In May 1941, Moscow Factory No.37 received an order to manufacture the new T-50 Light Support Tank, which was designed in Leningrad by factory No.174. This tank had features that suited mass production, namely, small dimensions and low metal requirements (total weight was only 14.5 tones). It was envisaged that it would be manufactured in large numbers of small factories and industrial sub-stations that originally could not manufacture 'serious' vehicles like the T-34 or KV. This would utilize those production facilities that weren't yet involved in tank manufacturing. Simultaneously, factory No.37 was ordered to develop and manufacture a complex and labor-intensive new 6-cylinder diesel engine V-4.
This order was met with scepticism among the factory's engineers and workers since the modest capabilities of the factory didn't match the task. Highlighting just one of the obstacles, the manufacturing of cogwheels was difficult for the factory and the T-50 had a very complex 8-speed plancyclic gearbox. However, at this time, the war was proving that maneuverable lightly-armored vehicles like the T-50, with their light armament, were urgently needed by the Red Army (for reconnaissance or convoy duties particularly). The catastrophic situation faced by the Red Army in the summer and autumn of 1941 also gave urgency to this project.
The increased production of the T-40 Light Tank, and the move to make them non-amphibious and better-protected, led the engineers of factory No.37 to the conclusion that there was a need to develop a new light tank for close infantry support. At the time, each Soviet rifle division was supposed to have (according to TO&E) one light tank company with 16 tanks.
In developing the new tank, engineers used some parts from the existing T-40 tank, including the transmission, the chassis, and the engine. The hull of the new tank had a rationalized silhouette, with reduced dimensions but increased armor protection. The whole project was accomplished in only 15 days (in August 1941) and was headed by N.A. Astrov. Within this very short time, the paper project of the "060" light tank was completed, and its scale-model was built.
However, Astrov, together with Lt. Colonel V.P. Okunev, wrote a letter to Josef Stalin where they had detailed the impossibility of manufacturing the T-50 in Factory No.37. Alternatively, they offered their project "060" which could have been put into large-scale production immediately. Stalin read the letter, and the next morning V.A. Malyshev, who was the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, visited Astrov and Okunev.
Malyshev examined the new vehicle, discussed some technical problems and aspects, and offered to replace the initially projected 12.7 mm heavy machine-gun with the much more powerful 20 mm ShVAK automatic gun that was already manufactured and used widely in aviation applications. Astrov agreed, and Malyshev connected him with OKB-15 (which was the designer of the ShVAK gun) and ordered it to develop a tank version of their gun. By the evening of that day, the new light tank was accepted for service, and a special order to manufacture 10,000 of those tanks was issued. This tank was designated T-60 (some documents call it T-60Sh, where "Sh" means ShVAK). Initially this order was assigned to five factories:
- the Factory No.37 in Moscow; - the Factory No.176 (Gorkovskiy Avtomobil'niy Zavod) in Nizhnij Novgorod; - the Factory KPZ (Kolomenskiy Parovozostroitel'niy Zavod) in Kolomna; - the Factory No.264 (Krasnoarmeiskiy Sudostroitel'niy Zavod) in Stalingrad; - the Factory KhTZ (Kharkovskiy Traktorniy Zavod) in Kharkov.
Soon, the KhTZ was evacuated, so it was excluded from the list. Later, another two factories were involved:
- the Factory No.38 in Kirov; - the Factory No.37 in Sverdlovsk.
Three additional factories were also assigned the manufacture of various pieces of the T-60:
- the Factory KIM in Moscow; - the Factory "Krasniy Proletariy" in Moscow; - the Factory No.592 in Mytishy.
The T-60 had a new welded hull designed by A.V. Bogachev. This hull was more rigid, with a low silhouette (1360 mm) and well-sloped armor made of rolled homogeneous armor plates (steel grade 2P). Small dimensions allowed an increase of the front armor thickness to 15-20 mm initially, and later up to 20-35 mm. The side armor was increased to 15 mm (later to 25 mm), and the rear armor was increased up to 13 mm (later to 25 mm). The driver's hatch thickness was 10 mm (later 13 mm). An emergency hatch was placed at the bottom of the tank. The overall capacity of the two internal fuel tanks was 320 litres.
