“Russia Sent 70-Year-old T-55 Tanks To Ukraine Without Even Upgrading Them”

The first of potentially two or three hundred 70-year-old T-55 tanks that the Kremlin has been pulling out of long-term storage finally have arrived in Ukraine. A photo that appeared online on Friday depicts a T-55 reportedly somewhere in Zaporizhzhia Oblast in southern Ukraine. The photo confirms what some observers grimly predicted: the Kremlin is shipping T-55s to Ukraine without upgrading them. The tank in the photo has the same active infrared optics the T-55 had in the late 1950s. And there’s no evidence the Russians have added blocks of explosive reactive armor in order to reinforce the T-55’s original—and thin—steel armor. In other words, the T-55s really are 1950s technology. And hopelessly obsolete compared to even the oldest tank in the Ukrainian inventory. The mismatch could have profound implications in the coming weeks and months, as Russia’s failed winter offensive peters out and Ukraine moves to seize the initiative with its own, long-planned offensive.

“The Ukrainians, with the infusion of Western aid, have improved the quality of their tanks and other vehicles,” Mick Ryan, a retired Australian army general, wrote in his newsletter. “The Russians, having lost much of their best kit in the first year of the war, are turning to much older tanks and armored vehicles drawn from Cold War stores.”

Russian technicians began recovering T-55s from long-term storage at the 111th Central Tank Reserve Base in Khabarovsk, in southeastern Russia, in March. It’s not hard to understand why. In the 14 months since Russia widened its war on Ukraine, the Russian army and its allies have lost nearly 2,000 tanks in Ukraine. That’s four times as many tanks as the Ukrainian army has lost.

Foreign sanctions meanwhile have deprived Russia’s two main tank factories of the high-tech components—optics and ball-bearings—they need to build more than a handful of new T-90M or T-72B3 tanks every month, or even to restore older T-72Bs, T-80Bs or T-62Ms.

The T-55, which first entered service with the Soviet army in 1958, is from a generation of armored vehicles before modern optics, autoloaders and multi-axis stabilization for their main guns, passive infrared optics and sophisticated computerized fire-controls. A T-55 unlike a new T-72B3 or T-90M doesn’t need a lot of modern electronics in order to function. The Kremlin is reactivating T-55s because they’re the only tanks Russian industry currently can restore quickly and in large numbers.


Comment: I was licensed to drive and operate one of these at Aberdeen Proving Ground many years ago. We figured that as long as we were going to be dropped into Poland, we might as well learn to use these SOBs. It might have come it handy. This is a cramped, primitive beast that gives the crew little visibility of what’s going on around them. My guess is that the crews, who probably got little more training than we did, will abandon these at the earliest opportunity.

While we may laugh at the deployment of these museum pieces, we must remember that Ukraine received 28 T-55s from Slovenia last year. At least these, designated the M-55S, were upgraded to Israeli standards with a stabilized British L7 105mm gun, ballistic computer, night sights for driver, gunner and commander, upgraded diesel engine and tracks, much needed ERA and rubber skirts. It’s still little more than a light tank or infantry support tank, but it’s massively better than what the Russians are putting out there.



This entry was posted in Russia, The Military Art, TTG, Ukraine Crisis, weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to “Russia Sent 70-Year-old T-55 Tanks To Ukraine Without Even Upgrading Them”

  1. jerseycityjoan says:

    I do not know what I find more amazing: That the Russians kept these unupdated relics with the idea they might want to use them one day or that they are the only tanks their people can handle right now due to sanctions.

    So they were actually smart to hang on to them.

    I sure hope we haven’t been doing that with any of our weapons from the I Love Lucy era.

  2. Babeltuap says:

    One of the CCP’s generals was making the rounds with Putin last week. I wonder if the topic came up on what is needed. Can a couple of countries with some of the highest IQ’s figure out a supply problem? If they can’t their scores need to drop:


    • Fourth and Long says:

      Thanks. Gives me great pleasure to see Israel almost dead last – only 3 countries lower. I need to find a chart of most violent countries. I’m reckoning 765 mass shootings per year will give us a place in the top.few percentiles.

