This particular tank served with the 55th guards tank brigade, 7th guards tank corps, Berlin 1945.
The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II. First produced at the KhPZ factory in Kharkov (Kharkiv, Ukraine), it was the mainstay of Soviet armoured forces throughout World War II, and widely exported afterwards. It was the most-produced tank of the war, and the second most-produced tank of all time, after its successor, the T-54/55 series. In 1996, T-34 variants were still in service in at least 27 countries.
The T-34 was developed from the BT series of fast tanks and was intended to replace both the BT-5 and BT-7 tanks and the T-26 infantry tank in service. At its introduction, it was the tank with the best balanced attributes of firepower, mobility, protection and ruggedness, although its battlefield effectiveness suffered from the unsatisfactory ergonomic layout of its crew compartment, scarcity of radios, and poor tactical employment. The two-man turret-crew arrangement required the commander to aim and fire the gun, an arrangement common to most Soviet tanks of the day; this proved to be inferior to three-man (commander, gunner, and loader) turret crews of German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. However according to analysis at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds of a T-34 sent over by the Soviets in 1942, the T-34 had the best optics of any tank so far analyzed there, of either existing tanks or any under development.
The design and construction of the tank were continuously refined during the war to enhance effectiveness and decrease costs, allowing steadily greater numbers of T-34s to be fielded. In early 1944, the improved T-34-85 was introduced, with a more powerful 85 mm gun and a three-man turret design. By the war's end in 1945, the versatile and cost-effective T-34 had replaced many light and heavy tanks in service, and accounted for the majority of Soviet tank production. Its evolutionary development led directly to the T-54/55 series of tanks, built until 1981 and still operational as of 2010 and which itself led to the T-62, T-72 and T-90 tanks which, along with several Chinese tanks based on the T-55, form the backbone of many of the world's armies even today.
The T-34 was the most important weapon fielded by the Red Army in World War II. When first produced in 1940, commentators considered it one of the finest tank designs in the world. Sloping armour increased protection, the V-2 diesel engine used a less flammable fuel, the Christie suspension was fast on rough terrain and wide tracks gave low ground pressure for good mobility in mud and snow. The T-34 continued to give the Soviet Army a critical advantage in the war even after its technological advantages had been equalled and surpassed.
As the war went on, the T-34 gradually lost the innovative design advantages it had at the beginning of the German invasion in 1941. As the war progressed it had become an increasingly easy target for the more powerful 75mm and 88mm armed tanks; weapons could even pierce the turret relatively easily. It should be noted that the turret armour, which was cast, was softer than that of the other parts of the tank and it offered poor resistance even to the 37 mm shells of automatic AA guns.
The 85 mm ZiS gun of the T-34/85 greatly increased firepower over the previous 76.2 mm F-34 cannon on the T-34/76. The length of the 85 mm gun barrel (4.645 meters) made it necessary to be careful not to dig it into the ground on bumpy roads or in combat; A.K. Rodkin commented: "the tank could have dug the ground with it in the smallest ditch. If you fired it after that, the barrel would open up at the end like the petals of a flower."
At the start of the war, T-34s were about four percent of the Soviet tank arsenal, but by the end it comprised at least 55% of tank production (based on figures from; Zheltov 2001 lists even larger numbers). By the time the T-34 had replaced older models and became available in greater numbers, newer German tanks, including the improved Panzer V "Panther", outperformed it. The T-34-85 tank initially cost about 30 percent more to produce than a Model 1943, at 164,000 rubles; by 1945 this had reduced to 142,000 rubles. During the course of the Great Patriotic War the cost of a T-34 tank reduced by almost half, from 270,000 rubles in 1941, while in the meantime its top speed remained about the same, and its main gun's armour-penetration and turret frontal-armour thickness both nearly doubled.
During the last years of the war the Soviets 'improving tactics were still inferior to the Germans', but the Red Army's growing operational and strategic skill and its larger inventory of tanks helped bring the loss ratios down. The T-34/85 in early 1944 did give the Red Army a tank with a better gun and turret, while its armour and mobility were arguably better than German Panzer IV and Sturmgeschütz III it could not match the Panthers armour or the 7.5 cm KwK 42 gun retrofitted to many German AFVs (including the PzIVs). To the Soviet advantage there were far fewer Panthers than T-34s or German AFVs in general.
Comparisons can be drawn between the T-34 and the U.S. M4 Sherman tank. Both tanks were the backbone of the armoured units in their respective armies, and both were upgraded extensively and fitted with more powerful guns. Both were designed for ease of manufacture and maintenance, sacrificing some performance for this goal. Neither were equal to Germany's later tanks, the Panther or the Tiger. The improved T-34-85 remained the standard Soviet medium tank with an uninterrupted production run until the end of the war. The Germans responded to the T-34 by introducing the new powerful and initially failure prone Panther tank, while also improving the firepower of the numerous older Panzer IV tanks and Stug III self-propelled gun. The emphasis on quality during tank production allowed the Soviets to maintain a substantial numerical superiority in tanks throughout the war. Production figures for all Panther types reached no more than 6,557, and for the expensive heavy, Tiger types 2,027. Production figures for the T-34-85 alone reached 22,559 eventually, the T-34 replaced most light, medium, and heavy tanks in Soviet service.By 1944 the Soviets had the absolute strategic initiative, with massive numerical superiority, and in terms of supply distribution and logistics, also operational superiority. They had the luxury of being able to concentrate large armoured forces at any points on the front they desired while still being able to strongly defend everywhere. The Soviets also attained critical air superiority for the first time, albeit not always and not everywhere. However, in 1944 the Soviets lost 23,700 fully tracked AFVs (only 2,200 of which were light tanks): this was the highest number of AFV losses in a single year by any country in history. Of these 58% were T-34s, the majority of those being the new up-gunned and improved T-34/85s. Despite having the operational and strategic advantage and Soviet losses were about 4 tanks for every German tank destroyed.