ARMOURED VEHICLES PART 6

 

 

FLAME TANKS

 

 

Flame tank is a tank equipped with a flame-thrower. While both tank and flame-thrower saw first combat use during World War 1, flame tanks were didn't become common until during World War 2. Some countries started developing and building them already before World War 2 and this included also Soviet Union. In 1930's the Soviets developed series of flame tanks based to T-26 light tanks. During Winter War (1939 - 1940) and Continuation War (1941 - 1944) Finnish Army captured number of these tanks and issued some of them for its own troops. From Soviet flame tanks captured during Winter War Finnish Army re-issued four OT-130 tanks and two OT-26 tanks. Like with other tanks, also these captured flame tanks were issued to Tank Battalion (Panssaripataljoona), which at that time was only Finnish tank unit of any real size. Already before starting of Continuation War in June of 1941 Tank Battalion reserved these tanks to its sub-unit created specifically for operating these captured flame tanks - Flame-thrower Tank Platoon (Liekinheitinpanssarijoukkue).

Flame-thrower Tank Platoon (Liekinheitinpanssarijoukkue) of Tank Battalion was mobilised 18th of June 1941 in Luolaja people's hall (Luolajan työväentalo) in town of Hämeenlinna. The platoon was commanded by Lieutenant Sikkola and contained seven non-commissioned officers and eleven men, which were reservists. The platoon received four more men in next few days bringing the strength up to one officer, eight non-commissioned officers and 14 men - total 23 men. When mobilised the platoon was equipped with four OT-130 flame tanks, which had been captured during Winter War 3rd of July the unit was transported by train from Hämeenlinna to Lappeenranta. It was placed subordinate to 12th Division in 9th of July and this division subordinated it to Battalion Gripenberg. While rest of the Tank Battalion was transferred from Karelian Isthmus to north-east side of Lake Ladoga in end of July 1941, the Flame-thrower Platoon remained with 12th Division in Karelian Isthmus. This division started its attack 21s of August, but since enemy was retreating in this area there were little fighting early on. 23rd of August when the flame tanks were advancing bit south of Ihantala one of them was hit and required repairs. The first real battle of the platoon happened 26th of August when it was near Kämärä railway station. For this battle two of the flame tanks carried antitank-rifles on their deck for extra firepower. By this time the platoon had suffered just normal technical difficulties like track falling off, minor beginning of engine fire, broken magneto etc, but from that on the platoon started suffer also combat losses. The unit arrived to Uusikirkko 30th of August and continued from there fighting to Terijoki and from there to Rajajoki river, where it arrived two days later. During these battles 31st of August Lieutenant Sirkkola and three men were wounded. 2nd of September the platoon finally had time for repairs and rest. 5th of September the unit was called to destroy Soviets, which were breaking out of pocket, to which they had been surrounded in Kuokkala area. 2nd of October the platoon was again called to take part in mopping up operation against remnants of destroyed Soviet units now trying to reach their own lines. After this last battle during which the platoon was subordinate to Infantry Regiment 46, was also the last battle in which it took part. 30th of September 1941 tank R-67, which was in such a poor shape, that it was no good for combat was sent to Varkaus for repairs. 20th - 20th of October also three remaining tanks were transferred by rail from Raivola to Varkaus, where they received the extensive repairs required by wear and tear suffered during several months of combat use. After repairs had been completed the platoon were sent to Äänislinna (Petrozavodsk) in 14th of January 1942. After its arrival the unit did usual repair and guard duty until disbanded 30th of January 1942. Soldiers who had served in Flame-thrower Tank Platoon were used as skeleton crew for creating new 4th Tank Company to Tank Battalion.

PICTURE: OT-130 flame tank belonging to collection of Kubinka Tank Museum. Notice that this individual tank was not one of the tanks captured by Finnish Army. Period photos suggest that unlike this Soviet-used tank, OT-130 tanks used by Flame-thrower Tank Platoon were painted green. (Photo taken in Kubinka Tank Museum). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (134 KB).

While Flame-thrower Platoon was the main unit of Finnish Army to operate these tanks, additional three captured OT-133 flame tanks (with tank registry numbers R-93, R-94 and R-95) were to issued to Tank Companies of Tank Battalion in early August 1941. These three OT-133 tanks had been captured in area of 1st Division in July of 1941. It seems likely that these three flame tanks saw combat use with Tank Battalion during the next few months, during which Tank Battalion lead the attack first to River Syväri / Svir and from there to city of Äänislinna / Petrozavodsk.

