Cold War Yugoslav Tanks

T-34-85 in Yugoslav Service 

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-2000)
Medium Tank – 1,000+ Operated

After the Second World War, the Jugoslovenska Armija (JA, English: Yugoslav Army), better known as the Jugoslovenska Narodna Atmiija (JNA, English: Yugoslav People’s Army), was created. Initially, it was equipped with armored vehicles of various origins. Most had been captured by the enemy during the war. Besides them, the JNA operated a number of vehicles given to them by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. This included the T-34-85 tanks that formed the Second Tank Brigade. While, later, more advanced tank designs would be acquired, the T-34-85 would remain in use up to 2000.

A T-34-85 in JNA service. Source:www.srpskioklop.paluba

The T-34-85 in Yugoslavia

The first T-34-76 tanks that appeared in Yugoslavia were operated by the German SS Polizei Regiment 10 (English: 10th SS Police Regiment), which had 10 such vehicles in late 1944. These were used to protect Trieste and saw service against the Yugoslav Partisans. Out of 10 German T-34-76s, the Partisans managed to capture between 5 or 6 before and at the end of the war. These remained in use after the war and one has even been preserved to this day.

While not clear, at least 5 or 6 T-34-76s were captured by the Partisans and put to use. Source:www.srpskioklop.paluba.

The improved T-34-85 version was used in Yugoslavia for the first time by the advancing Soviet 3rd Ukraine Front. These supported the Yugoslav Partisans, helping them liberate many towns in Serbia, including the capital, Belgrade. After their mission was completed, the 3rd Ukraine Front began moving toward Hungary to continue fighting the remaining Axis forces there.

A Soviet T-34-85 during the liberation of Belgrade. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

The Yugoslav Partisans got their chance to operate the newer T-34-85 tanks in late 1944. On the order of Stalin, a tank brigade operated by Partisan crews trained in the Soviet Union was formed. This unit would be known as the Second Tank Brigade and was formed on 8th March 1945. The Brigade was organized according to the Red Army model of the Tank Brigade. As far as equipment is concerned, this brigade was equipped with 65 T-34/85 tanks and 3 BA-64 armored cars.

The Unit arrived in Topčider (Serbia) on 26th March. After a military parade held in Belgrade on 27th March, it was sent to the Syrmian Front (21st October 1944 – 12th April 1945), where this Brigade participated in the heavy fight that lasted until the final collapse of the German forces there. The Second Tank Brigade also participated in the fighting for Slavonia and during the liberation of Zagreb. Besides the T-34-85 tanks supplied to the Second Tank Brigade, the Partisans managed to salvage a few abandoned Soviet T-34-85 tanks left in Yugoslavia.

T-34-85 tanks of the Second Tank Brigade on their way to Trieste, May 1945. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

First Years after the War

After the war, the Partisan forces became the nucleus of the JNA. Initially, the main armored forces consisted mainly of captured or supplied Allied vehicles. The captured vehicles, in reality, had little combat value given their obsolescence and lack of spare parts. Their more important role was to provide the necessary crew training. Due to the shattered industry and infrastructure across Yugoslavia, the production of new vehicles and equipment was not possible. Thus, the rearmament of this new army was heavily based on foreign imports. In the first few years after the war, the main Yugoslav arms and weapons supplier was the Soviet Union. Given that both countries were led by Communist parties and had cooperated during the war, this was not surprising. Through them, the JNA received great quantities of weapons and equipment, including tanks. The Soviets also sent a number of tank instructors to Yugoslavia. While the documentary records of these early years are somewhat lacking, it is known that Yugoslavia received some 66 tanks in 1946 and 308 in 1947. By that time, the JNA had in its inventory some 425 T-34-85 (including a few T-34-76) tanks. This number also included vehicles that had been operated during the war.

An interesting photograph of a T-34-85 during military exercises in 1949. Note the Jagdpanzer 38(t), SU-76, and even Bren gun carriers in the background. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

While these two countries were nominally friendly toward each other, the Soviet tank shipment quality was less so. The majority of tanks received lacked any kind of documentation of their previous use or their mechanical life. Information, such as their age or usage, was also unknown. Some even had completely unusable engines. Moreover, great numbers of the spare barrels supplied were of the 76 mm caliber which the JNA did not need in large numbers.

