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Soviet Union (1941)
Tractor Tank – 70-90 built
The tests done between 1930-1932 by the Red Army to create a fighting vehicle based on tractors were totally unsuccessful, so the appearance of the KhTZ-16 was a sign of sheer desperation by the USSR. In 1941, as a result of the Soviet need for more tanks and slow production of more conventional designs, numerous improvised vehicles appeared on the front-lines. The KhTZ-16 was Kharkov’s improvised tank, and showed similar traits to its brothers, such as the NI, which was produced at the same time. Featuring a 45 mm (1.77 in) gun and a crude, yet sophisticated-looking superstructure, the KhTZ-16 was actually good enough to almost enter mass-production. As with all improvised vehicles, there is little available documentation on the KhTZ-16, and, therefore, sources are often of a questionable nature. However, unlike its other improvised cousins (such as the NI, and ZiS-30), there are many photos, which provide us with plenty of details.
An author’s note on credibility of sources
Using internet sources only is terrible practice for a real historical account. Direct links to them have been included. Using photographs and fair reasoning, this article tries to piece together the story of the KhTZ-16. It must be noted that Kharkov is not a Hero City, and thus little has been written on the story of what was a very valiant defense. The KhTZ-16 will perhaps remain a mystery – so much so that it had Zaloga stumped in his book “Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two”, stating: “the Kharkov Tractor Tanks had fixed superstructures armed with 45mm guns. It is not known where these vehicles were built, but photographs exist of several vehicles which were all obviously based on a standard plan.” This is, perhaps, as much as we can actually confirm as true, although photos certainly show more than three KhTZ-16s.
After huge defeats in 1941, Soviet authorities went to desperate measures to stop the German advance. After a series of meetings, by July 20th, 1941, Resolution 219 was adopted, which ordered agricultural tractors to be fitted with armor plates and AT guns. The Kharkov (HTZ) and Stalingrad (STZ) tractor factories were ordered to produce these improvised fighting vehicles. However, STZ was unable to start work on the vehicle because they were experiencing supply problems. Desperation meant that production needed to be hurried, so four engineers from Moscow were sent to the HTZ plant – E.G. Popov, A.V. Sapozhnikov, V. Slonimsky and A.M. Cherepin.
At first, they tried to mount a 37 mm (1.46 in) AA gun, but this was deemed unsatisfactory. Instead, a 45 mm (1.77 in) 20K was tried, and this was deemed suitable.
Once the weaponry was agreed upon, they experimented by using various tractors – the STZ-5 and STZ-3 (sometimes called STZ Nati) artillery tractors. The cab was removed from these tractors, and a new cab with armor ranging from 10-25 mm (0.4-0.98 in) was fitted. Both of these tractors shared a common suspension, but were different shapes. The STZ-3 looked more like a traditional agricultural tractor, and the STZ-5 was a much boxier shape. However, unlike the NI tank producers in Odessa, HTZ opted to use the STZ-3 (hence the rather difference shape between the NI and KhTZ-16). They did this because the front mounted engine meant that they would not have to redesign the structure of the vehicle in order to accommodate the weight of a rear mounted gun. The vehicle became known as the KhTZ-16, but some few wartime documents refer to it as the T-16.
The design of the hull was simple – welding and riveting held metal sheets together, which protected the crews from bullets and shrapnel. The vehicle was also divided into two sections: the front was for the engine, and the rear for the crew. The engine was protected by four sheets of rolled steel, and was fastened away with bolted armor, clearly seen on photos. The exhaust was also moved to the bottom of the vehicle, with steel shutters closing it off if necessary. For maintenance of the front hull, the vehicle had hatches on the side. Frontal armor was about 25 mm (1 in) thick, and the sides were roughly 10 mm (0.4 in).
Entering and exiting the vehicle was reportedly done by a hatch on the right hand side of the vehicle, but an emergency hatch was installed in the rear. The roof also featured two hatches. According to photographic evidence, the rear hatch and two top hatches were used more than any others, especially when abandoning the vehicle. Just to the right of the main gun, there was a small slit for the driver to look out of. The tank also featured three slit holes to fire personal weapons out of, just in case, but often, these were used by DT machine guns.
