Today Lee gets excited about the Plastic Soldier Company’s first “moderns” release – the T-55 Main Battle Tank.
Finally! The Plastic Soldier Company T-55 has arrived to bolster the People’s Army against the forces of Western Imperialism. After PSC announced that they were finally shipping I become something of a permanent fixture outside the work post room waiting for my four boxes to arrive.
Big box of tanks with the lads
But has it been worth the wait? Let’s find out!
During WWII, the Soviets started work on the tank to replace the T-34. The T-44 revisited a previous attempt to replace the T-34, combining the 85mm gun with a smaller, better armoured hull (thanks to mounting the engine transversely and deleting the hull MG), producing a tank superior to the T-34 but coming too late to see combat, in the war in Europe at least.
However, fitted with a larger turret ring, the T-44 proved far more capable of excepting a larger main armament than the veteran T-34 and this quickly led to a new tank that featured a 100mm main gun – the T-54. The initial beast had a turret looking much like a T-34/85’s but this was quickly replaced by a new hemispherical turret that would become the tanks’ most distinctive feature. The new turret provided superior ballistic protection, with no shot traps, but did little to solve a fundamental issue – the gun and its ammo was too big for the space provided. This slowed the rate of fire and also limited the depression of the gun – a large factor in reverse slope defence.
Still, the T-54 was able to outrun and outgun most its rivals (until the British L7 105mm) whilst sustaining return fire.
The T-55 built on the T-54 by giving it an NBC capability as well as improved sights, including the infra-red equipment, and a main gun stabiliser as already introduced in the T-54A. In many ways, the T-55 reflected the first moves towards accepting a little less quantity for a bit more quality. Still, the T-55 (and -54) was the most produced tank ever. 86,000-100,000 examples depending on where you take your figures and count the licence built examples.
Guys, being within 2″ of the tree-line for concealment from air was so v3…
But no-one gets to rule the roost for long. Thanks to the Hungarian Uprising leading to an example of the T-54 being parked on the front lawn of the British Embassy, the British realised they needed to up their game and produced the L7 105mm tank gun – more than capable of defeating the T-55’s armour. The Israelis proved this out with the Centurion/105mm combination out-shooting Arab T-54/55.
The T-55 was superseded by the more capable, but more expensive, T-62 in Soviet use – but out-lasted its replacement in production as various second and third world forces preferred the cheap, rugged design whilst the Soviets moved on to the T-64. Despite its age and the appearance of second and third generation tanks, the T-55 was upgraded and given a new lease of life.
Of most interest to the Team Yankee community was the T-55AM2 used by the East Germans, amongst others. Fitted with spaced armour, improved fire control system and improved ammo (the 100mm Fin round was one of the death knells of the T-62 on the export market – it was almost as good as the 115mm smoothbore round but the tank was a lot cheaper) the T-55AM2 was still easily bested by the Chieftain, Leopard 2 and Abrams but could make a decent account of itself versus the Centurions, M48 and Leopard 1s that made up most of NATO. Other upgraded example included the Israeli “Tiran”, captured in the Six Day and Yon Kippur wars and refitted with new engines and L7 105mm guns to be used against their former owners; and the Iraqi T-55 Enigma. Warsaw Pact T-55 also received a boost in the form of the Bastion barrel launched ATGW.
T-55 – all “ally’d” up
Even now, in the 21st century the T-55 can still be found in the arsenals of many users and will no doubt continue to do so for a good few years yet.
T-55 – fighting for… a side.
The T-55 kit comes with a variety of options, broadly these are:
- Soviet (effectively generic) T-55 and T-55A
- Polish T-55 and T-55A
- Czech T-55
- East German T-55AM2
Probably as close as PSC has come to running out of colours to mark variants…
The Polish and Czech versions really come down to stowage arrangement, being otherwise similar to the generic version. The A version appears to differ only in cupola arrangement.
The AM2 is the most radically different, featuring side skits, a different glacis plate and additional armour on the turret front.
Looking at the parts on the sprue and they all appear to good. there’s a few dimples on the side of the mounts for the barrels, but they should be out of sight when the turret is built, and a dimple right slap bang in the middle of the AM2’s searchlight – that’s going to need some filler! The bottom of the turret and the hull have that “fuzz” that hard edges at the mould line tend to get but a knife cleans it off simply enough. Other than those minor quibbles the parts look to be good and free of mould lines.
