Time for a proper introduction of this vehicle series;
M34 Medium Tank Series (Reverse-engineered T-34)
Design and Development
As a stop-gap until the AV-M/FA16 ‘Thunderer’ tanks came into service, the DCFI prepared a limited package of improvements to the reverse-engineered Soviet T-34 design (appropriated by DCFI Military Intelligence during 1940) for mass-production as a Lend-Lease Medium Cruiser tank. This vehicle was intended as a stop-gap for British Empire forces and allied nations whose forces had been decimated by the German advances through France and Low Countries during 1940. Derived from the basic T34/76 1940 design, the initial prototypes produced featured Konstantin Chelpan’s reworked V2 diesel engine, improved Christie suspension, thicker, face-hardened armour and a spacious three-man turret mounting the new FQF75mm (43 calibre) HV gun. As originally planned, the 'M34' (or ‘Cossack’ as it became known in British service) would be completely superseded by the fully developed product of the AV-M program (the FA16 Thunderer), but the initial production marks performed so well against the Germans on Crete and in Nth Africa that the British and Canadians simply requested construction of the interim design be continued apace. Acting on this request, the first Lend-Lease deliveries were made to British and Commonwealth Units in Egypt during January 1942, with the centre of production of the type shifting from the DCFI to Canada and the UK - applicable upgrades from the AV-M program being transferred into the M34 production line as convenience dictated. Entering production in January 1941, over 10,000 M-34s were eventually built by three countries in six separate marks, becoming the British Commonwealth forces standard Medium tank for the remainder of the war (much to the frustration of the Americans). Operators included Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Canada, Great Britain, Free Czech and Free Polish forces (the free-french equipped themselves with American lend-lease equipment as a snub to the British for their belligerent actions against the Vichy French fleet and the deaths that resulted in 1940).
The first production M34s to leave the DCFI went straight onto Nth African convoys as desperately needed replacements for equipment lost in the disastrous battle of France, and later in the initial battles against the Italians in Cyrenaica and Ethiopia. 2nd and 5th Royal Falkland Dragoons, DCFI’s first Tank Units in Egypt to equip with M34s, were assigned to the Greek expiditionary force 'Operation Lustre' in March 1941. British preferences for experienced tank unit’s to see direct combat with the Germans meant that the well trained but fresh DCFI tankers were held back from the front lines whilst more experienced formations in earlier tanks (A13/14, A10 and Vickers Lights) took on the Germans on the Yugoslav border and at the Thermopylae line. Kept back around the evacuation ports as the Lustre Force's armored reserve, 2 and 5 dragoons were evacuated back to Crete and Egypt respectively without firing a shot when it was belatedly realised that the Commonwealth forces were totally outmatched by the tactics, material and numbers the Wehrmacht had brought to bear. The one advantage to this was that in not directly facing the M34 in Greece, the Germans weren’t privy to its design superiority until much later, when the terrain and the circumstances were more fully in favour of the Allies. However, C squadron, 5th Dragoons did make great use of their 25pdr-armed tanks in the defence of Crete, teaming with British and Australian infantry to successfully repel the Germans from the eastern end of the Island, before advancing towards Maleme and the strategic western heights in a sweeping counterstroke that retook lost ground in the west and forced a German Surrender. The M34’s performed superbly, acting in an anti-infantry role with hastily delivered HE and Canister ammunition due to the total absence of opposing armour. (Coincidentally, these events in Greece and Crete delayed German Panzer commanders (including Rommel) encountering the new tanks until after they had fought their first battles against the T34 and KV1 in Russia and the Ukraine. The M34s superiority was not completely obvious in Crete because the German Paratroopers and air mobile troops could only bring in light anti-tank weapons and no high velocity 75mm or 88mm guns were available to them)
Back in Nth Africa, events had turned for the worse with the arrival of the Africa Korps and Rommel’s successful drive east whilst the depleted British were still reeling from the debacle of Greece and the successful but costly defence of Crete. By the time of Rommel’s first offensive, British armoured unit’s in Nth Africa and formations returning from the Balkans were beginning to re-equip with the new A15 Crusaders and the first of the American M3 Stuarts, allowing the remaining A10’s, A13/14’s and Vickers light tanks that survived Rommell's Blitzkrieg through Cyrenaica to be phased out of the front line. Still belligerently favouring British tanks over the M34 despite its ready availability and obvious potential against the Panzers meant that by the time General Auchinleck launched the indulgently named Operation Crusader in November ’41, British