Soviet Tanks and American Tanks
Two years after the UN-backed Korean government was set up, Korea (south)
was invaded by the North-Korean army. Here is a cartoon describing the
Korean War published in the Washington
Post on June 25 (2000) fifty years after the War broke out.
- Click here if you are interested
in my Korean background.
- Model T34. Soviets developed
their tank Model T-34 at a factory in Kharkov (Ukraine). The T-34 tanks were
first combat-tested at the Mongolian battle against Japanese in 1939. They
were mass-produced during their "Great Patriotic War" (World War II)
against Germany at a factory in Chelyabinsk (Ural Mountains). These tanks
destroyed the Hitler's German army, and marched into Berlin. General
Erwin Rommel of Germany praised this T34 Model as the best (better
than any in his own army) in the world.
About 200 of them were used by the North Korean army during the initial stage of the Korean War in 1950, and they destroyed the (south) Korean within three days, and then humiliated the 24th Division of the U.S. Army. the 24th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. On the fourth day of the Korean War, these tanks were uninvited guest to my house. It was a real pleasure to have a photo with one of these war machines at at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland (1990).
- Side View of this tank.
Another Side View.
- T-34 Tank in Seoul (South Korea) on June 29 (1950), four days after the large-scale North Korean invasion started on June 25. North Korean troops came to Seoul with 150 T-34 tanks (photo from the NK propaganda literature). Another View of those tanks in Seoul.
- T-34 in Berlin. This statue
of a Soviet soldier is still in Berlin near the Brandenberg Gate. Here is
a photo of the tank with
the Brandenberg Gate in the background.
- Closer to its Original Factory. The T34 tank was developed in a factory in Kharkov before World War II. The factory was moved to the Ural Mountains during the war, where the tanks were mass-produced for the decisive battle in Stalingrad. The factory then came back to Kharkov after the war. This photo was taken in Kharkov (July 2000).
- T-34 in Moscow (1990). By 1990, T-34 were at least 45 years old, and were no longer operational. Yet, Russians kept this many of those tanks as national treasures. Russians still believe in them as the saviors of their country.
- T-34 Tanks in Stalingrad (1944). These tanks destroyed the core of Hitler's German army.
- Stalingrad Veteran remembering his
comrades at the war memorial outside the Kremlin
wall in Moscow. He drove one of those T-34 tanks in Stalingrad (now
Volgagrad). These photos were taken in 1990.
- Self-propelled Gun. During the Korean War (1950-3), communist troops used Soviet-made self-propelled guns like this.
- Stalin Organ. This young lady knows her father was a tank commander during the "Great Patriotic War" (WWII), but does not how the T-34 tanks look. We went to an ordinance museum to see those tanks, but that museum only had guns (St. Petersburg 2004). Here is a photo of a Stalin organ. All dreadful Russian weapons are called Stalin something. Russian tanks are routinely called Stalin tanks.
- Russian Student. Her grandfather drove T-34 tanks during World War II. I met this student at the Pont Castellovechia (Old Castle Bridge) in Verona (May 2008). While I was telling her about what I know about Russia, she became very happy when I mentioned T-34. She said her grandfather was always talking about the tanks he drove during the "Great Patriotic War."
- T-54/55 Tanks. The Soviet Union produced nearly 100,000 units of this model, and used them for the Cold War by scaring Western Europeans.
- Later Model. A very peaceful tank
at Moscow's Victory Park near the Lomonosov campus
of Moscow State University. A Russian lady was quite eager to come into
More later-model Soviet tanks. Russians still use these fighting vehicles.
- Defender of the Fatherland. It is quite common for a city to have a statue of the war hero from the city. For Russians, their war hero is their tank. Indeed, the Soviet army was able to defeat Hitler's German army thanks to their T-34 tanks during their "Great Patriotic War" (World War II).
- Sherman 42. While talking about Russian tanks, I should have enough courtesy not to exclude American tanks. This is the 1942 model of Sherman tanks. These tanks played a major role in eliminating Hitler's German army in North Africa. Here is an improved version of this tank.
- Later, its suspension system was improved (1944).
- Old and New. Shermans with both old and new suspension systems were used extensively in Europe during the final phase of World War II, maintaining numerical superiority over German tanks.
- During the Korean War (1950-53),
Shermans played the major combat role in the initial stage.
Sherman firing its gun in Korea
- Front View of Shermans ferrying troops.
- Sherman Tanks from YuTube.
- Driver. Like to meet a man
who drove one of those Shermans? He graduated from Princeton
University in 1943 and drove around one of them in Germany in 1944.
