The Russian T-55 Medium Tank

The T-54 had been developed in 1946 by the Soviet Union shortly after World War II in response to the ever-increasing tensions between itself and the Western powers which lead to the Cold War. It went into production in 1947 as a replacement to the highly successful T-34. It was first seen in 1949 and once it completed every 7000km service, it had a workshop over haul and several continuous up-grades were added.

In 1958 it was re-hauled and equipped for the nuclear battlefield with a basic NBC protection system which did not protect against radiation or fallout and with other up-grades, was re-designated the T-55. The T-55A entered service in 1963. It’s NBC protection was upgraded with anti-radiation internal liner and anti-radiation cover on the tank commander’s cupola.

The T-55A has a 100mm D10T main rifled cannon and carries 43 rounds. It has the benefit of a low silhouette and turret, which is one meter lower than its main rival at the time, the American M-60. It also has a very good long-range capability of 500km and with two 200-litre auxiliary fuel tanks on the rear, its range is increased to 715 km. It is powered by an up-graded V-12 water-cooled diesel engine, which produces 580 hp and a top road speed of 50km/h. Its armour plating is 200 mm thick on the turret and 120 mm thick on the hull.

Roughly 95 000 T-55′s were produced by Russia until production ended in 1977 and it holds the world record for the highest number of manufactured tanks, with the T-34 as second. By the 1970′s the T-55 along with its replacement, the T-62, both made up over 85% of the Russian armour. It was built under licence in several communist and satellite countries, including: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and China, were it was re-designated the T-59. With further improvements it was developed into the T-69, which was a highly successful export vehicle and still is to today.

A T-55 of the Afghanistan forces

The Israeli Defence Force went up against the T-55′s in the 1967 Six day war, M-48′s locked into battle with the T-55′s were it was found neither could penetrate the others frontal armour. The IDF captured large numbers of abandoned T-55′s by the fleeing Egyptian and Arab Armies. It was heavily modified by the skilled production lines of the IDF and designated the Tiran 4 & 5, which had a 105mm main cannon. The Tiran was used in the operation “Raviv” on the 8th & 9th of September 1969, which was an amphibious raid across the Suez channel as well as the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the southern front, against Egyptian T-54/55. It was retired from service through out the 1980′s with the introduction of the IDF built Merkava MBT, where they were sold to other countries or converted into the Achzarit APC’s for IDF use.

Stockpiled T-55's

Russian Variants:

T-54 Ver1 Production was from 1946–1948 in small numbers for field testing.
T-54 Ver2 Production was from 1949–1952 with improvements to the turret and wider tracks.
T-54 Ver3 Production was from 1952–1954 with a new telescopic gunner’s sight and a smoke screen generator.
T-54A  Production was from 1955–1957 the 100mm cannon was fitted with a new STP-1 stabilizer & a bore evacuator, a new OPVT wading snorkel and a TVN-1 infrared driver’s periscope and IR headlight as well as a new R-113 radio.
T-54B  Production was from 1957 to 1958 with an improved D-10T2S cannon with a new STP-2 “Tsyklon” stabilizer, a L-2 “Luna” infrared searchlight and TPN-1-22-11 IR gunner’s sight.
T-54M  prototype fitted with the new D-54T and D-54TS 100 mm smoothbore cannons.
T-54K1 along with T-54K2, T-54AK1, T-54AK2, T-54BK1, T-54BK2, T-54MK1, T-54MK2 were command variant’s, equipped wiith added communications equipment.
T-55  Production was from 1955–1963 It had a new turret, nuclear-blast protection and an NBC system, an improved V-55 engine with greater fuel and ammunition storage,the AA MG was removed and the road wheels were replaced, a new snorkel allowed it to wade in depths to 5.5m.
T-55A  Production was from 1963–1981 with a new anti-radiation lining and full PAZ/FVU chemical filtration system & NBC filtration in the cab, the bow MG was removed, and the coaxial MG was replaced with a new PKT MG.
T-55K1  along with T-55K2, T-55K3, T-55AK1, T-55AK2, T-55AK3, T-55MK1, T-55MK2, T-55MK3, 155MK3 were command variant’s, equipped wiith added communications equipment.
Ob’yekt 155ML  Prototype of the T-55 with a launcher fitted for three 9M14 wire-guided anti-tank missile’s.

Israeli T-55 converted in to the Achzarit A.P.C.

