A Tank Named “Besposhadniy”: Russia’s Illustrious KV-1 Tank

I have consistently and unabashedly stated my somewhat juvenile affinity for tanks with distinctive markings or colorful artwork. I’m hardly alone in this view, as the KV-1 “Besposhadniy” – meaning “Merciless” – is one of the best known Russian tanks of the Great Patriotic War. Its vaunted kill record – 12 tanks plus numerous other vehicles and guns – certainly contributes to its mystique, as does the fact that artists, poets, and dancers, whose names appear on the sides of the turret, donated the funds to purchase it. The patriotic poem carried on its turret undoubtedly adds to its celebrity, and its skipper, ace Lt. Pavel Khoroshilov, further augments its fame. Yet, I submit that it’s the distinctive and irresistible artwork on the sides of its turret that sets it apart from others, for who could forget a cartoon depicting Hitler being blown to smithereens by volleys from a tank with a red star? The cartoon is an apt metaphor for the resolution of the German-Russian conflict in WWII.

The Actual Tank

The “Besposhadniy” belonged to the Soviet 12th Tank Regiment, 1st Moscow Motor Rifle Division, and fought the German 9th Army Group Center in what was for the Soviets the Western Front, in the winter-spring offensive of the Red Army in early 1943.

Below is a photo of the “Besposhadniy” from the Polish publication Stalin’s Tanks, Wydawnictwo Militaria 212. Note that this photo is from the early days of the “Besposhadniy,” as its occupants had yet to paint kill marks on the sides towards the back of the turret.1 ActualThis photo, from Stalin’s Heavy Tanks 1941-1945: The KV and IS Heavy Tanks (Concord 7012) by Steven Zaloga et al, provides a clear shot of the geometric kill marks added by the crew as their victims accumulated.2 Merciless Kill MarksAccording to Soviet Heavy Tanks (Osprey Vanguard 24) by Steven Zaloga and James Grandsen, the stars, disks, and triangles represent 12 tanks, 10 trucks, 7 armored cars, 7 mortars, 5 motorcycles, 4 anti-tank guns, 3 artillery pieces, a staff bus, and a partridge in a pear tree. :-)

This photo of Paul Khoroshilov, the tank commander, taken from the “Paul Khoroshilov” entry (“Хорошилов Павел”) of the Russian Wikipedia, provides a clear view of the patriotic poem on the side of the “Besposhadniy.”

П.М.Хорошилов

According to Zaloga and Grandsen in Soviet Heavy Tanks, the Russian inscription on the front part of the turret side is a poem that translates thus:

Storming through fire goes
Our KV heavy tank
From the heartland it rolls
To smash the Nazi flank

Crewed by heroic men
Never showing fear
As they carry out commands
Of their homeland dear

 

 

 

 

 

 

This front-view photo of the “Besposhadniy,” shows that it carried its name on the upper glacis plate. I found references – though no photo3 Merciless Namegraphic evidence — that claimed the tank also carried its name on the rear part of the turret.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the markings on this last photo of the starboard side of the “Besposhadniy” are barely visible and almost indiscernible, the photo does provide an excellent view of the drive sprocket, idler, and later-type road wheels. Note also the sharp angle of the rear of the hull.

Merciless Starboard Side

The Hobby Master Model

Even a passing glance at the following photos of the Hobby Master HG3010 quickly reveals that HM has produced a beauty of a model. The finish is superb, with very subtle shades of the base color throughout the tank. You will also notice a very finely applied wash on the turret that brings out the bolts on the mantlet. Note also the realistic tow chains on the front plate that extend to the middle of the hull. They’re as realistic as can be found in 1/72 scale. Note also the silver dry brushing on the tracks that make the detail pop out. On the down side, note that the name of the tank is missing from the glacis.4 HMThis profile shot shows off the artwork and markings on the turret well. The road wheels used by HM are the earlier road wheels found on KV-1s and are clearly incorrect, as can be easily seen in the starboard side photo of the actual tank above.5 HMThis photo of the starboard side of the model shows that HM used the mirror image of the markings on the port side. Note that there are no kill marks on the starboard side, which looks to be correct from the photo above.6 HMThis last photo from the rear shows that HM used the KV-1 hull with the gently curved rear. Again, the side photo of the actual tank conclusively reveals that this is incorrect. The rear of the hull should have been sharply angled. 7 HMHere’s a close-up photo of the HM turret. The two columns of text just below the Hitler cartoon constitute a list of artists, poets, and dancers who pooled their resources to donate the tank, naming it “Besposhadniy” to distinguish it from other tanks. Interestingly, among them is Sergey Mikhalkov, commissioned by Stalin in 1944 to write the lyrics of the Soviet National Anthem, and almost 60 years later, in 2001, by Putin to write the National Anthem of Russia.Merciless Turret GuideIt’s plainly evident that the HM “Besposhadniy” is an awesome little model – a proud little replica of the original.

