The T-34 was by far the best tank design in World War 2. In addition to having an excellent combination of firepower, armor, mobility, and shape, its superb technical design, which emphasized simplicity and durability, made it possible to mass produce it in enormous numbers, and gave it very high field and combat reliability, two critical attributes which the advanced German tanks lacked. It was the main war winning weapon of Russia in World War 2.
The T-34 was a medium tank which evolved from a series of pre-war Russian light tanks, which were designed for very high speed (53mph with tracks, and over 60mph in good roads without tracks!!) and long travel range, features which made them a formidable weapon for fast advances very deep into enemy territory, but they severely lacked firepower and armor, so they were not suitable as main battle tanks. Some modern wheeled military vehicles armed with powerful anti tank missiles and machine guns can be regarded as more successful descendants of this type of fighting vehicle.
As a result of the need for an all-purpose main battle tank, the T-34 was developed as a medium tank descendant of those fast light tanks, gradually evolving from their superb technical design, but designed to be a capable main battle tank. The T-34 was lower in height (8ft) than German and American tanks, which was better in using the terrain for taking cover and make it a smaller target to hit. It had sloped armor in both the front and side hull and the turret, which made it harder to penetrate, and of course it had a powerful 76mm gun, which was then a large caliber, and sufficiently thick armor. During World War 2 the gun of the T-34 was upgraded to a more powerful long-barrel 76mm gun and later to 85mm gun, to keep up with the advances in German tank guns and armor.
Initial production and deployment of the T-34 was before the German invasion of Russia. Small numbers of T-34 tanks participated in a series of border battles between Russian and Japanese forces in the far East in early 1941, just three months before the German invasion to Russia.
Both the new T-34 tank and Zhukov, who was later Russia's top military commander in World War 2, made their impressive early debut there, in the far East. Both were noticed and reported by the Japanese, but the Germans ignored those reports and were therefore shocked when they met the first T-34 tanks in combat later that year when they invaded Russia. The Germans so appreciated the performance of the T-34 that when the German military discussed the development of their next tank, the Panther, one of the suggested designs was simply a German copy of the T-34.
There were still small numbers of the new T-34 when the invasion began, and the rapid German advancement so deep into Russia, as far as Moscow, forced the Russian industry, which already lost countless factories, to an unprecedented operation of literally moving its entire remaining military industry factories over 1000 miles further East, to Siberia, to avoid losing it to the advancing Germans.
In those newly built factories, Russia's military industry restored and far exceeded its pre-war mass production capacity. The furious motivation of the Russian production workers to stop the terribly cruel German invaders which were more brutal than Russia's own brutal Communist regime, and the desperate draconic measures of the Russian regime itself, in which being late to work in a factory during the war could result in 10 years imprisonment, gave the wartime Russian military industry the high efficiency that Communism never reached before or after World War 2. In wartime Russia, workers and soldiers alike were motivated by the desire to revenge and the fear of draconic punishments, and were paid in food, which soldiers and workers received while the rest of the population starved severely during the war.
The immense production rate of the T-34 was further boosted by the fact that massive American and British material support enabled the Russian war industry to focus all its effort on the production of a small number of main weapon systems, while other greatly needed equipment, such as trucks and jeeps, field rations and even some aircraft types, were supplied in large numbers by the western allies.
So after the initial tremendous defeats in 1941 which cost Russia millions of soldiers and a huge lost territory, since mid 1942 the Russian army was equipped with rapidly increasing numbers of T-34 tanks which matched the German tanks and increasingly outnumbered them.
Since late 1942, in the late stages of the great battle of Stalingrad, and then in the huge tank battle in Kursk in mid 1943, and until the end of the war, T-34 tanks in ever increasing large numbers, outnumbered and crushed the German tanks, and pushed the German invaders all the way back to Berlin, serving as one of the main war winning weapons of World War 2.
The T-34 was a medium tank, weighed 26 tons. It had a crew of four, it had a good speed of 55kmh (34mph) and a range of 115 miles. During the late stages of the war, the Russian army perfected its mobility so much that tanks were sometimes refueled while still driving forward, without stopping, and the Russian infantry used to keep pace with the advancing tanks simply by riding on them from one battle to the next.
Some T-34 tanks are apparently still being used by some military forces even today, and the generations of Russian tanks developed since World War 2, which were produced in vast numbers during the cold war and still used by many armies, are direct descendants of the T-34, the best tank in World War 2.