This can be a difficult question to answer. The T-54/55 were built in huge numbers and many different variants and sub-variants were produced. The T-54 and T-55 tanks are outwardly very similar and difficult to distinguish visually. Many T-54s were also updated to T-55 standards, so some tanks are simply called T-54/55. Soviet tanks were factory-overhauled every 7,000 km and often given minor technology updates. Many armies have added or modified the tank's equipment. In this update we will attempt to explain the main differences. We will also show off our amazing new modernized Egyptian T-54!
If you are interested this is a really good 'walk around' of a T-55 by the 'Chieftain' on youtube. They discuss some of the differences between a T-54 and T-55. I love this show, they do a great job of explaining armored vehicles.
The T-54 and T-55 tanks are a series of Soviet main battle tanks introduced in the years following the Second World War. The first T-54 prototype was completed at Nizhny Tagil by the end of 1945. The T-54/55's eventually became the main tank for armored units of the Soviet Army, armies of the Warsaw Pact, and many others armies. The T-54/55 series eventually became the most-produced tank in military history. Estimated production numbers for the series range from 86,000 to 100,000. They have been replaced by more modern tanks in the Soviet and Russian armies, but remain in use by up to 50 other armies worldwide, some having received sophisticated retrofitting.
Main T-54/55 production variants
The T-54 borrowed many ideas from the earlier T-44 tank which was meant to replace the famous T-34 tank. The T-44 had a more space-efficient torsion-bar suspension, a novel and space saving transverse engine mount, and the removal of the hull machine-gunner's crew position. The T-44 was superior to the T-34 in almost everyway. But it was never produced in larger numbers because the Soviets did not want to interrupt the production of the T-34's which were effective enough and were being produced in record numbers.
The first T-54 prototype was actually an enlarged T-44 which included the larger and more powerful 100mm gun. In testing, there were numerous drawbacks that required correction and many alterations that had to be made to the vehicle's design. It was decided to begin serial production of the new vehicle and the vehicle officially entered service on 29 April 1946. Here are the main production versions produced by the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
T-54-1 Model 1946 Produced 1946–1948. Similar to T-44, only a small number was built for trials
T-54-2 Model 1949 – Produced 1949–1952. It incorporated a number of improvements to the turret, as well a wider track and modernized transmission. The turret is dome-shaped with flat sides (inspired by the IS-3 heavy tanks), similar to later T-54s but with a distinctive overhang at the rear. The hull machine gun replaced the fender bin mounted ones. This was the first version used by the Arab armies.
T-54-3 Model 1951 – Produced 1952–1954, in Poland 1956–1964. Adopted the familiar, fully egg-shaped turret, eliminating the shot traps and added new gunner's sight. The tank is also able to use its engine exhaust smoke system to create smokescreen by injecting vaporized diesel fuel onto the exhaust system.
T-54A – Produced 1955–1957, in Poland 1956–1964, in Czechoslovakia 1957–1966, and in China as the Type 59. Added vertical-plane gun stabilizer to D-10T tank gun and this new weapon was designated D-10TG. Originally had a small muzzle counter-weight, which was later replaced with a fume extractor. Also introduced were the wading snorkel, a new telescopic sight, new infrared periscope and headlight, new radio, and improved engine.
T-54B – Produced from 1957 to 1958. It is armed with the modernized D-10T2S tank gun with 2-plane stabilization. From 1959, infrared night-fighting equipment was added. With the new gun, modern APFSDS ammunition was developed, dramatically enhancing the penetrative performance of the gun to keep it competitive with NATO armor developments.
The first T-55 was produced in 1958. One of the main differences between the T-54 and T-55 is that the T-55 has NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection for the crew. This was seen as a major improvement over the T-54, all of which lacked any NBC protection. Although in reality NBC protection has never been utilized although it is still seen as a major feature of modern tank design.
There is one sure way to identify if a tank is a T-54 or a T-55. If you look at the top of the turret, a T-54 has an armored dome ventilator, number 7 on the drawings above. The T-55 omitted the dome ventilator because it was incompatible with the new NBC system.
T-55 – Produced 1958–1963, in Poland 1958–1964, in Czechoslovakia from 1958 to 1983. It has a new turret floor, thicker turret armor, complete NBC system, gamma ray detector, improved engine, new internal fuel tanks, ammunition load for the main gun was increased, improved fire-protection system and exhaust smoke generator. The engine compartment was equipped with a heating system. "Starfish" road wheels replaced earlier spoked "spider" style road wheels.