The Rub

So what’s the rub? And there’s always a rub! Well, in addition to using the wrong rear hull and road wheels, HM used the Model 1941 initial turret, rather than the Model 1941 up-armored turret. The three-way comparison below graphically demonstrates the problem. On the actual tank the bottom part of the turret goes straight back and then turns in behind the turret ring at a sharp 90-degree angle, whereas on the HM model it curves around the rear of the turret ring. The Easy Model version, on the other hand, used the correct turret, as discussed in the comparison section below.

Merciless Turret ComparisonSecondly, as indicated above, HM used a mirror image of the port side graphics on the starboard side — literally — without regard to the fact that the name “Besposhadniy” would be backwards — as in a mirror. Thus, the port side carries the inscription “Беспощадный”; the inscription on the starboard side, Besposhadny Backwards 2, is gibberish — unless, like Da Vinci, you’re adept at mirror-reading.

Hobby Master / Easy Model Comparison

Let’s compare the HM version of the “Besposhadniy” with the Easy Model 36288. Here are five equivalent photos of the EM version.9 EMLike the HM, the EM lacks the name on the front plate. The EM also lacks the tow cable included on the HM. The EM version has a much darker shade and lacks any kind of dry brushing on the tracks. Here’s a portside view.

10 EMNote that the turret is the correct Model 1941 turret, with the skirt of the turret going straight back and then turning in at a sharp angle, as opposed to curving around the rear of the turret ring. Note also that EM did not make HM’s risible mistake in using the mirror image of “Besposhadniy” on the port side of the turret. 11 EMNote also that, unlike HM, EM used the correct later type of road wheels. In defense of HM, the wheels could have been changed in the field; a turret swap, however, would be highly improbable.

Here’s a rear-side view. Note that EM also used the correct hull with a sharply angled rear, as opposed to HM, which used the curved rear.12 EMHere’s a close-up photo of the EM turret. While EM used the correct turret, note that the tampo-applied markings are not as well defined as those on the HM. Though they’re not out of register, they’re simply not as crisp.13 EM TurretFinally, here are some side-by-side photos of the two, with the HM on the left and the EM on the right. 14 3-4 Port Comparison15 3-4 SB Comparison16 Front Comparison17 Top Comparison18 FacingHere’s a lagniappe photo of the EM version to show off the Hat 8263 WW2 Russian Tank Riders.19 BonusThe Upshot

While I’m tolerant of most imperfections in a model, I agonize where the inaccuracy lies in the use of a wrong turret or hull – characteristics that I consider immutable. By that standard, the HM “Besposhadniy” — with its incorrect turret, rear hull, and road wheels — is fatally flawed. The absurd error in using the mirror image of “Besposhadniy” on the starboard side exacerbates the problem.

The EM version, on the other hand, is accurate throughout, though the lower quality of its finish and markings leave something to be desired. Thus, we’re left with a difficult choice: HM’s inaccurate high quality versus EM’s accurate but lower quality. I leave that choice to the reader as I love them both; they both represent an illustrious tank with a fascinating origin, outstanding combat history, patriotic slogan, and striking artwork.

