T-55: Wikis


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T-55 skos RB.jpg
Polish T-55A, Poznań Citadel Museum of Arms
(front · rear · detail)
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin  Soviet Union
Service history
In service 1947–present
Production history
Designer Morozov (T-54),
OKB-520 (T-54A and later)
Designed 1945
Manufacturer KhPZ, UVZ (USSR),
Bumar-Łabędy (Pol.),
ZTS Martin (Czech.)
Produced 1946–81 (USSR)
1956–79 (Pol.)
1957–83 (Czech.)
Number built 86,000–100,000 est.
Variants See text
Specifications (T-55)
Weight 39.7 tonnes
Length 6.45 m
Width 3.37 m
Height 2.40 m
Crew 4

Armour 203 mm turret, 99 mm hull, LOS = ~200 mm
D-10T 100 mm rifled gun
2×7.62 mm SGMT machine gun, (12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun)
Engine Model V-55 12-cyl. 38.88-l diesel
581 hp (433 kW)
Power/weight 14.6 hp/tonne
Suspension Torsion bar
Ground clearance 0.425 m
Fuel capacity 961 l (254 gal)
501 km (311 mi), 600 km (373 mi) with extra tanks
Speed 55 km/h (34 mph)

The T-54 and T-55 tanks were a series of main battle tanks designed in the Soviet Union. The first T-54 prototype appeared in March 1945, just before the end of the Second World War. The T-54 entered full production in 1947 and became the main tank for armored units of the Soviet Army, armies of the Warsaw Pact countries, and others. T-54s and T-55s were involved in many of the world's armed conflicts during the late twentieth century.

The T-54/55 series eventually became the most-produced tank in history. Estimated production numbers for the series range from 86,000 to 100,000.

T-54/55 tanks were replaced by the T-62, T-72, T-64 and T-80 in the Soviet and Russian Armies, but many remain in use by up to 50 other armies worldwide, some having received sophisticated retrofitting.

Soviet tanks never directly faced their NATO Cold War adversaries in Europe, however, the T-54/55's first appearance in the west in 1960 spurred the United States to develop the M60.[1]


Development history


Predecessors: T-34 and T-44

The Soviet T-34 medium tank of 1940 is considered by many to have the best balance of firepower, protection and mobility for any tank of its time in the world.[2] Its development never stopped throughout the Second World War and it continued to perform well; however, the designers could not incorporate the latest technologies or major developments as vital tank production could not be interrupted during wartime.

In 1943, the Morozov Design Bureau resurrected the pre-war T-34M development project and created the T-44 tank. Thanks to a space-efficient torsion-bar suspension, a novel transverse engine mount, and the removal of the hull machine-gunner's crew position, the T-44 performed at least as well as the T-34, but with substantially superior armour. The T-44's main drawback was the small turret which remained incapable of mounting more powerful armament than its predecessor's 85 mm tank gun. A tank mounting a 100 mm gun was desired..


Development of the first T-54 prototype started in October 1944 at the OKB-520 design bureau, at the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 (Uralvagonzavod), located in Nizhny Tagil. The initial design was completed in December, with a prototype completed in February 1945.

Trials conducted between March and April 1945 resulted in the new tank being commissioned for service with the Red Army as the T-54. The tank had virtually the same hull and drive train as the T-44. Major differences included thicker front armour (120 mm on the upper section and 90 mm on the lower section) and a newly-designed driver's hatch and vision slot. The turret ring increased in diameter to 1800 mm and had thicker armour (180 mm on the front, between 90 mm and 150 mm on the sides and 30 mm on the roof).

The main armament was the 100 mm D-10TK cannon, with two 7.62 mm GWT machine guns. The tank was powered by a new V-54 12-cylinder 38.88 litre water-cooled diesel engine developing 520 hp (388 kW) at 2,000 rpm with two-stage reduction gearbox. Fuel capacity was also increased to 530 litres in the internal fuel tank and 165 litres in the external fuel tank. Unlike in the T-34, the external fuel tanks were connected to the fuel system. The rubber rollers on road wheels were widened. The T-54 weighed in at 35.5 tonnes, making it slightly slower than the T-44 at 43.5 km/h. The road range increased to 360 km.

It was decided to modernize the tank before production started. The new tank's turret was tried on two modified T-44 tanks.

