Categories
Cold War Chinese Prototypes

WZ-141 Super Light Model Anti-Tank Fighting Vehicle

People’s Republic of China (1975)
Light Airborne Tank Destroyer – 2 Built

This article has been written by the author of Sino Records. Check out his website for more information on Chinese vehicles.

The WZ-141 was a light airborne tank destroyer project undertaken by the People’s Republic of China in the later years of the Cold War. Anti-Soviet sentiment was strong in China in the late 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet Split and the Cultural Revolution. By 1970, tensions had reached an all-time high between the two Communist leviathans. The Zhenbao Island Border Incident of 1969 had resulted in the clash between the two forces and had both sides preparing to go to war with each other. The Chinese had earlier issued the “three strikes, three defenses” (三打三防) doctrine, which entailed emphasis on counter-attacking against Soviet armor, aircraft, and paratroopers while also emphasizing defense against nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons.

In light of a possible Soviet invasion from the “three norths” (Manchuria, Mongolia, and Xinjiang) – and the tensions caused by the Zhenbao Island Incident – the doctrine was revisited. The Chinese military command had also begun planning strategies on how to counter Soviet forces in conventional warfare and in guerilla warfare. One strategy which the Chinese planned to employ was to cut the invading Soviet force in half using airborne troops, in order to separate the front line units and allow friendly units to destroy them. In order to achieve this, an extensive study of foreign airborne forces was conducted. Substantial work had to be done to improve China’s airborne forces to form what the Chinese called an “armored light cavalry” (铁甲轻骑兵).

The first WZ-141 prototype, showing the two Type 75 recoilless rifles and HJ-73 ATGMs on either side of the turret. (坦克装甲车辆)

Development History

Between 11th and 23rd April 1975, the Symposium on the Development of Equipment for the Armored Forces (装甲兵装备发展座谈会) was held in Nanjing and discussed the future equipment which would be developed for China’s armored forces. It was believed by Chinese military experts that the Soviets would likely employ a large wave of tanks in the initial attack and sweep through China in a style reminiscent of that of the German Blitzkrieg and of the Soviet tactics used at the end of the Second World War against the Germans. As such, it was deemed important to focus on building up a Chinese fleet of lightly armored, fast-moving tanks, as well as to establish a reliable airborne armored force. The airborne armored forces would be dropped behind the Soviet front line and focus on the destruction of armored vehicles and infantry transports to disorient, weaken, and hamper the advancement of Soviet forces by disrupting their supply and communications lines as well as direct combat with Soviet troops. Mobile anti-tank-guided-missile (ATGM) carriers would be important in carrying out the attack. This was further discussed in October of the same year, in a meeting held by the Central Military Military Equipment Commission in Beijing. Four design characteristics were outlined in these talks for the design of a tank which would be used in the future for China’s airborne armored force.

  1. The tank had to be designed with an emphasis on compact size, high mobility, and top-speed. This would ensure that these tanks would be able to maneuver through swamps, forests, and otherwise rough terrain of the “three norths”.
  2. The tank had to be designed with strategic mobility in mind so that it could be transported using regular military trucks and be air liftable using China’s transport planes. (Which had consisted of Soviet-built Antonov An-12 capable of carrying 22,000 kg [44,100 lb] of payload)
  3. The tank had to have considerable anti-tank qualities capable of at least taking out Soviet medium tanks (such as the T-55 and T-62). It also had to be able to withstand machine-gun fire and shrapnel.
  4. The tank’s design had to be versatile so that the chassis could be easily repurposed for other variants (ie. anti-aircraft, self-propelled artillery, ambulance, reconnaissance, command vehicle etc.). This would ensure that the tank’s chassis would be able to fulfill any role required with the units it served in, easing maintenance and logistical problems. If necessary, it would also be capable of functioning in a regular land-based unit. Furthermore, the type would be able to be issued to infantry, artillery, or marine units to serve as an anti-tank vehicle.
A Chinese Antonov An-12 in the livery of the CAAC Airlines. The WZ-141 prototypes were loaded onto a similar aircraft to this. (中国飞机全书: 第二卷)

Once these talks were finalized, a team of designers was established at the Research Institute of Armored Forces (装甲兵某研究所) in Northern China on 8th January 1976 to investigate the feasibility of such an ambitious tank design. They would be responsible for the design, production, and trialing of the tank prototype. The tank project was assigned the designation of ‘WZ-141 Super Light Model Anti-Tank Fighting Vehicle’ (WZ-141超轻型反坦克战车). On 14th May, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, Artillery Corps, and Airborne Corp jointly issued a request to the Central Military Commission asking for evaluation and research into airborne tank designs. An official reply was given on 18th September, requesting the production of one or two trial vehicles which would undergo mandatory testing, and all future decisions would be made based on these test results. Between October 1976 and December 1977, the design work for the WZ-141 was completed, and a prototype vehicle was produced.

Design of the First Prototype

The resulting vehicle had a conventional chassis design of all-welded aluminum alloy plate construction and relied on sloped plates for its protection. The driver was located on the front left side of the chassis (facing forward), while the engine compartment was to the right. The driver had at his disposal three fixed periscopes mounted on a raised section at the front of the vehicle, with a hatch above them. Behind the driver was the commander’s compartment, although he does not seem to have had any sort of observation devices at his disposal. This was followed by the turret where the gunner was located. The chassis shape vaguely resembled that of the British FV100 CVR(T) Series, or the German Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), with a steep slope for the upper glacis and an almost flat lower hull front. A large access hatch with an air intake was present at the front on the right side in order to allow access to the engine and transmission. Segmented side skirts covered the top of the tracks. Two large headlights were present on top of these at the front, with stowage boxes covering the rest of the top of the side skirts.

