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"What scared NATO more in its heyday the T-54 or the T-72." Topic


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Zookie Inactive Member18 Nov 2018 12:04 p.m. PST

The T-54 and the T-72 both made a big impact on the world of tank design. Which design had NATO more worried, the T-54 in 1955 or the T-72 in 1975?

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2018 12:45 p.m. PST

Difficult, both were 'Game changing' designs, and the west frequently overestimated the abilities of new Soviet models.

Given a choice, I would say the T-72. Challenger tanks were issued Depleted Uranium rounds simply to face them, from what I read somewhere recently.

I am sure lots of people very much more au fait with modern tanks will give more informed replies, though!

nickinsomerset18 Nov 2018 1:13 p.m. PST

Probably the T-64!

Tally Ho!

seneffe18 Nov 2018 2:06 p.m. PST

Between T54 and T72, I would say the former by a long way.

In the 1950s, the performance of vital subsystems like sights, fire control, ballistic variations due to barrel condition, ammo type, propellant quality, ammo storage safety, crew survivability, etc were rather more equivalent between Soviet and Western tanks. This was changing very significantly in favour of the West (although contemporary observers did not always have enough information to be able to recognise how great this was) during the late 70s and early 80s.

For eg, the difference between optical sighting systems in the 1950s was not very great and no-one had any great fire on the move capability. By the late 1970s/early 1980s a very significant gap was opening up at the high end of tank technology- with Western equipment being not only more capable but actually also more reliable.

While many Western advances had apparent Warpac counterparts eg laser rangefinders and stabilisiers- the quality differential between these was large.

Junior partner producers of Soviet equipment like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia tended to produce much better engineered versions of the Soviet original. We can forget the 'monkey model' cliche spread in the 1990s to excuse the poor performance of Soviet designed weaponry- eg the fire control on Polish and Yugoslavian export T72s was significantly more advanced and reliable that home built Soviet production- though even that didn't help the Iraqis much in 1991.

This was explained to me a few years ago by someone involved in monitoring relative NATO/Warpac capability, in something like the following terms:

The Soviet military industrial system could build-

Large quantities of reliable but not very advanced equipment, or large quantities of advanced but not very reliable equipment, or equipment that was both advanced and reliable, but only in small quantities. Advanced equipment which was reliable and also available in large quantities always proved too difficult.

The absence of a large counterpart civilian market for advanced technology had a lot to do with this ultimately incurable problem for the Soviets. But it would be a very long post to go into that in detail.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2018 2:34 p.m. PST

Yep, T-54 for sure, back in the day, since there was virtually no NATO military force, or even US one back then, to oppose them, after the Korean War. The Bundeswehr was a dream.

Soviets still had hundreds of thousands of troops under command in scores of divisions, so could have rolled to the Soviet Channel (formerly the English one, but renamed by the communists) in short order.

That's why tactical nukes were developed to stop them, and fired by recoilless rifles, and large cannons, danger close to the troops launching them.

Then, of course, there's the T-10 and T-10M, which were even scarier, since they were better armored than the T-54/T-55, though their gun's ROF was a major handicap, but we didn't find out about that until they were used in the Middle East.

ScottS18 Nov 2018 8:42 p.m. PST

The T-10 was never exported; they weren't used in the Middle East.

RudyNelson18 Nov 2018 8:54 p.m. PST

When I was in the T64 was the tank of elite Red Guard units. The T54/55 was regarded as the tank of reserve and allied forces.
I was actually signed for a T54 as the S4 of the MI battalion of First Infantry division.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2018 9:57 p.m. PST

Ah, apparently they were the IS-IIIs then, misreported as T-10s.

mysteron Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2018 3:04 a.m. PST

I agree with the T54/55 . Its a testament of its design on the numbers that were built.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Nov 2018 4:12 a.m. PST

T-54 and especially T-55 benefited greatly from wartime experience and the use of captured German industry. It allowed the Soviets to close the gap when it came to optics and tolerances for certain parts.

By the time of the T-72, the gap was much bigger though T-72 still embodied Soviet design philosophy : "How can we make the best possible tank using limited low tech ?" A kind of high-tech thinking applied to low-tech design.

