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Film / T-34

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"Crew..... prepare for action."
Nikolay Ivushkin
Russian Bias: The Movie

T-34 is a 2018 Russian war movie directed by Aleksey Sidorov.

In the months following the opening stages of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, a lone T-34-76 crew lead by junior tank commander Nikolay Ivushkin (Alexander Petrov) is assigned to a small detachment of Soviet infantry to slow the German onslaught at the outskirts of Moscow. Finding themselves outnumbered and outgunned, the Russians lay in ambush against a German Panzer battalion lead by a cunning SS officer, Klaus Jäger (Vinzenz Kiefer). In the aftermath of the vicious tank battle, Nikolay is wounded by an equally-battered Klaus and is eventually captured by the Germans.

Fast forward to late 1944, a promoted Klaus is assigned by the German High Command to produce a tank-training program to help repel the Russian advance in the East. Seeing potential in using experienced Russian tankers to help teach the enemy's tactics to their newer Panzer cadets, he finds a mugshot of a familiar face and eventually discovers Nikolay in a POW camp. Nikolay reluctantly agrees to help the German officer and is forced to assemble a crew to repair and operate a newer model of their previous tank, a T-34-85 recently captured from the front. Seeing an opportunity to escape, Nikolay hatches a daring plan with his new crew, alongside the camp's resident translator inmate, Anya Yartseva, but pulling off the prison break of a lifetime under the watchful eyes of the Nazis isn't going to be as easy as it sounds.



  • Ace Custom: Averted with the Soviet crew who operate relatively normal T-34 tanks. Klaus' Panther has an experimental Sperber FG 1250 infra-red nightvision device installed on his commander's cupola that he uses to spot and engage the T-34-85 during the night battle in the town.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The most poignant one being long after their explosive prison break and far from immediate danger, the crew take a break in the forest at night while Stepan sings a Russian ode around their campfire.
  • Almost Dead Guy After saving his friends by firing his captured Panther's gun, Volchok is physically unable to reload his tank due to his wounds, Heroic Willpower be damned.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: several, despite what one would think:
    • Nightvison equipment in World War II? Very real, available technology that had been in deep consideration from both sides for military purposes.
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    • Inmates running in circles in boots to see how badly their feet will bleed afterwards, and how much the boots wear out. A real precedent and practice.
    • Nikolay's ambush that saw him destroy a whole regiment of Germans with far fewer forces is based on a real battle led by Ivan Lyubushkin.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Klaus visits an imprisoned Nikolay with the proposition to have the latter train German tank crews. The latter initially refuses, so the former pulls out his pistol and takes aim.... at the innocent inmate translator Anya and starts counting down to five. Nikolay eventually relents.
  • Arrow Cam: Quite a few scenes are of the camera tracking cannon projectiles in slow-mo. There is a notable reverse Arrow Cam shot in one instance: the camera tracks the flight path from a tank that had just got hit, through the interior of the other tank that got hit before returning to its source.
  • Artistic License – History: enough to fill its own page, despite the claims that the events shown are "carefully recreated based on real events":
    • In the opening scene, a bubblehead in the truck. These were not used in USSR until much, much later.
    • S3 camp was very real, but is portrayed way less horribly than it was in real life. Inmates are shown relatively well fed (none of them show any signs of malnutrition), have more or less proper beds, and are even allowed to wear hair, beards and moustache. But above all, Nikolay's seven attempts to escape in reality would not only mean certain death upon recapture, but likely would have had many other inmates killed, based on how it went for real escapees and their friends.
    • Jaeger (an SS officer) mentions his oath to Deutchland. Except that SS did not swear loyalty to Germany, but directly to Adolf Hitler himself.
    • In the same scene, he says face to face to Heinrich Himmler, the architect of Holocaust, that he cares not about emotions and races (that would be like saying one does not care about law to the Supreme Court).
    • In 1941, a Soviet soldier having been captured most likely wouldn't make it to the concentration camp: Hitler specifically decreed no mercy for them, in other words, they were first on the death row, no exceptions (which was one of the reasons Stalin, in turn, decreed any who were taken prisoner and lived were traitors by default).
