A T-70A Model 1942 in the classic reconnaissance role. Using a building as cover, the crew has moved up into the outskirts of a village. The tank appears to have suffered some operational damage, since the left headlamp has been knocked out of alignment. A spare roadwheel is bolted to the rear deck.
A pair of T-70s are used as gun tractors by the crews of two M1942 ZIS-3 76.2mm (3in) antitank guns to move their weapons up to the front across the frozen ground. This photograph was taken near Leningrad in February 1943.
The performance of the T-60 and T-70 light tanks in combat was far from satisfactory because of a combination of inferior armour and lack of firepower. A noted critic of these two tank types was Major-General M.E. Katukov. In a meeting with Stalin in autumn 1942, Katukov told him that his crews did not like the T-60:
It has only a 20mm [0.78in] gun. In serious combat with armoured forces it just does not have it … To attack in mud or snow is a deadly affair. In the battles around Moscow, we continually had to drag them in tow.
He was more cautious, however, about the new T-70, but nonetheless noted, somewhat sceptically, ‘It has not shown us anything special.’
Katukov was right about the crews’ intense dislike of the T-60: they nicknamed them BM-2, meaning Bratskaya Mogila na Dovoikh; quite literally, ‘a brother’s grave for two’, referring to the tank’s vulnerability to German antitank fire. On the other hand, they were better than nothing during the dark days of 1941 and 1942, and as commander of I Tank Corps during fierce fighting earlier in 1942, Katukov was forced to acknowledge the debt he owed them:
And now, in this fateful hour, when the Germans had almost defeated us, those ‘ridiculous’ tanks saved our positions. It was lucky that the rye in the area was over a metre high, as the T60s were almost hidden by it. Using this rye field, both of our T-60 tanks were able to infiltrate to the rear of the German infantry and then open fire. After several minutes of intensive fire, the German attack was halted.
The T-70’s most dramatic engagements came in July 1943 at the Battle of Kursk, the climax of the German summer offensive. On 12 July, the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army and German II SS Panzer and III Panzer Corps clashed on a 32km (20 mile) front before the village of Prokhorovka. In all, during the heavy fighting, 429 German tanks and 870 Soviet· tanks were engaged, and this number included 261 T-70 light tanks. Although Soviet tank losses were significantly greater than those of their opponents (perhaps even as much as three times as high), the German advance was contained and the battle subsequently swung in favour of the Soviets. At the height of the battle on 12 July, the Red Army’s 31 st Tank Brigade succeeded in penetrating the rear elements of the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Panzergrenadier Division. The 1st SS Divisional history recorded the sheer ferocity of the tank action:
the remaining three Panzers … could fire at the Russians from a distance of 10 to 30 metres [30-90ft] and make every shell a direct hit because the Russians could not see through the dust and smoke that there were German tanks rolling along with them in the same direction. There were already 19 Russian tanks standing burning on the battlefield when the Abteilung [2nd Panzer Regiment] opened fire for the first time … destroying 62 T-70s and T-34s in a three hour long battle that could almost be termed hand-to-hand combat.
Soviet losses were inflated by the Germans, but it seems clear that a large number ofT-70s were lost. For the rest of the war, the T-60 and T-70 were gradually removed from combat roles and used for convoy duties, reconnaissance, training and defending headquarters.