In our last article we discussed the epitome of Soviet tank technology. In this Article, we instead discuss one of the most illustrious tanks in history, the T-55, the genesis of Russian tank design direction and it's use in modern warfare on the tabletop.
A (very brief) history of the T-55
Naturally, we couldn't start this article without a short but concise history of the T54/55, which retains the gold standard for the most used AND most produced tank (85,500 units!) in living memory.
Taking in hard-earned lessons from the great patriotic war, Soviet design bureaus came up with a medium tank with twice the armour protection of the T34/85 and with a gun capable of taking out any contemporary armor of the day. With adequate protection and unparalled mobility, the T-54 sacrificed crew ergonomics for a rugged, low profiled and compact tank which set the basis of Russian tank design for the next decades to come.
By the mid 1970s, the T54/55 would make up nearly 85% of Russia's tank fleets before being gradually replaced by the T-64 and T-72, and the success of this rugged and simple design which required only minmal training to operate made it a a roaring export success among third world countries. From the swamps of Vietnam, to the rivers of the Danube to the sands of Sinai, the T-55 would leave an indelible mark on history through it's reliable, but also obsolete, performance in the wars of yesteryear.
Tank 843, immortalized as the T-55 which knocked down the final stronghold of AVRN forces in the Vietnam war
It is telling that to this very day, museum-grade T-55s and modernised variants are still battling in the middle east with the hallmark efficiency of soviet tank philosophy.
An ancient T-55 retrofitted with a dazzler of dubious function in Syria in 2016
As the years went by, it became clear that the T-55, while armored adequately in the time that it was introduced, was vulnerable to ATGMs and the 105mm L7 gun sported by contemporary NATO tanks.
In 1983 the ageing T-55 reserve fleets were upgraded to the T-55AM. This upgrade included passive applique armor, the Volna fire control upgrade, optional fitting of the new Bastion guided projectile, automotive upgrades and many small improvements, which also made its way into the DDR and also the Polish (T-55AM2P) and czech (T-55AM2B) variants of the tank.
Developed by the NII Stali (a russian research institute), the applique armour package for the T-55 was colloquailly dubbed 'bra armour' due to how it looked once attached to the tank. This, along with an improved glacis plate, would slightly improve the T-55's survivability on the modern battlefield, especialy versus HEAT rounds.
Improvements were also made to the Tank's armament. Apart from new rounds for the 100mm gun, the stabilization system was vastly improved from the old 'cyclon' double axis stabilizer and an improved fire control system and electronics panel was installed, along with a ballistics computer and electronics panel for the planned tank-fired ATGM system.
The T-55AM were fitted with the new 9K116 Bastion (NATO codename Stabber) 100mm anti-tank/helicopter missile, which was a general purpose gun-fired ATGM also featured on the BMP-3 and T-62. This round resembled a conventional 100mm round and was handled and loaded in the same fashion.
The missile was fired like a conventional round, with a rocket engine igniting seconds after the round fired. The missile had an effective penetration of 1,000 millimeters against homogenous steel armor and an effective range of 4 kilometers against both helicopters and tanks. Generally, the tank would carry four to six of the missile rounds in addition to its usual combat load (via global security.org).
Due to the general cost and complexity of the system, not all T-55s were upgraded to fire the missile, and these were dubbed the T-55AM2, a parallel development program to upgrade Soviet satelite state T-55s as T-72 production was not sufficient. Both Polish and Czechoslovak tank factories carried out this upgrade, and the resultant basic T-55AM2 did not fire the Bastion missile as it had an entirely different indigenous fire control system.
The T-55AM eventually found a home in the elite soviet naval Infantry and western districts.
The T-55AM in WW3
Historically, Soviet tank battalions in the cold war were organised into 3 or 4 tank platoons (anywhere from 10-13 tanks in a battalion). However, after the fiasco of the East German book (the infamous 3 tanks for 2points), Battlefront has since 'expanded' the T-55 platoons in books to come in platoons of 5s in the interests of game balance.
The key difference between the Soviet T-55am and it's other PACT counterparts, apart from the skill and morale differences, are the loss of the mine plows, a most curious omission, and the ability to equip the Stabber missiles on the entire platoon for just 2 points. Keen-eyed players will also notice that the T-55AM has also lost the nefarious Slow-firing trait and gained a point of AT value.
Costed very competitively at just 16 points for the maximum sized platoon (the same as the East German 10-tank platoon!), a full platoon of T-55AMs camping under cover will prove to be very difficult for opponents to remove at long range. Alternatively, aggressive minded tank commandes can simply push hordes of them down the flanks of the battlefield to threaten side armour and the rear line support units.
Let's take a look at other equivalent choices for missile-toting armored vehicles in the same category. In the interests of fairness, we will also compare the T-55AM against the other prevalent missile boat choice, the BMP2.
Previously the go-to Soviet tank if you needed a horde on the table, the T-62M, just like it's real-life counterpart, pales in comparison to it's older brother. Although costing just 3 points more for a platoon of 5 tanks, the full platoon of 10 tanks costs a whopping 13-points more than the T-55AM. Basically a T-55AM with a bigger gun, the T-62M is once again relegated to the role of a fire support tank for when you need brutal guns and NOT the ATGM.
Although the BMP-2 (and by association, the BMP-3) is fielded in an entirely different role from tanks, we will also compare these as a missile carrier for an accurate comparison. Still the go-to choice if you need hordes of AT21 ATGMs on the field, the humble BMP-2 still fulfills an important role of securing fire support for advancing infantry. For 18 points (the same as a 10-tank platoon with ATGMS), you get 9 BMP-2s with attendant infantry support. Much more fragile than the T-55AM, but with better mobility, the BMP-2 can get into places where the T-55AM cannot, but is vulnerable to mundane threats such as LAWs and Autocannons.
Taking all this information into account, it is clear that the T-55AM will be a frequent sight on Soviet player's lists, whether as a support platoon or as a full battalion. The Tank, while clearly obsolete in terms of armour, is still a potent threat to all but the heaviest of tanks due to the Stabber, and fulfills the role of a backline missile carrier with adequate protection against light weapons. On the offense, while the removal of slow-firing makes this tank a mobile platform, the slow speed and poor skill of the Russian conscripts also mean that the tank will have to be fielded in large numbers in order to accomplish anything meaningful before suffering terminal losses.
In our next article, we talk about how to counter the new soviet threats with our resident NATO experts and suggest some alternative units to take to the battlefield.
About the Writer:
Eddie is an avid painter who also enjoys anime, studying military history and hopes that Girls Und Panzer will come true one day so that everyone can resolve their differences with tank Airsoft.
Tanks encyclopedia: https://tanks-encyclopedia.com/