armoured units were still totally outmatched by the Panzers in all but battlefield manoeuvrability and speed. During Crusader the FA15s and M34s equipping DCFI units in XIII Corps plus the AV-M’s of 3rd Falkland Lancers (breaking out from the Tobruk Perimeter) put the British to shame, providing just as rude a shock to Rommel as the T34 and KV-1 were causing Guderian and Hoth in Russia. Their 65mm of sloped frontal armour was impervious to all but the German’s Flak 88 anti aircraft Guns (even their shots mostly deflected off the frontal armour and turret of the M34) and largely compensated for the vulnerable British Crusaders and disappointing American lend lease vehicles (M3 Grants and M5 Stuarts). Despite the eventual success of Op. Crusader and the retreat of the Germans to El Agheila (more due to Rommel's overreach than British tactics) it had been an extremely costly episode and thus the writing was on the wall for the legacy British tanks. When Rommel again attacked eastwards in early 1942, the extensive material losses suffered by the British finally convinced them of the need to make changes. Prime Minister Churchill urgently appealed to the DCFI for all available M34’s to be shipped at once to Nth Africa, to be supplied as the primary Medium tank of the now renamed 8th Army’s Armoured formations. Initial deliveries from the DCFI and newly retooled British and Canadian factories took too long to contribute in the short term but some British units were at least partly re-equipped by the time Rommel struck at Bir Hakeim and Gazala during June ’42. Whilst the Africa Korps was eventually triumphant and Tobruk fell it was at an appalling cost to the Panzers and the Italian Ariete Division, the 8th Army coming away with acceptable losses and being able to make an orderly, fighting withdrawal to the Alamein line (less the men and material lost at Gazala and in the fall of Tobruk). This tragic but salvageable situation was made bearable, largely by the superiority of the AV-M and the M34 with their effective armour and powerful general purpose FQF 75mm HV guns, now supplied in a longer L52 and L64 calibers, by far the best vehicle-mounted anti-tank guns in the desert at that time, as well as being effective in delivering high explosive rounds against infantry and emplaced guns/fortifications.
By the Battle of Alam Halfa, the M34 (including the latest British and Canadian manufactured Mk.IVs) was fully fielded by all British Commonwealth Cruiser Tank units (save for the DCFI who had cascaded their M34s to second rank formations or gifted them to allies in favour of their own AV-M and AV-H tanks). Despite Rommel’s repeated and imaginative attacks the British line held under immense pressure, the M34’s showing their marked superiority over the PkW IIIs and IVs. While there were some fluid tank-on-tank actions along the desert approaches to the British positions, the majority of the Commonwealth Tanks were hull-down and fighting in place, their superior firepower and optics allowing them to engage the panzers at ranges from which the Nazi tanks couldn't hit back effectively. This enabled many vehicles to be saved behind the lines for later offensive operations. These amassed and now well trained forces came into their own during the Battle of El Alemein some months later when the M34’s (Surviving DCFI examples now completely cascaded to British and other Commonwealth units) smashed through the German lines in 12 days of heavy fighting. Many M34’s were lost to mines, emplaced 88s and direct fire artillery but overall their performance, especially against the German and Italian Armour was exemplary.
With Rommel on the retreat east and his armoured forces decimated the M34’s speed and cross-country mobility was shown to the utmost, galloping across the desert in pursuit of the retreating Africa Korps and fighting running battles with Rommel’s rearguard all the way to Tunisia. There they came face-to-face with the Nazi’s answer to their superiority in armour and firepower, the new Pkw Mk.VI Tiger . Whilst heavily armoured and mounting the massive 88mm Kwk36 gun, the FQF75/L64s and standard QF17pdrs (now mounted by many of the British M34s in particular) were equal to the task of penetrating the Tiger at survivable distances. The range and power of the Kwk36 almost always allowed the Tiger to strike first but the superior numbers and speed of the M34s allowed them to come out on top. The first allied Tank-on-Tank kill of a Pkw VI Tiger was by the M34s of ‘Juno’ Troop/C Squadron Kings own Royal Hussars, on the approaches to the Mareth Line. The troop commanders tank was disabled within seconds of the Tiger being spotted, and one more M34 was lost before the remaining three tanks came within effective range, in the following minutes, two direct hits from the M34s (thanks largely to the Falklands triaxial gyroscopic gun stabilisation system) put an end to their enemy’s formidable resistance. A total of nine Tiger I’s eventually fell to Allied Tanks during the last days of the Tunisian Campaign, four to M34s, four to DCFI tanks and one to a lucky shot to the turret ring from a 6pdr-equipped Churchill of the 48th RTR. Of the casualties taken in return, the Tiger’s claimed some 18 M34s of all marks before the Nazi surrender in Nth Africa.