Another T-54 prototype was built in July 1945 which received the alternative designation Ob'yekt 137. The tank was equipped with a new turret armed with 100 mm LB-1 tank gun and 7.62 mm SG medium coaxial machine gun. The turret armour was thickened (200 mm on the front, between 125 mm and 160 mm on the sides). The tank was also armed with two 7.62 mm SG-43 medium machine guns mounted inside fixed boxes on the fenders, each with 500 rounds of ammunition and operated by the driver. The turret was fitted with a 12.7 mm DShK anti-aircraft heavy machine gun. The fuel capacity was increased further to 545 litres in internal fuel tanks and 180 litres in external fuel tanks. Because of this, the road range remained 360 km despite the increased weight of 39.15 tonnes. This prototype went through trials between July and November 1945. Although there were numerous drawbacks which required correction and many alterations which had to be made to the vehicle's design, it was decided to begin serial production of the new vehicle and the vehicle officially entered service on 29 April 1946. It would go into production in Nizhni Tagil and Kharkiv in 1947.[3]


The original T-54-1. It has a turret reminiscent of the T-34-85's, with prominent, undercut shot traps. This example has the fender machine gun boxes replaced with fuel tanks.
A column of five T-54-2 tanks.

Production of the initial series of T-54s began slowly as 1,490 modifications were made. The Red Army received a tank which was superior to World War 2 designs and theoretically better than the newest tanks of potential opponents.[citation needed] Its 100 mm gun was not as powerful as the 88 mm gun on the Tiger II but was superior to the 88 mm on the Tiger I, and was comparable to the 75 mm gun of the Panther medium tank.

Due to its revolutionary design, this gun was mounted in a tank weighing four-fifths that of the Panther, two-thirds that of the Tiger I, and only just more than half that of the Tiger II. The light weight, powerful engine, and robust suspension gave it excellent cross-country mobility. The exploitation trials went without any breakdowns.[citation needed]

The serial production version, designated T-54-1, differed from the second T-54 prototype. It had thicker hull armour (80 mm on the sides, 30 mm on the roof and 20 mm on the bottom) which surpassed that on the German Tiger tank. As production ramped up, quality problems emerged. Production was stopped and an improved T-54-2 (Ob'yekt 137R) version was designed. Several changes were made and a new turret was fitted. The new dome-shaped turret with flat sides was inspired by the turret from the IS-3 heavy tank; it is similar to the later T-54 turret but with a distinctive overhang at the rear. It also had a shorter bustle. The fender machine guns were removed in favour of a single bow-mounted machine gun. The transmission was modernized and the track was widened to 580 mm. The T-54-2 entered production in 1949 (at Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 (Uralvagonzavod) the production started in 1950). In 1951, a second modernization was made, designated T-54-3 (Ob'yekt 137Sh), which had a new turret without side undercuts, as well as the new TSh-2-22 telescopic gunner's sight instead of the TSh-20. The tank also featured the TDA smoke generating system. A command version was also built, the T-54K (komandirskiy), with a second R-113 radio.[4]

T-54A and T-54B

In the beginning of 1950s the personnel of the OKB-520 design bureau of the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 (Uralvagonzavod), located in Nizhny Tagil has been changed considerably. Morozov was replaced by Kolesnikow who in turn was replaced by Leonid N. Kartsev in March 1953. The first decision of the new designer was to fit the 100 mm D-10T tank gun with the STP-1 "Gorizont" vertical stabilizer. The new tank gun received the designation D-10TG and was fitted into the T-54's turret. The new tank also received the night vision equipment for the driver and was designated T-54A (Ob'yekt 137G). Originally this had a small muzzle counter-weight, which was later replaced with a fume extractor. It was also equipped with OPVT wading snorkel, TSh-2A-22 telescopic sight, TVN-1 infrared driver's periscope and IR headlight, new R-113 radio, multi-stage engine air filter and radiator controls for improved engine performance, an electrical oil pump, bilge pump, automatic fire extinguisher and extra fuel tanks. The tank officially entered service in 1954 and production in 1955. It also served as a basis for T-54AK command tank, with additional R-112 radio set (front line tanks were equipped with R-113 radio set), TNA-2 navigational device, ammunition load for the main gun decreased by 5 rounds and the AB-1-P/30 charging unit, which was produced in small numbers. In October 1954 a T-54A tank, designated as T-54M (Ob'yekt 139) served as a testbed for new D-54T and D-54TS 100 mm smoothbore guns, "Raduga" and "Molniya" stabilization systems, which were later used in the T-62. These were not completely successful, so further T-55 development continued to use the D-10 series guns. It was also fitted with V-54-6 engine developing 581 hp (433 kW). It never went into production.[4]

A new version based on T-54A, designated T-54B (Ob'yekt 137G2), was designed in 1955. It was fitted with a new 100 mm D-10T2S tank gun with STP-2 "Tsyklon" 2-plane stabilizer. It entered production in 1957. During the last four months of production the new tanks were equipped with L-2 "Luna" infrared searchlight and TPN-1-22-11 IR gunner's sight, OU-3 IR commander's searchlight. In addition, modern APFSDS ammunition was developed, dramatically enhancing the penetrative performance of the gun to keep it competitive with NATO armor developments. T-54B also served as the basis for T-54BK command tank which had exactly the same additional equipment as the T-54AK command tank.[4]


The original T-55 lacked an antiaircraft machine gun mount

After the first trials with nuclear weapons, it turned out that T-54 could survive a 2-15 kt nuclear charge at a range of more than 300 m from the epicenter. The crew, however, have a chance of surviving the same explosion only at a range of more than 700 m from the epicenter. So it was decided to create an NBC protection system which would start working 0.3 seconds after detecting gamma radiation. The task of creating a basic PAZ (Protivoatomnaya Zashchita) NBC protection system offering protection against the deadly blast overpressure of a nuclear explosion and particulate filtration, but not against radiation or gas[5] was given to the KB-60 design bureau in Kharkov and was completed in 1956. The documentation was sent to Uralvagonzavod. It was decided to increase the tank's battle capabilities by changing the tank's construction and introducing new production technologies. Many of those changes were earlier tested on the T-54M (Ob'yekt 139). The tank was fitted with the new V-55 12-cylinder 4-stroke one-chamber 38.88 litre water-cooled diesel engine developing 581 hp (433 kW). Greater engine power was accomplished by increasing the pressure of fuel delivery and charging degree. The Designers planned to introduce a heating system for the engine compartment and MC-1 diesel fuel filter. The engine was supposed to be started pneumatically with the use of an AK-150S charger and an electric starter. This eliminated the need for the tank to carry a tank filled with air. To allow easier access during maintenance and repairs, it was decided to change hatches over the engine compartment. To increase the operational range, 300 litre fuel tanks were added to the front of the hull, increasing the overall fuel capacity to 680 litres. The ammunition load for the main gun was increased from 34 to 45, with 18 shells stored in so called "wet containers" located in hull fuel tanks (the concept for which came from Kartsev's cancelled Ob'yekt 140 tank). The ammunition load included high explosive-fragmentation and anti-tank rounds and designers also planned to introduce the BK5M HEAT rounds which penetrated 390 mm thick armour. The TPKU commander's vision device was supposed to be replaced by either the TPKUB or TPKU-2B. The gunner was supposed to receive a TNP-165 vision device. The loader's hatch-mounted 12.7 mm DShK anti-aircraft heavy machine gun was dropped, because it was deemed worthless against high-performance jets. The tank was supposed to be equipped with "Rosa" fire protection system. The tank also had a thicker turret casting and the improved two-plane gun stabilization system from the T-54B as well as night vision fighting equipment. To balance the weight of the new equipment, the armour on the back of the hull was thinned slightly. The T-55 was significantly superior to the IS-2 Heavy Tank in all respects, including the rate of fire of the gun (at least four compared to less than three rounds per minute). Despite somewhat thinner frontal turret armour (200 mm rather than 250 mm), it also compared favourably with the IS-3, thanks to its improved antitank gun and better mobility. Heavy tanks soon fell from favour, with only 350 IS-3s produced and future Soviet heavy tank designs remaining as prototypes. The old model of highly mobile medium tanks and heavily armoured heavy tanks was replaced by a new paradigm: the "main battle tank". Parallel developments in the West would produce similar results. Although the T-55 was simply a modernized T-54, it received a new designation for political reasons. It entered production at Uralvagonzavod in 1958 and entered service with the Red Army on 8 May 1958.

After 1959 the tank also served as a basis for T-55K command tank which was equipped with additional R-112 radio set, AB-1-P/30 fuel powered accumulator charging unit and TPN-1-22-11 night vision sight. All this additional equipment made it necessary to decrease the carried ammunition load for the main gun to 37 rounds and eliminate the bow machine gun. In the beginning of 1960s a T-55K was experimentally fitted with "Uran" TV relay apparatus used for battlefield observation. The tank was fitted with an external camera, the picture from which was relayed to a receiver in a BTR-50PU command vehicle. Additionally, there was an observation camera mounted on a folding mast which was in turn mounted on a UAZ 69 car. The range within which the picture could be relayed varied between 10 km and 30 km. In 1961 a T-55 tank was used to test the "Almaz" TV complex which was supposed to replace the standard observation devices right after a nuclear explosion or while fording a body of water. There was a camera mounted on the hull for the driver and two cameras mounted on the turret, one for aiming and one for observation, and the picture from the cameras was relayed to two control screens. The tank had removed the front hull fuel tanks and bow machine gun. Also the commander was seated in the driver's usual position while the driver sat next to him. The cameras allowed battlefield observation and firing during daytime at ranges between 1.5 km and 2 km. However because of the low quality of the equipment the trials gave negative results. In the beginning of 1960s the OKB-29 design bureau in Omsk was working on adapting the tank to use a GTD-3T gas turbine engine developing 700 hp (522 kW). One T-55 tank fitted with this gas turbine engine passed trials but was deemed unsatisfactory and did the design did not go into production. The Omsk OKB-29 group also tested three experimental T-55 tanks (designated Ob'yekt 612) between 1962 and 1965 fitted with an automatic gearbox controlled by electro-hydraulic systems. These trials found that such gearboxes were prone to frequent breakdowns in tanks. At the same time the Ob'yekt 155ML, a T-55 fitted with a launcher for three 9M14 "Malyutka" (NATO code: AT-3 Sagger) ATGMs mounted on the rear of the turret, was tested. Along with standard tanks a flamethrower armed version was designed (designated TO-55 (Ob'yekt 482)), which was produced until 1962. It was fitted with 460 litre tanks filled with flammable liquid instead of the frontal hull fuel tanks. The flamethrower itself replaced the coaxial machine gun. This was a much better way to mount a flamethrower than in the experimental Ob'yekt 483, based on the T-54 tank, where the flamethrower replaced the main gun. TO-55 flamethrower tanks were withdrawn from service in 1993.

During the 1950s, the T-55 remained a significantly smaller and lighter tank than its NATO contemporaries—the U.S. M48 Patton and the British Centurion—while maintaining good firepower, protection, and reliability.[6] Its 100-mm D-10T tank gun had a larger bore than its Western counterparts. This advantage lasted until the tank began to be surpassed by newer Western developments like the M60 Main Battle Tank[7] and upgraded Centurions and M48 Pattons- the three using the 105 mm rifled Royal Ordnance L7 gun. Due to the 100 mm D-10T round's low velocity and the tank's simple fire-control system, however, the T-54/55 was forced to rely on HEAT shaped-charge ammunition to engage tanks well into the 1960s, despite the relative inaccuracy of this ammunition at long ranges.[6] The Soviets considered this acceptable for a potential European conflict, until the development of composite armor began reducing the effectiveness of HEAT warheads.


In 1961, development of improved NBC protection systems began. The goal was to protect the crew from fast neutrons; adequate protection against gamma radiation was provided by the thick armour and a PAZ basic NBC protection system.

The POV plasticized lead antiradiation lining was developed to provide the needed protection. It was installed in the interior, requiring the driver's hatch and the coamings over the turret hatches to be noticeably enlarged. This liner had the added benefit of protecting the crew from fragments of penetrated armour.

The tank was also equipped with a full PAZ/FVU chemical filtration system. The coaxial 7.62 mm SGMT machine gun was replaced by 7.62 mm PKT machine gun. The hull was lengthened from 6.04 m to 6.2 m. The hull machine gun was removed, making space for six more main gun rounds. These changes increased the weight of the vehicle to 38 tonnes.

The design work was done by OKB-520 design bureau of Uralvagonzavod under the leadership of Leonid N. Kartsev. The T-55A also served as the basis for the T-55AK command tank.[4]

T-54/T-55 upgrades

In its long service life the T-55 has been upgraded many times.

Early T-55s were fitted with a new TSh-2B-32P sight. In 1959, some tanks received mountings for the PT-55 mineclearing system or the BTU/BTU-55 plough. In 1967, the improved BM8 APFSDS round, which could penetrate 275 mm thick armour at a range of 2 km, was introduced. In 1970, new and old T-55 tanks had the loader's hatch modified to mount the 12.7 mm DShK machine gun, to deal with the threat of attack helicopters. Starting in 1974, T-55 tanks received the KTD-1 or KTD-2 laser rangefinder in an armoured box over the mantlet of the main gun, as well as the R-123 or R-123M radio set.[8] Simultaneously efforts were made to modernize and increase the lifespan of the drive train.

During production the T-55A was frequently modernized. In 1965 a new track was introduced which could be used for between 2000 km and 3000 km which was two times more when compared to the old track. However it required new drive sprocket with 14 teeth instead of 13. Since 1974 T-55A tanks were equipped with KTD-1 "Newa" rangefinder and TSzS-32PM sight. All T-55A tanks were equipped with TPN-1-22-11 night sight. R-113 radio set was replaced by R-123 radio set. Late production models had rubber sideskirts and a driver's windshield for use during longer stints.

T-54 and T-55 tanks continued to be upgraded, refitted, and modernized into the 1990s. Advances in armour-piercing and HEAT ammunition would improve the gun's antitank capabilities in the 1960s and 1980s.

A wide array of upgrades in different price ranges are provided by many manufacturers in different countries, intended to bring the T-54/55 up to the capabilities of newer MBTs, at a lower cost. Upgrades include new engines, explosive reactive armour, new main armament such as 120 mm or 125 mm guns, active protection systems, and fire control systems with range-finders or thermal sights. These improvements make it a potent main battle tank (MBT) for the low-end budget, even to this day.

One of these upgrade packages was produced by Cadillac Gage Textron and a prototype named the Jaguar was produced. The Jaguar looked quite different from its predecessors. A newly-designed turret was formed by flat armour plates installed at different angles. The hull top was also new. The engine compartment and fuel tanks on the shelves over the tracks were also armour-protected. The Soviet-made 100 mm gun was replaced with the American M68 105 mm rifled gun fitted with the thermal sleeve. A Marconi fire control system which was originally developed for the American light tank Stingray was also fitted. The vehicle incorporated a Cadillac-Gage weapon stabilizer and gunner's sight equipped with an integral laser rangefinder. The powerpack inherited by the Jaguar from the Stinger underwent only minor alterations and comprised the Detroit Diesel 8V-92TA engine and XTG-411 automatic transmission. In 1989, two Jaguar tanks were manufactured. The chassis were provided by PRC, while the hull tops, turrets and powerplants were manufactured by Cadillac Gage Textron.[9]

Another prototype upgrade package was produced by Teledyne Continental Motors (now General Dynamics Land Systems) for the Egyptian Army and was known as the T-54E. After further modifications, and trials it was sent into mass-production and received a designation Ramses II.


Like many post-World War II tanks, the T-54 and T-55 have a conventional layout with fighting compartment in the front, engine compartment in the rear, and a dome-shaped turret in the centre of the hull. The driver's hatch is on the front-left of the hull roof. The commander is seated on the left, with the gunner to his front and the loader on the right. The tank's suspension has the drive sprocket at the rear, and dead track. Engine exhaust is on the left fender. There is a prominent gap between the first and second road wheel pairs, a distinguishing feature from the T-62, which has progressively larger spaces between road wheels towards the rear.

The T-54 can be recognized by the dome-shaped ventilator on the turret roof, which the T-55 lacks.

The T-54 and T-55 tanks are outwardly very similar and difficult to distinguish visually. Many T-54s were also updated to T-55 standards, so the distinction is often downplayed with the collective name T-54/55. Soviet tanks were factory-overhauled every 7,000 km and often given minor technology updates. Many states have added or modified the tank's equipment; India, for example, affixed fake fume extractors to its T-54s and T-55s so that its gunners wouldn't confuse them with Pakistani Type 59s.[10]

The older T-54 can be distinguished from the T-55 by a dome-shaped ventilator on the front-right of the turret and a driver-operated SGMT 7.62 mm machine gun mounted to fire through a tiny hole in the centre of the hull's front. Early T-54s lacked a gun fume extractor, had an undercut at the turret's rear, and a distinctive "pig-snout" gun mantlet.

Advantages and drawbacks

The T-54/55 tanks are mechanically simple and robust. They are very simple to operate compared to Western tanks, and don't require a high level of training or education in their crewmembers. The T-54/55 is a relatively small main battle tank, presenting a smaller target for its opponents to hit. The tanks also have good mobility thanks to their relatively light weight (which permits easy transport by rail or flatbed truck, and allows crossing of lighter bridges), wide tracks (which give lower ground pressure and hence good mobility on soft ground), a good cold-weather start-up system, and a snorkel which allows river crossings. The T-54/55 tanks have together been manufactured in the tens of thousands, and many still remain in reserve, or even in front-line use among lower-technology fighting forces. Abundance and age together make these tanks cheap and easy to purchase. And while the T-54/55 is clearly not a match for a modern main battle tank, armour and ammunition upgrades can dramatically improve the old vehicle's performance to the point that it cannot be dismissed on the battlefield. (Gelbart 1996:75-78)

T-55 tank used by Iraqi Army destroyed in Gulf War.

T-54/55 tanks also have many serious defects. Small size is achieved at the expense of interior space and crew comforts. This causes practical difficulties, as it constrains the physical movements of the crew and slows operation of controls and equipment. Israelis who crewed T-54/55's captured during the 1967 and 1973 wars constantly complained about this, and it remains a problem that cannot be remedied by any upgrades. The low turret profile of the tanks also prevents them from depressing their main guns by more than 5° (the average for Western tanks is 10°), which limits the ability to cover terrain by fire from a hull-down position on a reverse slope. While both tanks have stabilized guns, in practice they can only fire accurately when the vehicles are at rest (this problem may have been solved with more recent upgrades). The 100 mm gun is less effective than newer tank guns of 120 and 125 mm calibre, and only has a chance at being effective against heavily armoured tanks when firing special ammunition (such as missiles). The internal ammunition supply is not shielded, increasing the odds that any enemy penetration of the fighting compartment could cause a catastrophic secondary explosion. And while the T-54/55 tanks can be upgraded, the stunning losses suffered by upgraded Iraqi T-55's against American M1 Abrams tanks during Operation Desert Storm showed the inescapable limitations of the design. The T-54/55 tanks are simply outdated and cannot be expected to have much of a chance against modern opponents.

The T-54 is especially defective: It lacks NBC protection, a revolving turret floor (which complicated the crew's operations), and early models lacked gun stabilization. All of these problems were corrected in the T-55 tank, which is otherwise largely identical to the T-54.

Production history


T-54-1 production was slow at first as only 3 vehicles were built in 1946 and 22 in 1947. 285 T-54-1 tanks were build in 1948 by Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 (Uralvagonzavod), located in Nizhny Tagil. By that time it completely replaced T-44 in production at Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) in Nizhny Tagil, and Kharkov Diesel Factory No. 75 (KhPZ). However the production had stopped because of a low level of production quality and frequent breakdowns. The T-54-2 entered production overall in 1949 (at Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 (Uralvagonzavod) the production started in 1950 and until the end of the year it produced 423 tanks). It replaced the T-34 in production at the Omsk Factory No. 183 in 1950. In 1951 over 800 T-54-2 tanks were produced. The T-54-2 remained in production until 1952. The T-54A was produced between 1955 and 1957. The T-54B was produced between 1957 and April 1959. The T-55 was produced by Uralvagonzavod between 1958 and 1962. The T-55K command tank was produced from 1959. The TO-55 (Ob'yekt 482) flamethrower tank was produced until 1962.

Overall 35,000 T-54-1, T-54-2, T-54 (T-54-3), T-54A, T-54B, T-54AK1, T-54AK2, T-54BK1 and T-54BK2 were produced between 1946 and 1958 and 27,500 T-55, T-55A, T-55K1, T-55K2, T-55K3, T-55AK1, T-55AK2 and T-55AK3 were produced between 1955 and 1981.

Polish T-54AMs


Poland produced 3,000 T-54, T-54A, T-54AD and T-54AM between 1956 and 1964 and 7,000 T-55 (between 1964 and 1968), T-55L, T-55AD-1 and T-55AD-2 (between 1968 and 1979).[citation needed]


Czechoslovakia produced 2,700 T-54A, T-54AM, T-54AK, T-54AMK between 1957 and 1966 and 8,300 T-55 and T-55A between 1964 and 1983 (T-55A was probably produced since 1968) (most of them for export).[citation needed]

Service history

Soviet Union to Russian Federation

The T-54/55 and the T-62 were the two most common tanks in Soviet inventory—in the mid-1970s the two types together comprised approximately 85% of the Soviet Army's tanks.

T-54 tanks served in the 1956 invasion of Hungary, and a few were knocked out by Molotov cocktails and Hungarian antitank guns.[11] The revolutionists delivered one captured T-54A to the British Embassy in Budapest; the analysis of which spurred the development of the Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun. The T-62 and T-55 are now mostly in reserve status; Russian active-duty units mainly use the T-80 and T-72, with a smaller number of T-90 tanks in service.

An abandoned Tiran-5 in South Lebanon

Middle East

A destroyed Iraqi T-55 and supply truck, painted with graffiti by Coalition troops, along the highway between Kuwait City and Basra, Iraq, following the retreat of Iraqi forces from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, U.S. supplied M48 Patton tanks, Centurion tanks, and even upgraded World War II era Sherman tanks, were faced against T-55s. This mix of Israeli tanks, combined with superior planning of operations and superior airpower, proved to be more than capable of dealing with the T-54/T-55 series.[12]

By the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the T-54A and T-55's gun was starting to lose its competitive effectiveness to the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun mounted in Israeli Centurion Mk V and M60A1 tanks. Israel captured many T-55s from Syria and mostly Egypt in 1967, and kept some of them in service. They were upgraded with a 105 mm NATO-standard L7 or M68[13] main gun replacing the old Soviet 100 mm D-10, and a General Motors diesel replacing the original Soviet diesel engine. The Israelis designated these Tiran-5 medium tanks, and they were used by reserve units until the early 1990s. Most of them were then sold to assorted Third World countries, some of them in Latin America, and the rest were heavily modified, converted into heavy armoured personnel carriers; the Achzarit.

Vietnam War

T-55A on the streets during Martial law in Poland.

In the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese NVA used T-54s against the South Vietnamese ARVN and US forces.

According to US and South Vietnamese accounts:

The NVA and ARVN engaged each other for the first time during Operation Lam Son 719, in February 1971. During that battle, 17 M41 light tanks of the ARVN 1st Armored Brigade destroyed 22 Communist tanks; 6 T-54 and 16 PT-76, at no loss to themselves.[14]
On Easter Sunday, 2 April 1972, the newly-activated ARVN 20th Tank Regiment, consisting of approximately fifty-seven M48A3 Patton tanks (ARVN regiments were equivalent to US battalions, and ARVN squadrons were equivalent to US companies or troops)[15] received reports of a large NVA tank column moving towards Dong Ha (the largest South Vietnamese city near the DMZ at the 17th parallel). At about noon, the crewmen of the ARVN 1st Squadron observed enemy armour moving south along highway 1 towards Dong Ha, and concealed their tanks with a good vantage from the high ground. Waiting for the NVA column to close to between 2,500 and 3,000 meters, the 90-mm guns of the Pattons opened fire, quickly destroying nine PT-76 light tanks and two T-54 medium tanks.[15] The remaining NVA armour, unable to see their enemy, turned about and withdrew.
On 9 April 1972, all three squadrons of the 20th Tank Regiment fought enemy armour, firing upon tanks accompanied by infantry, again while occupying the high ground. The Pattons opened fire at approximately 2,800 meters, a few answering shots from the T-54's fell short, and the NVA tanks began to scatter. By the end of the day, the 20th had destroyed sixteen T-54 and captured one Type 59, at no loss to themselves.[15]

NVA armour equipped with the T-54 tank achieved one of its greatest victories in April 1972, when the NVA 203rd Armored Regiment attacked the ARVN 22nd Infantry Division at Tan Canh, which dominated a main route into the city of Kontum. After a two-day artillery barrage, eighteen T-54 tanks from the 203rd regiment attacked the 22nd Division at dawn from two directions, breaking the ARVN unit, which quickly abandoned its positions.[16]

On 30 April 1975, T-54 tank no. 843 of the NVA 203rd Armored Regiment went crashing through the gates of the South Vietnamese presidential palace, signalling the end of the war.[16]

Other conflicts

Column of Yugoslav T-55 tanks in Slovenia.

T-54 tanks were also used during the Cambodian civil war.[17] During the Ugandan-Tanzanian War of 1978-79, Libya sent an expeditionary force to aid Uganda dictator Idi Amin which included a few dozen T-54/55 tanks. Some of these tanks saw action against Tanzanian forces.[18]

Polish T-55L tanks were also deployed during Martial law in Poland to intimidate the population and suppress overt displays against the Communist government.[19]

The T-54/T-55 saw action against South African and UNITA forces during the war in Angola. This Soviet tank's reliability and ruggedness matched the demanding, rugged African operational environment. However, several numbers of T-54/T-55 tanks were lost to S.African Olifant MBTs, artillery fire, and wire-guided missiles in several engagements.[citation needed]

The T-55 was the most numerous tank of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). It was the mainstay of armoured combat units during the Yugoslav Wars, where it proved vulnerable to infantry equipped with anti-tank rockets, and to misemployment in urban areas and unfriendly terrain. But there were too many of them in service for them to be replaced. During the battle of Vukovar, where the JNA grouped a large part of its tank force, a number was destroyed, almost exclusively by infantry-carried anti-tank weapons. The T-55 tank remained the most common tank in the armies of the Yugoslavian successor states until recently, and it was most used tank by all armies during the wars. T-55s were also used by Yugoslavia and Macedonia in Kosovo and the 2001 Macedonia conflict.

China sold thousands of Type 69 tanks to both Iran and Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980-1988 (aka Persian Gulf War prior to 1991). Some saw action during Operation Desert Storm (Iraq/Kuwait) in January/February 1991, and during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom).

The T-55 has also been used by Ethiopia in the current conflict with the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.

The Sri Lanka army used T-55s in the Sri Lankan Civil War, which concluded in May, 2009, against the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). A T-55 belonging to the LTTE was destroyed on 6 April 2009; according to media reports, it was a model produced in the Czechoslovakia and obtained by the LTTE in 2001 or 2002.

Operators and variants

Serbian modification of T-55

The T-55 has been used worldwide by as many as 50 countries and quasi-armies. They have been subject to numerous improvements throughout their production history and afterwards and many are still in service today.

Modifications to the T-54/55 series over the years have changed almost every aspect of the vehicle. Initially, Soviet modifications included better turret shape, improved NBC protection and improved powerplant. Later, improved fire-control equipment and night-vision equipment was added.

Foreign improvements, both in Warsaw Pact nations and elsewhere, have further improved protection, powerplant, and firepower. T-54/55s have been re-armed with improved tank guns, AA machine guns, advanced armour arrays, and technologies such as laser rangefinders and computerized fire control systems that did not exist when the tank was first being built in the early days of the Cold War.

See also


  1. ^ Halberstadt, Hans Inside the Great Tanks The Crowood Press Ltd. Wiltshire, England 1997 94-96 ISBN 1-86126-270-1
    "The T-54/T-55 series is the hands down, all time most popular tank in history."
  2. ^ Miller, David The great Book of Tanks Salamander Books London, England 2002 338-341 ISBN 1-84065-475-9.
  3. ^ Zaloga 2004, p. 6.
  4. ^ a b c d Zaloga 2004, p. 11.
  5. ^PAZ vehicle collective protection system”, at Jane's.com.
  6. ^ a b Zaloga 2004, p. 40.
  7. ^ Hunnicutt, pp. 6, 149, 408.
  8. ^ Zaloga 2004, p. 14.
  9. ^ Jaguar Main Battle Tank at Jane's Armour and Artillery.
  10. ^ Zaloga 2004, p. 41.
  11. ^ Zaloga 2004, p. 39.
  12. ^ Zaloga 1996.
  13. ^ a US version of the L7.
  14. ^ Starry/Dunstan.
  15. ^ a b c Starry.
  16. ^ a b Dunstan.
  17. ^ Peou S., (2000). Intervention & change in Cambodia: towards democracy?. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 129. ISBN 9780312227173
  18. ^ Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948-91, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2002.
  19. ^ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,949411,00.html Poland: Tanks Amid the Eerie Calm


  • Cockburn, Andrew (1983). The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine. New York: Random House. 3 May 1983 ISBN 0-394-52402-0.
  • Dunstan, Simon (1982). Vietnam tracks-Armor In Battle 1945-75. Osprey Publications. ISBN 0-89141-171-2.
  • Foss, Christopher F., ed (2005). Jane's Armour and Artillery 2005–2006, 26th edition. 15 August 2005 ISBN 0-7106-2686-X.
  • Gelbart, Marsh (1996). Tanks: Main Battle and Light Tanks. London: Brassey's. ISBN 1-85753-168-X. 
  • Starry, Gen. Donn A. (1989). Mounted Combat in Vietnam. Washington DC: Vietnam Studies, Department of the Army. First printed in 1978-CMH Pub 90-17.
  • Hunnicutt, R. P. "Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank." ISBN 0-89141-230-1.
  • Zaloga, Steven; Hugh Johnson (2004). T-54 and T-55 Main Battle Tanks 1944–2004. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-792-1. 
  • Zaloga, Steven; Samuel Katz (1 September 1996). Tank Battles of the Mid-East Wars 1: The Wars of 1948–1973.. Concord. ISBN 978-962361-612-6. 

External links


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