From the Wargaming design bureau
Video games and historical accuracy are rarely used together in the same sentence. World of Tanks is perhaps one of the worst offenders, giving rise to some interesting, yet laughable fake tanks. This article will focus on one of the latest fake tanks to flood World of Tanks servers, the 59-Patton – An obviously fake mash-up between a Type 59 hull, and an M48A3 Patton turret. Many were quick to point out on WoT forums that it simply is unfeasible as a design. Nevertheless, considering how the creation of such a vehicle would be possible is a very interesting endeavor.
“Historical Information” and overall credibility
World of Tanks gives the following information about the 59-Patton –
“After 1960, Chinese government launched the development of a new tank. The engineering experiments included a wide use of previously produced Type 59 tanks. One vehicle was equipped with the turret, gun, and fire control system of an American M48A3 tank.”
This is rather vague information, and also almost certainly untrue. It is true that the Chinese were experimenting with tank development from the 1960s onward, particularly with heavy tanks and upgrading the Type 59 (although most of the prototypes were allegedly destroyed during Chinese nuclear testing, according to WoT).
The concept of fitting an M48 Patton turret to a Type 59 as some kind of basis for an improvement does not fit the reality of Chinese MBT tank development at the time. Having said this, little detail is available on Chinese tank development.
Development on medium tanks / MBTs was slowly giving solid results, but did not include any ideas of giving the Type 59 a new turret. In fact, it was more about improving the Type 59, as opposed to the development of totally new vehicles, turrets, or chassis. 617 factory, who produced the Type 59, were given orders to make improvements based on the same chassis, shortly after production started. The result was the creation of the well-known Type 69, which later developed into the Type 79 MBTs. The hulls and turrets of these new vehicles were practically identical to the Type 59. The only real differences were the new technology and the inclusion of a ‘new’ and improved 100 and 105mm gun, respectively. None of the new technologies used can be attributed to an American source, let alone a new Patton turret. For example, the Chinese captured a Soviet T-62 tank (during the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict) and copied many components, such as the Luna Infrared searchlight and integrated this into their MBT designs.
Whilst the M48A3 Patton was a good design, it was, by 1960, somewhat outdated and was therefore replaced with the M60 Patton, which featured a 105mm gun (although the M48 stayed in service until the 1990s). The M48A3’s 90mm gun would not be the best weapon to use against modern armor (particularly against Soviet armor, which became a priority for the PRC, due to the major breakdown in Sino-Soviet relations). Even if the M48A3 turret were modified to take a more potent Chinese gun, it would be far easier to upgrade existing Chinese turrets. This would allow a much quicker design process and faster production, seeing as though the same basic design would be used. In reality, the Type 69 followed exactly this – it was an upgrade of the Type 59.
However, the overall notion of an M48 Patton turret on a Type 59 chassis is absurd. The turret rings are a serious mismatch – the Patton turret is far too big for the Type 59 hull. A whole new hull (possibly but not necessarily based on the Type 59) would have to be developed in order to make this vehicle work, or the turret section would need substantial modifications.
A more credible story?
The other non-WoT suggestion behind the existence of the 59-Patton is to use the vehicle as a means to test the M48 Patton’s capabilities. There is a suggestion that perhaps the Chinese captured a damaged M48 Patton, or at least the turret (which will be discussed later in the article). In order to test the M48 Patton’s capabilities, the Chinese could mount the turret onto a chassis. The M48 Patton was in service until the 1990s, and it would perhaps be worth the Chinese knowing the M48’s capabilities. Whilst a more likely theory, given the path of Chinese tank development during the period, it does not address the fact that the vehicle would not work due to the turret ring mismatch. Perhaps the Type 59 chassis could be, in some manner, modified to take the turret, perhaps by means of a small superstructure on top of the chassis, which would make the hull wide enough to fit the turret, as seen with the supposed “T-34/62” tanks, essentially a T-34 with a T-62 turret, which were used as bunkers, circa 1980. (See Sidenote: II) The turret would not even necessarily need to rotate for tests, but could be welded on and the hull of the vehicle would have to be turned precisely for accurate aiming.
Entertaining the theory of how the Chinese would even get a Patton turret to experiment on is also very difficult, but, nevertheless, there are two major theories, neither of which are suggested by World of Tanks. However, it must be noted that there is no real proof that the PRC ever had a Patton to experiment with, nor did they ever experiment with making the 59-Patton a reality. If the concept of the 59-Patton is true, then it probably was little more than a passing thought.
Theory 1 – Vietnam gave the PRC a Patton
It is highly unlikely that the Chinese would get hold of a Patton until the Vietnam War. This would require the NVA to hand over a captured Patton – something not easily done. The most likely time that Pattons would be captured is whilst they were in service with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. In 1972, many of the 600 M48 Pattons to see service in Vietnam were given to the ARVN. These and M41 Walker Bulldogs would see sporadic fighting against NVA T-54s and PT-76s, but some were lost to Sagger missiles, such as in one incident in 23 April, 1973. In May, 1975, Patton tanks that belonged to the ARVN were abandoned due to running out of munitions and fuel (as a result of a US congressional ban on sending fuel and munitions to Vietnam). They were then in rather short service with the People’s Army of Vietnam. At least one Patton still stands at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city.