The design featured five double road wheels and two return rollers on either side of the chassis. The road wheels were fitted with rubber tires in order to lower noise on the move. The drive sprockets were at the front, while the idlers were at the rear. The tracks were quite narrow given the vehicle’s intended off-road mobility but might have been sufficient given the vehicle’s very low weight. They had rubber pads fitted in order to reduce damage to paved roads. It is unclear what type of suspension the vehicle had. Four large cylinders are seen in one of the photos connected to the road wheels, but it is not clear if these are the suspension springs or shock absorbers. The WZ-141 was powered by an indigenous TZ2120A rotary gasoline engine built by the Tianjin Motor Factory, capable of producing 176 hp / 132 kW. This gave the vehicle a very large power-to-weight ratio of more than 28 hp/tonne. The transmission was also at the front, connected to the drive sprockets.

The prototype had a flat turret situated at the rear of the vehicle, armed with two Type 75 105 mm (4.1 in.) recoilless rifles (Chinese production of the American M40 recoilless rifle) mounted on each side of the vehicle. A total of eighteen rounds were provided, nine for each gun. It would have likely carried high-explosive-anti-tank (HEAT) and high-explosive (HE) shells. Penetration would vary depending on which shell they used. In addition, the gun would have had a maximum range of 8 km (4.97 mi.) depending on which projectile was used. They were supplemented by a Type 77 12.7 mm (.50 caliber) heavy machine-gun mounted on top of the turret in an anti-aircraft mount. However, based on its position, it could not be fired by the gunner and necessitated another person sitting on the rear of the vehicle to fire it. The initial armament for the first prototype seems to have consisted not only of Type 75 recoilless rifles and Type 77 machine-gun but also of two HJ-73 (Chinese production of the Soviet 9M14 Malyutka) ATGM rails later installed on top of each barrel. As such, the first prototype gained ATGM capabilities. An HJ-73 missile was mounted on each rail, with two additional ATGMs stored inside the vehicle. The HJ-73 had a penetration of around 500 mm (19.69 in) and an effective range of 3 km (1.9 mi.). It is unclear what kind of devices he had at his disposal to aim the weapon systems, but between firing and reloading the guns and missiles, the gunner was certainly overworked. Furthermore, a smoke grenade launcher was also installed on each side of the turret.

What appears to be the initial armament setup for the WZ-141. Two Type 75 recoilless rifles and a Norinco Type 77 heavy machine gun. Note the absence of ATGM rails. (CCTV 7: 军事,农业)
A Chinese-made HJ-73 anti-tank-guided-missile. This type would have been used on the WZ-141. (环球防务)

Through preliminary testing, the prototype was deemed to have met all the basic design requirements, although there were criticisms that the tank had insufficient protection. The tank’s frontal armor was able to withstand armor-piercing 7.62 mm (.30 caliber) rounds from a distance of more than 100 m, while the rest of the tank could only withstand light shrapnel fragments. This completely inadequate protection was in order to save weight. Furthermore, the tank was incapable of floating on water. Due to the chassis’ center of gravity, the vehicle leaned to the right and would switch to the left (where the driver’s compartment was) while driving. Lastly, the prototype had issues with high oil temperatures.

In accordance with the test results, work on an improved design was ordered and sought to amend all of the aforementioned issues. Meanwhile, the prototype was kept for further studies. Between 22nd and 31st July, live-fire tests were conducted, which aimed to test the effectiveness of the Type 75 recoilless rifle. It was determined that the recoilless gun performed well in terms of accuracy and firepower, but also had a series of issues limiting its effectiveness.

  1. The velocity of the Type 75’s projectiles were quite slow compared to conventional weaponry, which is to be expected with a recoilless rifle.
  2. The operation and handling of the Type 75 were inconvenient for the gunner.
  3. The noise of the Type 75 when firing could be excessive, especially when the gunner did not close the loading hatch. It could damage the hearing of the crew.
  4. The lack of an auto-loader hampered the Type 75’s rate of fire.
  5. The Type 75 needed a clearance of fifty to one hundred meters behind the tank in order to avoid damaging equipment or injuring people as a result of the weapon’s backblast.
  6. The powerful backblast (which would result in flames sometimes) made the tank’s position obvious, giving away its strategic value.
  7. The Type 75 had a limited firing range compared to conventional cannons. Again, this was to be expected for a recoilless rifle.

Following the live-fire trials, the prototype’s mobility was also further tested. Between late September to November, the prototype had undergone a one thousand kilometer drive which tested the tank’s cooling, engine, and suspension system. The test results were mostly satisfactory, but the WZ2120A engine was deemed poor in terms of reliability, functionality, and had high gasoline usage. The criticisms and issues which surfaced from the firing and mobility tests were forwarded to the design team and work had continued on improving the WZ-141’s design.

The Second Prototype

The second prototype was completed on 29th December 1978 and featured several improvements over the initial design. Unlike the first prototype, the second prototype’s turret was more angled and had the two Type 75 recoilless rifles mounted in tandem on the right side of the turret. While this had the advantage of making aiming slightly easier because the guns were closer to each other, this imbalance also meant that the turret was not well balanced. The two HJ-73 rails were mounted on top of each of the recoilless guns’ barrels. The turret was capable of providing 12° of elevation and 5° of depression. Furthermore, the initial Type 77 12.7 mm heavy machine-gun was also removed in favor of a smaller Type 56 7.62mm machine-gun with 3,000 rounds.

The second prototype also had the unreliable WZ2120A engine replaced by a slightly larger and heavier West German Deutz F6L413F air-cooled diesel vee engine. The F6L413F was much more reliable and had addressed all the issues with the original Chinese-made engine. Through testing, the second prototype was able to reach a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) with this engine. In addition, it also had the advantage of being air-cooled. The suspension was also altered, with the nearly-vertical cylinders from the first prototype being angled forward. It also appears that the track return was lower than on the first prototype.

A newly developed CWT-167 radio was installed in the tank. Most importantly, the second prototype had a modern hydropneumatic suspension system implemented allowing the tank to raise and lower its suspension from 170 mm to 400 mm (6.70 in. to 15.75 in.) The benefit of this suspension system was that it was able to adjust its height to suit the terrain type, as well as being able to increase or decrease its gun elevation and depression angles, allowing the tank to fire over a ridge without exposing its hull.

Other modifications are also apparent on the prototype, such as the alteration of the front shape, with the upper glacis being steeper and higher than on the first prototype. The large engine access hatch was removed and replaced with a smaller one. A large mushroom-shaped air access port was also added on the front slope. The side skirts and stowage bins were also modified.

