By Miguel Miranda
With the Red Army victorious in Berlin the rest of the world drew its breath as the Allies readied the blows that would smite Imperial Japan. History often remembers the horrors of the battle for Okinawa and towering mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki—events that brought Japan to its knees and compelled its surrender.
Often unmentioned is a massive Soviet pincer that literally quashed the Imperial Japanese Army’s foothold in Manchuria. The offensive involved 1.5 million troops along with thousands of tanks, artillery and aircraft pouring from Siberia and Mongolia. Its devastating success effectively crippled Japan and robbed it of Manchuria’s vast natural resources.
It was proof—albeit an uncomfortable one for the exhausted Allies—that mechanized warfare was now a realm dominated by Stalin’s divisions. The very same Red Army succored by generous Lend-Lease and the goodwill of Washington, DC and London had learned from its humiliations in 1941 and ended the war equipped with the deadliest tanks in the world.
It wasn't just the T-34 that was hailed as consummate exemplar for its tracked brethren but the heavy armored fists of the SU-100 and SU-152 tank destroyers. The tank and the tank destroyer complemented each other on the battlefield in majestic synergy, each being used when appropriate for the sake of destruction.
And then there were Stalin’s own.
During the final years of the Great Patriotic War the Red Army’s generals had perfected combined arms operations utilizing withering artillery fire and the devastating salvos from Shturmoviks to create decisive combined arms attacks that smashed through enemy lines.
The weapon of choice for these assaults was the Joseph Stalin 2 or JS-2, an impregnable tank that marked a complete departure from its predecessors. It also foreshadowed the possible terrors of the next Great War when the Soviets had to duke it out against the Allies in Central Europe using main battle tanks on battlefields sown with radiation.
The Joseph Stalins were the antithesis of the earlier T-34’s. Despite the latter’s fame they suffered greatly from German tanks, aircraft, and anti-tank guns, not to mention their own mechanical and ergonomic faults.
The Joseph Stalin had better armor than the heaviest German tanks, had a larger main armament, larger dimensions, greater range, and better everything. Its only shortcomings were an uncomfortable interior and a 600 horsepower diesel engine whose mobility issues Soviet engineers never completely solved. This is why succeeding iterations like the Joseph Stalin-3 and 4 were never popular with the Red Army.
A spectacular success on the battlefield, more than 6,000 JS-2, 3, and 4’s were built and kept as the Red Army’s most lethal tanks during the early Cold War years. Clearly a favorite of their bloodthirsty namesake, when he passed away in 1953 the most recent and last iteration of this near-invincible lineage became the T-10.
Spacious and extremely heavily armed, it was the most atypical tank ever made in the Soviet Union. Yet it never enjoyed the same success as its cost-efficient (and weaker) replacements the T-55 and the T-62.
FROM THE OUTSIDE
The T-10 that entered production in 1952 was certainly impressive to look at. Its nomenclature, which marked a return to the familiar Russian naming system for tanks, was given after Joseph Stalin passed away in 1953. Hence what could’ve been the Joseph Stalin-8 became the T-10 instead.
The T-10 was menacing to behold. As a latter-day heavy tank its dimensions were enormous, being 8 feet tall from its treads to its turret and 12 feet wide across with a length of 32 feet—measurements comparable to third-generation Main Battle Tanks today. It qualifies as the largest Cold War tank ever fielded by the Red Army, but by no means was it even remotely comparable to heavy tanks fielded on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
It also looked distinctively Soviet thanks to its chief designer, Joseph Kotin, whose long career involved the notorious KV-1 and the subsequent Joseph Stalin-2, 3 , and 4. Although Kotin is largely forgotten his impact on Russia’s armored heritage can’t be ignored. His influence, stubbornness, and political clout were the unseen forces that shaped the T-10’s career.
The T-10 retained the familiar rounded turret of Soviet tanks but had its own unique features. It utilized a hull based on the short-lived JS-3, a problematic model with serious mobility issues, but had a distinctive piked nose glacis with the patented glacis splash guard on top, which functioned as a simple wave breaker for when the tank falls into a ditch full of mud.