While the JNA was still in its early development phase, political tensions between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union and, more precisely, between Tito and Stalin, began to arise. Stalin wanted to impose a more direct Soviet control over Yugoslavia, something that Tito fiercely objected to. This led to the famous so-called Tito-Stalin Split in 1948, which basically isolated Yugoslavia from the Eastern Bloc.

The situation became even more critical, as Yugoslavia’s eastern borders were surrounded by Soviet allies. The possibility of a Soviet invasion was a real threat to Yugoslavia at that time. The problem was not only the lack of equipment and tanks, but also attempts of desertion by at least two generals. They tried to escape to Romania using a training tank (type not specified, but a T-34-85 highly likely) from a tank school in Bela Crkva, which was close to the border. The escape attempt failed and one of the deserters was killed in the process.

Fear of sabotage was also present. Most accidents or negligence in properly operating tanks were often placed under investigation as possible sabotage. The majority of these could simply be attributed to poor maintenance or the inexperience of the crews. Still, there were cases of deliberate sabotage. For example, one T-34-85 was sabotaged by throwing a metal plate inside its driving gears.

The Tito-Stalin Split caused huge economic and political strain on Yugoslavia, but in the long run, proved arguably beneficial. Yugoslavia turned more towards the west. This would lead to a more liberal variant of communism, Titoism, which improved living conditions significantly more than those of other European Communist countries in the following decades.

The First Domestic Attempt to Develop an Improved T-34-85

In the meantime, the JNA found itself in a critical situation. The army was in the process of reorganization and rearmament and was heavily dependent on Soviet military supplies. The problem also resided in the fact that the Western world initially refused to deliver any military support to Communist countries. One way to resolve the dependence on foreign aid was to introduce domestic tank production. The production of domestically developed tanks was something that the JNA was obsessed with. This was, at that time, an almost impossible task. It required a well-developed industry, experienced engineering staff, and probably most importantly, time, all of which Yugoslavia lacked at that point. The industry and its infrastructure had been destroyed almost beyond repair during the war.

Nevertheless, in 1948, work on such a vehicle was initiated.  The Petar Drapšin workshop was instructed to produce 5 prototype vehicles. The new tank was designated simply as Vozilo A (English: Vehicle A), also sometimes referred to as Tip A (English: Type A). In essence, it was to be based on the Soviet T-34-85 tank with improved overall characteristics. While it used the same gun and suspension, the superstructure and turret design were significantly changed. While the 5 prototypes were completed, they quickly showed a number of deficiencies. Mostly due to inexperience, lack of adequate production capacity, and more importantly, that there were no design plans, all five tanks were generally different in detail from each other. For example, some were heavier by a few hundred kilograms or were built using different materials. When the JNA field-tested these vehicles, it was not possible to make an accurate conclusion as to whether they were successful or not. They could not be considered as prototype vehicles for possible future production and, in order to get any useful information, it was necessary to produce several more vehicles, which was too expensive. This led to the cancellation of his project.

One of five Vozilo A prototype vehicles built. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

Stalin’s Death a New Light in the Tunnel

In the years that followed Stalin’s death in 1952, the relations between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union gradually warmed. This was also the case with military cooperation, thanks to which the JNA was able to acquire new equipment during the 1960s. This came at the right time, as the JNA was in great need of armored vehicles given the global political turmoil regarding the Cuban crisis in 1961 and 1962. The previous acquisition of Western armored vehicles also came to an end. Through the Soviets and other Eastern Bloc states, the JNA acquired vast quantities of new equipment, such as T-54 and T-55 tanks, which were far superior to the aging T-34-85.

