Last October, Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70 years old – the same age as many of the Russian T-54/55 series tanks that were taken out of storage earlier this year. As previously reported, videos circulated in March that showed the tanks being loaded onto trains in the Russian Far East and being sent westward.
This month, images circulated on social media that suggested the first of those tanks had arrived in Ukraine and could soon be deployed in combat. Those Cold War-era tanks are no more fit for the front line than a 70-year-old man – even a reasonably “in-shape” individual as Putin claims to be!
What could be even more telling is that there has been speculation in the intelligence community that Russia is sending those decades-old T-54/55 series tanks to Ukraine with little to no upgrades or enhancements. As David Axe, writing for Forbes.com had reported there is no evidence that the Kremlin even added any blocks of explosive reactive armor (ERA) to reinforce the T-55’s original (thin) steel armor.
In other words, the T-54/55 tanks being sent in have barely received a fresh coat of paint before being made ready for the front.
History Repeating Itself
Axe further noted that if history is any guide, the T-55s won’t fare very well on the battlefield when confronted by Western-made armor, notably the British-made Challenger 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) that are now arriving in Ukraine.
Though Russia will have significantly larger numbers of T-54/55 series tanks to throw into the fight, they’ll be facing a far more capable opponent.
In fact, “throw” could be a good way of describing any fight – as in Russia will simply throw away its old tanks, and more importantly its tank crews. Though it could perhaps replace the former with other tanks from storage, replacing the latter is going to be even more challenging.
The Challenger 2 – considered among the best MBTs in the world – is undefeated in battle. The same can’t be said of the T-55.
Moreover, it should be noted that the Challenger 2 has gone head-to-head with T-55s in the past. In March 2003 at the “Battle of Al Flaw” during the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fourteen Challenger 2s faced off against an equal number of Iraqi Army T-55s. The outcome was likely decided as soon as the battle began. The Iraqi crews mounted a brave but suicidal attack. The British Army didn’t lose a single tank, while most of the Iraqi vehicles were destroyed.
The battle was one-sided in 2003, and there is no reason to expect a different outcome in 2023.
It should also be noted that those British tanks now in Ukraine could be armed with depleted uranium ordnance that could slice through the armor of the T-55s. So, even if Russia can get lucky and take out a few Challenger 2s, the Kremlin should expect to see the loss of significant numbers of its antiquated T-54/55s.
Such losses could be devastating for Moscow. Losing old tanks will be a serious enough problem, but Russia is running out of trained crews – and that situation isn’t likely to get better.
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.