The chassis was changed slightly to accommodate the new weight. Rubber rollers were reportedly installed in order to improve the ride of the vehicle, and therefore the accuracy of the weapon, as well as crew comfort, but no photos show this.
Production commenced, even despite supply problems, but due to evacuations of factories as a result of the German advance, the KhTZ-16 (and similar vehicles) producing factories were evacuated from eastern Ukraine shortly after production began and only 70-100 KhTZ-16s were built. However, there was such a huge demand for tanks by August 1941, as a result of the huge losses, 800 vehicles were actually ordered.
There were still supply issues, however. Delivery of the armor plating was falling behind and it became increasingly difficult for the NKZM 9 factory (which produced the armor plates) to keep up with demand. According to some incomplete statistics, they sent up to 100 armor sets, but it is not known how many made it to HTZ. One of the last reports from HTZ before the evacuation stated that “809 KhTZ-16 tanks have been demanded, but this could not be produced due to the lack of steel armor plates.” Production finally ended on 20th October, when German troops surrounded the city.
However, the STZ plant was actually reorganized to produce the KhTZ-16 on September 16th, 1941, under the order of People’s Commissar of the NKPT (Ministry of Transport Machine-Building Industry) Malyshev. A document he sent reads as followed:
“With the view of imminent production of an armored tractor KhTZ-16: A. Immediately ship STZ five hundred tractors to be prepared for upgrades B. Immediately send Plant N264 the drawings and specifications for the KhTZ-16 [referred to as the Bronektraktor in this document] C. Ship the relevant sets of weapons (guns, machine guns, ammunition). Ensure the plant has purchased these products. Delivery for STZ is to start no later than October 1 by the following schedule: the first five days – 10 units a day, the second five-days – 15 pieces a day, then 20, and more … “
However, these production targets were far too ambitious and were actually short-lived. STZ shortly after switched to T-34 production. It was not possible to open up a second production line for the KhTZ-16 due to a lack of resources and skilled workers. Having said this, during the autumn of 1941, STZ did produce an unknown number of KhTZ-16s, estimated to be at around 30, probably all made using evacuated hulls and materials from HTZ.
Kharkov managed to produce 50-60 units all in all, and Stalingrad did not manage to make more than 30.
A KhTZ-16 missing some armor plates and a track, having been knocked out. In this image, the STZ-3 tractor it is based on can be seen clearly, as well as the personal weapons port on the left of the gun.
A knocked out KhTZ-16 which appears to have been painted with camouflage.
The KhTZ-16 in action
Detailed information on how well it fared in combat is scarce. The KhTZ-16 was never referred to as a tank, but an improvised self-propelled gun. Its main role was to knock out enemy armor. Reports suggest that the 20K 45 mm (1.77 in) gun was able to knock out a German tank at a distance of 200-300 m (220-330 yd). Sources suggest that the gun was fixed in position and therefore, aiming required the entire tank to move, but photographs reveal this not to be the case. In fact, it is more likely that the gun had a very limited firing arc, which meant that the tank often had to move.
The 14th Tank Brigade received 8 of these tanks. Roughly 10-15 of these vehicles formed a separate battalion that took part in the defense of Poltava, in September, 1941, where they were quickly lost. In both of these cases, all tanks were totally destroyed. Reports do suggest that some were sent ‘modestly’ to the defense of Kharkov in October, but German armor had a huge advantage as a result of Soviet high command allowing the Germans to break through to the Vyazma and Bryansk areas.
Almost all of these tanks were sent to the western defenses. However, defenders of the city put roughly 47 of these vehicles into a separate battalion. These units were sometimes fielded with T-27 tankettes, as well as no more than four T-35s and five T-26 tanks of various models, ranging from 1933 to 1938. Organized defenses in Kharkov effectively failed, but according to some memoirs of the KhTZ-16, these tanks were able to withstand the brunt of urban combat.
