Friday 9 December 2016

T-62: Return of the Smoothbore

In the late 1950s, the Soviet government received information that NATO nations developed and adopted new 105 mm tank guns, which made the T-54 and T-55, the most common types of Soviet tank, vulnerable. The 100 mm rifled gun on the T-55 could not penetrate the front of the M48 Patton III, and the Americans were already developing the M60 Patton IV. In case of a duel, the T-55 would be at a disadvantage.
New Gun for a New Tank

The design bureau of UralVagonZavod (Nizhniy Tagil) was working on a new medium tank to replace the T-55 since the early 1950s, indexed Object 140. Two prototypes were built, but the project was cancelled. Elements of the Object 140 design were used in the creation of the new Object 165: the hull, turret, and automatic shell extraction mechanism through a hatch in the back of the turret. The engine and transmission compartment was left unchanged.

Central entrance to F.E. Dzerzhinskiy "Uralvagonzavod" Scientific Production Corporation

The turret was cast in one piece to improve robustness (at the time the sides of the turret were cast, but the roof was rolled and welded on). The design of the fighting compartment was borrowed from the Object 150, which was being developed in parallel and later became the IT-1 ATGM-armed tank destroyer.

The Object 165 was armed with a new 100 mm U-8TS rifled gun (GRAU index 2A24), a modernization of the 100 mm D-54TS (the U-8TS had a more modern Kometa stabilizer, the D-54TS had the Molniya). However, the military had a series of complaints about the gun. The first cause of worry was the muzzle brake, the escaping gases from which raised clouds of dust or snow, knocking infantry or tank riders off their feet. In addition, even though the muzzle velocity was higher than that of the D-10T2S (a gun designed back in 1944), it was still insufficient. Because of this, work on Object 166 armed with a different gun began in parallel. 

Object 165 armed with the 100 mm rifled U-8TS gun.

Meanwhile, the design bureau of Yurga machinebuilding factory #75 was working on a high power 100 mm T-12 anti-tank gun. The gun's main feature was that it was smoothbore. HEAT shells have higher penetration if they do not rotate. New fin-stabilized armour piercing ammunition was also developed that did not need to be spin stabilized. This gun could penetrate 215 mm of armour at one kilometer, which was enough to defeat NATO's main battle tanks. When Khrushchev was informed that the new gun had 1.5 as much penetration as the 100 mm rifle gun, he proposed that the rifled gun should be replaced with the smoothbore one.

T-12 anti-tank gun.

As it was impossible to use 1200 mm long shells for the T-12 inside a tank, the designers decided on another solution. A new 115 mm smoothbore gun based on the 100 mm U-8TS was designed. Rifling was removed from the 100 mm gun, which increased its caliber and barrel life. Thanks to the absence of rifling grooves, the pressure in the barrel could be significantly increased. The new gun had no muzzle brake (which was welcomed by the military), and the barrel was lengthened. The world's first smoothbore tank gun, the U-5TS Molot (GRAU designation 2A20) was born. Despite reservations, the precision of this new weapon was among the best rifled guns of the time.

115 mm U-5TS Molot smoothbore tank gun.

Nizhniy Tagil's Workhorse

The hull machinegun was removed from the new tank, and the mount for the PKT coaxial machinegun was redesigned to fit the new weapon.

Since the gun was too heavy for existing stabilizers, they were replaced with a specially developed Meteor stabilizer. The turning mechanism of the turret was reinforced, and the turret ring effectively became one large ball bearing. The turning mechanism was a planetary reductor gear with an electromechanical drive. The clearance between the turret and hull was protected by an armoured ring, 10x30 mm in cross-section, to protect it from splash.

3D model of the T-62's gearbox. Author: Dmitriy Dubin

The hull was composed of rolled welded armoured plates of various thicknesses. The front was armoured with 100 mm plates at various angles: 60°  for the upper plate, 55° for the lower. The sides were armoured with 80 mm vertical plates. The rear was composed as follows: the upper part was 45 mm thick, the lower part 16 mm at 70°. The roof of the fighting compartment was 30 mm thick, and the roof of the engine compartment was 16 mm thick. The tub-shaped floor was composed of 4 welded 20 mm plates.

The driver's station, viewed from the rear.

The tank's layout was classical: the driver's compartment was in the front, the fighting compartment behind it, then the engine and transmission in the rear. The driver's station was in the left of his compartment, which he entered through a hatch above the seat in the turret ring plate. An evacuation hatch was installed in the floor behind the driver's seat. The driver's station was equipped with two prismatic observation devices with pneumatic windshield clearing fluid nozzles. At night, the left device was replaced with the TNV-2 night vision device, which let the driver see 60 m of road in front of him. The IR headlight was placed next to the regular headlight on the right side of the upper front plate. The driver could navigate using a target indicator underwater.

The driver's station. The prismatic observation devices are clearly seen.

The tank could cross water hazards up to 1.4 meters deep without preliminary preparation, or up to 5 meters deep and 500 meters wide with underwater crossing equipment. The crew required 1 hour and 12 minutes to install the snorkel, seal the ports, muzzle, and radiator, and then 1.5 minutes in order to prepare the tank for combat after crossing and 15 minutes to remove the snorkel and other removable equipment.

