (Dec. 1952) pointed out: "The T-34 was designed with one idea in mind to provide firepower. Any humanitarian considerations, like protection of the crew, are purely secondary."

The original T-34s were built from several million tons of armor-plate imported from the United States. In July 1934 Henry Disston & Sons, Inc. requested War Department permission to accede to a Soviet request, "in training their technicians to make tank armorplate of the same quality as they now make for this Government" (Russia 400.114, War Office).

The T-34 was followed by the improved T-44 and then by the T-54, with the basic T-44 chassis and using Christie-system torsion-bar suspension. This was the standard Soviet tank until recently; it was used in the Hungarian revolt in 1956, in South Vietnam in 1972, and still in use in most Warsaw Pact countries.

The Red Army has always used diesel engines in its medium and heavy tanks. This tank-engine series is the V-2 and V-12 water-cooled, rated to 550 brake horsepower (bhp) at 2,150 revolutions per minute (rpm). According to Ogorkiewicz, the original Russian water-cooled V-12 engine was a successful diesel adaptation of contemporary aero-engine designs. Used on all Soviet medium and heavy tanks up to World War II, it was a large 2,860 cubic-inch engine, based on a German B.M.W. aircraft design, and developed about 500 bhp. Soviet em-ephasis on diesels has continued since World War II, while other Soviet armored vehicles have used automobile gasoline engines. The T-70 light tank uses two GAZ-202 70-horsepower engines from the Ford-Gorki plant. The SU-76 self-propelled gun also used two engines of the same Ford type geared together.

The Soviets have continuously developed the same engine for their battle line tanks including the T-34, T-44, T-54, T-62 and T-72. These engines originated with a Hispano Suisa engine originally developed in the 1930s as an aircraft engine. The latest T-62s are manufactured in three gigantic plants at Nizhny Tagil, Omsk and Kharkov. It has a power displacement of 9.93 kw/liter, a mean piston speed at maximum rpm of 12.6 m/s for the left bank and 13.1 m/s for the right bank. The BMEP at maximum torque is 698 kPz. The weight to power ratio is 2.6 kg/kw. The weight/displacement is 25.8 Kg per liter and the specific fuel consumption is 210 g/kwh.

The Soviets prefer not to use imported parts for field military end uses. However, they do reverse engineer the latest advances in Western military technology obtained by illegal purchase or espionage. Examples are the gunner's telescope on the T-62 which uses the same multi roundscales and movable index line found on the M-46s (U.S.) T-152 co-axial telescope. The T-64 and the T-72 has an analogue ballistic computer and a coincidence rangefinder comparable to those found on U.S. M-48 and M-60 tanks. These were probably obtained from U.S. equipment captured in Vietnam.


DMB Pleas of Ignorance

A common statement from the deaf mute blindmen is that their contracts with the Soviet Union have no military potential and cannot therefore do any harm to our national security. These statements are not only false, but these multinational businessmen know they are false.

We cited William Blackie, Chairman of Caterpillar Tractor Company, in the epigraph to this chapter to the effect that "building of bridges" should not "threaten our national security." Yet Mr. Blackie knows full well the use to which the Soviets put the Caterpillar Tractor plants in the Soviet Union and the military use of Caterpillar tractor reverse engineered from U.S. models. His statement is bland subterfuge.

The American-built tractor plants at Stalingrad, Kharkov, and Chelyabinsk were the only major tank producers of the Soviet Union up to World War II. Tank output for 1938 (a year for Which complete figures are available) is shown in Table 12-3, with the percentage tank output on early American-built tractor plant.

