Volume 9, Issue 1
March 21, 2013


Welcome to the 24th issue of "Heavy Metal" -- the newsletter of the

Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles (VMMV.) Our mission is our motto -- by working to restore armored fighting vehicles, artillery, small arms, uniforms, and accoutrements of the US military and other countries, we hope to share the legacy of the sacrifice and courage of our fighting men and women with future generations of Americans. Located in Northern Virginia, our collection has grown to over 90 vehicles, starting out with the first US tank, the M 1917 through such legendary US vehicles as the M4A1 and M4A3 Sherman , M3A1 and M5A1 Stuart , M24 Chaffee , M3A1 Half-track , M36 Jackson and M3 Lee along with a few vehicles you might not know existed -- such as a prototype of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) tank.

Get to know your VMMV staff & vehicles

In this section we introduce you to the people and armor of the Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. We will chat with the VMMV staff, so that you can get to know the people who "keep 'em running" and work so hard behind the scenes. And also provide a behind-the-scenes look into the history of individual vehicles in the VMMV collection. In this, our 24th newsletter, we highlight another amazing restoration done by VMMV staff and volunteers. This time, the vehicle is a Soviet T-34/85 medium tank from WWII.

This tank's story begins in the maelstrom of the Eastern Front, as Soviet tankers found that the 76mm cannon that originally armed the T-34 was inadequate to deal with the thick armor on late-war German panzers. So the Soviets decided to up-gun their medium tank, and fielded the T-34/85, with a new, more powerful 85mm cannon mounted in a much roomier, three-man turret.

The T-34/85 was such a balance of firepower, mobility and protection that Soviet factories continued production of the vehicle into the late 1940s. With the fielding of the T-55, Soviet client states then picked up the slack. The then-country of Czechoslovakia began producing the T-34/85 in 1952, with approximately 3,000 vehicles built when production ended in 1958--many for export to earn badly needed hard currency or oil. Czech-built vehicles were renowned for the near-machined surface smoothness of their castings. This background is critical to understanding the history of VMMV's T-34/85.

VMMV's T-34/85 is likely a mid-1945 vehicle, produced in the Soviet Union. This belief is based on the extremely rough nature of the cast turret. As you can see in some of the pictures below, there is tremendous variation in the cast armor, with voids, large lumps of slag and no machining at all. Clearly the metal had not been heated properly and was poured when barely molten. These are all symptomatic of a turret produced in a rush, such as in WWII. The second clue is the presence of two, dome-shaped ventilators on top of the turret, indicative of 1945 or later production.

Our T-34/85 joined the collection in the mid-1990s, when VMMV acquired it via an intermediary from the Czech republic. We noticed that the vehicle carried Czech data plates, but as we began our research, we noticed some discrepancies.

The turret was extremely rough, unlike any other turret that was positively identified as being Czech in origin. And there were the two dome-shaped ventilators in a fore-and-aft configuration on the turret. So, VMMV historians and researchers believe our T-34/85 is a wartime-produced tank, built in the Soviet Union at either Nizhniy Tagil or Omsk.

At some point, the vehicle was gifted to Czechoslovakia, a Soviet client state and part of the Warsaw Pact. The Czechs made a few modifications, freshened up the vehicle a bit and swapped out the original Soviet data plates for their versions.

The vehicle soldiered on in service with the Czech Army for several decades. At some point, it was retired from active service and put in Czech reserves. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the country of Czechoslovakia split into two, and transitioned from Warsaw Pact equipment to being a member of NATO. So they decided to sell off obsolete equipment.

That is when VMMV stepped in to acquire and preserve this piece of WWII history. The vehicle was shipped from Europe to VMMV and we kept it in its "Czech" configuration. Time, however, was not kind to the Warsaw Pact paint.

About a decade ago, our T-34/85 had a very special visitor, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov-WWII T-34 tank commander and inventor of the AK-47. So to honor Mr. Kalashnikov, we painted his name on the T-34/85 in the style of patriotic slogans adorning WWII T-34s as they left the factories. The smile on his face made it very clear how much our hard work in keeping history alive meant to him. (See picture at top)

But in 2012, the decision was made to give the tank a face lift. VMMV staff and volunteers relished the thought of adding yet another Soviet tank to their quiver of restored vehicles-recent renovations include our T-72, BMP-1 and PT-76.

We began by removing all external hardware and determining what its WWII configuration should be. VMMV researchers discovered that the Czechs had made very few changes during its service….adding a call button to the left rear with an armored cover, a blackout light on the front and a few brackets.

So out came the tools and sparks flew into the air….First to go was the armored cover. We discovered that the combination of its shape, hardened steel and location made for a very difficult removal job. But the staff and volunteers were not deterred by a few skinned knuckles. We were determined to prevail and the day that the cover was removed was marked by shouts of joy.