U.P. Udovich designed the new eight-sided conical turret. It was much cheaper to produce compared to the turret of the T-40. Protection was provided by 25 mm armor plates welded together. The thickness of the gun mantlet was increased to 35 mm. It is important to note that the KPZ factory manufactured tanks with rounded conical turrets like on the T-40.
On the second T-60 prototype, the DShK machine-gun was replaced with a 20 mm 'ShVAK-tankovaya' gun (L/82.4). This gun was based on the ShAK-20 aircraft gun. Testing of the new gun was conducted at the same time as the first trials of the T-60. This gun was therefore only officially accepted for service on December 1, 1941. From January 1, 1942, this gun received the designation TNSh-1 (later this gun was re-designated TNSh-20).
Ammunition consisted of fragmentation tracer rounds, fragmentation incendiary rounds, and armor-piercing rounds with carbide-tungsten cores. Later, sub-calibre armor-piercing incendiary rounds became available, so the armor penetration increased to 35 mm on 60° sloped armor from 500 metres. This allowed the T-60 to successfully combat early German Pz-III's and Pz-IV's as well as German APCs and other lightly-armored targets.
The T-60 was also armed with a coaxial 7.62 mm DT tank machine-gun. The mounting of this machine-gun allowed its use as a light machine-gun outside the tank. It could be quickly dismounted, and was equipped with a shoulder butt and spade grips. Situations where this occurred were quite common. If needed, the TNSh could also be quickly dismounted as its weight was only 68 kg. The closest German counterpart for the T-60 was the Pz-II and "Lynx". The T-60 was slightly better-protected, and had a longer range and better mobility on rough terrain, while its German counterparts enjoyed better reliability and were radio-equipped.
The first T-60s had spiked road wheels, sometimes without rubber tyres. Later, all rubber tyres were removed because of the scarcity of rubber. Road wheels and idlers were made to become interchangeable. The first production tanks did not have radios. Internal communication was performed either by TPU-2 or by signal lamps.
After up-armoring, the weight of the T-60 increased from 5800 to 6400 kg, but due to use of the same engine, the specific power decreased and speed suffered as a result. To increase mobility on swampy and snowy terrain, special removable track extensions for increasing the track width were developed which could be fitted over the standard tracks. The large-scale production of these track extensions was set up from 1942. Compared to other Soviet tanks, the T-60 had the best mobility on snowy and swampy terrain, on water-logged meadows, and in muddy conditions.
For the Red Army, the importance of this tank was so great that Stalin himself attended the trials of the second prototype (this prototype was armed with the TNSh). After that, all factories to be involved in the manufacturing the T-60 began preparations with frantic haste. Additionally, the Moscow automobile factory ZIS became involved in production of this tank.
A Soviet engineering team headed by Chief Engineers B.M. Fitterman and A.M. Avenarius designed a new version of the T-60. It was named the ZIS-60. It was distinguished from the original tank by a new turret, slightly redesigned hull, and a new automobile engine, the ZIS-16 (88 h.p.). This engine was much heavier than the GAZ-202, but was satisfactory. At least ten ZIS-60 tanks were manufactured.
Because of the lack of GAZ-202 engines, in October 1941 Malyshev issued an order to use any engine that could be installed. Among others, there were some T-60s equipped with Ford V-8 engines. As a last resort, it was possible to install the GAZ-M engine, though it was underpowered for the T-60.
To further increase the output of the GAZ factory, some modifications to the engine were made. These changes were managed by A.A. Lipgart (Chief Engineer of GAZ) and A.M. Kriger (Chief of the Chassis and Engine Department). Initially these engines were designated "030", later they received the "060" designation.
Meanwhile, on September 15, 1941, the first production T-60 was manufactured at factory No.37. However, this factory was evacuated soon after (by an order issued on October 9, 1941), and the industrial process was cancelled on September 26. Only 245 tanks were manufactured.
Factory No.37 was evacuated to Sverdlovsk in three places: to the Metallist factory; to the Voevodin's railway-carriage repair works; and to a branch of the Uralmash factory. Together with the elements of the KIM factory, they founded the new tank factory No.37 (the Chief Engineer was G.S. Surenyan, later N.A. Popov). The new factory opened on December 15, 1941. The first 20 T-30 and T-60 tanks were tested on the new proving grounds, then through Sverdlovsk, to be sent to the front. Over the next three months, the factory manufactured 512 tanks.