Final Thoughts

Collectors often forget that these models represent vehiclesekipaj crewed by young men who fought and often died together. As a reminder, here’s a picture of three members of the crew, though I was unable to identify them. I would appreciate help in doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d like to leave the reader with a first-hand account of the “Besposhadniy” in combat from the memoirs of Yegor Sergeyevich Tsarapin, the mechanic-driver of the tank, taken from the aforementioned Russian Wikipedia entry. The passage vividly illustrates the tremendous courage of the crew:

In February of 1943, defensive fights started in north of Zhizdra. Blazing like a torch, “Besposhadniy” rushed towards the enemy artillery gun. The crew caught on fire, but continued attacking, ignoring the pain from their burns. Twenty meters, ten meters, and now the enemy artillery gun is being crushed under the heavy tank treads. Only then did the crew begin to put out the fire. I had a burnt back, a broken leg, and three fractured ribs. Egorov [the radio operator] could not feel his right hand. Filippov [senior mechanic-driver] wanted to help me out and take over the driver’s seat, but he was not able to as his lower back was badly burnt. We barely extinguished the flames on ourselves. You could see the crew members’ poorly dressed and still bleeding wounds through their ragged overalls, torn and burnt. We shouted to Fateev [the gunner], “you’re quite charred,” and he replied: “start the engine/move forward!” Collecting the last remnants of our energy, we once again rushed forward, knocking a Nazi tank along the way. By the time we reached our troops, Fateev [the gunner] was dead as well as Paul Khoroshilov [the commander]. We buried them together.

The “Besposhadniy” lasted just over nine months, from late May 1942 to early March 1943, before it was sent for repair. During that time, the tank crew shot down 27 enemy tanks, 9 mortars, 10 guns, 17 machine guns, 30 vehicles, and 13 units of armored vehicles, according to the Russian Wikipedia (though Zaloga reports different numbers). After the war, “Besposhadniy” was transferred to the Kubinka Tank Museum in Moscow, where, sadly, it was melted at the “Hammer and Sickle” Moscow plant in 1948.

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I want to thank Tim L., friend and fellow collector who provided invaluable research, photos, and observations. Sincere thanks also to my colleague Elmira B., who translated the first-hand account of the “Besposhadniy” in battle. Thanks also to my friend Joao S., of Cascais, whose incredible painting skills brought the Hat figures to life.

The “Uzbekistan” SU-100 Tank Destroyer, 3rd Soviet Guards, 1945

Dragon Armor released four 1/72 scale Soviet Tank Destroyers — two SU-85s and two SU-100s — around 2006. Of the four, the Dragon 60305 SU-100 Tank Destroyer is the most captivating, a handsome piece whose compelling slogan not only personalizes the vehicle but broadcasts its unique origin. “SU” stands for “Samokhodnaya Ustanovka,” literally “self-propelled carriage” in Russian. The number following the “SU” designation is the size of the gun in millimeters.

The Actual Tank

The Dragon 60305 SU-100 Tank Destroyer is almost assuredly based on the photo below of the Soviet 3rd Guards taken  in early 1945, ostensibly on the Belorussian Front. Dragon incorrectly attributed this tank to the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps, rather than the 3rd Guards, and placed it in Hungary, rather than Belorussia.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

Immediately apparent are the varied markings on the hull side. In addition to the tactical numbers, the slogan “20 Years of Soviet Uzbekistan” is barely discernible, a reference to Uzbekistan’s integration into the Soviet Union in 1924 and to its citizens, whose sacrifice and hard work had paid for this and other tanks that bore the slogan.

Ivan Antonovich Vovchenko, Commanding General of the Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Corps, recalled the arrival of the Uzbek-funded tanks in his memoirs:

“In the forests of Smolensk our unit received new tanks. On the turret, each of them had the inscription “20 Years of Uzbekistan” and the emblem of the Uzbek SSR. I went to the place where the tankers took the new vehicle, and saw Major Ayrametova, the commander of the Health Battalion. The Major touched the letters and coat of arms and I understood his excitement as this big tank column was built with money collected by the workers of Uzbekistan. News of the arrival of the machines quickly spread through the division, and soon two Uzbek tank drivers came running . . . .”

(Follow this link http://tankfront.ru/ussr/colums/20_let_sovetskogo_uzbekistana.html# and hit “Google translate” if you’re interested in finding out more about the Soviet 3rd Guards.)

The passage above confirms that such slogans significantly improved morale among the troops and evokes an image of the Major pining for his family as he caressed them – or rather, the side of the tank.