It might be worth noting, that practical considerations have forced me to use the naming system that is now in this page, even if this wasn't exactly what neither Soviet Red Army or Finnish Army used during World War 2. The Soviet "OT" (Ognemetniy Tank = Flame-throwing Tank) abbreviation is supposedly post-war (but mentioned in war-time Finnish documents), while during the war they used to call these tanks "KhT" (Khimicheskiy Tank = Chemical Tank). Finnish Army on the other hand apparently simply called both OT-130 and OT-133 flame tanks T-26 HT 130. Sometimes Finnish wartime documents refer all three models of these flame tanks simply as T-26 LH (LH = liekinheitin = flame-thrower). So for all practical purposes Finnish wartime naming system did not allow separating one model of these tanks from another. Hence I decided to go with the Soviet post-war naming system, since it is most commonly used in these days.

 

OT-130

(KhT-130)

PICTURE: Knocked out Soviet OT-130 flame tank. The another knocked out tank on the background is Soviet BT-5. (Photo source Pala Suomen Historiaa website) Notice "bulges" on top of the hull next to turret - they are tops of flame-thrower fuel tanks. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (77 KB).

Weight:

10 tons

Length:

4.65 meters

Width:

2.44 meters

Height:

2.08 meters

Max. Speed:

35 km/h on road / 15 km/h off-road

Engine:

90 hp GAZ T-26 4-cylinder gasoline engine

Armour:

6 - 15 mm

- Hull front and sides

15 mm

- Turret front

15 mm

- Turret sides

15 mm

- Hull deck

10 mm

- Turret top

10 mm

Ground Clearance:

38.0 cm

Ground Pressure:

0.61 kg/square cm

Gradient:

40 degrees

Trench:

2.0 m

Fording:

0.8 m

Range:

170 km on road / 110 km off-road

Weapons:

Flame-thrower KS-25

7.62 mm DT coaxial machinegun (3,150 rounds)

(7.62 mm DT turret rear machinegun)

Crew:

3 men

Country of Origin:

Soviet Union

Production:

1936 - 1939, total 401 manufactured

(*) Not used in all of OT-130 flame tanks manufactured. Everything suggests that all OT-133 flame tanks issued for Flame-thrower Tank Platoon lacked rear turret machinegun.

Finnish use: Finnish Army captured several OT-130 flame tanks during Winter War (1939 - 1940) and early Continuation War (1941 - 1944). Three of these captured tanks were re-issued to Flame-thrower Platoon of Tank Battalion, which used them in combat in year 1941. Later they were converted to T-26B tanks.

This was the second mass-produced version of Soviet flame tanks based to T-26 tanks. Unlike earlier OT-26 (KhT-26), it had single large turret, which was similar to one used in T-26 model 1933 tanks. Basically one could say that OT-133 was a variation of T-26 model 1933 tank, in which the 45-mm tank gun had been replaced with flame-thrower and third crewmember with flame-thrower fuel tanks. The earlier KS-24 flame-thrower used in OT-26 flame tank had also been replaced with new more powerful KS-25 flame-thrower. All armament was placed in tank turret and besides flame-thrower included also coaxial DT-machinegun. Some of these tanks had also another DT-machinegun used as turret rear machinegun, but not all. This was the most common T-26 based flame tank in Soviet use. OT-130 was manufactured in 1936 - 1939 with total production of 401 tanks. KS-25 flame-thrower used in OT-130 was capable firing about 31 short (1-second) bursts of flame, until its fuel tanks and tanks of pressured air used for providing working pressure to flame-thrower, needed to be re-filled. Thanks to higher working pressure than with its predecessor, KS-25 flame-thrower had longer maximum range - about 45 meters. This tank had crew of three men - tank commander, flame-thrower operator/machinegunner and driver. Since fuel tanks took much of the room in left side of the combat department inside the tank, there must have been very little extra space for the crew inside the tank. Since flame-thrower didn't require reloading during battle, at least in theory tank commander could concentrate in commanding the tank, but was rather poorly equipped for this task. OT-130 flame tanks didn't usually have radios of any kind, but apparently some had Soviet interphone system.