In 1966, during negotiations with the Soviets, the JNA’s experts were interested in purchasing the improved T-34-85 model 1960. It is not quite completely clear why this decision was made. Prior to the purchase, the JNA’s hierarchy debated whether it was worth buying this obsolete tank at all. Some ten arguments were made against it, while only two were made in support of the idea. The arguments for its acquisition revolved around the fact that most parts of these tanks could be domestically produced by this point. The 1960 version of the T-34 had several improvements in comparison to those that were already in service within the JNA. It was, among other things, powered by a new V-2-34M-11 engine, had better sights and periscopes, the suspension was strengthened, it used the new ‘Starfish’ drive wheels, and had a new communication system for the crew. Before any deal with the Soviets was made, the JNA asked that these tanks should be delivered either as a free donation or at a simple symbolic price. The JNA officials proposed a price of US$8,000, while the Soviets gave a counteroffer of nearly US$40,000 per piece. The deal was done in US dollars for some unclear reasons. A deal would be eventually made for the acquisition of 600 improved T-34-85 tanks, including some 140 of the command version. These arrived in three batches of 200 tanks each from 1966 to 1968. With them, a vital supply of some 24,380 HEAT rounds also arrived. These were in high demand by the JNA, which tried to find a means to increase the older 85 mm gun’s anti-tank capabilities. The demand for improved ammunition was such that the Yugoslav negotiators asked for these to be delivered before the actual tanks. The new T-34-85 tanks were marked with white tactical numbers located on the turrets: 99– (for tanks received in 1966), 18— (1967), and 19— (1968).

The T-34-85 version of 1960 is mostly recognizable because of the anti-aircraft machine gun. Its new road wheels were quite similar to the T-54/55’s ones. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.
Side view of the improved version. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

The new T-34-85 vehicles were intended to completely replace the M4 tanks. Interestingly, besides the received T-34-85 tanks, the JNA officials asked the Soviets for the delivery of T-34s armed with 100 mm guns. It is not quite clear, but it appears the JNA was not aware that this vehicle was not produced by the Soviets. The confusion with it lay in the fact that the JNA wrongly thought that the Romanian armed forces possessed 100 mm-armed T-34-85s, which, according to them, were likely imported from the Soviet Union. Romania possessed no such thing, the closest thing being the SU-100 tank destroyer.


A number of authors, including B. B. Dimitrijević (Modernizacija i Intervencija Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006), describe this tank as the T-34B. The origin of this designation is not clear. but it is possible that it was given in order to differentiate them from the older versions. These sources do not specify if the older T-34-76 or even the unimproved T-34-84 were marked as T-34A as they do not even use this designation in any context.  On the other hand, sources, such as F. Pulham and W. Kerrs (T-34 Shock: The Soviet Legend in Pictures), mention that the T-34B designation referred to the older T-34-85 and not the later improved vehicles used by the JNA. To avoid any potential confusion, this article will use the simple T-34-85 designation.

Further Attempts for Improvements and Standardization

While the Vehicle A project was canceled, experiments on improving the T-34 continued for some time after that. With the arrival of Western equipment, such as the M4 and M47 tanks, there was an issue regarding available spare parts. The production of parts for Soviet vehicles would be adopted in time. On the other hand, the JNA officials decided not to adopt the production of spare parts for Western vehicles. These were to be acquired from abroad instead. During the 1950s, a series of experiments and testing was undertaken in order to see if improving the performance and standardization of parts and weapons was possible. The JNA was especially interested in replacing the M4’s engine with the one from the T-34-85. In addition, the armament of these two tanks was to be replaced with 90 mm caliber weapons. Another small standardization effort included reboring the Browning machine guns from 7.62 mm to 7.92 mm caliber.

Most of these modifications were undertaken at the Machine Bureau in Belgrade, formed in 1950. Most of the manpower at this bureau was relocated to the Famos factory, where production of the V-2 engine and the gearbox began in 1954 and 1957 respectively. In addition, at Famos, the idea of a self-propelled vehicle armed with a 90 mm gun, known as Vozilo B (English Vehicle B), possibly using components of the T-34-85, was proposed, but nothing came from it.

In 1955, after testing two French AMX-13 tanks, which were rejected, mostly due to their price, the idea of domestically-built tanks was once again considered. In 1956, this led to the M-320 proposal. The project would be rejected due to its price and because it did not utilize components taken from the T-34-85 tank. It was replaced with a new proposal, the M-628 Galeb (English: Seagull), which was in essence an improved T-34-85 tank. There were two versions of this vehicle. The AC-version was to be armed with the standard 85 mm gun but equipped with M-53 domestically produced machine guns, new radios, a new V-2-32 engine, etc. The second proposal was the AR-version, armed with a 90 mm gun and a 12.7 mm machine gun.