It was the only Cold War-era Soviet tank with seven road wheels—small ones at that. The T-10’s sheer size left ample space for infantrymen to latch onto the tank even when its role on the battlefield didn’t allow this. There were a pair of steel boxes on either side of the glacis and another pair at the back where extra fuel drums can be installed.
Along with steel towing cables, the logs for dragging the tracks through mud had their own latches on the left side of the hull above the tracks. Internally, the T-10’s layout allowed for generous storage space for weapons and ammunition. This included at least 1,000 rounds for the turret machine guns and an additional 600 rounds for the crew’s personal weapons—AKMS'.
True to its ancestry as a breakthrough tank, the T-10’s steel hide was truly formidable for its era. The thickness of the front of the hull’s reached 120mm on the upper glacis and 100mm on the lower glacis. Because of the steep piked nose, the actual thickness of the upper glacis actually reached a jaw-dropping 320mm!
According to military historians this protection level made it impervious to direct hits from 76mm and 90mm NATO guns at any conceivable distance, and based on calculations done with knowledge on the penetration performance of 120mm AP supplied by military historians like Ken Estes (who was himself an M103 crewperson), the T-10 would have been totally immune to both the Conqueror and M103, and still resistant to 120mm APDS at ranges of 2000 meters and above.
One interesting thing to take note of is that the glacis armour on the T-10 was constructed of rolled homogeneous steel plates, whereas the Conqueror and M103 had an all-cast hull with a cast steel glacis of inferior hardness and strength.
The superb ballistic shaping of the turret gave it near-total invulnerability to contemporary tank cannons below a hundred and twenty millimeters in caliber. Horizontally, the curved and pointed sides of the turret converged at the mantlet at such a steep angle that any APBC or APDS shot would most likely simply glance off, and a hit close to the mantlet might not do much either. That area features a steep, curving slope of 50 degrees, curving to up to 70 degrees as we go farther up the turret, as you can see in the photo below:
The T-10’s relative obscurity meant the thickness of its turret armor is difficult to ascertain. A broader reading of open sources reveals the front "cheeks" on either side of the gun barrel was 250mm thick and reached 115mm on its sides.
This meant that for all intents and purposes, the mantlet area measured as much as an astounding 390mm! Being made of cast steel, though, the actual strength is slightly lower, and because the steel is softer than the rolled steel on the upper glacis, the front of the turret and the upper glacis can be thought of as having essentially identical protection properties.
The designers obviously concentrated all of the steel to the front, because the rear of the turret only had 60mm of armor while the roof had 40mm.
The mantlet was pretty thick in its own right, but obviously not as great as the rest of the turret.
Even the vulnerable flanks or sides had a thickness of 90mm. Not surprisingly, the engine compartment in the rear just had 30mm of armor, though it is sloped at 45 degrees for an actual thickness of 42mm - more than enough for machine gun and autocannon fire.
The intimidating protection levels, engine size, and armaments did come at a price. A combat ready T-10 weighed a little over 50 tons, which ran against a 1949 directive to tank design bureaus for a maximum threshold for weight not exceeding 50 tons. The original T-72, by comparison, only weighed a modest 44.5 tons while having objectively superior armour protection and a superior cannon.
The T-10 had a typical crew of four. That’s the commander, gunner, loader, and driver who was seated underneath the v-shaped hatch atop the T-10’s glacis.
The commander’s station was left of the main gun. He has superb all-round vision thanks to a whopping seven general vision periscopes installed around the perimeter of his rotatable cupola, besides the usual primary periscope facing forwards. The primary periscope has night vision capabilities and a rudimentary stadiametric rangefinder. He has an IR spotlight attached to his primary periscope at the front of the cupola. The gunner was ensconced opposite him. When not buttoned up the gunner could use the turret’s secondary armament to scare off pesky low-flying aircraft. (A DShKT on the T-10/A/B and a KPVT on the T-10M). The large caliber of the co-ax helped conserve ammo, as the gunner could use the machine gun to disable and destroy trucks and APCs, and save more main gun ammo for tanks.