In February 1942, factory No.37 and its design bureau developed, manufactured, and tested the modified T-60, which was named the T-60-1 (some sources name it "060" or T-60-ZIS). It was powered by the ZIS-60 engine (95 h.p., later 110 h.p.). This engine was put in full-scale production in the Miassky Automobile Engine Factory that was situated nearby.
By September 1942, 1144 T-60 tanks were manufactured. After that, the factory was switched to manufacturing the T-70 light tank. The largest factory that was producing T-60 tanks was GAZ, in which N.A. Astrov had arrived together with a small group of engineers. Soon he became the Deputy Chief Engineer of the factory, and in the beginning of 1942 he was awarded the Stalin's Prize for development of the T-40 and the T-60 tanks.
Very quickly, this factory finished all required technological preparations and from October 26 started the mass production of the T-60. The hulls were supplied by factory No.177 in Vyksunsky; later they were supplied by factory No.176 in Murom as well as by factory No.178 in Kulebaki and factory No.180 in Podolsk. At times there were shortages of tank hulls, thus the manufacturing of T-60s became sporadic. To solve this problem, a whole GAZ workshop was switched to production of hulls for the T-60. It is worth noting that the hulls of different factories had minor differences that didn't affect the characteristics of the whole tank.
To increase the firepower of the T-60, and in particular its armor penetration, there was a plan to rearm the T-60 with the 23 mm VYa automatic gun that was far superior to the TNSh-20. Unfortunately, the big recoil could jam the turret. After a few attempts, the plan was cancelled, and the T-60 wasn't rearmed with the VYa.
Besides the VYa gun, there were other several attempts to rearm the T-60. Two attempts stand out, and the first of these attempts was undertaken at the beginning 1942 to rearm T-60 with the 37 mm ZIS-19 automatic tank gun. The gun was developed in August 1941 by design bureau No.92 led by V.Grabin. Although the gun was intended for universal use, it was ultimately planned for use in light tanks.
The gun was very powerful, and the muzzle velocity of the armor-piercing shell was 915 m/s. The gun was too big to be installed in the standard turret, so a new turret was designed. The T-60 with the new turret and the 37 mm gun passed all trials but wasn't accepted for service because of a major shortage of 37 mm ammunition.
The second notable attempt to rearm the T-60 was made in March and April of 1942. The 45 mm ZIS-19BM tank gun was chosen. This gun was also developed by design bureau No.92. Compared with the ZIS-19, the new gun had some significant advantages: most of its elements were similar to the existing 45 mm 20K tank gun, but most importantly, there was no problem with procuring 45 mm ammunition since it was already manufactured by several factories.
On April 5, 1942, the factory trials began. After that, the gun was sent to factory No.37, which was developing the T-45 light tank. Because the ZIS-19BM was too big to be installed into the standard T-60 turret, the gun was installed into the T-45's turret. The T-60 with the new turret and armed with the 45 mm ZIS-19BM was sent to the factory trials.
This T-45/T-60 hybrid was named T-60-2 or simply "062". The gun was placed to the right of the turret's center. This layout was very handy to load the gun, and consequently the rate of fire was significantly increased.
Unfortunately, by that time, the newest T-70 Light Tank was tested and accepted for service, so the attempts of modernisation of the T-60, the T-45, and the ZIS-19BM were considered as "having no prospects" and further work was cancelled.
To protect the T-60 from Molotov cocktails (which the Germans used beginning in the winter of 1941-1942) there was a plan to mount a special wire-mesh shield. In February 1942, near Chkalov, trials of the T-60 fitted with these shields were carried out. The trials were successful, but unfortunately such shields were rarely used due to the additional expense involved.
In 1942, in spite of the successful development of the T-70, the production of the T-60 continued concurrently up to August 1942. In 1942, the total output of the T-60 was 4164 tanks. In February 1943, the last batch of 55 tanks was sent to the front, after which the T-60 was removed from production.
