ARMOURED VEHICLES PART 4

 

 

VICKERS 6 TON AND T-26E TANKS

 

 

Vickers 6 ton tank

(Vickers Mk E Alt B)

(Vickers 6-Ton Tank Alt B)

PICTURE: Vickers 6-ton tank equipped as during Winter War. The white and blue stripes on turret were Finnish nationality marking used during Winter War. However the 6-ton tanks that took part in battles, were painted white with whitewash to give them winter camouflage. Notice 37 Psv.K/36 main gun. (Photo taken in Panssarimuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (181 KB).

Weight:

8.6 tons

Length:

4.54 meters

Width:

2.40 meters

Height:

2.10 meters

Max. Speed:

31 - 35 km/h

Engine:

92 hp Armstrong-Siddeley Puma 4-cylinder gasoline engine

Armour:

5 - 17.5 mm

- Hull front and sides

17.5 mm (upper part) / 10 mm (lower part)

- Hull sides

17.5 mm (upper side of combat compartment) / 10 mm (lower part)

- Hull top and floor

5 mm

- Hull rear

10 mm

- Turret front and sides

13.6 mm

Ground Clearance:

37.5 cm

Ground Pressure:

0.48 kg/square cm

Gradient:

39 degrees

Trench:

1.9 m

Fording:

0.9 m

Range:

165 km on road, 91 km off-road

Weapons:

37 mm Psv.K/36 (L/45) tank gun (50 rounds) (*)

7.62 mm M/09-31 coaxial machinegun (3,075 rounds) (**)

9 mm Suomi M/31 hull submachinegun (1,444 rounds) (***)

Crew:

4 men (****)

Country of Origin:

Great Britain

Production:

About 153 - 155 pcs (Mark E tanks all versions total) 1929 - 1939

Finnish order: 32 manufactured 1937 - 1939

(*) Apparently about ¼ of these APHE-shells, the rest HE-shells.

(**) 18 belt-boxes, each contained 250-round disintegrating steel ammunition belt.

(***) 20 drum magazines each containing 72 rounds.

(****) While Type A and Type B normally had crew of 3 men, the Type B Mark E version ordered by Finland had a 4-man crew.

Finnish use: One Vickers E Alt B tank was acquired for tests in year 1933. Year 1936 Finnish Army ordered 32 Vickers 6-ton tanks without armament or radios. The plan was to equip the tanks in Finland, but due to delays in delivery of tanks and acquiring the missing equipment, when Winter War broke out none of these tanks had yet been equipped ready for combat use. Only one Tank Company (4th Tank Company) received battle-ready Vickers 6-ton tanks in time to use them in combat during Winter War. After Winter War remaining 26 operational Vickers 6-ton tanks were modified as T-26E.

This light tank was a private development (developed without any existing order from any Armed Forces) developed by design team lead by John Garden and Vivian Loyd for Vickers Armstrong Ltd, which was one of the most successful manufacturers of armoured vehicles in between 1st and 2nd World Wars. The tank model was known both as Mark E and 6-ton tank. While the name 6-ton tank refers to its weight in metric tons, it is slightly misleading, since most versions seem to have weight fully equipped about 7 - 9 tons. One might note that while the particular light tank design failed to be spectacular in any way, it was a simple, affordable and mechanically quite reliable light tank design, which many countries acquired from Vickers Armstrong Ltd in 1930’s. Even if the first prototype was introduced already in year 1928, to its benefit the design was still quite up to date even around 1939 - 1940, but admittedly became outdated soon after that due to very rapid tank development during World War 2. The first production version known as Alt A (Alternative A) had two small turrets, each of which contained air-cooled Vickers medium machinegun in .303 British (7.71 mm x 56R) calibre. The second production version was Alt B (Alternative B), which had single larger conical turret equipped with 47-mm low-velocity tank gun and coaxial machinegun in .303 British (7.71 x 56R) calibre. In addition to these two basic versions, also towing tractor (Vickers Medium Tractor) and anti-aircraft versions (without turret, 2-pound Vickers pom-pom automatic cannon on open compartment on front part of the hull) existed and were manufactured in 1930's.

This tank design had little success in domestic British market. British Army lost interest towards 6-ton tank after testing one early on and bought only dozen Vickers Medium Tractor (Dragon, Medium Mk. IV) as towing vehicles, but Vickers succeeding finding plenty of export customers for this tank model to become a commercial success. The total number of Vickers 6-ton tanks manufactured for export reached almost 200 vehicles of this family, from which apparently 143 were Alt A and Alt B tanks. The manufacturing of Vickers Mark E tanks started year 1929 and ended in year 1939.

Export orders of Vickers Type E tank, Vickers Medium Tractor and Vickers Anti-aircraft tank based to Type E:

country:

Alt A

Alt B

Tractor

AA-Tank

Total

Bolivia

1

2

3

Bulgaria

8

8

China

20

23

43

Germany

1

1

Great Britain

12

12

Greece

1

1

2

Finland

33

33

India

18

18

Poland

(*) 38

38

Portugal

1

1

2

Siam (Thailand)

(**) 22

26

48

Soviet Union

15

15

Total

56

87

54

26

208

(*) 22 of these were modified as Alt B tanks in year 1934. Earlier sources suggest that 50 were acquired, but later research has revealed 38 as the correct number.