The second prototype was tested and, though deemed an improvement over the first prototype, there were still some issues that would limit the tank’s combat effectiveness. For example, the second prototype still had a slow reload (12 seconds on average to load a shell), a tendency to throw the tracks, and very thin armor.

The second WZ-141 prototype with a redesigned turret. (坦克装甲车辆)

Fate

After Chairman Mao Zedong’s death earlier in 1976, China sought to reform its economy and politics to reverse the damage caused by the Cultural Revolution. By the mid-1980s, China’s supreme leader Deng Xiaoping had initiated an economic reform. Military spending was drastically reduced as a result of the reforms. On August 13th, 1979, it was determined by the Central Committee that, due to limited funding of the WZ-141 project as a result of the Chinese economic reform, the WZ-141 would not be included in the National “Six-Five” Weaponry Technological Research Projects roster. This meant that the WZ-141 project was no longer a priority and was unofficially “canceled”. Despite this, work continued on the WZ-141. Between 17th October and 28th November, the second prototype was issued to an active airborne unit where it participated in a military exercise held in Henan province. Following the conclusion of said exercise, the second prototype was transported to an unspecified air force base in Henan, where, under the supervision of the design team and a research team assembled by the Airborne Corps, it underwent testing for loading onto air transports. The second prototype was loaded onto a Soviet-built Antonov An-12 turboprop transport. No aerial or drop tests were conducted, seemingly due to low funding. It is worth mentioning that the Chinese Ministry of Defence’s website mentions that the first prototype was also sent to Henan for load testing.

A close-up shot of the second WZ-141 prototype. The first prototype is visible in the background on the upper left. (坦克装甲车辆)

Development of the WZ-141 had stagnated from the lack of funding and priority. According to an article republished on the Chinese Ministry of Defence’s website, the WZ-141’s development was officially ordered to cease in 1985, halting China’s indigenous airborne tank development. But the time that the Third Taiwanese Strait Crisis erupted in 1995, tensions between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China heightened. As a result of this, China began looking into airborne armored technology again, in case a military conflict would occur. Instead of reviving the now-20-year-old WZ-141 project, the People’s Republic of China instead chose to purchase BMD-3 IFVs from the Russian Federation and pursue new airborne tank designs based off of this newly acquired Russian technology. The resulting design was the WZ506, also known as the ZBD-03 or Type 03, adopted for service in 2003.

Both of the WZ-141 prototypes were retired soon after and apparently sent to scrapyards. The first prototype was seen in a scrapyard in 2007 in a dilapidated state, having browned from age. The second prototype, however, appears to have been preserved at a museum. Unlike the first prototype, the second prototype is in relatively good condition, with a standard Chinese three-tone (sand, green, black) camouflage applied. What is most interesting, however, is the heavily angled octagonal turret present in place of the original. It appears to have housed a 25 mm (.98 in. ) or 30 mm (1.18 in.) cannon with the ATGM rails on either side of the turret. Unfortunately, little information exists on the context of this turret. There could be two possibilities for explaining this. First, the turret could have been designed between 1980 and 1985, prior to the WZ-141’s cancellation in an attempt to revitalize the military’s interest and gain more funding for the project. Second, it could possibly be a prototype ZBD-03 turret developed and tested on the second WZ-141’s chassis as the turret shares some similarities with the standard production ZBD-03 turrets. However, these are speculations with no concrete evidence to substantiate them.

The second WZ-141 prototype with the new turret design. (fyjs.cn)
A frontal view of the dilapidated first prototype showing a closeup of the turret. (坦克装甲车辆)

Conclusion

The WZ-141, although showing promise as an effective airborne light tank destroyer, had many critical issues with its design which ultimately prevented the type from entering service. In addition to the issues of the tank, the timeline during which the WZ-141 was developed also played a critical factor in its cancellation. One could argue that the vehicle’s design could have been refined if the project had started five years earlier, but all the intended weaponry used on the WZ-141 would not have been available. The end of the project in 1985 had prevented China from developing an indigenous airborne tank fleet in the Cold War. As such, the country relied on foreign imports to bolster its forces. China would restart its indigenous design efforts in the late 1990s, and, as a result, now has a substantial number of indigenously developed airborne tanks currently in service. To this day, much of the WZ-141’s development and specifications are unknown, as is the case with nearly all of China’s indigenous Cold War military designs.

The Second WZ-141 Super Light Model Anti-Tank Fighting Vehicle Prototype, illustrated by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon

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Specifications

Length 4.66 m / 15.28 ft
Width 2.40 m / 7.87 ft
Height 1.86 m / 6.10 ft
Total weight 6.2 tonnes / 13,669 lbs
Crew 3 (Driver, Commander, Gunner)
Top Speed 80 km/h / 49.7 mph
Maximum Range 500 km / 310 mi
Armor Values Unknown
Powerplant 1x Deutz F6L413F air-cooled diesel vee engine
Power/Weight Ratio 30.4 hp per tonne / 22.7 kW per tonne
Ground Pressure 39.2 kPa / 5.68 lb per square inch
Main Armament 2x Type 75 105mm Recoilless Guns (18 rounds)
4x HJ-73 Anti-Tank-Guided-Missiles (2 mounted externally, 2 in storage)
Secondary Armament 1x Type 56 7.62mm Machine Gun (3,000 rounds)

Sources

程刚毅 . “中国空降战车研制秘闻:1980 年研制出样车.” 中华人民共和国国防部, 中华人民共和国国防部, 28 May 2014

孔凡清 , 将言 . “飞向蓝天的探索—我国试制的WZ141履带式超轻型反坦克实驻性战车.” 坦克装甲车辆, vol. 3, 中国北方车辆研究所, 2007, pp. 5–11.

孔凡清 , 将言 . “ 揭秘中国超轻型反坦克战车:装两门105无坐力炮.” China.com, 27 Sept. 2013.

河東三叔 . “時速80公里,70年代研製的中國版雙炮管「天啟」坦克.” 每日頭條, 22 July 2019.