The loader on the T-10 is located on the right hand side of the cannon, adjacent to the commander and gunner. Contrary to popular belief, being the loader in a T-10 was a luxury cruise compared to the M103 and Conqueror. Thanks to Nicholas "The Chieftain" Moran of Wargaming, we have a good idea of how the loader (or loaders, in the case of the M103) in these tanks operate, as you can see in the "Inside the Tanks" video series on YouTube. Here is a segment on the loader's station in the Conqueror here, and a segment on the loaders' station in the M103 here, featuring Ken Estes. Watching the videos, it's no exaggeration that the loader's duty isn't something that most people are physically qualified for, which is compounded by a poorly laid-out station in the case of the Conqueror. For instance, in the Conqueror, the loader must lift the two-part ammo above a guard rail and insert it into the breech from above, putting his body into a mechanically disadvantaged position. Despite having only one loader, the T-10 could achieve a higher rate of fire without fatiguing the loader whatsoever through a more rational design and the implementation of a powered rigid chain rammer.
There is a handy tray placed at hip level. The loader's only responsibility is to lay down the projectile on the tray, and then shove it into position behind the gun breech. A microswitch will be tripped by this action, and the powered chain rammer will ram the projectile into the chamber. Next, the propellant charge is placed on the tray, and the loader's safety button is pressed, initiating the chain rammer to load the propellant charge and automatically swing the tray off to the side while simultaneously readying the cannon to fire. The presence of the powered chain rammer and tray system enables the T-10 to bypass what is usually the most physically demanding part of a loader's job. Keep in mind - the combined weight of a propellant charge and a HE shell is 70 pounds (31.82 kg), and around 80 pounds in the case of the 120mm ammo used in the L11. Ramming it into the breech by hand is no mean feat. The rammer mechanism enabled the T-10 to fire faster than its NATO counterparts and continue to fire faster for a much, much longer period of time. It is possible for the T-10 to attain a rate of fire of up to 5 rounds per minute and maintain that rate, whereas a Conqueror would be limited to around 3, falling off rapidly over the course of battle. If you must know, this 5 RPM rate of fire figure did not come out of my ass. It is inferred that the T-10 could most likely achieve this rate of fire based on "5 RPM burst fire" figure quoted for the 2S1 Gvozdika artillery system, which had a similar 122mm gun and a very similar loading system (video).
The tray system also enabled the loader to lapload. In between shots, the loader can place a shell on the tray and have a propellant charge in his hands ready. The loader is not fatigued as the propellant charge is extremely lightweight (only 6.82 kg) compared to a generic 122mm projectile. The moment the cannon is discharged, the loader can immediately shove the tray into position, wait for the chain rammer to finish, place the propellant charge on the tray, and then complete the procedure. All this is done with very minimal physical effort on the loader's part.
The driver is stuffed into the front of the tank. Steering is done with tiller levers (like a tractor). His only window to the outside world is a single - but unusually wide - periscope.
Besides all that, there's not much else.
As a breakthrough tank the T-10 was supposed to be better armed and better armored than anything else on the battlefield. Joseph Kotin and his team fulfilled either requirement and the original variant of the T-10 had a 122mm D-25TA main gun—the largest in the world during the 1950s.
Since it was based on a field artillery gun, the D-25TA did not have a bore evacuator. This inconvenienced the crew since noxious propellant fumes would pollute the fighting compartment with each shot. Despite the constant improvements to the Joseph Stalin tank family its 122mm rounds were of the separate charge type so rounds could be better stored in the T-10's interior.
Most of the projectiles were stowed around the turret ring and in the bustle of the turret, while all of the propellant charges were stowed on racks around the sides of the hull, with a large reserve of charges located in the starboard side front hull, directly in front of the loader for convenience.
While it has been argued that the two-piece ammo that came with the D-25 was a drag on the cannon's potential rate of fire, Soviet trialing of single-piece 122mm ammo yielded incomparably worse results. It's easy to see why, too. First and foremost, the ammo was split into two parts to divide the very substantial weight of the cartridge, and having compact halves of ammo was hugely helpful in the cramped confines of the tank.
