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Putin is now resorting to this tank from the Cold War

The bigger, the bigger.

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Putin is now resorting to this tank from the Cold War

The bigger, the bigger. According to this somewhat simple maxim, the Russian army seems to be throwing material at the front in Ukraine in March 2023 that is not only older than all the crews and officers, but at least in part even predates the birth of the 70-year-old Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin.

In any case, photos of T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks, which are on their way to Ukraine by transport train, are circulating on social media. The first batch of this most-produced tank of all time rolled off the assembly line in 1946; At least some models from the series launched in 1951 are currently being reactivated, as can be seen from the modifications to the running gear and the turret.

During World War II, the T-34 medium tank, first delivered in 1940, had been the Red Army's standard model. In addition to minor modifications during ongoing series production, this model was extensively revised at the end of 1943, known in military jargon as "combat value enhancement": The previous 76 mm caliber cannon was replaced by a gun with a barrel diameter of 85 mm; a new tower with more space was among the other advantages.

According to the documents, 35,120 units of the first T-34/76 model were built between 1940 and the beginning of 1944, followed by 29,430 units of the T-34/85 between the beginning of 1944 and the end of the war. Another 19,000 copies were made after May 8, 1945 in the Soviet Union and under license in Poland and Czechoslovakia until 1958.

Of course, the Soviet tank designers also knew that the T-34 was hopelessly outdated. Its running gear was based on a design by the US engineer J. Walter Christie from 1931. The two first successor models to the T-34/85, the T-43 and the T-44, took up experience from combat on the Eastern Front , but remained almost insignificant intermediate forms: Only two prototypes of the T-43 were made, of the successor at least 1823 pieces on converted assembly lines of the T-34, but only about 250 by May 8, 1945.

Compared to the T-34, the T-44 had a new, significantly lower hull and a more powerful powertrain consisting of a diesel engine and transmission. However, the turret proved to be too small to mount a 100 mm caliber gun instead of the T-34/85's 85 mm gun. At the same time, the Red Army's heavy tanks, the IS-2 and IS-3, already had a 122mm caliber gun. However, with an operating weight of almost 50 tons, these combat vehicles were half the weight of the T-44 and significantly slower - they were not suitable as standard tanks in a modern army.

In 1946 the production of another intermediate version began, which was given the name T-54-1: It used a hull of the T-44, which was 40 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide, and a more powerful engine. The basic construction proved to be good, but it had one major weakness: the turret's slewing ring was vulnerable to enemy hits. Production was stopped, the more than a thousand 100 mm caliber turrets already manufactured were used in fortifications.

The actual T-54 was not ready for production until the following year. The hull was very similar, but the slewing ring was modified. In addition, the tank now got a new, low turret in the form of a flat dome. Internally, this model was called the T-54-2; but in fact it was the first that was actually introduced to the force. This variant went into production in 1949; by the end of 1950 about 420 pieces had been produced.

Then the next revision followed, the T-54-3 or just T-54 (1951). It seems that at least tanks of this series will be sent to Ukraine 72 years later. In the original version, it did not yet have a gun stabilizer that allowed firing on the move - unlike the US M-26 tank, which had such a system, albeit still quite primitive, since 1945/46.

Such a system was installed starting with the T-54A variant; the further development T-54B introduced in 1955 already had a further developed stabilization. Three years later, a significant improvement followed with a more powerful engine and protection against nuclear, biological and chemical attacks than the T-55. This version now also replaced the Soviet Army's last nominally heavy tanks, the older IS-3 and the newer T-10.

From 1946 to 1958 around 35,000 tanks of the basic type T-54 were manufactured in the Soviet Union; another 27,500 T-55s followed from 1955 to 1981. In addition, there were large numbers in license production, namely 10,000 in Poland and 11,000 in the CSSR and 13,000 in the People's Republic of China. With a total production of at least 96,500 examples, the T-54/55 model even exceeded the number of T-34s produced.

The T-54/55 was involved in practically every battle and war in which tanks were used at all since 1955 - from the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 (in Soviet service) to the Vietnam War (on the North Vietnamese side) and the various Middle East wars since T -54/55 even against each other.

Since decommissioned models were exported to regimes in the Third World, T-54/55s have been and are involved in almost all civil wars since around 1975: including in Lebanon, former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya and many other countries.

However, that the Russian army in 2023 will have to resort to a tank that is almost 75 years old in design (although the reactivated examples are likely to be modified) is really surprising. It's as if the US Army were still in the 21st century deploying the M-46, which was created around the same time - tanks that were decommissioned in 1957 and, apart from a few examples in museums, have long been scrapped.

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