The history of the Czechoslovak T-34 tanks was long and somewhat colourful. They served in the Czechoslovak People's Army (CSLA) for quite a long time and had several modifications made. Let's have a look at their history in detail.
In order to begin our story, we have to go back to 1945. Germany was just defeated after the worst war in human history and people were slowly recovering from the horrors of nazism, oblivious to the fact that the Soviets weren't the liberators they had hoped for - but they'd soon find out they weren't freed, they just changed one master for another. But for now, freedom was the word of the day. Leftist ideas (supported by the heroic pictures of Soviet troops in Prague on their iconic T-34 tanks) helped to shift the whole political system to the left. The situation escalated in February 1948, when the communists took over the country - and this is where it all started.
In months following the takeover, the army was consolidated, anti-communist elements eliminated and the independent development (notably in tanks) was stopped and fully transferred under Soviet command. Several promising projects were scrapped (for example the TVP and LP tanks) and the technology acquisition focused on Soviet tech. In july 1949, a license to produce a local copy of the T-34/85 tank was acquired from Soviet union and by November, the drawings and plans needed to manufacture the vehicle were transferred from Factory No.183. Along with the plans, Soviet "advisors" (some of them were intelligence agents) were transferred to Czechoslovakia. They helped to build the ČKD plant in Sokolovo and prepare it for production - it was ready by the end of 1950. The (by then nationalized) ČKD thus became the main contractor for the production of the T-34/85 tanks, with Škoda Pilsen being a subcontractor for engines, SMZ Dubnice nad Váhom a subcontractor for the guns and the J.V.Stalin Factory in Martin manufactured the hulls.
The first T-34 tanks were assembled partially from parts imported from Soviet Union. The first tank was assembled on 1.9.1951. Eight more were produced until October and they were subjected to series of army trials (whcih - under the pressure from Soviet Union - were made quicker than usual). The trial results were however a partial failure due to the low manufacture quality of the first vehicles (notably the steering, the clutch, the sprocket drive and the electroinstallation were problematic). However, despite this setback, the tank was given a green light by the government and serial ČKD production started in February 1952 (it continued until december 1953). Imported parts were used until winter of 1952, when the first fully Czechoslovak-made tank rolled from the assembly line. In the meanwhile, a political decision was taken to transfer the manufacture plant from ČKD Sokolovo to Martin (Slovakia) (the reason was the "expected American aggression", in which case Martin wouldn't be anywhere near the frontlines). First tanks in Martin were produced in May 1952 (the production ran for more than a year simultaneously in both plants) and they were manufactured here until the end of 1956.
Between 1951-1956, 2736 T-34/85 tanks were manufactured in Czechoslovakia in total (other sources however claim s many as 3185 tanks in total - it's possible this number includes the VT-34 engineering vehicles, JT-34 crane vehicles and the MT-34 bridgelayer vehicles, PBCHT-34 NBC-proof recon vehicle and PB-34 heavy bulldozer). The early series had their flaws (notably the gearboxes remained problematic for years, their quality was in the first year allegedly even lower than of those manufactured in Soviet union). All the vehicles produced in 1955 and 1956 however went for export (1437 went to the Czechoslovak army, 1299 were exported). In the last 3 years, the quality of the vehicles improved significantly and some improvements were made. The export desitnations were mainly Egypt (820 vehicles) and Syria (120 vehicles), Romania and Bulgaria, but also other exotic destinations, such as India, Iraq and Yemen. Cuba recieved 100 machines (possibly phased out from CSLA service) for 33 percent of their original price and Mali recieved another 10 machines like this also and so did Mozambique.
Apart from the locally manufactured T-34/85, Czechoslovakia also recieved wartime surplus machines directly from the Soviet Union - from 1945 to 1950, 366 vehicles in total (plus 5 T-34/76 in 1945). The 1945 machines weren't new however, they served before with the Red Army Czechoslovak units (1st Czechoslovak Army Corps).
