BT tank

The BT tanks, Bystrokhodny tank, lit. "fast moving tank" or "high-speed tank") were a series of Soviet light tanks produced in large numbers between 1932 and 1941. They were lightly armoured, but reasonably well-armed for their time, and had the best mobility of all contemporary tanks of the world. The BT tanks were known by the nickname Betka from the acronym, or its diminutive Betushka.

The direct successor of the BT tanks would be the famous T-34 medium tank, introduced in 1940, which would replace all of the Soviet fast tanks, infantry tanks, and medium tanks in service.

BT tank
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Malyshev Factory
Production Period 1932 - 1941
Origin Russia (USSR)
Country Name Origin Year
Russia (USSR) 1932
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Afghanistan View
China View
Finland View
Germany View
Hungary View
Mongolia View
Russia (USSR) 1932 1945 View
Spain View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Malyshev Factory 1932 1941 5556 View

The BT tanks were "convertible tanks". This was a feature designed by J. Walter Christie to reduce wear of the unreliable tank tracks of the 1930s. In about thirty minutes the crew could remove the tracks and engage a chain drive to the rearmost road wheel on each side, allowing the tank to travel at very high speeds on roads. In wheeled mode the tank was steered by pivoting the front road wheels. However, Soviet tank forces soon found the convertible option of little practical use in a country with few paved roads, and it consumed space and added needless complexity and weight. The feature was dropped from later Soviet designs.

Christie, a race car mechanic and driver from New Jersey, had tried unsuccessfully to convince the U.S. Army Ordnance Bureau to adopt his Christie tank design. In 1930, Soviet agents at Amtorg, ostensibly a Soviet trade organization, used their New York political contacts to persuade U.S. military and civilian officials to provide plans and specifications of the Christie tank to the Soviet Union. At least two of Christie's M1931 tanks (without turrets) were later purchased in the United States and sent to the Soviet Union under false documentation in which they were described as "agricultural tractors." Both tanks were successfully delivered to the Kharkov Komintern Locomotive Plant (KhPZ). The original Christie tanks were designated fast tanks by the Soviets, abbreviated BT (later referred to as BT-1). Based both on them and on previously obtained plans, three unarmed BT-2 prototypes were completed in October 1931 and mass production began in 1932. Most BT-2s were equipped with a 37 mm gun and a machine gun, but shortages of 37 mm guns led to some early examples being fitted with three machine guns.

The sloping front hull (glacis plate) armor design of the Christie M1931 prototype was retained in later Soviet tank hull designs, later adopted for side armor as well.

The BT-5 and later models were equipped with a 45 mm gun.

BT tanks saw service in the Second Sino-Japanese War, Spanish Civil War, Battle of Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan), the Winter War in Finland, the Polish campaign, and in the entire World War II.

They first saw action in the Spanish Civil War. A battalion of BT-5s fought on the Republican side, and their 45 mm guns could easily knock out the opposing German and Italian light tanks. The Chinese Nationalist Army also had 4 BT-5s and they fought against the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

World War II in East-Asia

World War II was firstly broken in East-Asia, 7th July, 1937.During the Battles of Khalkhin Gol (also known as the Nomonhan Incident), which lasted from May to September in 1939, BT tanks were easily attacked by Japanese "close quarter" teams (tank killer squads) which were - in lieu of anti-tank weapons - armed with petrol bottles (later called "Molotov cocktails"). The Soviet BT-5 and BT-7 light tanks, which had been operating in temperatures greater than 100F on the Mongolian plains, easily caught fire when a Molotov cocktail ignited their gasoline engines. General Georgy Zhukov made it one of his "points" when briefing Joseph Stalin, that his "...BT tanks were a bit fireprone...." Conversely, many Japanese tank crews held the Soviet 45mm anti-tank/tank guns in high esteem, noting, " sooner did they see the flash from a Russian gun, than they'd notice a hole in their tank, adding that the Soviet gunners were accurate too!"

After the Khalkhin Gol War in 1939, the Soviet military had broken into two camps; one side was represented by Spanish Civil War veterans General P. V. Rychagov of the Soviet Air Force, Soviet armour expert General Dimitry Pavlov, and Stalin's favorite, Marshal Grigory Kulik, Chief of Artillery Administration. The other side consisted of the Khalkhin Gol veterans led by Generals Zhukov and G.P. Kravchenko of the Soviet Air Force. Under this cloud of division, the lessons of Russia's "first real war on a massive scale using tanks, artillery, and airplanes" at Nomonhan (Khalkhin Gol) went unheeded. Consequently, during the Finland War (Winter War) the BT-2 and BT-5 tanks were less successful.

During the final weeks of World War II, a significant number of BT-7 tanks took part in the invasion of Japanese-occupied Manchuria, in August 1945. This was the last combat action for the BT tanks.

World War II in Europe

During the Second World War in Europe, BT-5 and BT-7 tanks were used in the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, and in large numbers in the battles of 1941 - during which thousands were abandoned or destroyed. A few remained in use in 1942, but were rare after that time. The Red Army planned to replace the BT tank series with the T-34, and had just begun doing so when the German invasion (Operation Barbarossa) took place.

Type Light cavalry tank
Place of origin Soviet Union
Service history
In service 1932–45
Wars Spanish Civil War, Second Sino–Japanese War, Soviet–Japanese border conflicts, Winter War. World War II
Production history
Designer J. Walter Christie, KMDB
Designed 1930–31
Manufacturer Malyshev Factory
Produced 1932–41
Number built BT-2: 650 BT-5: 1884 BT-7: 5556
Variants BT-2, BT-5, BT-7, BT-7M
Specifications (BT-5)
Weight 11.5 tonnes (12.676 tons)
Length 5.58 m (18 ft 4 in)
Width 2.23 m (7 ft 4 in)
Height 2.25 m (7 ft 5 in)
Crew 3
Armour 6–13 mm
45-mm Model 32 tank gun
7.62-mm DT machine gun
Engine Model M-5
400 hp (298 kW)
Power/weight 35 hp/tonne
Suspension Christie
Fuel capacity 360 litres (95 US gal)
200 km (120 mi)
Speed 72 km/h (44.7 mph)

End notes