Table 12-3
Overall Annual Production of Soviet Tanks in
U.S.-Built Tractor Plants (1938)
 

Percentage of
Total Produced
in Each Plant
Construction of
Plant by:
Origin of
Tank Model
Chelyabinsk:
   28.9 percent
U.S. firms
   (1933)
Christie (U.S.A.)
Carden-Lloyd (U.K.)
Vickers (U.K.)
Stalingrad:
   32.8 percent
U.S. firms
   (1930)
Carden-Lloyd
Vickers-Armstrong
Kharkov:
   38.3 percent
U.S. firms
   (1931)
Vickers-Armstrong

   
The U.S.-Built Stalingrad "Tractor" Plant

In March 1929 a delegation of thirteen Soviet engineers arrived in the United States and in cooperation with several American companies outlined a plan for a plant to produce 50,000 Caterpillar-type tractors a year. "The entire designing of the Stalingrad... tractor plant... was carried out in the United States .... While preliminary work on the site of the Stalingrad Tractor Plant had been conducted for some time, the actual work on the construction of the principal departments started only in June when the plans arrived from the United States.37

The Stalingrad Tractor Plant, the largest in Europe, was a packaged factory built in the United States, dismantled, shipped to the USSR, and re-erected at Stalingrad under the supervision of American engineers. All its equipment was manufactured in the United States by some eight firms; it went into production with the Harvester 15/30 model and the T-37 3-ton tank.

The Stalingrad Tractor Plant was the first of three massive plants for the production of tractors in peace and tanks in war. It was built in every sense of the word in the United States and was reassembled in Stalingrad by 570 Americans and 50 Germans. The plant was delivered in component parts, installed in a building supplied by McClintock & Marshall, and erected under the supervision of John Calder of the Austin Company.

Za Industrializatsiiu pointed out that "it is very important to note that the work of the American specialists... was not that of consulting but of actually superintending the entire construction and the various operations involved."38

Each item of construction and equipment was the responsibility of a major U.S. firm: the design of plant was by Albert Kahn, Inc.; the design of the forge shop was by R. Smith, Inc.; the design of the foundry was by Frank C. Chase, Inc. Equipment for the cold-stamping department came from Niagara and Bliss; equipment for the heat-treating shops was by Rockwell; equipment for the power station by Seper and Westinghouse.

Equipment for chain-belting in the conveyor system was by Chain Belt Co., and the supply of buildings by McClintock & Marshall.

The Stalingrad Tractor Plant, therefore, was American in concept, design, construction, equipment, and operation. It could just as easily have been located outside Chicago, producing Harvester tractors, except for the placards claiming "socialist progress" and its massive tank quota.

It is worthwhile to recall that the contemporary Soviet press was quite open about this U.S. assistance. For example, an article in Za In-dustrializatsiiu drew three conclusions: first, that the preparation of the plans for the Stalingrad plant by American engineers with "participation" by Soviet engineers made completion of the plant possible within a "very short time"; second, that work and training by Soviet engineers in the United States resulted in a "considerable improvement in engineering processes" and the application of American standards; and third, that work in the United States gave the Soviets a firsthand opportunity to study American tractor plants and verify data on the operation of American machine tools.

As early as 1931 the Chain Belt Company representative, who was installing a conveyor system at Stalingrad, reported that the newly opened tractor plant was making "small tanks." In 1932 A.A. Wishnewsky, an American whose work took him into many Soviet f. ac-tories, reported that the principal emphasis in all these new tractor plants was on the production of munitions and military supplies. In all factories, he stated, at least one department was closed, and he would from time to time run across "parts and materials for military production." This was particularly true of Tractorostroy (sic), where emphasis was placed on the production of tanks rather than tractors. "In his opinion, at least for the time being, the development of tractor production there has been designed to lead up the production of tanks for military purposes."

Such early reports were confirmed a few years later by German intelligence, which reported that in 1937-38 the Stalingrad Tractor Plant was producing a small 3-ton armored car, a self-propelled gun, and the T-37 tank, which was patterned on the British A-4 Ell.

Recently, Stalingrad (now Volgograd) has produced the PT-76, an amphibious unit in the Soviet tank stock, which was used in South Vietnam and elsewhere around the world.


