BT Fast Tank: The Red Army’s Cavalry Tank 1931 - 45

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Steven J. Zaloga
Product / Stock #
NVG 237
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Book cover

As the First World War progressed, it became clear that one important arm of many nation’s military, the horse mounted cavalry, were doomed to extinction. The era of trench warfare, with its use of barbed wire entanglements and the mass use of machineguns spelled disaster for unprotected men on live animals and who required unobstructed solid ground to be effective. Cavalry required speed and mobility to gain maximum shock value.

When tanks were first introduced in the First World War, they were slow, ponderous machines clanking along at the speed of the foot slogging infantry. As the technology advanced, so too did the speed of tanks. A number of nations looked to the tank to provide a replacement for the cavalry via the utilization of rapidly moving tanks: the fast cavalry tank. The nation that fell in love with the tank more than any other in the 1920s and 1930s was the Soviet Union. The origins of the Soviet Fast Tank were in the USA: engineer J. Walter Christie started designing tracked vehicles in World War 1 but had a turbulent relationship with the US military. As his designs progressed, Christie became obsessed with the idea of a “convertible” track laying vehicle, one that could transform from an all track ride, to an all wheel ride. This in his mind was an important feature, as one of the weakest components of early tanks was their tracks. Christie came up with a design that allowed the tracks on his vehicle to be removed and stowed on board, and the machine could then drive on improved roads at greater speeds and for longer distances than if on tracks.

In 1930, representatives of the Soviet Union purchased two of Christie’s tanks, plus the rights to license manufacture them in the Soviet Union. These two vehicles were the embryonic start to the Red Army’s BT series of Fast/Cavalry tanks.

Author Zaloga is well known to historians of Soviet tank development, having authored numbers books over the decades on this subject. He has a great knowledge of his subject, and his writing style is very easy to read. This book on the BT Fast Tanks in 48 pages in length, and covers the development of the three main variants of the series, the BT-2, BT-5 and BT-7, together with lesser variants such as engineer support tanks, flamethrower tanks, artillery tanks, and even flying tanks! The design history, production history and combat history of these vehicles are covered in a nicely condensed manner. This book is not an in depth examination of the BT series of tanks, but rather a primer for those new to the subject.

The written words are supported by a series of well produced black and white period photos, complimented with color illustrations by Henry Morshead depicting color and markings for the various BT vehicles. Unfortunately one of the most useful of these illustrations, and the largest, which covers the various internal and external components of a BT-7 Model 1937, stretches horizontally across two pages, and thus some of the detail is lost in the spin of the book. Surely with modern computer programming for book layout, this lovely illustration could have been printed vertically across one page? But I quibble. There is also a nice page of scale line drawings depicting the BT-5RT and BT-7RT Model 1937, covering front, rear, side and top profiles. Unfortunately the scale of these is not mentioned?

I am not an expert on Soviet tank design, but I would like to become someone knowledgeable about the subject. If you are someone like me, then this book by Steven Zaloga is an excellent primer on the subject of this very important series of Fast/Cavalry tanks which were produced in the thousands by the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this fascinating subject. My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for providing this book to IPMS USA for review.


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