sunnuntai 15. tammikuuta 2023

Top 5 Tanks with Historix – Armour Museum of Parola, Finland

In a small municipality of Hattula, Southern Finland, lies an interesting tank museum. It may not be the largest of tank museums, but its collection is quite unique and well worth to see. 

Finns had to fight two times in a row to keep their freedom as the Soviet Red Army tried to occupy Finland in the Second World War. Thus, through the Winter and subsequent Continuation War, Finns captured a good bunch of Soviet war materiel, most notably a collection of tanks. Some of these vehicles are so rare that there are only one or two other examples existing outside the Armour Museum of Parola – that is to say in a Russian main tank museum in Kubinka near Moscow.

In this blog text I’ll list my personal Top 5 Tanks from the collection of the Armour Museum of Parola. To be honest five isn’t in no way enough, there are plenty more of worthy tanks to include into the list. But let's start with these Top 5 Tanks.


5     T-34/76A (early pre-Barbarossa production model 1941)

This Soviet tank was a nasty surprise for the Wehrmacht as it was fighting its way to the Ukraine in the summer of 1941. The infamous German 6th Army with the support of the 1st Panzer Group met with T-34/76 and had to fight the new Soviet type with tanks and anti-tank weaponry of inadequate firepower and armour protection.

T-34/76 in Parola 2023 © Historix
 

Technically considering T-34/76, the ”Sotka” or ”The short barreled Sotka” as Finns nicknamed it, was a failure. Biggest issue being the powertrain. Medium tank T-34’s gearbox and clutch derived from the much lighter BT-7 tank and did not work well in a heavier weight class. This, combined with the fact that the technical and service support for the Red Army’s armoured forces left a lot to be desired. That leading to the acute lack of spare parts, which resulted in numerous breakdowns and losses of the otherwise usable tank. The design of T-34 was superbly suited for mass production, but in use it was not nearly as good.

Although T-34/76 was a technically unreliable, initially had no radios, it was essentially blind with a very bad vision blocks, periscopes, or prisms and with no cupola, it was well armoured with sloped plates, had an effective cannon and a good mobility (when in usable status). Importantly, the T-34 managed to do its job by slowing the attacking Germans down and later forming the tank masses which broke through the German lines all the way to Berlin. T-34/85, the upgraded and upgunned version, kept on soldiering even through the years of the Cold War receiving two major modernization programmes in 1960 and as late as in 1969. Quite a way to go for this iconic Soviet tank. Still not necessarily the best tank of The Second World War, but a very suitable asset for the Soviets considering their climate, capabilities of their tankers and industrial output and the military doctrine in use.

T-34/76A technical data:
Weight: 27 t            
Armour: 20 – 45 mm, front armour sloped at an angle of 30 degrees (3x stronger than same vertical plate)
Armament: F-34 cannon 76,2 mm. Penetration at 90 angles at 500 m distance 69 mm. 2x7,62 MG
Powerplant: V-2, 12-cylinder diesel, 500 hp
Speed:    55 km/h    
Range: 230 km
Crew: 4 men; commander/gunner, loader, driver and assistant driver/bow gunner



 4    Vickers-Armstrongs 6-ton, Type E  

Early in the 1930s the Finnish army realized its mainstay tank, the French Renault FT-17, had become obsolete and needed to be replaced by a modern tank. Thus in 1931 Finns purchased from England four different tanks for evaluation. One of them was Vickers-Armstrongs 6-ton, type B. At the time it was the most advanced design in the market. Finns were satisfied and presented an order of total 36 type E tanks. New British tanks were the only battleworthy ones when the Winter War started.

 

Vickers-Armstrongs 6-ton in Parola 2023, © Historix


Soviets had on the other hand begun to produce various sub types of Vickers-Armstrongs tanks in the 1930s under the name of T-26. The overall construction and engine of the Soviet variant was cruder, but it had a long barreled 45 mm cannon, which made it the premier tank of the inter-war years and the winner of tank battles in the Spanish civil war of 1930s. As the Second World War started the T-26 had become the backbone of the Red Army tank corps, and before long the Finnish too. In the Soviet Union the bulk of T-26 tanks were lost by end of 1941. Whereas in Finland Vickers-Armstrongs and the captured Soviet T-26 variants were in service until 1959.  The Soviet Union sold Finland T-54 tanks in 1959.  These became the first post-war era modern battle tanks in Finnish service thus sending the 6-tons and T-26s into the museum.

 

Same tank, another angle 2023, © Historix

 

Finns and Soviets were not the only users of the 6-ton tank. Although the British Army rejected the type, it was exported to various countries like Poland, Bolivia, Thailand, China and Bulgaria where it was used in a various conflicts and battles. That's why this tank was quite a remarkable design after all and deserves to be remembered. And by the way the tank in display at Parola is the sole surviving example of the type in the world.

© Historix

Vickers-Armstrongs 6-ton, type E technical data (in Finnish use):
Weight: 8,6 t            
Armour: 6 – 17 mm
Armament: Bofors cannon 37 mm. Penetration at 90 angles at 300 m distance 56 mm. Submachine gun
Powerplant: 4-cylinder, horizontal, air-cooled petrol. 87 hp
Speed: 35 km/h        
Range: 165 km
Crew: 4 men; commander/loader, gunner, driver and bow submachine gunner



3    Comet Mk. I

Eleven British cruiser tank designs were produced between 1934 and 1945. Some never saw enemy action at all and were retained for training purposes; others saw action but were no match for the German machines. Only two of the designs were really satisfactory – the Meteor-engined Cromwell and the up-gunned Comet variant.” This is how Pat Ware so aptly describes the troubles Brits had finding a way to build a sound cruiser tank. And it wasn’t any better with infantry tanks either.

