Categories
Modern Greek Armor

BMP-1A1 Ost in Greek Service

Greece (1992-present)
Infantry fighting vehicle – 501 purchased, around 100~ in service currently

The BMP-1 is the most produced infantry fighting vehicle in history. Introduced by the USSR in the 1960s and widely exported to Soviet allies during the Cold War, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and USSR gave Western-aligned countries access to surplus BMP-1s. One of these countries was Greece, which acquired the majority of Germany’s fleet of BMP-1s that had gone through the BMP-1A1 Ost upgrade, acquiring 501 vehicles. This was a considerable change for Greece’s Hellenic Army, which had not operated infantry fighting vehicles previously. Though the BMP-1 was already a dated vehicle in the 1990s and is now, by all means, obsolete, economic woes have resulted in Greece not being able to replace the old IFV they still operate. In recent years, a significant number have been transformed into 23 mm ZU-23-2 carriers, creating the unique situation of a conversion using former Eastern Bloc hulls and armaments, mated together by a NATO member.

The BMP-1A1 Ost

When first pushed into service in the late 1960s, the BMP-1 was a major addition to the Red Army’s arsenal. Despite the existence of some previous vehicles, such as the West German HS.30, it is often considered to be the first truly modern Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to be adopted in massive numbers – it at least was for the Eastern Bloc. The vehicle could be used to support armored assaults in all types of terrains, thanks to its amphibious capacities, and was notably able to carry a section of infantry even in heavily contaminated terrain that would typically be expected after the use of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) weapons. Support for accompanying tanks and dismounted infantry would be provided by a 73 mm Grom infantry support gun and a Malyutka missile launcher, with four missiles stored into the vehicle, to be used against armored vehicles.

More than 1,100 BMP-1s would be acquired by the East German NVA (Nationale Volksarmee/ National People’s Army) and would end up in the hands of the Western-aligned Federal Republic of Germany following the reunification of Germany in 1990. The decision was taken in December 1990 to maintain a number of these into service, and to this end, the BMP-1 would be ‘westernized’. This resulted in the BMP-1A1 Ost, a BMP-1 that forfeited the missiles, removed all toxic asbestos from the vehicle, added German-standard headlights, rear lights, wing mirrors, and Leitkreuz low-light identification markers, locked the 5th gear, and added an additional handbrake. Around 580 vehicles would be converted from 1991 to 1993.

BMP-1A1 Osts at the conclusion of their upgrade in the Neubrandenburg repair facility in Germany. Source: bmpsvu.ru

German Surplus and the Gulf War

In August 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched an occupation of Kuwait over unresolved war debts Iraq could not pay as well as disputes over oil fields. This invasion, in breach of international law, resulted in the creation of a large coalition of countries led by the United States to liberate Kuwait and defeat Iraq. For Germany, which would not fully reunify until October 1990, this came at an unfortunate time, as the military and the whole political apparatus were solely focused on the massive re-organization needed with the integration of East Germany. As such, Germany did not contribute a ground component to the operation.

However, for reasons of international standing and NATO commitments, Germany still wanted to contribute to this coalition, which would include many of its traditional allies. This would be performed by delivering quantities of NVA surplus equipment to countries involved in the conflict in preparation for the Gulf War. At first, this was almost exclusively composed of non-combat equipment. These included vast quantities of Tatra trucks, trailers, containers, tents, and even water bottles for the US military, mine-clearing and laying equipment for the French, NBC decontamination equipment for Israel in fear of retaliatory Iraqi strikes against the nation, and SPW-40 NBC reconnaissance vehicles for Egypt.

Things escalated, however, when Turkey expressed interest in acquiring actual combat gear. The Turkish military was interested in assault rifles, machine guns, RPG-7, and even BTR-60 armored personnel carriers. These were not delivered before the end of the Gulf War. Turkish interest in former NVA weapons remained though, and sales would continue to be negotiated. Turkey and Greece, though both NATO members, have points of contention, notably around Cyprus and the Aegean Sea. The news of Turkey being interested in acquiring large quantities of ex-NVA equipment quickly led Greece, wanting to avoid being left behind Turkey in terms of military gear, to express interest as well.

A Turkish BTR-60, likely operated by border guards, on the Syrian-Turkish border in recent years. Turkish interest in the BTR-60 sparked the evolution of Gulf War arms sales into an occasion for both the Turkish and Greek militaries to acquire large quantities of surplus NVA equipment. Source: twitter

Within the pieces of equipment that interested the Hellenic Army was the BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle. The Hellenic Army operated large numbers of M113s and locally-produced ELVO Leonidas 1 and 2 armored personnel carriers. Only a small fleet of 105 French-produced AMX-10P were available when it came to infantry fighting vehicles, while, on the other side of the Aegean Sea, Turkey was about to introduce the FNSS ACV-AIFV.

To this end, in 1992, Greece acquired a single BMP-1A1 from Germany in order to evaluate the vehicle and whether or not it would provide an acceptable vehicle for the Hellenic Army. This was judged to be the case, likely not only due to the capacities of the vehicle but also due to looming Turkish interest in former NVA equipment.In February 1992, the German parliament voted a motion to allow the sale of 200 BMP-1s to Greece; Subsequently, in 1994, the Hellenic Army would finally acquire 500 BMP-1A1 Ost. They were provided by Germany at an incredibly cheap price of 50,000 Deutsch Mark per unit, which translates to about between 60,000 to 70,000 USD in 2021 value. These BMP-1s were part of the much larger Materialhilfe III pack of deliveries undertaken by Germany to both Greece and Turkey. Outside of the BMP-1s, Greece notably received 21,675 RPG-18 disposable anti-tank rocket launchers, 11,500 Fagot anti-tank guided missiles, 12 OSA launchers with 928 missiles, 306 ZU-23 23 mm anti-aircraft guns, and 158 RM-70 rocket launchers with 205,000 rockets of ammunition. Neighboring Turkey received 300 BTR-60s, 2,500 machine guns, almost 5,000 RPG-7s with more than 197,000 rounds of ammunition, and perhaps more significantly, more than 303,000 AK-family rifles with more than 83 million rounds of ammunition. These sales were an opportunity for Germany to rid itself of massive quantities of ex-NVA equipment from its military it had no interest in operating, downsizing due to the conclusion of the Cold War, while the Greek and Turkish militaries could complete the gaps in their equipment by purchasing large quantities of off-the-shelf equipment. This was likely motivated by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which Germany had signed in 1990 and which would reduce the size of its armed forces and vehicles fleet.

The BMP in the Hellenic Army

The BMP-1A1’s introduction in the Hellenic Army closely followed the dubious decision taken in 1991 to phase the AMX-10P out of service outright. While the fleet of AMX-10P acquired had been small, the type would typically be considered a more modern infantry fighting vehicle than the BMP-1, providing at least better crew ergonomics as well as a 20 mm autocannon that was often a more adequate weapon in comparison to the fairly underwhelming low-pressure 73 mm Grom from the BMP-1A1. The BMP-1A1, therefore, became the only infantry fighting vehicle in Greek service and was widely distributed throughout the Hellenic Army.

A BMP-1A1 Ost in early Greek service. The vehicle features a unicolor green camouflage and is yet to mount a .50 cal machine gun. Source: bmpsvu.ru

The vehicles received Greek camouflage and markings. In the early years, this seemed to often consist of a dark green camouflage, with the Greek emblem of a white cross on a blue background on the sides of the hull. Quite curiously, the Leitkreuz, cross-shaped device placed on the left rear door of the vehicle, designed to improve visibility at night for convoy driving, was seen as a potential way to add another Greek marking on the vehicle, with the green rubber forming the background of the white cross being repainted blue on at least some vehicles.

Greek BMPs on the island of Chios, May 2016. Observe the opened rear doors. On the left ones, the repainted Leitkreuz can be seen. Source: bmpsvu.ru

A BMP with a Browning

The Hellenic Army is a prolific user of many American pieces of equipment, including the M2HB Browning .50Cal/12.7 mm machine gun already present on a number of Greek armored fighting vehicles, such as the M113, ELVO Leonidas or M48A5 tank. This weapon was eventually refitted onto the Greek BMP-1. This upgrade does not appear to have been carried out immediately after the BMP-1 entered service in Greece, but rather after a few years had passed and Greek crews had gotten accustomed to the vehicle.

A Greek BMP-1A1 in Athens, 1990s. This vehicle features a Browning machine gun but is yet to sport the multi-colored camouflage scheme typical of the later insular service. Source: armyrecognition

The .50 cal machine gun is installed on a swivel mount at the front of the turret. To use it, the gunner had to open the turret hatch and expose not only their head but also their torso. The whole turret hatch was changed so that it would not get in the way of a firing .50 cal. Instead of the classic forward opening hatch, it was modified to open to the right in a swinging motion.

A close-up on the turret of a Greek BMP-1A1, showing the swinging hatch and M2HB heavy machine gun. Samos, 2015. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Some BMP-1A1 Osts of the Greek Army were also modified with tow bars to be able to tow the ZU-23-2 dual 23 mm anti-aircraft guns also operated by the Greek Army. Later in their service life, many of the BMP-1s also received a more elaborate paint scheme which they still feature to this day (as of October 2021) in service in islands in the Aegean Sea. This consists of a mix of brown, beige, and green colors with even some hints of black. It can differ quite significantly regarding the unit operating the vehicles.

Canceled replacement: The BMP-3HEL

It quickly became obvious to the Hellenic Army that the BMP-1A1 would only provide a temporary solution to the lack of modern infantry fighting vehicles. At the cost at which they were obtained, the vehicles certainly cannot be argued to have been a bad deal, but the BMP-1A1 was, by the 1990s and the 2000s, a clearly dated vehicle. More modern IFVs have tended to be armed with 20 to 40 mm autocannons, which have proved far more reliable at providing fire support than the low-pressure, weak 73 mm Grom gun featured on the BMP-1.

Cypriot National Guard BMP-3s, with the leading vehicle flying the Greek flag, 2000s. Cyprus purchased T-80Us main battle tank and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles from Russia in the 1990s. The BMP-3s remain, to this day, the most advanced IFVs of the Greek world. Source: militarist studio

While some local developments were made, with the ELVO Kentaurus prototype from 1998, the Hellenic Army finally chose to place its bets on the Russian BMP-3. This likely took inspiration from the similar decision which was taken by Cyprus in 1996. The Cypriot National Guard, a close ally of Greece, has operated the BMP-3 as its only infantry fighting vehicle since and appears to have encountered success with it. Armed with a 100 mm main gun able to fire high-explosive shells and anti-tank guided missiles as well as a coaxial 30 mm autocannon, the BMP-3 offered the prospect of being able to deal with most, if not all, Turkish ground targets, while offering a much more modern platform than the BMP-1. In December 2007, Greece formalized an order for 420 BMP-3, which were to be designated BMP-3HEL, and 30 BREM-L armored recovery vehicles from Russia.

These ambitions to equip the Hellenic Army with a large fleet of modern infantry fighting vehicles were dashed by the paralyzing economic crisis which took hold of the country from 2008 onwards. Though it had struggled with debts for decades, Greece found its economy in an incredibly poor state following the Subprime Mortage Crisis and overall downturn of the world economy. With much regret, the Hellenic Army was forced to abandon its dream of replacing the BMP-1A1 Ost with the most modern iteration of the BMP family. The contract with Russia was canceled in 2011, before any BMP-3 was delivered to Greece.

The indigenous Greek IFV prototype, the ELVO Kentaurus. Source: https://www.paraskhnio.gr/

A Rapidly Dwindling Fleet of BMP-1s

At the same time, a number of factors quickly led the size of the BMP-1A1 fleet operated by Greece to dwindle. In 2006-2007, the Hellenic Army transferred 100 vehicles to the new Iraqi Army at no cost, in order to help rebuild an Iraqi military which could stabilize the country. It appears these vehicles had the .50 cal machine gun and machine gun mount removed prior to being sent to Iraq.

A former Greek BMP-1A1 Ost, shortly after being delivered to the 2nd Mechanized Brigade of the 9th Iraqi Division and freshly repainted, January 2007. Source: bmpsvu.ru

A few years later, in April 2014, the Hellenic Army was still operating a sizable fleet of 350 BMP-1A1s. Around 50 vehicles had been lost to usage and maintenance woes. Once again, Greece’s financial struggles came back to bite its infantry fighting vehicles fleet. The BMP-1A1 proved to cause considerable additional costs in maintenance, seeing as it shared little to no elements with the standard M113 and ELVO Leonidas APCs of the Hellenic Army. As such, the decision was taken to phase out much of the fleet, about 250 BMP-1s, from service, and purchase the same quantity of surplus M113s from the United States to compensate for the lost infantry-transporting capacity.

Part of the BMP-1 fleet which was being phased out was used for targets in the October 2014 Parmenion exercises, which saw the old infantry fighting vehicles fall victim to bombing runs by F-4 Phantom jets or rocket and missile strikes from AH-64 Apache helicopters. From this point onward, the BMP-1A1 would regularly be used as a target, though this does not appear to have been the fate of the entire fleet of decommissioned vehicles.

An AH-64 Apache flies in front of a target field comprising several BMP-1A1 Ost, Evros prefecture (near the Turkish border with mainland Greece), 2014. Source: bmpsvu.ru

A Greek convoy of BMP-1A1s and M113s, 2013. The M113 generally proved to be a much easier vehicle to maintain, and a more comfortable vehicle in the task of carrying infantry.

The Greek Island Defender

The remaining BMP-1A1s which were not phased out of service were all put at the disposal of the Supreme Military Command of the Interior and Islands. This is a Greek army corps which is tasked with the leadership of the Greek units operating on islands of the Aegean Sea, which are dangerously close to the Turkish coast, making them prime targets in case of war between the two countries. Their position, notably that of Lemnos, also allows them to potentially threaten Turkish shipping moving through the Bosphorus.

A map of the Aegean Sea, showing the large number of Greek islands located just off the Anatolian coast of Turkey. Source: http://www.my-favourite-planet.de/english/europe/greece/northern-aegean/northern-aegean-01.html

BMP-1A1s were already present on the islands before the 2014 dwindling in fleet size, which largely affected the mainland fleet of vehicles. BMP-1A1s are not in the garnisons of all islands, just on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, and Kos.

Infantry dismounts exit a BMP-1A1 Ost, most likely on one of the Aegean islands, 2000s or early 2010s. The BMP-1’s small size and cramped conditions are quite apparent, as well as the considerable exposure to small arms fire the gunner is under to operate the M2HB heavy machine gun. Source: bmpsvu.ru

BMPs and ZU-23s

Even before the 2014 phasing out measures, work was being done on potentially putting the BMP hulls to new uses. The underwhelming capacities of the 73 mm Grom were all too obvious to the Hellenic Army, as well as most other operators of the BMP-1. Even if the 73 mm had been a great weapon, ammunition stocks for the Grom were quickly diminishing, and as such, continuing to operate the vehicle for a significant period of time appeared compromised, while larger stocks of 23 mm ammunition were still available.

In November 2013, the 308th Hellenic Army repair base, located on the island of Chios, presented three prototypes mating the hulls of old IFVs of APCs with autocannons. One had a ZU-23-2 on an M113A1 hull, whilst the other had a M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm Gatling autocannon on the same hull. There was also a prototype mounting a 23 mm ZU-23-2 on a BMP-1A1.

The three prototypes produced by the 308th repair base in 2013. From left to right, the ZU-23-2-armed BMP-1A1 Ost, the M61 Vulcan-armed M113 and the ZU-23-2 armed M113. Source: bmpsvu.ru

This conversion was looked at by the Hellenic Army with great interest. Combining the hull of the old BMP-1A1 with the 23 mm ZU-23-2 which had been acquired around the same time permitted considerable mobility to these pieces of equipment, while repurposing the old hulls for a more useful purpose than as a vehicle mounting the Grom. The conversion is rather simple, mounting the ZU-23-2 in what appears to be a fully rotatable mount featuring side shields, but no protection towards the front or rear, in place of the turret. Infantry dismount carrying capacity is likely forsaken for the capacity to carry more ammunition and transport the gun crew, with the turret portion of the vehicle featuring a crew of two in addition to a driver and commander in the hull.

The ZU-23-2 is one of the most ubiquitous anti-aircraft gun designs of the Cold War, produced since 1960. Firing the Soviet 23×152 mmB cartridge, it is able to produce a considerable rate of fire of 2,000 cyclic rounds per minute, though due to the need to replenish the 50-rounds ammunition boxes and prevent overheating, the practical rate of fire is closer to a lower 400 rpm. The dual guns remain fairly light, at around 950 kg, and are able to target flying vehicles at a maximum elevation of 90°, though using only optical guidance, its long-range capacities as well as use against high-speed targets is obviously limited. It has, however, found considerable use as a ground support weapon, where its fast output of 23 mm rounds has been found to potentially have deadly effects against soft-skin targets.

A ZU-23-2-armed BMP-1A1 with the gun slightly rotated to the right, during trials on Chios island. Source: bpmsvu.ru

After the November 2013 conversion was considered, it was decided to adopt it for widespread use in the Hellenic Army. From 2014 onward, the field workshop of the units which continued to operate the BMP-1A1 would run their vehicles through the conversion process. Not all vehicles were upgraded, with a mix of 73 and 23 mm-armed vehicles remaining in use rather than a single unitary armament.

While the 23 mm-armed BMP-1 may seem like a rather crude conversion, in the context of island defence where it is to be used, it should not be disregarded entirely. This context means the Greek military is likely to face a far higher proportion of light amphibious vehicles and landing crafts attempting landings, as well as low-flying helicopters, and proportionally less heavily armored ground-based vehicles or well-prepared fortifications. In these conditions, the 23 mm ZU-23-2 can offer some significant firepower not only against air targets, but also, and perhaps even more so, against soft-skin or lightly armored ground targets and even small-sized naval targets attempting landings.

A ZU-23-2 armed BMP-1A1 Ost firing, with spent cartridges being ejected, 2015. The multiple types of targets that the armament is able to engage likely offers some appreciable amount of versatility in comparison to the more limited 73 mm Grom. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Live-fire footage of BMP-1A1 armed with ZU-23-2s during exercises, 2017. The 23 mm autocannons have a more significant recoil than the 73 mm Grom and would likely be more taxing to the suspension long-term, but the rocking appears to remain manageable.

BMP-1A1s in the Aegean

From late 2014 onwards, the BMP-1A1 has only remained in Greek service as part of the Supreme Military Command of the Interior and Islands. This army corps is constituted of High Command of the National Guard (Ανώτερη Διοίκηση Ταγμάτων Εθνοφυλακής) units, which are in practice brigade-sized units comprising a number of infantry battalions and operating on the Aegean Islands. Six of these exist, but the ones in Rhodes and Lemnos do not operate the BMP-1A1. Their standard structure comprises five combat battalions, of which two are motorized, two are mechanized, and one is armored.

Samian BMPs

The brigade assuring the defence of the island of Samos is the 79th High Command of the National Guard. It is made up of 5 combat battalions: two mechanized, two motorized, and one armored. The island of Samos is fairly sparsely populated, with just over 30,000 inhabitants, but is dangerously close to Turkey, separated by the Mycale Strait, which is a mere 1.6 km wide at its narrowest point.

