tractors

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Soviet tractor tanks of World War II, Odessa 1941.

In 1941 the Ukrainian city of Odessa was in deep trouble.  The Germans had invaded the Soviet Union, badly mauling the Red Army and the Soviet Air Force. Axis armies had driven deep in to the Ukraine, laying siege to the bustling and strategic port of Odessa.  Cut off from the rest of the country, the beleaguered defenders had to find some creative ways to fend of the Germans and their Romanian allies.

One of the biggest problems in defending Odessa was the lack of tanks.  However, Odessa did have a lot of tractors as the city was host to one of the largest tractor factories in the Soviet Union.  The Odessans decided that if they wanted tanks, they were going to have to make their own.  Using the chassis of a STZ-5 agricultural tractor, they welded together an armored cab and an improvised turret.  Due to the lack of resources armor typically consisted low grade sheet metal and boiler plate.  The gun was either a salvaged turret from another tank, an anti-tank gun mounted on an improvised turret, a small artillery piece, or a machine gun.  

Slow, loud, poorly armed, and poorly armored the improvised tanks were no match for German Panzers.  However they were better than having no tanks at all.  More importantly the tanks were used as a bluff to trick the enemy into thinking that it actually was a heavy armored fighting vehicle.  Often these tanks had a small caliber gun, but with a large pipe welded around it to make it look like a larger gun.  For the most part, the tank was used to scare away enemy infantry from their positions so that Soviet troops could advance.  Once that purpose was served the tanks would be pulled back so that their secret would not be revealed. Thus the tank was named the NI tank, short for Na Ipsing, or terror tank.

Unfortunately for the City of Odessa, the NI Tank was not enough to halt the Axis onslaught.  Odessa fell and was occupied by the enemy until 1944.