ARM: Book Review - "T-34 - Mythical Weapon"

Book Review: T-34: Mythical Weapon by Robert Michulec and Miroslaw
Zientarzewski; English Language Version published by Air Connection,
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada 2006
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conjunction with Armageddon Books (ISBN 0-9781091-0-4); 520 pp. with
both color and B&W illustrations, drawings and 1/35 scale plans;
retail price US $95.00
Advantages: Very comprehensive coverage of nearly all of the wartime
models of the T-34 tank and its tank variants; excellent set of plans
and photos covering the details of the different versions of the tank
by model and by factory; indispensable modeler's aid to the T-34
Disadvantages: historical section suffers badly from the author's
biases, subjective analyses and lack of overall knowledge of the
Soviet tank industry in the 1930s and 1940s
Rating: Highly Recommended (less the historical section)
Recommendation: for all '34 fans and modelers
Nobody thought back in 1971 that when R. P. Hunnicutt published his
book "Pershing" at the then unheard-of price of $20 a copy that both
he and his writing format would eventually stretch to ten books and a
complete history of American armored vehicles. These ten volumes have
since been recognized as the "gold standard" for objective analysis of
specific subjects, and are considered to be the best "one-stop"
histories of their subjects. True, they are not perfect and modelers
will always find some complaint about missing items or a lack of
coverage of others, but overall they are the reference standard for
historical analysis of armored vehicles.
The same can be said to a great degree about the series of "Panzer
Tracts" books from researchers Tom Jentz and Hilary Doyle, which cover
German vehicles to the same relatively objective level of detail.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and relative freedom of the Russian
Press, for years many modelers and historians have been hoping to see
the same level of coverage and presentation for many of the Soviet
tanks. Thus far some excellent histories have begun to appear from the
factories that built these tanks, such as the "Malyshev" factory in
Kharkov, birthplace of the T-34, and the Ural Railway Wagon Factory in
Nizhniy Tagil that built that tank, the T-54/T-55, and T-72 tanks. But
these are factory histories and present the factories's viewpoints,
which are somewhat colored by the pride taken in their products.
When this book was announced some time ago, the hopes of many
historians and modelers is that this book would be the "Hunnicutt"
version of the T-34's history and as such very useful to all
concerned. Now that it has been printed and is available, upon reading
it the sad fact is that such is not the case; while the modelers win
big on the book, the historians will have to wait for another attempt
from another author.
What the book does provide is the following material. The first 260
pages cover the history of the tank and its development; the next 86
pages cover the T-34 in Polish service; then come 96 pages on detail
photographs of the various T-34s from any of the six factories which
built the tank; then 58 pages of 1/35 scale plans and drawings of the
tank in detail, including "stripped down" hulls, turrets and entire
vehicles; and lastly 20 pages of color photographs of museum tanks and
color broadsides of WWII Soviet vehicles.
As a professional Russian linguist for 33 years I am a bit put off by
the fact that the transliterations from Russian are all done using
Polish transliteration and not standard English ones, as accepted by
most universities and the US Government, which can make tracing some
items back very difficult. Some are easy, e.g. the Polish "cz" for the
Cyrillic character for "ch" or Polish "c" for Cyrillic "ts", but most
are not. But this is understandable considering that the book was
written in Polish, so it just has to be accepted from the first. (I do
wish that they would be careful on some things though; the UZTM
factory [Uralskiy Zavod dlya Tyazhyelogo Mashinostroyeniya or Ural
Factory for Heavy Machinery Construction) keeps getting transposed as
UTZM. Oh well.)
The book is presented in European A4 size format, and literally
stuffed to the gills with around 1,000 photographs of the tank in
action. While many of the photos are ex-German showing destroyed T-34s
rather than factory shots of the tanks, from a modeler's standpoint
they show details of service vehicles and not "parade ground" ones as
well as markings. As many are destroyed, it also shows some sections
of the tank not usually visible.
The detail shots are very useful as they sort out which tanks were
built by what factories and when. It does fall into the same trap of
the popular "Modeler's Guide to the Sherman Tank" by Pete Harlem in
which arbitrary terms are used to describe the different parts of the
tanks. while each component of the T-34 had a factory drawing
(indicated by a or identification number) most of
these are not yet available to researchers so the author has come up
with his own generic terms. (As a case in point, recent information
from Russian researchers on the KV-1 tank shows the turret was
considered "parts group 57" and all turrets for that tank had a number
ending in 57, e.g. 57, 157, 257, or 957.)
The plans by Witold Hazuka are incredibly detailed, and should solve
many problems faced by modelers who are trying to replicate a specific
factory's tank in a specific time frame. They by themselves are worth
the "entry price" for this book.
For anyone specifically interested in Polish T-34s and their
operational history, the book covers it in amazing detail, down to
serial numbers and which units received which tanks.
But the book falls down badly when it comes to the history of the
T-34 and the amazing path it had to follow to even get into
production, let alone "roll with the punches" to adapt to wartime
First off, it needs to be stated that the T-34 was a product of the
Soviet military-industrial complex during the height of the Soviet
Union's rise to power. The author is a Pole. Ignoring the history of
just the 20th Century, the Poles and the Russians fought with each
other on and off for over 400 years. Each one would take turns
dominating the other, and the Ukrainians likewise were involved
(recall that the euphemistic term for the invasion of Poland by the
USSR in 1939 was the "liberation of the western Ukraine" and you see
the point.) The bottom line is that even today there is little love
lost between Poles and Russians, even with a shared Slavic heritage.