From this, it is clear that the most likely time that Pattons would be captured is during the later stages of the Vietnam War, and by this time, the Vietnamese had sided with the USSR, not the PRC, as part of the Sino-Soviet split.
The Sino-Soviet split occurred when the USSR and PRC were feuding for ideological control of Communism. By the mid-1950s, Nikita Khrushchev cemented his leadership of the Soviet Union, and he denounced Stalin’s cult of personality. He also pursued a policy of Peaceful Coexistence with the US and the West. However, Mao believed that it was every Communist’s duty to destroy the West. The idea of seeking peace with them was wrong and against Marxism. He called Khrushchev a traitor or ‘revisionist’ for this. Apart from which, after the death of Stalin in 1953, Mao considered himself the leader of the Communist world, as he is the ‘next most senior leader’.
Khrushchev was also at odds with Mao for a number of reasons. Khrushchev was also very critical of Mao’s leadership of the PRC, especially the failure of the Great Leap Forward, the brutality of the invasion of Tibet, and the assertion of independence from the USSR. He thought that Mao was dangerous. Mao had intentions to invade Taiwan, which was considered a sure-fire way to start a nuclear war. On top of this, Mao declared himself the leader of the “third world” in 1974, stating that the USSR was just another form of imperialism, and that Chinese Communism was the way for newly revolting countries to go. He wanted to form a third belligerent in the Cold War.
Vietnam was only a new chapter in this split. When Vietnam started its Communist revolution, both the USSR and PRC thought that they could gain a new ally. The Vietnamese were happy to keep sitting on the fence between Soviet Communism and Chinese Communism so that they would get more weapons from both sides.
Originally, the Soviets sent their supplies through the PRC, but it was discovered that the Chinese were stealing some of these for themselves, so they used alternative routes. The Soviets also sent advisers to the NVA. The PRC was a little more direct. They sent in engineer soldiers to aid the NVA, as well as tanks and other weapons. After the Vietnam War ended, the USSR became Vietnam’s strongest ally, and Vietnam sided with Soviet communism. This is mainly because the Chinese backed the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, at a time when Vietnam’s Communist party was strongly against the ideals of Pol Pot. In 1979, the Chinese even invaded Vietnam because of Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia in 1978, which effectively ended the Khmer Rouge rule over Cambodia. This was another result of the Sino-Soviet split, with the Chinese Vice-Premier stating that the invasion was in response to ‘Soviet expansionism’ in the region.
History lesson aside, this shows that the Vietnamese and Chinese were hardly likely to collaborate on anything in the late war, which is when the Pattons were most likely to have been captured, and therefore there is little or no chance that the Chinese would receive a Patton tank this way.
It is reported by one Tanks Encyclopedia commenter that Vietnam gave China a Patton to test, and is currently on display at China North Vehicle Research Institute, but this is not proven to the satisfaction of the author.
Theory 2 – Pakistan gave the PRC a Patton
Pakistan and the PRC had a good relationship stretching back the 1950s. When most countries severed diplomatic ties with the PRC in protest over their claims of being the ‘real China’, Pakistan did not. Since 1962, Pakistan has received substantial military, economic, and technical assistance from China, with collaborations on military hardware such as the Al-Khalid continuing to this day. However, back in the 1950s, the USA was very interested in relations with Pakistan for strategic reasons. The USA did not want the domino effect to take place in Pakistan (whereby neighboring or nearby Communist states aid local Communist parties into revolution and take over the country), so various forms of economic and military aid was sent in order to ensure Pakistan stays loyal to the West.
After a mutual defense treaty in 1954, Pakistani tank officers were trained in the US at Fort Knox. During the mid-50s, Pakistan’s cavalry regiments received 230 M47 and 202 M48 Patton tanks (although none seem to have been M48A3s). However, by 1966, in the context of the aftermath of the Indo-Pak war of 1965, China and Pakistan began military relations. The aim was to counter Indian (and US) dominance in the region. China was wary of India because of its ties to Tibet. India had trade links with Tibet that it did not want disrupting, following the Chinese annexation of Tibet and incorporation into the PRC. Despite an agreement of coexistence in 1954, border disputes between India and China ensued in the early 1960s, thus leading to the Sino-Indian War in 1962, and other events such as taking in the Dalai Lama as a political refugee after the 1959 Tibetan uprising only made things worse. Due to Pakistan’s shared interest to avoid Indian influence, Pakistan and China saw each other as viable allies – an alignment of mutual interest.