Non-Russian Variants:

Argentina - JT-54 Tensa
Bosnia - SO 76 M-18 Mod, T-55 with Bofors AA Gun
Croatia - Minocistac
Cuba - S-75/S-125 sufrace-air missile
Czech Republic - T-55C-1, T-55C-2, SPOT-55
East Germany - T-54Z, T-54AZ, T-54AMZ, T-54T, T-54TB, T-55AM, T-55AM2B, T-55 NAL NRD, T-55T, T-55T, Orchidee, T-54 M1975/1, T-54 M1975/2, T-55TK, BLG-60, BLG-60M, BLG-60M2
Egypt - T-54/T-55 , T-54A , T-54B, T-55A , Ramses II
Finland – T-55M , KAM-1, KAM-2, T-55 with 155 mm gun
Czechoslovakia (former)  - T-54A, T-54AK, T-54AR, T-54AM, T-54AMK, T-55AMB, T-55AM1, T-55AM1K3, T-55AM2, T-55AM2 Dyna-1, T-55AM2B, T-55AM2K1, T-55AM2K2, T-55AM2K3, VT-55A, VT-55KS, ZS-55A, MT-55A, MT-55K, MT-55L, MT-55KS, PM-55L, JVBT-55A, JVBT-55KS
Hungary - T-55AM2H
India - T-54/T-55 , T-54B , T-55A
Iraq - T-55 Enigma, T-55QM, T-55QM2, T-72Z, T-55, T-54, BTS-2, BTS-Saddam
Iran - Type 72Z AKA Safir-74, Safir-86 , Safir-86 (added armour)
Israel AKA IDF  - Tiran-1 , Tiran-2, Tiran-4, Tiran-5, Tiran-4SH, Tiran-5SH, Ti-67, Ti-67s,  VT-55A, VT-55KS, T-54
Pakistan - Al-Zarar
Peru - T-55M1 “Léon 1″, T-55M1 “Léon 2 ”
People’s Republic of China AKA PRC  - Type 59, Type-69 Type-79, Jaguar
Poland – T-54AD, T-54AD, T-54AM, T-55U, T-54, T-55L, T-55LD, T-55AD-1, T-55AD-2, T-55AM, T-55AMS, T-55AD-1M, T-55AD-2M, T-55AD-2M, W-125SC, WZT-1, WZT-2, T-55A, IWT, BLG-60
Romania - T-55AM, TR-580, TM-800, TER-800, TR-580M, TCZ-580, TR-85,
Serbia - T-55H, VIU-55 Munja
Slovakia - UOS-155 “Belarty”, UOS-155B
Slovenia - M-55 S, M-55 S-1, M-55 S-USP
Sudan - Digna
Ukraine - T-55, T-55AGM, T-55-64, T-55MV

Israeli T-55 converted in to the Achzarit A.P.C.

The T-55 saw heavy use on both sides in the Iran & Iraq 1980 to 88 war, were it was alleged that the IDF had sold large numbers to Iran, and it was also used by the Iraqi’s in the 1990 Gulf War and defence against the 2003 invasion by coalition forces of Iraq.

It was used by all Armies through out the numerous wars raged in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001, but proved weak to attack from modern infantry anti-tank rockets.

Russia has also recently provided the anti-Taliban United Front Army in Afghanistan in a reported $45 million dollar arms contract with refitted T-55′s.

The T-55 has been used for major or small armed conflicts by over 20 countries, including the present attacks by the Ethiopian Army in Somalia and been in service in over 50 countries since its introduction. It is still in service with countries that do not have the capability to mount large armed battles or wars or as a reserve battle vehicle.

The modified T-55 captured during Operation Telic in Iraq, picture taken by site author

Conflicts the T-55 has has seen action in:

Hungarian Revolution 1956 By the Soviet Army
Vietnam War 1957-1975 By the North Vietnamese Army
Rhodesian Bush War 1966-1979 By the Rhodesian Army
Six-Day War 1967 By the Syrian and Egyptian Armies
Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968 By WARSAW forces
Indo-Pakistani War 1971 By The India Army
Yom-Kippur War 1973 By the Syrian and Egyptian Armies
Angolan Civil War 1974-2002 By the Angolan and Cuban Armies
Lebanese War 1975-1990 By the Syrian Army
Ogaden War 1977-1978 First used by Somalian armed forces, later on by Ethopian armed forces
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan 1979-1989 By the Afghan Army and the Soviet Army
Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 By both Iranian and Iraqi Armies
Martial law in Poland 1981-1983 By Polish armed forces
Sri Lankan Civil War 1983 By the Sri Lankan Army
The Gulf War 1990-1991 By the Iraqi Army
Nagorno-Karabakh War 1990-1991 By all sides
Slovenian War 1991 By Yugoslav Army
Croatian War of Independence 1991-1995 By both sides
Bosnian war 1992-1995 By all sides
Kosovo War 1996- 1999 By the former Yugoslavian Army
1st Chechen War 1994-1996 By the Russian Army
1st Congo War 1996-1997 By the DR Congo Army
2nd Congo War 1998-2002 By all sides
2001 Macedonia conflict 2001 By both sides
Ethiopian-Eritrean War 1998-2000
2nd Chechen War 1999-2005 By the Russian Army
Anti-Taliban War in Afghanistan 2001 By the Northern Alliance
Invasion of Iraq 2003 By the former Iraqi Regular Army
War in Somalia 2006- present By the Ethiopian Army