Saturday, 24 June 2017

T-60 From Stalingrad

The T-34 tanks built in Stalingrad became one of the symbols for the battle there. The last tanks produced where went straight into battle from the factories, crewed by factory workers. T-60 tanks were less noticeable contributors to the breaking of the backbone of the German blitzkrieg. At the outskirts of the city, in Krasnoarmeysk, the T-60 tank remained in production at factory #264 for less than half a year. However, by volume of production, this "unplanned" factory was second only to the Molotov GAZ.

Building tanks at a shipyard

Two significant moments occurred in the history of Krasnoarmeysk (former Sarepta German colony until 1920). First of all, the settlement was joined to Stalingrad. Second of all, construction of a shipyard began. The Krasnoarmeysk shipyard specialized in civilian ships, but plans to give it military orders were made in the late 1930s. In 1940, it was reformed into factory #264 of the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding. The new direction of the factory was Project 1124 armoured motorboats, also known as "river tanks". 

However, soon the factory became connected with real, land tanks. When STZ began preparing for T-34 production, a decision was made to involve the shipyard into building hulls.

Hull assembly at factory #264, winter 1942. You can see that the sides of the hull are welded.

After the start of the Great Patriotic War, production of T-34 hulls became factory #264's most important task. In September of 1941, it was reassigned to the People's Commissariat of Tank Production. In the meantime, it kept producing armoured motorboats.

In late September, the factory changed its production even more. The evacuation of the Kharkov Tractor Factory, which was working on HTZ-16 armoured tractors and T-60 tanks, began on the 17th. Some of the equipment was overtaken by Germans, some ended up in the Altai in Rubtsovsk, and was used to form the Altai Tractor Factory. The rest of the equipment and HTZ's workers ended up in Stalingrad.

There is information about production of HTZ-16-like tractors at STZ after the evacuation, but that information is incorrect. A proposal was made by factory #264 engineers to build a similar vehicle using STZ-5 tractors, but it was rejected. Instead, the factory would produce T-60 tanks. This response was dated September 5th, 1941. It was hard to think that the proposal would turn into an order just a month later.

Assembly of a turret. Just as with the hull, the use of rivets is minimal.

The trains that arrived from Kharkov began unloading in unfinished buildings, without heating, warehouses, or conveniences. October and November were spent on organization of production. HTZ's design bureau ended up in Krasnoarmeysk along with their equipment. One factory became home to two. For a while, factory documentation for the T-60 tank still carried the HTZ stamp. Engineer Frolov became the chief designer at the newly formed design bureau.

On November 9th, GKO decree #876ss "On the rebuilding of tank factories evacuated from Kharkov, Moscow, and Leningrad". According to this document, the installation of equipment at factory #264 had to be complete by December 1st. The first 30 T-60 tanks were expected in November, and 150 in December. Starting on January 15th, 1942, the factory would produce 10 tanks daily. Despite a number of problems, preparations for T-60 production were complete by December, but no tanks were finished at factory #264 in November. The biggest cause of delays was that the first three engines only arrived at the factory on November 29th.

An idler without a rubber rim, one of the characteristics of a Stalingrad T-60. The design was composed in late 1941, but the blueprint still carries HTZ's stamp.

One should not be surprised that a shipyard was chosen to build tanks. The first Soviet tanks were built in the 1920s at the Red Sormovo factory, and factory #112 was organized there by 1941. There are many examples of using shipyards to build tanks in history.

The organization of the tank building is a completely different question. Paradoxically, factory #264, STZ's supplier of T-34 hulls, never built its own T-60 hulls. The Red October factory became factory #264's subcontractor for T-60 hulls and turrets. The factories were located more than 35 km apart, and this decision seems strange from the point of view of logistics.

Many-faced tank

At the start of production, factory #264 had 37 sets of hulls and turrets. In addition, there were 13 hulls without turrets from the October Revolution Voroshilovgrad factory. These hulls, with 20 mm thick armour, were given applique armour at factory #264. According to plans, 100 hulls and turrets should have come in from the Red October factory, but only 7 arrived. One of them was rejected, the rest had to be fixed up. 

Supplies from STZ were in no better shape. 39 radiators and 91 fuel tanks were received in December, and there were delays in shipments of track links and other components. Some parts had to be produced at factory #264 using various improvisations.

