Wednesday, 22 May 2013

World of Tanks History Section: KV-1

In the middle of the 30s, anti-tank guns became popular in armies of the world. This was due to several reasons. One was that 3 inch divisional guns were ineffective against with a mobile target like a tank. Another was that anti-tank rifles were not that effective against armour either. After penetrating armour, the bullet had very little kinetic energy left, and was frequently unable to damage the internals of the tank. However, light and rapid firing weapons of 20, 37, or 47 mm could easily transform any tanks of the era into scrap. Experience in the Spanish Civil War highlighted this.

After analyzing this experience, the Commissariate of Defense ordered the creation of a heavy tank, with armour thickness of at least 60 mm, in 1938. At that point, the thickest armour the only heavy Soviet tank had was 30 mm.

At that point, military minds were certain that a heavy tank needs at least two guns: one to combat infantry, and one to combat tanks. This is why the new tank was initially planned to have several turrets. First 5, like the T-35, then three. Finally, engineers decided on two turrets. Two heavy tanks started development. Both were developed at the Kirov factory in Leningrad. S. A. Ginsburg's construction bureau was developing the T-100, and J. Y. Kotin's SKB-2 was developing the SMK (Sergei Mironovich Kirov).

At the time, the multi-turret construction became heavily criticized. Vehicles of this type were complicated and unreliable. The tank commander had difficulty commanding two guns at once. The gunners effectively had to pick their own targets. This was hardly a rational setup.

Along with the multi-turreted SMK and T-100, it was decided to make another, single turreted tank. The project was sent to the SKB-2, along with several fifth year interns from the Military Academy of Mechanization and Motorization. Under the guidance of engineers L. E. Sychev and A. S. Ermolayev, they developed a single turreted tank named KV (Kliment Voroshilov). The final stages of the project were completed under N. L. Duhov.

The KV was based on the SMK tank. The suspension was shortened by one wheel, and both guns (45mm and 76mm) were placed in the same turret. The crew was decreased to 5. Removal of the second turret lightened the tank significantly, allowing the front armour to grow to 75mm. The tank was powered by a 500hp V-2K engine.

In December of 1938, at the meeting of the projects commission that was evaluating the SMK project, Kotin and the factory director, I. M. Zaltsman, proposed the to build a KV as well as a prototype of their multi-turreted creation. In February of 1939, the permission was given.

The project was polished and the prototype was built by August. On September 1st, the KV took its first trip to the factory testing grounds. After defects were discovered and corrected, the tank was shipped to Moscow for a demonstration to the government and further testing at Kubinka. Further evaluations showed that that KV matched the SMK in speed, and surpasses it in cross country performance. Crew was also down to 5, from the SMK's 7. The tank was physically smaller, allowing it to use terrain to its advantage. On the other hand, several defects were found in the transmission, and the V-2 engine was new enough to be far from perfect.

The tank was sent back to work out the defects, but the Winter War started, and the Red Army tripped up at the concrete fortifications of the Mannerheim Line. The Soviet Union had no breakthrough tanks short of the T-28, whose 30 mm of armour was vulnerable to Finnish AT guns. Experimental KVs and SMKs were sent to Finland to undergo trial by fire.

Before going into battle, the KV was modified. The 45mm gun was swapped out for a DT machine gun. The KV's first battle was on December 18th, during which the tank demonstrated the advantages of its thick armour. 10 hits were received from 37 mm guns, zero penetrations. However, one hit the gun, which had to be replaced.

The SMK's performance was much less exemplary. Technically, one cannot fault the crew or the engineers; the tank was immobilized by a hidden mine. Regardless, the KV took the spotlight, and was adopted by the Peoples' Commissariate of Defense on December 19th. The Kirov factory was ordered to solve existing defects and begin mass producing the KV starting January 1st, 1940.

The KV's 76 mm gun was found to be insufficient for penetrating concrete bunkers. An order was issued to investigate the possibility of installing a 152 mm howitzer on the KV. This was achieved, and resulted in the KV-2 modification, which will receive its own article. The KV with a 76 mm gun was retroactively renamed KV-1.

In 1940, the Kirov factory was to release 50 KV-1 tanks. Even after getting rid of newly found defects, this order was very realistic. However, the order was increased to 230 tanks, which was problematic. The factory director tried to explain his position, but the pressure from the top was too great, and he found no other way than to report that the factory was meeting the needs of the Motherland. This deception was uncovered, but the volume of work was deemed too great after all, and Zaltsman only received a warning.

Work on the KV-1 continued; improving the transmission, air filters, turret rotation mechanism, and low reliability of tracks and road wheels took all of 1940. Only in July, 350 changes were added to the blueprints.

Two factories were to build KV-1s: Kirov factory in Leningrad and the Chelyabinsk Tractor Factory. After WWII started, the production of KV tanks clustered in the Urals, especially after the Kirov factory was evacuated to Chelyabinsk.

At the start of WWII, the Red Army had 630 KV tanks of both modifications. Despite all efforts, their reliability was still lacking, and factories were constantly failing to produce enough spare parts to keep all divisions equipped. A large portion of KV tanks was constantly incapable of combat, as they were undergoing repairs.

All things considered, the KV (and T-34) tanks became a harsh surprise for the Germans. They were nicknamed "Ghost" due to their perceived invincibility. Even though the KV was a formidable opponent, the Germans figured out how to combat it effectively.

The KV was a powerful tank, but it was also a problem-prone one. By the start of the war, it did not attain the required levels of reliability. Furthermore, the lighter T-34 was seen as more satisfactory to military commanders. The KV was created as a temporary tank, always destined to be replaced a few years later by a more perfect tank, but it remained in production due to the war. When the Germans started rolling out Tiger and Panther tanks, the KV was deemed ineffective. In 1943, the KV-85 was developed that could combat new German tanks, but it was not widely deployed, since the newer and more capable IS was already being built.

Original article available here.

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