At the end of 1958 and early 1959, one T-34-85 armed with a 90 mm gun was tested. During the firing trials, it was noted that, firing at a range of 500 m, it could not penetrate 100 mm of armor plate angled at 30o. The firing rate was reduced to only four rounds per minute, in comparison to the original T-34-85, which had a firing rate of 7 to 8 rounds per minute. Due to the larger rounds, the ammunition load had to be reduced from 55 to 47 rounds. Despite these deficiencies, in April 1959 a small pre-prototype series was meant to be built. Additional changes were to be tested, such as the installation of a 12.7 or 20 mm anti-aircraft gun mounted on top of the turret, improving electrical installations, control systems, etc. Several different workshops were to be included in the realization of this project. For example, the turret was developed and tested by Železara Ravne, Bratstvo was responsible for the installation of the gun inside the turret, and the final assembly was to be done by Famos. Due to a lack of experienced engineers to lead the project, large quantities of newly produced parts could not be used due to poor quality.

In 1960, attempts to improve (or reuse some of its parts for other projects) the T-34-85’s performance continued. This led to the M-636 Kondor (English Condor), which incorporated some components from the T-34-85.

Front view of the experimental M-636. Few pictures of these experimental vehicles have survived to this day. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

In 1965, the so-called Adaptirani (English Adapted) T-34-85 was tested. These received a number of modifications, including the installation of a 12.7 anti-aircraft machine gun, smoke dischargers, improved hydraulic steering, etc. Other projects, such as using a 2 cm anti-aircraft gun and improved nuclear protection, were discarded early on. The Adapted and the previously mentioned T-34 armed with the 90 mm gun were used for testing the added and modified equipment.

Besides the installation of the 90 mm gun, other larger weapons were also considered for the T-34-85. These included the 100 and 122 mm caliber guns. Interestingly, the 122 mm gun was tested on an M4 with a modified turret. While a production order for some 100 vehicles was given, it was ultimately rejected. The project was briefly revived, using the T-34-85 tank for the conversion.

The year 1966 was crucial for the older JNA tanks (the M4 and T-34-85). By this time, the more modern equipment, including improved T-34-85 tanks, were arriving in larger numbers. For this reason, it was decided to slowly remove the M4 from service but also stop any attempt at modifying either of the tanks. This year basically marked the end of any project that involved improving or changing the design of the T-34-85.

The two modified T-34-85 tanks were found in a military warehouse in Banja Luka (BiH) in 1969. Given the rather slow and ineffective Yugoslav bureaucracy, it is not a surprise that these two tanks appear to have been stored and ‘lost’. After a dilemma about what to do with them, a decision was made to use them as basic training tanks (with the guns non-operational). Later, it was ordered to switch the main gun back to the original 85 mm gun.

Of all previously mentioned modifications, only a few would be adopted for service. The most obvious modification was adding a 12.7 mm Browning heavy machine gun on top of the turret. These were mainly reused from the obsolete M4 tanks. The standard handrails from the turret were replaced with new ones. Probably the most important change was the installation of the M-68 infrared device.

In 1967, two army technical overhaul plants (TRZ 1 Čačak and TRZ 3 Đorđe Petrov) made an analysis of opportunities for improvement of these older models to T-34-85 1960 standards. These analyses showed that it was feasible to upgrade them, even within the scope of the existing military industry. All older T-34-85s were to be modified to the new standards, adding a more powerful engine, an anti-aircraft gun, installing new drive wheels when the old ones wore out, improved night vision systems for night driving, etc.

The process of modernization began in 1969 and was undertaken by the technical overhaul plant Čačak. In early 1970, the installation of four series of night vision systems began. The problem was the slow upgrading process of older engines to the new standard. For this reason, delegations were sent to Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union, in order to buy more engines. In 1972, 150 new engines were bought. In 1973, new engines were fitted into the tanks while the older engines were used for training by battalions armed with this type of vehicle. The delegations were especially keen on engines from Czechoslovakia and Poland. The Poles offered 100 revamped engines. However, they also could produce new engines if a deal was made. A year later, 120 V-34M-11s were bought. Another innovation was the introduction of the R-113 and R-123 radios, which were to replace the outdated SET 19 radio.