Despite all of these difficulties, the first five T-60 tanks drove out of the factory on December 8th, sent to the 21st and 22nd Reserve Tank Training Regiments. In December of 1941, factory #264 delivered 45 tanks. The factory became the second largest producer of this necessary tank, behind the Gorkiy factory.

T-60s from factory #264 looked like this. The angular driver's air intake and idler without a rubber rim are indicative of the manufacturer.

Red October's products deserve a separate mention. Even though the T-60 was mostly welded, its hull also had riveted connections. For example, halves of the sides were riveted together. There were also enough rivets in other places: they were used to attach the main clutch, connect the floor plates, hatch hinges, etc. There were also many stamped parts, some of them with a very complex shape. The production setup at Red October resulted in welding used instead of rivets, which was sometimes very rough.

Several toolbox variants were designed in December of 1941. Some of them entered production.

Production of the T-60 was going slowly, mostly because of subcontractors. Only 101 tanks were delivered in January of 1942 instead of 240. Hulls that came in from Red October often had to be refined locally. In addition, instead of 200 hulls, only 92 were received in January. STZ also fell though on deliveries of several important components, such as fuel tanks and radiators. Problems with supplies from STZ were so dire that some tanks had to be produced without certain components. For example, at least 11 tanks were delivered in January without oil radiators. A lack of heating equipment at factory #264 meant that tanks were painted with white nitrocellulose enamel instead of a casein, chalk, and lime whitewash.

Other factories had to be relied on to supply factory #264 with missing components. The Gromov factory #469 (Gorkiy), a producer of radiators for factory #37 and GAZ, received an enlarged order in mid-February.

GABTU considered these problems temporary. On January 30th, an agreement was signed between GABTU and factory #264 for delivery of 650 tanks. According to this document, the price of a fully equipped T-60 tank was 81,000 rubles. A radio version was also discussed, and the cost of one would be 82,700 rubles. However, not a single T-60 with a radio was built. The cause of this was the shortage of radios.

Aside from the octagonal turret hatch, one can recognize this as a factory #264 tank by the characteristic toolboxes.

Problems with subcontractors plagued the factory. 67 tanks were finished in February instead of the 200 planned, and the expectations for March were for 250 tanks. However, factory #264 was not at fault: instead of 200 hulls, Red October delivered 61 in the first half of February and 159 in February in total. The biggest issue was the "engine hunger". Effectively, the number of tanks that factory #264 could finish was equal to the number of engines they had.

In March, STZ's failure was more critical. The situation with radiators was especially bad: only 35 were received in March out of 350, ten times less than planned. Instead of 670 gas tanks, 170 arrived that month, 133 brake ribbons instead of 600, 1257 road wheels (157 sets) instead of 5000.

Shipments of hulls from a new subcontractor began in March: factory #180 (Saratov). Unfortunately, a new supplier meant new problems. Saratov's hulls were chock-full of defects. The following fact illustrates how critical these defects were: factory #264 received complaints for 47 tanks from March 1st to April 4th. The complaints were regarding cracks in the hulls, and with factory #180, half of the hulls had defects.

A modernized T-60 hull that was never accepted for production.

Difficulties with T-60 production were only overcome in April. On April 9th, GKO decree #1571ss was issued, dictating that factory #264 had to produce 825 tanks in the second quarter of 1942. Of those, 660 were regular tanks, and 165 would be equipped with 9-R radios. The cost of a regular T-60 was 75,000 rubles, and a radio tank cost 77,750 rubles. However, as mentioned above, not a single tank was built with a radio.

The issues with hulls were resolves thanks to the factory's energetic actions. On April 16th, new conditions for acceptance of hulls and turrets were composed. Red October and factory #180 sent complaints to Moscow, but factory #264 was in the right. In addition, the factory began the practice of using hulls and turrets from different suppliers. Thanks to these decisions, Krasnoarmeysk overfulfilled the quota: instead of 250 tanks, 255 were completed in April.

The same fate awaited the modernized turret. After complaints from Red October and factory #180, this idea was shelved.

In parallel with solving production issues, the factory's design bureau was also working on improving the tank's design. In February, an improved turret was developed. Like the GAZ modernization, the air intake in the front was moved to the hatch. The improved designs were approved on April 15th, but production was never implemented because of Red October's complaints. Nevertheless, individual components from the project ended up on production tanks.

