to know your VMMV staff & vehicles
this section we introduce you to the people and armor of the
Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. We will chat with the
VMMV staff, so that you can get to know the people who "keep
'em running" and work so hard behind the scenes. And also
provide a behind-the-scenes look into the history of individual
vehicles in the VMMV collection. In this, our 24th newsletter,
we highlight another amazing restoration done by VMMV staff
and volunteers. This time, the vehicle is a Soviet T-34/85 medium
tank from WWII.
tank's story begins in the maelstrom of the Eastern Front, as
Soviet tankers found that the 76mm cannon that originally armed
the T-34 was inadequate to deal with the thick armor on late-war
German panzers. So the Soviets decided to up-gun their medium
tank, and fielded the T-34/85, with a new, more powerful 85mm
cannon mounted in a much roomier, three-man turret.
T-34/85 was such a balance of firepower, mobility and protection
that Soviet factories continued production of the vehicle into
the late 1940s. With the fielding of the T-55, Soviet client
states then picked up the slack. The then-country of Czechoslovakia
began producing the T-34/85 in 1952, with approximately 3,000
vehicles built when production ended in 1958--many for export
to earn badly needed hard currency or oil. Czech-built vehicles
were renowned for the near-machined surface smoothness of their
castings. This background is critical to understanding the history
of VMMV's T-34/85.
T-34/85 is likely a mid-1945 vehicle, produced in the Soviet
Union. This belief is based on the extremely rough nature of
the cast turret. As you can see in some of the pictures below,
there is tremendous variation in the cast armor, with voids,
large lumps of slag and no machining at all. Clearly the metal
had not been heated properly and was poured when barely molten.
These are all symptomatic of a turret produced in a rush, such
as in WWII. The second clue is the presence of two, dome-shaped
ventilators on top of the turret, indicative of 1945 or later
T-34/85 joined the collection in the mid-1990s, when VMMV acquired
it via an intermediary from the Czech republic. We noticed that
the vehicle carried Czech data plates, but as we began our research,
we noticed some discrepancies.
turret was extremely rough, unlike any other turret that was
positively identified as being Czech in origin. And there were
the two dome-shaped ventilators in a fore-and-aft configuration
on the turret. So, VMMV historians and researchers believe our
T-34/85 is a wartime-produced tank, built in the Soviet Union
at either Nizhniy Tagil or Omsk.
some point, the vehicle was gifted to Czechoslovakia, a Soviet
client state and part of the Warsaw Pact. The Czechs made a
few modifications, freshened up the vehicle a bit and swapped
out the original Soviet data plates for their versions.
vehicle soldiered on in service with the Czech Army for several
decades. At some point, it was retired from active service and
put in Czech reserves. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union,
the country of Czechoslovakia split into two, and transitioned
from Warsaw Pact equipment to being a member of NATO. So they
decided to sell off obsolete equipment.
is when VMMV stepped in to acquire and preserve this piece of
WWII history. The vehicle was shipped from Europe to VMMV and
we kept it in its "Czech" configuration. Time, however,
was not kind to the Warsaw Pact paint.
a decade ago, our T-34/85 had a very special visitor, Mikhail
Timofeyevich Kalashnikov-WWII T-34 tank commander and inventor
of the AK-47. So to honor Mr. Kalashnikov, we painted his name
on the T-34/85 in the style of patriotic slogans adorning WWII
T-34s as they left the factories. The smile on his face made
it very clear how much our hard work in keeping history alive
meant to him. (See picture at top)
in 2012, the decision was made to give the tank a face lift.
VMMV staff and volunteers relished the thought of adding yet
another Soviet tank to their quiver of restored vehicles-recent
renovations include our T-72, BMP-1 and PT-76.
began by removing all external hardware and determining what
its WWII configuration should be. VMMV researchers discovered
that the Czechs had made very few changes during its service
a call button to the left rear with an armored cover, a blackout
light on the front and a few brackets.
out came the tools and sparks flew into the air
to go was the armored cover. We discovered that the combination
of its shape, hardened steel and location made for a very difficult
removal job. But the staff and volunteers were not deterred
by a few skinned knuckles. We were determined to prevail and
the day that the cover was removed was marked by shouts of joy.
was removal of the old paint. This did not involve attacking
the vehicle with the biggest power tool possible. At VMMV we
strive to preserve previous coats of paint that may include
historical markings, and we wanted to ensure any stampings were
the laborious process of needle scaling began. This method minimizes
the dust and debris. But correct safety protocols were followed
and dust masks and goggles festooned our work crew.
the T-34/85 had been stripped of its old paint, we peened off
any rust and shot her with primer. Our crack research staff
then tested several paint samples, comparing and contrasting
with known Soviet color schemes and historical photos. We found
the original Soviet paint scheme in several accessory boxes
that had been sealed against the weather and oxidization. As
a cross-check, our ever-diligent restoration crew took their
final sample and compared it to other period pieces in VMMV's
collection painted in Soviet green. Finally, the correct shade
began spraying from the turret roof on down, so that we didn't
paint ourselves into a corner
.literally. After the first
coat, our eagle-eyed inspectors went over the vehicle with a
fine tooth comb, noting problem areas. Spray painting an entire
30+ ton tank with an air gun is actually very difficult and
not at all like using a rattle can on a fence post in your back
a second coat was applied. Meanwhile, back in the VMMV library,
recognition markings were determined. You'll see them in the
attached photos as a series of white bands around the circumference
of the turret and in the form of a cross on the turret roof.
These are ground and aerial recognition markings. In particular,
this scheme has been called the "Battle for Berlin"
markings, to avoid fratricide between American and Soviet armies
as they came together in the closing stages of WWII.
applied these markings by hand. And the drips you see in the
photo are actually an example of VMMV's dedication to realism.
Because in WWII, the average Soviet tank painter would have
been an illiterate conscript without access to compressors and
.markings would have been done by hand without
a need for perfection.
black objects in these interior photos of our T-34/85
are ammunition storage boxes.
number 32 you see does not represent any individual vehicle,
but is representative of the style, shape and placement of markings
we saw in period photographs during our research.
you have now seen our T-34/85 in its worn condition. And all
the work VMMV staff and volunteers did during its restoration,
wouldn't you like to see it in its brand new paint scheme?
bet you would!!! So here are several photos showing it off.
But the best way to appreciate this tank is to come and see
it in person during our August 17-18, 2013 annual Open House.