Large numbers of this tank fought in the Battle for Moscow (1941-42). Those tanks fought in almost tank brigade and battalion strength. On November 7, 1941, 48 T-60's took part in the Red Square military parade. Just after the parade, the tanks were sent to front. Many of those tanks were built in Moscow factories. Tanks of the Gorkij Factory (GAZ) first appeared on the Eastern Front on December 13, 1941. The role of the T-60 in the Battle for Moscow was very important because the overall Soviet tank production of that time was extremely low as most Soviet industry was being evacuated.
Only the STZ and KTZ factories were operational, though KTZ in Leningrad was already encircled by German forces, thus in effect, only STZ remained. However, STZ itself didn't produce tanks, it only assembled tanks from already manufactured parts. Those hulls, turrets, and chassis elements were supplied by other factories which were already being evacuated and were not operational.
By the beginning of spring of 1942, 60 T-60 tanks were sent to the Leningrad Front to form the 61st Tank Brigade. It is interesting to note that since Leningrad was encircled by the Germans, it was important to hide delivery of those tanks, and therefore tanks were put on coal barges and well-camouflaged with coal.
Those barges often delivered coal to Leningrad, and the Germans didn't pay them proper attention and allowed them to pass unharmed, and all the tanks were delivered successfully in this manner.
On January 12, 1943 (the first day of the Soviet offensive which broke the Leningrad encirclement), the 61st Tank Brigade together with the 86th and 118th Tank Battalions were engaged in battles as elements of the 67th Army. Tank units of medium and heavy tanks crossed over the ice of the Neva river a day later, after Soviet infantry supported by light tanks and sappers had strengthened the ice for safe tank crossings.
Tanks of the 61st Tank Brigade successfully met with units of Volkhovsky Front, and after that operation, the 61st Brigade received the "Guards" status and renamed the 30th Guards Tank Brigade.
There were several successful attempts to increase the frontal armor of the T-60. Additional 10 mm armor plates were placed on the glacis of the hull and around the turret.
T-60's were used on the Southern Front, especially in the spring of 1942 in the Crimea. These tanks were used in the Kharkov operation as well as during the Stalingrad operation. The Germans called the T-60 the "ineradicable locust."
T-60 tanks were the core of the 1st Tank Corps (commander - Major-General M. E. Katukov). In the summer of 1942, this corps, as an element of the Bryansk Front, was engaged in defensive battles near Voronezh. The 1st Tank Corps and the 16th Tank Corps were combined as a single unit. After the heavy battles, this unit was in a desperate situation. Katukov relates in his memoirs:
"The Germans attacked us continuously. They tried to find a weak point in our defense. After several attempts they found it, and German infantry was able to make a breakthrough through our first lines of defense where we didn't have proper artillery coverage. It was a precarious situation, because the Germans continued their attacks to cut off and destroy our forces.
The German forces attacked along the whole front line, thus there weren't any available reserves. I had only two T-60 light tanks in operational reserve, but whom could stop these "armored miniatures" with their 20 mm guns?
They were useless against German tanks, but they could be used successfully against enemy infantry and usually caused heavy losses among them. This happened at both Mtzensk and Moscow.
And now, in this fateful hour, when the Germans had almost defeated us, those "ridiculous" tanks saved our positions. It was lucky that the rye in the area was 1.5 metres tall, as the T-60's were almost hidden by it. Using this rye field, both of our T-60 tanks were able to infiltrate to the rear of the German infantry and then opened fire. After several minutes of intensive fire, the German attack was halted".
In September 1942, during the rugged defense at Stalingrad, the 91st Tank Brigade was engaged in action having T-60 tanks in its service. Many of those little "baby" tanks had impressive nicknames like "Grozniy" (Terrible), "Orel" (Eagle), "Smelij" (Brave), etc.
The Stalingrad battle and the run on the Leningrad blockade became the apogee for T-60 light tank. From the end of 1942, the usage of these tanks decreased. They served well and completed their tasks but they couldn't withstand modern German tanks and the increasing demands placed upon them. The use and production of the T-60 was on the decline.
Soviet tankers didn't love the T-60 because of its weak armament and too light armor. Tankers called them BM-2 which meant "Bratskaya Mogila na dvoikh" (a brother's grave for two).
