T-44 - Description


The T-44 had a typical tank layout: the driving compartment at the front, the fighting compartment in the middle and the engine compartment in the rear. The original intention was to retain the high mobility and speed of a T-34 and to provide the T-44 with heavier armour protection against large-caliber tank guns. This was accomplished by adding thicker armour but reducing the internal volume of the hull. The T-44 had a lower profile than the T-34, and was potentially simpler to manufacture. Although the T-44 used many components of the T-34, it had a new hull, and a modified model V-2 diesel engine, suspension and transmission.

Reflecting trends in other designs in this period, the T-44 was designed without the hull radio operator/machine gunner position present in many older designs. This was done for a number of reasons. The extensive machine gun firing port in the glacis plate (which was present in the T-34 medium tank) was a weak spot in the armour. In the T-34, this firing port and the driver's hatch were exploited during World War II by the Germans fighting the T-34s. Shooting the machine gun was ineffective as it was inaccurate due to obscured vision. It was considered inefficient to transfer reports through an additional member of the crew and therefore these duties were transferred to the commander. The space saved was used for a fuel tank and to increase the ammunition load. The driver's hatch was on the left side of the hull roof. The tank had an improved hull design, longer and wider than the T-34 but slightly lower thanks to the relocation of the air filter, with thicker armour, and was simpler to construct. The hull had a sloped glacis plate, vertical sides, and a slightly beveled rear. Most tanks had a splashboard on the glacis plate although there are pictures of T-44A tanks without them. It protected the upper part of the vehicle from splashes of mud or water. There were three mounts for rectangular stowage bins on the fenders (two on the right fender and one on the left fender). There were four mountings for cylindrical fuel tanks on the fenders (two per side). This was changed in the T-44M which used rectangular fuel cells.

During its service the tank proved to be not entirely adapted to winter conditions, due to an incomplete draining of the cooling system, caused by a water pump system that had been modified to reduce engine height. A small shaft would break after the impeller pump froze. The repair of the shaft, considering the field conditions, proved very impractical and required three people. Two people had to hold a third person by the legs and lower him into the engine bay, where he had to loosen the fastening and remove the broken shaft. Then, he was pulled out and lowered back down to install the new shaft. He was repeatedly lowered until the new part was secured. Another serious problem discovered during the winter conditions was that the crews of the T-44A suffered from frostbite because of the complete lack of a heating system. The driver was supposed to be protected from rain and snow by a removable Tarpaulin cover with a small glass window. However, this was not successful and its use was deemed impractical.

The T-44 had a compact torsion-bar suspension instead of the T-34's Christie coil springs, although it retained the Christie method of engagement between the slotted drive wheel and track lugs. The suspension had five large spoked road wheels and 'dead' 500 mm wide track from the T-34. The hull and wheels were virtually identical to the early T-54 main battle tanks although the original T-44 had the T-34's 'spider' road wheels and a narrow, inset drive wheel at the rear. The T-44 was the last Soviet medium tank with paddle-type tracks. The mechanism for tensioning them was significantly better on the T-44 than it was on the T-34. On the T-34, first two lug-nuts on the crank had to be loosened and then the crank pounded with a sledge hammer in order to separate it from the hull. After the track was tensioned, the crank had to be set back in place with a sledge hammer. The whole process required up to three people. On the T-44, the same task could be carried out by one person, without the help of a sledge-hammer. The roadwheels were spaced evenly from each other except for a prominent gap between two of the roadwheels. The T-44-85 and T-44-122 prototypes had a gap between the second and third roadwheels like in the T-34 but the T-44A had a gap between the first and second roadwheels. This arrangement of wheels was continued in the T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks. The roadwheels sometimes started to 'fall home' after 2,500 km. To increase the service life of the road wheel, a slight camber of the paired road wheels was tried. However, this resulted in greater stress on the outer rollers. When the tank crosses 20 km of rough ground it can pick up about a ton of dirt along the way.

The new V-44 12-cylinder 4-stroke diesel engine, developing 520 hp (388 kW) at 1,800 rpm, was a more powerful version of the T-34's model V-2 with a new planetary manual 5-speed transmission system, filtration system, improved cooling system, horizontally placed water and oil pumps and an improved fuel system which increased its power output, although the tank retained the side clutches from the T-34. The new engine gave the T-44 a maximal road speed of 53 km/h and maximal cross country speed of 20 km/h to 25 km/h as well as maximal road range of 350 km. The engine could become worn out after the tank traveled 3,000 km. When that happened, the oil pressure would drop to 2-3 atmospheres and under heavy loads, the engine would start smoking, spewing out black smog out of the side of the tank. The engine deck had two transverse ventilation grilles at the rear. The exhaust port was on the rear left hand side of the hull. The tank could cross 1 m high vertical obstacles, 2.5 m wide trenches, 32° side slopes and 60° gradients and ford 1.3 m deep water obstacles without preparation.

Because driver's hatch was moved from the glacis plate and positioned so that he exited the vehicle perpendicularly instead of crawling out of the hatch, his seat received an elevating mechanism. While in a relatively safe area the driver could elevate his seat to look outside of the tank, providing greater visibility and easier access to the controls. While in combat the driver lowered his seat back into the tank and had to rely on the vision slot protected by triplex (three-layer glass). While in this position the pedals of the main clutch, the fuel supply, and incline brake were positioned much higher and the levers of the steering clutch and gear shifting became inconvenient to operate. Early examples had transmission problems. While the driver was switching gears, two gears could engage simultaneously, which caused a broken gear pinion. This and other gearbox related problems were solved in a 1961 T-44M modernization with the introduction of a gearbox from the T-54 main battle tank.

T-44A was armed with an 85 mm ZiS-S-53 tank gun as well as two 7.62 mm DTM light machine guns. One of these machine guns was mounted to fire through a tiny hole in the center of the glacis plate. Because the tank's crew did not include a radio operator/machine gunner, the driver operated this light machine gun. The gun was mounted in a fixed position and could only be aimed by turning the tank. The main gun was placed in a centrally placed turret along with a coaxially mounted 7.62 mm DTM light machine gun. The ZiS-S-53 tank gun could penetrate around 100 mm of armour at range of 1000 m. The gun could be elevated or depressed between -5° and +25°. It wasn't stabilized. Like in the T-34 and SU-76 SPG, hot cartridge-cases were rolling under the feet of the crew. The crew was also subjected to gases from the main gun every time after it was fired. The tank carried 58 rounds for the 85 mm ZiS-S-53 tank gun and 1890 rounds for 7.62 mm DTM light machine guns.

The turret was cast, with a prominent horizontal casting seam, shaped like an elongated hexagon, with sloped sides and overhang all around. It resembled a longer, better armoured T-34-85 turret. It had a cast gun mantlet with a small but prominent ring/collar around the base of the tank gun tube. The turret roof had a raised commander's cupola on the left and loader's hatch on the right with a low dome-shaped ventilator behind it. The turret was moved with an electric motor. The front armour of the turret was 120 mm thick while the side armour was 75 mm thick.

The hull was made of rolled welded steel. The glacis plate was 90 mm thick while the side armour was 75 mm and the bottom armour was 20 mm thick. T-44 tanks could be fitted with additional 30 mm thick armour plates on the sides of the hull and the turret. Additional spaced armour panels could be fitted to the sides of the hull.

The T-44A could be fitted with the PT-3 mine clearing device. It had a radio in the back of the turret with an antenna at the center of the left side of the turret. The vehicle was equipped with a submachine gun. The vehicle lacked an NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) protection system and a night vision device.

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