Tank, T-72M1 (E1994.6)
In 1995 production was estimated at around 25,000 tanks, although this included licence built versions from India, Poland, Romania, the former Czechosolvakia and Yugoslavia. Our exhibit was in service with the former East German Army; it is the model T-72M which was produced for export only. Tanks of this type were employed by the Iraqi Republican Guard during the Gulf War (1991), by the Syrian Army in Lebanon, by various elements in the former Yugoslavia and, of course, in Chechnya.
The striking feature of T-72 is the low profile. This is achieved by careful design but in particular by the elimination of the loader who, because he has to work standing up, largely dictates the height of a tank. He is replaced in this vehicle by an auto-loader, which can feed the gun at any angle with a separate projectile and charge case. The ammunition is arranged around the turret rather like the carousel of a slide projector. Ammunition stowage is limited, the rounds are unprotected so there is a high fire risk, the mechanical equipment is prone to break down and the rate of fire, due to the action of the auto-loader, is slow.
Precise Name: Main Battle Tank T72M1
Other Name: Obiekt 172M-1, Ural
The T72 is the most widely used main battle tank in the world. It has been manufactured in six countries, is in service with the armies of 35 nations and has fought in all the major wars of the last 20 years.
In 1967 the Soviet Army adopted the T64 Main Battle Tank as its future standard tank. The most revolutionary aspect of the new tank was the use of an auto-loader to feed its 115mm smooth bore gun. The T64 was very complex and very expensive; characteristics that made it unsuitable for export to the Soviet Union’s allies. Moreover the T64’s high cost would limit the number of tanks that could be bought and worse, the early versions proved unreliable.
The Vagonka Design Bureau was running out of work as T62 development finished. Its leader, Leonid Kartsev, persuaded the Minister responsible for tank production to allow him to modify the T64 and also to permit the Vagonka Bureau to build six prototypes. This decision was made without reference to the Main Armour Administration in the Soviet Defence Ministry who were supposed to control tank policy! The revised tank, Obiekt 172, had a new, more reliable, Vagonka auto-loader, a 125mm gun, a redesigned suspension and a new engine and power train.
The Obiekt 172 tanks were tested during 1968-70. Following modifications Kartsev’s new tank was accepted as the T72 in 1971. This was a compromise between the advocates of the T64 and those who wanted a cheaper tank that could be bought in large numbers. It gave the Soviet Army a ‘high/low mix’ of vehicles: the T64 at the high end would equip first echelon units in East Germany, the low end T72 would go to the follow up forces and for export. The adoption of the T72 also kept the Vagonka Bureau in business.
Eleven major versions of the T72 are known:
- T72 early production (Obiekt 172-2M), built in1972 for operational trials
- T72 Ural (Obiekt 172M), the first version to be produced in quantity; many small changes compared to the trials vehicles including flip out ‘gill’ armour panels on the hull side to provide protection against hollow charge projectiles and missiles; optical range finder
- T72 Model 1975, the first export model with revised turret armour and a simplified NBC protection system
- T72A (Obiekt 172M-1), first issued in 1979, it has a laser range finder; the front turret armour was thickened (called the ‘Dolly Parton’ turret by the US Army), ‘gill’ armour replaced by conventional metal reinforced rubber side skirts; numerous other changes; the T72A remained in production until 1981 and was subject to a series of upgrades
- T72M1, introduced in 1982, a down graded export version of the T72A
- T72B (Obiekt 182), a further increase in the thickness of the front turret armour; a more powerful V84 engine; and the ‘Svir’ system that allows the tank to fire the 9M119 laser guide projectile to an effective range of 5,500 metres; T72B tanks without ‘Svir’ are called the T72B1
- T72S (Obiekt 184), introduced in 1987, an export version of the T72B fitted with the ‘Svir’ system; originally named T72M1M
- T72 fitted with first generation ‘Kontakt’ Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA), ERA is a method countering hollow charge warheads using explosive blocks to deflect the molten jet produced by hollow charges; first fitted in 1983 and seen on T72A, T72B and T72B1 tanks
- T72BM (Obiekt 187), an improved T72B introduced in 1989; mounts the improved Kontakt-5 ERA; the last Russian production version of the T72
- T90, (originally T72BU, Obiekt 188), introduced in 1994; a T72BM with the fire control system of the T80U. Allegedly renamed because of the poor showing of the T72 in the 1991 Gulf War. It has the latest version of ERA and a defensive-aids suite. The T90 has only been produced in small numbers because of the disruption caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union
The T72 was manufactured in: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, India, Iran, Iraq, Poland and Yugoslavia. Figures for the number of T72s produced in the Soviet Union are not available; the total number of deliveries published in Western sources exceeds 20,000 tanks. Poland and Czechoslovakia manufactured more than 4,000 T72s, many of which were exported. There is a local Polish version, the PT91 ‘Twardy’ (Hard), that entered production in 1994. About 500 tanks were turned out in Yugoslavia between 1984 and 1991. India was the first country outside Europe to build the T72, manufacturing 900 T72M1 tanks during the 1980s. Iraq put the T72M1 into production in 1989 but only assembled prototypes called the ‘Assad Babil’ (Lion of Babylon) before the 1991 Gulf War. There is no information about Iranian production.
Iraqi T72M1s fared badly against the British Challenger 1 and US M1A1 Abrams tanks in the 1991 Gulf War. The T72’s armour was penetrated by the APDFS rounds fired by the British and American tanks; stored ammunition often exploded catastrophically. It is claimed that the T72’s 125mm gun could not penetrate the Chobham armour of the British and American tanks. The T72 was severely disadvantaged by the lack of thermal sights: British and American tanks could see to fight at night and in poor visibility, the Iraqi tanks couldn’t.
The Tank Museum’s vehicle is a T72M1 that was used by the former East German Army, (NVA, Nationale Volks Armee).
Summary text by Mike Garth V1.0
Period of Service : 1972 - present