War in Ukraine, Volume 4: Main Battle Tanks of Russia and Ukraine, 2014-2023 — Soviet Legacy and Post-Soviet Russian MBTs

Published on
Published on
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Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Wen Jiang Chung
Other Publication Information
Paperback 86 Pages, 8.3 x 11.7 in, 88 color photos, 15 color profiles, 6 diagrams, 1 graph

Company: Helion & Company - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site

This is the fourth book in the War in Ukraine series (currently at five volumes). The first two volumes were reviewed by Orlando Reyes of the IPMS/USA Review Corps:

War in Ukraine Volume 4: Main Battle Tanks of Russia and Ukraine, 2014-2023 - Soviet Legacy and Post-Soviet Russian MBTs by Wen Jian Chung is Number 35 of Helion and Company’s Europe at War series which contains 86 Pages in a (8.3” x 11.7”) paperback with 88 color photos, 15 color profiles, six diagrams, and one graph, authored by Wen Jiang Chung .

The book is complete with extensive photographs, technical details and specifications, and detailed illustrations, composing the following ten chapters:

  • Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgments
  • An Introductory Note
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 – A Common Heritage: Soviet Legacy Tanks in Russian and Ukrainian
    • Service
    • 1.1: T-64: Morozov’s Legacy (16 pages)
    • 1.2: T-72: Uralian Alternative (12 pages)
    • 1.3: T-80: Turbine-Powered Hot-rod (11 pages)
  • Chapter 2- Russian Post-Soviet Tanks
    • 2.1: T-90A: Marketing Exercise (8 pages)
    • 2.2: T-72B3: Old Tank, New Tricks (7 pages)
    • 2.3: T-80BVM: The Emperor’s New Clothes (6 pages)
    • 2.4: T-90M: Russian Breakthrough? (6 pages)
  • Bibliography
  • Notes
  • About the Author

Author Wen Jiang Chung states,

The Russo-Ukrainian War, which began with the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and dramatically escalated when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, is the largest conventional war to occur in Europe since the Second World War ended in 1945. It also represents the largest use of armor on the European continent since 1945, for Russia and Ukraine possess the largest and second-largest tank fleets in Europe, respectively.

The Soviets judged the ‘technical level’ or effectiveness of their tanks according to four criteria:

  • Firepower: the ability to find and destroy targets on the battlefield.
  • Protection: the ability to sustain damage without losing combat capability and protect the crew.
  • Mobility: the ability to move to and on the battlefield.
  • Reliability: the tank can be trusted to work when it is needed.

The author explains the first three criteria are well known to armor enthusiasts and, as such, this book is formatted into these three sections as they are easy to quantify “hard factors.” Harder to measure are the “soft factors” such as ‘degree of automation, ergonomics, quality of communication and navigation systems, and cross-country capabilities.’” The author combines these “soft factors” into a fourth ‘Context’ section.

The book begins with Soviet tank design starting with the T-44 as the T-34 was a dead-end design after its successful use in World War II. The three major tank bureaus and their designs are described in detail with the successive designs being the T-54, T-55, T-62, T-64, T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks.The focus of this book are the T-64, T-72, and T-80 Soviet tanks, and the Russian T-90; the difference being the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. The author knows his information with several sources backing up his data, including current-time Ukrainian sources and tankers. The sections on armament, targeting sights, suspension, and armor are impressive and shed a lot of light on capabilities and limitations, debunking several myths in the process.

The differences between the three primary tanks (T-64, T-72, and T-80) and their variants are interesting and shed a lot of light on the differences between the factories, methodologies, and upgrades on the major armor in the Ukrainian War. The T-64 was the primary tank in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Zbronyni Sili Ukrayni, ZSU) as they were produced at the Kharkov plant, and the ZSU decided to focus on one tank instead of several, especially as they could use the established production lines.

T-64s were used in the earlier 2014 Ukrainian conflicts in the Donbas region with Russia supplying both the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) from Russian stocks. Once these were depleted, Russian T-72s began appearing.

The T-80 has a poor reputation, especially after the first Chechen War when at least 37 T-80B/BVs were lost during the Battle of Grozny, mostly to anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and handheld anti-tank (AT) weapons.

These losses were mostly attributed to improper use of the tanks in urban fighting by the inexperienced and poorly trained crews. This was not helped by the fact that many of these tanks did not have the explosive inserts in their Kontakt-1 ERA blocks due to incompetence in the supply chain (tanks usually did not have the inserts fitted during training or storage, and they were sent into battle without them.

The T-80 utilized a fuel-hungry turbine engine and crews (usually two-year conscripts) couldn’t readily be cross-trained on different tank systems. The T-90 retains a lot of the T-72’s legacy design and is not available in large enough numbers, neither is the T-14 Armata which has not yet entered full-scale production. Thus T-72 tank remains the Russian tank of choice, despite its age.The T-72 continues to be upgraded and used, not only in Russia, but around the world. Despite all the upgrades, the author continues,

These modernizations still do not address some of the T-72’s fundamental mobility flaws, however. The reverse speed is still the atrocious 4 km/hr, and the dual-pin tracks do not appear to really help with the mud problem: on 11 February 2022, less than two weeks before the invasion, footage emerged of over a dozen Russian T-72Bsd in the Rostov region being dug out of mud with the help of a civilian excavator during exercises, having gotten bogged down. So much for the words of Russian military analyst Konstantin Sivkov, who spoke only a few days after the footage emerged, on 15 February: ‘Our tanks are much better suited for advancing on muddy terrain. There is nothing to worry about, a thaw can only stop Western tanks.’

In comparison, the T-64 has much better cross-country mobility in mud.

The T-64 may also be the tank best suited for the fighting in Ukraine in terms of its cross-country capabilities. As noted before, Morozov and his team optimized the T-64’s suspension and tracks for European operations, especially in mud. During the spring and fall rainy seasons, the Ukrainian chernozem (lit. ‘black soil’) becomes a nigh-impassable morass as it gets waterlogged. This is the notorious rasputitsa or, to use the Ukrainian term, bezdorizhzhia (‘roadlessness’) season, which has proven to be the bane of attacking armies since the time of the Kievan Rus in the thirteenth century.

The T-90M tank holds promise and respect amongst Ukrainian forces. Among being the newest tank, it has better primary sights, targeting system and the Nakidka(‘Cloak’) thermal and radar signature-masking fabric that reduces its radar signature, and its temperature is closer to that of the background, reducing its thermal detection range by 30%.

This book is a boon for modelers with incredible detail and supporting photographs of the tanks in parade and battlefield conditions, their sub-components, Soviet and Russian diagrams, and functions. For modelers who want to know the differences in sub-models, the information is here. This is an outstanding book to understand the mindset of Soviet, Russian and Ukrainian tank designers, and crews. It really helped fill in gaps in my knowledge of Soviet main battle tanks.

While the technological details of this book are worth the price alone, the photographs really are amazingly detailed and supported by both captions and the text. Despite advantages and disadvantages of each tank system, in the end, it really comes down to crew training and cohesion. This book deserves a place on any Soviet armor modeler’s bookshelf as it will be used often. With the continuing War in Ukraine, it will be interesting to see how the Western tanks in Ukrainian use will fare against these Soviet and Russian tanks.

Slava Ukraine!

Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS/USA for providing the review sample.


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