A BMP-1A1 Ost fires its M2HB heavy machine gun during exercises at Samos, March 2012. Source: bmpsvu.ru

The proximity to Turkey may account for the brigade being fairly well equipped and regularly engaging in military exercises. Its BMP-1s operate alongside M113s and M48A5 Patton tanks, which are retained on islands for the same reason as the BMP-1, their obsolescence being less affected by the light equipment used during an island assault.

Two M48A5s, three BMP-1A1 Osts, of which two are armed with ZU-23-2 23 mm guns, an M113, and a VBL during firing exercises in Samos, February 2015. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Samian BMP-1A1s appear to mostly follow the standard Greek army camouflage guidelines, with a lot of green and light brown and smaller amounts of beige and black.

BMP-1A1s move along dirt roads in Samos, 2016. Source: bmpsvu.ru

The forward position and high-readiness of the unit is likely a reason why it receives some significant attention. In June 2014, the unit was visited by Greek Minister of National Defense Dimitris Avramopoulos, who inspected the BMP-1s and their crews.

The Greek Minister of National Defense inspects BMP-1A1s on Samos, 2014. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Kos BMPs

The defence of Kos island is assured by the 80th High Command of the National Guard. The island of Kos has a similar population of about 30,000 as Samos, but has the advantage of being located slightly further from Turkey, sitting off the Turkish city of Bodrum.

A Kos BMP-1 ZU-23-2 carrier firing during military exercises in 2016. The vehicle features a by this point uncommon unicolor camouflage scheme. Source: bmpsvu.ru

BMP-1A1s present on Kos operate alongside M48A5 tanks, Leonidas APCs, and probably M113s as well. It is curious to note that, in 2015 and 2016 footage, ZU-23-armed BMP-1A1 appeared in an all-green camouflage scheme, which is otherwise uncommon in recent footage of Greek BMP-1A1s. More recent footage of other armored fighting vehicles present in Kos show them in more classic Hellenic Army camouflage though, and it is likely the BMP-1s have been repainted to follow this scheme as well.

Lesbian BMPs

The defence of the island of Lesbos is assigned to the 98th High Command of the National Guard. The island of Lesbos has a more sizeable population than Samos and Kos, of almost 115,000, and is the largest of the Aegean Islands located off the coast of Anatolia. It has the advantage of being slightly further away from Turkey compared to most other Greek islands of the area, rendering a potential invasion harder to a certain extent.

Lesbian BMP-1A1 Osts during firing exercises, February 2013. Source: bmpsvu.ru

There are fewer photographs of the Lesbian BMP-1s, but they appear to operate alongside M113s.

A Lesbian BMP-1A1 Ost in February 2013. The camouflage is worn out but otherwise fairly standard. Source: bmpsvu.ru

The Lesbian BMP-1A1s appear to have a fairly classic camouflage scheme, with dominant green and brown colors with smaller stripes of black and beige.

Chiot BMPs

The defense of the island of Chios is the responsibility of the 96th High Command of the National Guard. Chios has a small population of slightly under 55,000 people. It is separated from Turkey by a 5 km strait, with the Turkish harbor of Cesme and Izmir further to the east on the other side.

Chiot BMP-1A1 have been seen operating and training alongside M48A5 tanks, the much lighter Panhard VBL 4×4 light vehicles armed with .50 cal machine guns, M113s, and M577s.

BMP-1A1 Ost and M48A5s during exercises on Chios, April 2013. Source: bmpsvu.ru

There has been some significant variety in camouflage schemes seen in Chiot BMP-1s over the years. In 2013, BMP-1s appeared in a fairly worn-out camouflage scheme where green was much more dominant, with different tones of green separated by beige lines, and some minor black spots. Later, in 2013, some were seen with a two-tone brown and green scheme which seemingly removed the beige and black colors entirely. In 2015, some were seen with a scheme with a clearer, almost white beige, lines separated from the brown and green by black stripes. Since 2016, the vehicles have appeared in a more standard camouflage.

Infantry dismounts exit an unusually worn out Chiot BMP-1A1, August 2013. Source: bmpsvu.ru
A Chiot BMP-1 in two-tone camouflage, November 2013. Source: bmpsvu.ru
What appears to be a recently repainted Chiot BMP-1A1, with a firing range in the background. The vehicle sports a particularly pale beige in areas delimited by a black outline. Source; bmpsvu.ru
Panhard VBLs, anti-aircraft guns, and a singular BMP-1 ZU-23-2 carrier during firing exercises on a beach, Chios, 2016. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Sale to Egypt

Since late 2017, discussions over the sale or gift of a number of former Hellenic Army BMP-1A1 Ost to Egypt appear to have taken place. The deal appears to concern vehicles that were stored in 2014 but never destroyed or scrapped, rather than vehicles currently in service in the Aegean.

It has been reported that an agreement for the transfer of 92 BMP-1A1s had been signed in late 2018, but it is unclear whether or not it has actually taken place. Some other sources mention 101 vehicles were instead delivered in 2016. ELVO, the Greek company which would be involved in the refurbishing operation during such a sale, filed for bankruptcy in March 2019.

Conclusion

Out of all the numerous operators of the BMP-1 worldwide, the Hellenic Army is one of the most atypical. While it is not the only NATO country still operating a BMP-1 variant, Slovakia being another example, it remains the only one to have acquired its BMP-1 from a foreign source, instead of inheriting them from a previous regime.

It is likely that these BMP-1s were only chosen as an off-the-shelf purchase to provide the Hellenic Army with a quickly available vehicle to begin training its units with IFV operations. Economical woes have meant that the BMP-1 is the only infantry fighting vehicle in service with the Hellenic Army, despite dwindling numbers due to successive sales or destruction.

As of 2021, an estimated 100 BMP-1s, a sizable portion of which have been modified into ZU-23-2 carriers, remain operating in the Aegean Islands. Though they can, by all means, be considered obsolete when compared to modern IFVs, when taking into account the very specific context of warfare in this area of the Mediterranean, where heavier combat vehicles may be hard to bring along for an attacking force, some combat value may still be found in the old Greek BMPs. Hopefully, this never happens, and the Greek servicemen still operating these old vehicles can eventually receive a more modern, potent, and comfortable ride if Greece ever finds the funds and willpower to provide one.

A BMP-1 in early Greek service, before it received the M2 Browning.
A BMP-1 in a Chios bicolor scheme
A BMP-1 in a typical Hellenic Army tricolor scheme, seen on Chios
A BMP-1 ZU-23 carrier in a unicolor Green scheme as seen on Kos
A BMP-1 ZU-23 carrier in a typical Hellenic Army tricolor scheme

All illustrations created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe based on work by David Bocquelet

Greek BMP-1A1 Ost Specifications

Dimensions ( L x w x h) 6.735 x 2.940 x 1.881 m
Weight 13.5 tonnes
Engine UTD-20 6-cylinders 300 hp diesel engine
Suspension Torsion bars
Forward gears 4 (5th gear locked)
Fuel Capacity 330 L (diesel)
Maximum speed (road) 40 km/h
Maximum speed (water) 7-8 km/h
Crew 3 (commander, driver, gunner)
Dismounts 8
Main gun 73 mm 2A28 ‘Grom’ (use prevented by German regulations)
Secondary armament Swivel-mounted M2HB .50 cal
Coaxial 7.62 mm PKT (use prevented by German regulations)
Smoke grenades 6 x 81 mm 902V Tucha smoke grenades (formerly BMP-1P), none (formerly BMP-1)
Armor Welded steel, 33 to 6 mm

Sources

SIPRI Arms Transfer Database

BMP-1 field disassembly, Tankograd

Bmpsvu.ru:
BMP-1 of the Greek army
Infantry fighting vehicles of the Armed Forces of Cyprus

Edward J. Lawrence and Herbert Wulf (ed.)Bonn International Center for Conversion Research (BICC), Brief 3June 1995

Categories
WW2 French AT Weapons

Canon de casemate 37mm modèle 1934

Nation Flag IconFrance (1935-1937)
Canon de casemate de 37mm modèle 1934
France (1931-1940)
Fortification anti-tank gun – 145 produced

One of the most famous aspects of France’s interwar military, often parodied but quite seldom truly studied in English-speaking circles, is the fortification complex known as the Maginot Line, placed at the border between France and Germany. An extensive defensive line constructed from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s and further extended in the following years, this defensive line is mostly known in popular history for having been bypassed by the German push through the Ardennes and Benelux.

The Maginot Line is a far more complex and nuanced subject than most popular history circles make it out to be though – notably, while a powerful line, it was in some ways more makeshift and less state-of-the-art than one may expect, or, at the very least, not that well planned. This is, for example, the case when it comes to the line’s anti-tank firepower. The Maginot Line made large use of old 47 and 65 mm naval guns disposed of by the navy. The army operated them in an anti-tank role. Two purposefully-designed anti-tank guns were still designed for the Maginot Line, though they would be very late in being mounted. Both were designed by APX, the 47 and 37 mm Canons de casemate modèle 1934.

A view of the gun itself. An 8 cm thick mask would fill the firing opening and separate the inside and outside of the casemate when the gun was in place. Source: maginot.org

Inception of the Maginot Line

Despite the 1919 Treaty of Versailles deeply weakening Germany, with the German military reduced to a small, rump force officially devoid of tanks or planes, in the eyes of French military planners, Germany remained a constant possible threat in the future. Even cut down to size and officially prevented from expanding its military, Germany remained a far more industrially powerful nation than France – in fact, the only nation that could eclipse France’s industry on its borders. The threat of a future rearmed Germany was considered very serious, and outfitting France to fight such a potential future enemy was a significant concern for French military planners.

As aforementioned, the German industry far outclassed France’s, and it was thought that France could not hope to stand on even ground with a re-armed Germany. However, Germany lacked the resources of a colonial empire, and, particularly with British support, could be prevented from accessing many foreign resources with a tight blockade. In these conditions, France would only have to hold for long enough for Germany’s industry, military, and will to fight to be weakened by a blockade. A defensive line on the French-German border was thought of as a good way to even out the playing field and allow for France to stand up to the more populous and industrial Germany for long enough.

After extensive debates in the early 1920s, a commission, the CDF (Commission de Défense des Frontières – Borders Defense Commission) was created to take care of the matter in late 1925. After identifying the major parts of France’s borders where fortification complexes would be needed and after starting to plan out major fortification lines, the CDF gave way to a new commission to manage the construction of fortifications on a smaller scale. This would be the CORF (Commission d’Organisation des Régions Fortifiées – Fortified Areas Organization Commission), created in August of 1927. This CORF would be the organization managing the construction of the Maginot Line from 1928 to 1935, including all the equipment which would be used to outfit the defensive line.

A CORF casemate which was equipped with a machine gun/37 mm armament, Sinnersberg, France. Source: Mathieu Stenger via Wikimaginot

The construction principles of the Maginot Line

The Maginot Line would be an in-depth defensive line, about 10 to 15 kilometers deep from the border.

On the border, small casemates would be located and used by border guards. These were only small fortifications and not meant to offer any form of viable resistance. They instead served as warning posts of an incoming attack and were used for border guarding roles in peacetime. In the few kilometers behind these small casemates, further small holding points and obstacles were located to slow down an enemy advance towards what would be the true core of the Maginot Line: the LPR (Ligne Principal de Résistance – Main Resistance Line). This LPR was constituted of an alternance of small infantry casemates as well as larger fortifications of varying size which would operate artillery of various types. Behind the LPR, some infantry observation posts and fortifications for resting troops could be found.

The Maginot Line’s anti-tank guns were, for the vast majority, to be installed on the LPR. During the construction of the line, the creation of dedicated casemates which would only host anti-tank guns was considered for a while, however, this solution would not be picked as the standard. Instead, casemates would be able to alternatively mount an armament of anti-tank guns or machine-guns. Work on anti-tank guns designed with these specifications in mind started at Arsenal de Puteaux (APX) in 1931.

The adoption of a 37 mm anti-tank gun

APX originally started working on a 47 mm gun – which would also be adopted as the model 1934. However, this piece quickly turned out to be a fairly large and heavy gun, and it was thought that it would end up being too late to be reasonably operated in many casemates. As such, work quickly began on a smaller and lighter gun that would be used in smaller fortifications.

A view of the 37 mm model 1934 seen from the left, showing the gun’s attachment to a bi-rail beam, which would be installed on the ceiling of the casemate housing the gun. Source: Notice provisoire

The first APX 37 mm anti-tank gun prototype was tested in May of 1933 – preceding the 47 mm prototype, which would be tested later this year. Trials appear to have been successful, and both anti-tank guns would be adopted in 1934. However, the industrial process for both guns would be particularly long. Despite being adopted in 1934, the first production 37 mm anti-tank guns would only be delivered in the Spring of 1937, to be used for crew training. Only a small production run of the 37 mm gun was to be conducted. The 47 mm was seen as the standard weapon, with the 37 mm serving as a replacement where the larger gun could not be mounted. Deliveries of the 37 mm model 1934 gun would be completed in the spring of 1938. 145 37 mm model 1934 anti-tank guns would be mounted in Maginot Line fortifications, in comparison to 336 47 mm model 1934 anti-tank guns. It ought to be noted that, in comparison, 75 old 65 mm (models 1888/1891 and 1902) and 434 old 47 mm (models 1885 and 1902) naval guns would also be used in an anti-tank role on the Maginot Line, albeit in smaller and less important fortifications than the modern guns.

Properties of the artillery piece

The 37 mm model 1934 gun was designed to serve an anti-tank role exclusively and was, as such, optimized for this task. This resulted in a long barrel (2.088 m, or L/56). This barrel was rifled, with 12 twists, angled at 7° towards the right.

The barrel, which was given a fairly thick protecting shroud in order to protect it from damage caused by enemy fire. Source: Notice provisoire

This barrel would be used to fire the model 1936 37×278 mm armor-piercing capped (APC) shell. This was a 900 grams projectile that would be launched by 280 grams of propellant, granting a high muzzle velocity of 850 m/s. At one kilometer, this shell would be able to perforate 30 to 40 mm of armor, though it is not specified whether this would be at normal incidence or at the standard incidence of 30°. This was, in any case, a respectable amount for a 1930s 37 mm anti-tank gun, particularly if it was at an incidence of 30°. A blank training shell was also issued. It appears a high-explosive shell also existed, but its high-explosive charge is unknown, as well as whether or not it was actually issued.

The trio of 37 mm shells designed for the model 1934 gun. From left to the right, the armor-piercing, training, and high-explosive shells. Source: tir-collection.com

The model 1934 anti-tank gun used a semi-automatic action. The gun would recoil thanks to two hydraulic brakes, one located over the barrel to the right, and one under it to the left. The casing would be ejected from the breech into a collecting system which was set up by a servant, allowing for the introduction of a new shell.

The particularities of mounting the gun in a fortification

The 37 mm model 1934 was designed to be mounted in casemates, and was to be interchangeable with a dual machine gun mount. This was done by a particular solution, mounting the gun to a bi-rail beam mounted on the ceiling of the casemate. This allowed the gun to be pushed around by the crew (with the gun, including all equipment, weighing about 500 kg).

A surviving 37 mm gun, showing the beam on which the gun would be moved around. Source: Wikipedia

Two different models of firing opening, the Trémie n°2 and Trémie n°3, existed for the 37 mm/dual machine gun duo. The practical difference between the two was the firing angles. On the n°2, the 37 mm had a lateral traverse of 42.3° total and a vertical traverse of -12 to +12°. On the n°3, the lateral traverse was the same, but the vertical traverse changed to -15° to +10°.

Switching from the anti-tank gun to the dual machine gun mount would leave the firing opening open for several minutes, meaning this could not be performed while under fire. In most fortifications, at least two firing openings existed, meaning that the machine guns could be placed in one opening and the gun in the other. If there were more weapons available (a machine gun pair and a gun) for a single firing opening, the standard procedure was to mount the gun during the day and replace it with machine guns during the night, under the notion that night operations would be conducted by small infantry formations rather than armored vehicles.

Crew and operation of the gun

The 37 mm model 1934, seen from the rear. The gunner would stand to the left of the gun, the loader to the right, and the aid-loader further behind the gun. Source: Notice Provisoire

Both the 37 and 47 mm anti-tank guns had a crew of three (gunner, loader, assistant loader), which could be raised to four by adding either the maintenance mechanic or a resting soldier during situations where rapid-fire was required.

The gunner of the piece was located to its left. In standard operation, fire would be ordered by the casemate-commanding officer, but in urgent situations, the gunner assumed the function of commander of the piece. The gunner would look through the gun’s sight, which was an APX L.653 sight. It allowed for a zoom of x2.5 and a field of view of 20.3°. The gunner would be tasked with aiming the gun. He would aim the weapon using two rotating wheels (one, located under the gun to the left, for the lateral traverse, and one to the level of the breech, to its left, for elevation). He would then remove the safety lever and press on the gun’s trigger to fire. After a firing phase, he would put the gun back in its ‘resting’ position, with the gun placed to fire at a range of 700 m.

The 37 mm model 1934’s breech block, showing the handle which the loader would use to open or close the breech. Source: Notice provisoire
A view of the gun from the right, showing the place the loader would take when operating the gun. Source: Notice provisoire

The loader, standing to the right of the gun, would be managing the breech. A handle could be found on the breech, allowing it to be opened or closed; the loader would operate this handle in order to allow the shells to be ejected.

The third crew member, the assistant loader, stood to the rear of the gun, would set up the receiving box in which spent cases would be ejected and would insert the shells into the breech opened by the loader’s action on the handle. He would also get the shells out of their storage boxes and place them on the cap. In rapid-fire operations, the additional fourth crew member would take over this part of the operation, and hand the ready-to-fire shells to the assistant loader for him to insert them into the breech. A well-trained crew could hope to fire around 20 rounds per minute.

Limited use outside of fortifications

Outside of use in the Maginot Line, very little was done with the 37 mm model 1934, despite the gun offering some potent anti-armor capacities. The larger 47 mm anti-tank gun featured in a number of armored vehicles projects, for example as the main gun of some dual-armament heavy tank projects from the late 1930s. However, the only project which appears to have used the 37 mm was the Renault VE Type P, a project for a casemate tank destroyer related to the AMR 33 reconnaissance tank. A prototype was completed in 1935, but the type was never adopted for service by the French military.

The Renault VE Type P, mounting a gun known to be a derivative of the APX model 1934 fortification gun, though likely changed considerably to allow operations inside an armored vehicle. Source: char-français

Conclusion – A decent anti-tank gun with no service life

The 37 mm model 1934 gun was a decent weapon for the standard of the 1930s. Though little more than a filler to be placed where the 47 mm could not, it was still powerful enough to deal efficiently with anything the German military could field by 1940. While, unlike the 47 mm, it would not have had the firepower to defeat even France’s heaviest tank, or remain relevant for several years after 1940, it would still be efficient against the Panzer I, Panzer II, and the models of the Panzer III and Panzer IV fielded in 1940, as well as the Panzer 35(t) and Panzer 38(t).

