The Urals became a center of Soviet tank industry in 1942. A year before, Chelyabinsk was the only place where tanks were built, but the number of tank-producing cities grew significantly towards the end of 1941. One of those cities was Sverdlovsk (modern Yekaterinburg). Here, T-30 and T-60 small tanks were built.
From Moscow to the Urals
Sverdlovsk factories had ties to tank building even before the fall of 1941. The Ural Heavy Machinebuilding Factory (UZTM) played the role of a subcontractor to the Chelyabinsk Tractor Factory (ChTZ), building KV-1 hulls. UZTM remained in tight cooperation with ChTZ and ChKZ until the end of 1945, and this cooperation only grew with time. Engine factory #76 was built in December of 1941, and factory #8, evacuated to Sverdlovsk, set up tank gun production. These components were actively used in ChTZ-produced heavy tanks. Meanwhile, UZTM's capabilities prevented them from producing their own tanks.
Tank production in Sverdlovsk became possible after the signing of GKO decree #811ss «On evacuation of factories #37, KIM, and Podolsk». According to this document, KIM and factory #37 were evacuated to Sverdlovsk, and set up on the grounds of the Sverdlovsk train car repair factory. As for the Podolsk Ordzhonikidze factory, it was established at the Metallist factory, also located in Sverdlovsk.
Ten days before that, decree #752ss «On the evacuation of factories #37, KIM, Podolsk, and the tank plants of the Kolomna factory» was signed. It proposed a completely different location of factories. Factory #37, KIM, and the Podolsk Ordzhonikidze factory would be evacuated to Tashkent, to the Tashkent Factory of Agricultural Machinery (Tashselmash). This kind of production base was never set up in Uzbekistan, although there was an attempt to begin T-60 production there. This was proposed by the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, U.Yu. Yusupov and the deputy commander of the Middle Asia Military District, Major-General P.S. Kurbatkin.
There was some logic in this pitch. The Kharkov Tank School was evacuated to Chirik, and Tashkent was home to the L.M. Kaganovich Tashkent Locomotive Repair Factory (modern day «O'ztemiryo'lmashta'mir») and the Mechanical Casting Factory of the People's Commissariat of Transportation (modern day Mechanical Casting Factory subsidiary), which had the capability of tank production. However, a thorough study by the State Committee of Defense revealed disappointing results. Due to the remote location and probably issues with deliveries of components and armour of required thickness, the plans to produce the T-60 in Tashkent were cancelled.
Organization of tank production in Sverdlovsk was no simple task. Malyshev, the People's Commissar of Tank production, and V.M. Andrianov, the chairman of the Sverdlovsk Regional Committee, had only five days to allocate an additional 10,000 m² of space for the incoming factories. The first five tanks were due in November, then 150 in December. The installation of all equipment had to be done by January 20th, 1942, and 10-12 T-60s were expected from the factory daily starting on February 1st.
In practice, the organization of production went somewhat differently. New organizations were set up at the factories specified in GKO decree #811, and new production plants were built. To complete them in time, they had to be built out of wood. All of November and most of December were spent to set up production at the new location. GKO decree #1043s 'On plans for tank production for the first quarter of 1942' was published on December 19th. According to this decree, factory #37 had to produce 700 tanks during the first three months of the year, 140 of which would be equipped with radios. According to the contract, the cost of an ordinary T-60 was 72,500 rubles, and a radio-equipped tank cost 75,000 rubles.
All of this looked wonderful on paper. In reality, the first months of factory #37's work were incredibly difficult. Not only did they (or any other factory) supply no T-60s with radios, but even regular T-60s were hard to build. Sverdlovsk produced T-30 tanks until mid-February of 1942. 200 tanks were built in total, 101 of them with applique armour. This was largely caused by the existing hulls that arrived with the evacuated factories.
Considering that the characteristics of the T-30 and T-60 were nearly identical, this wasn't considered too grievous of an offense. The tanks were also called T-60 in letters, which made its contribution to confusing historians. 76 T-60 tanks were produced in the latter half of February, along with 125 hulls. Factory #37 became the last factory to begin production of this tank.
