This weekend, thanks to a birthday present from my wife, I had the opportunity to drive one. Specifically a T-55 AM2 of doubtful provenance. Possibly built under licence in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and upgraded in the 1980s, this vehicle had instruments with Czech, Polish and Magyar language writing on them.
Wherever it came form and wherever it served it is uncompromisingly a piece of classic Russian Cold War armour. This T-55 is 42 tonnes of powered by a supercharged 39 litre V-12 diesel putting out 620bhp. Armed with a 100mm gun and kitted out with a laser rangefinder and spaced armour it it very similar to the tanks that took on the SADF in Angola in the 80s.
Driving it was an experience. Not built of comfort, the driver's compartment is very cramped. The pedals and levers are heavy and unforgiving but once you get used to using both hands to change gear and bracing your back against the seat so you can get enough leverage to depress the clutch, the overwhelming impression is one of power and manoeuvrability.
Me in the driver's seat. Spaced armour on the turret makes access and egress very difficult. Note the laser range finder above the main gun, the co-axial machine gun and the smoke discharger.
And we're off,.Matt instructs me in the finer points of steering - to turn you pull one of two levers which, when it goes into a 'notch', disengages the drive to that track and you abruptly start to turn. It's not graduated or smooth - but it works...
Full speed ahead and damn the ATGMs!
We're heading for the treeline across a muddy field. The T55 takes bumps in it's stride - it was surprisingly well sprung - and mud poses no problem - as you'd expect from a Russian design.
This shot could well be described as a NATO gunner's eye view - the exhaust smoke and noise is a bit of a giveaway - you're not going to sneak up on the capitalists in one of these.
Side view - gives a good impression of the low profile of this tank
Slowing down to stop. At this point I was very disappointed Matt didn't do an impression of Oddball in 'Kelly's Heroes'...
Off to celebrate with some Havana Rum and Cuban Cigars...