However, the gun does not appear to ever have had the chance to demonstrate its armor-piercing capacities in practice. The Maginot Line saw relatively little combat due to being, in its majority, bypassed by German forces going through the Ardennes – where some minimal fortifications, with no dedicated anti-tank guns, existed – or the Benelux. Later in June, and even July, seeing as some bunkers surrendered days after the official armistice, some moderate attacks were performed on parts of the line – occasionally from the rear – but there are no reports of the 37 mm (nor the 47 mm) gun ever firing a shot in anger against German tanks.

After the Line’s capture by German forces, there has been no known use of the 37 mm gun. While still powerful, it was installed in a very specific way and used a purpose-built shell not known to be found in any other gun, which would have made even re-using the gun in German fortifications a costly and not worthy endeavor – especially as only a limited production run of the gun was performed. Most were left untouched during the German occupation, and have been degrading or been stolen or scrapped since, though a limited number of pieces are known to have survived and still be present in a number of Maginot Line casemates turned into museums.

The ammunition used in the Canon de casemate de 37 mm modèle 1934
The gun from the left side
The gun from the right side. Both illustrations created by Stoneheartisk

Canon de casemate 37mm modèle 1934 specifications

Caliber 37 mm
Barrel length 2,058 mm / L/56
Barrel rifling 12 twists, 7° to the right
Barrel & breech weight 142 kg
Recoiling ensemble weight 170 kg
Total weight 500 kg
Muzzle velocity 850 m/s
Crew 3 (gunner, loader, aid-loader), raised to 4 in rapid-fire situations
Rate of fire Up to 20 rounds per minute
Armor-piercing capped Armor-piercing capped
Projectile weight 900 grams
Charge 280 grams
Armor piercing capacities 30 to 40 mm at 1,000 m (unknown incidence)
Effective Range Estimated to ~800 m; sight markings for up to 1,500 m

Sources

Notice provisoire sur les matériels de 47 et de 37 de casemate Mle 1934 du 4 Mars 1939, Ministère de la Défense Nationale et de la Guerre, Direction de l’Infanterie, Paris, 1939

Wikimaginot:
Canon antichar de 37 mm AC modèle 1934
Genèse de la Ligne Maginot (1919-1927)
Les principes de conception de la ligne Maginot

Lignemaginot.com

Categories
WW2 French Prototypes

Batignolles-Châtillon DP2

Nation Flag IconFrance (1935-1937)
Amphibious Light Tank/ Tracked armored car prototype – 1 prototype built

The interwar era saw significant evolutions when it comes to armored vehicles, both in terms of technical and doctrinal aspects. A number of firms, particularly those in Great Britain, were progressively creating a wider variety of armored vehicles which would then significantly influence manufacturers in other countries. One of the concepts democratized during this era was that of an amphibious light tank, a vehicle that would assume reconnaissance and light cavalry combat duties while not being stopped by rivers or marshes. Though the British would be the first to produce such vehicles in the late 1920s and early 1930s, interest in this type of vehicle would eventually emerge in many other countries, including France. This would result in the Batignolles-Châtillon DP2 prototype dating from the mid-1930s.

The French cavalry’s amphibious tank

By the early 1930s, the French cavalry had already taken some minor interest in amphibious vehicles design, with some projects such as the Schneider-Laurent amphibious armored car, which used a wheel-cum track configuration similar to the Czechoslovak Kolo-Housenka (with Schneider having ties with Czechoslovak designers, notably Škoda, during the interwar years). Dating from around 1927, this project would not, however, go anywhere, and appears to have been planned as an unarmed vehicle.

The French cavalry was now interested in an armed, amphibious Automitrailleuse (literally translated to “Armored Car”). The term Automitrailleuse was used to designate all armored fighting vehicles of the French cavalry in the interwar era, regardless of propulsion method. As such, vehicles designated as automitrailleuse may have had wheels, tracks, or both, and ranged from tiny scout vehicles, such as the 5-tonnes AMR 33, to fairly large cavalry tanks such as the 19.5 tonnes S35. The design was created by the Section Technique des matériels automobiles de combat (ENG: Technical section of automotive combat equipment), with the technical realization being assured by the Compagnie Générale de Construction de Locomotives Batignolles-Châtillon (ENG: General Locomotive Construction Company Batignolles-Châtillon), located in Nantes, Western France. Batignolles-Châtillon, though it had previously manufactured some military equipment in the form of railway gun carriages, was a newcomer in the tank industry. Around the same time it produced the DP2, it would also submit a proposal for the 1933 light infantry tank program planned to replace the FT.

The DP2 design

A side view of the DP2. This shows the fairly small size of the one-man turret and 37 mm SA 18 gun mock-up in comparison to the hull, as well as very low suspension. The white circles match with the floatation line of the vehicle. Source: char-français

Batignolles-Châtillon produced their DP2 prototype in 1935. The vehicle was fairly large in size for a light tank. Its precise dimensions are not known, but the hull dwarfs the turret, an early model of the APX 5 used in some other light cavalry designs, in size.

The hull was clearly designed for maximum buoyancy, potentially at the expense of some aspects of ground warfare. It used riveted construction. It featured an elongated, bow-shaped front designed to fend small waves, with large, floating compartments on the sides. The vehicle’s suspension was located under these large floating compartments. It was a very small suspension design, with what appears to be a front drive sprocket and a rear idler. The suspension featured eight small road wheels, two independent ones at the front and back and three ensembles of two. These appear to have had very little mobility planned, with the vehicle overall having a very low, flat track run, as well as poor ground clearance. Once again, this is obviously intended to maximise buoyancy. It would, however, highly reduce the vehicle’s crossing capacities when dealing with trenches and other obstacles.

A front view of the DP2, showing the bow-like hull front, the large hull sides meant to improve buoyancy, as well as the cylindrical air intakes. Source: topwar.ru

As most other French light AFVs of the era, the Batignolles-Châtillon DP2 featured a two-man crew. The driver was located in the hull, his compartment being located behind the ship-like bow. This was noted to potentially considerably reduce his visibility when the vehicle was to exit the water, which was more often than not one of the most delicate maneuvers for amphibious tanks. The commander was to be located in the turret. However, when first unveiled, the prototype only featured a wooden mock-up and not an actual functional turret design. This mock-up was pictured with a 37 mm SA 18 main gun offset to the right. The vehicle reached a weight of 11.5 tonnes. Its armor layout is unknown, but, as was typically the case for light amphibious tanks, was likely very thin. The rear-mounted engine appears to have been a 225 hp, 12-cylinder engine. It was known to be fairly heavy, to the point where the center of mass of the vehicle was located too far to the rear, which could once again prove an issue when leaving water. The engine compartment sloped downward. One of the more curious features of the vehicle were large, cylindrical air intakes, located to the sides of the turret and driver’s compartment. The DP2 was also known to feature a turbine for movement on water, and as such, did not rely on the movement of its tracks. On water, the vehicle would turn by rotating the water outlet of the turbine. The vehicle’s registration was 8121-W1.

Navigation trials: Down, she goes

After the vehicle was unveiled in 1935, the idea to make it undergo navigation trials was submitted by the director of APX (Atelier de Construction de Puteaux – ENG: Puteaux Construction Works) located in the Parisian region. On 21st March 1936, these trials began in Poissy, on the River Seine, downstream from Paris.

On water, the vehicle proved quite promising. It moved at a maximum speed of 6.5 km/h. There were no issues entering water, and navigation was performed without any issues. Tests showed that adding a weight of 100 kg would lower the DP2 by 1 cm into the water.

However, leaving the water proved a far more difficult task. When trying to get out of the river, the vehicle naturally began posing itself on the river bank’s bottom, angling upward. This, however, proved too much for the engine compartment, which quickly began to flood. Filling up with water, the heavier and heavier DP2 sank right down.

Improving the DP2

Following the disastrous conclusion of these first navigation trials, the DP2 was recovered and sent back for further work to be performed on the vehicle.

A view of the improved DP2 on land. The vehicle not only features a new, actual turret, but also has removed air intakes, and new tracks, indicating this photo likely dates from after August 1936, perhaps March-April 1937. Source: char-français

Some considerable changes had to be brought to the engine compartment to ensure such an incident would not happen again. The engine louvers were modified and given retractable valves which would cover them when exiting the water, in order to ensure the engine compartment would not flood. Air intakes were also added so the engine could still have access to some air while this was taking place. Likely at the same time, the mock-up turret was replaced by a real one. This was an early version of the APX 5 turret, which would later be mounted on other vehicles, such as the AM 39 Gendron-Somua, AMR 35 ZT-2, and the Panhard 178 destined for the colonies. This one-man turret featured the 25 mm SA 35, a semi-automatic anti-tank gun, as its main armament, with a 7.5 mm MAC31E machine gun coaxially mounted. Though the gun was fairly low in caliber and not fully automatic, it was a decent anti-tank weapon that would be able to defeat most tanks of the era. Its operation within a one-man turret would remain suboptimal due to the overtasking of the commander though.

A side view of the vehicle from the other side. The removal of the cylindrical air intakes fairly significantly impacted the silhouette of the vehicle. Source: char-français

However, the modified engine compartment and functional turret raised the vehicle weight to 12.12 tonnes, which was judged to be too much. It was hoped that weight could be saved by adopting a lighter engine in the future, though this never materialized.

New trials

From 6th June to 13th August 1936, the revised vehicle was submitted to new trials. The DP2 was originally planned to cross 550 km on-roads, but only 115 km would effectively be run, during which the vehicle reached a maximum speed of 40.5 km/h. These trials appear to have focused on the performances of the suspension, with less attention given to amphibious capacities.

The DP2 crossing water, likely on the Seine and during the March-April 1937 trials. The vehicle’s performances on water were satisfying. It was getting out of the water that proved problematic. Source: char-français

The vehicle undertook some less significant revisions following these trials, notably new, stamped steel tracks which were judged to be more robust, before trials resumed again on 1st March 1937. During these, new water trials were undertaken, but the vehicle still proved to be lackluster. Though the DP2 did not sink this time, the engine compartment still proved to not be entirely waterproof, perhaps due to little more than the riveted construction of the vehicle. Starting up the engine also proved particularly difficult, and trials were stopped on 26th April 1937.

Out goes the DP2

After the disappointing conclusion of these new trials, the trials commission decided that the vehicle would need serious additional work before any new trials campaign could be undertaken. Following this, the vehicle was sent to APX’s facilities in Rueil – likely ARL. Its further fate beyond this point is unknown. The vehicle appears to never have undertaken a new trials campaign, though whether some modifications were brought to it after the last trials but before all work on the DP2 was abandoned is unknown.

The DP2 would not mark the conclusion of all Batignolles-Châtillon work in amphibious tanks, with the mysterious DP3 undertaking trials up to the German invasion of 1940. This odd vehicle, which massively differed from the DP2 in general architecture and appears to have disposed of a centrally-mounted turret entirely, preferring two-side mounted combat chambers, remains very mysterious to this day.

One of the two known photos of the DP3. The vehicle’s higher tracks, encompassing much more of the hull than on the DP2, can clearly be seen, as well as the circular combat chamber present on the side of the vehicle. Source: char-français

Conclusion – The disappointing French amphibious tank

The DP2 was not the first French amphibious armored vehicle to be conceptualized. However, it was the first vehicle that could be considered a fully armed amphibious tank trialed by the French military, in an era where that type of vehicle was widely studied and produced abroad, at this point largely due to the influence of British tank design. The DP2 would not prove to be a successful design by any margin. Despite good navigation capacities, the vehicle’s considerable woes when exiting water proved a major issue with the prototype, which would eventually lead to it being shelved.

As with many French interwar prototypes, the eventual fate of the DP2 is unknown. The vehicle is not known to have survived to this day. As such, it was very likely scrapped, though whether this was performed before the war, during the war, under German occupation or perhaps even post-war is unknown.

The DP2 leaving the water, likely March-April 1937. This operation would angle the vehicle downard, which was at risk of compromising the engine compartment. Leaving the water generally is the most difficult part of amphibious operations for vehicles with such capacities, and the DP2 proved unable to perform this task successfully. Source: char-français, colorized by Smargd123
The DP2 with the early mockup turret
The DP2 with the armed turret
Both illustrations created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe and Hadrien

Sources

Les véhicules blindés Français 1900-1944, Pierre Touzin, EPA editions, 1979
Tous les blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940, François Vauvillier, Histoire & Collection editions
Char-français

DP2 specifications

Total weight, battle-ready 12.12 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander, driver)
Propulsion 225 hp 12-Cylinders engine
Transmission Manual
Speed (road) 40.5 km/h
Speed (water) 6.5 km/h
Main Armament 25 mm SA 35 anti-tank gun
Secondary Armament MAC 31E 7.5 mm machine gun
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
Modern Uruguayan Armor

Tiran-5Sh In Uruguayan service

Nation Flag IconUruguay (1997-present)
Main battle tank – 15 purchased

States on the South American continent have a mixture of tank fleets sourced from a variety of different manufacturers. Argentina fields its locally-produced but German-developed TAMSE TAM. Brazil made some serious attempts at developing a local tank in the form of the Bernardini MB-3 Tamoyo and Engesa Osorio, but now operates German Leopard 1s and American M60s. Venezuela has Russian T-72s and French AMX-30s, Chile has German Leopard 2A4s, etcetera.

This article has been sponsored by World of Warships. Start your captain career right now! Sign up for free and receive the USS Texas Tier 5 Premium Battleship, 7 days of Premium Account, 20 camouflages, 200 doublons, and 1 million credits directly to your account using the code FIRE!

Though Israel had made exports of tanks in the past in the form of M50 and M51 to Chile, the only foreign country that uses Israeli tanks nowadays is the small nation of Uruguay, bordering the much larger Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay never had a main battle tank during the Cold War era, rather using M24 Chaffees light tanks delivered by the US in the late 50s and, later, 22 M41 Walker Bulldogs delivered by Belgium in 1982 (the country also received 15 modernized M41Cs sourced from Brazil in the last decade). However, in 1997, Uruguay finally purchased its first main battle tanks. These would be the Israeli Tiran-5Sh, T-55s captured from Israel’s opponents during the Arab-Israeli wars and refitted with Western equipment.

Two Uruguayan Tirans advancing during exercises in 2020. The vehicle remains one of the most peculiar and “originally sourced” main battle tanks in use in South America. Source: facebook

The Tiran tanks

The state of Israel, created following the partition of the Mandate of Palestine in the aftermath of World War 2, fought its Arab neighbors of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, often supported by other Arab states, during the first decades of its existence. Egypt and Syria in particular used large numbers of T-54, T-55 and T-62 tanks delivered from the Soviet Union, with whom they had good relations at that point. In the 1967 Six-Days War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, large numbers of these Soviet-delivered tanks were captured by the Israeli Defence Force.

The captured tanks were given the name of Tiran. The T-54 were designated Tiran-4, the T-55 Tiran-5 and the T-62 Tiran-6. The tanks were fairly extensively modified by the IDF. In the case of the Tiran-5, the vehicles received new fenders and stowage-bins, a pintle-mounted M1919A4 .30 cal machine gun, an infantry telephone, among several others. Eventually, a more significant upgrade was created in the form of the Tiran-5Sh. The main modification was replacing the original 100 mm gun with a 105 mm M68 gun, as mounted on Israel’s Magach (M48 and M60) tanks. Along with this, the tank’s Soviet machine guns were all replaced with Western ones: a coaxial machine gun firing NATO 7.62 mm ammunition, a Browning .50 cal machine gun in the commander’s cupola (in addition to the already present M1919A4), as well as Western radios, fire control equipment, an infrared searchlight, etcetera.

Tiran tanks in Israel during the process of refitting with Western equipment. Source: topwar.ru

The Tirans were issued to reserve units within the IDF. Though preferable options were available for frontline units (Centurions/Shot Kals and later Magachs and Merkavas), at this point, Israel was still surrounded by fairly actively hostile nations and more reserve equipment could always prove useful. In the following decades, as the Magach and Merkava entered service in large numbers, the Tirans were easy to dispose of to various allies or potential clients. Some were, for example, delivered to Lebanese Christian militias during the Lebanese Civil War.

The Uruguayan purchase

By the 1990s, the most powerful armored vehicles in the hands of Uruguay were M41 Walker Bulldogs light tanks and EE-9 Cascavel armored cars. Though useful vehicles for counter-insurgency operations, they were quite considerably outclassed in comparison to the tanks fielded by Uruguay’s neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, which both boasted MBTs such as the Argentinian TAM. Brazil had recently agreed to a large acquisition order, buying 87 surplus Leopard 1A1s from Belgium in 1995 and 91 M60A3s from the USA in 1996.

The end of the Cold War had resulted in large numbers of surplus vehicles appearing on the market. One of the options being offered was Israel’s Tiran tanks. Israel offered the Tiran to Uruguay for the first time in 1995, at which point it was rejected. However, Uruguay came back around and took up the offer in 1997.

An Uruguayan Tiran painted in a unicolor green scheme, with the suspension drenched in water and mud, during exercises in 2017. Source: Facebook

There was some opposition to the purchase of the Tiran tanks within the Uruguayan Army. The vehicle was viewed as too heavy for the Uruguayan infrastructure, though it was still one of the lighter main battle tanks around at 36.6 tonnes; only the 30.5 tonnes TAM truly is lighter, while for example, a Brazilian M60A3 is around 49.5 tonnes, and a Chilean Leopard 2A4 around 55 tonnes. More significantly, it was viewed as quite primitive. Equipment such as the fire control system and vision devices appeared inferior in comparison to, for example, later models of the Leopard 1 and M60. Indeed, it appears the army would have simply preferred to acquire a main battle tank of a different origin. This did not, however, deter the Uruguayan government, which bought 15 Tiran-5Sh tanks from Israel in 1997.

Into Uruguayan service

The 15 Tiran-5sh tanks were split between three different units of the Uruguayan Army. Seven were given to the Regimiento “Patria” de Caballería Blindado Nº 8 (8th Armored Cavalry Regiment “Patria”), operating from the city of Melo. Seven were given to the Regimiento “Misiones” de Caballería Blindado N° 5 (5th Armored Cavalry Regiment “Misiones”), operating from the city of Tacuarembó. The last Tiran was delivered to the Regimiento de Caballería Mecanizado de Reconocimiento N° 4 (4th Reconnaissance Mechanized Cavalry Regiment ), a unit based in the capital city of Montevideo and otherwise equipped with EE-9 Cascavel armored cars. Within the two armored cavalry regiments, the tank component appears to be of two groups of three Tirans, with the seventh tank commanding the two groups. Both regiments also feature a group of five EE-3 Jararacas. The 5th also includes 9 M113 APCs, while the 8th prefers 13 VBT Condors fulfilling a similar role.

A Tiran of the 5th Armored Cavalry Regiment in front of M113s. The tank features a turret basket with a radio antenna on top, large stowage boxes on the sides of the turret, and an M1919A4 machine gun. Source: Facebook

In Uruguay, the Tirans appear to often be designated as “Ti-67”, a colloquial designation that was not used in an official manner by the IDF. Nonetheless, this should not cause confusion: the vehicles remain of the Tiran-5Sh type. They feature an infrared searchlight linked to the main gun by braces. Unlike some of the IDF’s Tirans, the Uruguayan examples do not feature a heavy machine gun. They sometimes feature a .30 cal M1919A4 machine gun which is mounted on either the right or left of the turret. The vehicles have not been re-engined and still feature the 12-cylinders V-55 diesel engine producing 580 hp. Alongside the tanks, Uruguay appears to have purchased Israeli ammunition for the 105 mm guns, including M111 Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS), which serves as the tank’s anti-tank round.