This being the case, it is possible that Pakistan could send a Patton to the PRC for testing. However, many Pattons were lost during the 1965 Indo-Pak War, particularly at the Battle of Asal Uttar, September 8-10, with a minimum of 99 tanks lost out of the 176 Patton tanks and 44 Chaffees committed to the battle. This even led to the creation of Patton Nagar at the site of the battle, where many captured Pakistani tanks, mainly Pattons, were displayed – seeming to be mostly M47s, but some M48s, too (in all, an estimated 72 Pattons, of which 28 were in running condition). These vehicles were later shipped across India and were displayed as trophies. Whether or not Pakistan would therefore donate a tank to China in the 60s is doubtful.
Credibility of other Chinese tanks in WoT
Some commentators across the WoT forums and the internet have suggested that other little known vehicles such as the T-34-1, T-34-2, 112, and 113 are also likely fake vehicles. Despite the odd photo of tanks such as the WZ-111 (although without a turret ever built), it is generally stated that the other prototype tanks were destroyed during Chinese nuclear testing. It is speculated that many of the prototypes were already placed inside the blast zone, whilst tanks such as the Type 59 were driven into the fallout zone afterwards to test conditions.
Other comments about World of Tanks and its Chinese server operator also exist, which suggest that all of these prototype vehicles are fakes, and make libelous comments about the integrity of the Chinese World of Tanks server operator, Kongzhong.
Sources, external links, and further reading:
“The M47 and M48 Patton Tanks” by Steven J. Zaloga
“War Despatches: Indo-Pak Conflict 1965” by Lt. Gen. Harbakhsh Singh
“From Kutch to Tashkent: The Indo-Pakistan War of 1965” by Farooq Bajwa
“A World Divided: Superpower Relations 1944-90” by Steve Phillips
“Marxism After Marx” by David McLellan
“The Vietnam War 1956-1975” by Andrew Wiest
“Vietnam 1955-1975, a compelling look at America’s longest war” History Channel, 2011/12 (A 4 DVD and 100-page magazine release by goentertain.tv)
World of Tanks Forum
M48 Patton on Tanks Encyclopedia
WZ-111 on Wikipedia
China-India Relations on Wikipedia
China-Pakistan Relations on Wikipedia
The Battle of Asal Uttar on Wikipedia
Rendition of a 59-Patton. The turret rings would be a serious mismatch.
A prototype Merkava M48 – a real vehicle. One prototype Merkava chassis had an M48 Patton turret in order to test out the chassis, particularly the feasibility of a front-engine hull design. This may have perhaps inspired the 59-Patton.
A 59-Patton as seen in World of Tanks.
The release article for the 59-Patton, as taken from Worldoftanks.com. It is obviously a pure work of complete fiction.
The Chinese ‘tech tree’ from World of Tanks. It is filled with mysterious prototypes, most of which are probably fake or speculations at best.
A WZ-111 prototype in China Tank Museum, Beijing. It was constructed without a turret and the project was cancelled in 1966 due to a vast number of mechanical issues. Courtesy of Wikipedia user 颐园新居.
A Type 69 tank on display at the Tank Museum of the People’s Liberation Army, Beijing. The Type 69 was the next major Chinese tank development and began in 1963. It was hardly more than an upgraded Type 59. There was seemingly no intention to create a new turret, nor was there any need – the improved 100mm gun was incredibly similar. It was also an unsuccessful tank, and the Type 79 was produced, although it was little more than an improvement on the Type 69, featuring a copy of the L/7 105mm gun.
An M48 Patton at the War Remnants Museum, Vietnam. It has been suggested that one could have been sent to China from Vietnam, but this seems unlikely, as after the war, the two nations had a dramatic diplomatic fallout.
“Patton Nagar”, 1965. Photograph taken by Brig. Hari Singh Deora A.V.S.M, 18th Cavalry, Indian Army. As taken from Wikipedia. The suggestion that Pakistan might have sent the PRC M48s to test is unlikely, as many were lost in the 1965 Indo-Pak war.
One of possibly two Merkava prototypes featuring an M48 Patton turret. This may have inspired the 59-Patton, however, there is no proof of this.
Side-note I: Merkava M48
Prototype Merkava chassis were fitted with at least one or two M48 Patton turrets in the early 1970s in order to test the new front-engine layout. A Centurion “Shot Kal” turret was also used for this testing. It is possible that the prototype Merkava tanks with the M48 Patton turrets inspired the 59-Patton.
Side-note II: T-34/62 tanks
There were some T-34 tanks that were modified to take a T-62 turret circa 1980 (believed to be in Bulgaria). They had the turret rings and hulls modified to fit the larger turret, and were used as bunkers near the Turkish/Greek borders. Despite reports that they could reportedly still drive, it seems to be the case that they were just immobile bunkers. They also reportedly remained in service at least 1996. Only a few photos of a rusted wreck can be found online and there is simply a lack of information on the vehicles. This shows that the 59-Patton could exist in much the same manner. Other strange Bulgarian mix-ups exist such as a Panzer IV with a SU-76’s gun modified to fit into the turret with a small superstructure built on the existing turret to make the gun fit.