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The T55 Soviet Warhorse

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Posted: 18/05/2016 11:31
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The T55; Russian warhorse, game changer of the Soviet war effort and quite a remarkable piece of kit, sits proudly within our newly extended museum at Armourgeddon. Read this weeks blog to learn about the T55 and her war impact. 

The arrival of the T55 at Armourgeddon about 18 months ago saw this Russian warhorse take prime position within our museum. Joining with the wide array of other military vehicles, tanks, guns and war memorabilia from across Europe and the world, the T55 stands out from many of the other tanks in our collection with it’s cylindrical top section and relatively flat wheelbase. A huge expanse of metal, this game-changing battle tank of the Soviet war effort was used across the theatres of WWII and the various wars since.

Arguably the main battle tank of the Soviet attack fleet, its Eastern block owners class the T55 was a medium tank, naming the T64A armed with a 125mm gun as their primary tank.

The T55 and its close relation the T54 are often referred to as one in the same as the distinction between the two designs is minimal. In March 1945, the T-54 prototype was created- just as WWII ended. In 1947, the T54 went into full production and soon became the main battle tank for the Warsaw Pact countries. The T54 and T55 have been involved in many of the world’s conflicts from the late 20th Century and the early 21st Century and has now become the most-produced tank in history. Some sources claim that as many as 100,000 T54s and T55s have been produced.

Production mainly took place in Russia (1946-1981), Poland (1956-1979) and Czechoslovakia (1957-1983). The T55 weighs 36 tonnes and stands 6.45m long, 3.37m wide and 2.4m high, requiring a crew of 4 to be fully manned. At a high speed of 48km per hour (30 miles per hour) the speed of this tank is not particularly great compared to others, especially considering its size.

The development and subsequent arrival of the T55 encouraged the UK to develop their new tank-gun, Royal Ordinance L7 and the USA to fast-forward production of the M60 Patton in order to compete with the robust, maneuverable and mechanically simple T55. Significant power in a smaller package allowed the T55 the advantage of being pretty hard to hit.

Transport of the T55 by road via a flatbed truck or rail and for crossing bridges previously impenetrable by the Russian tank forces became easier than with the tank’s predecessors due to the good mobility and relative light design. Lower ground pressure via the wide tracks meant the T55 was able to cross soft, churned or water logged ground also. Once mud wraps the tracks of other tanks, movement grinds to a halt and the tank is forced to a stop. The wide tracks of the T55 allowed movement across the ground saving significant time and fuel when moving into battle position. The T55 also had excellent cold-weather start-up system and they even sometimes have a snorkel system attached that allows river crossing. Not something the crews of the T55 took to lightly!

The cabin layout of the T55 sees a fighting compartment in the front, an engine compartment in the rear, a dome shaped turret and a drivers hatch on the front left. The Commander sits on the left with the gunner in front and a loader on the right.

The small size of the T55, positive in so many ways, did also cause issues. The Israelis who crewed the T54s and T55s during the 1967 and 1973 conflicts complained that the physical constraints of the tank slowed movements and reduced the operation of controls and equipment to a slower pace.

The T55 has been used worldwide by as many as 50 countries and mock-armies although modifications over the years have changed almost every aspect of the vehicle. The T55 is now often seen with an improved turret shape, increased protection, power and firepower with the addition of AA machine guns or improved tank guns. Advanced armour and technologies such as laser range finders, computerised fire control systems and GPS are also often seen modifications.

Our T55 came from the former Czech Republic before commencing its journey to us. It houses a 100mm tank gun in excellent condition. Spending its first few months at Armourgeddon being fully stripped and needle gunned then re painted, we have left the inside in its original condition to maintain the authenticity of the tank. The T55 import process took a significant amount of time and the transportation saga nearly turned us all grey, but we got there in the end. The Russian addition to our collection sits proudly within the company of the best examples of WWII tanks from across the globe at the museum here on site.

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