Factory #37's design bureau (department #22) was evacuated along with the factory. After evacuation, it was headed by G.S. Surenyan. Even though the design bureau was tasked with matters relating to T-60 production, there was some time for experiments.
For instance, the department developed removable track extenders for the T-60 tank in January of 1942. The stamped extenders were attached to standard T-60 tracks with bolts. The extenders were attached to every track, and greatly increased the contact surface. The mass of the tank increased from 5720 to 6080 kg, but the ground pressure was reduced from 0.5 to 0.26 kg/cm². Trials performed between March 27th and April 7th showed that the tank's top speed was reduced by 10%, but the depth of snow the tank could cross increased by 30 cm. The design of the extenders was, however, still deemed poor. Insufficient traction and poor reliability were noted. 73 extenders were broken during a 150 km drive. The trials report proposed that the extenders be improved, but no further work followed.
Aside from track link extenders, Sverdlovsk designers experimented with road wheels. A T-60 tank with bogeys and rigidly affixed 280 mm road wheels on its carriers instead of ordinary 515 mm road wheels entered trials in mid-March. This kind of design, developed by the suspension group of department #22 under R.A. Anshelevich, saved on rubber and improved the distribution of ground pressure. However, the tank did not go far on its bogeys, as the design turned out to be poor.
Not a month without stress
The start of T-60 production did not mean that factory #37's problems were behind them. As mentioned earlier, new plants had to be hurriedly built at the end of 1941. They solved a number of production issues, but only for a time. An increase in production meant that the available space was no longer enough. A fragment of a report for February of 1942 tells the tale.
While there was enough room in December-January, this was no longer the case in February and March. The factory is choking in small assembly and inspection rooms. Dozens of vehicles stand outside in the cold. The factory has nowhere to organize additional inspection stations. The construction workers have missed the fifth deadline for building assembly plants, a proving grounds, a charging station, etc. For the sixth time, they promise to complete their work in March.
The quality of the construction is poor. The foundation crumbles and cracks under machinery. Wooden floors, places on the frozen ground in assembly plants, bend under the weight of the machines, which have to be moved elsewhere. The workers build slowly and poorly. I reported on everything to the People's Commissar of Tank Production, comrade Malyshev, the People's Commissar of Construction, comrade Ginzburg, and comrade Malenkov.
Additional difficulties were caused by a lack of qualified workers. It took time to train them. Subcontractors, ChKZ and factory #183, were also underperforming. They supplied factory #37 with various important parts: track links, road wheels, and other cast components. Factory #37 began experimenting with producing its own parts from malleable cast iron in February to get rid of this dependency.
March of 1942 cost the factory's management a lot of nerves. First of all, this was caused by GKO decree #1417 «On organization of T-70 production at factories #37 and #38» signed on March 9th. The decree seems logical. The T-70 was superior to the T-60 in every regard, and was needed by the army. However, this kind of order seemed like a slap in the face for factory #37. It took such great labours to begin T-60 production, and everything had to be started over. There were also issues with supplies of GAZ-202 engines, and the T-70 used two of them.
People's Commissar of Tank Production, Malyshev, had to get involved when he learned of the difficult position that the factory was in. After a month of debates and correspondence, Molotov approved GKO decree #1581, which took effect on April 12th, 1942. According to this decree, production of T-60 tanks would continue in Sverdlovsk until August of 1941, and the start of T-70 production was postponed until July. These deadlines were more realistic.
March and April were high strung enough without an attempt to start T-70 production at Sverdlovsk. Organizational work at factory #37 paid its dividends. Despite reservations, hull production reached required speed. 165 tanks were delivered in March, but the growth of production volumes went hand in hand with increased problems with subcontractors. For instance, out of 190 T-60 tanks delivered in April, 86 had no tracks. GAZ took the first place in delaying T-60 production, having underdelivered 664 engines in the first quarter of 1942. Due to issues with engine shipments, the factory #37 assembly plant stood idle for 8 days in April. Meanwhile, 100% of the required 230 hulls were completed, so the delays in tank production were caused by engines.