T-62 with underwater crossing equipment.

The fighting compartment housed the commander (rear left of the turret), gunner (front right of the turret) and loader (rear right of the turret). The two hatches on top of the turret, left for the commander and right for the loader, opened forward. On tanks built after 1972, a DShKM machinegun with 300 rounds of ammunition was installed behind the loader's hatch. A combined TKN-2 (on later tanks, TKN-3) day and nighttime observation device was mounted on the commander's cupola in front of the commander's hatch. Two prismatic observation devices were installed on the hatch, and another two in front of the hatch in the cupola. The OU-ZGK IR spotlight allowed the commander to see 400 meters away at night.

The TKN-2 is visible through the open commander's hatch.

The gunner was equipped with a monocular sight with two settings: general with 3.5x zoom and 18° FOV and precise with 7x zoom and 9° FOV. At night, the gunner used the TPN-1-41-11 night sight, which allowed precise fire at ranges up to 800 meters. A level and azimuth indicator were used to fire indirectly at a range of up to 5.8 km with HE shells and 9.5 km with increased range 3OF18 HE shells. Firing directly, the tank could fire at a target up to 4 km away with subcaliber ammunition or 3 km away with HEAT or HE ammunition. If the target was less than 2 meters tall, the range was cut in half.

Gunner's station.

Due to a significant weight of the shells, the loader had to be strong. An experimental loading mechanism called "Zhelud'" was tested on the Object 166, but the tank entered production without it. Zhelud' served as a prototype of the autoloader on the legendary T-72.

Loader's station.

The tank used a 12-cylinder 580 hp V-55V engine, installed perpendicular to the hull. The engine was placed behind the turret, in the engine compartment. The tank's range on a highway was 450-650 km.

Open engine compartment hatch on a T-62.

The tank was equipped with an anti-radiation system that could function in automatic or semiautomatic mode. In automatic mode, pyrotechnic charges were deployed as soon as sensors detected a heightened level of radiation, the tank was sealed, the exhaust fan, air compressor, and filtration system began working, clearing the incoming air of radioactive dust, bacteria, and poison. The compressor created positive pressure inside the tank, which did not allow harmful substances to enter even if airtightness was lost. In semiautomatic mode, the detection of radiation sounded an alarm, and the pyrotechnic charges could be deployed by the press of a button by the driver or commander.

The tank was equipped with an automatic fire extinguisher. The extinguisher put out fires in the appropriate compartment with a mix of ethyl bromide, carbon dioxide, and compressed air. It could also work in automatic or semiautomatic mode.

 T-62 at the proving grounds.

The T-62 was also equipped with a smokescreen device. Diesel fuel from the fuel tanks was used as the reagent. The tank could put up a smokescreen by injecting fuel into the exhaust system. The fuel expenditure was 10 L/min, and could continue releasing smoke for 10 minutes. The smoke lasted for 2-4 minutes with a length of the smokescreen of 200-400 meters.

From Factories to the Army

In the summer of 1961, Object 165 and Object 166 were recommended for production. An order of the Minister of Defense of the USSR issued on September 6th, 1961, put the Object 166 into production under the index T-62, and an order issued on January 9th, 1962, put the Object 165 into production under the index T-62A. Only 25 T-62A tanks were built, after which it was cancelled to reduce the excessive amount of tank models in production. The T-62 was produced in the USSR until 1975, in the ChSSR from 1973 to 1978, and the DPRK from 1980 to 1989. About 20,000 tanks of various modifications were built. As technology improved, the tank's engine, sights, communication systems, active and passive armour, etc. were improved.

T-62 on parade in Red Square.

The tanks were first seen by the general public on November 7th, 1962, during a parade at Red Square. Their trial by combat happened a year later in Czechoslovakia. There were no large scale armoured engagements, so the T-62 did not participate in combat.

T-62 tanks during suppression of the uprising in Czechoslovakia, 1968.

In the Far East, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus

The first time these tanks really fought was on March 2nd, 1969, during the Sino-Soviet conflict at Damanskiy island. A platoon of three T-62s tried to help the defending border forces on the island, crossing the Ussuri river across the ice. However, the Chinese managed to knock out the head tank (its crew, including Colonel Demokrat Leonov who initiated the attack, was killed). The other tanks and border guards retreated across the river. The tank drowned, but the Chinese managed to drag it to their side of the river. Chinese designers studied the T-62 carefully and used Soviet technical solutions when designing the Type 69 (WZ-121). Today, the captured tank can be seen at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing.

Colonel Leonov's tank, knocked out during the fighting for Damanskiy island on March 15th, 1969.

The T-62 was actively used in Afghanistan. A company of T-62 tanks performed a night march and attacked a fortified crossing across the Panjshir river in December of 1982. The Mujaheddin did not have night vision devices at the time and they fled under fire of the armoured vehicles. The company took the crossing, which was used by motorized riflemen in the morning.