Fortunately, his tank was not hit, and he was very happy to attend the
year 2000 alumni re-union of Princeton University. There he met a man
who likes to talk about ladies and war machines.
- M24 Light Tank. M24 light tanks were speedy and versatile, and thus widely used during World War II. The U. S. 24th Infantry Division was the first army unit to come to Korea in July of 1950, with these light tanks. I saw them and touched them in Daejon 200 km south of Seoul, and I was very happy to meet one of them again at the Aberdeen Ordinance Museum 58 years later in August of 2008. These light tanks could not stop the T-35 tanks of the North Korean army. Americans then brought their Shermans and M46 tanks.
- M46 Tanks. Americans found out
their Shermans were not as strong as Russian or German tanks
during World War II. They started building new tanks in 1949.
The M46 tanks were quite successful in the Korean War (1950-3)
along with the Shermans.
Here is another photo of M46. from the U.S. Army photo Archives.
- M47 Tank. Toward the end of the Korean war, M47 tanks replaced the old Shermans. But these improved tanks never participated in combats until they were replaced by
- M60. M60 tanks had turrets which could rotate full 360 degrees. These tanks were replaced by
- M70. These tanks are anti-radiation, anti-bacterial, anti-chemical, and anti-everything. But soon after the first batch of these tanks were produced, the battle tanks became electronic instruments.
- M1 tanks and Bradley battle vehicles.
- Baby Tank. Because their country is separated from the Asian and European continents by oceans, Americans did not think they needed tanks. Yet, the army was developing tanks for scientific and engineering purposes. This is one of the baby tanks the army built before producing combat-capable Sherman tanks.
- German Tanks. Both American and Soviet tanks in WWII were designed to counter German tanks. There is a theory that those German tanks were mechanically superior, but Germans were not able to produce as many as Russians and Americans could. Germans are creative engineers. It would be interesting to review the history of German tanks, and I am not able to do this at this time.
- South. In 1950, the (south) Korean Army had less than 50 of the military vehicles of these two models powered by six-cylinder auto engines. No match to the North's T34 tanks.
- Horses. In addition, the South had a cavalry unit consisting of 500 horses. The idea was to guard the mountainous 38th parallel (northern border at that time) with horses. These horses were totally effective against North Korean T-34 tanks at the initial stage of the Korean War. This cavaly unit was withdrawn from the front line, and was retrained for specific purposes. In this photo, the unit is leaving for its assigned mission (image licensed from corbis.com).
- Rodeo Man. I met this person at a hotel breakfast room in 2002 while I was spending a weekend in Princeton. He said he has been riding horses since childhood and still likes to show off his horse-riding skills. He came to Princeton to participate in a rodeo competition. From 1948 to 1950, he was in Korea as a member of the KMAG (Korean Military Advisory Group), and was assigned to the Korean Cavalry Regiment. He must be over 75, but he looked very young and was talking like a young boy. We posed and asked a young man to take a photo using my camera, he said we would look better if a lady is included. He asked his wife to get into the scene (compliment to senior citizens). She came from Bulgaria and is doing well in the United States. According to this horse man, the military planners of the South had an idea of patrolling the 38th parallel with horses.
- Side View of this tank.
The North Korean Army was equipped with Soviet war-machines including a fleet of 200 Soviet-built T-34 tanks, and 200 YAK fighers. Since then, I became quite fond of talking about tanks and airplanes. I know how to operate the old Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle and Shpagin hand-held machine guns with drum-like ammo magazine.
J. Walter Christie
Do you know who Walter Christie was? He was an American engineer
born in 1865 and died in 1944. He invented the T-34 tank, but his
invention was not appreciated by Americans. He was penniless when
However, it was a difficult to develop tracked vehicles which can move at the speed of automobiles. Tractors and bulldozers can move slowly, but tanks should run fast. Walter Christie the person who invented this machine. By 1920, America had a solid industrial base for automobiles. Christie found out the problem was with the suspension system, and developed the concept of each wheel having its own independent suspension system. In this way, the tank can maintain its stability while moving as fast as cars or trucks.
However, the American army bureaucracy did not understand this simple mechanism, and rejected Christie's new idea. As a consequence, Christie sold his technology to Poland and the Soviet Union. At that time, Russia was not a dangerous country to the United States, and American authorities did not care too much about Christie's petty project.
Using Christie's invention, Soviets developed their own tanks. The first tank in the Christie series is called the T-34 model. To Russians, Model T-34 was the savior of their country during their "Great Patriotic War" (World War II). If you meet Russian ladies and like to continue talks with them, mention T-34. This turn them on. Indeed, my tank page starts with photos of this T-34 tank.