This triggered the idea of installing a ZIS-5 motor into the T-60. Unlike the T-40, which had an engine compartment that was too small, the T-60 could fit it without issue in place of the GAZ-202. This work reached the trials stage and formed the foundation of the modernization project known as the T-45.
Aside from experiments with engines, department #22 was involved with issues of modernization of the T-60's hull and turret. This was directly connected with the production possibilities in Sverdlovsk. One of these experiments was a cast turret. It was designed in early May under the direction of the chief of the hull bureau, G.S. Karapetyamets, who served as the head of the Podolsk factory's design bureau before the evacuation. Trials showed that the turret cannot be penetrated by a DShK from 50 meters. A replacement of the welded turret with the cast was suggested, but the process did not proceed past one prototype.
Nevertheless, the local production capabilities had their effect on the tank's looks. Riveted connections slowly disappeared, including from the sides of the hull, replaced with welding.
The misstep with the turret did not mean that department #22's work, headed by N.A. Popov after the spring of 1942, would go to waste. A serious change in the design of the T-60's turret took palace in May of 1942. The air intake in the front of the turret was removed, and the upper front part of the turret became sloped, to better protect it from fire. The air intake was moved to the turret hatch. Some historians assumed that a fan was installed in it, but this was an ordinary air intake. Instead of a stamped turret hatch, a flat piece with welded on protection from bullets and water around the sides was used. Factory #37 was the only factory that managed to get improvements to the tank's turret into mass production.
The hull was also altered. Aside from the aforementioned replacement of rivets with welding, the driver's hatch was altered. The simplified brake light was replaced with an automotive design, and moved from the rear to the roof of the hull, behind the turret. Factory #37 also installed its own simplified drive sprocket on its tanks. Instead of a removable crown, the sprocket was one whole, with four openings in it instead of two.
Alongside with simplification of the design, the production of was also modernized. Automatic welding was adopted at the factory, which made welding hulls and turret much easier and improved their quality. Automatic welding of road wheels was set up, which meant that these parts no longer had to be contracted out. The first experimental track links were cast in May, and mass production was awaited by the end of June. This was an important step, since factory #183 constantly delayed track shipments. In addition, factory #183's representatives flat out stated that it will not produce cast tracks for the T-60. It's worth mentioning that, as of May 28th, 40 T-34s were left without tracks at the factory due to casting issues. The Sverdlovsk regional committee and the People's Commissariat of Tank Production had to be contacted to make the factory fulfil its obligations.
300 hulls and 280 tanks were produced in May. Because of factory #183, none of them had tracks. In addition, the factory spent 10 days without engines. After they finally arrived, the assembly plant cranked out 20 tanks per day by the end of the month.
The situation in June was no easier. 321 tanks were produced, bu only 109 were accepted. The remaining 212 vehicles had no track links or incomplete armament. 200 more T-60s were expected in July, and it's not hard to imagine what would be happening at the factory and around it. In this situation, the start of T-70 production, which was still on the agenda, would have been severely delayed. The new tanks would not have any engines or tracks.
On July 3rd, 1942, GKO decree #1958ss 'On production of T-34 and T-70 tanks' was published. It removed the responsibility of T-60 production from factory #37. This document was very timely. 10 T-60 tanks were produced in July, and then the factory began working on T-70 production. The factory began producing track links in July, planning to produce 5-6 sets per day starting in the second half of August.
However, the T-70 production did not remain for long. In early July, the chairman of the Sverdlovsk regional committee, V.M. Andrianov, turned to the State Committee of Defense with a proposal to produce T-34 tanks at Uralmash. To achieve this, factory #37 would be absorbed into UZTM. On July 10th, Engineer-Colonel G.Z. Zucher was sent to the factory, appointed as the regional engineer. A military acceptance mechanism was established. Factory #37's fate was decided on July 28th, when GKO decree #2120 'On the organization of T-34 tank production at Uralmash and factory #37' was published.