An Uruguayan serviceman hands over what appears to be an M111 shell to a Tiran loader during firing exercises, September 2013. Source: Facebook
An Uruguayan Tiran fires during exercises in 2018. Source: Facebook

One of the more curious aspects of the Uruguayan Tirans is that they are covered with a number of hardpoints for Blazer Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA). However, the ERA has seemingly never been seen mounted on the vehicles, and it is unknown if the purchase even included these components.

A Tiran crossing a small ditch during exercises in 2018. The frontal arc of the tank is covered in hardpoints for Blazer ERA, but the tanks have never been seen covered in the actual reactive armor plates. Source: facebook

Conclusion – Potential replacement

Ever since their introduction in the country’s military, the Tirans have remained the sole main battle tank in service in Uruguay. Thankfully, Uruguay is one of the most stable countries of the South American continent, and as such, its main battle tank fleet has pretty much only been used for training purposes. Though the country sends a disproportionate amount of servicemen to UN operations in comparison to its size and population, the Tirans have never been part of these deployments. In a photo dated from 2018, A Tiran-5sh appears to have become a gate guardian at the base of the 5th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which raises the question as to whether or not the totality of the Tirans Uruguay acquired are still operational.

A gate guardian Tiran-5sh of the 5th Armored Cavalry regiment. Source: facebook

Though Uruguay has good relations with its two neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, one can still underline how the Tiran-5sh can appear underwhelming in comparison to the Brazilian M60A3s as well as Leopard 1A5 acquired in the 2000s, or a potentially upgraded TAM. Israel appears to not have missed the fact Uruguay may still prove to be a future client for main battle tanks, and in 2013, an Israeli delegation presented Israel’s upgraded versions of the M60, the Magach 6 and Magach 7, to the Uruguayan military. Nothing has so far come of it. Even within the Uruguayan military, the Tiran remains a small part of the armored vehicles fleet, with much larger numbers of EE-9s and M41s in service. With Uruguay unlikely to have to fight a war against its neighbors in the future, though at the same time remarkably stable ever since the end of the country’s dictatorship in the 1980s, the use for cutting edge armored fighting vehicles may simply be lost for the small South American country. Its current fleet of M41s, EE-9s, Tirans, Grizzlies and Huskies, M113s, EE-3s, VBTs and yet another curious purchase in the form of BVP-1s is likely sufficient for the Uruguayan Army.

An Uruguayan army Tiran-5sh; Illustration by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe, based on work by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet and funded by our Patreon campaign

Sources

TANQUES PRINCIPALES DE BATALLA EN SURAMERICA. MBT PARA COLOMBIA, Erich Saumeth Cadavid, Edita Infodefensa, 2012
Hermanos en armas en la paz y en la guerra on Facebook
Regimiento “Misiones” de Caballería Blindado N° 5 on Facebook
https://www.infodefensa.com/latam/2013/03/11/noticia-israel-presenta-al-ejercito-del-uruguay-versiones-mejoradas-del-tanque-norteamericano-m-60.html
SIPRI Arms Trade Register

Categories
Modern German Other Vehicles

BMP-1A1 Ost

Germany (1991-1994)
Infantry fighting vehicle – 764 BMP-1 used, around 580 upgraded

During the Cold War, the two German states, the FDR/Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) in the west and the GDR/German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik/DDR) in the east, stood as two foot soldiers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact on the forefront of the Iron Curtain. Being certainly located on a major battlefield of a new all-out European war, both German states were considerably remilitarized when they were allowed to have their own armed forces, from the 1950s onward. As such, the East German NVA (Nationale Volksarmee/National People’s Army) received a total of around 1,133 BMP-1s from 1968 (when two training vehicles were received) to 1988, including a number of BVP-1s produced in neighbouring Czechoslovakia. Outside of a mere 24 BMP-2s, the BMP-1 was the sole infantry fighting vehicle in service with the NVA. With the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War though, these BMP-1s would never be consumed in great battles on the German plains. Instead, the East German BMP-1 fleet was inherited by the West German Bundeswehr, which now had to ponder what to do with this large fleet of infantry fighting vehicles, vastly different from its own Marders.

Schützenpanzer BMP-1

When first pushed into service in the late 1960s, the BMP-1 was a major addition to the Soviet Red Army’s Arsenal, and despite the existence of some previous vehicles, such as the West German HS.30, it is often considered to be the first truly modern Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to be adopted in massive numbers – at least was for the Eastern Bloc. The vehicle could be used to support armored assault in all types of terrains thanks to its amphibious capacities, and was notably able to carry a section of infantry even in heavily contaminated terrain which would typically be expected after the use of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) weapons. Support for accompanying tanks as well as dismounted infantry would be provided by a 73 mm Grom infantry support gun and a Malyutka missile launcher, with four missiles stored in the vehicle, for use against armored vehicles.

West German Schützenpanzer HS.30. Source: panzerbauer
NVA Schützenpanzer BMP-1s crossing a river during an exercise. Amphibious capacity was a major aspect of the BMP-1’s design. Source: Pinterest

In East Germany, the BMP-1 was the only infantry fighting vehicle available in large numbers – only 24 examples of its successor, the BMP-2, were ever delivered. The NVA also received nine BRM-1K recon vehicles and two BREM-CH armored recovery vehicles.

In the last days of the NVA, the BMP-1 outfitted six motorized rifle regiments, the 3rd, 7th, 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 27th. Though it appears a total of 1,133 BMP-1s had been delivered to the NVA, a few had been phased out during the 1980s due to wear and tear, and as such, 1,112 were available. This total included both some baseline BMP-1s and a considerable number of vehicles that had gone through the BMP-1P upgrade, which replaced the Malyutka missile with the more modern Konkurs, a new fire-extinction system to counter napalm, and an array of six Tucha 81 mm smoke grenades located on the rear roof of the turret. In East German service, the vehicles were known as Schützenpanzer BMP-1.

The German reunification

After years of crisis and decline, tensions within East Germany exploded in 1989. First, citizens tried to leave or apply for visas, notably using Hungary to try and cross into neutral Austria and from there into the democratic West Germany. With the opening of the border between the two starting in August 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans moved into Austria and later West Germany going through Hungary, seeking reunion with family and/or better opportunities in a more prosperous economy. Things escalated further in November, with massive protests in East German cities, while the opening of the West German-Czechoslovak border created yet another, even more easily accessible entry into West Germany for East Germans. By 9th of November, travel restrictions between the two Germanies were lifted; the once impenetrable Berlin wall started to be taken down.

In March 1990, in the last elections of East Germany, a branch of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which supported quick reunification was appointed, with the following, last few months of East Germany’s existence being focused on quickly integrating East Germany into the Federal Republic. On 3rd October 1990, the five states of East Germany, as well as East Berlin, were formally integrated into the Federal Republic. The DDR and its armed branch, the NVA, were no more.

Former NVA armored vehicles, including, to the left, a BMP-1A1 Ost, in the Neubrandenburg repair facilities. Source: bmpsvu.ru

The large quantities of equipment left behind by the NVA were taken over by the Materiel Depot Service Gesellschaft (Material Service Depot Company/MDSG) to be warehoused and maintained. In December of 1990, it was decided the BMP-1 was one of the pieces of equipment of the former NVA that would, for a time, be operated by the Bundeswehr. Some 764 vehicles were to be pressed back into service.

The BMP-1 in Bundeswehr units

The BMP-1s were to outfit six units which were created in April of 1991 from re-forming six East German divisions, two armored and four motorized rifles divisions. These became Heimatschutzbrigade (Eng: Homeland Security Brigade) 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, and 42. Heimatschutzbrigade 37 and 41 were the ones formed from former NVA tank divisions, and also included T-72 tanks, while the other four were the ones formed from motorized rifles divisions.

Another piece of formerly East German equipment, a T-72 tank, in service with Heimatschutzbrigade 37, Dresden, 1991. Source: twitter

The issue of Eastern Block standards

When inspecting and evaluating the BMP-1, it was found that the vehicle did not meet many of the standards expected of armored fighting vehicles of the Bundeswehr – more so in ergonomic qualities than in combat elements.

The vehicle’s front and rear lights were not up to the standards of West German vehicles. The lack of wing mirrors was noted. More worryingly, a number of elements which were not up to West German safety or health standards were found in the BMP-1. The fuel tanks embedded in the rear doors were thought to be a hazard. As the vast majority of operators of the type, the Bundeswehr found the interior cramped. Firing the 73 mm Grom’s ammunition was found to release potentially toxic nitroglycerin, while the coaxial 7.62 mm PKT would potentially release mercury. Toxic asbestos was also present in the brake bands, clutch lining, and gaskets.

If the BMP-1 was to remain in Bundeswehr service, these issues had to be fixed. The upgrades were designed by SIVG (System-Instandsetzungsund Verwertungsgesellschaft/System-Repair and Recovery Company) and FUG (Fahrzeug und Umwelttechnik Gesellschaft mbH/Vehicle and Environment Technology Company). It appears the former was a formerly East German maintenance facility, while the latter was a facility located in the West. The first three vehicles were converted as prototypes at Reparaturwerk Neubrandenburg (Neubrandenburg repair workshop), which was the main maintenance facility for BMP-1s in East Germany. These first three conversions happened from January to March 1991. After they proved satisfactory, the upgrade was standardized as the BMP-1A1 ‘Ost’ (East). A further 100 vehicles were converted in Neubrandenburg from May to September of 1991, and another 399 at the same facility from October of 1991 to January of 1993. A further 83 vehicles were modernized by the SIZ 890 repair base located in Doberlug, another town of the Brandenburg province. The vehicles which were selected to be upgraded were the BMP-1 in the best conditions, which usually were BMP-1Ps.

Two of the three BMP-1A1 Ost prototypes at Reparaturwerk Neubrandenburg, 15th of May 1991. Source: bmpvsu.ru

Driving upgrades

Many of the additions brought by the Ost upgrade aimed at making the BMP-1 compliant with West German road regulations, and follow the same standard as West German vehicles. This translated in the vehicle’s headlights being replaced by some identical to those on the the Marder 1A3. In front of those headlights, small orange identification lights were placed. The same horn as on the Marder was also installed.

A close-up of the front-side glacis of the BMP-1A1 Ost of the Munster tank museum, showing the new light and headlight. Source: Vitaly V.Kuzmin collection via bmpvsu.ru
A BMP-1A1 Ost with the rearview mirrors retracted against the hull. Source: bmpvsu.ru

Externally visible changes included a pair of wing mirrors, located behind the headlights. These could be retracted, with the glass facing against the hull. At the rear, rear lights were added to ease convoy driving. If, for one reason or another, the lights had to be turned off, a Leitkreuz (guiding cross) was added on the left rear door. This was a green rubber sheet on which a white cross was painted. A small 24V lamp was installed at the center of this cross to illuminate it at night, allowing the next vehicle to follow when driving in convoys at night.

A rear view of the Munster tank museum’s BMP-1A1 Ost, showing the new rear light and Leitkreuz. Source: bmpvsu.ru

The Ost upgrade also included a short metal ladder on the rear of the left fender, in order to ease climbing into or descending from the vehicle. It has often been claimed the vehicle received a set of West German smoke grenades. However, this does not appear to be the case. BMP-1A1 vehicles either do not feature smoke grenades, or feature them in the exact same arrangement as the standard BMP-1P. It appears that, for these vehicles, the original Tucha 81 mm smoke grenades were retained.

The new ladder seen on a Hellenic Army BMP-1 located on the grounds of the ELVO military company, 2015. Source: bmpvsu.ru

Safety improvements

The Ost upgraded vehicles were purged of all asbestos, of which the use is entirely banned in Germany. Much more significantly for the capacities of the vehicle, the 5th gear, the last of the gearbox, was locked on the vehicle, which reduced its maximum speed to 40 km/h, likely in a bid to ease maintenance and reduce wear and tear on the vehicle. The clutch was optimized to allow for a smooth start of the vehicle, and the braking system was modified so that a handbrake was present for both tracks. The upgrade added a heater to keep the crew comfortable in winter conditions. At last, the fuel tanks present in the rear doors were removed and prevented from being filled. It is sometimes reported the fuel tanks were instead filled with styrofoam.

The inside of the BMP-1A1 Ost present at the Munster Tank Museum. Note the amber-colored protective cover for the periscope mount, designed to prevent the crew from hitting and injuring themselves against the sharp corners of the periscope. Source: bmpvsu.ru

On the inside of the vehicle, efforts were made to make the BMP-1 more comfortable. This was manifested in the addition of a heater as well as elements such as covers protecting the edges of the observation devices used by the dismounts in order to prevent head injuries. An anti-slip coating was also added on a number of points on the exterior of the vehicle’s hull.

A view of the BMP-1A1 Ost’s deck hatches. Anti-slip coating was applied near the center; it was also present on the vehicle’s fenders and hull top. Source: Recomonkey

What could not be fixed

The BMP-1A1 remained a moderate upgrade in scope, intended only to make the BMP-1 conform to German regulations. Many issues of the vehicle could never be fixed, and in several ways, the BMP-1A1 was inferior to even a baseline BMP-1 when looked solely through the lens of combat capacities.

The most pressing issue likely was the armament not being up to Bundeswehr regulations. This was never fixed, though it appears some thought was given into researching 73 mm ammunition that would not eject nitrocellulose, this was never truly pursued. As a consequence, regulations prohibited the use of armament on the BMP-1A1 Ost in peacetime. Furthermore, the Ost upgrade also removed the missile launcher and guidance equipment, may it be for the Malyutka or the Konkurs/Fagot.

BMP-1A1 Osts at the conclusion of their upgrade in the Neubrandenburg repair facility. None bear an ATGM. This feature was removed from the Ost upgrade outright. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Additionally, while some efforts were made to make the inside more ergonomic, these were only details, and the limited volume of the BMP-1’s infantry compartment was something that was not fixable without a deep transformation of the vehicle the Bundeswehr was not willing to perform.

German service

The BMP-1A1 Ost were delivered to the Heimatschutzbrigades from late 1991 to early 1993.

Former NVA conscripts, now Bundeswehr soldiers receiving their BMP-1A1 Ost at Neubrandenburg. They sport mixed East and West German kit, with MPI-AK-74 and MG3s and uniforms mixing mostly West German elements with some East German ones. Source: bmpsvu.ru
A similar photo of Bundeswehr soldiers receiving their BMPs. Source: bmpsvu.ru

They were operated in a transitional period for the Bundeswehr, which was incorporating the former NVA within its rank. The BMP-1A1 Ost was, as such, largely meant as a training vehicle as well as a way for the Bundeswehr to keep the last generation of NVA conscripts in operation, with vehicles, without having to re-train them for vastly different West German APCs or IFVs. The units which operated the BMP-1A1 often had a very mixed kit: the dismounts of the vehicle were typically observed using the West German MG3 machine-gun, but the East German MPi AK-74 rifle. Similarly, their base uniform is the West German one, but they retain some pieces of East German kit.

A BMP-1A1 Ost being resupplied by Panzergrenadiers during exercises in Franken. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Interestingly enough, the Neubrandenburg repair plant even went through the hassle of creating a driver’s training BMP-1A1 Ost by mounting the cabin of a FAP-500U, an East German driver’s training vehicle based on the ZSU-57-2, in place of the turret of a BMP.

The unique BMP-1A1 Ost driver’s training vehicle. Source: bmpsvu.ru
The FAP-500U driver’s training vehicle, itself a local East German conversion. Source: makettinfo.hu

A cheap and available off-the-shelf IFV for sale

Considering the BMP-1A1 Ost’s role as a training vehicle as well as a way to maintain East German conscripts in operation for the duration of their service, it is not surprising the vehicle did not remain in service with the Bundeswehr for long. While some may imagine the reunification of Germany would have meant a larger German Army, this was more than offset by the reduction in world tension that followed the end of the Cold War and the following massive reduction in military budget and sizes. The already existing Marder 1 fleet was largely sufficient for German needs, and in the last 1A3 variant, offered a considerably more capable vehicle in comparison to a BMP-1.

53 BMP-1A1 leave German service, replaced by Marder 1A3s, 381th Panzer-Grenadier battalion, 13th of April 1993. Source: www.pzgrenbrig38.de
West German infantryman stands behind a Marder 1A3. The vehicle offered a better solution to the Bundeswehr in comparison to upgraded BMP-1s. Source: Wikimedia commons

The BMP-1A1 Ost were therefore phased out of service in 1993-1994. However, this does not mean they would be scrapped or all placed into museums. While Germany had no interest in a large number of surplus IFVs, some other European countries did. For nations which did not have IFVs, or if so, only in small numbers, a large number of very cheap off-the-shelf vehicles was a very attractive offer. Three European countries ended up purchasing ex East German BMP-1s.

Greece bought the bulk of the BMP-1A1 Ost fleet, purchasing one vehicle for trials in 1992 and a batch of 500 ex-Bundeswehr vehicles in 1994, at a low price of just 50,000 Deutschmarks each. Greece also bought the sole BMP-1A1 driver’s training vehicle that had been converted. These would become the only infantry fighting vehicles in Greek service, as the Hellenic Army retired its small fleet of AMX-10Ps at the conclusion of the Cold War. The Greeks further modified their BMP-1 by adding an M2 Browning .50 calibre machine-gun on top of the turret. The vehicle was widely used by Greek mechanized troops, though the fleet has dwindled due to vehicles being sold to Iraq or more recently Egypt, or being used as targets in military exercises. The BMP-3 was considered and even ordered from Russia as a replacement, but the contract was cancelled when the 2008 economic crisis ravaged the Greek economy. From 2014 onward, a portion of the remaining Greek BMP-1A1 fleet was modified, replacing the turret with a ZU-23 dual 23 mm anti-aircraft gun. Around 100 BMP-1A1 Ost, including these conversions, remain in service on the Greek islands of Samos, Chios, Kos, and Lesbos.

A Hellenic Army BMP-1A1 Ost during military exercises in Samos, November 2014. Source: bmpsvu.ru
The Greek ZU-23-armed BMP-1A1 Ost conversion which has been in use since 2014. Source: Twitter

All the remaining BMP-1A1 Ost, save for the few which have remained in Germany, were sold to Sweden as part of a sale of 431 BMP-1s, the other being 290 baseline BMP-1 and 60 BMP-1P. The Swedes ran 350 of their BMP-1s through a series of upgrades performed in the Czech Republic, and with similar goals to the German Ost upgrade. These were designated ‘Pbv 501’. The others were kept as spare parts donors. The Pbv 501s were delivered from 1996 to 2001. It was decided to phase them out in 2000, and most of the vehicles were delivered straight into storage. They were eventually sold back to the Czech company which upgraded them in 2008, which proceeded to sell most of them to Iraq from 2015 onward, something Swedish legislation would not have allowed.

