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MS-1 (T-18) Light Tank

Development History

The Malyi Soprovozhdeniya MS-1 (Small Escort MS-1), which later received the T-18 designation, emerged as the first Soviet production tank. The name falls under the mid-1920s Soviet classification that categorised tanks into "Small," "Main," and "Maneuverable", the "Malyi Soprovozhdeniya" means Small Escort. Please notice that according to the Soviet nomenclature of that time, the MS-1 wasn't light tank but small support(escort) tank.

In May and June 1926, a three-year plan for tank production was developed, based on a concept of a breakthrough of the 10-km frontline that is defended by two foe's infantry divisions. A number of foreign armoured fighting vehicles were analysed as a possible basis for a mass-produced Soviet tank by a special council of RKKA High command, GUVP and OAT held in September 1926. The French Renault tank classified as M- Small in RKKA nomenclature, was found relatively suitable for infantry support purposes. However, the council members noticed a number of serious problems with the tank, like heavy weight (prohibiting truck transport), low speed, and weak armament. The original 37-mm Hochkiss or Puteaux guns did not provide accurate fire beyond a distance of 400 metres. Sormovo-built siblings (also known as the "Russian Renault") were mentioned as "having unsatisfactory workmanship, having insufficient armament, and being too expensive."

The Italian FIAT-3000 was considered a more suitable prototype due to its lower weight and its higher speed. This tank was thoroughly studied by the OAT Design Bureau, and a 5-ton tank project lead by S. Shukalov was launched in mid-1926. The first prototype was built in the Bolshevik Factory and was delivered for testing in March 1927. This vehicle received the T-16 index. Compared with the Russian Renault, it had less size, less weight, less cost, and higher speed. Nevertheless, it still had a bunch of serious problems, so a number of parts and mechanisms were recommended for improvement. One more roadwheel was added to the suspension, and some of the details of the engine and of the transmission were altered. Because of its unsatisfactory powertrain performance, A. Mikulin (one of the leading tank engine designers) had to relocate to the factory to work there.

A new tank was built by mid-May, and after a brief road test near Leningrad, it was sent to Moscow (probably May 20-25) for final testing and for approval under the index "Small Support Tank Model 1927 MS-1 (T-18)." It is noteworthy that a whole range of transportation methods (closed and open railroad carriages, truck bed and trailer, and on-tracks) were used during this Leningrad-Moscow trip. The armament was not ready yet, and therefore a mock-up gun was installed. The tank was intended to be painted, but the OAT issued an order "To paint only after acceptance for service!" Probably after the failure of the T-16, which was painted light-green right before the trials, the OAT management felt uncertain. Hence, the tank entered the proving grounds being covered with only light-brown primer. This method of presentation for untested vehicles later became standard procedure.

A special committee was formed to conduct these tests, which were completed on June 11 to 17, 1927 in the Moscow region. As the vehicle was still unarmed, only extensive off-road testing was performed. The tank was deemed generally successful, and it was recommended to accept for service. No later than February 1, 1928, RKKA ordered 108 T-18 tanks to be manufactured during 1928-29 (30 before the fall of 1928). OSOAVIAKhIM sponsored the first 30 tanks, and these tanks participated in parades on November 7, 1929 in Moscow and Leningrad. Unofficially, this series was named "Our response to Chamberlain."

Initially, only the Bolshevik plant produced T-18 tanks. In April 1929, the Motovilikha Factory (formerly Perm' Artillery Factory) joined in the production and the summary output was increased. However, mass-production of the T-18 in 1929 was slow, so only 96 of the planned 133 vehicles were built. When the Motovilikha Factory finally reached full production levels, the 1929-30 quota of T-18 production was raised to 300 vehicles.

In the fall of 1929, the T-18 participated in the next stage of tests. A two-metre wide by 1.2-metre deep trench was found to be a major obstacle for the tank. It became trapped, and the tank could not escape the trench by either forward or reverse throttle. After a proposal by M. Vasil'kov and by order of Leningrad region Armored force commander S. Kokhansky, some tanks were equipped with a second "tail" up front. They were immediately nicknamed "Nosorog" (Rhinoceros) or "Tyani-tolkaj" (Push-Pulley). Obstacle crossing performance of these tanks slightly improved, but the driver's visibility was reduced dramatically.


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