The Model

Here’s a three-quarter view of the 60305. At a length of 17.5  feet, the 100mm barrel made the SU-100 a colossal 31 feet long, making maneuvering in tight urban settings extremely difficult. Although no frontal photos of the “Uzbekistan” exist, Dragon placed spare track links on the glacis, a sensible decision as it was common practice to add the spare links to provide the crew additional protection.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

This eye-level profile photo provides an excellent view of the track sag. Note that Dragon applied light, silver dry brushing on the tracks and road wheels, resulting in a realistic worn, weathered look.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

This close-up gives a good sense for the 75mm sloped front armor.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

Note the light dry brushing throughout the roof of the destroyer, which effectively highlights the detail on the hatches. Note also the thickness of, and cut marks on, the front plate.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

There are subtle darker tones throughout the tank, most evident in the back and rear of the hull.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

This starboard three-quarter view shows that Dragon used markings identical to those on the port side. Dragon is to be commended for its tampo application as the markings neatly curve around the turret base of the cupola. Note also the realistic weld marks on the base of the turret base of the cupola. In my enduring quest for improved photography, I continued experimentation with lighting, illuminating specific parts of the vehicle with a small flashlight, with mixed results.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

Dragon’s attention to detail is evident on the side of the front slab, which shows cut marks consistent with a torch. Note the grab handle below the slogan as well as the two-man saw beneath it.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

The Rub

This model is a beauty in every way save one — Dragon botched the slogan! A close review of the slogan reveals three mistakes in the phrase, one in each word:

Dragon: “20 лст Соввтского Узбеккстана”

Correct: “20 лет Советского Узбекистана”

Translation: “20 Years Soviet Uzbekistan”

Whenever markings are incorrect on a model, one can usually find the source of the problem in a color profile of the actual tank. This illustration from the Polish book SU-85/100/122, Wydawnictwo Militaria No. 240 carries all three mistakes in the slogan and, in addition, refers to the 1st Guards, rather than the 3rd Guards, confirming conclusively — for me, at least — that Dragon used Militaria 240 as its source. 

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan

It bears noting that, subsequent to Dragon, Trumpeter produced a 1/16 kit of this same model and repeated Dragon’s exact mistakes, presumably following the same Militaria 240 profile. On the bright side, all three errors are conveniently bungled, such that an advanced modeler could correct all three with a very sharp blade and a dab of white paint. Below is a photo of Trumpeter’s decal sheet. I easily modified the three incorrect letters in this jpeg in Paint, though I lack the courage to do it on the real model. Smile

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan, Trumpeter

(Subsequent Note: As pointed out in the comment below, the source of Dragon’s mistakes was not Wydawnictwo Militaria 240, as originally stated. A blowup of the profile shows that WM 240 was actually correct. Thanks to ez for pointing it out.)

Here’s a lagniappe photo of the “Uzbekistan” next to its Dragon 60299 “K-17” sister, the only other Dragon SU-100.

1/72, 60305, Belorussia, Dragon, Eastern Front, Hungary, Russia, Soviet, SU-100, Tank Destroyer, Tanks, Uzbekistan, K-17

The Upshot

The Dragon 60305 SU-100 Tank Destroyer is quite a handsome piece with subtle tones in its finish, very light dry brushing, neat weld seams and cuts, good track sag and, perhaps more importantly, a documented historical basis. For those of us with a penchant for slogans and art on a tank, the phrase “20 Years of Soviet Uzbekistan” makes it irresistible — more so in this case, where the slogan speaks to this particular tank’s origin. While the botched slogan somewhat detracts from this wonderful piece, I’ve opted for blissful ignorance as I can’t read Cyrillic anyway. 😉

sPzAbt 505: Charging Knights on Metal Chariots, Eastern Front 1944

This 1944 Bundesarchiv photo is of Tiger No. 312 of the famous Schwere Panzer Abteilung 505, with its distinctive charging knight.

Easy Model EM 336220 1/72 Tiger Tank sPzAbt s.Pz.Abt. 505 horses

Here’s the recreation.

Easy Model EM 336220 1/72 Tiger Tank sPzAbt s.Pz.Abt. 505 horses

Here’s the scene in color.

Easy Model EM 336220 1/72 Tiger Tank sPzAbt s.Pz.Abt. 505 horses

For those interested, here’s the source of each piece:

  • Tank: Easy Model 36220, Tiger I Late Type (s.Pz.Abt.505-Russia, 1944);
  • Soldier: Forces of Valor 83091, German SS Cavalry Division (Eastern Front, 1942);
  • White Horse: Revell 2514 Soviet Cossacks;
  • Log on the hull of the Tiger: Well, that’s from my backyard. Very Happy