The Russian T55 at Armourgeddon Military Museum
The arrival of the T55 at Armourgeddon a couple of years ago found this Russian warhorse take a prime position within our museum. Joining with the wide array of other military vehicles, tanks, guns and war memorabilia from across Europe and the earth, the T55 sticks out from other tanks in our collection with its cylindrical top section and relatively flat wheelbase. A huge hunk of metal, this game-changing battle tank of the Soviet war effort was used throughout the theatres of WWII and the various wars since.
Arguably the key battle tank of the Soviet attack fleet, the Eastern block owners categorise the T55 as a medium tank, preferring the T64A armed with a 125mm gun as their primary machine.
The T55 and its close relation the T54 in many cases are referred to as one in the same as the distinction between the two designs is nominal. In March 1945, the T-54 prototype was created- just as WWII concluded. In 1947, the T54 went into full development and soon became the principal battle tank for the Warsaw Pact countries. The T54 and T55 have been involved in many of the world's best-known clashes from the late twentieth Century and the early modern world. It has now become the most-produced tank in history. 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. With 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 introduction of the T55 prompted the UK to progress their new tank gun, Royal Ordinance L7 and the USA to fast-forward development of the M60 Patton to be able to compete with the robust, manoeuvrable and mechanically simple T55. Significant power in a smaller package allowed the T55 the advantage of being fairly hard to hit.
Transportation of the T55 by road via a flatbed truck or rail and for crossing bridges recently impenetrable by the Russian tank forces became easier than with the tank's predecessors due to the good mobility and comparatively light design. Lower surface pressure via the wide tracks meant the T55 was able to traverse soft, churned or water-logged ground also. When mud wraps the tracks of other tanks, movement grinds to a stop and thus the tank is rendered immobile. The extensive tracks of the T55 allowed movement across the ground saving significant time and fuel when moving into battle position. The T55 also had an excellent cold-weather start-up system and even sometimes have a snorkel system attached, which allows river crossing. Not something the crews of the T55 took to casually!
The layout of the T55 sees a fighting compartment in the front, the engine compartment in the back, a dome-shaped turret gun and a drivers hatch also on the front. 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, also causes 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 management 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 time 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.
The Armourgeddon T55 came from the former Czech Republic before commencing its journey to us. It houses a 100mm tank gun in excellent condition. Spending months at Armourgeddon being fully stripped and needle gunned then painted, we have maintained the inside in its original condition to maintain the authenticity of the tank. The T55 purchase process took a significant amount of time and the transportation saga practically turned us all grey, but we have there in the end! The Russian addition to our collection sits proudly within the company of many of the greatest examples of WWII tanks from across the globe at the museum here on site.