Andrew, Martin Kenneth. “Tuo Mao: The Operational History of the People’s Liberation Army.” Bond University, 2008.

Categories
Cold War Chinese Prototypes

59-16/130 Light Tank

People’s Republic of China (1957-59)
Light Tank – 1 Built

The 59-16 / 130 was the first light tank design of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The tank would compete with the 131 which would be developed into the WZ-131 (ZTQ-62/Type 62), the most successful Chinese light tank of the era, and the WZ-132, a prototype that was not accepted for service. The 59-16’s history is shrouded in mystery due to a lack of available sources, and those which exist have been handled poorly and uncritically in the context of the videogame ‘World of Tanks’. This article proposes a new theory on the development of the 59-16 – that it was a project to convert the PLA’s SU-76Ms into light tanks or to develop and produce a new series of light tanks based on the design of the SU-76M.


General Xu Guangda on the far left, with NPC Standing Committee Chairman Liu Shaoqi in the middle and Defense Minister Peng Dehui on the far right. Xu Guandai was also involved in WZ-120 production.

Background: Source Problems

The biggest problem with the history of the 59-16, and indeed any tank in the PLA, is that of a lack of reliable sources. Much of the most reliable information on PLA tanks comes from CIA investigations for military intelligence, but this chiefly concerns vehicles that made it into active service. Thus, almost all information on the PLA’s prototype tanks was originally made available to the western public by Chinese armor enthusiasts on Chinese social media websites such as Baidu Tieba or Weibo, but almost all of their information comes from uncited sources that cannot be independently verified. Therefore, it is difficult to accept what they say at face value, as the information is second-hand and cannot be critically evaluated. In other words, it is difficult to know what is speculation from these sources, but in the case of the 59-16 (unlike other vehicles, such as the so-called ‘Type 58’), many of the sources surprisingly agree.

The video game, World of Tanks, provides the most well-known representation of the 59-16 through what is said to be research from their Chinese client company, Kongzhong. However, both Wargaming and Kongzhong have a poor reputation for presenting fake vehicles with made-up histories, but the latter is especially infamous for this. Indeed, the video game’s representation of the vehicle is patently fantastical as close analysis of contemporary photographs – available freely – show.

The result of these source problems is that the most reliable sources are the photographs of the 59-16, but these, too, come with their own strengths and limitations, both practical and methodological. Perhaps the most obvious practical problem lies with the quality of the photographs. Their low quality means that not all the posters could be read and thus much presumably valuable information is lost and many questions about the 59-16 cannot be answered with certainty.

Thus, the following article is an attempt, using chiefly photographic evidence and some of the more reliable Chinese information (such as a published magazine article), to construct the development of the 59-16. Indeed, few certainties can be proposed due to the nature of the evidence, but a plausible story has been pieced together.

Background: Political Context

In the wake of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) victory in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), the newly-proclaimed People’s Republic of China (PRC) was awash with ‘patriotic’ political campaigns, such as the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957-1959, 反右运动) and the ‘Great Leap Forward’ (1958-1962, 大跃进), aimed at both developing the economy and ridding the country of ‘undesirables’ such as ‘capitalist roaders’, ‘rightist deviants’, and other ‘social parasites’ through arrest and terror under the slogan of ‘racing towards communism’. In other words, the CCP under Mao Zedong wanted to solidify its political control of the country and revitalize the economy in order to ‘catch up’ with the west as a matter of national defense. Indeed, such campaigns penetrated society at every level, including tank factories.

According to the memoirs of Dan Ling, a junior engineer at Factory 674 (Harbin First Machinery Factory) in the 1950s, ‘workers sometimes only had two hours of sleep a day. It was common in those days for employees to work extra long hours, willingly and with no complaint[s]. People truly believed that they were building a new society and that socialism would soon bring them relative prosperity, like that enjoyed in the Soviet Union. The selfless spirit of devotion to a cause was very close to a religious belief… …[the] factory was not a cultural organization, but when orders came down to organize activities [regarding political campaigns], they did so. Dan participated in meetings and read all the required newspaper articles, although most of the technical people had no interest.’ However, those seeking rapid promotion certainly did. Being seen as technically competent and, above all, loyal to the party was a certain route to promotion and prosperity (and away from the possibility of being treated as an enemy of the people) – one which Dan used to his own advantage throughout the 1950s.

These campaigns – especially the ‘Great Leap Forward’ – inspired workers to attempt some truly ambitious (if perhaps bizarre to an outside audience) projects. For example, in 1958, the Chinese Shanghai Bulb Factory attempted to build a multipurpose vehicle which was a bus, boat, and helicopter combined into one vehicle. However, the project was canceled. In fact, the ‘Great Leap Forward’ was an overly-ambitious campaign in and of itself. Much of the steel produced by the PRC was produced from melting down scrap metal in literal backyard furnaces across the country, with the result that much of it was utterly useless for industrial purposes.

It is this context in which the 59-16 light tank project was developed.

Development of the 59-16

Many Chinese internet sources report that the 59-16 project began as a general development aimed at providing the PLA with a light tank that would be able to handle the marshy terrain of South China and the mountains of Tibet. The tank was also supposed to be able to counter the agile M24 Chaffee and M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks used by US and US-supported forces. [6]

The PLA was desperately in need of new light tanks and called for a domestic one in 1956. Their US-built vehicles, such as the M3A3 and M5A1 Stuarts captured from the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) during the Civil War, were slowly being phased out due to a lack of spare parts. Compounding this, the USSR did not sell any light tanks to the PRC under the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance (1950), which saw all kinds of military materiel supplied to the PRC, including tanks such as the T-34-85, SU-76M, IS-2, ISU-122, ISU-152, SU-100, and various ARVs in the years 1950-1955. Japanese vehicles, captured from the NRA, are believed to have been retired even earlier and were also mostly unsuitable for poor terrain.

It is, however, unclear whether or not the PLA specifically asked for the 59-16 concept, or whether engineers came up with the 59-16 concept themselves on their own initiative.

