The appearance of German PzKpfw V ‘Panther’, PzKpfw VI ‘Tiger’ and PzKpfw IV fitted with a long barrelled 75 mm cannon on the battlefields of the eastern front posed quite a challenge for the designers of the Russian T-34 medium tank.

Since the new generation of the German panzers completely outgunned the original T-34/76 variant, Russians hastily sought a solution to counter this problem. In May 1943 the State Defence Committee of the Soviet Union decided to fit the T-34 with a cannon of larger calibre.

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The final choice fell on a 85 mm cannon. The first upgunned T-34s were coupled to the D-5T cannon; their production figure totalled some 800. This modification brought along a revised, enlarged turret and a more numerous, now five-member crew.

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The production of the redesigned T-34 commenced in early 1944 at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory No. 112 in Gorki. Meanwhile, a new, improved 85 mm ZiS S-53 gun was rushed into production. Henceforth, it became the standard main armament of all the newly built T-34s. With time, the rest of the factories assembling T-34s switched to production of the new variant. Overall, a staggering 18,000 T-34/85s were built by the end of the war. Interestingly, due to varying degree of manufacturing limitations of these plants, tanks of various production runs differed considerably.

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The first unit of the Polish People’s Army (the LWP – Ludowe Wojsko Polskie) to receive the new tanks was the First Armoured Brigade. On 1st October 1944 the LWP was issued 20 T-34/85s manufactured at No. 112 plant in Gorki, of which 15 went to the First Armoured Brigade.

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By the end of the Second World War a total of 328 upgunned T-34s were delivered to the LWP, mostly the production of the No. 112 plant in Gorki and No. 183 plant at Nizhny Tagil. Of these, only 132 survived the war.

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In 1951 Poland started a licence production of modified T-34/85s. Until the early sixties they were the main offensive force of the Polish armoured units, before they phased out in favour of the more modern T-54s and T-55s.

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Read more…

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