(**) Only 18 delivered, British Army took the rest for training use.

Later during early World War 2 British government seized some of the 6-ton tanks, which had not yet been delivered to export customers and British Army used the seized tanks as training vehicles. The seized tanks included at least some of the tanks ordered by Siam (modern day Thailand) and possibly few of the tanks ordered by Finland. Besides the export deals, Vickers also made contracts about production licenses with Poland (T7P tanks) and Soviet Union (T-26 tanks). In addition 6-ton tank directly influenced tank development in many countries, which included Bulgaria, Japan and Italy.

Finland ordered three tanks representing three different alternative tank models for testing from Vickers Armstrong in 6th of July 1933. The largest of these three tanks was Vickers 6-ton Tank Alt B number 546. All three tanks were delivered to Finland 2nd of October 1933 and were thoroughly tested by Finnish Army. The 6-ton tank did very well when tested against various antitank-obstacles, showed good performance in deep snow and against obstacles created from snow. The test results proved it to be obviously the most suited for Finnish use of the three tested Vickers designs. But while Vickers 6-ton Alt B was a good tank, its armament wasn’t fitting to Finnish wishes. The short-barrel 47-mm tank gun, which Vickers was offering with Mark E tanks, was reasonably effective against soft targets, but due to low muzzle velocity quite a poor weapon against other armoured vehicles or bunkers. For this reason the 47-mm tank gun was obviously unsatisfactory, especially so since the 37-mm Puteaux SA-18 (37 Psv.K/18) tank guns of Renault FT 17 tanks already in Finnish inventory had the exactly the same problem. Also other part of the Vickers-offered original armament (machinegun) was less than ideal for Finnish military due to its calibre - which would have been non-standard, as far as Finnish Army was concerned. Otherwise 6-ton tank represented a considerable improvement over old Renault FT 17, which makes an obvious point of comparison. Power to weight ratio (about 13 hp per ton) of Vickers wasn't too great, but still considerable improvement over the old Renault FT 17 tanks and maximum speed (likely the biggest handicap of FT 17) was a huge improvement. The suspension was rather simple design with double bogies and leaf springs, which worked relatively well for tank of its size. Air-cooled 90-horsepower Armstrong-Siddeley gasoline engine was fairly reliable, but bit under-powered even for tank this light and had cooling problems. But with petrol tank of 182 liters also it provided much better operational range than what Renault had offered. Average fuel consumption was about 20 liters per hour. Armour-protection-wise the two designs were about equal. Due to larger turret 6-ton tank could carry more powerful armament and thanks to crew of four the tank-commander wasn’t quite so over-burdened with other tasks than commanding the tank.

 

The Finnish order:

Finland ordered the 32 Vickers 6-ton tanks Type E Alt B 20th of July 1936. The number of tanks (32) was similar to original order of Renault FT 17 tanks and just enough for equipping a small battalion, which had two companies of 15 tanks plus 2 additional tanks in Battalion HQ. The price was agreed as 4,500 £ / 1.1-million Finnish Marks per tank. They were ordered without weaponry, optics, radio equipment, turret rotation mechanisms, tools and some even without driver’s seats. The basic idea was to equip the tanks after their arrival in Finland. The weaponry was to be manufactured locally. While the reason behind buying the tanks in such an incomplete condition was financial (saving money), when it comes to the tank main gun, this may have been only one of the causes. As mentioned the weaponry that Vickers readily offered for this tank was less than ideal for Finnish Army and if the selected 37-mm tank gun could have been acquired quickly from any other source is quite uncertain. The planned manufacturer VTT (Valtion Tykkitehdas / State Artillery Factory) had not yet even started production and only other two existing manufacturers (Bofors in Sweden and SMPzA in Poland) might have not been able to provide them fast enough either. The tank gun chosen by Finnish Army for this tank was tank-gun version of 37-mm Bofors antitank-gun. Finland acquired manufacturing licenses for Bofors gun designs in year 1937 and this included also the manufacturing license for the 37-mm antitank- and tank-guns. Finnish military knew the tank-gun as 37 Psv.K/36 (37-mm tank-gun model 1936). The chosen coaxial machinegun was a domestic design - 7.62-mm (tank) machinegun M/09-31, which was belt-fed air-cooled 7.62 mm x 54R calibre Maxim-machinegun refined by Aimo Lahti for anti-aircraft use. It was similar to M/09-31 machinegun also used in Renault FT 17 tanks of Finnish Army starting year 1937, but due to its coaxial status on left side of the main gun, had left-side ammunition feed. In addition to these Finnish Army decided to equip the tanks also with a hull weapon and in rather unusual manner chose a submachinegun as this weapon instead of machinegun. The hull submachinegun of Finnish Vickers 6-Ton tank was tank-version of 9-mm Suomi M/31 submachinegun, which had been designed especially for Vickers 6-ton tanks.