The D-25TA’s effective range was rather dicey. On paper it could hit a tank-type target 2 km away, but the likelihood of achieving a hit within the first shot was not stellar, at least in practical terms. The cannon itself was no slacker in the accuracy department, of course, but the mediocre sighting system and manual gun laying devices severely affects the gunner's ability to aim it properly in a short time. As a rule, the crew must be well coordinated to execute shots in between short halts, if firing on the move, which would be frequent, seeing as the T-10 was meant for breakthroughs, after all.
In 1956 a much needed vertical stabilizer (codenamed "Hurricane") was added in the updated T-10A to enable the gunner to keep his sights on target while moving directly towards it, thus drastically improving the speed of shooting while driving straight into the enemy. The updated D-25TS with stabilization compatibility was installed. It features a prominent bore evacuator, which spared the crew from choking on noxious fumes.
Just one year later, in 1957, the T-10B with a dual plane stabilizer (codenamed "Thunder") was introduced, thus cutting short the time needed by the gunner for target acquisition while the tank is mobile and simultaneously giving even better precision.
In the same year of the introduction of the T-10B, the D-25TS was superseded by the 122mm M62T2, which was introduced on the T-10M. It had a new ribbed muzzle brake, which helped to minimize the dust kicked up by the muzzle blast compared to the more conventional double baffle muzzle brake on the D-25TA while still retaining much of the recoil reducing action. The M62 gun was stabilized in two planes as well, but the T-10M did not use the "Thunder" stabilizer of the T-10B. Instead, it used the more advanced 2E12 "Downpour" stabilizer.
The separate charge ammunition was kept until the final T-10M variant was deployed. By that time the T-62 proved that cost-effective production methods coupled with superb design produced better tanks. Poor old tank designer Kotin had to contend with working with 1940s technology while other design bureaus were creating modern tanks like the T-64 armed with new guns that had extreme range and accuracy.
The first three variants of the T-10 (T-10, T-10A, T-10B) ran on the 700 horsepower V-12-5 diesel engine that gave it a 42 kilometer per hour top speed and a 250 km range. As you'd expect, the engine is located in the ass of the tank.
Given its weaponry and robust armor, the sum total of the T-10 was a potential headache for NATO generals, but the initial hundred odd T-10’s manufactured in Chelyabinsk Kirov didn’t exactly fulfill expectations. The problem was, according to the latest intelligence at the time on NATO tanks like the M60 Patton and the Chieftain, the T-10 was awfully slow in comparison and its 250 km range was dismal. Even if a breakthrough was successful, the T-10 could not be relied upon to hold the momentum and continue penetrating into the enemy's rear.
For a so-called breakthrough tank the T-10’s mobility was only half as good as that of a 50-ton second-generation Western tank and its cruising speed is best described as… sluggish. Add the T-10A’s underwhelming TP-2-27 stabilized gun sights whose effective sighting range was less than 2 km and the result was a battlefield mediocrity. Slow to move and slow to fire.
To overcome this embarrassing flaw the T-10M used a better V-12-6 diesel engine that gave it a boost of 750 hp and a greater 50 km/h speed. Its original eight speed transmission was also changed to a convenient six speed. This improved the T-10M’s mobility by a small, but appreciable margin.
By the time the T-62 and the T-64 mesmerized the Soviet leadership during the 1960s the future of the lumbering T-10 was in doubt.
Did its flaws make the T-10 a subpar tank? This and other questions form a growing mythology surrounding the T-10—an obscure development locked away in the recesses of the Cold War.
The T-10 is so neglected it’s usually unexamined in most literature that surveys Soviet armor during the 1950s and 60s. The pitifully small circles who do revisit the T-10’s brief career are Russophilic military enthusiasts (here’s looking at you, Tiles), webmasters of online modern armored vehicle databases, and World of Tanks fans.
For the sake of great writing, let this be judgment for those who passed judgment on the T-10. This is where the myths surrounding the last Soviet heavy tank come to die!
Myth 1: It was too heavy for Russian bridgesMultiple profiles of the T-10 cite its weight as the single factor that led to its withdrawal from service and obsolescence. Apparently a tank weighing above 50 tons endangered Soviet roads and bridges.