Work couldn’t end soon enough, but I eventually got to sit down and get a T-55AM2 assembled!
I started with the hull. The AM2 glacis plate has a nice bulk to it that one would expect from having extra applique armour added! It was a snug fit, but pressed in between the fenders – I suspect you could get away without using glue!.
The join of the upper and lower hull proved more problematic – dry fitting the two bits seemed to suggest something was too big or too small. At this point I had a 50:50 choice – cut the rear tabs of the upper hull underside short, or cut the front corner of the lower hull back.
Well, my first choice was wrong and ended up leaving a gap where the rear engine plate joined on – its small (the shadow makes it look bigger than it is) but noticeable.
Side Cutters to the rescue!
Erm…extra engine cooling air? Bad Side Cutters! Bad!
Tank No.2 – I glued the rear plate on first so that it set the datum, and then cut the front corner of the lower hull back.
Its a bit agricultural but the tracks hide it away…
Everything seemed to slot together nicely then. In hindsight, it doesn’t matter which bit you cut the length off – the important bit is GLUING THE BACK PLATE ON FIRST! Use that as a datum to set everything else and trim accordingly.
Much better and more indicative of the fine Soviet people’s industrious craftmanship
Conclusion – either I got something wrong (and I can’t see what) or the shaping of the front of the rear hull is slightly off.
After that the tracks slip into guide channels so its impossible to get them out of line but it doesn’t look like its impossible not to get them the wrong way around – remember the big gap between the first and second road wheel goes at the front! On the first tank, the tracks sat very slightly splayed and I took more care on the second tank to eliminate all mould lines on the lower hull sides which seemed to fix it.
The turret ring slits into the top (presumably separate because of the need to have an undercut as it slopes inwards) and then the AM2 has side skirts which again have locating tabs to make for a a very nice looking joint where it joins the front and rear fenders – nice!
Whilst the poly cement on the lower hull dried, I set about the turret. Its important to note that the AM2 requires a small hole to be drilled out before the base gets glued in. This hole sites the cross wind mast for the improved FCS. I can see why PSC didn’t just put the hole in (only one very specific version needs it) but I think it really needs to be pointed out better. Thankfully I’m atypical for an aerospace engineer and read the instructions first… A Dremel made short work of it though a manual vice may be a bit gentler (dear Mike – can I please have mine back from two Salutes ago…).
I also did a test fit of the turret base into the hull’s turret hole and found it would not fit at all – I needed to open the hull up fairly aggressively.
The top and lower turret parts are universal and its quite neat how it does this by having separate drop in cupola and hatches to build the different T-55 versions. Slightly more annoying was that the correct loader’s hatch for the AM2 is not marked with a yellow square. I took a guess that given a lot of the other purple parts are re-used for the AM2 then the purple shaded loader cupola was probably the correct one. Seems to work. Both hatches can be assembled open and closed which is nice for marking out the Battalion HQ.
The AM2 then has a load of turret furniture added. The searchlight just drops in nicely – quite a stiff fit I didn’t actually use glue. The AA MG was too tight and I had to open out the hole on the cupola mount a little. The extra armour was quite neat in that it locates on the hand rails which makes siting it easier – but I did find that the front of it can drop a bit too much if not careful.
The smoke launchers and two stowage boxes are slightly more fiddle in that there is nothing to really set their location and orientation. I had to keep one eye on the 3D renders on my computer screen from the PSC facebook page to get it roughly right. Finally I added some of the externally lashed AA MG ammo boxes – PSC supply a few varying configurations of clusters of these cases and they appear to just get lashed onto welded eyelets on the turret – thanks to Beaves for helping explain what they were to me.
Ablative ammunition armour – what can possibly go wrong…
With the turret largely done, I returned to the, now dry, lower hull to add the fuel tanks, ditching log and snorkel. There is nothing on the hull to help locate the fuel tanks so you just have to locate them by eye. The exploded image also gives a false impression that the log attaches to the fuel tanks when a test fit showed that it fitted direct to the lower hull. The manual was also a bit woolly about where the snorkel sits so I stuck it to the log like it seemed to show. I note that a few models show it on the turret and photos of real examples seem to rarely show it at all.
So, construction done. All in all, it wasn’t bad but it was one of the less satisfying PSC builds and I think the instructions need to better (or bigger – maybe two a4 sheets rather than one sheet doing everything) and there are a few production issues – including one major one with the hull join – that could have been avoided to make the modellers life easier.