One could say that the 32 Vickers 6-ton tanks that Finland ordered represent unique interesting mix of features usually found in Vickers Alt B, Mark F prototype and possibly also Polish 7TP tanks. Belgium had ordered from Vickers Armstrong Ltd a prototype known as Mk F, which had been equipped with Rolls Royce engine. In earlier Vickers Type E Alt B tanks turret on left side of the hull. But in this version the turret was changed to right side of hull, which brought it on the same side in hull as the driver. To give the driver the necessary room Vickers modified the hull making it slightly longer. The 32 Vickers 6-ton tanks delivered to Finland had hull resembling Mark F hull - slightly longer hull with turret on right side of the hull, but with retaining original Armstrong-Siddeley engine. Also the armour protection in various parts of the hull does not seem to be exactly similar to that used in earlier Mark E tanks. Finnish-chosen main gun was 37-mm high-velocity Bofors design - basically tank-gun version of the 37 PstK/36 antitank-gun also chosen as standard issue antitank-gun for Finnish Army. Other weapons that Finland used to equip its Vickers 6-ton tanks were even more unique as tank armament. Turret has been claimed to have been Bofors design, but more likely it may have been simply earlier Vickers turret design for Type E Alt B equipped with a turret rear bustle.

PICTURE: Vickers 6-ton tank photographed during war games of summer 1939. This phograph shows the coaxial M/09-31 (tank) machinegun and temporarily installed blank-firing 37 Psv.K/18 (37-mm Puteaux) tank gun loaned from old Renault FT-17. The tank does not yet have nationality markings, but the side that it plays in war games has been marked with coloured cloth around turret. (SA-kuva photo archive, photo number 147). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (155 KB).

 

Delivery problems:

When the order of 32 tanks was made to Vickers Armstrong in July of 1936 the delivery dates were agreed as:

However as it turned out, Vickers Armstrong failed to meet this delivery schedule. The first tanks were not delivered until July of 1938 - a whole year later as originally agreed. Half of the tanks (16 vehicles) were delivered in year 1938, 10 before Winter War in year 1939 and apparently the last 6 tanks only during and after Winter War. As if this had not been enough equipping the tanks proved at least equally challenging. While order about establishing it had been issued in year 1936 VTT (Valtion Tykkitehdas / State Artillery Factory) wasn't officially opened until February of 1939. Among its first orders was a order of 33 tank guns 37 Psv.K/36 needed for equipping Vickers 6-ton tanks, but starting of the production took its time, so by the time Winter War started in 30th of November 1939, none of the tank guns had yet been manufactured. Coaxial M/09-31 (tank) machineguns and Suomi M/31 tank submachineguns were likely available in time, since they had been in production already well before the war. Radios, which had not been acquired before the war, didn’t become available later either - so during Winter War Finnish 6-ton tanks lacked radio equipment. German gun sights (Zeiss TZF) had been ordered before Winter War, but due to Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop pact Germany refused to deliver them. Due to not having suitable weaponry available, those Vickers 6-ton tanks that took part in Finnish Army war games in summer of 1939, were temporarily equipped with only M/09-31 machinegun or 37-mm Puteaux SA-18 (37 Psv.K/18) tank gun. The 37-mm Puteaux guns used in them during those war games had been loaned from Renault FT 17 tanks and attached to their turrets in somewhat improvised manner, which allowed only firing blanks with them.

So, when Finnish – Soviet Winter War started in 30th of November 1939, only 26 of the ordered 32 Vickers 6-ton tanks had arrived and none of them was combat-ready. VTT (Valtion Tykkitehdas / State Artillery Factory) received orders not only manufacture the 37 Psv.K/36 main guns, but also equip the tanks with other weapons, tools, seats and other missing items to get them combat-ready as soon as possible. But this proved slow, since these guns had not yet been manufactured and much of the equipment needed to be both designed and fabricated. According original plan, all of these tank guns should have been completed by 1st of October 1939, but by end of December 1939 VTT succeeded manufacturing only ten of them. While VTT ultimately manufactured all 33 tank guns, it seems likely that all of them were even ever installed to tanks, for which they had been intended, before decision was made to equip Vickers 6-ton tanks with captured 45-mm Soviet tank guns. Since they were not needed in tanks later during Continuation War remaining 37 Psv.K/36 tank guns were used to equip Finnish-modified captured BT-2 tank turrets, which were installed to Salpa fortification line in year 1944.

Deliveries of equipped Vickers 6-ton tanks from VTT to Tank Battalion by end of Winter War:

Date:

how many:

14th of December 1939

1

6th of January 1940

6

12th of January 1940

1

8th of February 1940

10

total:

18

Note: 16 of the 18 tanks delivered that far were issued to 4th Company of Tank Battalion 23rd of February 1940. The two remaining combat ready tanks were issued to 3rd Company of Tank Battalion.