    • Jaeger allows Nikolay to bury the tank crew outside the camp (unknowingly allowing the protagonists to store tank shells there). SS were, to put it mildly, not very respectful towards the dead, although in this particular case Klaus seemingly made an exception.
    • Anna shows the camp guard a document stating she has a right to exit the camp once (as a reward for her services as a translator). Unbelievable already (it's a death camp, and she is by definition on a death row), but they don't even frisk her while showing several inmates being frisked in the background.
    • That is, not even mentioning that she and other inmates are allowed to move around the camp freely, and even enter important structures without an armed convoy.
    • The titular machine, T-34-85, is a modification that Nikolay could not see himself as he was captured in 1941, but somehow he knows everything about it, more than the SS do despite the Wehrmacht and them having witnessed the tank's evolution on the battlefield.
    • Jaeger allows Nikolay to get a full 4-member crew for the tank, but says they won't have shells. However, of the four crew members, two are specifically required to man the cannon (aim and reload), which would make the full 4-man crew unnecessary.
    • Volchok openly displays how religious he is, which was not only very discouraged in arch-atheistic Soviet Union, but it was a German tradition of carrying a Gott mit uns motto. Soviet authorities did soften up about the persecution of religion since 1941 — any morale boost was welcome in the face of the German invasion, but not really in the military.
    • The same character also swears using the 'kher' word, which was not only not invented yet in Russian, but would also be too similar to German word 'herr', making it doubly uncharacteristic.
    • The protagonists just returning home in the end. While making it out of Germany during the war was not unheard of, it would require way more than just traveling on foot without weapons and while carrying a wounded comrade. That, and the explanation they all would have been required to provide upon return: namely, how did they even avoid death and whether they helped the enemy to do so.
      • Nikolay says that it's 300 kilometers to Czechian border (which it was from the SIII camp); but during the time period shown (before SIII camp was liberated), that particular territory was controlled by Germany. Possibly justified by Nikolay not being aware of this.
    • The tank has a signature on its turret: Perm. However, that city was named Molotov during the time period shown.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: A necessity for tankers on both sides. The Germans in the opening battle note that their early-war tank guns are unable to penetrate the T-34-76, at least from the front which forces them to try and flank it. Later in the movie when the Russians acquire the improved T-34-85, they too are acutely aware that their upgraded cannon is still unable to go head-on against the German Panthers, so they get very creative with what little shells they have.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Despite being a self-professed newbie officer, one look at his new crew's tank and Nikolay manages to point out their flaws but also acknowledge all of their good maintenance habits. And that's not even going into his skills as an armoured officer. Anna, in turn, puts the pieces together and deduces Nikolay's plan for escape before Germans suspect a thing, pointing out its flaws and fixing it for them before she even tells the tank crew about it.
  • Babies Ever After: In the epilogue, Nikolay returns home to his mother along with Anya, who is visibly pregnant.
  • Badass Driver: Stepan Vasilyonok, the grouchy but boisterous tank driver who had survived the battle at the Eastern Front and is eventually reunited with his commander, Nikolay. Despite spending years in captivity, his skill behind the tank levers and toolkits has not dulled one bit.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A bloodied, but still alive Volchok mans an uncrewed Panther's gun and manages to shoot the second-last tank that had a kill-shot lined up on their T-34-85.
  • Bring It: Klaus' response to Nikolay accepting his challenge is to lightly taunt him with an outstretched hands gesture.
  • Bullet Time: A good amount of slow-mo sequences happen throughout the movie, with very gratuitous shots of tank shells flying through the air and often ricocheting off tank armour.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Very few German civilians would even think to lift a finger against a couple of escaped Russian prisoners who happen to be driving a fully-functioning T-34-85 tank. Even the local police constable (ordnungspolizei) knows better than to challenge them with a puny rifle and gives up immediately. This aids the crew in refuelling and restocking their tank much quicker during their time behind enemy lines.
  • Consummate Professional: During a meeting between Heinz Guderian, Hiedrich Himmler and Klaus Jäger, Himmler asks the latter if he hates the Russians. His reply suggests a very neutral stance on the matter.
    Klaus: I am a soldier. I consider sentiment futile. My duty is to serve the Fatherland.
  • Cool Plane: The Germans deploy a Fieseler Fi 156 "Storch" recon plane to help locate the escaping T-34-85 tank.