Mr Michulec has unfortunately allowed these old biases to color his
views of the T-34 and to take cheap shots at both the tank and its
designers at every opportunity. These show up both consciously in his
writing and in the selection of as many photos of destroyed T-34s with
Germans gleefully posing with the tanks as he can seem to locate.
Among many of the problems he has with his history is presenting as
evenhanded a picture as possible. One thing is a lack of knowledge of
the fact that both the Germans and Soviets considered tank losses as
combat losses and "non-returning losses" (Soviet term.) What this
means is that if a unit sends 50 tanks into combat, 30 are lost but 25
are later repaired and returned to service, the losses reported out
are only 5 tanks. The other side, who knocked them out on the
battlefield, will claim 30 tanks destroyed. (Tom Jentz has noted this
with the Tiger I, as one of the true mysteries about that tank is how
many troops and other weapons systems were lost recovering them under
fire to be repaired.)
Not understanding this fact causes Mr Michulec to call actual Soviet
heroes like Mikhail Katukov of the 1st Guards Tank Corps a liar and
somebody guilty of lying to his superiors. In point of fact, Katukov
was considered one of the best Soviet tank corps commanders and later
on one of the prime reasons that the T-34 became the main Soviet
combat tank and the KV-1 was not. Katukov was the only Soviet
commander of the early part of the war who could stand up to Zhosif
Kotin, the KV-1's designer and a "connected" chap who had married
Kliment Voroshilov's goddaughter, hence ensuring the KV (which Kotin
named for Voroshilov) would be produced and honored as a "war winning
weapon", that it was a piece of junk and got more Soviet soldiers
killed than it saved. Some basic research would have shown this, but
Mr Michulec chose to "cherry pick" facts to suit his view of things
and not look at either the political or physical conditions of the
Recent information out of Russia confirms the suspicion of some
western analysts that all things in the Soviet Union were really more
dependent upon cliques and groups of "connected" people - referred to
by Russian writers as "clans" - and that had a greater impact on the
progress of their industry and army than anything else. The T-34 came
out of a fight between the "Leningrad" clan, headed by Kotin, and the
arising of the "Kharkov" clan under Mikhail Koshkin, who had been sent
to Kharkov after the purges in 1937 to bend that factory to follow
guidance from Leningrad.
There is not sufficient room in a simple book review to recount the
entire history of the T-34, but Mr Michulec missed most of the
pertinent facts that the "Leningrad" clan made four distinct attempts
to bury the T-34 or fling it on the dustheap of history, all of which
failed. Part of the reason was the intercession of V. A. Malyshev, who
became the Peoples Commissar for Medium Industrial Production (a
euphemism for tank production) and became a champion of the T-34 as a
forward looking vehicle unlike the clumsy and overwrought KV-1.
While Mr Michulec raves about the T-34M tank design, which became
stillborn on 22 June 1941 when the Germans invaded, he seems to have
failed to grasp the fact this design was being forced on the "Kharkov"
clan by Kotin's cronies; scale up the drawings of the Leningrad-
designed T-50 light tank by about 30% and overlay them on the T-34M
and the origins of the vehicle's design are very apparent.
The T-34 did have a great number of failings, many due to its
production and design flaws and others due to the failure of the
Soviet high command to recognize the need for two simple but critical
items, namely a radio set in every tank and a dedicated commander to
both observe the battlefield and direct the tank's operations. The
T-34 did not get the former until much later in the war, and did not
get the latter until the advent of the main production models of the
T-34-85 in early 1944. It suffered from being cramped inside, dark,
possessed of poor visibility of the battlefield, having production of
variable quality, and poorly trained crews and command staff. The
gunsights were boresighted for only 750 meters so any gunnery over
that distance was pure luck. It took quite a bit of work to fix most
of these problems or at least get to the point where they were
acceptable problems.
While any of these subjects deserve fair treatment, that is not what
they received from Mr Michulec, which is unfortunate. He did seem to
have access to a great deal of good material, some new, and also cites
many of the same books I possess and have read in Russian on the
history of Soviet armored vehicles. He could have produced a good book
about the somewhat convoluted history of the tank and its method of
staggering to greatness (so to speak) but instead he has launched a
petty diatribe against it, with many items of innuendo and personal
beliefs subjectively overlaid on its history.
Overall, while I seriously think few modelers will read the
historical section other than to check out the wealth of photographs,
it is a shame that the book will not be the "Hunnicutt's history of
the T-34." For that we must still wait.
Thanks to Steve Zaloga for the review copy.
Cookie Sewell
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No... Thanx to YOU for posting soo much interesting information !!
I meant to tell ya in the KV 2 thread something. You have cost me a lot of $$$ !! Dammit, your reviews are killing me. 8-)
By all means don't ever stop please.
-- AM
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snipped for ease of reading... i'll fold my money and put it back in my pocket. i want a history.
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Thanks, Cookie. I'm not big on armour but this was one review I couldn't miss. I can second your statement about the continuing animosity between Pole and Russian. My Aunt Vicki never had a nice thing to say about any Russian - and a lot of very un-nice things to say! ;)
Bill Banaszak, MFE Sr.
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