 

Vickers 6 Ton tank in Finnish style:

The tank commander would serve also either as a gunner or a loader, who were both sitting inside the turret. The loader sitting on right side of the turret took care of loading both 37-mm main gun and its coaxial 7.62-mm machinegun. The gunner, who was sitting in left side of the turret, was shooting with both 37-mm main gun and its 7.62-mm coaxial machinegun. For this purpose the gunner had a simple (likely British-made) straight through telescopic gun sight with simple crosshair reticle located in between he machinegun and main gun, plus a pedal for firing either of these two weapons. Changing elevation of the main gun changed height of this sight, forcing the gunner to move his head with it - sometimes resulting him ending up in far less than ideal position. The loader had easy access to eight 37-mm gun shells and nine machinegun belt-boxes, which all were located in small ammunition rack in rear of the turret. Rest of the main gun and machinegun ammunition was located to larger ammunition rack, which was in right rear corner of the combat department. The driver was sitting in right side of the front hull had his own optical equipment - "triplex" and obviously took care of driving the tank. The submachinegun-gunner was sitting in left side of the front hull and took care of shooting with hull submachinegun, which was also equipped with simple (probably British-made) optical sight. Other equipment allowing tank crew to see outside were two periscopes with 2X magnification placed on turret and five prisms. The periscopes rotated with the turret, which made them less than ideal. While the Soviet test report notes visibility of the tank crew hatch closed to outside world somewhat superior to that of Soviet T-26, the main sight used for 37-mm tank gun and coaxial machinegun was quite unsatisfactory with its small field of vision and inability for estimating distances.

Both hull and turret of the Vickers 6-ton tank were riveted steel. The Bofors-designed tank turret used in 32 tanks delivered to Finland had inside diameter of 132-cm and inside of a turret had been upholstered with sponge covered with leather - presumably to reduce damage caused by ricochets in case the turret would be hit and its armour pierced. As mentioned the main gun was 37 Psv.K/36 tank gun (37 mm Bofors tank gun with L/45 barrel) manufactured by Valtion Tykkitehdas (State Artillery Factory) in city of Jyväskylä. This tank gun was quite up to date during Winter War and was perfectly capable tank gun against Soviet tanks of that time, but somewhat handicapped by poor gun sight, other optics and less than ideal main weapons aiming system. The coaxial 7.62-mm (tank) machinegun M/09-31, was basically a air-cooled Maxim machinegun with increased rate of fire and therefore could have been a reliable weapon, but was handicapped in this regard by the over-complicated feed system. This feed system fed the 250-round disintegrating steel ammunition belts to the machinegun ammunition feed from belt box placed in a holder attached to right interior wall of the turret via groove on interior roof of the turret. In addition to this, the coaxial machinegun also shared the same gun sight as 37-mm main gun and because of this suffered from its limitations - although using tracers might have reduced this problem as a smaller nuisance. Surprisingly the hull-submachinegun might have been most successful part of the weaponry used in Finnish Vickers 6-ton tank. Apparently the simple optical sight worked quite well with its limited envelope of engagement - proving quite satisfactory within its limited effective range. With its normal 70-round drum magazines tank-version of Suomi M/31 submachinegun proved its excellent reliability also in this role.

 

4th Tank Company - Vickers 6-ton tanks go to war:

When they finally had started arriving in year 1938, the still unarmed Vickers 6-ton tanks had been issued as training vehicles to Panssaripataljoona (Tank Battalion). By year 1939 two of them had also been issued as training vehicles to Erillinen Panssarieskadroona (Separate Armoured Squadron) of Ratsuväkiprikaati (Cavalry Brigade). As mentioned while some were temporarily equipped with weapons for war games of summer 1939, for all practical purposes all the delivered Vickers 6-ton tanks delivered to Finland were still unarmed when Winter War started in November of 1939.

As part of Finnish mobilisation also one and only Panssaripataljoona (Tank Battalion) of Finnish Army was ordered to be mobilised in 8th of October 1939. As grand majority of Finnish Army also Tank Battalion relied heavily to earlier trained reservists, which called to active military service in mobilisation. Since the Finnish armoured unit had earlier produced rather large number of trained men to reserve and large man-pool had been reserved for it, the Tank Battalion now found itself with far more reservists, than it needed. The battalion formed five companies, from which 1st and 2nd companies were equipped with obsolete Renault FT 17 tanks, 3rd and 4th Companies were equipped with modern but unarmed Vickers 6-ton tanks. The 5th company didn't have tanks and was used as a reserve of trained personnel, which was reserved for later used of replacing losses.

4th Tank Company of Tank Battalion was formed 12th of October 1939 in Vuorela elementary school in Hämeenlinna. Its company commander was Lieutenant Oiva Heinonen (later sirname: Horte). Platoon leaders were:

Rank and file soldiers of the company had received their pre-war training with Renault FT 17 tanks, but for some reason this particular company was selected as the first unit to be supplied with Vickers tanks, which VTT (State Artillery Factory) to its best was trying to equip combat-ready during the war. With the first equipped Vickers 6-ton tank arriving from VTT in mid December and six more arriving 6th of January the company had quite limited amount of time to get used for using weapons of these tanks, before the company was sent to war. Practical combat training for tank platoons and companies was also started just in February. The driver training with unarmed Vickers tanks had obviously started already earlier. The company was officially equipped with 16 of Vickers 6-ton tanks in 23rd of February 1940 and received transfer order to the front that same day. However, the company didn't get to take all those 16 tanks to war.

