During the late 1920s Red Army planners inaugurated a programme to reequip the tank elements of the Soviet armed forces. In common with many other nations they decided upon an infantry support tank for their noncavalry units and after attempting to develop a new design of their own decided on the mass production of a British commercial model, the 6-ton Vickers Type E light tank. This was named the T-26 and the first examples of the British model arrived in the Soviet Union during 1930, being designated T26 A-1.
Soviet production of the T-26 started during 1931. The earliest models used a twin-turret arrangement mounting two machine-guns (two 7.62-mm/0.3-in weapons in the T-26A-2, and one 12.7mm/O.S-in and one 7,62-mm/0.3-in gun in the T-26A-3), but some models had a machine-gun in one turret and a gun (27-mm in the T.26A-4 and 37-mm T26A-5); this arrangement did not survive for long and later T-26B models had a single turret mounting only a gun (37-mm in the T-26B-1, though a 45-mm gun was used later).
The early T-26 tanks were straightforward copies of the British original, and were simple, robust vehicles of mainly riveted construction. The first model was the T-36 Model 1931 (T26A), replaced by the T-26 Model 1933 (T-26B) which had some design improvements. Before 1941 the Model 1933 was the most widely produced of all Soviet tanks, about 5,500 being built by the time production of that particular version ceased in 1936. A new model, the T-26S Model 1937, was then placed in production and this series had several changes compared with the earlier versions. The T-26S carried the 45-mm (1.77-in) main gun fitted to later versions of the Model 1933, but allied this to an improved turret design and all-welded construction as introduced on the T-26B-3.
The welding was introduced following operational experiences in the border clashes with Japan that took place along the Mongolian and Manchurian boundaries in 1934 and 1935. Experience showed that a T-26 which encountered hostile fire was likely to have its rivets knocked out to fly around the interior. Welding was introduced with the later Model 1933 tanks but was standard on the T-26S.
Throughout their lives the T-26 tanks underwent many production and inservice changes, most of them aimed at improving armour protection (minimum of 6 mm/0.24 in and maximum of 25 mm/0.98 in) and armament. There were also many special versions. Perhaps the most numerous of these were the flame-throwing tanks prefixed by the designation OT. Again there were several of these, the earliest being the OT-26 and the last the OT-133. Most of these had the flamethrowing projector in the turret and carried no main gun, but later models did carry a gun in addition to the projector, There were also bridgecarrying versions (the ST-26) and attempts were made to mount 76.2-mm (3-in) guns for increased infantry fire support. The type was also developed as a command vehicle, variants being the T-26A-4(U) and T-26B-2(U). Production of the T-26 series ceased entirely in 1941 when the Germans overran most of the production facilities. New production centres set up in the Soviet hinterlands launched the production of later tank designs, but by 1941 well over 12,000 T-26 tanks of all kinds had been made.
Consequently they were among the most numerous of the AFVs used during the early stages of the 'Great Patriotic War', and were also used in the 1939-1940 campaign in Finland. Some had been used during the Spanish Civil War. After 1941 huge numbers of T-26 tanks were destroyed or passed into German hands. Many were later converted to artillery tractors or selfpropelled gun carriers, usually by the Germans who always had a need for such vehicles. Overall the T-26 was an unremarkable little tank that was unable to stand up to the demands of 1941, but it enabled the Soviet Union to establish its own mass production facilities and know-how, and these stood them in good stead after 1941.
Specification T-26B Crew: 3 Weight: 9,4 tonnes Powerplant: one GAZ T-26 8-cylinder petrol engine developing 68 kW (91 hp)
Dimensions: length4.88 m (16 ft); width3.41 m(l 1 ft 2,25 in); height 2.41 m (7 ft 11 in) Performance: maximum road speed 28 km/h (17.4 mph); maximum road range 175 km (108.7 miles); fording not known; gradient 40∞; vertical obstacle 0.79 m (2 ft 7 in); trench 1.90 m (6 ft 2.8 in)
One of the many variants of the T-26 light infantry tank was the Model 1931, which had dual turrets, usually mounting two 7.62-mm (0.30-in) machine-guns, but sometimes having one of the machine-guns replaced by a 37-mm (1.46-in) short infantry support gun. The later T-26 Model 1933 had a single turret.