In May of 1984, a company of T-62 tanks acting along a paratrooper battalion was used during the clearing of the Helmand province. Engineers were in the front of the column, clearing the path. Tanks with paratrooper riders followed, covering them. If the enemy was detected, he was destroyed with fire from tank guns and small arms. In three days, the region was cleared of Mujaheddin. The group captured a large amount of weapons. About 40 RPG shots were fired at the tanks, but not a single one was lost. Personnel losses were also avoided.

T-62 tanks were also used by Mohammad Najibullah's government forces. Some of those tanks are still used by the Afghan army. After the dissolution of the USSR, T-62 tanks were used by the Russian government against Chechen terrorists in the First and Second Chechen wars, as well as during the 2008 South Ossetian war against the Georgian forces.

T-62 in Chechnya.

In Muslim Hands

T-62 tanks were used by Syrian and Egyptian armies during the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War against Israel. Due to mistakes made by commanders and the crew's lack of professionalism, they were used ineffectively. As a result of clashes in 1973, the Israeli army captured about 200 Arab T-62s, which were adopted into service after some minor changes under the index Tiran-6. These vehicles are now stored at reserve bases.

Tanks abandoned by the Syrian army during the Yom Kippur War, 1973.

Later, Syria used its T-62s in the Lebanon War of 1982, which began on June 6th. On June 8th, tanks from the 460th Tank Brigade of the IDF Tank School commanded by Hagay Koen approached the city of Jezzine, 40 km south of Beirut. The city was strategically vital, as if the Israelis could take it, they would cut the PLO's army in half and pushed them against the sea. The city was defended by the Syrian 424th Infantry Battalion and three battalions of T-62 tanks from the 1st Tank Brigade. The 460th brigade knew nothing of the tanks in the city. The Israeli Sho't Kal tanks fell into an ambush and came under fire from T-62s and ATGMs. After losing several tanks, the Israelis had to stop and could only continue once aircraft came to their aid. Fierce city fighting began, continuing until nightfall. The 460th brigade managed to push the Syrians out of the city at the cost of 10 tanks. The Syrians lost 3 T-62s, even though the Israelis claim 20 knocked out enemy tanks and 4 destroyed and 5 damaged tanks on their side. Later, Syrian T-62s fought with Israeli tanks in the Beqaa Valley and Beirut-Damascus highway with mixed success.

The Iraqi army actively used T-62 tanks during the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88, during the invasion of Kuwait, and during the War in the Gulf in 1991. In 2003, obsolete Iraqi T-62s attempted to resist new American tanks during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today, the T-62 is actively used in the Syrian Civil War.

September 22nd, 1980. T-62 tanks of the 6th Tank Division of the Iraqi army crossing the Iranian border.

The T-62 was used by Lybian forces during the invasion of Chad by Muammar Gaddafi in November of 1986 and during the Franco-American operation Odyssey Dawn against him in 2011.

Egyptian T-62s on the Sinai peninsula.

In the second half of 1987, T-54B, T-55, and T-62 tanks of the 50th division, an elite unit of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, fighting alongside Angola government forces, stopped the advance of UNITA forces. UNITA was supported by South African artillery, tanks (Oliphant tanks, modernized Centurions) and Ratel FSV-90 armoured cars. During the defense of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88, the Cubans mostly used their tanks as dug-in bunkers. T-62 tanks were not used by Angola's armed forces, only the older T-54B and T-55.

Overall, the tank showed itself to be reliable, roomy, comfortable, and easy to service, but the Afghan campaign revealed its drawbacks. Fighting in the mountains proved that the maximum gun elevation of 16°  was insufficient. There was also some difficulty in using the tank in dusty terrain.

T-62 in East Berlin, 1982.


  1. And here I thought that T-62 was a boring, ergonomically bad side note stuck between T-55 and T-64.

    Lol at Chechen "terrorists," but anyways, will you cover T-80s in Chechnya at some point?

  2. The T-62 turret was notoriously cramped. A regular sized man could not stand up and load the main gun but had to crouch the entire time made worse by the fact that the shells were large and heavy.

    1. I've heard actually that the T-62 was the last soviet tank with a fair amount of space inside. I've seen a T-62 and a T-72 parked next to each other and the difference in turret volume is noticeable. I've sat in T-72's and there is certainly less space in one of those!

      Also, what is "regular sized"?

    2. But now you are comparing tank with an autoloader to tank with a human loader. It's the loader who needs most space. Gunner and to dome degree commander can work fine while just sitting on their posts.

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  3. "Rifling was removed from the 100 mm gun, which increased its caliber and barrel life. Thanks to the absence of rifling grooves, the pressure in the barrel could be significantly increased. The new gun had no muzzle brake (which was welcomed by the military), and the barrel was lengthened. The world's first smoothbore tank gun, the U-5TS Molot (GRAU designation 2A20) was born. Despite reservations, the precision of this new weapon was among the best rifled guns of the time."

    all of these statements are completely incorrect

    my best friends father worked for the federal government from 56 to 98 and stated numerous tms the the 115mm in the t62 (btw a smoothbore is NOT a gun) was incredibly inaccurate esp with any special ammo

  4. there was a saying about crews of t54,55 and 62
    "four midget weightlifters in a sardine can"