In any case, it is believed that Factory 674 (Harbin First Machinery Factory) started work on an indigenous design for a light tank.[1] According to Dan’s memoirs, this factory was the main repair hub for T-34-85s damaged in the Korean War (1950-1953) and was able to complete repairs ranging from minor to capital and was even capable of tank production. It is not unreasonable to assume that this factory was one of the best equipped in the PRC, except for Factory 617 (Inner Mongolia First Machinery Manufacturing Factory), construction of which was finished in late 1955 when it began assembling Soviet-supplied T-54 kits before moving onto Type 59 production in 1959. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to assume that other Soviet-supplied tanks were repaired at Factory 674 as this is where the largest concentration of Soviet engineers and relevant hardware was in the PRC.

In this environment, metal production quality was particularly low and there were issues with resource waste and electrical blackouts, despite the reported high morale.[3] This was a problem that plagued all of the PRC’s military-industrial complexes and prevented complex tank production until 1959 – provided that one does not believe the story of Chinese T-34-85 production.

According to Chinese internet sources, at a meeting where the future of light tanks was discussed, a Soviet expert, of which many worked at Factory 674, proposed that the Chinese light tanks should be 24 tonnes, but engineers at Factory 674 and the Beijing Institute of Technology preferred the 16-tonne design.[5] A 24-tonne vehicle (131) was developed further and led to the 132. Again, a lack of information on these prototypes remains a problem. Whatever the case may be, a vehicle was developed and was reportedly given the designation of 59-16 at a presentation of a scale model to General Zhang Aiping in 1958, this referring to the year of expected introduction and weight: 1959/16 tonnes.[2]

Two photographs exist, believed to be taken in 1958 during the presentation, showing engineers presenting a scale model of a tank to a military delegation, with posters in the background apparently mentioning technical specification and the name ‘59-16’. According to one poster in the photo, the 59-16 is said to have half the power and protection of medium tanks but with much higher maneuverability. The vehicle, in typical propaganda fashion, was also said to be ‘superior to American and British capitalist tanks’ by one of the posters.[4]

According to Chinese internet sources, a prototype of the vehicle was expected to be built in 1959, but a vehicle with a wooden mock-up turret was made in late 1958.[1][6] Factory 636 (well-known for producing license copies of the Soviet SKS rifle, the Type 56) and Factory 674 were responsible for trial production in late 1958 / early 1959.

Design

According to Chinese internet sources, the vehicle was designed by the Beijing Institute of Technology at Factory 674. The vehicle started as an idea of a light tank counterpart for the T-34-85, with which this light tank was expected to serve. The 59-16 was conceived as a 16-tonne light tank armed with a 76.2 mm (3-inch) cannon. A 16-tonne vehicle would fare much better in the conditions in South China and Tibet over vehicles such as the T-34-85 or the 36-tonne Type 59 (WZ-120), due to the reduced ground pressure and increased maneuverability. On this point, the third poster seems to describe the 59-16’s performance on slopes as shown by an illustration but exact details are illegible. The vehicle could supposedly attain a top speed of 60 km/h. [6]

The design of the 59-16 was reminiscent of the T-54, T-34-85, and SU-76M and incorporated elements from each, as can be seen especially in the turret in the case of the T-54, and the hull in the case of the SU-76M. The vehicle was likely to hold a crew of four (commander, loader, gunner, and driver) in a similar fashion to the T-34, but without the bow machine gunner. If this is the case, then the vehicle would have the same or similar layout as the T-54 – a driver in the hull, and commander, loader, and gunner in the turret.

Turret

The turret clearly has the design of the classic T-54 ‘bowl’ shape. As shown by the model and the posters, the turret was located more towards the front of the vehicle than the center, likely owing to the T-34-inspired layout. The turret would, however, have been much smaller than the turret on the future WZ-120 and the WZ-131. It is not clear how the turret would have been produced, but a cast-turret is implied by the model.

Hull

The model shows a suspension on the vehicle which looks very similar to that found on the SU-76M, of which the PLA had an estimated 706 supplied to them by the USSR in the early 1950s. The sides of the hull appear reminiscent of the T-54 design, with toolboxes and possibly extra fuel tank stowage above the tracks, but the hull otherwise seems mostly unmodified from the SU-76M hull, which seems to suggest that the vehicle was heavily inspired by the SU-76M design. In fact, if not an indigenously produced light tank based on the SU-76M, then 59-16 was possibly a project which concerned converting SU-76Ms into light tanks. There is a contextless photograph that may, in fact, prove the latter theory (see below).

According to the model, a searchlight was also planned to be fitted to the upper right front hull, as well as the driver’s hatch being offset to one side, unlike the SU-76M.

The third poster, although blurry, clearly shows that the 59-16 has six road wheels. Furthermore, if the 59-16 was a development of the SU-76M (whether conversion or local production based on the design), then it would have had six small road wheels, as opposed to four large ones shown in modern reconstructions of the vehicle such as the model in ‘World of Tanks’. The photograph showing a flipped over tank with four dished road wheels, apparently destroyed during nuclear testing, is not believed to be the 59-16 prototype based on the findings of this article, but may actually be the Type 63 APC.


An artist’s interpretation of what the 59-16 would have looked like, based on photographic evidence. This illustration was produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Armament

The model’s gun was a 76 mm gun, as explained in one of the posters. It has a distinctive muzzle brake and a bore evacuator close behind that. This gun is the same as 76 mm guns on other Chinese light tank projects, 131, 132, and 132A. This suggests that this unknown gun was at least around during the creation of the 59-16 model, but the history of the 76 mm cannon is otherwise unknown. It could possibly be a development of the ZiS-3 used on the SU-76M, a field gun, or an entirely new development. In any case, the relation of this gun to the 59-16 project is totally unclear – it is not certain that it was designed specifically for the 59-16 but is the first known light tank planned to be equipped with it. However, the gun was reportedly not ready until the year 1960 for any prototypes of any light tanks, be it the 59-16, or later 132, likely due to aforementioned production problems during the ‘Great Leap Forward’. The model also has a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun.

