The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank
144 pages. Extensive black-and-white photos. Index, acknowledgements, introduction, and list of sources.
This book sets out to determine, as much as possible, the fate of each T-35 tank fielded in WWII. He used crowdfunding to finance his research, and the result is this book.
The T-35 was a massive, multi-turreted tank that was poorly engineered and obsolete before WWII, but nevertheless, these tanks were part of the frontline defenses when the invasion of the Soviet Union began.
What makes the fate of individual tanks traceable is a combination of Soviet records and snapshot-taking German soldiers. The author goes back to individual chassis numbers, researches the unique characteristics of that tank, and then makes the best attempt to ID that tank in surviving German photographs.
So, let's take the example of chassis number 715-61. The author has gone through the Soviet records, which tell us that this was the 35th T-35 produced (in 1936), it was the first built with the P-40 AA mount, and it had the 'late' driver's vision hatch and entrance and the 'late' type of exhaust.
Soviet military records tell us that it was assigned to the 68th Tank Regiment when the war broke out, and was reported lost on 24 June 1941 in the village of Sudova Vyshnia due to 'gearbox failure'.
The author is then able to show us at least 10 photos of the abandoned tank! (Unfortunately, some photos of another tank have been mistakenly captioned as 715-61, so it is hard to know where the photo series ends.) And apparently more photos were available but not used, as he mentions how the track and antenna were removed around 1942. Despite the photographic evidence, the author was unable to precisely locate where within the village the tank was abandoned.
The exceptionally well-photographed tank had some unusual features, including a unique tool box in front and an odd variation of the MG turret. There appears to be 'small arms damage' to the tank, which the author attributes to Germans firing at the abandoned tank 'just in case' – that might be the reason for the broken clothesline-type antenna. One picture distinctly shows how mud would build up around the drive wheel due to this version's skirt design. Another shows the ladders deployed which the crew used to climb the tank's hull. The regiment's double-line markings are clearly visible on the main turret.
The author's English is sometimes awkward. For instance, he comments about small-arms fire having left 'strange white-bottomed bricks' – I think he means 'chips' in the paint – which he later refers to as 'holes' (I don't see any holes, perhaps he means 'circles'?). The author also refers repeatedly to 'amplified' armor on the MG turrets (I think he means 'reinforced'). And do guns have 'gas replicating systems'?
What the book unfortunately lacks is a diagram of the T-35, so that when, for example, the author remarks 'note the late exhaust', the reader doesn't know what he's looking for without additional research.
Wargamers will be disappointed by the lack of combat information. For the example above, the author fails to address such issues as: why was the tank here? where was it going? did it ever participate in action? Perhaps the author already knows that the tank simply broke down behind the lines during an advance or retreat, but if so, he does not explicitly say.
Other sections of this book cover the developmental history of the tank and its pre-war deployment, tables listing all T-35s built and their official fate (the location sometimes differs with the photographic evidence), eight color side-profile depictions, four color maps showing where specific tanks were lost, a photo summary of other tanks that served alongside the T-35, and an interesting review of the T-35's combat performance.
For those who want to use the T-35 in historical scenarios, the sad truth is that the majority of these tanks broke down on the roads. The major exceptions are those tanks involved in the battles of Brody and Verba, which get four pages of description in this book (plus the maps). However, the author is focused on the trees and not the forest – his interest is to identify each tank and attempt to identify its demise, but he does little to provide the larger picture. For the battle of Brody, he only tells us that a 'handful' of T-35s made a counterattack; for the battle of Verba, he provides a map showing where tanks were abandoned during an attack on the German flank, and mentions three German tanks knocked out. There is not enough information to build a scenario upon.
Like most Soviet tanks, the T-35 is easy to paint (it's overall Soviet green), but the photographs and color plates allow gamers to paint models to represent specific tanks accurately. Some tanks had the red star on the hull; a few had triangular 'air recognition' markings; and a double-bar insignia seems to have been used by the 68th Tank Regiment.
Dedicated modelers will be challenged by this book. The T-35 was built in the infancy of Soviet military industrialization, and the tank had many changes during its production life; tanks were also upgraded as they were sent back for repairs. So, for example, a T-35 might have two types of antenna or none; it might have an early antenna modified to late model; it might have the antenna removed, but the 'feet' not removed… There were changes to turrets, skirts, exhausts, hatches and more. Every one of your models could be unique!
One oddity is that the book's subtitle and several chapter titles refer to the 'T-35A' tank. The author then states that there is no such thing as a T-35A (page 10), but says in this book he will use T-35A to refer to models with the earlier cylindrical turrets, and T-35B to refer to the later conical turrets. However, he doesn't do so consistently, and the book covers all T-35 models.
I found this to be a fascinating book, full of unique information, but you'll need additional reference materials to make the most of this book.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .