Sakhalia NetHistory of the RailwaySahara TerritoryBaykal.esAcceptance of cookiesAcceptance of cookies

You are logged off and have no access to the contents of this section!

Please log in or register. Or you may alternatively visit the articles list to search for more content.

DISCLAIMER: This website discourages its users from submitting duplicated content. If this article contains such and you, the visitor, are the creator of the original content, please report it to the administrator of this website instead of reporting the website itself. You can send a report if you are a registered user or alternatively use the e-mail address provided at the bottom of the Privacy Policy.

T-54 and T-55 tanks


By Sakhal

The first line tanks with which the Soviet Union ended the Second World War - the medium tank T-34/85 and the heavy tanks IS-2 and IS-3 - maybe were not the best ones, but their overwhelming quantities in the first place, and also a skillful tactical employment, had made them practically invincible. However, when the Soviet Union removed the mask showing that their wartime alliance with the western powers was only a resort to defeat Hitler, these tanks, specially the T-34/85, were becoming a bit outdated. In 1945-46 had been already built a medium tank to replace it: the T- 44. This one was based in the T-34, armed with the same 85-millimeter cannon and the same angled turret, but with many new details, including the engine mounted transversally. The T-44 resulted very unreliable and soon a very improved version was prepared that incorporated many of the lessons learned from the IS-3. The prototype of this tank appeared in 1946; the model entered production in Kharkov the following year and it was provided to the best armored divisions of the Red Army in 1949-50. It was called T-54; along with its derivative, the T-55, this tank would become the most important one of the period that followed, not only because it was produced in astonishing numbers for peacetime, but also because it was a high technology tank when it entered service and still many years later. The tanks_soviet_union/55 was being continually produced from 1948 to 1981; it is estimated that a total of 50000 units were made (other sources pointing to up to 70000). Along the years, these tanks were used by countries of the Warsaw Pact and other communist countries and their clients. In the beginning, they were produced in Kharkov and Omsk; later, they were produced also in Poland, Czechoslovakia and People's Republic of China, where it was called Type 59.

T-54 and T-55 tanks

Early version T-54. Note the "primitive" cannon without fume extractor, the "voluminous" machine gun and the low profile of the cupolas.

The most visible trait of the T-54, inherited from the IS-3, was the oblong "bowl" turret, which had demonstrated to be very effective to parry anti-tank projectiles. Being a quite lighter tank than the IS-3 - 36 tonnes versus 46 - it was not equipped with the formidable 122-millimeter cannon mounted in the heavy tank, but with a D-10T L/54 100-millimeter rifled cannon. This weapon was a development from a fast-firing naval cannon and it was capable of firing a 16-kilogram piercing projectile with a muzzle speed of 1000 meters/second, to perforate 185 millimeters of vertical armor at a distance of 1000 meters. Later it was developed a shaped-charge projectile for this cannon that could perforate 380 millimeters of vertical armor within its effective range of 2500 meters. Somewhat later, it was developed as well a sub-caliber piercing projectile, of great speed and disposable sabot, that could perforate 200 millimeters of vertical armor at the same distance of 2500 meters, without being hindered by reactive armor plates. In the first tanks T-54, the fire control system consisted of simple optical sights fitted with side grids - called stadias - to calculate the distance to a target; this stadimetric system could suffice in 1948, but it was soon rendered obsolete and not updated until the mid 1950s. One of the weak points of the T-54 was precisely its fire control system, apart from an excessively narrow turret, limited ammunition storage for the cannon - only 34 projectiles - and the incapability of that one to adopt a depression angle below -4 degrees (elevation angle reached +17 degrees). This last defect would be increasingly important, as it was becoming more and more habitual the use of firing emplacements with the hull covered. In these emplacements, the tank is left inclined in a ramp made by a bulldozer - which often was the tank itself - in the edge of a blind sopt, being protected the hull by the patch of earth formed. For being effective, the cannon should have at least a depression angle equal to the elevation angle of the ramp and four degrees are not enough to achieve that.

T-54 and T-55 tanks

In East Europe after the Second World War, the T-54 became a powerful symbol of the Soviet expansion. Dozens of thousands were made, serving in 55 countries.

Regarding armor, the T-54 was well protected, having 100 millimeters in thickness in the hull frontal glacis and in the turret front and 170 millimeters in the mantlet. The hull was fully made by welding and the turret was a cast piece whose roof was a welded piece. The driver sat in the front of the hull to the right and the other three crew members in the turret, the commander and the gunner to the left and the loader to the right. The engine and the transmission (acting on rear drive sprockets) were placed in the rear of the hull, separated from the combat compartment by a bulkhead. Its well contrasted Christie wheel carriage had five large road wheels, unequally spaced and suspended from torsion bars; as in any Christie arrangement, they acted as well as return rollers for the tracks. This system worked well until reaching the maximum speed of 52 kilometers/hour that, a bit surprisingly, could achieve the V-2-54 520-horsepower Diesel engine. The internal fuel storage, with a capacity of 812 liters, granted a maximum operational range of about 400 kilometers and, for long travels, it was complemented with the characteristic disposable external deposits placed in the rear of Soviet tanks. This tank could produce a smoke barrier similarly as the PT-76 did, by injecting vaporized gasoil in the interior of the exhaust pipes. Among the modifications that were made to the T-54 along the years was a second cupola for the loader, albeit both this one and the 12.7-millimeter machine gun that it mounted were later suppressed. To the D-10TG or D-10T2S cannon was fitted a fume extractor, a single-axis stabilizator (and later a two-axis one) and an assisted elevation system for the cannon. Also it received a provision of infrared driving lights and projectors (one to the right of the cannon, co-axial with it, and an orientable one in the commander's cupola) along with equipment for NBC (Nuclear-Bacteriological-Chemical) protection and deep fording. The Russians had a great interest in the capability of their tanks to cross rivers; every one of their tanks could be quickly fitted with a snorkel to allow them to ford a depth of up to 5.48 meters.

T-54 and T-55 tanks

The strategists of the Warsaw Pact insisted much in amphibious capability; every one of their tanks was provided with a snorkel to allow them deep fording.

Finally, the T-54 was reclassified as T-55, with a more powerful engine and increased fuel storage. In the beginning, the fore machine gun that the driver managed was retained, but later in 1963 it would be suppressed to make room for nine additional projectiles for the cannon, and the SGMT co-axial machine gun replaced by a PKT of the same caliber. The T-55 made its presentation in the parade of 1961 in Moscow to commemorate the anniversary of the October Revolution. The T-55 incorporated some improvements, including a more powerful engine developing 580 horsepower. Strangely, the 12.7-millimeter machine gun was initially not included in the T-55, but later it would be reincorporated to the most part of them. During their entire career, the tanks_soviet_union/55 did not have their armor significatively increased and they never carried other than the 100-millimeter cannon, albeit in increasingly effective models. That these tanks were cosidered as equivalent to the M60 and even the M60A1, commissioned one or two decades after the introduction of the T-54, says much about the basic design of Soviet tanks and also the phylosophy without adornments adopted by the Soviet Union for their armored warfare. This tank was recognized as being much easier to handle than the western counterparts.

T-54 and T-55 tanks

Improved version T-55. Note the cannon with fume extractor and the infrared projector in the turret front.

Along the years, the tanks tanks_soviet_union/55 entered combat in many parts of the world: in the wars in Middle East in the 1960-70s, in Afghanistan, in the Chinese border - when both the Russians and Chinese operated them -, in the Iran-Iraq War, during the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), in Angola and in many other conflicts that have tainted Africa during the last third of the 20th century. These tanks also were seen in action in Europe, during the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 and much later in the wars that followed the dismembering of Yugoslavia and the very Soviet Union. And this list is far from exhaustive. During the last part of the year 1996, it was estimated that there were more than 30 wars and isolated conflicts in course, and it is reasonable to think that, given how distributed they were, the tanks tanks_soviet_union/55 were involved in most of them. The T-54 was issued to or served with Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, China, Cyprus, East Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Guinea, Hungary, India, Irak, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Mongolia, Mozambique, North Korea, North Vietnam, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Romania, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Yemen (both North and South), Yugoslavia and Zambia.

T-54 and T-55 tanks

In the time of the First Gulf War - 1991 - the T-55 was irremediably outdated. This Iraqi tank was destroyed the 2nd March by the French 6th Light Armored Division.

Besides as regular tanks, the tanks_soviet_union/55 have served in the habitual support roles - and many T-55 standard tanks had bulldozer blades installed in the hull front -. They had mounted flamethrowers, bulldozer blades and mine-sweeper blades, rollers and plows. Later the Russians developed a mine cleaning system similar to the British Giant Viper, which throws an explosive line across a minefield to be detonated with great effectiveness. There were as well four types of recovery vehicles and three types of bridge-laying vehicles based in them. The most common recovery vehicle had a bulldozer blade in the hull front, a crane and a platform for transporting spare parts. It could be fitted as well with snorkel like the ordinary tanks. The first of the bridge-layer vehicles was the MTU-54/55 whose bridge had a length of 12.30 meters; the second one was the MTU-20 whose bridge reached 20 meters and one of its ends was folded when the vehicle was marching. Czechoslovakia developed the model NT-55 whose bridge reached 17 meters and was of the scissor-folding type. The East German BLG-60 was of the same type and it reached 20 meters. Also the foreign users of these tanks made modifications on their own. India, for example, changed the cannon on many of their tanks_soviet_union/55 by the Soviet 115-millimeter cannon or by the British L7 105 millimeters cannon, while many of the tanks captured by the Israeli were "recycled" by often equipping them with the L7 cannon, the imprescindible upgraded fire control system - the standard tanks_soviet_union/55 could not fire with precision while moving - and air conditioning. Some of the components in the T-54 were also used by the self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle ZSU-57, the tracked tractor ATS-59 and the amphibious vehicle PTS. A further development of the T-55 derived into the assault tank T-62.

T-54 and T-55 tanks

This semi-cutaway of the T-55 shows many details: cannon with rifled bore, hooks and driving lights in the hull front, infrared projectors, periscopes, the loader handling the 12.7 millimeters machine gun under indication of the commander, etc...

Specifications for T-54

Crew: 4

Armament: One D-10T L/54 100-millimeter cannon; one SGMT 7.62 millimeters co-axial machine gun; one SGMT 7.62-millimeter machine gun in the hull front; one DShK 12.7-millimeter machine gun in the loader's hatch

Ammunitions: 34 for 100-millimeter cannon; 500 for 12.7-millimeter machine gun; 3000 for 7.62-millimeter machine guns

Armor: 20-100 millimeters overall; up to 170 millimeters in the cannon mantlet

Length (total): 9.00 meters

Length (hull): 6.45 meters

Width: 3.27 meters

Height (not including the machine gun): 2.40 meters

Ground clearance: 42 centimeters

Weight: 36 tonnes

Ground pressure: 0.81 kilograms/square centimeter

Engine: V-2-54 Diesel engine with 12 cylinders, water-cooled, developing 520 horsepower at 2000 revolutions per minute

Power/weight ratio: 14.4 horsepower/tonne

Maximum speed (in road): 48-52 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range (in road): 400 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.70 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.80 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 60 percent

Maximum fording: 1.40 meters



Specifications for T-55

Crew: 4

Armament: One D-10TG or D-10T2S L/54 100-millimeter cannon; one SGMT or PKT 7.62 millimeters co-axial machine gun; one DShK 12.7-millimeter machine gun in the loader's hatch

Ammunitions: 34 for 100-millimeter cannon; 500 for 12.7-millimeter machine gun; 3000 x 7.62-millimeter machine gun

Armor: 20-100 millimeters overall; up to 203 millimeters in the cannon mantlet

Length (total): 9.00 meters

Length (hull): 6.45 meters

Width: 3.27 meters

Height (not including the machine gun): 2.40 meters

Ground clearance: 42 centimeters

Weight: 36.6 tonnes

Ground pressure: 0.82 kilograms/square centimeter

Engine: V-2-55 Diesel engine with 12 cylinders, water-cooled, developing 580 horsepower at 2000 revolutions per minute

Power/weight ratio: 15.84 horsepower/tonne

Maximum speed (in road): 50-52 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range (in road): 500 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.70 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.80 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 60 percent

Maximum fording: 1.40 meters



Categories: Tanks - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

E-mail:

Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-30


This article has been seen/reloaded times since 2017-03-05 (or since publishing date).

This article has been voted 0 times.

You are logged off and have no access to the contents of this section!