The other Western European BMP-1 upgrade, Sweden’s Pbv 501. Source: armedconflicts

Finland was another buyer of former East-German BMP-1s, but did not purchase a single Ost vehicle. Already a user of the BMP-1 prior to the end of the Cold War, Finland purchased 140 German BMP-1s in 1993-1994 and ran them through their own locally-developed upgrades.

Through both Greece, which transferred 100 BMP-1A1 Ost to the New Iraqi Army in 2005-2006, and the Czech company EXCALIBUR, which delivered a considerable number of Pbv 501, perhaps up to 250, through Bulgaria from 2015 onward, Iraq acquired a considerable number of ex-German BMP-1s. These served alongside surviving vehicles from the Hussein regime as well as BMP-1s delivered from other sources, such as Ukraine. The type has been widely engaged in the conflicts which have ravaged Iraq since. The Pbv 501, notably, being delivered from 2015 onward, were heavily engaged in the counter-offensive against ISIS aiming at taking back Mosul. In the 2014-2017 period, out of 85 destroyed Iraqi BMP-1s, 35 were identified to be Pbv 501s.

Iraqi BMP-1 in October 2017, fighting alongside M1 Abrams during the battle to retake Hawija, by this point the sole remaining ISIS enclave in central Iraq. This photo is unusual in that the vehicle in the foreground is an ex-Greek BMP-1A1 Ost, while the two BMP-1s in the background are ex-Swedish Pbv 501s. Source: bmpsvu.ru

At least one BMP-1A1 Ost has survived in Germany. It is present at the Munster tank Museum, by the side of an unupgraded NVA BMP-1 and the sole NVA BMP-2 to have remained in Germany. A BMP-1A1 Ost has appeared in demonstrations in Germany, though it is unclear if it is the same vehicle.

Conclusion

The BMP-1A1 Ost was an attempt at making a dated piece of Eastern Block equipment compatible with western standards of operation. The upgrade did not attempt to improve the combat capacities of the BMP-1 in any meaningful way, but instead concentrated on ergonomic elements and potential risks encountered when operating the vehicle.

Through the service of the vehicle was very short in Germany, through its export service, it would see four new users in the shape of Sweden, Greece, Egypt and Iraq. The Ost vehicles were significantly modified further for Sweden and by Greece, and through the eventual sale of Pbv 501 and Greek BMP-1A1s to Iraq, it would eventually see significant combat service in the Middle East. One can only wonder if the Iraqi soldiers operating the vehicle appreciated the quality-of-life improvements of the Ost upgrade, particularly when taking into account the removal of the missile armament in comparison.

Illustrations for the BMP-1A1 Ost, created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe based on work by David Bocquelet

BMP-1A1 Ost Specifications

Dimensions ( L x w x h) 6.735 x 2.940 x 1.881 m
Weight 13.5 tonnes
Engine UTD-20 6-cylinders 300 hp diesel engine
Suspension Torsion bars
Forward gears 4 (5th gear locked)
Fuel Capacity 330 L (diesel)
Maximum speed (road) 40 km/h
Maximum speed (water) 7-8 km/h
Crew 3 (commander, driver, gunner)
Dismounts 8
Main gun 73 mm 2A28 ‘Grom’ (use prevented by German regulations)
Secondary armament Coaxial 7.62 mm PKT (use prevented by German regulations)
Smoke grenades 6 x 81 mm 902V Tucha smoke grenades (formerly BMP-1P), none (formerly BMP-1)
Armor Welded steel, 33 to 6 mm

Sources

SIPRI Arms Transfer Database
BMP-1 field disassembly, Tankograd
Bmpvsu.ru:
BMP of the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic
BMP of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany
BMP-1A1-Ost of the Bundeswehr at the German Tank Museum: https://bmpvsu.ru/frg_museum.php
Pbv-501 in the Swedish army
Pbv-501 in the Iraqi army

Categories
Cold War North Korean Armor Modern North Korean Armor

M1989/M1992 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun

Nation Flag IconNorth Korea (likely 1980s-present)
Self-Propelled anti-aircraft gun – Unknown numbers built

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has, since the 1960s and 1970s, maintained an armored vehicles industry that produces vehicles to meet the needs of a Korean People’s Army that struggles to get modern foreign vehicles imported. Though this initially started with fairly simple armored personnel carriers like the 323, and tanks like the M1981 or Chonma-Ho, North Korea would quickly start developing vehicles which require more significant development efforts. The M1989/M1992 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun is a good example of one of the more advanced vehicles North Korea was able to field from the late 1980s onward.

Previous North Korean self-propelled anti-aircraft guns

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK, often just known as North Korea, ever since its inception in the months following the end of World War Two, has been an adversary to the Republic of Korea (ROK). While the DPRK formed the pro-Soviet North, with a hard branch of the Marxist-Leninist ideology that would evolve into its own ideology combining socialist and nationalistic elements, Juche, the South, despite being for much of its history a dictatorial regime as well, would be closely aligned with the United States. The 1950-1953 Korean War demonstrated the Americans and their side of the peninsula’s capacities to take air superiority, and use it to massively handicap the movements, combat capacities, but also daily functioning of the northern country via massive bombings.

Air defense has, as such, been a major concern for the DPRK. Fixed air defence, for example, comes in the form of a vast ring of missile and artillery batteries around the capital, Pyongyang, but there is also the mobile air defence of its military forces. This materialized as early as the first days of the new North Korean Army in 1948, with trucks armed with anti-aircraft machine guns, but North Korea’s self-propelled anti-aircraft guns would mostly blossom from the 1970s onward. There were several factors for this. One was the fact that North Korea had developed a vast armored vehicles manufacturing industry, eventually being able to manufacture its own vehicles. Another, was the Soviet delivery of a small batch of ZSU-23-4s Shilkas which would provide a good technical basis.

A first primitive self-propelled anti-aircraft gun mounted dual 37 mm guns on the chassis of the Tokchon series of self-propelled artillery pieces, known as the M1978. A few years later, the M1985 was introduced. It used a hull directly based on the Shilka’s GMZ-575 hull. However, its armament was still primitive, basically using the ZSU-57-2’s 1950s-dated weapon system, with no form of radar guidance. A great leap forward was still needed to bring North Korea’s self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery to a reasonably modern level.

This would, at least partly, be accomplished by the vehicle known by the US Department of Defence (DoD) as the M1989. It ought to be noted that this vehicle has also been known as the M1992 by the same US DoD – for the sake of clarity, this article will solely use the M1989 designation. It also ought to be noted that this year-based designation is based on the year the vehicle was first observed in service. It is very common for the vehicle to have been in service with the DPRK for several years by the point it is first seen by Western observers. In the case of the M1989, while its development is extremely nebulous, as the DPRK’s always is, it appears American intelligence reported having spotted a prototype as early as late 1983 – suggesting a development process concentrated around, or at least starting, in the early 1980s.

Rows of M1985 with their guns elevated on parade. The predecessor of the M1989, with no guidance other than optical targeting and seemingly no way to target enemies at ground level, the M1985 was a very much obsolete design as soon as it was introduced. Its most significant achievement was most likely to put North Korea’s Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) program to a good start, which would be developed much further into the M1989. Source: m.blog.naver

Guns from the navy

The M1989 appears to be quite directly based on the ZSU-23-4 Shilka, of which North Korea received a few examples from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. One of the few self-propelled anti-aircraft systems received by North Korea (there has never been evidence of the country receiving the ZSU-57-2, nor the 250 ZSU-57-2 turrets that would be mounted on Type 59 hulls, as is often claimed), it was still a modern and feared weapon by the 1970s and would largely inspire North Korea’s engineers. In the case of the M1989, the most significant difference from the Shilka would be its armament.

Ever since the end of the Korean War and particularly the 1960s, the Korean People’s Army Navy (KPAN) has been building up a large fleet of coastal surface vessels, mostly torpedo boats, missile boats and gunboats. North Korea could indeed never hope to challenge the US Navy in open waters, even less so with the support of the Republic of Korea’s Navy or Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force. Instead, its fleet has largely been manufactured around harassment and massed missile attack tactics – a role for which torpedo and missile boats tended to be sorely needed. North Korea would obtain three different types from the Soviet Union in the 1960s: first the Komar, the world’s first operational missile boat; and later, around 1968, the Osa I; as well as the torpedo-launching Shershen-class – with a dozen of the first and four of the later being delivered. Outside of their P-15 Termit missile or their torpedo armament, both the Osa and Shershen-class featured another weapon system of interest to North Korea. This was the AK-230, a dual 30 mm anti-aircraft gun and Close-In Weapon System (CIWIS).

Future North Korean leader Kim-Jong Il observes one of the two Najin-class frigates from the deck of the solo Soho-class helicopter frigate, likely in the 1980s. One may observe an AK-230 system located behind the funnel. Two Najin-class frigates were built in the 1970s, one on each of North Korea’s coasts, in order to serve as command ships. Hopelessly outdated by modern standards, they remain the largest ship built by North Korea’s naval defence industry. Source: reddit

The Osa- and Shershen-torpedo and missile boat classes had been the first ships to mount the AK-230 – each operating two of the dual guns, one at the bow and one at the stern. The guns were guided by an MR-104 “Drum Tilt” pulse-only radar system. As CIWIS, these guns had been designed with the task of potentially destroying missiles, which, even more so than an anti-aircraft role, would require a very fast rate of fire. To solve this solution, Soviet engineers designed the two guns that would be present in one AK-230 system as four, rifle-barrelled revolver cannons, each firing at 1,000 rounds per minute and disposing of a 500-rounds belt. Their barrels were 1,930 mm long, and the guns overall were 2,670 mm long and weighed in at 155 kg each.

This gun system would fire electrically-primed 30×210 mm rounds, which had been purposely designed for the system. Two types were provided, an 1.12 kg explosive round with an explosive charge of 30 grams of the standard Soviet A-IX 2 explosive, and an armor-piercing traced round weighing in at ten grams heavier (1.13 kg) but fired at the same muzzle velocity of 1,050 m/s.

These guns were linked at an MR-104 Drum Tilt radar system for guidance. This radar design could locate targets at a maximum range of 22.4 km and an altitude of 9.1 km. The guns would, ballistically, have a maximum range of over six kilometers, but would realistically have a chance to operate effectively against their targets at ranges of four kilometers maximum, and lower.

Naval guns onto a ground vehicle’s turret

A closer view of an AK-230 on a North Korean torpedo boat, The turret retains a moderate size, but adapting its armament to be fired from a manned armored vehicle turret would still require some considerable work. Source: m.blog.naver

When looking at the AK-230’s performances, it is easy to see some favorable points in comparison to the ZSU-23-4’s main armament, despite the latter being more than decent when first introduced. Though the rate of fire of the Shilka’s quad armament would be superior (3,400 to 4,000 rounds per minute total, in comparison to 2,000 from the AK-230), the naval gun offered slightly higher velocity and larger shells. This resulted in a longer effective range, spanning up to around four kilometers in good conditions and still up to two and a half in worse ones – while two and a half kilometers were generally considered around the limit of the Shilka’s effective firing range, which would go down further in bad conditions. The larger shells also packed a higher punch which would result in more destructive potential by a limited number of hits – particularly at range.

These advantages likely pushed North Korea engineers to try and adapt the AK-230 into a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun design. It ought to be noted that the KPAN only used the AK-230 in a very limited number of designs ever since it started the mass-production of missile and torpedo boats, following the Soviet deliveries from the 1960s which provided inspiration. A locally-manufactured copy of the Osa I-class, the Soju, manufactured since the 1980s, despite its obsolescence by this point, appears to mount the AK-230. The three largest ships ever manufactured for the DPRK’s navy, the two Najin-class frigates and the unique Soho-class helicopter frigate, appear to mount some as well, perhaps delivered straight from the Soviet Union, seeing as these classes were commissioned from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. Indigenous North Korean designs, however, appear to more often than not retain the primitive 25 mm 2M3 autocannon, using only optical guidance.

As such, the choice to study a version of the AK-230 for the army, despite the gun seeing limited use in the branch it was originally used by, the navy, shows the high priority which was given to providing good air cover to North Korea’s armed forces, and particularly its armored divisions and regiments.

North Korea’s AK-230-based design was placed into a turret very similar to the one found on the ZSU-23-4 in terms of general architecture, but appears to be higher, more rectangular, and perhaps simpler. It is a fairly large rectangular turret with large stowage boxes on both sides. At the turret’s center, a high-elevation gun mount allows the target system to engage all types of aircrafts. To the rear center of the turret, as on the ZSU-23-4, the M1989 features a radar – though in appearance it is quite similar to the Shilka’s RPK-2 “Tobol”, the radar used by North Korea’s vehicle is thought to most likely have still been based on the MR-104 “Drum Tilt” – mainly for the reason that radar had been purposefully designed to operate with the AK-230.

Close views of an M1989’s guns during a 2012 parade in Pyongyang, also showing some of the turret’s welds. Whether or not modifying the guns for operations inside an armored vehicle changed their anti-aircraft performances in any significant way is uncertain, and remains impossible to evaluate considering the secrecy maintained by the DPRK around their armored vehicles – particularly those not known to have an export history, of which the M1989 serves as a good example. Source: m.blog.naver

As pretty much systematically for North Korea, it is quite impossible to see how much the armament may have been modified, as no internal views of the vehicle are known to exist. Modifying the AK-230 to fit alongside the crew within the turret of an armored vehicle likely required some significant modifications. For example, the 500-rounds belt would perhaps not have been very practical and changed for a shorter belt, perhaps similar to the 50-rounds belt found in a classic Shilka. The use of electrically-primed projectiles, in addition to the high electrical needs already created by a turret with a high-rotation speed and the presence of a radar, would perhaps have required higher electricity generation capacities. This gun system would also likely add some weight to the original ZSU-23-4 to a moderate extent, perhaps nearing about 20 tonnes total. The crew likely consists of four, as on the ZSU-23-4, with a driver in the hull, and a commander, gunner, and crewman operating the radar in the turret.

Hull – Re-using the GMZ-575 copy

When North Korea first designed a Shilka-inspired self-propelled anti-aircraft gun in the form of the M1985, the hull chosen for the vehicle was a fairly close version of the GMZ-575 chassis, originally used by the ZSU-23-4. A few different details appeared nonetheless. The North Korean model appears to have different side stowage, with four stowage hatches to be found instead of three on the Shilka. The glacis may be angled a few degrees further back. While the M1985 lacked them, the M1989 appears to re-introduce towing hooks, though it only uses two instead of the Shilka’s three. The North Korean chassis also appears to use different tracks, with a central pin and two side pads. Its tracks appear to be more tensioned, generally resting higher, and it appears to use starfish-type road wheels similar to those found in Soviet main battle tanks, rather than the type used in lighter vehicles, such as the PT-76 or the ZSU-23-4.

A good side view of an M1989 during a 2012 parade. Though this photo gives a good view of the high profile given by the radar, it also shows the starfish-type road wheels used by the M1989. Source: m.blog.naver

There is no way to know if the North Korean version of the GMZ-575 retains the propulsive elements of the Shilka or instead moved to use another engine. The GMZ-575 chassis was originally based on the PT-76 light tank, which North Korea is thought to have assembled at the Sinhung tank plant in the late 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, it is likely the chassis was relatively easy to start to manufacture. North Korea operates a number of other vehicles in a similar weight range, notably the variety of vehicles based on the 323 armored personnel carrier and the M1981 light tank. It is not impossible to think the North Koreans may have tried to introduce some part commonality between their fleet, but this is pretty much just conjecture.

If the North Korean version is believed to have similar capacities to the original GMZ-575, for example, if it kept the V-6P1 280 hp diesel engine or used a powerplant of similar capacities, it likely means the M1989 should be able to reach a maximum speed of about 50 km/h. Overall, it would be somewhat less mobile than main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles due to a lower power-to-weight ratio.

The first truly modern SPAAG in the KPA’s hands

Production of the M1989 started at some point during the 1980s. Seeing as it used the same hull as the M1985, the more advanced M1989 likely took the first type’s succession on North Korea production chains.

Footage of M1989s during training exercises, showcased to the DPRK’s viewership by Korean Central TV. The vehicles are painted in a dark green scheme with a North Korean roundel and seemingly no further identification. Source: reddit

In comparison to the previous M1985, the M1989 brought massive improvements. While the M1985 itself had been a major progress from the M1978 and various ZPU-4 systems mounted on hulls based on the 323 APCs, it still offered a primitive armament, albeit in the form of a truly dedicated, purpose-built air defence system. The M1989 took that base – the hull basically – and mounted an at least somewhat capable, radar-guided armament on it. The M1989 could hardly be called state-of-the-art by its 1980s introduction. It obviously paled in comparison to modern systems introduced in the 1980s, such as the Soviet 2M22 Tunguska, with its missile batteries, advanced radar and newer 30 mm guns, but it was still likely an improvement from the ZSU-23-4 Shilka in terms of firepower. And while the Shilka was a quite old design by the 1980s, it had still proven to be an effective one which was considerably feared by NATO in its prime days of the 1960s and 1970s. Even with a fairly primitive radar, a similar vehicle featuring somewhat longer-reaching guns was a significant addition to the Korean People’s Army arsenal and could pose a solid threat to the helicopter and close-air support planes fleets that would be operated by South Korea and the United States in case of a conflict.

Ever since it was first seen in the late 1980s, the M1989 has been a regularly recurring sight in the military parade in which the DPRK flexes its military and military-industrial muscles.

Rows of M1989s on parade at Kim-Il Sung square in Pyongyang. As in North Korean tradition, the three leading vehicles each bear a different flag. From front to back, the national flag, the flag of the Korean Worker’s Party, and the flag of the Korean People’s Armed Forces. Source: pinterest

An advanced, more modern SPAA system… that has yet to be seen

The M1989 is the most often seen of all North Korean self-propelled anti-aircraft guns ever since its introduction, this trend continuing in recent parades. Nonetheless, it does not appear to be the latest self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. An even more advanced model known as the M1994 is said to exist. Iit also uses an armament based on Soviet CIWIS, but instead of the AK-230, it takes the basis of the AK-630 30 mm rotary autocannon, firing shorter 30×165 mm shells at a whopping 5,000 rounds per minute, while also featuring two radars. One radar is for long-range target acquisition and the other for short-range tracking. It would also feature some optional side boxes for light anti-air missiles, likely a local version of the Igla. All in all, it sounds like a potent and particularly innovative vehicle by the DPRK’s standard. No photos or iconographic documents of it appear to have transpired and be publicly available though, and as such, how operational such a system may be is questionable.

Conclusion – The aging anti-aircraft shield of North Korea’s armored formations

By what can be readily observed of the Korean People’s Army – an obviously limited insight into what is going on in its entirety, seeing the secretive nature of the country and its armed forces – the M1989 appears to be the most common self-propelled anti-aircraft gun in North Korea’s service, as well as most likely the most modern one available in any significant number. In comparison to the vehicle it was based on, the M1989 may have brought some genuine improvements, and have been a fairly potent if not state-of-the-art vehicle by the point it was introduced.

