The Frantic Pace of Cold War Tank Development.

by Daniel Russ on October 13, 2017

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Tank technology was not abandoned after the Second World War. It was accelerated and often that meant that existing systems were simply up armored and sent into battle. Tank rounds that were lethal in the 1940s were not up to snuff in the 1960s. Tank round in the 1960 were defeated by armor in the 1970s. It was a dynamic system where the old informed the new.


All armored experience was metempirical in a new world of nuclear weapons, laser technology and in tin plated despots that were more than happy to help weapons makers turn a local beef into a proxy war. Despots like Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Slobodan Milosevic ruled with fear and violence and bloody unfettered rapine. Worse the world still suffers from an economy that makes so much money on weapons, that the open weapons buying market adds to countries bottom line and destabilize the world at the same time.


Fidel Castro’s forces expanded the military reach of Communism in the Atlantic, in the Caribbean and South American nations. Castro’s Revolutionary Army fought in Soviet Cold War tanks like the T-62 and the T-54 and the BTR-60. These were the same tanks that faced us across the skirmish line between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. Castro sent forces that won battles for other Communist and otherwise rapacious dictators hiding behind Karl Marx to purloin whole countries and economies.


So the West began an arms race on the ground in armor that was still rapidly being developed since the Second World War.


The Swiss entered the European arms market with what they envisioned as a tank that would be optimally designed to provide heavy hitting power and modern design and all that at a reasonable cost. Enter the Pz 68 made by Eidgenoessische Konstruktionswerkstaette. It looked a bit like the M-60 Medium tank the Americans and Israelis used to a good effect. Except it has about 2.3 inches of armor and fired a 100 mm had a suspension as sophisticated as the Leopard and a fire control system that was thoroughly modern.


The Pz 68 lacked an NBC system and once the nuclear arms race was on that was no longer looked at as a luxury item. If soldiers were to survive a cold war exchange they had to be ready for the most lethal toxic weapons around.


Other technical problems doomed it and only 400 were delivered and 00 scrapped before they were ever used.


The Russians were develpng the T-44 whgich evolved into the T-54, a superior medium tank with a 100 mm gun and a 12.7mm coaxial machine gun on top. It also had a gun stabilizer and a night vision operation for the gunner. The 100 mm round was capable of taking down an M60 or a modern British Centurion. Plus the T-54 was lighter and easier to drive. It required less maintenance than western tanks and 100,000 plus tanks were manufactured.


When in the deserts of the Sinai T-54s faced M 60s, they were almost always beaten. This depressed the export market somewhat for the T-54 and it elevated the export market for NATO arms makers. T-55s were used in Sri Lanka, Angola, India, Pakistan, Yugoslavia and Uganda for example all in the same 10 years. The M48 Pattons and Centurions 90 mm guns proved too much for the Soviet tanks and eventually the Russians brought to the Arab customers new technology in the armor race: the T-72 and T-80 tanks, with laser stabilized gins, night vision, super suspension systems that stabilized guns while on the move. And the 120 mm gun was a show-stopper for almost all western armor.



For a while the US played with the M-103, a heavy tank designed to be deployed by the US Marines during the cold war. Chrysler built 300 of them and discontinued after it appeared that it was too heavy to make it over bridges.


It was decommissioned after the Cold War and the Marines briefly went back to the improved M60 tank that was light and powerful and nimble. For a while the US Marines utilized the M551 Sheridan tan. It fired a 152mm round or a shillelagh missile. It was slow to fire and it could not stand up to fire in Vietnam from hand held anti tank round or mine of any kind. It gave up armor for speed and it gave up too many lives at the end of the day.







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