There is some evidence that 16 KhTZ-16s were used on another sector on the Eastern Front, with the 133rd Tank Brigade, and fought until the end of October on the Bryansk front. Available documents on the 133rd Tank Brigade do state that they had KhTZ-16 tanks, but do not state anything else about them. However, the existence of these tanks as part of the 133rd Brigade are not mentioned in a later report from 9th November, 1941, and it may be possible that the KhTZ-16 never served in combat with the 133rd.
In recent times, it has been suggested that the KhTZ-16 served near Leningrad in autumn, 1941, and in the May 1942 attack near Kharkov. It is almost impossible that these tanks served near Leningrad, but as for serving in at Kharkov, there are plenty of photographs of them in the city.
In summary, main disadvantages were low speed, poor armor, high silhouette, poor visibility and a stationary gun that required the entire tank to move to aim (if not a small gun arc). However, despite being based on a tractor, being hastily made and the whole design being deemed unworkable in the first place, their combat success is relatively commendable, especially in the demanding environments of urban and rural combat. Many of these tanks served in rural areas and fared less well. We know this, simply because of the number of photos of them knocked out and being inspected by Romanian troops in rural areas. It is probable that these tanks were knocked out because they were not suited to the terrain, and could not engage the enemy as effectively, or maneuver, like they would be able to do in urban combat. It was obviously a tank of particular interest to Romanian photographers, as well as the citizens of Kharkov, who wanted to see what they had managed to make in their most desperate hours.
A German soldier looks at an abandoned KhTZ-16. There appears to be a dead crew member hanging from the rear hatch, and may be the same tank as the one reportedly outside the Kharkov central department store.
A rather poor quality photograph apparently shows a Soviet crew abandoning a KhTZ-16.
An interesting photo shows a KhTZ-16 being inspected by a Romanian soldier. It appears as though there was a large internal explosion which blew the rear hatch off.
|Dimensions (L-w-h)||4.2 x 1.9 x 2.4 m (13.8×6.23×7.9 ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||Approximately 7 tonnes|
|Crew||2-4, however photos seem to suggest crews were usually two men|
|Propulsion||4 cyl. kerosene, 52 hp|
|Speed (road – off-road)||20 – 5 km/h (12.4-3 mph)|
|Range||120 km (75 mi)|
|Armament||45 mm (1.77 in) 20K AT gun|
7.62 mm (0.3 in) DT machine gun
|Armor||10-25 mm (0.25-1 in)|
|Total production||70 to 90|
Sources and external links
“Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two” by Steven J. Zaloga and James Grandsen
Army.lv (English and Russian)
Tsushima.su forums (Russian)
Feldgrau.info forums (Russian)
Panzer.net forums (Spanish)
A reproduction NI tank with a ShVAK cannon on display – despite being labelled as an NI, it is often presented as a KhTZ-16. The historical accuracy of this tank is dubious. There is no credible information or historical photographs suggesting that it was armed with this weapon. Also, the construction and shape of this tank is dubious, although, it does appear to be based on an STZ-3 tractor, and there was an attempt in the design process of the KhTZ-16 to mount a ShVAK.
Another supposed reproduction KhTZ-16 or NI tank. The historical accuracy of this tank is extremely dubious. The construction of this vehicle does not resemble that of a KhTZ-16 or an NI for that matter – especially with regards to the turret, main gun, and the suspension of the vehicle. Despite being presented as a KhTZ-16 or an NI, this was a postwar creation based on a postwar tractor as a replica, and looks nothing like any of the WWII improvised tanks.
This tank, said to be “near Mongolia”, is often presented as KhTZ-16. However, this is a Disston Tractor tank with Afghan markings on it. It is actually in a now-closed Kabul museum in this photo and it now probably lies in a scrapyard.
A STZ-3 tractor. The KhTZ-16 was based upon these tractors.
A group of Romanian soldiers pose on a knocked out KhTZ-16. This photo reveals that the gun had a firing arc. Sources have previously suggested that the gun was fixed in place.