When the company headed to the front it had only 13 tanks with it. Likely reason for not leaving to war with less than full strength was due to engine troubles. Listing of 4th Company tanks 10th of February lists four of them with broken engines. However there is also a possibility that some of the battle-ready tanks may have been left behind for the 3rd Company, which was the next in line to be equipped with them, but by end of the war did not received many enough to be send to front. Other vehicles issued to 4th Company included 5 motorcycles, 2 passenger cars and 12 trucks. The company was loaded into train in Hämeenlinna and disembarked in Hovinmaa railway station (about 12-km northwest of Viipuri in Karelian Isthmus) the next day. It was placed under command of II Army Corps and ordered to accommodate in Markovilla facility. Finnish Army was living desperate times. The Soviets had achieved a breakthrough through Finnish defences in Mannerheim-line about two weeks earlier and Finnish troops had retreated to next defence line. That next line, V-line (Välilinja aka Middle-line) was basically just a line drawn in map without any real existing fortifications, so keeping it proved very difficult. In Honkaniemi area Soviet troops had recently succeeded pushing forward creating a near breakthrough and 25th of February 4th Company received its orders to lead the counter-attack there. This attack launched the following day proved to be only tank operation of any real size for Finnish Army in Winter War - and a costly disaster.

The first problems appeared even before starting of the battle. Due to engine trouble caused by water in the gasoline and frozen fuel lines only 8 of the 13 tanks even succeeded getting to battlefield. Once they got there, one of them got stuck in a tree trunk and had to be abandoned, leaving only 7 tanks to take part in attack. The attack schedule did not hold and artillery preparation hit also positions of own infantry. Once the 7 remaining tanks started their attack the infantry unaccustomed to tank support failed to follow the tanks and was soon pinned down. After that the tanks were fighting alone. Intelligence failed that day also. The Soviets had been preparing their own attack, which was about to start later that day, so now the few Finnish tanks found themselves fighting masses of Soviet infantry, direct fire guns and tanks of Soviet 35th Light Tank Brigade. Ultimately grand majority of Finnish tanks that entered to this battle were damaged. Four of them were hit and their crews had to abandon them. Those four tanks lost in battle and left behind included R-648, R-667 and R-670. The fourth tank abandoned due to battle damage was R-655, which was hit in the engine compartment and turret, it was later salvaged from the battlefield, but never repaired. The tank that got stuck to a tree trunk and had to be abandoned due to Soviet infantry getting too close to it was R-668. While also R-664 was damaged, it succeeded returning back to own lines after suffering a hit, which jammed the turret. At least one Soviet tank was reported knocked out in this battle. After the battle Finnish troops used R-667 as a pillbox and succeeded knocking out two additional Soviet tanks with its weapons.

PICTURE: Another view of only still remaining Finnish Army Vickers 6-ton tank. Notice 37 Psv.K/36 main gun and the armoured cover for coaxial M/0931 machinegun. Also notice location of firing port for hull submachinegun in front hull. (Photo taken in Panssarimuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (177 KB).

After Honkaniemi battle 4th Company fought two smaller battles, in which it lost three more tanks. The company was placed under command of Infantry Regiment 68 and received antitank-mission in Rautlampi area. 29th of February 1940 1st Platoon of the company equipped with was near Vääräkoski crossroads. Around 9 AM that day it was attacked by T-28 tanks of Soviet 20th Heavy Tank Brigade, the battle ended with several of the Soviet tanks hit, but resulted only one of the them knocked out. Late that same day 1st Platoon succeeded knocking out another Soviet tank, but this provided the Company little solace considering the losses that 2nd Platoon suffered that day. Around 2 PM the Soviet infantry supported by tanks attacked from direction of Ahola towards Pero nail factory. 2nd Platoon equipped with two Vickers tanks was in the area and covered retreat of own infantry before following the retreating infantry. During this retreat tanks of the 2nd Platoon suddenly run into Soviet tanks and in the resulting battle lost both of its Vickers tanks. The first tank lost in this battle was R-672, which lost its track in worst possible moment. When this happened R-672 was under fire of several Soviet tanks and loosing of the track left it to in a tilted position, from which it was unable to return fire. Crew of R-672 abandoned their vehicle and continued to fight as infantry support for the remaining tank. The remaining tank was R-666, which fought an uneven battle against six Soviet tanks (one of them T-28) and succeeded knocking out two of them before being destroyed. 1st of March the company was placed under command of 4th Division and received orders for moving to city of Viipuri, where it served as antitank-reserve of the division. 6th of March one of its tanks, R-664, was ordered to support a small counter-attack. During this counter-attack R-664 got stock on a rock only 75 meters from trenches of Soviet infantry. After the tank crew helped by infantry had failed getting it moving and two Soviet tanks had shot it in the engine compartment, the tank crew had no other alternative than demolish the tank and abandon it. Only seven days later Winter War ended and the remaining tanks of 4th Company started their long march towards the new Finnish - Soviet border.

4th Company was the only unit of Finnish Army to use Vickers 6-ton tanks in battle during Winter War and suffered heavy losses during it. From its original 13 tanks the company lost 7 or 8 - depending if R-655, which was salvaged but never repaired, is included. The official list of material losses of 4th Company dated 21st of March 1940 lists the complete losses as eight tanks, so it seems to have been considered lost even if salvaged. In addition to Vickers 6-ton tanks, the company lost also three trucks and one motorcycle. In addition to materials, the company paid also heavy price in flesh and blood in these battles. Losses suffered by its tank crews were one killed in action, ten wounded in action (six of them gravely) and eight missing.

