A man behind the camera is not impressed in the slightest: “They’re ancient, like mammoth s**t.”

The objects of his derision are a train-load of Russian army T-54/55 tanks spotted in the Voronezh region, on their way to Russian-occupied Crimea.

The video is yet another sign of the chronic equipment shortages facing the Kremlin as it seeks to defend against Ukraine’s summer offensive.

The Dutch independent analytical group Oryx that uses hard evidence – usually a video or photograph of the individual tank – currently estimates Russian forces have lost 2,091 tanks in combat in Ukraine. 

Their researchers say actual Russian losses are higher but it’s not clear by how much.

The Ukrainian military in its Friday morning daily situation estimate said that the count of total tanks claimed destroyed or captured by its soldiers since the war began stands at 4,070 vehicles though it has never provided systematic proof to back up its overall kill claims. 

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The International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2022 estimated Russia began the war with 2,840 tanks operated by active duty units.

Since then the Kremlin has pulled hundreds reserve tanks out of storage and attempted to refurbish mothballed vehicles in an attempt to keep up with losses. 

The shipment of museum piece tanks is just the latest such incident – commercial satellite imagery, produced by Maxar Technologies, from as early as the summer of 2022 continuing into the autumn, showed the movement of old T-62 tanks from storage at Russia’s 1295th Central Tank Reserve and Storage Base in, Prymorskyi Krai region.

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Then, in March 2023, footage began to appear on social media of the even older T-54 and T-55 tanks being transported by rail from the Arsenyev base, which raised widespread speculation that these armored vehicles, which were built in the 1960s, were also being deployed to the Ukrainian front.

As Kyiv Post’s Steve Brown wrote at the time, experts initially presumed that these tanks would then be modernized and upgraded before being sent to the frontlines.

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There was an attraction in using the T-54/55 due to its simplicity which would be reflected in a relatively short time to train crews, particularly conscripts, as well as low, by 21st century standards, operational, logistic and maintenance costs.

However, the T-54/55s seen in Ukraine appear to have received no enhancements and have been deployed in the same condition as when they were placed in storage. They appear to lack any of the protective features seen on some of the enhanced variants of the 1990s, or even the 1980s.

The 205 mm front turret and 120 mm hull front armor, offers limited protection from modern anti-tank weapons and their rudimentary fire control and gun stabilization systems make them unsuitable for use in their original primary role as part of a mechanized assault group.

The 100 mm rifled gun, carried by these older versions of the tank, would be ineffective against virtually all of Ukraine’s armor. Upgraded T55s, used by the Iraqi Republican Guard in Kuwait during the First Gulf War, were simply outgunned by US M1 Abrams and British Challenger tanks and destroyed at ranges that exceeded their own maximum limit.

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As Russia increasingly goes on the defensive, building extensive trenches and defensive positions, particularly in the south of Ukraine the T54/T55s may prove more useful as static gun emplacements. 

The tank could be dug in so that only its turret can be seen above ground to defend a front line against counterattacks.

Another use could be as an additional artillery system, to provide indirect fire support to mobile Russian forces, operating from one ‘tactical bound’ behind advancing troops.

It is also likely that, as they run low on conventional artillery ammunition, Russian forces may have stocks of the 100mm ammunition used by the tank which includes high explosive-fragmentation, as well as anti-tank rounds.

 

 

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