The T-38 amphibious scout tank was a Sovietamphibiouslight tank that saw service in World War II. Developed as a modernized version of the earlier T-37A light tank, the T-38 proved to be only a moderate improvement over its predecessor, and was eventually replaced in 1940 by the T-40.
Early trials of the T-37A revealed many deficiencies in its design, including limited range, sub-par buoyancy, and an unreliable transmission and running gear that could cause its tracks to fall off while on the move. Development of an improved version of the tank that would fix these flaws was begun in late 1934 at Factory No. 37 in Moscow, under the direction of Chief Designer N. Astrov and Chief Engineer N. Kozyrev. The redesign proved to be so extensive that the project was given the independent designation T-38, and a prototype was completed by June 1935.
The T-38 retained many design features of the T-37A, including its repurposed GAZ-AA engine and hand-operated turret. The turret was moved from the right to the left-hand side of the tank, switching the driver and commander positions compared to the T-37A. The T-38 also had a slightly wider and lower profile than its predecessor, providing an advantage in buoyancy that made the cork buoys used on the T-37A unnecessary. While the production-model T-38 was only armed with a 7.62mm DT machine gun, the initial prototype vehicle also included a 20mm ShVAK cannon mounted on the driver’s position. This was removed after it was determined the additional cannon impaired the driver’s ability to control the tank.
Like other light tanks of its time, the T-38 was designed for reconnaissance and infantry support roles. As a scout tank the T-38 had the advantages of a very low silhouette and good long-range mobility through its ability to swim. The T-38 was also intended to be air-portable; during the Kiev maneuvers in 1936, the tanks were transported by Tupolev TB-3 bombers, mounted under the fuselage. Infantry battalions were each issued 38 T-38s, with 50 being designated for each airborne armored battalions. However, the thin armor and single machinegun armament made the tank of only limited use in combat and the lack of a radio in most T-38s was a serious limitation for a reconnaissance vehicle. The T-38 also struggled with carrying any excess cargo across water. The tank was incapable of supporting the weight of two infantrymen while floating, and overloads of 120-150 kilos would cause the commander’s hatch to flood, sinking the vehicle. These flaws were to be fixed by the T-38’s successor, the T-40, but only a small number were built before the outbreak of World War II, leaving the T-37A and T-38 to form the bulk of the Red Army’s amphibious tanks.
A total of 1,228 T-38 tanks were built from 1936 to 1937, with an additional 112 made in 1939 after a two-year break in production.