The experiences gathered about Vickers 6-ton tank during these battles were not too positive. The reliability of their engines in cold winter conditions had proved less than ideal, with starting problems being common. Also the main sight used with main gun and coaxial machinegun had proved problematic and effectiveness of their 37-mm tank gun against T-28 tanks questionable. It has to be noted, that the poor reliability of their engines was likely at least partly due to poor storage of their fuel and raises question if the basic wintertime precautions earlier learned with Renault FT 17 tanks (such as adding paraffin to gasoline) had been neglected.

Ammunition spending of 4th Company/Tank Battalion in Winter War:

Ammunition type:

for which weapon:

# of rounds:

37 mm x 257R APHE-round

37 Psv.K/36 main gun

193

37 mm x 257R HE-round

37 Psv.K/36 main gun

258

7.62 mm x 54R cartridge

7.62 coaxial machinegun M/09-31

27250

9 mm x 19 Parabellum cartridge

9 mm Suomi M/31 submachinegun

13020

(Note: Likely includes also ammunition lost with the tanks, not just the ammunition fired).

When Vickers 6-ton tanks were acquired Finnish Army was using R-numbers for identifying individual armoured vehicles. The first tank of this type acquired for tests had Vickers Armstrong serial number VAE 546 and Finnish Army marked it as R-546. The later 32 tanks were marked with numbers running from R-646 to R-677. After Winter War a decision was made to modify remaining Vickers 6-ton tanks by equipping their turrets with captured Soviet weapons and optical equipment - the resulting tank was named T-26E. Before starting of Finnish - Soviet Continuation War in June of 1941, all Vickers 6-ton tanks remaining in Finnish use had been modified in this way. Only one Vickers 6-ton tank with somewhat the equipment as used during Winter War remains in Finnish museums nowadays - Ps.161-7 in collections of The Armour Museum in Parola.

 

 

T-26E

PICTURE: Side profile of T-26E in Tank Museum. Notice 45-mm tank gun. T-26E can be easily seperated from Soviet-build T-26 tanks by comparing turret shape. (Photo taken in Panssarimuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (144 KB).

Weight:

8.8 tons

Length:

4.54 meters

Width:

2.40 meters

Height:

2.10 meters

Max. Speed:

31 - 35 km/h

Engine:

92 hp Armstrong-Siddeley Puma 4-cylinder gasoline engine

Armour:

5 - 17.5 mm

- Hull front and sides

17.5 mm (upper part) / 10 mm (lower part)

- Hull sides

17.5 mm (upper side of combat compartment) / 10 mm (lower part)

- Hull top and floor

5 mm

- Hull rear

10 mm

- Turret front and sides

13.6 mm

Ground Clearance:

37.5 cm

Ground Pressure:

0.48 kg/square cm

Gradient:

39 degrees

Trench:

1.9 m

Fording:

0.9 m

Range:

165 km on road, 91 km off-road

Weapons:

45 mm Soviet (L/45) tank gun (? rounds) (*)

7.62 mm DT coaxial machinegun (2,520 rounds) (**)

9 mm Suomi M/31 hull submachinegun (1,444 rounds)

Crew:

4 men

Country of Origin:

Great Britain

Production:

Finnish-modified Vickers 6-ton Tank

(*) Finnish tank gun inventory lists three models of captured Soviet 45-mm tank guns. From these three tank gun models M/34 gun was apparently most commonly used for equipping T-26E tanks, but at least some T-26E were equipped with M/32 tank gun.

(**) 42 magazines, each containing 60 rounds.

Finnish use: After Winter War the 26 Vickers 6-ton tanks that had survived the war had their optics and turret armament replaced with captured equipment. Their turret armament was replaced with 45-mm Soviet tank guns and coaxial DT-machineguns. This modification work was completed before start of Continuation War in June of 1941, where they saw combat use with Tank Battalion/Tank Brigade. Some were also later used in Lapland war.

During Winter War (Nov 1939 - March 1940) Finnish Army captured hundreds of Soviet armoured vehicles. The grand majority of these captured vehicles were damaged, but many of them could still be repaired and issued to Finnish units. Even those captured armoured vehicles that were too severely damaged for repairing them to be reasonable, could still be use as source of weapons and parts. During Winter War more and the months following it more of the captured Soviet tanks repaired and repainted with Finnish insignia rolled out of Panssarikeskuskorjaamo (Armour Centre Repair Shop) in Varkaus. In a few months the captured Soviet-manufactured T-26 tanks (based to Vickers 6-ton tank, whose manufacturing license the Soviets had acquired) surpassed the number of Vickers 6-ton tanks in Finnish use. Around that time decision was made also to replace turret armament of Vickers 6-ton tanks with Soviet 45-mm tank guns and 7.62-mm DT-machineguns, from the Winter War era armament of these tanks only the 9-mm Suomi hull submachinegun was retained. Besides armament also optical equipment previously used in Vickers 6-ton tanks were replaced with captured Soviet equipment. Finnish Army named the resulting tank as T-26E, a name in which the "E" came from "englantilainen" (English/British). By start of Continuation War in June of 1941 all remaining 26 operational Vickers 6-ton tanks of Finnish Army had been modified as T-26E tanks. This included even the Vickers 6-ton tank prototype acquired for tests in year 1933, although it remained bit different from other T-26 tanks due to different turret structurein and for lacking the hull-submachinegun.