  3. Yeah, Right says:

    Why can’t they just use them as additional self-propelled artillery, rather than as main battle tanks?

    105mm artillery is still useful.

    After all, that’s what the USA is supplying to Ukraine, and nobody is suggesting that the Ukrainians use those 105mm howitzers to take on Russian T-72 and T-90 MBTs.

    • TTG says:

      Yeah, Right,

      The T-55 has a 100mm gun that is not compatible with the 100mm Rapira AT gun still in use by both sides and used in the indirect fire mode. The T-55 is better than nothing when used in a hull down defensive position or even as an infantry support vehicle. My guess is that it will mainly be used as a wildly inaccurate artillery piece. It can lob an HE shell out there. A spotter or drone can adjust, but the T-55 sight limitations will only allow for a guess by the gunner as to how far up, down, left or right he has to crank the gun. It will be like firing a mortar without a sight or aiming stakes.

      • English Outsider says:

        TTG – this confirms similar information I’ve seen put out:-

        “The fact is, T-62s have a 115mm barrel, and T-55s a 100mm barrel. Which is a completely different system than the standard 125mm barrel that all other tanks Russia currently uses have, like T-72s, T-80s and 90s, etc.

        “This means that massive old Soviet stockpiles of 100mm and 115mm ammo can be used without letting it simply sit and go to waste, instead of putting all the load on 125mm ammo production, which Russian factories are currently churning out.

        “It doesn’t need to be said that these tanks are also likely meant for in-direct fire roles, i.e. mostly lobbing H.E. (High Explosive) rounds—basically used as artillery from the ‘rear’, rather than frontline action against other armored vehicles.”


        So more a clear-out of the back shed than anything more useful?

        The T 62’s supplied to the LDNR forces earlier were also not used as tanks. Instead they were used as mobile gun platforms to come in fast with the infantry after the barrage to knock out remaining strong points. I think they also had the advantage that they didn’t require as much training time as a sophisticated modern tank.

        Moving hastily away from anything technical – as you know my knowledge of military affairs is zero – there’s something of a “clearing out the back shed” feel to all the weapons we’ve give to the Ukrainians, particularly from the European side.

        This confirms my belief that none in Washington or Berlin/Brussels expected a prolonged war at the beginning. They were caught on the hop by the Russians going in for slow attrition rather than the expected quick kill and have been improvising rather desperately ever since.

        Looking at the training given to the Ukrainians in the years preceding the SMO, the training was for small unit tactics and urban fighting. As far as I know there was no training for Combined Arms Warfare. The weapons supplied were similarly not suitable for that type of warfare.

        However the training and weapons were well suited to the partisan war hoped for after the expected military defeat of the Kiev forces.

        That partisan warfare combined with the crippling of the Russian economy hoped for from the sanctions war, and the subsequent instability in the RF, would have been enough to see the Russians off.

        That was the Plan A of Washington/Berlin/Brussels. We are now stuck with the fact that our politicians had no plan B.

      • Yeah, Right says:

        Sure, but why would you need to adjust the sights?

        The Russians have a trench system, and the Russians are waiting for the Ukrainians to assault those trenches in their great Spring Offensive.

        So dig those T-55 into revetment well behind the trenches, and practice, practice, practice shooting 100mm shells in front of those trenches.

        Heck, zero in the guns and then put some flags in the ground: the moment a Urkrainian reaches that flag you start firing, and you don’t stop until you run out of 100mm shells.

        Then you grab your AK-47, abandon that tank, and go join the fighting.

        Why wouldn’t that make sense?

