The T-70 Light Tank's Crucial Role in the 1942 Era Red Army
When most people think of the Red Army circa 1942 they imagine a war machine on the rise, and blessed with fleets of wordclass T-34 medium tanks. On the one hand it's true that by the spring of 1942 Soviet tank factories cranked out far more T-34's than they had during the nadir of Soviet fortunes late in 1941. But, for a number of reasons (including both T-34 losses at the front as well as the decision to parcel out T-34's in independent tank brigades versus concentrating them in the Tank Corps) there were never enough of these reliable, well armed armored fighting vehicles to go around. Enter the T-70.
What many people thus forget is that though the Red Army raised an impressive sounding 25 Tank Corps during the spring and early summer of 1942 (each fielding three tank brigades, one motorized rifle brigade, and a battalion of truck mounted Katysha rocket launchers) a significant source of each Tank Corp's armored punch had been weakened by the presence of far too many T-70 light tank's operating in roles far better served by the much in demand T-34.
At initial blush the T-70 seemed adequate as a gap filler until factories could retool to produce T-34's. Even though weighing in at a mere nine tons the tank was well protected from the front; with armor reaching 60mm in thickness that, just as importantly, was also sloped. This frontal protection compared quite favorably to Germany's primary medium tank at that time - the Panzer III. In addition, the T-70 came equipped with a 45mm L/46 main cannon that could defeat any German light tank's armor. But as is often true when analyzing the efficacy of armored fighting vehicles there is much more to consider than the size of the gun and thickness of armor.
The T-70's biggest problem's stemmed from the tank's two man crew. Overstressed by endless multi-tasking the T-70 crew simply could not compete with a German medium tank's five man specialized crew that in comparison had all the time in the world to not only keep their tank running, but accomplish the most crucial task in tank on tank combat: That being, seeing the enemy, targeting him, getting rounds downrange first, and thereby achieving that all-important first hit capability. In addition the tank's small size meant that it lacked the range to not only keep up with the larger T-34, but implement the renewed Deep Operational theories the Tank Corps were designed to bring to the battlefield of 1942.
That said, there were alot of them. Between the spring of 1942 and October of 1943 two Soviet factories (at Kirov and Gorkiy) cranked out 8,226 T-70's (with T-70's nearly one third of Soviet light and medium tank production as late as December of 1942). It would not be until late in 1943 that T-70's and other such light tanks (such as the T-60, with just over 6,000 produced in 1941-42) ceased to be a major part of Soviet Tank Corps.