Both the manufactured and the imported T-34 tanks were introduced to the Czechoslovak tank corps from 1952 to 1958 - in 1956, the number of active T-34/85 tanks peaked at 1701 machines in service. From that point, the numbers went down, but the tank remained in active service for very long. In 1967, the ČSLA still had 1120 of those tanks in active service and in 1971 around 780 of these vehicles. Last of these vehicles were apparently phased out in late 70's.
Differences from Soviet vehicles
The most significant difference remained the manufacturing quality. Despite the fact the initial series were quite bad quality-wise, the level of manufacture steadily improved and by 1954, the vehicles were better made than the ones in Soviet union. Notably the technical allowances were lower.
Other changes included:
- installing the German (captured) "Notek" night-lamps on the early vehicles
- shifting the commander's copula more to the left from the axis of the turret
- mounting the light/infralight combo under the common construction on the hull
- the infantry signal horn moved to the back of the vehicle under an armored "roof"
- mounting the compressor for filling the emeregency start gas canisters directly into the tank
- installing the new BTI-3 air purifiers
- bigger 107l fuel tanks
- left oil canister replaced by an additional fuel tank
- different fuel feed system (BNK-12B rotary fuel pump and 12-plunger injecting fuel pump)
- improved clutch
- improved transmission (5+1 with reduction possibility)
- different brake pads
- the braces for attaching logs to the vehicle on the left side of the tank
- special fording kit
- special CSLA one-shot smoke grenades.
The vehicles were armed with the Slovak-manufactured Vz.44 cannon, which was basically an improved version of the Soviet ZIS-53 gun. The ammunition was unified with the Soviet original.
Since early 50's, there have been attempts to improve the design of the T-34/85 to increase its combat value. In 1953, the army technical institute recieved an order to arrange the installation of the Soviet D-10S gun (resp. slightly improved Czechoslovak copy thereof under the name of 100mm vz.44 S, produced in Slovakia for the SD-100 - a Czech copy of SU-100) in the regular T-34/85 turret, if possible without changing the original turret parameters. In September 1953, the Slovak company Konštrukta Trečín was tasked with the development of this project. The initial evaluation of the project stated that the turret modifications would result in changes to depression and gun elevation (-3/+20 degrees), with the rate of fire of 8 rounds per minute.
On 6.4.1954, two design variants were presented by Konštrukta developers to the VTU (army technical institute), along with a preliminary price calculation. Both variants presumed the removal of TŠ-20 indirect fire sights. The gun was also modified by adding a coaxial DTM machinegun to its right side. Both variants differed by solving the gun mantlet and by positioning the gun. Both were also viable, but the price was far less space for the gunner and the loader in the turret. It was absolutely clear that the gun aiming and loading time would suffer. Worse still, it was found out that the ammunition load would suffer too - for both variants, only 6 ready rounds would be able to be stored in the turret itself. Both variants were however sound stability-wise and the designers hoped the handling characteristics of the tank wouldn't be diminished.
Despite this, the project was judged as fundamentally flawed. Even though the army command still wanted to increase the firepower of the T-34/85, it was clear this wouldn't be the way. In April 1954, one army general issued yet another demand for firepower increase for the T-34 for the production years 1955-1960, but this time, they had a completely different weapon in mind (an indigenous Czech 100mm autoloaded and fully stabilized cannon, possibly the still-developed AK1, originally meant for the TVP project). This demand however was not accepted by the high command and that was the end of the attempts to increase the firepower of the T-34. The project was officially cancelled on 30.6.1954 - the main reason for it (apart from the aforementioned flaws) being the successful negotiations about the T-54 production licenses.
As mentioned above, the T-34 served in the Czechoslovak army until the 70's and in that time, it became an icon. First - an icon of liberation from nazism, then an icon of the brutal practices of the 1950's new "people's army" and ultimately a symbol of Soviet oppression. Nevertheless, it has proved its qualities over and over - it was a rugged war machine, that got the job done. In World of Tanks, we can already play this vehicle - personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a Czechoslovak copy thereof in the game. But, I guess that's up to the Wargaming guys.
Czech T-34 in Syria
Czech T-34 in Havana, Cuba
M.Dubánek - Od bodáku po tryskáče