Armor

Given the weight of just 16 tonnes (although the actual weight reached 17.5) [6], the armor of the 59-16 would have been very light. As stated on the poster, the protection would be ‘half that of a medium tank’, referring to the T-34 (as shown on the comparisons on the third poster). If one is to believe that the hull is that of an SU-76M, then the hull would likely have similar armor, with 25 mm on the front, 15 mm on the side, 15 mm on the rear, and 7 mm on top and bottom, making it just bulletproof rather than protected against contemporary tank and field guns. The AMX-13 also had around this much armor on the hull, by way of comparison. The turret, following a similar logic, may have had a thickness of as little as 30 mm with up to 60 mm on its front. No armor scheme for the vehicle exists, so these values are speculative.

Name

The name ‘59-16’ is believed by some Chinese internet sources to have been temporary, purportedly assigned to the vehicle by General Zhang Aiping in 1958. The WZ-130, sometimes associated with the 59-16, is believed, on the balance of current evidence, to be a different tank from the 59-16.

While the name ’59-16’ stands for the year of expected introduction and weight, it is important to reiterate that the 59-16 is not a scaled-down WZ-120. Given that the 59-16 is believed to have been developed before the PRC had received plans for the T-54, it is exceptionally unlikely that this tank was influenced by other light tank projects which led to the Type 62 (WZ-131), but possibly vice versa. This latter vehicle was likely the result of a second stage in the PLA light tank project, during which the 59-16 project was most probably scrapped in favor of one which concerned scaling down the WZ-120, except for its main gun, which can be seen on the 132. Sometimes, on the internet, the tank is referred to as Type 59-16 or ZTQ-59-16, but there is no evidence for either of these names being used and these most likely are the results of posters following official designation schemes that are not known to apply to the 59-16.

The name 130 refers to the 59-16 and 131 refers to the 24-tonner.

SU-76M Conversion?

The following photograph comes from a private collection via the book ‘中國人民解放軍戰車部隊1945-1955’ by Zhang Zhiwei and with absolutely no context whatsoever. It apparently shows a SU-76M fitted with a forward-mounted T-54-style turret/superstructure. Close inspection, however, reveals striking similarities to the 59-16 model, such as the turret and the new fenders. One is also quick to point out that the 59-16 model appears to be based on the SU-76M.

One should note that the tracks of the vehicle are broken, perhaps suggesting that this vehicle has been cast aside and perhaps canceled as a project. The uniforms of the men suggest the date to be the 1950s or 1960s. Being from a private, not government, collection, the photograph appears to be a ‘souvenir photograph’, commonly taken by soldiers and civilians alike in the PRC from the 1950s to the 1980s. Thus, the vehicle is likely to be out of service by this point, as many decommissioned T-34-85s were used for such a purpose. Even prototype tanks such as the 132 are now on display as a local tourist attraction. If this vehicle truly had been decommissioned, then it is possible that other parts, such as a gun mantlet, are also missing.

Whilst this image has been queried for its photographic oddities (such as the main gun and upper-right torso of the man on the left being translucent – although this might be explained by the negative being contaminated given that it was a cheap tourist photograph), this vehicle, if one accepts the photograph as legitimate, might be a testbed of the 59-16 concept, or a prototype proper. Indeed, it does differ in that the hull appears unchanged, and it lacks a fully enclosed turret and mantlet with the incorrect gun (it retains the SU-76M’s ZiS-3). However, perhaps such a crude prototype is not to be unexpected during the so-called ‘Great Leap Forward’ (1958-1962), during which the PRC was producing mostly junk steel in literal backyard furnaces, and quick results for overly-ambitious projects led to mediocrity. Sources state that the prototype had a wooden turret and gun, meaning that the turret and gun in this picture may not even be steel, which is quite likely given the industrial situation in China at the time. It is also important to note that the intended 76 mm gun was not readily available during this time period. However, one is quick to add that it is unclear when this vehicle (if, again, we accept the authenticity of the photograph) was even built.

If this truly is the 59-16 prototype, then it heavily implies – although it would not prove in and of itself – that the project concerned converting SU-76Ms into light tanks.

Another Picture

As the previous photo implies the wooden stand-in turret version of the 59-16, this photo appears to be an actual prototype. Notice, however, that the fenders are of the old kind, showing that not all versions were modified equally (this is also the case with other Chinese tanks such as modified T-34 tanks). However, this might be just a visual modification used for training and not an actual tank.

The SU-76 hull is shown quite well in this picture and from the right side of the tank rather than the left. Unfortunately, the soldiers cover up most of the details on the turret. 

Myths

  • Myth #1: 59-16 and WZ-130 are the same
    The 59-16 and WZ-130 are two distinct vehicles:
    59-16 has 6 road wheels, WZ-130 has an unknown number
    59-16 appears to be based on the SU-76M hull, whereas it is unknown what chassis the WZ-130 is based on
    59-16 has three return rollers, WZ-130 is unknown

The confusion about WZ-130 and 59-16 may be due to the 59-16 being the “130” (without the “WZ-”).

  • Myth #2 59-16 has four road wheels
    This information is so important that it is worth repeating from earlier in the article. The third poster, although blurry, clearly shows that the 59-16 has six road wheels. Furthermore, if the 59-16 was a development of the SU-76M (whether conversion or local production based on the design), then it would have had six small road wheels, as opposed to four large ones. The photograph showing a flipped over tank with four dished road wheels, apparently destroyed during nuclear testing, is not believed to be the 59-16 prototype based on the findings of this article, but may actually just be a flipped Type 63 APC.

The 59-16 as portrayed by Wargaming’s World of Tanks is a fabricated vehicle, much like many of their other vehicles.

  • Myth #3 59-16 is a light tank variant of the WZ-120 (Type 59)
    The 59 was the year the prototype was expected to be built and 16 tonnes. It is not related to the Type 59 (WZ-120).

Conclusion

The 59-16 was one of the PRC’s earliest attempts to develop a vehicle without Soviet help, showing the ambition of those involved, but it was most likely too ambitious. If mass-produced, the 59-16 would have been a crude vehicle, likely not capable of engaging American or British armor of the time. The PRC was not capable of producing a tank comparable to other international designs, hence the first Type 59s were Soviet-supplied kits.

