Tank, T-55A (E1994.31)
Huge conscript armies, like those of the old Warsaw Pact countries, went to great lengths to train the vast numbers of troops that passed through their ranks. Where most modern armies use simulators to train tank crews, Russia and her allies tended to employ specially adapted tanks. These invariably had large sections of the armour cut away to permit the instructor and other students to watch what was going on and they were adapted to meet different requirements. For example a driver training tank would have its tracks removed so that the trainee could run the engine, steer and change gear while the tank remained static.
This ex-East German T-55, although still capable of moving under its own power, has clearly been adapted to train a turret crew, in particular the commander. Notice how only the commander's position, with its cupola, communications and sighting devices is intact. With the engine running it would be possible to activate all the ancillary features without having to suffer the claustrophobic conditions of a real tank on the move.
For display purposes a modification such as this is ideal. It is easy to see where the various crew members sit, how cramped they are and the mass of other equipment that surrounds them. In the West the tendency has been to use free standing turrets for this kind of work and specially adapted driver training tanks without conventional turrets for driver training. The Russian system is probably the more economical and, in the main, more realistic.
Cut-away hull for instructional purposes
Precise Name: Medium Tank T55A
Other Name: Obiekt 155
The T55 was developed from the T54B between 1953 and 1957. Like the T54 it was produced in very large numbers and was exported to some 60 countries.
It was the first Soviet tank to incorporate a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection system. Developed versions of the PAZ NBC protection system were used on all subsequent Soviet tanks. Another important change was the provision of a new turret fitted with a proper turret basket.
The T55 was developed over a long period and many early production tanks were remanufactured to incorporate the improvements introduced in later versions. The major versions were:
- The T55, the first version, introduced in 1958
- The T55A, fitted with an anti-radiation lining and a developed version of the PAZ NBC system. The hull-mounted machine gun was removed
- The T55A Model 1970, which mounted a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun, a response to the introduction of anti-tank helicopters by the NATO armies
- The T55 and T55A Model 1974, produced by adding a laser range finder in an armoured mounted over the main gun
- The T55M and T55AM Model 1983, comprehensively rebuilt from 1983 onwards to incorporate passive applique armour fitted to the front of the turret and the hull glacis, side skirts, a fire control upgrade, fittings for the 9M117 Bastion guided projectile, modified road wheels and an automotive upgrade. It was subsequently decided to fit the improved V46 engine used in the T72 main battle tank. Tanks with the new engine were designated T55M1 and T55AM1
- The T55AD and AD1, produced in limited numbers for the Soviet Naval Infantry from 1981 onwards by modifying T55M, T55M1, T55AM and T55AM1 tanks to mount the KAZT Drozd (Thrush) active tank defence system
- The T55K command tank, fitted with extra radios; command versions of the later T55A and T55M tanks were also produced
- The OT55, a flame throwing version
- Combat engineering tanks with anti-mine rollers and bulldozer blades
About 27,500 T55 tanks were manufactured in the Soviet Union between 1958 and 1981. Polish and Czech plants turned out another 10,000 vehicles while smaller numbers were built in Romania. The Romanians developed two extensively modified versions, the TR 580, which has a lengthened hull and a modified suspension and the TR85, which has a German diesel engine, a new suspension and a new turret.
The T55 had some impressive features, notably its well-sloped thick armour, powerful gun, small size, good fording capability and long range of 450 km. Later models of NATO tanks (e.g. M60, Centurion) carried thicker armour, and armed with the excellent British L7 105mm gun, more than matched the T55.
The T55’s fire control equipment was inferior to that fitted to the NATO tanks in long-range engagements, although it was improved in later models. The interior is very cramped and the ergonomics of the crew stations are poor. The T55 played an important role in the Middle East fighting of 1967 and 1973, in the later phases of the Viet Nam war, in the recurrent fighting between India and Pakistan, in all three ‘Gulf Wars’ and in the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. Israel put captured T55s into service as the Tiran.
The Tank Museum’s T55A was especially prepared by the former East German Army as a turret crew training vehicle, in particular for the commander. The use of especially adapted tanks is typical of the training methods used in the Soviet/Russian armies.
Summary text by Mike Garth V1.0