Pre-war tanks and aircraft. Intelligence is a source of inspiration for Russian engineers

Domestic light tank T-50. Source:

German technology

In the previous part of the story, it was about the contacts of Soviet intelligence with American tank builders. Work with Hitlerite Germany was no less important. Since the fall of 1939, the Germans have been very reluctant to share modern technical information, despite the fact that our economic cooperation in this area was very lively. We bought a lot and at a high price. If in 1935 the USSR purchased 46 items of German products for 10 million marks for the People’s Commissariat of Defense, then four years later 330 samples of military equipment for 1 billion marks. Moreover, the materials were considered not so much as an object for copying or creative rethinking, but also for assessing the level of development of a potential enemy’s technology.

T-III. Source:

Stalin’s words regarding the German T-III are noteworthy:

“It is extremely important for us to have blueprints for this tank, or at least a sensible description of it. And, of course, the main tactical and technical data: weight, maneuverability, engine power, type of fuel, thickness and quality of armor, weapons … We have no right to lag behind capitalist countries, especially in tanks. The future war is a war of motors ”.

Stalin’s order was even overfulfilled and, according to the historian Vladimir Vasiliev, they even delivered a real German tank to the Kubinka training ground. The vehicle was fired upon, the weapons were tested and the verdict was made that the armor was relatively weak and the gun was good. According to other sources, in the fall of 1940, a 45-mm gun fired at 32-mm cemented T-III armor and it turned out that its strength was at the level of Soviet armor with a thickness of 42-44 mm. The results of studying German technology were one of the reasons for the installation of a 76-mm cannon on the T-34, and not a 45-mm gun. In general, the entire experience of communicating with German armor in the pre-war period (especially during the war years) forced us to invariably increase the caliber of the main tank gun.

In 1940, K. Voroshilov reported on some of the successful engineering solutions of the Germans in the T-III. Among the advantages, in particular, they highlighted an evacuation hatch, a commander’s cupola, a method for placing a radio station, a cooling system for a gasoline “Maybach”, a gearbox design and a fuel system for the engine. Many German advantages were not transferred to domestic armored vehicles, but a number of authors distinguish the following borrowings: the design of the internal locks of the hatches, large-link tracks, the design of the seats (now the tankers did not slide off them), as well as the development of an electromechanical turret rotation drive. This was largely implemented on the not-so-widespread domestic light tank T-50. The German fuel and oil heater “Eltron” became in the future one of the objects of borrowing in the modernization of the V-2 tank engine and its modifications. Finally, the T-34 could also be modified taking into account the results of the tests of the German vehicle. They planned to install a torsion bar suspension, a planetary transmission, a commander’s cupola and increase the armor protection of a turret with a frontal hull plate to 60 mm. If Hitler had attacked the USSR a couple of years later, then, quite possibly, he would have met with completely different T-34s. In 1941, it was planned to produce at least 2,800 tanks in this improved design. Of course, given the excessive demands of the leadership on the tank builders, the plan would not have been completed on time. But even some of this huge amount would be a serious argument on the battlefield.

In the extensive portfolio of Soviet military-technical intelligence, in addition to German armored assets, there were developments in the aviation industry, which is of critical importance for the country. The most important field of activity here has become the United States of America.

Wings of the USA

In connection with the development of domestic military aviation, one cannot fail to mention the close economic relations of the USSR with the United States. For the time being, everything went quite successfully, and the American side willingly shared its best practices in exchange for currency. The American researcher Kilmarx describes the features of the corresponding Soviet foreign policy in the field of aircraft construction (excerpt from A. Stepanov’s book “The Development of Soviet Aviation in the Pre-War Period”):

“The goals of the USSR were more outspoken than its methods. Tracking progress in aeronautics and taking advantage of commercial activities and lax secrecy standards in the West, the Russians sought to obtain advanced equipment, designs and technology on a selective basis. The emphasis was on the legal acquisition of aircraft, engines (including those with turbochargers), propellers, navigation equipment and weapons; specification and operating data; information and design methods; production, testing; equipment and tools; templates and matrices; semi-finished products and scarce standardized raw materials. Some licenses were obtained for the production of some modern military aircraft and engines in the USSR. At the same time, some Soviet scientists and engineers were educated in the best technical institutes in the West. The Soviets’ methods also included the creation of trade missions abroad, the appointment of inspectors and trainees to foreign factories, and the conclusion of contracts for the services of foreign engineers, technicians and consultants in Soviet factories. “

However, due to the US condemnation of the Soviet-Finnish war, cooperation was actually frozen for several years. And technical intelligence came to the fore. The so-called Washington Bureau of Technical Information has been searching for information on technical innovations in American industry since the beginning of 1939. Naturally, on an illegal basis. In the field of interest were technologies for obtaining high-octane aviation gasoline (there were serious problems with this in the USSR) and the volume of deliveries of defense products to Great Britain and France. Even before the organization of the Bureau and the American Finnish “moral embargo” on technical cooperation with the USSR, employees of procurement missions practiced recruiting development engineers at US enterprises. So, in 1935, Stanislav Shumovsky, during a big trip to aircraft factories (together with Andrei Tupolev), recruited engineer Jones Oric Yorke. The origin of cooperation took place in the Californian town of El Segundo and lasted until 1943. It was not by chance that Shumovsky came to the United States. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he received a master’s degree in aeronautics, after that he worked in a sales office, and during the war, he was already at home with Lendleigh technology. After 1945, Shumovsky held important posts in the structure of higher technical education in the USSR. On his example, not only the history of borrowing is very clearly visible, but also the line of formation of the intellectual elite of the Soviet Union, which was educated overseas. And Shumovsky is far from the only example.

The residency included officers with a higher military-technical education. One of these was an employee of the Amtorg Trading Corporation (a company engaged in export / import between the United States and the USSR) Captain Rodin, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and an intelligence officer. Subsequently, the captain headed the aviation department at Amtorg. By 1941, the United States had the largest scientific and technical espionage station (18 people). At the same time, 13 intelligence officers were employed in similar work in Germany.

Aviamotor Allison 1710. Source:

In the book “The Development of Soviet Aviation in the Pre-War Period,” the historian Alexei Stepanov cites materials from one of the reports on the intelligence activities of Amtorg. The date of the report is April 13, 1940. Documents were sent to the Council of People’s Commissars containing assembly drawings for the Allison aircraft engines (Models 1710 and 3140) and Wright 2600-B, as well as separate assembly drawings for Curtiss-Wright. All the material to the specialists of the Main Directorate of Aviation Supply seemed valuable (although in some places the drawings were of poor quality), and Allison’s drawings were even recommended to be sent to the design bureau of Rybinsk plant number 26 for use in the design of aircraft engines.

Later, intelligence began to receive extensive printed materials, which in the United States, obviously, were subject to limited use. So, on April 21, 1940, 11 articles by Wright engineers came in 59 pages, which described the principles of operation of aircraft engines (in particular, the system of pressurization, power supply and lubrication). Just before the start of World War II, information came from the United States about the development by one of the Ford Company units of mechanized turrets for machine guns with sights capable of taking into account the relative angular velocity of the target.

The success of the illegal interaction with the engineers of the United States prompted the leadership of the Soviet Union to create aviation technical bureaus in Germany and Italy in 1940. If it had not been for the freezing of contacts in connection with the war with Finland, the Soviet aviation industry would not have had to purchase equipment and technology from Germany. But that’s a slightly different story.

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