“Tankograd”. How the USSR tracked vehicle forge was born

Cheliabinsk Tractor Plant

The construction of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant in the 30s of the last century was one of the most important events in the life of the country. No wonder the work on the construction of a gigantic plant, designed for 40 thousand tractors, was supervised by the Politburo of the Central Committee. Sergo Ordzhonikidze, People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry, personally supervised the design and construction. It was impossible to build a modern plant in the Soviet Union on a clean site on its own, so the Cheliabinsk Tractor Plant design bureau was formed, based in Detroit on one of the floors of countless high-rises. In the book “Tankograd. Secrets of the Russian home front 1917-1953 ” Lennart Samuelson writes that in the United States, 40 Soviet and 14 American engineers and builders worked on the appearance of the enterprise. In addition, the Institute for the Design of Metallurgical Plants was involved in the development (there was one in the USSR). Among those who, prior to the organization of Cheliabinsk Tractor Plant, worked in the United States and Great Britain to study the experience of large factories, was the first director of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant Kazimir Petrovich Lovin.

Soviet engineers in the office of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant in Detroit, 1930

Among the tasks was the search for a suitable tractor model, which could become the firstborn of the plant. However, the process was delayed: Caterpillar raised the price for the right to licensed production, and all the drawings were in English with yards and inches. The Americans demanded $ 3.5 million for their plant project and, in addition, prohibited the USSR from exporting licensed tractors produced at its facilities for 20 years. Lovin wrote to his deputies in Chelyabinsk on March 6, 1930:

“I have very little hope of a favorable outcome in the negotiations with Caterpillar. Time is running out irrevocably and, apparently, we will have to work with our own bureau with the help of another, secondary tractor firm and individual American specialists. It will take considerably longer. We’ve already lost two months already. “

Kazimir Petrovich Lovin

Albert Kahn

Construction stages

As a result, it was decided to create a joint Soviet-American development group Cheliabinsk Tractor Plant, which by 1931 had prepared a plant design for Chelyabinsk. Many engineers, in addition to design work in the office, were employed at Detroit factories, where they learned invaluable experience in organizing production. As many historians write, the very draft design of the future giant of the Southern Urals was ready in just 50 days. The main assistance was provided by the famous architectural firm Albert Kahn, whose specialists proposed to drastically reduce the number of workshops from 20 to 3: foundry, mechanical and blacksmith. The most important innovation of the Americans was the replacement of reinforced concrete support columns with steel ones, which made it possible to make the spans wider, as well as to quickly change production facilities. This turned out to be very useful during the Great Patriotic War.

One of the strike group of new buildings in the country

Before the construction of the workshops of the future tractor plant, in November 1929, large-scale earthworks began. Naturally, there was no mechanization: the soil was taken out by carts pulled by horses. The construction required huge human resources, which had to be taken from the countryside. Often, courses on teaching reading and writing were organized right there at the construction site – industrialization went hand in hand with the elimination of illiteracy. Not to mention the fact that up to 100% of those hired were not trained in construction specialties. It is noteworthy that the labor of prisoners was practically not used during the construction of the future Tankograd, in contrast to the construction projects in Nizhny Tagil and Magnitogorsk. Samuelson writes that for all the time in Chelyabinsk 205 persons serving sentences were involved in the construction. However, the work on the Ural construction site was not particularly prestigious for decades – the reason for this was the chronic shortage of work clothes and shoes, as well as poor living conditions. For these reasons, in the 29-30s, the shortage of workers was 40%, there was a chronic shortage of building materials, and at the end of the period the reduction in the total funding of the super-project turned out to be the cherry on top.
On April 30, 1931, the Party Central Committee adopted a special resolution “On the progress of construction of the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant”, which openly spoke about the paramount importance of the timely opening of the plant. As a result, a second shift was introduced, and the working day became 10-hour. The best workers in the construction of ChTZ were generously rewarded, but such situations often happened, one of which was recorded in the local trade union committee:

“I would like to inform you that for the award presented to me (a trip to the resort), I thank you as for the appreciation of my work. But taking into account the importance of the launch of ChTZ on a Union scale, I refuse it, and I donate all the money for the resort to the fund of modern aviation ”.

Komsomol members at the ChTZ construction site invented a kind of “concrete evenings” – this is when, to the sound of an orchestra and the light of searchlights, young workers, after a 10-hour working day, continued to pour concrete structures of the plant.

The coming tragic years of terror, unfortunately, did not pass by the organizers of the plant’s construction. From the very beginning, the previously mentioned Kazimir Lovin was appointed the head of the entire construction, who by 1929 managed to establish himself as a talented manager, power engineer and builder. After the revolution, he built energy supply facilities in Leningrad, and in Moscow he led the construction of power plants and a centralized heating system. After the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant was built, Lovin acted as director until 1934, and then left for Moscow, where he eventually became the head of Glavenergo. It is said that in 1937, Stalin personally signed the execution list, which included the name of Lovin.

Colossus Rises To Its Feet

It cannot be said that the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant was entirely built according to the patterns of the Americans. For example, the outstanding Russian architect Vladimir Grigorievich Shukhov took part in the design. In particular, he developed the mechanical assembly and forging shops of ChTZ. In the literature on the architectural heritage of Shukhov, one can find the following description of the constructed structures:

“The grandiose workshops of the plant are full of light and air. The roofs are also made of glass. A uniform soft light falls on the rows of machines, illuminating the impeccable cleanliness of the floors on which electric cars roll silently. The workshops are surrounded by a ring of green spaces ”.


“The area of ​​workshops dressed in reinforced concrete and glass occupies 183 hectares, the area of ​​one mechanical assembly shop is 8.5 hectares. The length of this shop is 540 meters … A forging shop with an area of ​​2.6 hectares, a volume of 330 thousand cubic meters … The Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant is an example of a specialized plant with mass flow production. “

Factory night illumination

Panorama of ChTZ

Despite the fact that there was a lot of foreign equipment at the plant, about 40% of all equipment was created in the USSR.

Running a little ahead of myself, I will mention that in just a few years, tanks will replace tractors in line production. In the meantime, on June 1-3, 1933, the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant was solemnly launched in the presence of the Chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Central Executive Committee, Kalinin. Ordzhonikidze later, following the results of the opening at the XXII Party Congress, will say:

“There is no such a huge and luxurious plant not only in Europe, but, it seems, in America as well.”

The designers prepared in advance for the ceremony and assembled the first ten Stalinets-60 tractors at the pilot plant. This mini-plant inside the main one was ready already in November 1930 and was intended for a detailed study of foreign models of automotive vehicles, as well as for training future plant workers. It was assumed that at least 4 thousand foremen, most of whom were yesterday’s villagers, would be trained at the pilot plant by the start of the main production. The construction of the pilot plant was supervised by the American John Thane, as well as a cohort of specialists from the overseas Caterpillar. At least 100 Americans worked as foremen at the already built enterprise, including the tractor plant workers. They will in the future become the backbone of the plant, without which it would not have been possible to master the production of tanks on the scale of the Great Patriotic War.

To be continued…

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