  4. Fourth and Long says:

    This below is excerpted from a substack post today / the writer acknowledges that it might not be a good sign (older tanks), but days there’s another side to the story or the glass is half full — more ammo readily available.
    It should be mentioned that not everything is necessarily rosy on the Russian side. For instance, new videos and confirmations have streamed in to show that Russian T-62M upgraded tanks are streaming to the frontlines, as well as even some ancient T-55s. In fact, one video from the Romanov Lite channel showed him next to a T-55 reportedly on the Zaporozhye front:

    But there is a lesser-known reason for the usage of these old tanks that most aren’t aware of, and it actually has less to do with Russian armor shortages and more with ammo depletion.
    The fact is, T-62s have a 115mm barrel, and T-55s a 100mm barrel. Which is a completely different system than the standard 125mm barrel that all other tanks Russia currently uses have, like T-72s, T-80s and 90s, etc.
    This means that massive old Soviet stockpiles of 100mm and 115mm ammo can be used without letting it simply sit and go to waste, instead of putting all the load on 125mm ammo production, which Russian factories are currently churning out. It doesn’t need to be said that these tanks are also likely meant for in-direct fire roles, i.e. mostly lobbing H.E. (High Explosive) rounds—basically used as artillery from the ‘rear’, rather than frontline action against other armored vehicles.

    • Babeltuap says:

      It does look pathetic on the surface but there is likely a very valid reason and I would go with that one. I don’t know much about tank warfare other than our WWII tanks got smoked by German tanks right up until the German tank was taking on 5 of ours then no. Some things in life quantity is more important than quality. Some things not like when one of my Marine LT’s was explaining to a young Marine bragging about all the women he picked up.

    • English Outsider says:

      F & L – apologies. I did not see your comment when submitting mine on the same point.

  5. Leith says:

    I’ll speculate the T-55s will be used in defending the Melitopol defense lines if they are in fact going to the Zaporizhzhia Front as F&L’s video suggests. Most probably used in the hull-down role that TTG mentions. They’d make well armed bunkers when half buried. They’d be as good as the cheap, pre-manufactured concrete bunkers seen being transported to that area. Too bad the main gun is not smooth bore instead of rifled, if it was they could possibly jury rig it to fire tube launched ATGMs.

    I suspect they would make a poor mobile reserve. And they would make an even worse SPG artillery piece unless there is some way they could cobble together airburst proximity fuses for those old shells

  6. Fourth and Long says:

    Off topic but needs reminding even for ex spooks or spooks in training. One of my sisters is 68 yrs old and she writes me an email with a link to this Jimmy Kimmel episode segment, and with a comment about oh my god how stupid Americans are, it’s incredible ..
    We asked people if they care about Homo Sapien Extinction / Jimmy Kimmel live:

    I think she still hasn’t grasped that it’s a comedy routine. And that comedy writers are involved. And there’s such a thing as actors. Has two kids, grandkids and a license to drive. And is allowed to vote.

  7. Poppa Rollo says:

    The Russian elephant in the room is not the tank or the shells, but the crew inside the tank. How can they be motivated to fight even in the defense line position? How many will simply disable the tank at the first opportunity and walk away?

    • Fourth and Long says:

      Yep, good point – the family that cares gives it’s son a graduation present in 2023 of a 1955 Rambler with no radio or tapedeck. Or spare tire. “We’re right proud of you Son! Good luck in your future endeavors.” This is one more reason the Russians better hope the tanks are used in some backup artillery auxiliary as discussed above.

    • Yeah, Right says:

      TTG is quite correct that the T-55 tank is itself a relic of a bygone era.

      So it makes sense to dig it in somewhere behind the front lines, point the gun in the area in front of the Russian trench system, and then give the crew some simple instructions: if/when the Ukrainians launch their offensive then fire away with all the high explosive artillery shells you have at hand.

      Then you abandon the tank and join your platoon and fight on as infantry.

      Because, honestly, once you have fired off all your shells then all you are doing is sitting in an ol’ bucket of bolts.

      No question.

      But *until* that moment arrives you can contribute – count ’em, forty five – 100mm high explosive shells to the fight, which is a much better way of contributing to the fight than simply hunkering down in a trench waiting for the Ukrainians to jump in with you.