Next was removal of the old paint. This did not involve attacking the vehicle with the biggest power tool possible. At VMMV we strive to preserve previous coats of paint that may include historical markings, and we wanted to ensure any stampings were not damaged.

So the laborious process of needle scaling began. This method minimizes the dust and debris. But correct safety protocols were followed and dust masks and goggles festooned our work crew.

When the T-34/85 had been stripped of its old paint, we peened off any rust and shot her with primer. Our crack research staff then tested several paint samples, comparing and contrasting with known Soviet color schemes and historical photos. We found the original Soviet paint scheme in several accessory boxes that had been sealed against the weather and oxidization. As a cross-check, our ever-diligent restoration crew took their final sample and compared it to other period pieces in VMMV's collection painted in Soviet green. Finally, the correct shade was determined.


We began spraying from the turret roof on down, so that we didn't paint ourselves into a corner….literally. After the first coat, our eagle-eyed inspectors went over the vehicle with a fine tooth comb, noting problem areas. Spray painting an entire 30+ ton tank with an air gun is actually very difficult and not at all like using a rattle can on a fence post in your back yard.

So a second coat was applied. Meanwhile, back in the VMMV library, recognition markings were determined. You'll see them in the attached photos as a series of white bands around the circumference of the turret and in the form of a cross on the turret roof. These are ground and aerial recognition markings. In particular, this scheme has been called the "Battle for Berlin" markings, to avoid fratricide between American and Soviet armies as they came together in the closing stages of WWII.


We applied these markings by hand. And the drips you see in the photo are actually an example of VMMV's dedication to realism. Because in WWII, the average Soviet tank painter would have been an illiterate conscript without access to compressors and machinery….markings would have been done by hand without a need for perfection.

The black objects in these interior photos of our T-34/85 are ammunition storage boxes.

The number 32 you see does not represent any individual vehicle, but is representative of the style, shape and placement of markings we saw in period photographs during our research.

So, you have now seen our T-34/85 in its worn condition. And all the work VMMV staff and volunteers did during its restoration, wouldn't you like to see it in its brand new paint scheme?

I bet you would!!! So here are several photos showing it off. But the best way to appreciate this tank is to come and see it in person during our August 17-18, 2013 annual Open House.


See you then!


From the Files of VMMV......

In this section, we will examine historical records and files on armor in World War II from the perspective of the British liaison office to the US War Department. Some of this correspondence discusses the capabilities and performance of US armor, other files are the British view of German armor, reflecting their understanding of the technical capabilities of the panzers they faced. VMMV is proud to be the custodian of these historical treasures and wishes to thank Mr. Peter Upton for donating his father's war time papers.

These files represent the actual understanding of the Allies of German armored fighting vehicles and represent a critical link between the myths and propaganda of both sides and the post-war technical exploitation. Some of the data may be incorrect or missing, represent critical intelligence that was unknown to the Allies at the time. You the reader are presented with the data in raw form to allow you to see the ground truth of Allied intelligence.

In our 13th installment, we continue our examination of documents on the German tank known as the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E or PzKw VI…more commonly known as the "Tiger." The Tiger is synonymous with the Panzer Divisions and struck fear into the heart of Allied tankers during the course of WWII. Because of the large number of documents, we will break up the PzKw VI Ausf. E file over several newsletters.

This set of wartime photographs represents a "negative" series of blueprints of the PzKw VI…providing an engineering perspective on this historic tank. In particular, spend some time with the ¾ view drawing that shows incredible detail of the internal layout of the Tiger. The remaining four scans shows the standard aspects of the PzKw VI.


VMMV Acronym

The lexicon of armored vehicles is filling with a bewildering amount of acronyms. And at VMMV we have a few of our own. Here we will have the VMMV word of the day so you may better understand the conversations you might overhear at the museum.

Cupola….A cupola is a short, cylindrical structure set atop the turret roof to allow the tank commander (TC) the ability to see the world outside. Generally a hatch for ingress and egress is in the center of the cupola. The cupola is equipped with some form of observation device, such as a periscope, or armored glass vision blocks to provide the TC a restricted view, but without sticking his head outside the hatch where he could be killed by enemy fire.



Volunteers Needed

WE WANT YOU for VMMV. As Uncle Sam asked civilians to volunteer for the US Army in WWI, we too want volunteers to help "keep 'em rolling." VMMV wants men and women willing to work very hard to keep our dream alive of preserving the past for the future. VMMV volunteers are a group of dedicated patriots whose blood, sweat and hard work are what keep our vehicles rolling. If you think you have what it takes in terms of skills, passion AND dedication, we want you to contact VMMV's volunteer coordinator, Mr. Bruce Oppenhagen, at livhist@vmmv.org and he will get back to you about how you might become part of our crew.

See You at the 2013 Open House!

Michael Panchyshyn-Editor