M1989s on parade in 2012, with North Korean citizens cheering from the side. The M1989 certainly was a huge improvement in North Korea’s SPAAGs when first introduced, likely the biggest single lap undertaken in this field by the DPRK. Its capacities against modern aircraft will probably be not enough though. Source: m.blog.naver

In comparison to more modern vehicles though, the M1989 slowly but surely starts to pale. Most significantly, it finds itself in the uneasy position of having to face some potent and well-equipped air forces. The Republic of Korea Air Force’s has not yet entirely retired its fleets of F-4 Phantom and F-5E Tiger II aircraft that may still prove to be vulnerable targets to the M1989, as well as the army’s attack and transporter helicopters fleet, which still rely on some older type such as upgraded versions of the AH-1 Cobra. However, newer models of aircraft used by the ROKAF may prove too much to be handled by the aging system. The threat of multirole F-15s, F-16s, F-35s, T-50s and, in the future, perhaps even the new KF-21, being used for precision strikes with anti-radiation missiles or laser-guided bombs would likely leave the M1989 and its 1960s vintage radar (and much of North Korea’s numerous but outdated anti-aircraft defenses in general) unable to offer a credible defense. If the Korean conflict is to become hot again, the masses of North Korean armored vehicles, already facing numerous but modern South Korean tanks, would likely very much be under the threat of the South’s aircraft – not even considering the tremendous air power that the United States could potentially deploy. Despite all of North Korea’s efforts, denying the skies to their potential enemies seems to be too much of a hurdle to overcome for the isolated and impoverished “Hermit Kingdom”.

The first prototype of South Korea and Indonesia’s new KF-21 “Boramae” 4.5 generation fighter, unveiled on 9th April 2021. Though this type is only scheduled to take its first flight in 2022 and enter service in the second half of this decade, South Korea already operates a number of modern multirole aircraft, notably F-15s, F-16s, F-35s and, to an extent, the T-50 trainer in its TA-50 light attack and FA-50 light attack/fighter versions. The ability of the DPRK’s air defenses is uncertain when it comes to countering those. It becomes even more precarious when the ominous air components of the USAF, US Navy and US Marine Corps, as well as potentially Japan’s own Air Self-Defence Force, are taken into account. Source: Blog before flight
Illustration for the M1989/M1992 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, created by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet and funded by our Patreon campaign

M1989/M1992 specifications

Weight ~ 20 tons
Suspension Torsion bars
Maximum speed (road) ~ 50 km/h
Crew Likely 4 (driver, commander, gunner, radar operator)
Armament AK-230 based 30×210 mm dual gun system
Rate of fire 2,000 rounds per minute maximum
Maximum effective range ~4 km in good conditions
Radar North Korean design likely based on MR-104 “Drum Tilt”
Armor Very light (likely no more than the ZSU-23-4, aka 15mm maximum)

Sources

THE ARMED FORCES OF NORTH KOREA, On The Path Of Songun, Stijn Mitzer, Joost Oliemans
Oryx Blog – North Korean vehicles
Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns of the Soviet Union, Mike Guardia, Osprey Publishing
https://weaponsystems.net/system/899-30x210mm%20Soviet
https://weaponsystems.net/system/648-30mm%20AK-230

Categories
Cold War French Wheeled Vehicles

Coventry Armoured Car in French Service

Nation Flag IconFrance (1946-1952)
Armored car – 40-64 used

The French Army in Indochina used a large variety of armoured vehicles originally produced during the later stages of the Second World War by either the USA or Great Britain. This situation was forced upon them due to the abysmal state of French industry immediately post-war. The French military, for a time, depended on its allies to equip its military forces, which were quickly becoming engaged in a conflict in French Indochina. One of the vehicles France was provided with was the Coventry Armoured Car.

French crews stand at attention in front of their Coventry Armoured Cars during the Indochina War. Source: char-français

The Coventry Armoured Car

The Coventry Armoured Car was designed by the Rootes Group during the Second World War. It was envisioned as a potential successor to previous British 4×4 armored car types, such as the Daimler and Humber. Production orders would, however, end up being fairly moderate, as it was decided production of the Daimler should continue. As such, only 220 Coventry Armoured Car Mk I would ever be produced. A version outfitted with the 75 mm QF gun was designed and designated the Coventry Mark II, but never progressed beyond prototype stage.

The Coventry was fairly heavy for a 4×4 armored car at 10.35 tonnes. It was lightly armoured, only 14 mm at its maximum thickness, and notably featured a crew of four, with a driver in the hull and three crew in the turret, something which was far from systematic in armoured cars of the time. With a dedicated loader, the 2-Pounder 40 mm main gun could provide a high rate of fire. It, however, lacked any mass-issued high explosive shell, which would prove a major issue, particularly against an enemy which fielded no armor. In this context, the coaxial BESA 7.92 mm machine gun would be a more efficient weapon. The vehicle was powered with a 6-cylinders Hercules RXLD engine producing 175 hp, giving a hp/ton ratio of 16.9 and granting a maximum speed of up to 68 km/h on a good road.

A Coventry at a stop on the side of a road in Indochina. Mediocre roads were often the best infrastructure these armoured cars could hope for within the French colony. Source: char-français

France procured the Coventry Armoured Car in 1946. The most commonly cited number of Coventry procured by France tends to be 40, but regimental organisation papers from the 5e RC tend to suggest more may actually have been employed, up to 64.

The First Indochina War

The French colony of Indochina comprised modern-day Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a large area, progressively conquered by the French in wars and agreements with local kingdoms and states from 1862-1863 to 1907. It suddenly became very vulnerable when France fell to Germany in 1940, and the colony, nominally loyal to Vichy, quickly fell under Japanese influence. It was eventually fully taken over in March 1945, with the French authorities deposed and French colonial troops and administrators taken as prisoners by the Japanese. Following the conclusion of the war, French troops returned to Indochina facing a bolstered independence movement, the Viet Minh. Though an uneasy peace existed at first, the possibility for conflict was obvious, and the French Army spent high efforts in mobilizing troops to send to Indochina with all kinds of various armored vehicles, even briefly re-using a number of Japanese tanks.

French Coventry Armoured Cars in Indochina. Both vehicles feature additional stowage boxes on the rear of the turret sides, and the rear vehicle notably features a prominent spare tire on the engine deck. Source: char-français

At the outset of the First Indochina War in 1946, two regiments were equipped with the Coventry Armoured Car Mk I: the 1er Regiment de Chasseurs A Cheval and the 5e Regiment de Cuirassiers. However, the 1er RCC soon gave up their Coventries when they were transferred north, to the Tonkin theater. Those Coventries they left behind were then given to the 5e RC, which formed two escadrons (ENG: squadrons) with them. Thus, the 5e RC was the main user of the Coventry Mk I for the duration of the First Indochina War.

Organization of the 5 RC

Due to the chaotic nature of the Indochina War and the transferring of units as operational conditions changed, the organization of the 5e RC was rarely set in stone. In 1946, the 5e RC was organized on the basis of a British Reconnaissance Regiment and thus consisted of a Regimental Headquarters, a Headquarters Squadron, and three Reconnaissance Squadrons. In February 1946, each of the squadrons consisted of two Coventry Mk I equipped ‘heavy’ pelotons (ENG: platoons) and 2 Humber Scout Car-equipped ‘light’ pelotons.

In August 1946, 2 escadrons equipped with Coventry Armoured Cars were transferred from the redeploying 1er RCC to the 5e RC. Sources differ on the exact number of escadrons transferred, but all agree that at least two escadrons were transferred – the total number of escadrons by the end of 1946 was 6, and it would remain at that number until 1951.

Infantry riding on the Coventry Armoured Car “Epervier” (ENG: Sparrowhawk). Source: char-français

From 1947-1951, the 5e RC’s organization appears to have remained mostly consistent. In 1948, the unit’s six escadrons were divided into two Groupes d’Escadrons (ENG: Squadron Groups) for easier command and control. According to CEFEO (Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient/ ENG: French Expeditionary Corps in the Far East) documents, the organisation of the 5e RC consisted of:

1 Etat-Major et Transmissions (ENG: Staff and Communications)
2 Escadron Hors Rang (ENG: “Rankless” squadrons not part of a squadron group)
2 Etat-Major Groupe d’Escadrons (ENG: Squadron Group Staff)
5 Escadron Mixte (A.M. et S.C. Anglais) (ENG: Mixed Squadrons, outfitted with both Humber scout cars and Coventry Armoured Cars)
1 Escadron Type A (ENG: Type A Squadron)

All 6 of the 5e RC’s Combat Escadrons possessed Coventry Armoured Cars. Each Escadron Mixte possessed 9 Coventry Armoured Cars, in addition to 6 Humber Scout Cars. Each of the Escadron Mixte’s three Pelotons Mixtes possessed 3 Coventry Armoured Cars, while 5 of the 6 Humber Scout Cars were concentrated in a separate Peloton S.C. Humber. The Escadron Type A possessed 6 Coventry Armoured Cars and 11 Humber Scout Cars. The 6 Coventry Armoured Cars were divided between two Peloton Lourd (ENG: Heavy Platoons) and the Humber Scout Cars were divided between two separate Humber Scout Car Platoons. In total, this meant that the 5 RC would have 52 Coventry Armoured Cars and 41 Humber Scout Cars at full strength.

A Coventry aside a Humber scout car during a parade. The two types were employed in tandem by the 5e RC. A number of Humbers would be fitted with a makeshift machine gun-armed turret. Source: char-français

This organization changed from 1951-52, however. Two of the 5e RC’s squadrons were transferred to the Vietnamese National Army in this period. By 1952, the 5e RC had been reorganized to utilize the newly-arriving US equipment. Instead of 4 Escadrons Mixtes with British armored cars, the new Escadrons de Reconnaissance began to utilize US armored cars. One of the squadrons appears to have been converted to an Escadron de Chars Legers M5 (Type Sud), leaving the 5e RC with 3 Escadrons de Reconnaissance. The Coventries do not appear on the CEFEO TO&E for mid-1952, so it appears that they had been withdrawn by this time.

French servicemen camp up by the side of a Coventry Armoured Car in front of a bridge. Source: char-français

Use of the Coventry

The operational situation in Indochina, with rough terrain, Viet Minh harassment campaigns, and inadequate stocks of armored vehicles, meant that the Coventry saw wide use in the campaigns in southern and central Indochina in 1946-1951. The nature of the campaign meant that the armored cars could only be used for a few roles: road-opening operations, convoy escort missions, and outpost security. Reconnaissance units tended to disperse themselves widely, conducting these missions in peloton (and sometimes escadron) strength. The units were not without their problems. A lack of adequate mobile fire support and infantry inhibited the ability of armored cars to effectively conduct operations. French soldiers also noted that the armored cars were poorly suited to the terrain and that the guns were much too weak. This is no surprise, as the 2-Pounder was not mass issued with any high-explosive shell and, as such, could only damage an enemy target by direct hit, something far less reliable when facing enemy infantry using guerilla tactics in comparison to enemy armor. The Coventry Armoured Car was also noted to be particularly hard to maintain. This is not much of a surprise either, as only a small production type of the vehicle was ever made and it did not truly stick around in the producer’s militaries. While many other armored vehicles employed by the French in Indochina, such as the M5 Stuart or M24 Chaffee, or even M8 Greyhound, had been produced in massive numbers with an abundance of spare parts, such was not the case of the Coventry.

A Coventry patrolling a dirt road alongside local infantry, which was widely employed by the French. Source: char-français
A Coventry Armoured Car provides cover to a convoy on an Indochinese road. The vehicle prominently features the emblem of the 5e Cuirassiers Regiment. The turret smoke dischargers are also very visible in this photo. Source: char-français

The 5e RC, and thus the Coventry, saw extensive combat action in Cochinchina, Annam, and Laos. Viet Minh forces there put immense pressure on the French forces from 1948 to 1951, and thus forced France to devote considerable resources to pacifying the southern countryside. Terrain was difficult to navigate, and the Viet Minh proved to be particularly adept at harassing French forces. However, the Viet Minh did not possess as much popular support in the south as they did in the north, limiting their capabilities severely. After years of hard fighting, French forces were able to gain the upper hand by 1952, and by 1954 had essentially pacified the south.

Conclusion – A British Armored Car Placed into a French War in Vietnam

The Coventry was retired from service by the French in 1952, replaced in the 5th Cuirassiers regiment by the M5 Stuart. In most regards, the Coventry had been pushed into a war it was not designed to fight in. The wheeled configuration of the vehicle was more often than not an issue in Indochina, where infrastructure was often below par and the ability to navigate through rough terrain, particularly marshes, jungles, and rice paddies, was a major positive. The armament was inadequate for counter-insurgency warfare, and the chronic lack of spare parts which plagued the French Coventry fleet made operation of the type an uphill struggle.

Enthusiastic French servicemen haul a Coventry Armoured Car out of a difficult situation. The type was suboptimal for Indochinese warfare in comparison to tracked vehicles which provided better crossroads mobility, particularly the amphibious LVT-4. The name Raspail in France is mostly known as the family name of a family which comprised François Vincent Raspail, a socialist politician and chemist of the 19th century, and his four sons, one of whom, Xavier Raspail, made a name for himself during the 1870 siege of Paris. It may also be the family name of a member of the regiment or perhaps a casualty. Source: char-français
A Coventry Armoured Car stationed in front of an old temple in Indochina. The armored car would be one of many, many types of armored vehicles which would roll among the roads and jungles of Indochina and later Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the 20th century. The vehicle is named Potiphar, after the commander of the pharaoh’s guard who took Joseph in as a slave in the Torah’s Book of Genesis and the Quran. The registration number of the vehicle features prominently under the name. Source: char-français
A 5e Cuirassiers Coventry Armoured Car as seen during the Indochina war. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Sources:

http://indochine54.free.fr/cefeo/orgs.html
http://1project2far.blogspot.com/p/indochina-war-ressources.html?m=1
5e Régiment de Cuirassiers TOEs, 1950 & 1952
Char-français
https://balagan.info/french-ground-force-organisation-in-the-first-indochina-war-1946-to-1954
Trois guerres dans les blindés au service de la France, Pierre Jarno, Editions le Grand Blockhaus, 2009
http://cavaliers.blindes.free.fr/rgtdissous/5cuirsh4.html
French armour in Vietnam 1945-1954, Simon Dunstan, Osprey publishing, 2019

Categories
Cold War French Fake Tanks

Lorraine 50t

Nation France (1950s)
Fake heavy tank

After the liberation of the country in 1944-1945, France found itself with a serious need to rebuild its military industry, damaged by years of war and occupation, if it wanted to remain a serious player in international politics as well as a respected military power. Though the first vehicles studied, such as the Panhard 178B and ARL 44, would be at least partially based on pre-war projects or even secretive ones undertaken under the Vichy Regime, a new, medium tank program would soon see the emergence of a variety of designs. Most of the designers involved had been requested to design 50-tonnes tanks, resulting in FCM’s 50 t project, AMX’s M4 later evolving into the AMX-50, and Somua’s SM. In contrast, the company of Lorraine was requested to design a lighter medium tank which would mount a similar armament but at a reduced weight of 40 tonnes, eventually resulting in the 39.7 tonnes Lorraine 40t prototype. These would never enter service with the French Army though.

The acquisition of American M47 Pattons proved a more economical solution before a modern Franco-German tank would be adopted (following the French-German collaboration falling apart, this would result in the AMX-30). However, in the last decades, this whole generation of French vehicles has known a renewed popularity due to their inclusion in Wargaming’s popular game World of Tanks (WoT). There, this set of late 1940s and 1950s designs wonderfully filled the high tiers of WoT’s French branches. However, Wargaming is a company known to often bend the limits of historicity, and sometimes outright break them and include entirely fake vehicles within the game. A recent example, though one which has not yet been made available to the playerbase, is the Lorraine 50t, a supposed heavy tank design that is one of several Wargaming fabrications present in high-tier French tanks.

A side view of the Lorraine 50t in World of Tanks. The turret appears particularly large and high for the Lorraine hull. Source: Rita Status Report
A Lorraine 40t prototype during trials in 1953, with an AMX-13 on a trailer and an AMX-50-120 in the background. Source: pinterest

Wargaming’s Lorraine 50t

The Lorraine 50t was added to Wargaming’s ‘supertest servers’ as a ‘Tier 9’ French heavy tank in early May 2020. The tank has not yet been made available to the playerbase, and is supposed to be a future ‘promotional’/’reward’ tank rather than one obtained through the game’s ‘premium shop’ or traditional ‘tech trees’.

Wargaming’s render for the Lorraine 50t. Source: Reddit

The vehicle can shortly be described as a combination of the up-armored hull of the Lorraine 40t medium tank with a T.C.B turret, as featured in WoT’s AMX M4 1951 and AMX M4 1954 (these vehicles, mounting the T.C.B turret on hulls which were never meant to receive it, can also be considered as fakes), though a couple of questionable changes were brought to it. According to the vehicle’s ‘stat card’, the resulting combination would culminate in a highly mobile 50 tonnes tank thanks to an engine boosted up from 850 to 980 hp. When analyzing the vehicle in more detail though, the illusion of this tank being a realistic design falls apart very quickly.

Thicker armor, same wheels

The hull of the Lorraine 50t is a modified version of the one featured on the Lorraine 40t, already present in the game as a tier 8 premium tank.

A front screenshot of the Lorraine 50t, showing the hull’s pike nose shape and the massive size of the T.C.B turret. Source: MMOWG.net

The overall shape of the hull is the same, with the vehicle having a front forming a moderate, pike nose shape. However, the armor thickness differs massively between the two vehicles. The Lorraine 40t was a light vehicle for its relatively considerable size, and as such, was only given thin armor protection, which was not meant to resist modern anti-armor weaponry. The front armor was only 40 mm thick. WoT’s Lorraine 50t ups this to a much thicker 155 mm on the two larger plates forming the pike nose, while the small central plate at the top, under which the driver’s seat is located, was increased to 105 mm, and the lower front plate to 120 mm. The sides and rear armor of the vehicle were also increased, though to a more moderate extent. They went from 30 to 60 mm for the sides, and from 25 to 40 mm for the rear. The roof of the vehicle was also thickened from 20 to 40 mm.

A side view of the Lorraine 50t’s hull. Its architecture and design follow the Lorraine 40t’s closely, with the same torsion bars and return rollers, wheels with pneumatic rims, rear-drive sprocket, and front idler. The radiator is different though, with outlet grills on the side of the vehicle and without the large cooling fans mounted on the engine deck. Source: armor.wotinspector.com

Such changes would likely very considerably impact the weight of the Lorraine 40t hull, as well as shift its center of gravity towards the front to a large extent due to the most significant armor increase being on the front glacis plates. These changes would likely have required the suspension to be reinforced to handle the weight (particularly as the turret would likely be much heavier than that of the original Lorraine 40t turret). However, the Lorraine 50t shown in-game uses the same suspension as the 40t, with no sign of modifications. This suspension is in some ways a rather peculiar design. Though it uses a classic torsion bars design, the wheels used actually have pneumatic rims instead of metallic ones, a feature brought to lighten them on the original vehicles. The capacity of these pneumatics to handle the much higher weight of the Lorraine 50t would be very questionable.