    • Billy Roche says:

      PR; no, not the crew inside the T55s but their “superiors” who put them in those old tanks. Russian culture still respects the boyar over the serf. Russian emotional mentality is still locked in 1914.

  8. jim ticehurst.. says:


    Clown show..in a Circus…Everyone is Smirking…Yes its the Putin Jungen..

    Depends on what Comes in The Back Door..And Where…Big X Dealers..not SC Punks…

    You Dont Think Putin wants His “Crossing the Delaware Moment..” ? May 1st,?
    ..At some Point You Just Go ahead and Kick ..His ASS…Light Em Up..Move On..

  9. Leith says:

    One thing the Forbes article does not mention is that some of those T-55s apparently can use tube-fired ATGMs – the 100mm, 9K116-1 бастион (bastion). AKA the AT-10 Stabber in NATO parlance. I had thought previously that they could not since the T-55 gun barrel has a rifled bore. Not sure how they do that as most tube-fired ATGMs in the West use smooth bore cannons. But they worked it out. Some sources say that not all T-55s have the laser and control system.

    It’s a 40 year old laser beam rider with an HEAT warhead. Average armor penetration is thought to be 550mm to 750mm depending on model. But those stats are for rolled homogeneous armor and not for the composite armor in Leopard tanks. Some lowered effectiveness also against appliqué ERA armor that Ukraine’s Army has loaded down their T-72s and T-80s with. Even with that lower effectiveness a hit could still still ring the bell of the crew inside and daze them. Ranges are up to six km again depending on model. And if they are truly getting 200 to 300 T-55s Forbes states they could do some damage. But it is going to depend on the nerves and motivation of the crews, as PoppaRollo mentioned above.

    Source was a Yahoo article in March that suggested they might get that capability. But many later models such as T-55M or AM already have the capability.



    • TTG says:


      I’m not sure many of the laser devices remain with those old T-55s. It seems like a highly pilferable item to me.

  10. A. Pols says:

    You really believe Russian industry is so primitive they have to import ball bearings?

    • TTG says:

      A Pols,

      I don’t know about ball bearings, although I’ve heard the quality of Russian ball bearings leave much to be desired. Where they’re having a real problem is optics for their tanks. They relied on French optics and told Putin they were indigenous. Those thieves are the one who should be leaping out of upper story windows.

    • KjHeart says:


      I used to work in USA automotive parts supply, and YES, ball bearings (all types) require specialized production process. I recall ordering bearings was a bit of a wait sometimes and ALWAYS a significant expense every time.

      Worldwide suppliers of bearings in Japan, Sweden, Germany and USA are listed in the top ten


      Of course, there are other suppliers that will sell a BSO (bearing shaped object) that will fail under friction and not be worth using. Remember, bearings are always used on something that needs to be in motion, if a bearing fails then everything that is supposed to be in motion around that bearing can also fail.

      I found this website that has a neat graphic (1/3 of they way down the page) on ball bearing production.


      Thing is, the metal processing is highly proprietary so none of these corporations and websites will NOT explain the materials part of the process.

      I found a fascinating U-tube video on repairing an old Russian T-55. at minute 2:48 you can see the rotary bearing for the rear fan that has been removed

      Workshop Wednesday (Mechanics Edition) – SOVIET T-55 REPAIR

      Although it IS possible to do repairs on a T-55 i the field – the needs for a facility with a lift, cherry picker, and other equipment is a bit staggering.

      On the old Soviet T-55 repair video (linked above) at minute 4:06 there is a review of the engine that is worth a look. (for any motor heads)


    • KjHeart says:

      correction: I used a double negative in the 5th paragraph. corrected it should read:

      ..”the metal processing is highly proprietary so none of these corporations and websites will EVER explain the materials part of the process.”


  11. Billy Roche says:

    I proof my comments 5 times and still make mistakes. Tnx for correx!

Comments are closed.