Soviet main battle tank T-55
The T-54 and T-55 tanks were a series of main battle tanks designed in the Soviet Union. The first T-54 prototype appeared in March 1945, just before the end of the Second World War. The T-54 entered full production in 1947 and became the main tank for armored units of the Soviet Army, armies of the Warsaw Pact countries, and others. T-54s and T-55s were involved in many of the world's armed conflicts during the late 20th century.
The T-54/55 series eventually became the most-produced tank in history. Estimated production numbers for the series range from 86,000 to 100,000.
T-54/55 tanks were replaced by the T-62, T-72, T-64 and T-80 in the Soviet and Russian Armies, but many remain in use by up to 50 other armies worldwide, some having received sophisticated retrofitting.
Soviet tanks never directly faced their NATO Cold War adversaries in Europe. However, the T-54/55's first appearance in the west in 1960 spurred the United States to develop the M60.
Soviet Union to Russian Federation
The T-54/55 and the T-62 were the two most common tanks in Soviet inventory—in the mid-1970s the two tank types together comprised approximately 85% of the Soviet Army's tanks.
T-54 tanks served in the 1956 invasion of Hungary, and a few were knocked out by Molotov cocktails and Hungarian antitank guns. The revolutionists delivered one captured T-54A to the British Embassy in Budapest, the analysis of which spurred the development of the Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun. The T-62 and T-55 are now mostly in reserve status; Russian active-duty units mainly use the T-80 and T-72, with a smaller number of T-90 tanks in service.
During the 1967 Six-Day War, U.S.-supplied M48 Patton tanks, Centurion tanks, and even upgraded World War II era Sherman tanks, faced T-55s. This mix of Israeli tanks, combined with superior planning of operations and superior airpower, proved to be more than capable of dealing with the T-54/T-55 series.
By the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the T-54A and T-55's gun was starting to lose its competitive effectiveness to the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun mounted in Israeli Centurion Mk V and M60A1 tanks. Israel captured many T-55s from Syria and mostly Egypt in 1967, and kept some of them in service. They were upgraded with a 105 mm NATO-standard L7 or M68, a US version of the L7, replacing the old Soviet 100 mm D-10, and a General Motors diesel replacing the original Soviet diesel engine. The Israelis designated these Tiran-5 medium tanks, and they were used by reserve units until the early 1990s. Most of them were then sold to assorted Third World countries, some of them in Latin America, and the rest were heavily modified, converted into heavy armoured personnel carriers; the Achzarit.
Vietnam WarIn the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese NVA used T-54s against the South Vietnamese ARVN and US forces.
The NVA and ARVN engaged each other for the first time during Operation Lam Son 719, in February 1971. During that battle, 17 M41 light tanks of the ARVN 1st Armored Brigade destroyed 22 NVA-tanks, 6 T-54 and 16 PT-76, at no loss to themselves, but the friendly units loss 5 M-41s and 25 APCs
On Easter Sunday, 2 April 1972, the newly activated ARVN 20th Tank Regiment, consisting of approximately 57 M48A3 Patton tanks (ARVN regiments were equivalent to US battalions, and ARVN squadrons were equivalent to US companies or troops) received reports of a large NVA tank column moving towards Dong Ha (the largest South Vietnamese city near the DMZ at the 17th parallel). At about noon, the crewmen of the ARVN 1st Squadron observed enemy armour moving south along highway 1 towards Dong Ha, and concealed their tanks on high ground with a good vantage point. Waiting for the NVA column to close to between 2,500 and 3,000 meters, the 90-mm guns of the Pattons opened fire, quickly destroying nine PT-76 light tanks and two T-54 medium tanks. The remaining NVA armour, unable to see their enemy, turned about and withdrew.
On 9 April 1972, all three squadrons of the 20th Tank Regiment fought enemy armour, firing upon tanks accompanied by infantry, again while occupying the high ground. The Pattons opened fire at approximately 2,800 meters. A few answering shots from the T-54's fell short, and the NVA tanks began to scatter. By the end of the day, the 20th had destroyed sixteen T-54 and captured one Type 59, at no loss to themselves.
NVA armour units equipped with the T-54 tank achieved one of their greatest victories in April 1972, when the NVA 203rd Armored Regiment attacked the ARVN 22nd Infantry Division at Tan Canh, which dominated a main route into the city of Kontum. After a two-day artillery barrage, eighteen T-54 tanks from the 203rd regiment attacked the 22nd Division at dawn from two directions, breaking the ARVN unit, which quickly abandoned its positions. T-54 tank No. 377 had destroyed seven M-41s before itself had been destroyed by M-72 LAW
On 30 April 1975, T-54 tank No. 390 of the NVA 203rd Armored Regiment went crashing through the gates of the South Vietnamese presidential palace, signalling the end of the war.
T-54 tanks were used during the Cambodian civil war. During the Ugandan-Tanzanian War of 1978-79, Libya sent an expeditionary force to aid Uganda dictator Idi Amin which included a few dozen T-54/55 tanks. Some of these tanks saw action against Tanzanian forces.
Polish T-55L tanks were also deployed during Martial law in Poland to intimidate the population and suppress overt displays against the Communist government.
The T-54/T-55 saw action against South African and UNITA forces during the war in Angola. This Soviet tank's reliability and ruggedness matched the demanding African operational environment. However, several numbers of T-54/T-55 tanks were lost to South African Olifant MBTs, artillery fire, and wire-guided missiles in several engagements.
The T-55 was the most numerous tank of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). It was the mainstay of armoured combat units during the Yugoslav Wars, where it proved vulnerable to infantry equipped with anti-tank rockets, and to misemployment in urban areas and unfriendly terrain. But there were too many of them in service for them to be replaced. During the battle of Vukovar, where the JNA grouped a large part of its tank force, a number was destroyed, almost exclusively by infantry-carried anti-tank weapons. The T-55 tank remained the most common tank in the armies of the Yugoslavian successor states until recently, and it was the most used tank by all armies during the wars. T-55s were used by Yugoslavia and Macedonia in Kosovo and the 2001 Macedonia conflict.
China sold thousands of Type 69 tanks to both Iran and Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980-1988. Some saw action during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq and Kuwait in January/February 1991, and during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom).
The T-55 has been used by Ethiopia in conflict with the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.
The Sri Lankan army used T-55s in the Sri Lankan Civil War, which concluded in May 2009, against the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). A T-55 belonging to the LTTE was destroyed on 6 April 2009; according to media reports, it was a model produced in Czechoslovakia and obtained by the LTTE in 2001 or 2002.
T-55 tanks have seen use on both sides of the 2011 Libyan civil war, with anti-Gaddafi forces either stealing them or having them contributed by defecting members of the Libyan Army.