  • Deadpan Snarker: An unimpressed Guderian gets very snarky when they're told that the rogue T-34 has somehow magically disappeared. He sarcastically suggests to Klaus in consulting a psychic as well as the entire services of the Ahnenerbe note  to help locate their missing enemy.
  • Disney Villain Death: Klaus goes off the edge of a bridge, his Panther tank flipping over his plummeting body, presumably crushing him to his death when they hit the river.
  • Disposing of a Body: When the recently-captured T-35-85 is revealed, the entire audience is seen covering their noses due to the foul stench of the dead crew still inside. Even when Nikolay briefly inspects the interior, he is overwhelmed by the smell and tells the Germans that they need extra time to clean it out as well as burying the dead.
  • Dope Slap: Klaus gives one to his gunner's head when the latter fails to hit a critical shot in the town battle.
  • Due to the Dead: The Soviet tankers are respectfully allowed by their German captors to bury the deceased tankers they found in the captured T-34-85. They take full advantage of this by smuggling six live shells in the body bags and bury them near the staging point for future use.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Nikolay Ivushkin shows excellent judgement and observation skills when he manages to outrun a Panzer III's cannon by driving towards it, taking their turret traversal speed into account as well as later dodging its fire by estimating the timing between its loading and aiming, all while driving a regular Soviet Army truck.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Klaus accepts his defeat in the last battle, all with a calm expression on his face as he falls alongside his Panther into the gorge.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Germans somehow managed to remove all visible ammunition from the captured T-34-85, but somehow missed six unused 85 mm shells and grenades from underneath the corpses of the dead crew. You'd think they would have made sure of this before handing a perfectly-serviceable tank over to the Russian crew.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: In the first battle, Klaus' Panzer III gets penetrated by the T-34's shell and wounds everyone in it. Klaus has to yell at a hysterical Wolff to get him back on the gun despite his injuries.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Nikolay and Anya consummate their relationship by having a tryst under the stars right before the final battle.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Post-timeskip, Klaus still has several bright gashes on his face that he acquired three years earlier, courtesy of shrapnel from a 76 mm shell. The T-34 crew also have their fair share of battle scars along with fresh bruising from their time in captivity and constant mistreatment.
  • Graceful Loser: A defeated Klaus takes the helping hand of Nikolay.... only to shake it and give him a last nod of acceptance, before finally letting go and falling with his dead crew and tank.
  • Great Escape: The Russian crew plan an audacious one involving a tank.
  • Guile Hero: Nikolay has to rely on his witts and skills as a tank commander to escape from the concentration camp and defeat his German opponent and equal Klaus.
  • Historical Domain Character: Appearing in a war meeting is Reichsführer Hiedrich Himmler a.k.a Adolf Hitler's second-in-command, while renowned Panzer General Heinz Guderian is portrayed as Jäger's superior, tasked with supervising the latter's new training program.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: The T-34-85 intended to be used as a punching bag/training tool for the benefit of future German tanker cadets instead becomes a shining beacon of hope for the imprisoned tankers in which they use to escape captivity.
  • Hollywood Tactics:
    • Averted in the opening battle:
      • Nikolay does exactly what a lone T-34 against a Platoon of Panzer III tanks should do: start from ambush, and then reverse into new ambush positions, keeping his heavy glacis pointed at the enemy. He is giving up speed to do so, which allows the Germans an opportunity for flanking movement, which they take. All together a very realistic tank vs. tank battle (and as an added bonus: showing the weakness of the early T-34: because the commander is the gunner, Nikolay loses situational awareness concentrating on his set-up shot, and doesn't notice Jäger taking a shortcut to end up on the wrong side of his turret).
      • Jäger makes a tactical mistake mid-battle: after dealing a critical hit on the T-34-76, they stop firing and assume the tank is immobilized and their crew incapacitated. He is genuinely surprised when the (barely surviving) Russian tank starts up again and continues the fight for another five minutes. Standard tank doctrine employed by all sides during the war was when defeating an enemy tank, shoot at it repeatedly until it visibly catches fire or explodes in order to prevent such a scenario from happening.
