T-55A
Russian Medium Tank

1/35th Scale

Tamiya

 

Summary

Catalogue Number and Description:

Tamiya 1/35 Kit No. 35257; 1/35 Scale Military Miniature Series No. 257, T-55A Russian Medium Tank

Media and Contents:

297 parts (279 in olive styrene, 14 in black vinyl, 2 tracks in grey gluable vinyl, 1 nylon screen, 1 nylon string)

Price:

USD$33.00 - $40.00

Review Type:

First Look

Advantages:

Decent, first-rate kit of this important vehicle; basic options for four different versions out of the box; finally catches the shapes and nuances of the T-54/T-55 series tanks

Disadvantages:

We had to wait 35 years for this kit!!!

Recommendation:

Highly Recommended for all Soviet, Warsaw Pact, and modern "Third World" armor fans!

 

Reviewed by Cookie Sewell


HyperScale is proudly sponsored by Squadron.com

 

Background

 

Aleksandr A. Morozov was one of the co-designers of the T-34 tank in 1939, but never felt that he got his full credit for designing that tank. Mikhail I. Koshkin, the designer, got the credit with the powers that be for designing what was arguably the best tank of WWII. As a result, Morozov spent the rest of his life trying to one-up Koshkin with the tank that would symbolize Soviet military power. His first major success was the T-54 tank, which went through three initial production versions and five years of improvement before emerging as the tank we know today in 1951.

Over the years from 1951-1958, the T-54 was constantly modernized and improved, and prototypes were built of newer tanks with improvements over the basic T-54. Morozov went back to Khar'kov in the early 1950s, and by 1957 the chief designer at Nizhniy Tagil (where the T-54s were built) was Leonid Kartsev. Rather than continuously making incremental improvements to the T-54, Kartsev decided to make all the improvements at once and produce the ultimate T-54 variant. His team did this, and on 8 May 1958 the T-55 Model 1958 tank was accepted for production.

The T-55 Model 1958 combined all of the improvements of the T-54 series into one tank with other improvements. These included a new, smoother turret design, greater ammunition stowage for the main gun, more powerful engine, greater fuel capacity, a thermal smoke generator, improved night sights, improved two-axis stabilizer, and later on nuclear radiation lining. However, the new tank lacked the earlier 12.7mm DShK antiaircraft machine gun as it was not felt to be necessary.

Four years later, a newer version using much thicker radiation shielding for operations on a nuclear battlefield was introduced as the T-55A. This tank had heavy radiation shielding collars around the turret hatches and radiation covers over all access hatches. But it too lacked the AA MG.

Finally, after complaints from troop commanders, both tanks were issued with a cupola for the AA MG in 1970. The T-55 remained in production in the USSR from 1958 to 1981 and 1970 standards. A proposed upgrade to a M series of tanks in 1983 was signed, but very few tanks (T-55M and T-55AM) were built in the USSR. These tanks were also built with some modifications in Poland and Czechoslovakia. The Chinese combined features of the T-54 and the T-55 in the creation of their Type 59 and Type 69 medium tanks as well. Over 130,000 T-54 and T-55 series tanks and their immediate relatives (from China) have been built.

One would think with all of those tanks in service that this would have been a popular modeling subject and well treated by the major companies, but up until now this has not been the case. Tamiya produced a kit of the T-55 in 1967 but it was, to be succinct, pretty awful. No one else even bothered until 1989 when Lindberg produced a kit of the T-55 which could be built as r a T-55 Model 1958 or Israeli Ti-67/T-55 Model 1970, but it left a lot to be desired. Likewise, around 1992 ESCI produced a kit of the T-55 that could be build as a T-55, T-55A, or Ti-67. Again, the kits had numerous shape and detail errors and were a big disappointment.

In 1999 China began producing kits from the Wasan Plastic Company and releasing them in the US under the Trumpeter label and other kits under the Lee brand name abroad. Most were not very good, as for everything they got right they made changes which got it wrong. Plus, early Trumpeter kits were made from an ABS type plastic that was very difficult to cement together. All were motorized, and the modifications made to fit the motors in the kits did not help either.