A rear view of the Lorraine 50t. The tank is depicted with another model of Maybach engine and lacks the large cooling fans typical of the Lorraine 40t. Source: wotexpress

Wargaming’s Lorraine 50t did, however, receive a new engine. The original Lorraine 40t featured the German Maybach HL235 12-cylinders engine producing 850 hp. In the 50t, this is replaced by the “HL234 P50”, claimed to produce 980 hp. Historically, the HL234 was an engine proposed for use in German late war designs but never put into production. It would have produced only 900 hp, and as such, Wargaming boosted the engine by 80 hp, likely to improve the mobility characteristics of their Lorraine 50t. The engine deck was redesigned to accommodate this new engine, and lacks the large cooling fans typical of the 40t.

A monster turret on a princess hull

On this Lorraine 40t-based hull, Wargaming decided to mount a turret much larger than the one which originally featured – the T.C.B 120 turret from the mid-1950s.

The original turret of the Lorraine 40t was the late 100 mm-armed AMX-50 turret. It was a fairly light oscillating design on which, as on the hull, thick armor had been sacrificed to make the turret reasonably lightweight – with armor protection of 45 to 55 mm on the front, going down to 30 mm on the sides and rear. Wargaming does give a fairly realistic estimate of the weight of this turret on the 40t at 7.5 tonnes.

The 50t replaces this turret with the massive T.C.B 120. This turret was one of several designed after requirements shifted from a 100 to a 120 mm-armed tank in 1951. The gun used was to be the D.1203, which was a license-produced version of the USA’s M58 featured on the M103 – a massive and extremely powerful gun (still the most powerful 120 mm gun ever featured on a production vehicle in terms of kinetic energy release). This would require an equally massive turret to be operated properly. Several different turrets mounted the gun. Only oscillating designs are known to have been manufactured, but two conventional turrets armed with the monstrous gun were designed. The T.C.B was designed by C.A.F.L (Compagnie des Ateliers et Forges de la Loire – Workshops and Forges of the Loire Company), previously known as Saint-Chamond/FAMH. The gun is depicted as having 40 rounds of ammunition by Wargaming.

A front view of the T.C.B in the schematics. The turret was quite wide, but even more so long. It was a massive turret, way oversized for the Lorraine hull. Source: French military archives
Profile view of the T.C.B turret. The turret would have had a fairly limited depression of -6° and elevation of +13°, linked to the massive breech of the 120 mm gun. Wargaming overestimates both in its depiction of the tank, raising the depression to -10° and the elevation to +15°. Source: French Military Archives

The T.C.B 120 was a massive turret, 8.79 m long from the front of the barrel to the rear of the bustle (though 6.34 m would consist of the gun). The turret itself had a large turret ring of 2.67 m, and it is questionable whether the 3.3 m-wide hull of the Lorraine 40t could reasonably feature such a large turret ring. When taking into account external elements, the turret would be up to 2.9 m wide. It had a basket going 0.9 m into the hull.

The turret would accommodate a crew of three; a gunner and a commander to the left of the gun, and a loader to the right.

From left to right: the T.C.B turret in schematics, the turret’s depiction on the Lorraine 50t, and on the AMX M4 1954. The Lorraine offers a more accurate depiction of the turret, though another set of schematics does show the infrared cupola of the AMX M4 1954 as also having been considered. Sources: French military archives, armor.wotinspector.com & tanks.gg

The turret is known from two different sets of plans from 1954, which do depict it with some differences when it comes to cupolas and externally-mounted equipment. In both cases, the turret featured a large telemeter as well as smoke grenades installed to the front, near the top of the hull. Wargaming has implemented the turret in two different fashions in the game, with minor differences being present between the T.C.B found on the M4 1951/M4 1954 and the Lorraine 50t. The M4 T.C.B features a large cupola to the rear right, with a dual infrared device. The presence of this cupola and device is corroborated by a set of plans of the T.C.B mounted on the AMX-50B hull. Otherwise, a hatch is present towards the middle left of the turret and features a pintle-mounted 12.7mm M2HB machine gun which would be operated by the commander. There is no gunner’s or loader’s hatch.

In comparison, the T.C.B featured on the Lorraine 50t eliminates the large rear cupola, which, in the game, would have functioned as a ‘weak spot’. A smaller hatch/cupola is featured to the rear left. As on the M4 T.C.B, it is armed, though not an M2HB, but an even heavier weapon. This was a German MG 151/20 20 mm autocannon, which was a fairly commonly used secondary weapon on AMX-50 project vehicles, though neither it nor the M2 were ever shown on a T.C.B blueprint. The design also features new hatches, with two hatches to the right of the gun and one to the left. In this regard, the Lorraine 50t is more accurate to the only top view of the T.C.B from French plans, though the rear hatch/cupola featuring the MG 151 is too much to the right on Wargaming’s design in comparison to the French plans. Wargaming’s version of the turret also overestimates the depression, which goes from -6° to -10°, and the elevation, which goes from +13 to +15°. The traverse speed of the turret, at 26.25 degrees per second, is also very generous.

The first (1953) AMX-50-120 prototype, featuring not only the same 120 mm gun as the Lorraine 50t, but also the same MG 151/20 secondary armament. Source: War thunder forums

In terms of armor layout, the T.C.B 120 turret mounted on the Lorraine 50t is presented as a particularly heavily armored turret. In reality, the known schematics of the T.C.B 120 did not feature any armor thickness, and it is unknown if one was ever decided on at any point. In WoT though, the Lorraine 50t’s turret features a 300 mm-thick turret face (in addition to a 170 mm-thick mantlet), which gradually reduces to 260, 220, 210, 190, 170, 140 and then 120 mm going rearward into the front sides, with the sides themselves being 80 mm thick. The rear-sides plates are presented as 70 mm thick, and the rear plate at 40 mm. The roof is 60 mm thick towards the front and 40 mm thick on the rest of the turret. The MG 151/20 cupola has an armor layout going from 140 to 80 mm frontally, but only 40 mm on the rear and 20 mm on the roof.

The illusion of a realistic tank design falls apart

The thickly-armored T.C.B Wargaming outfitted its Lorraine 50t with is an absolute monster of a turret. Not only is the T.C.B massive in size to begin with, but Wargaming gave it an extremely thick armor layout which would, without a shadow of a doubt, have given it a very high weight. According to the game’s estimations, this weight would be of 16,895 kg, more than nine tonnes more than the Lorraine 40t’s turret – realistically, it would have been even more.

This is where the discrepancy between the performances of the Lorraine 50t in WoT, and those such a vehicle would realistically have, come into full view. Wargaming’s 50t is claimed to weigh exactly 50t, with a maximum loadout of 53t. Taking 50t as the standard weight, and removing the 16,895 kg of the turret, the hull would weigh in at 33.05. Taking the standard Lorraine 40t, removing the 7,500 kg turret would leave a tank with a weight of 32.2 tonnes.

However, the hull of the Lorraine 50t is also massively up-armored from the 40t, as well as receiving a new, more powerful and likely heavier engine. Simply put, there is no way these massive modifications would have added only around 800 kg to the weight of the tank. Wargaming’s Lorraine 50t is built around a massively underestimated weight – and its mobility is positively impacted by this lighter weight, with the Lorraine heavy tank able to reach a maximum speed of 50 km/h and sporting a power-to-weight ratio of 19.60 hp/tonne. WoT also completely ignores the center of gravity of the vehicle. With not only a largely thickened frontal armor, but also a massive turret mounted towards the front of the vehicle, the Lorraine 50t would be incredibly front-loaded, and the suspension, of which the capacity to sustain the additional weight was already questionable to say the least, would be incredibly front-loaded. The quick hull traverse depicted in the game, at 31.29°/second, would also be highly unrealistic.

A view of the T.C.B on the hull it was actually intended for, the AMX-50B, dated from July 1954. This depiction of the turret shows some differences in comparison to the other one known, notably in terms of cupola. Source: Mémoire des hommes

Though there is no proper way to estimate the weight of a “realistic” Lorraine 50t, seeing as no known estimation of the weight of the T.C.B turret exists, if it was given this turret in the very heavily armored form present in WoT, as well as the additional front armor and new engine, the Lorraine 50t would realistically weigh much more than 50 or even 53t – and, in practice, at least 60 tonnes and probably even more. It would also be a much more sluggish design with a fragile suspension, and likely plagued by reliability issues and breakdowns, which are in no way represented in WoT.

Conclusions – If you make a forgery, make one that makes sense

The Lorraine 50t can be summed up as an incredibly unrealistic design, in which Wargaming combined a hull and a turret never meant to be together, and which could really never have been. The T.C.B turret, particularly in this heavily armored form, is simply too large and too heavy to be mounted on a Lorraine – particularly an up-armored one – without skyrocketing the weight of the vehicle and massively overloading the suspension.

However, the Lorraine 50t is but one of several fake tanks present within World of Tanks. The French Batignolles-Châtillons Bourrasque, EBR 105 and AMX M4 1954 are also fakes, and many configurations of real French vehicles are also fantasy to one degree or another – for example, the M4 1951, while based on a real design, was never intended to receive the T.C.B it was given in WoT. Forgery extends way beyond the French ‘tech tree’ though. The Conqueror Gun Carriage, Caervanon Action X, and FV215b from the British tree are also fake, as are most Chinese tank destroyers or high-tier Italian medium tanks fairly recently added to the game. And while the creation of fakes could at least be defended to an extent when it comes to filling a hole in a line that no real design could fill, the recent addition of fake vehicles as premium or reward vehicles show Wargaming has no hesitation to make some tank up and pass it off as real for a quick buck.

The Lorraine 50t heavy tank created by Wargaming, illustrated by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe and funded by our Patreon campaign

Lorraine 50t specifications

Weight 50 metric tonnes, maximum load 53 metric tonnes
Engine 980 hp HL235 P50
Power-to-weight ratio in hp/tonne 19.60
Top road speed 50 km/h
Reverse speed 15 km/h
Hull traverse 31.29 deg/s
Crew 4 (Driver, Gunner, Commander, Loader
Main armament 1 x 120mm D.1203 gun (40 rounds)
Elevation and depression +15 to -10° (+13 to -6 on real turret design)
Rate of fire 4.17 rounds per minute
Muzzle velocity 1,067 m/s
Secondary armament None within WoT’s mechanics: depicted with a MG 151/20 autocannon, likely would feature a coaxial 7.5 mm MAC 31 machine gun as well
Turret traverse speed 26.25 deg/s
Hull armor 155 mm (hull glacis), 105 mm (driver’s post), 120 mm (lower front plate), 60 mm (sides), 40 mm (rear & roof)
Turret armor 170 mm (mantlet), 300 mm (front), 290 to 120 mm (front sides), 80 mm (sides), 70 mm (rear sides), 60 mm (rear), 140 to 80 mm (cupola), 60 mm (front roof), 40 mm (rear roof), 20 mm (cupola roof)

Sources

Les véhicules blindés français 1945-1977, Pierre Touzin, éditions EPA, 1978
Char-français
French Military Archives at Châtellerault
Mémoire des hommes
Tank.gg
Rita status report

Categories
Cold War Uruguayan Armor

M24 Chaffee in Uruguayan service

Nation Flag IconUruguay (1957/58-2019)
Light tank – 17 purchased

Uruguay, like several other countries in South America, has been a traditional customer of US military hardware. In Uruguay’s case, this first example were 40 M3A1 Stuart light tanks delivered in 1944-1945. In the years following the Second World War and the Korean War, obsolete armored vehicles which were no longer deemed as required for the current situation of the US military were given as military aid to US allies, particularly in Latin America. It was in this context that Uruguay would receive 17 M24 Chaffee light tanks in 1957-1958, which would proceed to remain in service within the Uruguayan Army all the way to 2019, an impressive 61 years of service.

Three M24 are lined in front of a Grizzly APC during army exercises in 2015. Uruguay was the last country to retire the M24, as well as likely the user operating the type for the longest time, introducing the tank in 1957-1958. Source: facebook

The first armored vehicles of Uruguay

Uruguay is located on the east coast of South America, between the two largest countries of the continent, Argentina and Brazil. It has traditionally maintained cordial relations with both. At the same time, in the decades following the repression of the Blanco revolt in 1904, Uruguay managed to evolve into what was at the time one of the more democratic and stable nations of South America. Though this was interrupted at times, notably with a coup in 1934, Uruguay remained one of the more prosperous and peaceful nations of the continent. As such, the need for a large fleet of armored vehicles was somewhat wasted on the South American nation. The first armored vehicles of Uruguay were a small fleet of three Citroën P28 armored cars received in 1933-1934 used by the Guardia Metropolitana Uruguayana, a unit of the Uruguayan police located in Montevideo. For a decade, these would remain the only Uruguayan armored vehicles, before Uruguay’s involvement in the Second World War alongside much of Latin America, on the side of the United States, resulted in the small country receiving a fleet of 40 M3A1 Stuart light tanks in 1944-1945.

Uruguayan M3A1 Stuarts. The vehicles would only be phased out of service in October of 2001, which is already a fairly outstanding and long service for this American light tank. Source: facebook

These tanks would be the most modern armored vehicles of Uruguay in the following years. By the late 1950s, they were becoming fairly obsolete even by South American standards though. While the Stuart was still very commonly used by other South American armies, notably Brazil, somewhat more potent vehicles were also commonplace. Argentina, for example, operated a considerable fleet of Sherman tanks, including some Fireflies of British origin. At the same time, with the conclusion of the Korean War, WW2-dated American surplus armor was exceptionally cheap.

Introducing Chaffees

In 1957-1958, Uruguay purchased a complement of 17 M24 Chaffee light tanks from the United States military. Deliveries were completed on September 30th, 1958. This was part of the American Military Assistance Program (MAP), under which the US provided military equipment to aligned nations within the context of the Cold War. These tanks did not come from the mainland US but were instead delivered from US Army stocks in Korea. A considerable amount of spare parts were likely delivered along with these, as well as in the coming years. Along with the Chaffees, Uruguay received a Sherman-based M74 Armored Recovery Vehicle.

Introduced by the US military in the later stages of the Second World War, the M24 was a potent light tank fitted with a 75 mm M6 gun, which featured considerable firepower against infantry and, by WW2 standards, even other armored vehicles outside of heavy tanks and the heaviest medium tanks. The tank was mobile and fairly easy to maintain and incorporated an M2 Browning 12.7 mm/.50 cal machine gun on top of the turret (it was to be fired in an anti-aircraft role by a man standing on the engine deck) as well as two .30-06 M1919A4 machine guns, one coaxial and one in the hull, operated by the assistant driver, who also operated the radio. With a crew of five, incorporating a driver, assistant-driver, a commander, a gunner, and a loader, the tank featured an effective division of tasks. All of these made it a fairly attractive light tank for internal security purposes. Although the more modern M41 featured considerably superior anti-armor capacities, this was not particularly important in the context of a South American country neighboring other countries which mostly operated other WW2 American tanks, and maintained cordial relations with Uruguay.

The tanks were delivered to the Batallón de Infantería Nº 13 (ENG: 13th Infantry Battalion), founded in 1904. After receiving the M24s, the regiment was renamed to Batallón de Infantería Blindado Nº 13 (ENG: 13th Armored Infantry Battalion). They formed the Compañía Blindada de Tanques (Armored Tanks Company), formally created on 12 July 1958. Two tanks formed a command section while the remaining 15 were divided into three platoons of five.

An M24 in service of the Uruguayan army during the first years, likely in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The vehicle features the Uruguayan army roundel and retains a unicolor camouflage, likely the original US Olive Drab. Source: uruguaymilitaria.com
Another Uruguayan Chaffee during manoeuvers early in the vehicle’s service in Uruguay; the vehicle still bears the large cocard and unicolour camouflage scheme. Source: facebook

The tanks appear to first have been used in a unicolor camouflage, likely olive drab. They received Uruguayan army roundels, comprising a blue roundel in the center, circled by white and then further circled by blue, with a red bar going through the roundel diagonally. Later, likely in the 1960s, the tanks were given a four-color scheme, comprising green, yellow, brown and a dark brown bordering on black. They also retained the same roundel and featured the number of the tank, from 01 to 17. The vehicle’s registration number ran from E-3001 to E-3017.

At some point, likely in the 1960s, one of the tanks was also fitted with a dozer blade designed by Alférez Otto Gossweiler (Alférez being a junior military rank in the armies of several Spanish and Portuguese’-speaking militaries). This dozer blade was mounted on vehicle n°16, one of the two vehicles belonging to the command section, which makes sense as a vehicle given special tasks that could be required by any part of the battalion. This singular vehicle appears to have retained the dozer blade ever since.

The Uruguayan Army M24 dozer during a parade. Source: live war thunder

Uruguayan Army service

The first months of the M24’s service in the Uruguayan Army were marked by several instances of ceremonial use in foreign presidential visits to Uruguay, during which the M24 would perform a parade in the streets of Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, often in the company of the M3A1 Stuarts which were still retained in service by this point.

Uruguayan Army M24s during the April 1958 parade, their first public appearance in Uruguay. Source: uruguaymilitaria.com

The first of such instances was a parade on 7th April 1958, on the occasion of the visit of Argentinian President Arturo Frondizi. This was the first public appearance of the M24 in Uruguay, mere months or weeks after the vehicles were delivered. They performed a parade again during US President Dwight Eisenhower’s visit to Uruguay on 2nd to 3rd March 1960, alongside M3A1s.

Uruguayan Army M24s during the 1960 parade for the visit of US President Eisenhower. The tanks feature a numbering scheme seemingly not seen on other photos, in which their number is present in a white circle on the mudguard and lower turret side. Source: uruguaymilitaria.com

The 1960s were a decade of turmoil in Uruguay, with an economic crisis caused by struggling Uruguayan exports causing significant unrest and political uproar. This led to the rise of an armed revolutionary left-wing movement known as the Tupamaros or MLN-T (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaros, Tupamaros National Liberation Movement) which would progressively grow more violent. In 1968, the Uruguayan president, Jorge Pachero, declared a state of emergency that would see the military largely deployed in the streets. The following president, Juan María Bordaberry, would continue authoritarian policies and suspend civil liberties. In June 1973, he dissolved the Uruguayan congress and became a de facto dictator sponsored by the Uruguayan military.

During this time, the Tupamaros fought in an urban guerilla war against the Uruguayan military. The M24s were regularly employed in the streets as a show of force, being a very intimidating presence to potential insurgents. The dozer-blade-equipped tank, notably, would likely have proved effective in clearing out barricades. It has been theorized that the vehicle was fitted with this device during the era of struggle against the Tupamaros for this exact reason. By mid-1972, the Tupamaros had largely been defeated, killed, captured or forced into exile, as many other Uruguayans had been. The Uruguayan dictatorship would maintain itself all the way to 1985 however, engaging in repressive policies which, while often overshadowed by some employed by other regimes, such as Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, would see a large number of Uruguayans exiled, and many assassinations performed against political opponents, most of which actually took place outside of Uruguay’s borders. The M24s would continue to regularly be used for intimidation purposes during this era, though Uruguay would also purchase more modern tanks in 1982, buying 22 M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks from Belgium.