Even so, basing a light tank off the SU-76M chassis may not have been the worst idea for the PRC, given that their capabilities at the time were highly limited, as well as the SU-76M being quite outdated and perhaps worth upcycling. However, the exact dimensions of connections between the 59-16 and SU-76M require information not contained in currently available sources.

Factory 674 would go on to manufacture the much more successful Type 62 (WZ-131) after they were made to stop development of the 59-16 in 1961. [2]


One of the two existing photos. The striking similarities with the SU-76M hull can on the front of the model. Six road wheels are seen on the silhouette in the background.

Specifications

Total weight, battle-ready 17.5 tonnes
Crew 4
Speed 60 Km/h
Armament 76mm Gun
Armor 7 – 60 mm

An article by Malik Cash and Will Kerrs

Sources

[1] baike.baidu.com
[2] zhuanlan.zhihu.com
[3] Sun, You-Li. Ling, Dan. Engineering Communist China: One Man’s Story. Algora, 2003
[4] Posters in the images themselves
[5] User “Rainbow Photo Kursk”’s 59-16 article
[6] 707 Magazine Article
[7] Zhiwei, Zhang, ‘中國人民解放軍戰車部隊1945-1955’

Categories
Cold War Chinese Prototypes

WZ-122-1

Chinese PLA (1970s)
Medium Tank – 1 Prototype

The WZ-122 project was a late Cold War Chinese medium tank project, designed in the context of the Sino-Soviet split. The main goal was to create a tank to rival other Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) of the epoch, such as the Soviet T-62 and German Leopard. At this time, relations with the Soviet Union were deteriorating and China was not going to be getting any new tanks or technological assistance from the Soviets. The Cultural Revolution had also just started, which would have a very negative effect on tank engineers, who were often deemed as part of the educated class and purged.
After capturing and reverse engineering a T-62 tank in the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict (1969), the WZ-122 project began. The first iteration, the WZ-122-1, featured 4 wire-guided missiles and a 120mm smoothbore gun, but did not reach past the prototype stage. In the late 1960s, China was still using the Type 59 (a license production of the T-54A) and tanks derived from it. Due to a range of technical and political issues, many WZ-122 projects never left the prototype stage, including the WZ-122-1.

Chinese Army WZ-122-1 main battle tank prototype. Notice the four anti-tank rockets mounted on the side of the turret.

Context

The WZ-122-1 development began after the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict of 1969, when China captured a T-62 tank (tactical number 545) from the USSR, which was reverse engineered shortly after. As China would no longer receive Soviet-licensed tanks, it needed to develop its own tanks to keep up with current armor developments.
One of these new tanks was the Type 69 (factory designation WZ-121), which used technology from both the Type 59 (WZ-120) and the captured T-62 tank from the USSR. Despite this, China was not satisfied with the tank, as it was close in design to the old Type 59. This is where the development of a new tank and new chassis begins.
Wanting an advanced tank, the WZ-122-1 was designed with a hydropneumatic suspension and modern main battle tank technologies. Later, however, this design was deemed too complicated, so the simplified WZ-122-2 was made. The WZ-122-3 was further simplified by using the Type 69 chassis and would eventually lead to the Type 80. The project was ultimately canceled after engineers were executed, being deemed traitors during the purges of the Cultural Revolution. However, the project was revived with the WZ-122-4.

Name

There is some ambiguity about the name of the WZ-122-1. It is sometimes merely called the WZ-122 or the WZ-122A, especially in non-Chinese sources. The vehicle is likely to be called the WZ-122-1 though, due to the fact that the WZ-122-3 is accounted for being the vehicle after the “three-mechanical” (WZ-122-2) vehicle. The development of the ‘three mechanical’ (WZ-122-2) followed the ‘three liquid’ (WZ-122-1) and the names are derived from the technologies used. The term “three-liquid” is used to refer to the three new hydropneumatic technologies on the tank: the suspension, the clutch, and power steering. The term “three-mechanical” is used due to the removal of the hydropneumatic technology from the three elements.

Requirements

The WZ-122-1 project came with a list of ambitious but not impossible requirements:
1. The tank needed a more powerful gun of larger caliber than previous designs, capable of engaging current and future medium and heavy tanks from any foe.
2. Larger ammo capacity than previous designs, such as the Type 59 which carried 34 rounds, as well as being able to carry new high explosive shells for the main gun.
3. New devices, including night vision equipment, rangefinder, and 2-axis stabilizer.
4. Reduced weight and size, with a stronger engine that required less fuel.
5. Improved materials for armor with a “reasonable” amount of armor. Improved protection against High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) ammunition.
6. Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) protection.
7. Improved reliability, decreased maintenance, easier to operate.
8. Noise reduction for crew comfort, crew can stay in tank longer.


Chinese WZ-122-1 line drawing showing bad weather tarpaulin rolled up in the rear stowage rack at the rear of the tank turret.

Construction

The first WZ-122-1 was finished on September 25th, 1970. The tank fulfilled the larger and more powerful gun requirement. The WZ-122’s main gun was a 120mm smoothbore cannon with 40 rounds of ammunition. This gun had Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds developed from the 115mm smoothbore rounds from the T-62. The gun weighed 2563 kilograms, had a length of 5750mm, and had a rate of fire of 3 to 4 rounds per minute. It was able to depress 6 degrees and elevate by 18 degrees. The gun would later be further developed and used on the Type 89 tank destroyer. The tank had a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun with 3000 rounds. The vehicle had two 12.7mm AA machine guns on the turret with 500 rounds. Originally, a 20mm autocannon was planned for the WZ-122 but was deemed too heavy. Four ATGM missiles were fixed on the side of the turret. These missiles were an early precursor of the HJ-8 missiles.
The WZ-122-1’s layout was similar to most other Soviet and Chinese tanks of the time. The driver was situated in the left of the hull. The gunner, loader, and commander were in the turret. Equipment on the vehicle included a CWT-176 radio system, a ballistic computer, and active infrared night vision for the crew. The night vision equipment proved the most difficult to install on the tank due to bottlenecks in its development for the vehicle.
The WZ-122-1 had an experimental hydro-pneumatic suspension and a 515 kW (690 horsepower) engine and weighed 37.5 tonnes. The vehicle managed to reach a road speed of 55 km/h. This suspension did not allow the WZ-122-1 to tilt or raise its suspension but merely to improve the tank’s ride as per the tank’s requirements. It had 5 road-wheels and no support rollers. The transmission had three forward gears and one reverse gear. However, the hydro-pneumatic suspension was deemed too complicated, so, in November 1970, a tank with a conventional suspension was made, designated the WZ-122-2. This tank also had an engine with reduced power: 478 kW (641 horsepower).