Equipping these tanks with Soviet 45-mm tank guns might seem unusual, since PstK/36 antitank-guns using same ammunition as 37 Psv.K/36 tank gun now getting replaced, was still manufactured under license in Finland until 1941. The reason behind the decision was simplifying ammunition supply of Panssaripataljoona (Tank Battalion), but at the same time it allowed replacing of unreliable coaxial M/09-31 (tank) machinegun with far more reliable DT-machinegun and getting rid of previous main sight and periscopes, which had proved problematic during Winter War. While the Soviet optical equipment was far from ideal, they were still better than the ones they now replaced. Shortly said, while the Soviet optics offered the tank crew slightly poorer visibility outside the tank, they offered better tools for estimating the range to target and hitting it. Also, it should be noted that while Vickers 6-ton tanks had apparently been equipped with two periscopes, the grand majority of T-26E had just one periscope and some had none. According inventory listing made 17th of June 1941 from 26 tanks used at that time 23 tanks had one captured periscope and 3 tanks (R-546, R-656 and R-657) had no periscope at all (however this may have changed before starting of Continuation War, since slightly later photo of R-546 shows it with two periscopes).

PICTURE: Front view of T-26E in Maneesi of Military Museum. Notice coaxial DT-machinegun partially peaking behind raised drivers hatch. This photo gives pretty good idea about location of the driver and also tank commander has used his hatch. (Photo taken in Maneesi of Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (82 KB).

45-mm Soviet tank guns used to equip T-26E tanks were represented more than one model of this gun. Apparently 45 Psv.K/34 (model 1934) version of this tank guns was most commonly used in T-26E, but also 45 Psv.K/32 (model 1932) was common with them. Some T-26E tanks may have also been equipped with most modern version of these tank guns - 45 Psv.K/38 (model 1938) version, but evidence suggests that if this happened, it must have been very rare. Armour-piercing capability wise there was little difference between 37 Psv.K/36 (Bofors) tank guns and captured 45-mm Soviet tank guns, which replaced them. However, when it came to high-explosive shells used in these guns, there is a notable difference. The HE-shells used with Soviet 45-mm tank guns weight about three times as much as the ones used in 37 Psv.K/36 and due to much larger explosive charge and amount of steel to fragment were far more lethal.

Comparison between high explosive shells of the two tank guns:

Tank:

Tank gun:

Weight of HE-shell:

Vickers 6-ton tank

37 Psv.K/36

575 - 600 grams

T-26E

45 Psv.K

1780 - 1870 grams

(Notice: Weights of high explosive shells without fuse.)

Ammunition was still apparently storage in the same areas inside the tank, with part of the ammunition placed on turret rear bustle for easy access to crew member taking care loading of the main gun. The exact ammunition load usually used is not known. But according Reino Lehväslaiho's books even if we would know the number of shells fitting to its ammunition racks, this number could be considered quite theoretical. This is because he mentions more than once, that when needed, Finnish tank crews simply piled ammunition boxes on the floor of the combat compartment to take more ammunition into battle with them. The crew of T-26 remained similar to Vickers 6-ton tank. The four crew members included:

Usually tank commander acted as a loader, but apparently acting as a gunner wasn't completely unheard either. In those T-26E tanks, which had one periscope, it seems to be on loader's position (on right side of turret), which suggests that part of the loader's duties was spotting targets for the gunner. During Continuation War apparently some of the T-26E tanks were also equipped with radios, which seem to have been captured Soviet 71-TK-1 and 71-TK-3 tank radios. Year 1941 these captured radios were in widely issued for captured T-26 tanks, but don't seem to have been used in T-26E tanks at that time. This wasn't a great loss, since the particular radios also proved so unreliable, that for all practical purposes Finnish T-26 tanks at that time didn't have a properly functioning radio equipment. The only exception might have been some of these radios perhaps later (circa 1943 - 1944) equipped with Finnish made receivers. When used these radios were equipped with whip antennas, which can sometimes be seen in period photos. Some sources suggest that tanks issued to platoon and company commanders towards end of Continuation War had better radio equipment - likely 71-TK-1 and 71-TK-3 radios with Finnish-made receivers.

When Continuation War started in June of 1941 and only Panssaripataljoona (Tank Battalion) of Finnish Army was using T-26E along captured Soviet T-26 tanks as its standard tanks. While Tank Battalion was enlarged as Tank Brigade (Panssariprikaati) in year 1942, T-26E and captured T-26 tanks remained as the principal tank type in its use until end of Continuation War. Even if these tank types were officially declared obsolete in 7th of July 1944, a tank company equipped with various T-26 tank versions still was sent to first Finnish offensive of Lapland War and these tanks saw combat use in it. T-26E were apparently used in same companies with captured T-26 tanks, but there is some evidence suggesting that they were usually concentrated to particular platoons of each tank company. Summer of year 1944 T-26 tanks were issued to 1st, 4th and 5th Companies of Tank Brigade (of Armour Division). Combat use obviously resulted combat losses, but still the number of T-26E tanks lost in combat as complete losses was surprisingly small. Two T-26E tanks were removed from inventory in year 1941 and two more in year 1942. Before Soviet offensive of summer 1944 still 22 of T-26E tanks remained in Finnish inventory and only three were written off from inventory after battles of that year.