Enter the Comet Mk. I with a 77 mm gun. Well, the gun was related to 17-pounder (76,2 mm) but had its own classification. What was crucial here was the successful balance of firepower, armour protection and mobility the Comet had. Of course, when talking about British tanks, also reliability had to be considered. The Comet triumphed all these aspects and became a superior Tiger or Panther killer with its new high-velocity armour-piercing discarding sabot (APDS) round.

The Comet came a bit too late to make a difference in the Second World War, but its real contribution was to put the British tank designing back in track after several dismal failures in the past. Comet pioneering the development the subsequent models became successful and able machines of war: think of the Centurion with a Royal Ordnance L7 cannon or Challenger II. That’s why Comet is number 3 on my list.

 

Comet on a display run at Parola, © Historix

Comet Mk. I technical data (in Finnish use):
Weight: 33 t            
Armour: thickest 106 mm
Armament: OQF 77 mm HV cannon. Two 7,62 mm MG
Powerplant: Rolls-Royce Meteor V-12-cylinder, liquid-cooled petrol. 600 hp
Speed: 51 km/h        
Range: 198 km
Crew: 5 men; commander, gunner, loader, driver and bow MG gunner


2     PzKfpw IV Ausf. J

There are just a few tanks or other combat vehicles that have done such a career as a German Panzer IV. Wehrmacht’s Panzertruppen used it from the Polish and France campaigns via East Front against the Russians all the way to the sands of the North Africa to fight the British 8th Army.  Panzer IV was produced and in active combat use for the duration of The Second World War, and it comprised 30 % of Panzertruppen’s tank strength. It was widely exported to the German allies. With its numerous variations Panzer IV saw combat to the bitter end of the Third Reich. But the story does not end here.

Panzer IV kept on going after the war. It was used at least by Finnish, Turkish, Spanish and Syrian Armed Forces. On the battlefields of the Middle East, Panzer IV used by Syrians, fight the Israeli M4 Shermans and later Centurions. Finnish Army received in the summer of 1944 only 15 Panzer IVs from the promised batch of 30 tanks. That was worth of just one tank company. A number which was further diminished after the war by a tank warehouse fire at the Army Technical Depot. Surviving Panzer IVs were taken for training service. Today one remaining example of Panzer IV stands on the exhibition slope of the Armour Museum of Parola. And is the number two on my Top 5 Tanks list.

 

Panzer IV Ausf. J with Finnish markings, © Historix

PzKfpw IV Ausf. J technical data3 (in Finnish use):
Weight: 25 t            
Armour: 20 – 80 mm
Armament: 7,5 mm KwK L/48 cannon. Penetration at 90 angles at 500 m distance:
HE 140, APDS 160, HEAT 93 mm.  Two 7,62 MG2
Powerplant: Maybach HL 120 TRM V-12, 11 867 cc petrol, 300 bhp at 3000 rpm
Speed: 38 km/h        
Range: 270 km
Crew: 5 men; commander, gunner, loader, driver and bow gunner/radio operator



1    T-55

T-55M in 2023, © Historix
It has been said that T-54/55 family of tanks are the most important
ones of the post-World War Two period almost to the end of the Cold War when they finally became obsolete. The sheer number of manufactured tanks (even 100 000 examples) and its extensive combat career on the battlefields of Vietnam, Angola and the Middle East over the past half-century makes this Soviet medium tank special.

Made to be easily used and maintained, in whatever climate, even with low trained personnel, T-55 made itself a true universal tank of its period. It was the last of an all-steel armoured Soviet design, age of composite armour made T-55 and its failed successor T-62 obsolete.

For me personally T-55 is a very important tank. In Finland there are three major military parades: the Independence Day, Marshal Mannerheim’s birthday and Tank Forces anniversary. As a kid and a youngster, I was always there in a front row watching T-55s passing by with earth trembling under my feet, air filled with black and blue diesel fumes and V-54 engine roaring its wonderful growling V-12 sound. The sound of something historic, the sound, in fact, of the same engine used in T-34 tanks.

T-55 on the training ground, © Historix

T-55 technical data (in Finnish use):
Weight: 36 t            
Armour: 20 – 200 mm
Armament: D-10TG cannon 100 mm. Penetration at 90 angles at 1000 m distance 150 mm. Two 7,62 MG
Powerplant: V-54 diesel, V-12-cylinder water cooled giving 520 hp at 2000 rpm.
Speed: 50 km/h        
Range: 500 km
Crew: 4 men; commander, gunner, loader and driver



Notes


T-34/76A

1. Teräsvalli, Timo. The Parola Armour Museum. p. 36

2. Kavalerchik, Boris. The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa. p. 149

3. Kavalerchik, Boris. The Tanks of Operation Barbarossa. p. 150

4. Green, Michael. Russian Armour in the Second World War. p. 81


Vickers-Armstrongs 6-ton, type E

1. Zaloga, Steven J. T-26 light tank. p. 4-5

2. Kantakoski, Pekka. Panssarimuseo. p. 16, 47


Comet Mk. I

1. Ware, Pat. British Tanks: The Second Word War. p. 31


PzKfpw IV Ausf. J

1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panzer_IV

2. Teräsvalli, Timo. The Parola Armour Museum. p. 50

3. Quarrie, Bruce. Encyclopaedia of the German Army in the 20th Century. p. 199-200


T-55M

1. Zaloga, Steven J. T-54 and T-55 Main Battle Tanks 1944-2004. p. 3

2. Tucker-Jones, Anthony. T-54/55 The Soviet Army’s Cold War Main Battle Tank. p. 16-17

3. Teräsvalli, Timo. The Parola Armour Museum. p. 63