M34’s were now rolling off the factory floor in impressive numbers, with production also taking place in Great Britain (at the works of the Vulcan Foundry and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway) and in Canada (Canadian Pacific Railway’s Angus Shops, Montreal). this boost in output allowed M34s to equip the vast majority of frontline Commonwealth, Polish, Czech and Belgian armoured units (with the exception of the British Infantry Tank Regiments and some units reequipping with the new A27 Cromwell) by the time the Italian invasion began in September ’43. Other mass produced tanks of the period such as the M4, Churchill, Vickers Valentine and M3/M5 Stuart were mainly equipping US forces or being supplied through the lend-lease program to the USSR.
By the time the Allies landed in Normandy on June 6th, ’44, the M34 was a truely formidable machine, with the latest Mk. VI variants mounting the FQF75/L70 (roughly analogous to the Panther's KwK 42 but with greater muzzle velocity) or 25pdr/L36 gun, with upgraded suspension systems and armour protection almost doubled from the initial design (some 80mm of face hardened armour at 60 degrees on the front glacis and across the frontal arc). Despite this they were still vulnerable to the Nazi’s man-portable anti-tank weapons, mines and the proliferation of 88mm guns hidden in the hedgerows and sunken lanes of the bocage. Between D-day and the final surrender of Germany some 2,500 M34’s were lost to all causes, out of the over 7,500 delivered to Europe. In all over 10,000 were constructed during the conflict, some 4000 of those in the DCFI, transported to the battle zone in the vital South Atlantic (via ascension Island, St Helena and Gibraltar) and Indian Ocean (via Cape Horn, East Africa and the Suez Canal) convoys.
With the cessation of hostilities came rapid demobilisation and coupled with the gradual introduction of the new British Centurion, DCFI Cougar and American Patton tanks, the valiant M34’s were rapidly put to pasture. Whilst many were converted to battlefield support vehicles, most went to the scrapheap or onto training ranges as targets Despite this halocaust over 2500 tanks were repatriated to the DCFI, who remanufactured them using AV-M turrets mounting either the British QF 20pdr or later, the superlative L7 105mm gun. These were re-exported to nations rebuilding their militaries post-war, or creating a new defence force post independence. Recipient nations included Australia, West Germany, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, India, Malaysia, Iran and most significantly, Israel. Whilst Israel’s initial M34 stocks came from the scrapheap or through the post-war black market in superseded combat vehicles, the DCFI signed an agreement in 1950 to supply 600 remanufactured M34s in a specially tailored configuration which became known as ‘Loḥem’ (meaning Warrior in Hebrew). The Israeli examples were added to in the following decades with additional units purchased from Europe and upgraded to ‘Lohem’ standards. Over 1200 were eventually added to the IDF’s Order of Battle and these performed sterling work in defence of the tiny Jewish state as late as the Yom Kippur war in 1973, where the last of the L7-armed Lohem IVs of the 188th Armour Brigade faced off against the Soviet T55s and T62s of Syria and Iraq on the Golan Heights. It is not clear if any M34’s are still in ‘official’ service today but former Israeli, Indian and Greek examples did make it into the armies of several West African nations during the 1980’s, as well as to Bosnia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia where several were seen in combat during the violent Civil wars of the mid-late 1990’s, often alongside their T34 and SU100 cousins of former Soviet states. Some have also been seen in use by Loyalist Ukrainian militias during the Civil war in that country during the mid-2010’s. Many wartime configuration M34’s, as well as significant numbers of Post-war conversions survive today in museums and private collections, including several in the DCFI and Canada, three at the Bovington Tank Museum, two at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford and one at the D-day memorial and war cemetery above Sword Beach in Normandy.
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