PICTURE: Rear view of T-26E in Tank Museum. Notice location of turret on right side of hull, engine grill, air intake and turret shape. The groove on turret was a design feature intended for venting propellant gasses out from turret. While the periscopes are missing, the places where they used to be can still be seen. The hole in rear bumper is for a starting the motor manually, if needed. (Photo taken in Panssarimuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (159 KB).

After World War 2 remaining 19 T-26E tanks kept serving with Finnish Army and the last one of these tanks wasn't removed from inventory until year 1960. One might ask, why Finnish Army kept using T-26 tanks so long. The reason wasn't that the Finnish military would have not been aware of their limitations and how outdated they were. Already year 1941 Ratsumestari (Captain of cavalry) Lunkinen had written a less than favourable report based to experiences gathered about T-26 tanks that far and sent it to commander of Tank Battalion. He noted that these tanks were unsuitable for areas with dense vegetation (most of Finland in summer) unless their optical equipment was replaced and especially the driver had visibility to area much too small. He suggested adding more optical equipment for gaining wider visibility and criticised the mechanical reliability of these tanks in cold winter weather. In addition he noted that the armour protection was too much too weak. For obvious reasons (the resources for improving or replacing the tanks didn't exist) the report didn't lead into any measures. While these tanks had become outdated already during the war, Finnish Army still found them good use after it, since using tanks like T-26E in driver training allowed saving more modern tanks and assault guns remaining in Finnish inventory and helped keeping them in operational condition. Nowadays two T-26E tanks can be found in exhibitions of Finnish museums - Ps.161-6 in Maneesi of Sotamuseo in Suomenlinna (Helsinki) and Ps.161-9 in collections of The Armour Museum in Parola.

When Vickers 6-ton tanks were modified as T-26E, this did not change the R-number used by Finnish Army to identify individual armoured vehicle. The same old numbers were retained and apparently remained in use even after new Ps-number intended to replace R-number system had been in introduced in year 1943. The Ps-number system gave all T-26E tanks Ps-numbers starting with Ps.161, but evidence suggests that these didn't in practice completely replace earlier R-numbers in use.

It must be noted that if tank crew of T-26E tank left its tank and had time to take its weapons with them, they were quite well armed tank crew by World War 2 era standard. Each crew member carried a pistol; the tank equipment contained usual Suomi M/31 submachinegun and number of hand grenades. In addition both hull submachinegun (tank-version of Suomi M/31) and coaxial DT-machinegun could be quite easily removed for use outside the vehicle. Hence the four man crew could take with them DT light machinegun, two Suomi M/31 submachineguns, four pistols and several hand grenades.

 


SOURCES:

Kapteeni P. Hovilainen: Tankkirykmentistä Panssaripataljoonaan 1919 – 1949.

Pekka Kantakoski: Suomalaiset Panssarivaunujoukot 1919 – 1969.

Pekka Kantakoski: Punaiset Panssarit, Puna-armeijan panssarijoukot 1918 – 1945.

Pekka Kantakoski: Panssarimuseo.

Esa Muikku ja Jukka Purhonen: Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut 1918 – 1997, The Finnish Armoured Vehicles 1918 - 1997.

Laguksen miehet, Marskin nyrkki by Erkki Käkelä.

Panssarimuseo leaflet.

Tanks in the Winter War 1939 - 1940 by Maksym Kolomyjec.

Panzerbuch der Tanks, Parts 1 – 3 by Fritz von Heigl

Heigl’s Panzerbuck der tanks, Parts 1 – 3 by O.H. Hacker, R.J. Icks, O. Merker and G.P.v. Zezchwitz.

The Tank Pioneers by Kenneth Macksey

Mechanised Force, British tanks between the wars by David Fletcher

Russian Tanks 1900 – 1970 by John Milsom

Reino Lehväslaiho: Panssarisotaa.

Reino Lehväslaiho: Sotkalla sodassa.

Article: Vickers by Kari Kuusela in Ase magazine vol. 1/88.

Military manual: T-26 psv, Aseet ja optiset välineet by Puolustusvoimien Pääesikunta Taisteluvälineosasto (published 1952).

Military manual: Jalkaväen Ampumatarvikkeet I by Puolustusvoimien Pääesikunta Taisteluvälineosasto (printed 1941, updated until September 1944).

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder T10909.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder T10910.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder T10911.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder T10929/20.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder perus 6303.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder perus 6336.

Special thanks to Panssarimuseo (Finnish Armour Museum), Parola.

Special thanks to Sotamuseo (Finnish Military Museum), Helsinki.

The PIBWL military site More info about Vickers 6-ton tanks.

 


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