Although the T-54/55 tank series has long become obsolete, it still serves the Third World’s republics and dictatorships in large numbers. One of its first appearances took place in Hungary: the Russian tanks hurtling in in 1956 were in part T-34, in part T-54 tanks. At the time of the attack on November 4th, the T-54s were already in an overwhelming majority. The reason for this was that this type did not fall prey as easily to the metropolitan guerilla fighters.
The newer versions of the T-54 and the T-series of tanks are to this day symbols of Soviet-type regimes and of Soviet friendship, or rather of the local and civil wars devastating the Third World. The first T-54 prototype was completed in 1946 with first production beginning in 1949. The T-55 was introduced in 1958.
The layout of the T-54 is conventional, with the main armament comprising a 100mm rifled gun. The T-54 has been used more than any other tank since the Second World War. The T-55 combines a high velocity gun with exceptional long-range endurance. It incorporates all the refinements and improvements of the fully developed T-54 series without being radically different in design or appearance.
The T-55 shares the disadvantage of most Soviet tanks in having limited ability to depress the main gun, thus not being capable of firing effectively from defilade and being forced to expose itself to engage targets. Although its half-egg shaped turret has good ballistic qualities (bullets slide off it easily), it provides cramped working conditions for the crew, resulting in a slow rate of fire; and the protection afforded by its low silhouette is counterbalanced by its poor armour protection which is thin by western standards. The lack of a turret basket presents loading difficulties, and there is limited ready ammunition. Although the T-55 combines a high-velocity gun with a highly mobile chassis, a low silhouette, and exceptional long-range endurance, by today’s standards it compares with its possible opponents as if it were a home-made piece of electronics. It is, however, effective against manpower, especially if it comes hurtling down from the hills unexpectedly.
Apart from the Hungarian intervention of 1956, its main combat applications: occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Arab-Israeli wars (1967, 1973), Vietnam, Cambodia and Uganda.
This tank type has played a role for the last time during the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, when both sides made use of it.