Late 1980s modernization

In 1984, elections were finally held, seeing Uruguay return to civilian rule from this point onward. Though amnesty for human rights abusers would be declared, Uruguay would move back towards being one of the more democratic and stable countries in South America in the next decades, which would culminate in a former Tupamaros, who had spent fifteen years in prison, José Mujica, being elected president in 2009.

At the same time as Uruguay was transitioning back to democracy, the M24s the country had now operated for about thirty years were becoming increasingly obsolete, and their engines, most significantly, worn out. The original M24’s twin Cadicall 44T24 engines, producing 220 hp, were simply worn out by more than 30 years of active military service of the M24s.

Therefore, it was decided to switch the powerplant of the tanks. For this purpose, the Brazilian company Bernardini was contracted. Some sources refer to this modernization as having occurred in 1983, while some others mention 1987. The M24s were refitted with the Saab-Scania DN11 220-230 hp engine, a Swedish industrial truck engine manufactured in Brazil. A turbocharged version of the same engine family, the DS11, was notably fitted in the Brazilian X1 series of light tanks. This was a commercially available engine for which parts could be very easily sourced. It was coupled with a GAV 762 automatic gearbox.

This amazing rear view of the M24s, with a rainbow in the backgrounds, gives a good view onto the vehicle’s engine decks, largely remodeled to accommodate the Scania engine, with the two large cooling fans being notable Source: facebook
Two M24s, one firing its gun, during exercises in 2016. The top view gives another good angle on the cooling fans. Source: facebook
This photo of an M24 Chaffee and a BMP-1 in an Uruguayan training facility gives a nice view of the Chaffee’s new engine deck. Source: bmpvsu.ru
Aerial footage of Uruguayan M24 and BVP-1s during the 111th anniversary of Batallón de Infantería Blindado Nº 13 in November 2015, giving a good view of the new engine deck of the Chaffees. Source: youtube

Other modernizations performed around the same time, though not necessarily by the Brazilian company, included refitting the M24 with modern radio equipment, fitting an ammunition-ready rack in the turret, and reboring the M1919A4 machine guns to fire 7.62×51 mm NATO ammunition. The position of the M2 Browning was also changed, with it now put further forward on the turret. Now, it could be operated by the commander reaching out of his cupola, rather than by a man standing on the engine deck. Some sources refer to the upgraded M24 as M24UR, with UR standing for Uruguayano Repotenciado (ENG: Uruguayan Repowered). However, it is unknown if there was anything official about this designation, or if it is colloquial.

An M24 during exercises in 2015. The vehicles have, since the refit, sometimes appeared with a sort of makeshift gun “travel lock” which appears to mostly consist of cords. Source: facebook

Since the modernization

At some point following their modernization, the M24s were given a new camouflage scheme, resembling the American woodland scheme, with a dark brown/black, a lighter brown, and a dark green color. The roundel was removed. In some photos, the number of the vehicle is retained in a dark color on the turret side, while on some others, no vehicle number is to be found.

An M24 during exercises, seemingly in 2017. This vehicle features the number in dark letters on the turret sides. Source: facebook
Uruguayan Army servicemen stand in front of M24s with camouflage nets in 2017. Source: facebook
Uruguayan M24s and crews during a military review, likely 1990s or early 2000s. Source: facebook

The 1990s saw the 13th Armored Infantry Battalion, in which the M24 were operated, receive a fleet of fifteen BVP-1s purchased from the Czech Republic. 10 were delivered in 1996, with a further five in 1998, and three vehicles for spare parts in 1999. These more modern infantry fighting vehicles would be operated alongside the M24s within the battalion’s fleet during the coming decades. Other purchases from the 1990s include, for example, Tiran-5Sh main battle tanks and 2S1 self-propelled artillery pieces.

Crewmen srand for a review; one can observe the BVP-1s behind the Chaffees in the background, an original mix of American 1940s and Soviet 1960s vehicle operated by Batallón de Infantería Blindado Nº 13 in the 90s, 2000s, and 2010s. Source: bmpvsu.ru



Uruguayan Army training alongside a Bell UH-1 helicopter in 2013. Source: facebook
Uruguayan service men stand in front of a BVP-1 and an M24 Chaffee during exercises in June 2014. Source: bmpvsu.ru

A video of the ceremony of the 111th anniversary of Batallón de Infantería Blindado Nº 13, including some drone footage.

An Uruguayan M24 operates alongside Cougars, circa 2018. Source: facebook
Uruguayan army personnel performing welding for repairs of an M24’s part during some of the last days of the Uruguayan Chaffees in service, in early November 2018. Source: facebook

Some rumors stated that the M24 were retired around 2012 or 2013, but this is nothing more than a misconception. The process of retiring the M24’s started as early as the 4th of June 2011, when it was announced that Brazil would donate 25 M41C’s to Uruguay. These M41C’s were at this point already withdrawn from Brazilian service and served as parade tanks or were delivered at maintenance bases until they were decommissioned. Brazil initially offered 29 M41C’s, but 25 would be selected in the end by Uruguay. It was decided somewhere before the 24th of April 2012, that the M41C’s would be sent to the 13th Armored Infantry Battalion, effectively announcing the imminent retirement of the M24.

From this moment on, the donation process would take another 6 years until it was finally completed. The United States had to give permission for the donation, which it gave on the 20th of May 2014. During these six years, the crews and the 13th Armored Infantry Battalion started training and reorganizing in preparation for the arrival of the M41C, partially by training on the M41A1UR. The first M41C was finally delivered on the 12th of December 2018, receiving a total of 15 that day, and the final M41C was delivered on the 14th of December. The 13th Armored Infantry Battalion announced the retirement of the M24UR from their combat unit on December 18th, 2018. It was officially retired on the 18th of July 2019, marking the official end of the M24’s 61- 62 years of service with the Uruguayan Army and the 13th Armored Infantry Battalion.

Uruguayan M41Cs in November 2019; a BVP-1, but also an M24, are visible in the background. Source: facebook

It appears that, however, three were retained for ceremonial uses, in order to, for example, lead the battalion’s vehicles in parades. As for other M24s, it is likely many will become gate guardians at various Uruguayan Army bases, as a number of previous Uruguayan armored vehicles already have. A photo dated from March 2021 indeed shows two M24s in the background some sort of exams undertaken for their former battalion under a tent. Uruguay is notably keen on preserving armored vehicles, with even one of their three P28s still in existence. If any others are left, it is likely they would provoke some considerable interest from museums and collectors around the world.

Personnel of Batallón de Infantería Blindado Nº 13 take exams in March of 2021. Two M24s are visible in the background. Source: facebook

Conclusion – The last M24s in the world

By the time they were retired, in 2018, Uruguay’s M24 Chaffees were the last tanks of the type in use in the world. Though retaining WW2 tanks for a particularly long time is not uncommon in South America – Paraguay still counts Shermans and Stuarts in its inventory – the Uruguayan Chaffees are notable in the sense that they have remained operational for a truly extended period of time without any major breaks, and indeed within the same unit. Indeed, operating in the same unit for 60 years, the 13th Armored Infantry Battalion’s M24 Chaffees are a serious contender for the longest continuously serving armored vehicles with one unit.

Camouflaged M24 Chaffees parked in front of a sunset during the 2016 exercises. Though they would soon go out of active service, the fact these tanks even served for so long – and appeared to remain operational through the decades – is a testimony to the quality of Uruguayan crews and mechanics operating the tanks. Source: facebook

While the vehicles are no longer operational in Uruguay, it appears they will continue to feature in years to come for ceremonial and decorative use – a well deserved honor after seeing generations of tankmen in the same light tank.

An Uruguayan M24 in the late 1950s, in Olive Drab camouflage, sporting the Uruguayan army roundel and the rear-mounted .50cal machine-gun
The dozer-equipped M24 after having been through the modernization, fitted with a new engine and with the .50cal machine-gun now brought to the front of the turret so it can be used by the commander from the opened hatch.
The same M24 dozer in the later, “woodlands-style” camouflage adopted by the Uruguayan military.
A standard M24UR with the new camouflage type and stowage on the turret sides
An M24 with camouflage nets. All illustrations created by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Sources

Hermanos en armas en la paz y en la guerra on Facebook
Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y de Paraguay, Ricardo Sigal Fogliani, Ayer y hoy editions
Infodefensa:
https://www.infodefensa.com/latam/2018/07/26/noticia-brasil-avanza-donacion-blindados-uruguay.html
https://www.infodefensa.com/latam/2018/07/18/noticia-uruguay-parque-transporte-capacidad-combate.html

Categories
Cold War North Korean Armor Modern North Korean Armor

M1985 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun

Nation Flag IconNorth Korea (1980s-today)
Self-Propelled anti-aircraft gun – Unknown numbers (mass-produced)

Ever since the creation of the Korean People’s Army as the standing force of the North Korean state in 1948, the army had to deal with the threat of a US-supported South. The Republic of Korea, or South Korea, would typically benefit from air superiority due to the large involvement of the US Air Force on their side. As early as the pre-1950 build-up, some primitive self-propelled anti-aircraft guns could be found in the form of GAZ-AAs trucks armed with 12.7 mm machine guns.

The rise of indigenous North Korean self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery would mostly start in the 1970s though. During this time, due to a large build-up of North Korea’s military industry that was started by the local production or assembly of T-55s and PT-76s, North Korea was starting to diversify its production. It introduced a number of indigenous designs based on whatever Soviet or Chinese technology was available. Though a first self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was found in the form of the M1978, made on the hull of the Tokchon series of self-propelled artillery pieces and mounting two 37 mm Type 65 autocannons of Chinese origins, this was only a fairly primitive vehicle. Somewhat more advanced vehicles would be manufactured in the coming years – the M1985 being the first of a series of vehicles based on the hull of the Soviet ZSU-23-4 Shilka.

North Korea and the ZSUs: a complex and misunderstood relationship

The operation of the Soviet Union’s self-propelled anti-aircraft guns by North Korea – both the ZSU-57-2 and the ZSU-23-4 – is an often misunderstood subject. North Korea does not actually appear to have operated any of the two types in massive numbers. There is no tangible evidence of North Korea having even operated the ZSU-57-2 at all. Though a rumor states North Korea received 250 ZSU-57-2 turrets, which it mounted on Chinese Type 59 hulls, there have never been any solid sources backing such a claim up, nor photographic evidence, and this is likely a myth. The ZSU-57-2 was certainly known by North Korean engineers, and it appears to have inspired the M1985 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns in some ways, but it may have never set track on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is, however, known to have received a small number of ZSU-23-4 Shilkas from the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. There exists some very limited photographic evidence of these Shilkas, and only a small number were likely received. They did, however, have a deep influence on the development of North Korea’s own self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.

North Korean officials in front of two self-propeleld anti-aircraft gun; to the left a 30 mm-armed M1989, and to the right one of the rare North Korean ZSU-23-4s Shilkas. Source: THE ARMED FORCES OF NORTH KOREA, On The Path Of Songun

The M1985: ZSU-57-2’s guns on a Shilka’s legs.

As the name it was given by the US Department of Defence implies, the M1985 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was first observed in 1985. The actual date of its origin is unknown. We know that a prototype of the more advanced M1989 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was spotted as early as 1983, and the M1985 likely predates this more advanced system. It may even have been part of the several vehicle models introduced in the late 1970s/early 80s alongside the M1981 Shin’Heung and the Chonma-Ho. The M1985, using mostly off-the-shelf parts from Soviet designs, likely did not have a particularly long development cycle.

The vehicle could be very shortly described as mounting the ZSU-57-2’s armament of two S-68A 57 mm autocannons on a chassis copied from the GMZ-575 found on the ZSU-23-4.

North Korea’s version of the GMZ-575 chassis

The hull of the M1985 appears to be a visually almost identical copy of the ZSU-23-4’s GMZ-575 tracked chassis. Only a few differences may be seen. The North Korean model appears to have different side stowage, with four stowage hatches to be found instead of three on the Shilka. The glacis may be angled a few degrees further back. The M1985 also lacks the three towing hooks found on the ZSU-23-4’s lower front plate. The M1985 also appears to use different tracks, with a central pin and two side pads.

Another view of M1985 in the same 2012 parade as earlier. The hull is very similar, but not exactly identical, to the PT-76-based GMZ-575. Source: m.blog.naver

There is no way to know if the North Korean version of the GMZ-575 retains the propulsive elements of the Shilka or instead moved to use another engine. The GMZ-575 chassis was originally based on the PT-76 light tank, which North Korea is thought to have assembled at the Sinhung tank plant in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Therefore, it is likely that the chassis was relatively easy to start to manufacture. North Korea operates a number of other vehicles in a similar weight range, notably the variety of vehicles based on the 323 armored personnel carrier and the M1981 light tank. It is not impossible to think the North Koreans may have tried to introduce some part commonality between their fleet, but this is pretty much just conjecture.

If the North Korean version is believed to have similar capacities to the original GMZ-575, it likely means the M1985 should be able to reach a maximum speed of about 50 km/h, and overall be somewhat less mobile than main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles due to a lower power-to-weight ratio.

Firepower: A ZSU-57-2 that cannot aim its gun low enough

On this GMZ-575-based hull, the North Korean mounted what appears to be essentially a new, but quite simple turret. It has a very simple rectangular shape when looked at from the side, but there are two slightly angled front-sides plates. The turret sides appear separated into a lower and upper section; the upper one may perhaps be folded down in some way, though the use of such a feature is somewhat questionable. The armor protection of the turret, as the hull, is likely very low – probably only able to resist rifle-caliber projectiles at most.

A row of three M1985s on Kim-Il Sung square during a parade. The simple shape of the turret, but also its division between a lower and upper section, may be seen here. Source: reddit

The turret is open-topped, and features as its main armament a local version of the dual 57 mm S-68A gun system found on the ZSU-57-2. Whether or not any significant modifications were applied to these guns is unknown. If they were kept identical to the original Soviet guns, the system could fire up to 240 rounds a minute. This rate of fire is hampered by the use of hand-fed five-round clips, requiring very frequent reloads. The shells in themselves are very powerful for an anti-aircraft gun. The projectiles weigh 2.8 kg and contain a 1.2 kg charge of nitrocellulose powder for the High Explosive shells, while the Armor Piercing shells offer some very decent penetration capacities of up to 110 mm or armor at 500 m – enough to deal with the vast majority of armored vehicles lighter than main battle tanks. These guns offer a strong recoil, which may be felt more strongly on the lighter GMZ-575-based hull than on the original ZSU-57-2. As on the ZSU-57-2, the operation of these guns is likely managed by four men, a gunner, two loaders and a sight adjuster. This would increase to five if the commander is included.

While powerful in theory, the operation of these guns is very much primitive even by the standards of the 1980s, let alone modern ones. With only optical sights, they are woefully outdated against modern planes, and while they may be effective against helicopters, those may typically identify the target, process it and send a missile on the way of an M1985 way before it can accurately estimate the range and start to fire. Against armored vehicles, the M1985 once again faces an issue, though a much simpler one. Simply put, the turret found on the M1985 does not appear to allow for anything but positive elevation. When looking at the turret, it does not appear the guns have enough space to target anything below their level. In other words, they would be unable to find an angle to fire against ground targets in the vast majority of scenarios. This appears to be a massive oversight. Considering whatever little views we have of the M1985, perhaps a way the vehicle could target ground targets – for example by lowering the turret’s side panels – may exist. It has, however, never been seen. The guns also feature a travel lock going up from the front of the hull.

Crewmen of an M1985 saluting from the open turret during a parade, with a flag of the Korean Worker’s Party in the forefront. Source: m.blog.naver

Operation by the Korean People’s Army

The M1985 has been in service of the Korean People’s Army at least since the early 1980s, but, as almost systematically with North Korean armor, details of its service use are pretty much non-existent. In comparison to previous types, such as the M1978 Tokchon-based self-propelled anti-aircraft gun or the M1983/M1984, which appear to be little more than a ZPU-4 quadruple 14.5 mm machine gun mounted on a 323 hull, the M1985 brings somewhat of an improvement, as a more mature self-propelled anti-aircraft design. However, this does not prevent it from being entirely obsolete in the era it was fielded in. Mounting an armament designed for an era in which it would face early jet fighters and primitive helicopters, it would be fielded at a point in which jet fighters could fly well past Mach 2, and helicopters, such as later versions of the AH-1 Cobra, or soon the new AH-64 Apache, with advanced targeting systems, could likely make short work of a self-propelled anti-aircraft guns that has nothing but optical sights and old, powerful but low rate-of-fire guns.

The production numbers of the M1985 are unknown. The vehicle was spotted in a number of North Korean parades, including some recent ones, but the introduction of the much more advanced M1989 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, which seemingly uses the same chassis as the M1985 but features two radar-guided 30 mm guns, may mean that the M1985 only had a fairly short-lived production run. Nonetheless, the type remains in North Korean service today. The country has a policy of retaining armored vehicles in service way past the point of obsolescence (largely to outfit the very large army it maintains to defend itself, which could not be provided with enough material if only modern weaponry was retained) so it is not surprising to find a system with capacities similar to another one, which had its prime in the late 1950s, still be in main line service today.

Rows of M1985 with their guns elevated on parade. Though, in this way, the vehicle looks impressive, it is hopelessly outdated for modern warfare. Source: m.blog.naver

Conclusion – A stepping stone to more advanced self-propelled anti-aircraft gun designs

The M1985 could hardly be considered a decent self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. With an obsolete weapon system – by the late 1970s or early 1980s, while North Korea was introducing the M1985, Eastern Bloc countries were phasing out the ZSU-57-2 almost entirely – and no form of modern fire control, its firepower against air targets is very limited. Also, with seemingly no way of operating decently against ground targets either, the vehicle may have some very limited use overall.

Nonetheless, it remains an important stepping stone in North Korea’s path towards producing a modern self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. With the M1985, North Korea introduced its own version of the GMZ-575 chassis, which would then be used for the M1989 – mating this chassis with a Shilka-inspired turret armed with twin 30 mm guns based on the naval AK-230, with a targeting radar. An even more advanced vehicle featuring the same hull was mentioned, but with a turret armed with a 30 mm rotary cannon, once again based on a naval gun (the AK-630), as well as side-mounted man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), with both a long-range target acquisition and short-range tracking radar. No photos of this seemingly quite advanced vehicle, designated M1994 by the US Department of Defence, appear to be publicly available.

A close view of an M1989, likely from the same 2012 parade as earlier photos. The vehicle uses the same hull as the M1985, but its turret mounts an armament much more suited to fight against modern anti-air threats. Source: m.blog.naver
Illustration of the M1985, created by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet and funded by our Patreon campaign

M1985 specifications

Suspension Torsion bars
Maximum speed (road) ~ 50 km/h
Crew Likely 6 (driver, commander, gunner, two loaders, sight adjustor)
Armament Locally-manufactured version of the 57mm S-68A
Rate of fire 240 rounds per minute maximum
Armor Very light (likely no more than the ZSU-23-4, aka 15mm maximum)

Sources

THE ARMED FORCES OF NORTH KOREA, On The Path Of Songun, Stijn Mitzer, Joost Oliemans
Oryx Blog – North Korean vehicles
Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns of the Soviet Union, Mike Guardia, Osprey Publishing

Categories
Uncategorized

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Modern Armor