T-55A – Produced 1963–1981, in Poland 1964–1979. The T-55A MBT was primarily developed to incorporate a new ant radiation lining and full chemical filtration system. One of the major internal additions was the use of a plasticized lead sheeting for ant radiation protection. This was evident externally due to use of an enlarged driver's hatch and enlarged combings over the commander's and loader's hatch.
Advantages and drawbacks
The T-54/55 tanks are mechanically simple and robust. They are very simple to operate compared to Western tanks. The T-54/55 is a relatively small main battle tank, presenting a smaller target for its opponents to hit. By the standards of the 1950s, the T-54 was an excellent tank combining lethal firepower, excellent armor protection and good reliability while remaining a significantly smaller and lighter tank than its NATO tanks. The 100 mm D-10T tank gun of the T-54 and the T-55 was also more powerful than its Western counterparts at that time (the M48 Patton initially carried a 90 mm tank gun and the Centurion Mk. 3 carried the 20-pounder(84 mm) tank gun).
Nevertheless, T-54/55 tanks had their drawbacks. Small size is achieved at the expense of interior space. The low turret profile of the tanks prevents them from depressing their main guns by more than 5°. As in most tanks of that generation, the internal ammunition supply is not shielded, increasing the risk that any enemy penetration of the fighting compartment could cause a catastrophic secondary explosion. The T-54 lacks NBC protection, a revolving turret floor (which complicated the crew's operations), and early models lacked gun stabilization. All of these problems were corrected in the otherwise largely identical T-55 tank.
During the Cold War, Soviet tanks never directly faced their NATO adversaries in combat in Europe. However, the T-54/55's have seen heavy combat all over the world, particularly in the Middle East.
T-54/55s formed the bulk of the Egyptian Army for many years, with over 2,500 tanks ordered and delivered. Deliveries of the first T-54's started in 1961 and the last T-55 was delivered in 1973. The Egyptians had many different variants of the T-54/55. The Egyptian T-54/55's came from many different sources as well. Some were newly built from factories in Russia, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Others were tanks previously in Soviet service. Some were donated by other Arab nations.
They first action against the Israeli army in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel used US supplied M48 Patton tanks, Centurion tanks, and even upgraded World War II-era Sherman tanks against T-54/55s. This mix of Israeli tanks, combined with superior planning of operations and superior airpower, proved to be more than capable of dealing with the T-54/55's.
By the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the T-54/55's gun was starting to lose its competitive effectiveness relative to western tank armor and the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun mounted in Israeli tanks. Israel captured many T-54s from Syria and mostly from Egypt in the 1967 war, and modified them for their own use. Egypt began to modify and modernize their T-54/55's after the 1967 war and was one of the first armies to do so and use them in combat. Several different improvements where made over the years and highly modernized versions of the T-54/55 still serve in the Egyptian Army.
Here we will go into a little more detail of one of the main versions of the T-54/55 that was used in the 1973 war. This version is sometimes called the T-54E Mark 0 ("E" stands for Egyptian variant) The Egyptians took their older T-54s and added a new Russian engine, a German AEG infrared/white searchlight on the left side and a Yugoslav "Iskra" laser rangefinder. A DShK 1938/46 antiaircraft heavy machine gun was also added to some of these versions. Fuel and water tanks were added to the rear of the hull. And a storage rack was added to the rear of the turret.
Illness88 did an amazing job of creating our modified T-54 model and texture. The original model and texture were created by degit22. The Egyptians began to use more complex camouflaged patterns after the 1967 war. Most vehicles received some form of 2-tone or 3-tone camouflage. The first color scheme is a unique 3-tone scheme of yellow, brown and green. The white turret and fender stripes were applied to the first wave of tanks that breached the Israeli Bar-Lev line defenses. They were marked with large white horizontal ID stripes for visual identification of friendly (as in Egyptian) vehicles. The Israelis were using the Tiran-4 (captured T-54s from the 1967 war with Egypt) at the time and so to avoid any friendly fire incidents, the markings were applied by the Egyptians.
The second color scheme is a 2-tone scheme of yellow and green.
And the third color scheme is a 2-tone scheme of tan and brown.
That's it for this update hopefully this helps you understand some of the differences between the T-54 and T-55. More updates to come.