This is untrue and is an issue that actually ruined the Joseph Stalin-4 or JS-4 in the 1940s. As previously mentioned, many of the T-10’s characteristics are present in modern MBTs. Note that by the 1960s NATO tanks like the M60 Patton and the Chieftain weighed as much as the T-10.
Even during the 1950s, when the US and the UK fielded their own heavy tanks based on leftover World War Two designs—the M103 and the FV104 Conqueror—these models were heavier than the T-10 but were sent to Europe and Southeast Asia. No, the truth is that the Soviets depended heavily on rails to haul heavy cargo across the USSR's vast expanses. Railcar weight limitations were the main issue. Even today, the requirement still stands, which is why the T-14 Armata weighs only 48 tons.
On the matter of the T-10's obsolescence - it was the writer Stephen Sewell who finally set matters straight with the article 'Red Star—White Elephant' published in the July 2002 issue of Armor magazine. After an exhaustive reading of various declassified Soviet papers and documents on Red Army heavy tanks he realized it was Nikita Khrushchev who was the biggest hater of the T-10.
In 1960, Sewell wrote, Khrushchev was shown the T-10M, the prototype T-62, and the prototype T-64. Each tank represented the best of the Soviet Union’s armor design bureaus. Smitten by the concept of anti-tank missiles, Khrushchev was impressed the most by the T-64 and its promise. But he insisted the Red Army needed anti-tank missiles and medium tanks with carousel autoloaders instead of many different tanks.
The T-10M? No more heavy tanks, Khrushchev demanded.
In short, the T-10 was doomed because it didn’t fit with the prevailing Soviet ideas on modern tanks and anti-tank weapons. According to Sewell’s research when Leonid Brehznev’s replaced Khrushchev the tank designer Kotin managed to lobby for continued T-10M production until 1966.
Myth 2: The T-10 never saw combat!Not true! There are sources that claim the T-10 was exported in small numbers to Egypt and Syria. Meanwhile, alternate sources claim it was never exported at all.
The truth is, after studying the evolution of Kotin’s various Joseph Stalin tanks, the T-10 was kept by the Red Army for its (Group of Soviet Forces Germany) GSFG divisions and never shared with its allies.
The T-10 was a no-show during the invasion of Hungary because that year the improved T-10A just rolled out. It wasn’t in North Vietnam, the Sinai, or the 38th Parallel either.
The T-10M did play a critical role in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. By the time the Soviets did the same to Afghanistan in 1979 the T-10 was pulled from service and mothballed.
So the T-10 did see combat, albeit in a limited role.
Myth 3: Oh wait. It did see combat in the Middle EastNope. A lot of writers made this claim when they mistook the T-10 for the Joseph Stalin-3’s or JS-3’s delivered to Syria and Egypt in the 1950s.
Israeli Shermans and Chieftains did have a hard time fighting these Soviet monsters but surviving photographic evidence suggests a decent number of JS-3’s were destroyed in the Six Day War. (The JS-4 was only built in small numbers and shipped to the Far East.)
The best way to tell a T-10 from a Joseph Stalin is to look at the glacis, the tracks, and the gun.
A T-10 has a distinctive steel “V” on its glacis as well as a V-shaped driver’s hatch underneath the gun. The JS-3 carries two separate spare treads on its glacis beneath the driver’s hatch instead.
A T-10 runs on seven road wheels. The JS-3 runs on six.
A T-10, specifically the T-10M built in greater numbers, was armed with a 122mm M62T2 gun that had a bore evacuator and a ribbed muzzle brake. The JS-3 was armed with the older D-25TA that spewed foul propellant gas on the crew whenever it fired.
Myth 4: It was a lousy tankNuh-uh. When it first rolled out of its Chelyabinsk Kirov factory no other tank in the world had as much armor or firepower. At worst, it was a slow poke.
Consider this. If the T-10 had to fight a NATO tank in the late 1950s, when the T-10 underwent upgrades to reach it’s A and B variants, it would’ve faced an American M47 or M48 with their puny M41 90mm guns. The T-10’s ridiculous level of armor on its glacis and turret could absorb direct hits from these calibers. Even the Centurion, British classic that it was, couldn’t take on the T-10 where it mattered—firepower and armor. What did the Germans have? Leftover Tiger II’s? HEAT ammunition was a contentious equalizer, but because of poorer accuracy and slower flight velocities, hitting a moving tank was more difficult at long distances, and the T-10 was not a particularly large example of a heavy tank, too, measuring in at only 2.43 meters in height and 3.56 meters in width. NATO tanks of the same class like the Conqueror stood tall and wide at 3.18 m and 3.99 m respectively.