    • When hunting for the T-34-85, numerous scenes show at least an entire company of SS soldiers supported with tanks, armoured cars and roadblocks were all deployed; a realistically reasonable response to a rogue tank within friendly lines. Even air recon was present to help pinpoint the Russians position. However, during the German ambush in the town, only the tanks are present, negating their force-multiplier advantage as well as a tank's crippling weakness in urban combat: anti-tank infantry which are nowhere to be found.
  • Insert Grenade Here: During the town battle, Volchok armed with only a single grenade manages to sneak up to an exposed tank commander and briefly struggle with him before managing to drop it into the open hatch.
  • I Call It "Vera": Close looks at some of the tanks reveal their nicknames as painted on by the crews.
    • Klaus' Panzer III has Dietrich next to the driver's viewing port.
    • One of the Panthers has ROSAMUNDE painted on the length of the barrel. It is the same tank that Volchok later attacks and commandeers during the town battle.
    • The Russians adopt Nose Art-styled ones in contrast to the Germans; the earlier T-34-76 has a slogan, "БЕСПОЩАДНЫЙ" (MERCILESS/UNMERCIFUL). The T-34-85 has "МОСКВА" (MOSCOW) along with the Red Star adorned by a trailing angel wing.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: Right before the Germans enter the village of Nefedovo, Klaus orders the armor column to halt and takes off his headset to hear.... nothing. Not even dogs barking, which clues him in that something wasn't right.
  • Mirror Character: Both Klaus and Nikolay are The Ace of their respective factions, who are A Father to His Men and are loyal to their country. Klaus even tries to highlight this by bringing up the fact that their names are practically the same (Klaus, presumably short-form of 'Nicolaus' = 'Nikolay').
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Subverted. Although Klaus, a Wehrmacht panzer commander, regards himself as a Consummate Professional, the film pointedly avoids the "Clean Wehrmacht" myth and shows that the Nazis with Gnarly Weapons were perfectly willing to work with the SS. Klaus even threatens to execute a concentration camp prisoner on his own initiative to get Nikolay to cooperate with the Germans' training exercises.
  • Noble Demon: Standartenführer Klaus Jäger may be a Nazi officer, but he is very courteous to his enemies and has a sense of honor and fair play.
  • No Indoor Voice: Justified. The interior of a running tank is loud and so the crew are always hollering over one another whenever they're in action.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When the German observers realized that their 'target practice' Soviet tankers are now somehow in possession of live shells during the training exercise. They then have a Mass "Oh, Crap!" reaction when Klaus spots the-now-rogue T-34-85 tank emerging from the forest right in front of their observation post, cannon pointed directly at them.
    • The German citizenry's reactions to an enemy T-34 tank rolling down their streets with impunity.
    • Nikolay when he spot the glint of an 88 mm anti-aircraft cannon down the road they were travelling on.
  • Official Couple: Nikolay and Anya become this in the end.
  • One-Hit Polykill: In the opening battle, Nikolay manages to kill a Panzer II and the Panzer III behind it with his opening shot, combined with gratuitous slow-mo.
  • Police Are Useless: A local policeman quickly surrenders his service bolt-action rifle to the tankers when they roll into the German town. Very justified; there's really not much you can do with a puny rifle when you're staring down the barrel of a 85 mm cannon.
  • P.O.W. Camp: The second act of the movie sees the Russian characters being transferred to one within German territory.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: During the start of the German wargames against the T-34-85, the Battle of the Bulge movie's rendition of Panzerlied can be heard blaring in the background. Erika can also be heard playing in the background of the German town when the T-34-85 stops by.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Klaus Jäger views himself as a mere soldier who serves his country.
  • Ramming Always Works: How a T-34-85 tank with broken tracks, but still barrelling forwards at full speed takes out a Panther, by ramming it to the edge of the bridge.
  • Rescue Romance: How Nikolay and Anya hit it off. While there was reluctance on Nikolay's part to invite Anya in the escape attempt he devised with Volchok, Stepan, and Serafim, he decides to offer Anya a ride when she offered that she can smuggle a map Jaeger showed to them earlier. Once Nikolay and his subordinates succeed in escaping, Nikolay finds the time to pick up Anya after she left the camp. From there, the romance begins to the point Nikolay evidently marries and impregnates Anya after the war.