Right, lets talk looks and detail – a much happier subject. The assembled AM2 looks very good with lots of detail that I can’t wait to paint. For the first time I can recall on a Cold War plastic model the armoured conduits for the searchlight power lines got added! Its one of this things (similar for smoke launcher conduits) that always seem to be missing and nice – if unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
The grab handles and stowage are all present and the only thing I could really note as missing was the commander cupola searchlight – a curious omission, though minor, I guess. The major identification features of the T-55 were all accounted for gap on the front road wheels, hemispherical turret, turret overhanging the hull sides.
The AM2 main gun has the laser range finder built in. A barrel with no range finder or sleeve is also present for older models. Sadly the drivers hatch can’t be modelled open. It also lacks the vision blocks of the later model T-55.
The ditiching log has a pleasing log like texture to it! The snorkel was a bit fragile and, despite best efforts, got bent being cut off the sprue.
The 12.7mm AA machine gun is very nicely captured on this kit.
Engine deck detail is crisp and well defined, as is the driver’s hatch.
I do love some entirely un-necessary underside detail – so long as the rest of the model matches or exceeds! Zvesda Opel Blitz trucks – I’m looking at you…
With all the options you get, it feels rude to point out that there are no commander figures on the sprue. Thankfully I’ve got plenty of BF ones anyway and they seem to do the trick.
The tank commander appears to have hit the victory vodka in the process of taking the photo…
The AA MG ammo is also the only stowage provided but that’s not really a huge feature of Soviet tanks anyway.
All in all, the PSC T-55 has some production issues that make for an unsatisfying build in places – but it does at least reward the effort with an attractive model.
In the Game
So far, the T-55’s only appearance in the game is the T-55AM2 in East German use. Even with the upgrades (such as the ever handy laser range finder) the T-55 is not going to go toe to toe with a 3rd generation (surely it should be eight generation – never understood why we only count from end of WWII) beastie like the M1 from the front, on one on one terms. But what makes it interesting is its cost. A full platoon of ten costs only 16 points; You could have a full battalion of 31 tanks for under 50pts! Perhaps more useful is a small formation of T-55 to act as a second formation to another, such as a BMP equipped Motor Rifle Battalion.
At that point, it becomes a case of trying to overwhelm NATO and turn its flank. The “slow firing”, low speed and high cross value that the extra weight of armour applies makes this tricky – but AT17 will cut through the side armour of any NATO tank foolish enough to show its flank.
Perhaps more useful is to combine the T-55 with either the T-72 (taking a block of -55 as the third company, or a block of T-72 as the third company for a T-55 battalion) or a BMP company so that NATO has to contend with a large block of sufficiently threatening tanks working its way down a flank whilst having to deal with AT21 shots from the front.
Away from Team Yankee, the basic T-55 is of use for the Arab Israeli War and Vietnam games – here the T-55 is much closer in performance to its rivals whilst also out-numbering them. The AIW does suffer from some poor crew stats but 7 upgraded T-55 vs 2 Sho’T is still odds that can favour the arabs!
Previously, the only T-55AM2 option has been the resin or white metal versions offered by Battlefront (who really should have gone plastic) and QRF – plus the new Armies Army models that we will be reviewing shortly. Skytrex and Peter-Pig also offer more generic T-55 as well, although no AM2. These all retailed for about £6.50 a figure (£8.50 a figure for BF!) making hordes in either TY or AIW a very expensive proposition.
So, throwing in a T-55AM2 that retails for £21.50 for five (£4.30 each) changes the dynamic somewhat. It comes with no decals or other niceties (but only the BF offering has those) but it’s hard to quibble too much at that price, especially when it’s rivalling the others for quality. A battalion of 31 tanks comes in at a ‘mere’ £135 (assuming a single sprue is the normal £6 cost from PSC). Even allowing for various “company box” deals, the nearest competitor comes in at £195.
I never expected Plastic Soldier Company to get on board the Cold War but its certainly a pleasant surprise. It will be interesting to see where they go from here (there appears to be a Leo 1 or BRDM sized hole in the market…), and how Battlefront responds. Competition drives innovation, despite what the Soviets may think! Hopefully PSC will also look at how the hull join issue occurred and make sure its not something that re-appears.
The kit itself continues the PSC trend of offering a multitude of variants at a price that is hard to argue against. If you are looking at going for quantity then its worth looking at the PSC T-55; but just be prepared to put a little bit of effort in with the build. Its worth it in the end!