Fate

The engineers of the WZ-122-1 project were purged in the Cultural Revolution due to being a part of the educated class. The complexity of the project also factored in its cancellation. The WZ-122-1 was replaced by the WZ-122-2 vehicle, also known as the ‘three-mechanical’. This vehicle was essentially a simplified WZ-122-1. However, the WZ-122-1 would lead to the development of many WZ-122 variants and tanks outside of the WZ-122 series, such as the Type 80 series of tanks. Various WZ-122 vehicles survive to this day in China.

Tank crew fitting bad weather tarpaulins over the WZ-122-1 tank’s anti-aircraft machine guns and anti-tank rockets.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.52m x 3.28m x 2.25m
(31ft 3in x 10ft 9in x 7ft 5in)
Total weight, battle ready : 37.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (Commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion : WZ-122-1 690hp multi-fuelled engine
Road speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Suspension WZ-122-1 adjustable Hydro-Pneumatic “Three-Liquid”.
Main Armament 120mm smoothbore gun
Secondary Armament 4x wire guided anti-tank missiles
1x 7.62mm coaxial machine gun
2x 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns
Armour Unknown
Total built 1 prototype

Links & Resources

www.sohu.com
sturgeonshouse.ipbhost.com
m.v4.cc
seesaawiki.jp
kknews.cc
www.sinodefenceforum.com
military.china.com
www.mdc.idv.tw


The WZ-122-1 prototype, also known as the ‘Three-Liquid’. The specific missile mounts are clearly visible. Illustration by Jaroslaw ‘Jarja’ Janas, corrected by Jaycee “Amazing Ace” Davis.

Categories
Cold War Chinese Prototypes

WZ-111

 People’s Republic of China (1960-1965)
Heavy Tank – 1 chassis and turret built separately

A mysterious Chinese heavy tank

Since being brought into the limelight by World of Tanks, the PRC’s heavy tank designs have become very popular. With sketchy information, and dubious recreations, it is often hard to tell fact from fiction. Many Chinese prototype vehicles were reportedly destroyed during nuclear testing (and whilst tanks were tested in blast zone conditions, it is perhaps unclear if any vehicles were actually destroyed), but the WZ-111 survived this period of nuclear testing and stands today at a museum in Beijing. Very little is known about the vehicle’s history, seeing as though access to Chinese archives is highly restricted (similar to the restrictions on Kremlin archives during Soviet times), and known information may not be as accurate as it seems.

Development

According to reported information, on October 19th, 1960, the order to create a heavy tank was placed by the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense. Between 1960 and 1964, various plans (of which, there are no apparent descriptions available) were created with at least one major revision to the overall design. In any case, the final plan was ready on June 10th, 1964, at the University of Tank Technology, and in 1965, a turretless prototype was made. It was tested with a weighted dummy turret, but problems were found with the suspension.
Later in 1965, a turret and gun were also reportedly produced, but were never mounted on the chassis. It is unknown what happened to the turret and gun, but they were supposedly tested, although the results are not available.
The turret was supposed to feature a 122mm main gun – designated “Y174”. Some commentators have speculated that it may be a tank variant of the Type 60 field gun (itself a copy of the Soviet D-74), with an auto-loader, night vision, and an electric rangefinder incorporated into the overall design.
A 130mm gun was also reportedly planned. This is possibly because progress of the Y174 production was slow, and a stopgap might have been needed, however, details are incredibly sketchy on this development, and may be fictitious in order to enhance the WZ-111 within the video game that brought it to mass attention.
Development of the WZ-111 appears to have ultimately stopped due to the technical and mechanical problems – the suspension being one of these. However, it also possible that there may have been issues with creating a suitable main gun (in fact, the Chinese found themselves having to import and copy the L7 105mm gun to make the Type 85 MBT). Consider also that the Main Battle Tank concept taking the forefront of tank designs (and the lack of apparent use for a heavy tank) might have led to the cancellation of the project.
The vehicle is now displayed in Beijing, with its dummy turret. It has been painted in several different liveries:

  • The first was plain dark green all over.
  • The second was the same as the first, with the addition of a large PLA star on the front of the dummy turret, and the numbers 304 in white on either side of the turret.
  • The third livery is three tone, consisting of sand, dark green, and a greyish-green in wavy bands, the numbers 304 in white on either side of the dummy turret, and a small PLA symbol next to the number, closest to the front of the turret. The front PLA symbol was painted over.

Links

The WZ-111 on wikipedia

WZ-111 reported specifications

Dimensions 10.6 x 3.3 x 2.5 m (34.7 x 10.8 x 8.2 feet)
Total weight, battle ready 44-46 tons
Crew 4 (driver, Commander, gunner, loader/radio)
Propulsion 12-cylinder, supercharged diesel 750 hp (390 kw) P/w 12.5 kw/t
Suspension Torsion bars
Armament Main: 122 mm “Y174” tank gun OR unknown 130mm gun. Secondary: Probably a Type 54 12.7mm air defense machine gun and coaxial Type 59T 7.62mm machine gun.
Armor 80-200 mm

Gallery

WZ-111 displayed at the China Tank Museum, Beijing
WZ-111 displayed at a museum in Beiking.
Blueprint
A blueprint showing a what-if design for the WZ-111. It appears to have a 130mm gun, and it is unclear how accurate the turret is compared to the original design.

WZ-111
A “what-if” reconstruction of how the WZ-111 would like completed with the turret, according to online blueprints (which are almost certainly artist’s interpretation).

The actual WZ-111 with the dummy turret preserved in Beijing.