New T34 movie - Did Russians use convicts to man T34 tanks in ww2?

Aug 2018
There is a new movie coming in 2018. A Russian production. The trailer seems to show what seem to be criminals manning a T34 for some sort of suicide mission. Now I know the Russians had Penal battalions they used for a lot of dangerous duties. But I would have thought tank crews would be more of a prestige role. Don't get me wrong. I realise the T-34 in a lot of cases was a scratch job of shoddy workmanship. Holes in the welding being common.

But they seem to have given a T-34 upgunned 85mm version to a penal or criminal element. What ever the case may be. I really love the kit they have in this movie.

I really hated the recent movie, Stalingrad 2013. A real propaganda stunt. I hope this one is not the same. White Tiger also had some good kit but was more of a ghost fantasy style movie.
Fury was pretty bad also as I remember.
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Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
I would assume you had to get some education to use a tank. There were special tank schools. The only ex-tankist I knew who was wounded during WWII and had a very characteristic gait was definitely not an ex-convict. Another thing - nutrition was so bad in prisons and Gulag system during the war, that would prevent using people straight from prisons. Just trying to use logic as I don't know the answer.


Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
BTW, I bet there are models of T-34 in Russia, but in the US, they are rare. Paul Allen Flying Heritage Museum. This is T-34. In working condition. The signature says, "For the general Bagramyan". I have the photo of a Sherman tank, too, if anyone is interested.



Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
There seems to be some confusion , the convicts are German camp inmates ?!

the RKKA used two kind of prisoners , levies from the Gu-lag camps , either send or volunteering
and army prisoners under some sentence .
they were used as assault decoy troops to unmask German machine guns and defense , I know of none ever having been used to crew tanks
the most famous ( and controversial ) was the "Polar division" levied from vorkuta inmates to successfully defend murmansk
in both cases once they had "redeemed themselves with blood " they were send into regular rifles divisions

the Crews of the tank regiment were not very much trained at all , a couple of hours training usually
The RKKA had estimated the average survival of a tank in combat at 20 minutes ,
crew casualties were estimated at four tank destroyed leaving enough survivors for manning one crew
women factory workers were volunteering for battle , infantry men were pressed into service

the most experienced survivors would be promoted to squadron chief or send into the Tank Guard regiments
the 6 Guard tank Armies had better crews, services and leaders

the use of T-34 was clearly a high attrition rate , it saved a lot of infantry lives but the T-34 was always seen as a disposable item
good finish and expert crew was simply irrelevant when losses were so high . better have more

before the anti Russia rants avalanche it should be pointed that Montgomery ,as careful of his men lives as any general
threw his armor at the Germans position during the Goodwood and Epson operation with eyes watering casualties
At El Alamein ,by his own words ,he was willing to have his armor brigades suffer 100% losses to achieve breakthrough