The U.S.-Built Kharkov "Tractor" Plant

The Kharkov "tractor" plant was identical to the Stalingrad plant. The original intention was to build Kharkov as an all-Soviet undertaking, but American engineers were called in at a very early point. Leon A. Swajian, a well-known engineer in the United States, became chief construction engineer and was subsequently awarded the Order of Lenin for his work. Swajian commented that no other construction job in his experience had required so much work in a single year, and that in the United States such giant plants are not built all at once, but a few departments at a time, by subcontract. The same American supervising engineers and similar U.S. construction equipment and methods were used. Thus, Swajian explained:

Ford's River Rouge plant was more than a dozen years in building. When I took charge [at River Rouge] it was already partly built; I worked there six or seven years and when I left construction was still in progress. But in the U.S.S.R. with government financing and no other plants from which to buy spare parts, with the plant dependent on itself down to the smallest operation on the basic raw material the whole plant must be built at once. And very swiftly too, if it is not to tie up capital too long. The Kharkov job was pushed to completion more swiftly than any job I have ever had to do with.39

As at the Stalingrad and Chelyabinsk tractor plants, the equipment was almost all foreign either American or German, patterned after American makes. No equipment at the Kharkov plant was Soviet-made. The forge shop contained $403,000 worth of American forging machines and dies, and the heat-treating equipment and automatic furnace-temperature controls were supplied by Leeds and Northrup of Philadelphia. A report in late 1932 from the Kharkov Tractor Plant by, Ingram D. Calhoun, an engineer for the Oilgear Company of Milwaukee, stated that Kharkov was turning out eight to ten tanks a day and tanks took precedence over tractor production. Operators were being trained "night and they can fool the tourists but not the foreign engineers," Calhoun added.40

By 1938 Kharkov was producing self-propelled guns, armored cars, and the T-26 tank, which was patterned after the British Vickers-Armstrong 6-tonner.


The U.S.-Built Chelyabinsk "Tractor" Plant

The Chelyabinsk "tractor" plant was started in 1930, without foreign technical assistance, as another duplicate of the Stalingrad Tractor Plant. One year later, in March 1931, a letter to the Soviet press, signed by thirty-five Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant engineers and economists, charged that the project was "on the verge of total collapse."

American engineers, including John Calder, the expert troubleshooter, were then called in to take over construction of the plant and initial operating responsibility. A pilot plant was established and operated by John Thane and an American assistant, both of whom were former employees of the Caterpillar Company. The chief consulting engineer from 1931 to 1933 was Edward J. Terry. The Stalinets S-60 tractor produced was an exact copy of the Caterpillar 1925-31 model. Ex-Caterpillar engineers supervised operations. In May 1933 practically all the machine tools and production equipment in the plant were American, British, or German.

By 1937 the plant employed about 25,000 workers. The only tractor produced between 1933 and 1937 was the Stalinets (Caterpillar) S-60, a 50-horsepower (drawbar) model of the crawler type. About 6,460 were produced in 1937, a long way from the planned 50,000 per year. In 1937 the production model was changed to the Stalinets S-65, which was a Caterpillar-60 with slightly increased horsepower and a diesel engine. A total of just over 3,000 were produced, including another model with a gas generator.

The Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant was also producing tanks of the BT series, which was patterned on the American Christie. Monthly output in 1938 consisted of thirty-two of the 12-tonners and 100 of the BT-38, a 16-tonner.

Thus, not only were all three of the new American-built tractor plants producing tanks throughout the 1930s, but they were by far the most important industrial units producing this type of weapon. Today, these plants still can, and do, produce tanks. Yet multinational businessmen continue to blandly assert that their dealings have no impact on our national security.

 

Footnotes:

34While, for example, the Soviet PT-76 tank used in 1972 in Vietnam came from the American-built Stalingrad plant (now called Volgograd), the exact percentage of the plant's capacity used for tank production is unknown.

35Horace N. Filbert, "The Russian Industrialization Program" (unpublished manuscript in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University), p. 3.

36Aberdeen Proving Grounds Series, Tank Data I (Old Greenwich, Conn.: WE Inc., n.d.), p. 143.

37Amtorg, Economic Review of the Soviet Union, 5:7 (Apr. 1, 1930), 1.35.

38july 5, 1930.

39Amtorg, op. cit., 6:18 (Sept. 15, 1931), p. 413.

40U.S. State Dept. Decimal File, 861-5017 Living Conditions/576, Dec. 28, 1932.

 

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