  • Robbing the Dead: Invoked. The Soviet crew smuggle live 85 mm shells in the bodybags of the former T-34-85 crew and buries them along with their corpses at the staging area under the noses of the Germans. When they later dig up the graves to retrieve the goods, they solemnly apologise to the corpses and swear to take vengeance in their stead.
  • Run for the Border: The endgame of the prison escape was to go past the Czechoslovakian border in the hopes of rejoining friendly lines. How they would have known that the Soviets had reclaimed that territory by 1944 while in captivity is uncertain; it is possible they were going only by rumours amongst recently-captured prisoners or the knowledge that the recently acquired T-34-85 is at least 3 days away from the frontlines.
  • Secret Test of Character: When ordered to pick a crew for the T-34-85 by his German captors, he inspects a whole parade of prisoners by walking right up to the person's face and stare him down for a bit. Anyone who cannot maintain eye contact for the whole ordeal is dismissed immediately; those that do stare at him in either genuine curiosity or display outright defiance are chosen, as he can sense their fighting spirit still burning strong in them.
  • Sherlock Scan: The Russians realize they're driving into a trap when Nikolay notices an abandoned baby pram with an suitcase inside at the side of the road, concluding that the citizens of the town must have been evacuated for an upcoming ambush.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted. Even shells ricocheting off the tank's armour temporarily deafens the crew and impacts their performance during battle. In the final battle, Serafim's ears are seen bleeding after they blew up an enemy tank at point blank range.
  • Tactful Translation: While giving a friendly toast to one another, Nikolay curses to Klaus in Russian, "May your liver crack in half". Anya, the interpreter politely translates it to Klaus as, "A long and happy life to you".
  • Tank Goodness: The titular T-34 tanks that the Soviet protagonists pilot being pitted against their evil (but no less awesome) German counterparts, the Panzer IIs,IIIs and later the Panthers. Many of the tanks are either very good mockups or genuine wartime-produced tanks such as the Russian T-34s, a testament to their legendary durability far exceeding their intended service life.
  • Tested on Humans: There is a scene in the concentration camp where inmates are forced to put on sample boots of varying quality and run on a rocky track in circles till they drop from sheer exhaustion, just to test the durability and comfort of shoes. Truth in Television, unfortunately.
  • This Is Not a Drill: The wargames at the German tank base grinds to a halt when the Russian tankers reveal that they have real, deadly shells. An officer is seen announcing this trope over the camp's speakers.
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet: After losing all his other tanks in the climax of the town battle, Klaus challenges the Russian crew to a fair fight by actually throwing one of his tanker gloves down. Nikolay graciously accepts.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Inverted. Klaus sports a thick beard during the Invasion of Russia, but by 1944 he is clean shaven. He may have grown the Seadog Beard to combat the cold temperatures of the Moscow winter as well as taking advantage of lax grooming standards deep in the frontlines. In the second act of the story he is a high-ranking officer within administrative reach of the higher ups. (His scarring may have also halted facial hair growth as well)
  • Time Skip: The opening battle takes place during the Battle of Moscow, late-1941. After that the film skips three years to mid-1944 long after the Russian crew were captured and transferred to a POW camp in Germany.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The conscript who was rooted to the spot after seeing several Panzers aiming their turrets at his position. His commander barely manages to pull him away from their dummy cannon as the tanks open up with high explosives.
  • Villain Ball: The Germans hold on to it big time, when they somehow allowed prisoners-of-war free reign over the maintenance of a recently captured tank, especially when they neglected to at least search the vehicle thoroughly before handing it over to them. This allows the Soviet crew to discover six working tank shells and then smuggle them out by burying them with their now-deceased former crew, enabling them to hatch a daring escape plan afterwards.
  • Villain Respect: Klaus has a very high opinion of Nikolay and his tank-commanding skills after nearly getting killed in the Battle of Moscow. Even after the crew escape from captivity, he remains very cordial in his attempts to recapture or eliminate the Russians and treats it more like a challenge than a duty.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The end of the film shows the eventual fates of the surviving tankers.
  • Worthy Opponent: Both Nikolay and Klaus view one another as this by the end of the movie.
  • Zerg Rush: No matter how skilled or lucky a lone tank can be, superior numbers as well as infantry support will always triumph. The Russian crews have to resort to hit-and-run tactics or outright retreat when the enemy begins to swarm them with overwhelming numbers.