Two variants of toolboxes were designed in December of 1941. The first variant, named 060-21-Sb.12, was similar to the small toolbox designed at GAZ in August of 1941. The second, 060-21-Sb.13, was very similar to the T-34's toolbox. Factory #264 began using these toolboxes in the spring of 1942. The most common layout was 060-21-Sb.13 on the left fender and 060-21-Sb.12 on the right. There was also a variant with 060-21-Sb.12 toolboxes on both fenders. In addition, the factory still used regular toolboxes.

Road wheels with internal shock absorption went into production in April of 1942.

Even though the modernized hull and turret were not approved, the T-60s produced in Krasnoarmeysk changed in the spring of 1942. Red October left their mark with changes made to the hull and turret to simplify production. The most characteristic part was the octagonal turret hatch, a distinguishing mark of factory #264's tanks. This hatch was produced in two variants: with its sides bent at 45 degrees (like on regular hatches) or at 90 degrees. The turret roof had to be redesigned to support the installation of a new hatch. In addition, the driver's air intake was simplified, and became angular. As with the turret hatch, there were two variants of the air intake.

Around this time, another distinguishing feature of factory #264's tanks appeared. These were road wheels with internal shock absorption, designed in December of 1941, but implemented in April of 1942. The military initially rejected them, but, since issues with rubber threatened tank production, the design came up once again.

A knocked out tank equipped with road wheels that have internal shock absorption, summer of 1942.

Simplified hulls and road wheels with internal shock absorption were characteristic features, but not mandatory ones. In April of 1942, factory #264 began receiving hulls from the subcontractors that used to produce hulls for GAZ. Cast road wheels from STZ didn't go anywhere, and stamped road wheels kept arriving from Gorkiy.

As a result, factory #264's tanks could come in over 300 different variants by the summer of 1942. For example, photographs show tanks with a thickened hull, turret with applique armour, stock toolboxes, and road wheels with internal shock absorption. The driver and turret hatches could also be different types. This mish-mash had a positive effect: due to a mix of components from different factories, production could be increased.

Hulls instead of tanks

Factory #264 built 275 T-60 tanks in May of 1942, which met quota. However, this was a difficult feat. A shortage of radiators meant that 102 tanks were built with reversed radiators. GAZ sent engines intermittently, which meant that the factory did nothing for five days. Issues with rubber liners and supplies of track links also remained. Despite these issues, the factory built 311 tanks in June, with a quota of 311 tanks.

T-60 from the 3rd Guards Tank Brigade. A typical late production tank with an octagonal turret hatch and driver's hatch with an angular air intake. The hull and turret were not built at Red October or factory #180.

The increase in production gave hope that the quota for 325 tanks set for July by GKO decree #1880ss issued on June 5th, 1942, will be met. However, the T-60 was completely obsolete by then. On July 3rd, decree #1958ss "On production of T-34 and T-70 tanks" was issued. According to this decree, factory #264 would cease production of the T-60 on July 5th to concentrate on production of T-34 hulls. This was the correct decision, since he T-70 was already in production, and STZ needed T-34 hulls like air. Nevertheless, factory #264 shipped 51 T-60 tanks in July. Due to intermittent shipments of engines from GAZ and track links from STZ, assembly of the last T-60s was completely on June 26th.

Most July production tanks were sent to equip Stalingrad and Voronezh Front forces. Some T-60 turrets were used to make bunkers. Despite all of its difficulties, factory #264 reached second place in T-60 tank production. In total, 1174 tanks were built at Krasnoarmeysk.

Stalingrad T-60s fighting in the North Caucasus. All three tanks are from the same factory, but they have three different types of road wheels.

After the Battle of Stalingrad, factory #264 was reformed into repair factory #264, since it suffered from bombing the least. Aside from repairs of Soviet tanks, the factory repaired captured ones. In 1944, the factory built ISU-152 casemates and also components for the T-44. Later, it returned to its original purpose: shipbuilding.

Several years ago, the factory, now called JSC "Volgograd Shipbuilding Factory", remembered its glory days. On April 30th, 2011, a T-60 tank was recovered from the Dobraya river in the Surovikino region of the Volgograd oblast. The tank was knocked out in the winter of 1942 during fighting for Stalingrad. A number of signs indicate that it's obviously a factory #264 tank. It took several months to decide the tank's fate. On August 8th, it was sent back to where it came from. The shipyard restored the tank fully, and now it takes place in events dedicated to the Battle of Stalingrad.

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