These T-34 tanks are very important to Koreans. We all agree that the Korean War (1950-3) was the most significant event in Korea's recent history. On June 25 (1950), Kim Il-Sung started this war by sending 180 Soviet-built T-34 tanks across the 38th parallel near Dong-Du-Chun. These tanks destroyed the (south) Korean army in three days, and marched into Seoul on June 29.
Perhaps I am the first person to (almost) hear about those North Korean tanks. On June 4, three weeks before the 6.25 day, I accompanied my father who was one of the inspectors who went to the Dong-Du-Chun front to see what was going on there. He was a high-ranking officer in Korea's defense ministry in charge of supplies.
These inspectors were interested what the troops needed to perform their front-line duties. They asked the field commanders what they needed most. The answer was that they needed ammunition for their US-made M-1 rifles. They said they did not have enough ammo even for target practices.
The inspectors asked another important question. What was going on the other side of the 38th parallel. The answer was that everything is quiet and normal, but they are building a road toward the south at an unusual speed. The inspectors asked why? The field commanders said they have no ideas. Then the answer was dismissed. Perhaps I am the only person who can recollect this moment.
On June 25, I was tuned to KBS's daytime program which lasted for one hour from 12:00 to 1:00 PM. The radio told us the broadcasting would be extended beyond 1:00 PM and advised to stay tuned. At 1:10 PM, the radio announced the North Korean "Puppet" army crossed the 38th parallel, and tanks were coming along the Dong-Du-Chun route toward Seoul. I was able to relate those tanks with the road the North Korean troops were constructing three weeks before. They were hidden at a place sufficiently far away from the front line.
There are some lessons to learn from this story.
- The Korean (south)army was equipped with
with 8 rounds, while North Korean troops used
Mosin-Nagant rifles with five rounds. Thus, the
South had superior rifles, but rifles are quite irrelevant
against tanks. To the South, tanks were beyond their scope
- Koreans were the not the first ones to make this kind of mistake.
When Japanese army attempted to invade Mongolia in 1939, they
thought their new rifles with diameter 7.7 mm (known as 99 siki)
were much superior to their old rifles with 6.5 mm (known as
38 siki). But those war makers did not know that Soviets has
tanks which were early versions of T-34. The Japanese army got
completely destroyed, and their generals were ordered to commit
Harakiri (cutting their own abdomens).
Koreans (south) did not have enough military professionalism to learn lessons from this incident.
- Let us come back to Walter Christie who invented the Soviet
T-34 tank. American military literature and mass media all tell
he had a bad personality and was not able to get along with
anyone (perhaps like me). This is the reason why Americans did
not use his technology. I do not think it is a correct logic.
One's personality cannot be the reason for rejecting his
technology. It is more likely the fault of out-dated army
In July of 1950, the first group of Americans came to Korea to stop those North Korean T-34 tanks. Americans fired their anti-tank guns and hit those tanks, but nothing happened. To make things worse, the NK tanks did not have enough courtesy of greeting Americans by firing back.
- To make things much worse, those T-34 tanks destroyed the 24th Division of the U.S. Army in the Daejon battle in July of 1950, and its Division commander was captured by North Koreans. The NK army, inaugurated in February of 1948, was only two years old at that time. This was perhaps the worst humiliation the U.S. Army suffered in its history. It was indeed tragic that one American elite division was destroyed by the military machine invented by an American engineer. Sometimes, bureaucracy could be a country's worst enemy, even for the United States.
Date: Tue 23 Sep 05:46:02 EDT 2008
From: email@example.com Subject: Tanks
Dear Mr. Kim,
I really enjoyed your website. It is very informative and emotional. It is so good to know that there is someone who is also keen on tanks. There is one thing I would allow myself to disagree with. It is your phrase that Mr. Christie had "invented the T-34 tank". There is some exaggeration in it. In fact, Mr. Christie had invented the suspension which was later used in T-34. At the time of this invention he knew nothing of this tank since it simply did not exist. The other phrase of yours in the same column is true: "Using Christie's invention, Soviets developed their own tanks."
I take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is George Vasiliev and I represent T-34 Tank History Museum, the world's only museum of this tank. You may familiarize yourself with the museum by visiting our website at: http://www.museum-t-34.ru/. And, of course, if you come to Russia again, we would be happy to welcome you in our museum.
Should you have any questions about the museum and the tank, please feel free to contact me at any time.
T-34 Tank History Museum