But to be fair, NATO tank guns at the time had impressive range and optics. Their interiors were also more conducive to combat performance. Despite the T-10’s size and spaciousness the placement of its main gun ammunition and Soviet ergonomics (or lack thereof) made it an unsurprisingly miserable Russian tank to drive and fight in.
The T-10’s armor was better than a T-54/55’s and impervious to anti-tank weapons in the 1950s. What if it were hit by a TOW missile? Well, since that never happened, we can only envision how it plays out. (Yes, there’ll be an explosion.) More relevant were the Nord manually-guided anti-tank missiles of the late 1950s, but such devices were slow and fiddly and it was possible to distract the guidance operator by firing in his general direction, as American forces did to Malyutka missile operators in Vietnam.
While the T-10 had its flaws, its capabilities were no laughing matter.
Myth 5: It was the ultimate tankNot really. Sure, it looked evil and packed a huge main gun. But the T-10 had its limitations.
Its choice for armament and the problems this caused for the crew have been discussed in detail. Yes, the same impressive rifled main gun had poor range, infuriating ammunition storage, and lousy sights that needed to be changed on every variant. Yes, it was slow.
The original T-10/A/B didn’t have NBC protection.
Unlike the T-55 and its successors it couldn’t even cross rivers with a snorkel until this feature was added in the 1960s.
Myth 6: Only a few were builtIt was said that during the last years of the Soviet Union even Gorbachev and his Politburo had no idea how large the USSR’s annual defense budget was or how much of national GDP it consumed. The Soviets ran a police state fueled by secrets and propaganda. Statistics were as susceptible to obfuscation and censorship just like official press releases.
This is why it’s difficult to find accurate figures for any type of arms production during the Soviet era. The same applies to the short-lived T-10, whose career lasted from 1955 till 1968. Just 12 years.
Based on Sewell’s own research on the T-10, its flaws made for an erratic production schedule during the 1950s and its total numbers could be in the low hundreds. Profiles of the T-10 found on the Russian web even reveal how in 1957 two incompatible T-10M production lines were running.
However, there are those who make the bold claim 8,000 were produced and kept mothballed until 1993. That’s a staggering number of T-10M’s considering how only 6,000 Joseph Stalin-type tanks were built until 1948 while Western tanks like the Centurion (4,000+) or the M47 (estimated 8,000) had shorter production runs and weren’t that numerous.
The figure is even harder to ascertain when surviving T-10M’s are no longer accounted for. There could be either dozens or hundreds rusting away in Russian scrap yards. Maybe the bulk of them have been stripped down, decommissioned, and recycled. So who knows? Either way, it's safe to assume that more than a thousand were built.
Myth 7: It was over-complicated and expensive to manufactureWell, tanks are complicated machines.
They carry huge main guns, engines, and substantial amounts of munitions along with various mechanical and electronic instruments. By the 1960s autoloaders, rangefinders, night vision optics, comms, and other appendages were lopped onto tanks.
To dismiss the T-10 as over-complicated arises from an interpretation of available open sources. If the T-10 did burden its crew with its operation and maintenance this comes from glaring design flaws (recall its messy ammunition storage) rather than a deliberate level of complicated-ness.
Besides, from the T-55 onwards the Soviets built and developed tanks that were susceptible to constant upgrading and improvement. They did get more complicated over time. This is a condition familiar to modern tanks.
The cost of manufacturing T-10’s in the hundreds is as difficult to find out as its production numbers. Sewell argues having to maintain and upgrade the existing fleet of T-10’s during the 1960s was a main reason why its production stopped. It was too damn expensive when thousands of T-55’s could be built instead.
Perhaps the T-10’s greatest weakness wasn’t in any of its parts or features, but with its designer: Kotin.