Finnish Army captured several OT-130 flame tanks during Winter War (1939 - 1940) and during the first year of Continuation War (1941 - 1944). Four of these were taken to Finnish use and issued to Panssaripataljoona (Tank Battalion). They were all issued to Liekinheitinjoukkue (Flame-thrower Platoon) of Tank Battalion. OT-130 issued to this platoon had been given Finnish armoured registry numbers R-56, R-67, R-70 and R-74. With this platoon the four OT-130 flame tanks saw combat use in July - October 1941. After the platoon has been disbanded in end of January 1942, these flame tanks remained with Tank Battalion, until they were presumably converted as T-26B gun-tanks in 1942 - 1943.

 

OT-133

(KhT-133)

PICTURE: Advancing Finnish troops pass knocked out Soviet OT-133 flame tank sometime in year 1941. Notice rear turret machinegun and typical Soviet flame tank markings (0 in a box on side of the turret) in this particular tank. (Photo property of Jaeger Platoon Website). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (71 KB).

Weight:

10.5 tons

Length:

4.65 meters

Width:

2.44 meters

Height:

2.08 meters

Max. Speed:

35 km/h on road / 15 km/h off-road

Engine:

90 hp GAZ T-26 4-cylinder gasoline engine

Armour:

6 - 15 mm

- Hull front and sides

15 mm

- Turret front

15 mm

- Turret sides

15 mm

- Hull deck

10 mm

- Turret top

10 mm

Ground Clearance:

38.0 cm

Ground Pressure:

0.61 kg/square cm

Gradient:

40 degrees

Trench:

2.0 m

Fording:

0.8 m

Range:

170 km on road / 110 km off-road

Weapons:

Flame-thrower KS-25

7.62 mm DT coaxial machinegun (3,150 rounds)

(7.62 mm DT turret rear machinegun)

Crew:

3 men

Country of Origin:

Soviet Union

Production:

1939 - 1940, total 269 manufactured

Finnish use: Number of OT-133 flame tanks were captured by Finnish Army during early Continuation War (1941 - 1944). Tank Battalion of Finnish Army re-issued three of them in August of 1941 and apparently they saw combat use after that. Later they were converted to T-26C tanks.

This was the third production variant of Soviet flame tanks build in T-26 tanks. Just like earlier versions it was based to new manufacturing variant of T-26. This variant to which it was based was T-26 tank model 1938. The manufacturing of OT-133 was rather short-lived, since it was manufactured only 1939 - 1940. Total number of OT-133 flame tanks manufactured during those two years was 269. Large number (estimated as about 100 tanks) of OT-133 flame tanks manufactured during Winter War were equipped with additional armour to boost up their armour protection, which had proved less than enough during the war. Like OT-130 also this tank had all its armament in turret - KS-25 flame-thrower as main weapon, coaxial 7.62-mm DT-machinegun in its right side and another similar machinegun in rear turret. These tanks didn't usually have any radio, but at least some may have had interphone. Two main fuel tanks (with capacity of 200 litres each) were in combat department inside the tank along with 4 tanks containing pressurised air used for providing operating pressure for the flame-thrower. Flame-thrower fuel was mix of gasoline and diesel. Turret of the tank contained separate smaller (5 - 6 litre) gas tank and its tank of pressurised air - which were used for igniting the flame-thrower, which was lighted with electric spark.

OT-133 wasn't the last of Soviet flame tanks based to T-26 tank series, but it was the last mass-produced version. After it the Soviets still come up with OT-134 flame tank, which had the usual 45-mm tank gun in turret and flame-thrower placed in front hull, but only two prototypes of that tank were ever manufactured.

Finnish Army captured number of OT-133 flame tanks during World War 2. Three of these flame tanks had been captured in area of 1st Division in July of 1941 and were re-issued by Tank Battalion in early August 1941. Tank Battalion issued these OT-133 flame tanks to its Tank Companies - 1st Tank Company was issued with one OT-133, while 2nd Tank Company received two. One might wonder why these flame tanks were not issued to Flame-thrower Tank Platoon as the OT-130 had previously been. This would not have been practical. When this happened Tank Battalion was located in Tuullos and its Flame-thrower Platoon was all the way on the other side of Lake Laatokka / Ladoga in Karelian Isthmus. At the same time Flame-thrower Tank Platoon was rather small unit, so if equipped with these additional tanks, this would have required expanding it as a company, which would have been difficult to support, since all supplies and tank repair resources were with Tank Battalion.