A sigh of relief could be heard from factory #37. UZTM was much better suited for tank production, and did not rely on subcontractors as much. By that time, Sverdlovsk produced V-2 engines and ZIS-5 guns, which had many parts in common with the F-34. UZTM received orders to begin producing T-34 hulls and turrets in March of 1942. Don't forget that the evacuation of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory (STZ) began in July. The reorganization of factory #37 into factory #50 and tasking it with T-34 production was the correct decision. The first two T-34s were ready in Sverdlovsk by September 29th.
However, the story of Sverdlovsk T-60s did not end here. As of September 1st, 1942, the factory still had 130 tanks, none of which had track links. It was hoped that the tanks could be equipped with factory #37's cast tracks (there was no hope for factory #183, as they were behind schedule on T-34 production), but events unfolded differently. Only about 50 tanks received tracks in September and October, and equipment of the rest stalled due to business with the T-34. The process was restarted thanks to Zucher's diligence. Not willing to abandon 80 tanks, the military representative began writing complaints until he reached Molotov, who, presumably, had a stern talk with Zaltsmann, then the People's Commissar of Tank Production.
A commission examined the tanks on November 17th, and composed a summary. According t it, 10 tanks lacked TMFP sights, 16 tanks had rust on their barrels, 21 tanks had no headlights, and so on. In addition to installation of tracks, the tanks required repairs and additional parts. Work on equipping the tanks began, but it paused for various reasons. 25 tanks were shipped out in December, 11 more in January of 1943, and the last 44 T-60s were only delivered in February.
A number of sources say that production of T-60 tanks at Sverdlovsk continued until early 1943, but, as you can see, it really ended on July 5th, 1942. In total, factory #37 built 1033 tanks, becoming the last factory to deliver them only because of its subcontractors.
No such thing as an extra tank
One may think that factory #37's management, having defended T-60 production, only cared about their number. This is not the case. Of course, the T-70 was better armed and protected. However, the T-60 was a fearsome enough combatant. Sverdlovsk tanks, much like factory #264's tanks, were anything but superfluous, and played their part on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War.
Sverdlovsk's tanks differed little from those of other factories, at first. It was much easier to distinguish them after May of 1942, since they received characteristic turret with a slanted «forehead». These tanks can be seen on photos of combat near Voronezh, and crop up on other fronts as well. The biggest concentration of factory #37's tanks turned up at the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts. Tanks of this type were first actively used by the Volkhov Front during the Sinyavino Operation. One of these T-60s, knocked out in the fall of 1942, was restored in our time, and can now be seen in Vasili Zadorozhniy's technical museum. Sverdlovsk turrets are also often found on battlefield sites near Leningrad.
The tanks also ended up in Leningrad itself. The tanks that were completed in Sverdlovsk in the fall of 1942 were delivered to the besieged city along Lake Ladoga. The 61st Tank Brigade was one of the units that received these tanks. It had 65 T-60s, all built at factory #37. The 61st Tank Brigade distinguished itself in Operation Spark, which began on January 12th, 1943. An episode on January 18th, when a tank from the 549th Independent Tank Battalion, belonging to company commander Lieutenant Dmitriy Ivanovich Osatyuk and driver Starshina Ivan Mikhailovich Makarenkov engaged in an uneven fight against PzIII tanks from the 1st company of the 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion. With its maneuver, Osatyuk drew the German tanks into the first of Soviet artillery, which resulted in two knocked out tanks. Osatyuk and Makarenkov earned the title of Hero of the Soviet Union in this battle.
Soon after, the 61st Tank Brigade became the 30th Guards. This was a unique case where a Guards brigade had just one T-34 tank. The rest of its vehicles were T-60s and T-70s.
Sverdlovsk T-60 tanks stuck around for some time on the Leningrad Front. Their last battle was in the summer of 1944, against the Finns. This is just more proof that Zucher was right when he made the NKTP equip and deliver a last batch of small tanks in Sverdlovsk. There is no such thing as an extra tank at wartime.
Translated by Peter Samsonov. Read more interesting tank articles on his blog Tank Archives.
- Central Archives of the Russian Ministry of Defence;
- Russian State Archive of Economics;
- Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History;
- Russian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents;
- Author's photo archive.