The history of Soviet tank design is replete with odd and rather hare-brained ideas. From massive, nuclear-proof tanks designed to ride out nuclear armageddon, to flying tanks with wings intended to glide into battle with their crews inside. And this tank is no exception—it had not one turreted gun, not two turreted guns, but a whopping five.
Unlike the T-34, which enjoyed huge production numbers and was arguably one of the most successful tank designs of World War II, the Soviet Union built the larger T-35 heavy tank in much smaller numbers. The tank itself was about forty-five to fifty tons, which made it among the heavier of the tanks that saw combat during World War Two. It had a crew of about ten (sources differ, listing anywhere from nine to eleven crew members), which despite the tank’s large size, would have made onboard space rather cramped.
The T-35 may have drawn inspiration from the British Vickers A1E1, a broadly similar multi-turreted prototype design that had a single 47mm main gun, and four other smaller machine gun turrets, thought the Vickers never saw combat and only a single prototype was manufactured.
Like the Vickers, the T-35 had a large, central main turret that sported the tank’s largest gun, which was flanked by four smaller turrets. Two diagonally mounted 45mm tank cannons were complimented by two other diagonally mounted medium machine guns. Despite being quite heavily armed however, the T-35 was not correspondingly armored.
Though the T-35 was likely produced in the dozens, their shortcomings—in particular a woefully inadequate armor package and an underpowered engine—were soon obvious. Even moderately powerful anti-tank guns would have a high chance of penetrating the T-35’s armor, not to mention large-diameter German anti-tank guns. Despite these critical design flaws, the T-35 nevertheless experienced some combat on the Eastern Front against better armed and armored German tanks. Not surprisingly, the T-35s performed poorly.
Though the T-35s were essentially combat-ineffective against German armored vehicles, the platform was supposed to have good mechanical reliability. T-35 breakdowns have been attributed to improper servicing as well as very long intervals between scheduled maintenance rather than an unreliable design.
The T-35’s large chassis was also the basis for an experimental Soviet heavy self-propelled gun, the SU-14, though like the T-35, that vehicle was also produced in very small numbers. Thanks to the T-35’s aforementioned shortcomings, it is estimated that just a single hull still exists, represented by a T-35—said to be in running condition—on the outskirts of Moscow.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.