Finnish military wasn't overly impressed about OT-130 and OT-133 flame tanks. Their flame-throwers had been noted unreliable and somewhat ineffective already during Winter War and after that Finnish soldiers had also gained some user experience. During World War 2 Finland suffered shortage of fuel, due to which both gasoline and diesel were already early on limited available to only for military use. The shortage of both gasoline and diesel was so severe that by end Continuation War also large part of military trucks had been converted to use woodgas carburetors. Situation being this, KS-25 flame-throwers were also considered wasteful in its use of fuel. It must be also noted that 45-mm tank gun was notably more versatile weapon, than these flame-throwers. As a result, Finnish Army decided to convert its existing OT-130 and OT-133 flame tanks into gun-tanks.

 

Flame tanks were converted as gun-tanks:

Around 1942 - 1943 OT-130 and OT-133 flame tanks used by Finnish Army were converted into T-26B and T-26C tanks. Apparently this included also number of OT-130 and OT-133 captured by Finnish Army, but not re-issued by it as flame tanks. Recent Finnish Armoured Museum publication suggests that as many as 19 captured OT-130 and OT-133 tanks were converted in this manner, but all other evidence suggests that the real number of tanks converted in this manner was notably smaller. Armour Centre (Panssarikeskus and Lokomo Works (Lokomon konepaja) did the actual conversion work. The main part of this conversion was replacing flame-thrower with the usual captured Soviet 45-mm tank gun. In addition to this the conversion work contained following details:

Most of the converted tanks were also equipped with additional hull-machinegun along with also fourth crew member (hull machinegunner) was added to the crew. Simply checking on which side of the hull the turret is makes identifying these converted tanks easy. Normal Soviet-build T-26B and T-26C tanks have turret on left side of hull, but these conversions have turret on right side. Only exception to this was one OT-133 with which as part of the conversion process hull deck armour was removed and reversed - resulting the particular tank having turret on left side of hull. At least five of the tanks converted from OT-130 and OT-133 tanks remained in use of Tank Battalion still in early June of 1944. Some of the captured OT-130 and OT-133 flame tanks were never used by Finnish Army as flame tanks, were but also converted as T-26B and T-26C tanks around that time (1943 - 1944).

PICTURE: OT-130 turret with its KS-25 flame-thrower and coaxial 7.62-mm DT-machinegun. This tank turret sports Winter War era nationality marking of white two white horizontal stripes with blue stripe in between them. Photo taken in Varkaus April of 1940. (SA-kuva photo archive, photo number 7839). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (78 KB).

 

 

OTHER FLAME TANKS USED BY FINNISH ARMY DURING WORLD WAR 2:

OT-26 (KhT-26): This was the first Soviet T-26 based flame tank build in numbers. It was based to T-26 model 1931, which had two small turrets side by side, but this flame tank had only right side turret. Like other versions it had crew of two men. Armament included KS-24 flame-thrower and coaxial 7.62-mm DT-machinegun, which were both in the same small turret. It had larger fuel tanks for its flame-thrower than its followers, but KS-24 apparently also had a lower operating pressure. It could fire as many as 70 short (one second) bursts of flame without re-fuel, but had maximum range of only about 35 meters. This flame tank was manufactured 1932 - 1935 with 552 tanks manufactured at that time. During World War 2 Finnish Army succeeded capturing few of these tanks. Two of the OT-26 tanks (R-50 and R-57) captured during Winter War were re-issued to Finnish use. However these two tanks didn't see any combat use with Finnish crews. Their weapons were removed and they were used for driver training in the home front. Last of these two tanks was scrapped in year 1945.

 


SOURCES:

Suomalaiset panssarivaunujoukot 1919 - 1969 by Pekka Kantakoski.

Punaiset panssarit by Pekka Kantakoski.

Jatkosodan hyökkäystaisteluja by Ari Raunio and Juri Kilin.

Russian tanks and armoured vehicles 1917 - 1945 by Wolfgang Fleischer.

Russian Tanks of World War II by Tim Bean and Will Fowler.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folders T10910.

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder T10928.

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

Finnish National Archives (Sörnäinen), archive folder T10929/23.

War Diary of Flamethrower Tank Battalion

War Diary of 4th Tank Company of Tank Battalion 1941

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

Special thanks to Pala Suomen Historiaa website.

The Russian Battlefield Good site about Soviet tanks.

 


Last updated 27th of September 2011
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Copyrights (pictures, text and graphics): Jaeger Platoon Website.