Since working on the original KV-series in the late 1930s Kotin was a rabid and adamant partisan for the heavy tanks that won the Great Patriotic War. The problem was the success of the JS-2 left a familiar template that favored absurd tank design, i.e. the forgotten Object 260 or JS-7 that weighed 60 tons or the Object 279 with its four sets of tracks.
As long as Kotin’s design bureau preserved the JS-2’s DNA in their future projects the tanks would end up with incredible capabilities but lack fundamentals like a proper engine or safe ammunition storage. At one point in the early 1960s Kotin reportedly developed a prototype anti-tank missile carrier on a heavy tank hull and chassis, but like with all purebred missile tank prototypes of that era, it never saw the light of day.
Myth 8: The Soviets hated itNow this is a matter of pure speculation. For at least a decade the T-10 was, technically speaking, the most powerful tank in the Red Army. Unless excerpts from a tanker’s diary surface online describing the T-10 as a worthless pile of junk, it was a war machine built in a particular era that had its own strengths and weaknesses.
For the record, there were Soviet generals and politicians who believed in its role as a dedicated breakthrough tank. There were also figures like Khrushchev who considered the T-10M an anachronism. It was a sentiment shared by others, engineers and tankers alike, in the vast Soviet military-industrial complex.
Myth 9: The Chinese built their own T-10’sFalse! The T-10, like the T-64 and T-80, was never exported outside the Soviet Union. The only heavy tanks the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could get their hands on were a small pool of JS-2’s inherited from their Soviet benefactors in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The Chinese never built heavy tanks either. Technology transfers gave state-owned factories the capability to build copies of the T-54 but the Cultural Revolution and its consequences on the national economy set the Chinese back decades in military tech. This left the PLA stuck with their T-54 clones and its derivatives until the 1990s. To this day the bulk of the PLA tank armada are Type 59’s and Type 69’s.
It was only in the 2000s when the PLA got its hands on legit third-generation MBTs.
Myth 10: NATO’s own heavy tanks were superiorNow this is interesting, The threat posed by post-war Soviet heavy tanks, namely the IS-3, convinced the US and Britain to develop their own analogs for defeating these monsters. The UK eventually fielded the FV214 Conqueror, a 59-ton brute with a 120mm rifled gun. It was the Conqueror that was literally the closest a Western heavy tank got to facing off against its Soviet nemesis. Why? Just 159 Conquerors were ever made, and only a portion of those were sent to bolster NATO in West Germany.
The problem was it had all sorts of its own problems. Just like the T-10 its speed, reliability, and weight weren’t as superb as the tank appeared. Admittedly, it did implement a more sophisticated hunter-killer regime, but it also had a similarly cramped loader's station, a huge profile and an insufficiently powerful engine. Case in point: The T-10 had a power-to-weight ratio of 13 hp/t, while the Conqueror was a few points under at 10 hp/t! By 1966 the Conquerors were withdrawn and never seen again. The same happened to the 56-ton M103 that was designed and fielded in the same time span as the Conqueror. Just 300 were built from 1957 to 1974, nearly all of them under the umbrella of the Marine Corps.
…Right. The M103 never faced off against the T-10A/B/M. The design of the M103 was just as mediocre, and it had a 120mm main gun that needed two loaders plus the gunner and commander. Its enormous turret was hilarious to behold and made the M103 into a cartoon version of its siblings the M48 and M60. The Marines eventually got rid of the M103 in 1974. The problem with heavy tanks was the technology of the Cold War erased their reason for being. The T-10, Conqueror, and M103 were sort of evenly matched on paper. Being heavy tanks, their flaws were mutual. A single distinct advantage of the T-10 was that a lot more of them were made, and going by the data presented above, the T-10 would come out the winner in a tank duel at a mile's distance.
But there was never an occasion or incident that pitted the T-10 vs. M103 vs. Conqueror. Now what if? Well, boys and girls, that belongs to the realm of fiction. Tankograd doesn’t peddle fiction.
Here are the T-10’s variants.
T-10: Original production model that entered service in 1955. It was armed with the 122mm D-25TA main gun used on the JS-2. Secondary armaments were a coaxial 12.7mm DShK M and another pivoting DShK M above the loader’s hatch.
