See This: Photo on Social Media Suggests T-54/55s Could be Headed to Ukraine – A photo posted to social media by the open-source defense analysis and research group Oryx featured Soviet-era T-54/55 tanks seen loaded onto a train car.
The information came from the Conflict Intelligence Team (@cit), which reportedly obtained photographs of a train transporting military vehicles from Russia’s Far East that included either late T-54 or T-55 tanks.
“The filmed train has recently departed from the town of Arsenyev, Primorsky region,” CIT reported.
The group added, “Deployment and use of T-62 tanks by the Russian Armed Forces during the current invasion has been documented since the summer of 2022, but it is the first recorded instance of T-54/55 tanks withdrawal from storage.”
It should be noted that Russia has vast numbers of these tanks available. Moreover, while the initial T-54 prototype was produced in 1945, the tank received significant upgrades and the T-55 variant was last produced in the Soviet Union in 1981, while Czechoslovakia produced a model as late as 1983. However, if this is in fact true, it could speak of the desperation that the Kremlin is facing if it is sending tanks that were developed at the end of the Second World War into a modern conflict.
Background on the T-54/55
The T-54 series of tanks were introduced in the late 1940s to replace the T-34 that was used throughout World War II.
As the basic version was continuously improved and modified, the Soviet military redesignated it as the T-55. Upwards of 100,000 T-54/T-55 tanks were produced between 1946 and 1983, making this series the most widely manufactured tank in history.
In addition, the T-54/55 may have also been used in more conflicts around the globe than any other tank.
During the Cold War, Soviet tanks never directly faced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in combat; however, the T-54/55 was used by Syria in the Six-Day War against Israel, but the American M48 Patton and British Centurion tanks proved more than capable against the Soviet-built armor.
In the 1970s the T-54/55 also saw combat in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Uganda. The tank model was widely exported and remains in use around the world with some fifty armies today, even as it has been replaced by more modern tanks in the Russian Army.
As noted, the Kremlin still maintained thousands of the T-54/55 tanks following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, while more than 400 were still in active service in the 1990s. Given the losses of the Russian tanks to date, it questionable whether these can make any significant difference in the fighting.
— Oryx (@oryxspioenkop) March 22, 2023
Russia wasn’t alone in maintaining vast numbers of these tanks at the end of the Cold War. However, most of the nations of the former Warsaw Pact that operated the T-54/55 have retired their tanks – with Poland even using a large number as shooting targets at its proving grounds.
In addition, Ukraine had also inherited a significant number that remained in service until as recently as a decade ago. Some of these older platforms have been utilized as armored recovery vehicles, while a few even remained in limited service when Russia launched its unprovoked invasion over a year ago.
As previously reported, last October, Slovenia donated twenty-eight M55S tanks to Ukraine. While based on the original Cold War-era T-55, the upgraded M55S featured a more powerful 105mm Royal Ordnance L7 main gun that was equipped with a thermal insulation jacket – one of the most successful tank guns of all time. In addition, its digital fire-control system has three modes of operation, automatic, semi-automatic, and manual.
The M55S was further enhanced with a digital ballistic computer, gun stabilization, a Fotona SGS-55 sight with a laser rangefinder, a Fotona COMTOS-55 commander’s sight, an improved engine, and new rubber-metal tracks.
In other words, the T55S is a significantly modernized tank – but the same can’t be said of the vehicles seen in the social media post this week.
The Russian T-54s seem to have been pulled straight from storage. If they’re not upgraded in the least, one might speculate they’re little more than metal coffins – especially as they could face off against German-made Leopard II main battle tanks (MBTs) in a matter of weeks. That’s a fight where the odds would be clearly stacked in Ukraine’s favor.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.