In 2001 SKIF of the Ukraine people who should know what a T-55 looks like introduced a kit of the T-55A, but it was so angular and missed the entire personality of the tank that it was more of an insult than a disappointment.

 

 

FirstLook

 

For many years DML advertised that they would do a T-55 kit, but this was dropped from their catalogue after five years. It was therefore something of a bolt from the blue in the fall of 2002 when Tamiya announced they were going to do a kit of a T-55A. Having been let down before by recent Tamiya forays into Soviet armor their uninspired T-72 and lackluster IS-3 kits being major personal disappointments I could only hope for the best.

This kit is now out, and I received one precipitously on Christmas Eve from Bill Miley of Chesapeake Model Designs. After opening the box, the best way to describe my reaction is one of stunned silence. While I am sure that the German armor fans will argue, my personal opinion is that this is probably the finest overall armor kit ever produced by Tamiya.

First off, the kit is pretty much dead on the money in regard to dimensions and details. It is one of the later model tanks (after the hull machine gun was dropped) but comes with parts for four basic variants (T-55 Model 1958, T-55A Model 1962, T-55 Model 1970, and T-55A Model 1970) as well as many of the differentiating parts for Soviet and Warsaw Pact variants. The design of the kit is also such that conversion (or more likely a follow-on kit) for the T-54 series or the Type 59/69 will be quite easy to accomplish. The engine deck is separate (but not the radiator or oil cooler grille area) and all major detail parts are separate, so there is a lot of room for personal customizing.

The driveline is accurate and comes with the correct pattern of interlocking wheels and the "scalloped" idler wheels. It comes with 13-tooth drivers and the standard steel hinged early pattern tracks (later replaced with 14-toothed drivers and single-pin rubber bushed T-72 type track in the 1980s). The belly pan is complete and includes torsion bar connection details. The tracks are accurate, but a bit thin in the current Tamiya style, and will not "sag" as they should. A good set of Fruilmodel white metal tracks (No. ATL-01) is available and recommended for this kit.

The turret is the first accurate rendition of a T-54 or T-55 series tank in a kit. The gunner and commander sit on the left side of the gun, and as a result the turret is "bulged" there to accommodate both men; the gun is also offset slightly to the right so that it remains on the centerline of the turret. Tamiya nailed this feature. All of the details are included, as well as a choice of Soviet or Polish cover fittings for the coaxial machine gun port and gunner's telescopic sight. It even comes with very petite styrene tiedown loops for the rear of the turret.

Other details match as well. The fuel tanks are unique; the front right one is a single but the rear two are molded as a pair with the connectors in place, so the modeler doesn't have to figure out how to connect the lines if he does not wish to go to that level of detail.

Two types of snorkels are included (the Soviet OPVT and a Polish one that hinges for semi-permanent mounting when installed). All detail parts are finely molded and all hinges, clasps, handles and tiedowns are in place. The only spot I saw where detailing is a bit thin is the inside of the commander's and loader's hatches.

Decals are included for five different tanks: a) Soviet T-55A Model 1962; b) Soviet T-55 Model 1970; c) Polish T-55A Model 1970; d) Polish T-55 Model 1970; and e) Czech T-55A Model 1962. Each is keyed to callouts in the instructions, so a word of warning to pay attention to the small print when working on a particular tank.

Overall, the only real disadvantage to this model is the fact that diehard Soviet armor fans like myself have had to wait 35 years for it. The good news is that it is worth it, and the price should be low enough to stock up on them.

(Chesapeake Model Designs is also about to release a series of composite resin/aluminum barrels, one of which will be the D-10T2S for this tank, and a prototype of which was included with the model by Bill Miley. No word on when, but from the prototype, it will be worth the wait!!!)

Cookie Sewell
AMPS
 


Review Copyright 2002 by Cookie Sewell
Page Created 26 December, 2002
Last updated 22 July, 2003

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