T-10A: A slightly improved T-10 that arrived in 1956 with a vertical plane stabilized main gun that also had a bore evacuator. New telescopic sights were installed for the commander and gunner as well as night vision optics for the driver. The numbers built weren’t significant.
T-10B: A further improvement of the T-10A built from 1957 onward featuring a new gunner’s sight and a distinctive Red Army infrared search light beside the main gun.
T-10M: Introduced later in 1957 and the final variant with “modern” bells and whistles, including an NBC protection system. It was armed with the new M62T2 and ran on a 750 horsepower V-12-6 diesel engine. The secondary armament was changed as well. The T-10M had a coaxial 14.5mm KPV machine gun and another KPV on the loader’s hatch. It was the most heavily armed tank of its era and in 1963 T-10M’s were outfitted with wading snorkels. It was only in 1967 when the T-10M received APDS rounds like the 3BM11 that could defeat 320mm of rolled steel armor at 2 kilometers (or 110mm at 60 degrees at the same range), and HEAT rounds that could penetrate 400mm of armor at any range.
The T-10M’s production lasted until 1966 and the tank was withdrawn from service in 1968. Most surviving T-10 tanks found in the occasional Red Army memorials are of the “M” variant.
If you’re reading this you’ve probably acquired a newfound appreciation for the T-10. (If not, then it’s possible you skipped the chunks of text above to spare yourself from a tedious pseudo-dissertation on Soviet militaria.)
It’s apparent the T-10 and its better variants couldn’t have remained in the Soviet arsenal since the prevailing doctrine on mechanized warfare had changed by the late 1950s. The Red Army preferred the smaller medium tanks like the T-54/55’s for their belated would-be showdown with NATO. The advent of high tech MBTs like the T-64 and T-72 consigned the T-10 to obsolescence anyway.
Radical approaches to tank design also marginalized what the T-10 represented. Why go full heavy tank when a low profile, a small turret, a three-man crew and amphibious capabilities were more important?
It’s funny to think how the Soviet approach to tank design would’ve been changed forever if Kotin’s emphasis on size and firepower prevailed. Unfortunately, an impossible set of circumstances surrounding the T-10’s existence is needed for this to happen. Doing so creates alternate history and ignores historical reality.
With what I now understand about the T-10 I’d like to imagine what if it was deployed in East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. Then upgrades were in order! A larger engine and transmission, along with a better chassis, would have kept the T-10 a formidable adversary against second and third-generation NATO tanks. (In some aspects it had more in common with Western MBTs than the Soviet ones that replaced it.)
The size of its turret was sufficient for a 125mm smoothbore gun, a laser rangefinder, and perhaps ERA blocks like on a T-72M. The autoloader might not be a good idea since the T-10’s interior favored a magazine and manually loaded guns. Indeed, given its dimensions, the T-10’s hull and chassis could function as a decent carrier for a self-propelled howitzer like the 2S19 Msta-B. Yet none of this ever was.
In many ways the T-10 heavy tank was akin to the mullet, disco, and Soviet Communism. It was awesome in its heyday but now it’s almost forgotten and perceived as an egregious example of bad taste. Still, every now and then it's fun to throw a themed party.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Miguel Miranda is a writer based in the Philippines. He harbors a smoldering passion for Cold War militaria that contrasts his shameful background as a recovering ex-journalist.
His other interests span writing for magazines, massage therapy, heavy metal, collecting old paperback novels, and admiring good industrial design.
Miguel is the founder of 21st Century Asian Arms Race (21AAR), a website about modern weapon systems and their impact on ongoing wars and crises across Eurasia.
The website was founded because Miguel got the impression that China was buying and reverse-engineering far too many advanced weapons for everybody else's comfort. Now he realizes a handful of powerful countries have made perpetual war a matter of business-as-usual and this is why the 21st century is going to be really something else. So he writes about this phenomenon instead. Some of 21AAR’s content also takes on a historical and (gulp!) geopolitical perspective too, which means he’s got variety down pat.
In his spare time Miguel likes to be affectionate toward living things. He’s currently working on an erotic spy thriller.