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T-54 / T-55 Series Tanks

The layout of the T-54 is conventional, with the main armament comprising a 100mm rifled gun. The T-54 has been used more than any other tank since the Second World War. It is intended for combat actions involving tanks, combat vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and other armored enemy targets. The T-55 combines a high velocity gun with exceptional long-range endurance. The T-55 has a fully tracked, five-road-wheeled chassis with a low-silhouetted hull and a dome shaped turret.

The T-54 series tanks first appeared in 1949 as replacements for the T-34 tank of World War II. The first T-54 prototype was completed in 1946 with first production beginning in 1947. The T-54 was continuously improved and modified.

No sooner had the Soviet Union adopted the T-54 tank in the late 1940s did the arms race escalate among the former WWII allies, with the sides battling for supremacy in all spheres of defense and arms production. For the USSR, tanks had a special significance in the projection of military might on land, and its masses of tanks hung like the sword of Damocles over Europe for decades.

The Soviet challenge did not go unanswered. The appearance of the U.S. M48 Patton III and the British Centurion battle tank was followed in 1959 by the debut of the U.S. M60 main battle tank. The Mk.10 modification of the Centurion also had Soviet tank builders working overtime to match its improved specifications.

Work to create a new armored vehicle based on the T-54B medium tank began in 1957. Assigned the secret classification of "Object 155," the tank incorporated the entire range of new design features yielded by the modernization of the T-54. Testing ran from the winter of 1957 to the spring of 1958, when Object 155 was adopted by the Soviet Army as the T-55 according to a May 8 resolution passed by the USSR Council of Ministers. The T-55 was introduced in 1958 and incorporates all the refinements and improvements of the fully developed T-54 series without being radically different in design or appearance. The T-55A appeared in the early 1960s. Production continued in the Soviet Union through 1981 and was also undertaken in China (as the Type 59), Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Large numbers are still in service, although by the 1980s the T-54/55 had been replaced by the T-62, T-64, T-72, and T-80 as the primary main battle tank in first-line Soviet tank and motorized rifle units. Used in the invasion of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Syria in 1970, it was the main Arab tank in the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. During the 1970s, the T-54 saw combat in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Uganda.


  • The T-54 medium tank has a fully tracked, five-road wheeled chassis with a space between the first and second road wheels and no return rollers. It has a low-silhouetted hull with a dome-shaped turret mounted over the third road wheel. The 100-mm rifle-bore main gun has a bore evacuator at the muzzle. A 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun and 7.62-mm bow machine gun are also mounted. The later T-55A version lacks the bow machine gun.
  • The T-55 is distinguishable from the other T-54 models in that it lacks the right-hand cupola and the turret dome ventilator located in front of that cupola on the T-54. Most T-55s also lack the turret-mounted 12.7-mm AA machine gun of the T-54, and all T-55s mount an infrared gunner's searchlight above and to the right of the main gun. This searchlight, however, is not a distinguishing feature, since it has been retrofitted to many T-54 and T-54A tanks.


The combat capabilities of the T-54 were seen in one of the battles of the Vietnam War. The two South Vietnamese M41 light tanks were hit by the US-made T-54 with three rounds each. In a tank-on-tank confrontation two South Vietnamese M-41 light tanks fired three 76 millimeter rounds each into a single T-54. The T-54 took some damage, but easily destroyed the lighter US-made vehicles. After the shooting stopped, the NVA crew calmly exited their T-54 and walked away.

The hostile turret conditions reduced the T-54s practical rate of fire to just four rounds a minute. A competent Western tank crew could shoot off the same number of shells in the first 15 seconds of an engagement. Soviet designers soon afterward started working on the T-55. It looked almost no different from the other tanks but the inside showed a large number of improvements.

The T-55 combines a high-velocity gun with a highly mobile chassis, a low silhouette, and exceptional long-range endurance. Improvements over the T-54 include a larger V-12 water-cooled diesel engine with 580 hp rather than 520 hp, increased cruising range of 500km (up to 715 km with two 200-liter auxiliary fuel tanks which can be carried on the rear) rather than 400 km (600 km with auxiliary tanks). The T-55 also has two-plane stabilization of the main gun rather than vertical stabilization only, and a basic load for the main gun of 43 rounds rather than 34.


The T-54/55 tanks have been produced in greater quantity than any other tank in the world.

  • T-54: There are numerous differences between early production T-54 vehicles and later models with some having a wider mantlet and turret undercut at the rear. These are sometimes referred to as the T-54 (1949), T-54 (1951) and T-54 (1953).
  • T-54A: This model has a fume extractor for the 100mm gun, stabilization system and deep fording equipment.
  • T-54AK: Command tank (Polish model is the T-54AD). Has additional radios and a radio range of 100 miles.
  • T-54M: T-54 upgraded to the T-55M standard. See T-55M.
  • T-54B: First model to have infra-red night vision equipment.

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Page last modified: 29-03-2016 20:06:01 ZULU