Breaking the encirclement around Leningrad (January 1944) was the last large operation where the T-60s took part. For example, among the 88 tanks of the 1st Tank Brigade there were 21 T-60's, and 18 T-60's were in the 220th Tank Brigade. At the same time, the 124th Tank Regiment (attached to the Volkhov Front) possessed only ten tanks: a pair of T-34's, a pair of T-70's, five T-60's and one T-40 (still alive! unlikely, but true!).
After that operation, T-60's were used only as convoy vehicles, in signal units, for reconnaissance, and as artillery tractors for ZIS-2 antitank and ZIS-3 field guns. They were also used as commanders' tanks. In that capacity, T-60's were used until the end of the war.
Besides the Red Army, three T-60's served in the Voisko Polskoe (Polish Army) in 1945. Many T-60's were captured by the Germans and Finns. The Germans usually used them as armored tractors, and occasionally they removed their turrets. Some of those tanks were given to Rumania. The Rumanians used them to build a batch of quite successful self-propelled guns "Takam," armed with the ex-Soviet 76.2 mm F-22 installed in a non-rotating compartment open at the top and rear.
The hull and the chassis of T-60 satisfied the Rumanians and were left almost unchanged. Moreover, some sources indicate the Rumanians built two other self-propelled guns armed with a 105 mm howitzer.
After the war, all surviving T-60's were quickly removed from service. Today, the last "pure" T-60 is displayed in the tank museum in Kubinka.
The T-60 was an excellent base for many experimental projects. An armored self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle was needed to protect tank units and staff vehicles, and at the end of 1942 a new tank was developed and manufactured at the GAZ Factory. That tank was named "063" or T-60-3 (the "3" meaning third modification). Some post-war sources also claim the tank had the T-90 designation, although I didn't see this designation in archival documents.
This tank had the hull, the chassis, and the engine taken from the production T-60, but the tank had a new turret with double 12.7 mm DShK anti-aircraft machine-guns installed. Because of some technological troubles, GAZ was unable to manufacture the turret's traversing mechanism with proper precision (which is required for anti-aircraft combat). This was the main reason why the "063" wasn't accepted for service.
The BM-8-24 multiple rocket launchers were based on chassis of T-60 tanks as well as on T-40's. They were accepted for service in October 1941. In autumn 1941, Soviet engineer O.K. Antonov offered to develop a simplified glider with a hull taken from the production T-60.
The glider was intended for transport by the four-engined TB-3 bomber or by the twin-engined DB-3F bomber. After landing, this vehicle had to drop its wings and empennage (tail) and thus, be ready for immediate combat.
Antonov's project was supported by General S.A. Afonin (Director of the General Tank Directorate), and at the end of 1941, Antonov's Design Bureau received an official order to develop this vehicle. The project was completed in only three weeks and by the summer of 1942, the very first experimental tank was manufactured in the glider factory in Tiumen. This tank received the "KT" index which meant "Kryl'ya tanka" (Tank's Wings). Please notice, that "Krylatyj Tank" (Winged Tank) is a wrong name, but still in use by some sources. Several other sources use the designations "A-T", "AT-1" or "glider A-40".
The wingspan of the KT was 18 metres, and the length was 12.06 metres. The tail was managed by a driver through special hawsers. The tank was lightened (weight decreased to 5800 kg!) by removing armament, ammunition, headlights, and was left only a very limited amount of fuel. The final flight weight of the KT was 7804 kg. A test flight was performed in the autumn of 1942. The KT was transported by the TB-3 bomber. S. Nanokhin was the driver of the KT, and he reported that idea of the flying tank was quite realistic and could be successful. However, because of the poor aerodynamics of the KT, the transportation of the tank was a huge strain on the TB-3, its engines overheated, and to avoid crashing, the KT was ditched in an emergency.
However, the KT glided very smoothly and successfully landed on a rough field near the Ramenskij Airfield. After landing, the wings and tail were dropped, and it successfully returned to its base at Monino. But because of a lack of sufficiently powerful airplanes, further work on the KT were cancelled and never resumed.
Sources: V.Shavrov "The history of the airplanes construction"; "T-60 tank. Operational manual", Voenizdat 1942; Technical guide of T-60", Voenizdat 1944; "Transmission and chassis of the T-60", Voenizdat 1942 "Bronekollektsiya", No.4 1997