Note that by the 1970's T-72's role was different from that of T-55. Whereas in 1955 they were the main weapon of the trust, the task was now spread to the whole of the division where the BMP's considerable fighting capability alongside the firepower of the infantry with artillery and air power as close support, all under a powerful AA umbrella with the nuclear weapon as the cornerstone to break up NATO formations so they could be overwhelmed at the operational level.

irishserb19 Nov 2018 6:06 a.m. PST

I'm with Nick, the T64 was the game changer. Probably the most significant step in production tanks since the FT17. The T72 was the cheaper, more conservative step-sibling of the T-64.

The T64 introduced the auto loader, 3-man crew, low profile, light weight MBT with a 5 inch gun, revolutionary power pack, and laminate armor. It was radical. However, it did have… some teething problems.

As to the question as posed, T54.

Winston Smith19 Nov 2018 9:53 a.m. PST

When you don't have anything and they have a lot, a T-26 would be scary.

Legion 419 Nov 2018 4:48 p.m. PST

The USSR had a lot of Armor. I don't think we were afraid of anything but very concerned about massive waves or USSR and WP Armor and Mech formation flooding across the IGB.


But as noted here, the USSR made a lot of T54/55s. The numbers may have been telling. While possibly trying to target the newer "better" designs that were in "smaller" numbers produced. You'd still have to deal with massive numbers T54/55s.

Note when I use the term "smaller numbers", it's kind of a misnomer. The USSR generally produced very large numbers of everything. They just had more of some types than others, e.g. T54/55s vs. just about every other type of their MBTs individually.


All that being said, the US really didn't have much of a technical advantage over most USSR MBTs until the M1, generally. The M60 was upgraded number of times[don't include the M60A2, that was a hanger queen from what my NCOs told me]. But it would come down to crew training, proper use of combined arms plus air superiority. And even then again, the numbers might be telling …

Lion in the Stars19 Nov 2018 7:29 p.m. PST

The T54 scared the hell out of NATO when someone drove one into an Embassy and asked for asylum.

100mm gun was much better than anything NATO had, and led to the 105mm NATO.

GROSSMAN Supporting Member of TMP20 Nov 2018 8:27 p.m. PST

Another vote for T-64

Formerly 298TYR21 Nov 2018 12:35 p.m. PST

I'm for the T-54; at it's time far more of a game changer than the T-72. The T-72 was more a political decision to keep certain parts of the Soviet industry happy, and offer a relatively safe, low-tech solution to the T-64 and it's teething problems. Had the T-64 been part of the original question, that would have got my vote as well.

Formerly 298TYR21 Nov 2018 12:38 p.m. PST

"When I was in the T64 was the tank of elite Red Guard units. The T54/55 was regarded as the tank of reserve and allied forces. "


A myth really – look at the deployment in GSFG and it doesn't hold up as an argument; units were issued T-64 more on geography and role rather than being "Elite" Guards units. The "Guards" title is an honorific thing and had little to do with how they were equipped.

RudyNelson23 Nov 2018 4:32 p.m. PST

I based my comment on experience not readings. Glad you researched to find out more. I conducted many excercises during those years on unit identification which included AFV and personal equipment carried. It was vital for Army scouts and later MI analysts to have complete data to determine units identified.
An example of purpose was in part to determine if the location was part of a major assault axis or a probable ruse. The type of units would help the analysis.

So you can call it a myth but I lived it as an Army Cavalry officer having to review my scouts spotting reports and sending them forward. Later I was part of an MI battalion and had teams with GSR and CEWI assets.

Yes my initial comment was brief but I normally do not want to spend so much time explaining what may be uninteresting. I do like it when readers do their own research.

Formerly 298TYR23 Nov 2018 5:01 p.m. PST

RudyNelson – you're not the only one who served in the military – I was British Army from 1977-88 and served in BAOR. I wasn't trying to ruffle anyone's feathers, merely pointing out that the "Guards" title had little to do with being an "elite" unit and more about historic battle honours and unit pride.

Sorry if you thought I was trying to diss your experience, which I certainly wasn't.

RudyNelson23 Nov 2018 6:15 p.m. PST

Valid point. Thanks for your service.

Legion 424 Nov 2018 7:44 a.m. PST

Thank you both for serving … thumbs up

Formerly 298TYR24 Nov 2018 4:39 p.m. PST

Rudy Nelson – always happy to discuss the Soviet Army and GSFG in particular with others that have experience and the interest. I've been researching the soviets in Germany for 30 years or more, some would say obsessively ! In that time I've documented hundreds of units, Orbats, equipment and locations – but I'm always happy to share, learn and discuss with others.

Legion 425 Nov 2018 9:16 a.m. PST

thumbs up +1

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