Modificatications characteristic of the Yugoslav T-34-85 tanks. 1 – new handrails, 2 – remains of the standard handrails, 3 – one of the machine gun support types, 4 – alternate placement for the machine gun. Source:
1 – the second type of machine gun support, 2 – stand of the machine gun support. Source:
The third type of machine gun support. Source:
The way of fixing the machine gun was when it was located in the alternate position. The barrel of the gun was laterally fixed. Source:
Another way of fixing the machine gun. This method was used when the machine gun was located on the turret. The gun was fixed with this type of ingot. Source:

Besides these improvements, a number of T-34-85s were modified to be used as training tanks. In essence, only a firing imitator device was added above the gun. Interestingly, during the winter of 1969/1970, a small prototype series of T-34-85 tanks were modified, receiving a 2 cm gun (taken from old captured German Flak AA pieces), which was installed inside the 85 mm gun. This was done to help during firing training. This was successfully tested by the 211th Armored Brigade.

The training vehicles had to fire a firing imitator device that was added above the turret and the gun. Source:

Non-Combat Modifications

For a long time, the JNA had planned to convert some T-34-85s into mine-clearing vehicles. On one prototype, the turret was removed and, in its place, a crane was installed. The results were not satisfactory and the project was canceled. The single prototype remained in use up to 1999, when it was abandoned in Kosovo and Metohija by the VJ (Vojska Jugoslavije, post-1992 Army of Yugoslavia).

The single mine-clearer prototype was built in the late 1950s and remained in use with the later Army of Yugoslavia up to 1999. It was left behind after its armed forces left Kosovo and Metohija the same year. Source: www.srpskioklop

Another proposal to develop a recovery vehicle based on the T-34-85 was also examined. This vehicle was designated M-67, but as newer improved ammunition arrived from the Soviet Union for the T-34-85, it was deemed wasteful to use the tank chassis in this manner, so the project was rejected. Projects including a bridge-carrying version were also tested, but they too were canceled.

Ordinary T-34-85 tanks could be equipped with an M-67 military plow to help dig trenches and shelters. In addition, every third tank would have a PT-55 anti-mine device and every fifth a dozer.

A T-34-85 equipped with a plow. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba


A lesser-known fact is that Yugoslav T-34-85 tanks were exported, but precise information is still somewhat lacking. While not completely clear, there is a chance that the JNA supplied a few T-34-85 tanks to the Cypriot Army during the 1970s. While no documentation was ever found of this alleged transfer of these tanks, authors such as B. B. Dimitrijević (Modernizacija i Intervencija Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006) mention that there is some photographic evidence suggesting that some Cypriot vehicles were equipped similarly to the T-34-85s that were in JNA service (night vision equipment and 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine guns).

It is known that, during 1970, some 10 tanks with ammunition and personnel were delivered to the Angolese Communist guerilla MPLA. The retired tanks of the 51st Motorized Brigade were sent from the port of Ploče, Croatia. All costs for the transport were paid by the Yugoimport-SDPR company. According to some sources, Yugoslav tanks were also in the hands of Middle Eastern and other African countries.

Service in Yugoslavia

In service, the T-34-85s were used in various military exercises and parades. Despite the cooperation with the Soviet Union (except for the period from 1948 to Stalin’s death) regarding the acquisition of spare parts, the JNA had trouble doing effective mechanical maintenance of these tanks. This was due to many reasons. The first problem was the rather poor mechanical condition of many vehicles supplied prior to 1948. They lacked proper documentation, so the JNA engineers simply did not know about their use and mechanical maintenance history. Another major problem was the prolonged delay in starting the domestic production of spare parts and equipment. During the early 1950s, some 30% of available T-34-85s were out of service for various reasons, but mostly due to mechanical breakdowns.

In order to resolve this issue, during this time, at least 5 technical repair institutes were formed. These proved insufficient for the job and the number of inoperative T-34-85 tanks began to rise, reaching half of the available tanks in 1956. A huge problem was the inability of the domestic industry to begin producing spare parts. The problem with domestic production of spare parts took more than a decade to be resolved to some extent. Production of these in the civilian industry proved problematic and too expensive. This forced the JNA to use the technical repair institutes for this role. This, of course, was another problem, as these rarely communicated with each other, which led to them producing spare parts for their own demands. Relocation of spare parts from storage to the designated units was slow and usually needed between 6 to 20 months to arrive.

Trieste Crisis

After the end of the war, the political tensions between the Western Allies and Yugoslavia began to rise. The focal point of this growing crisis was the Italian city of Trieste, which the Yugoslav officials wanted to occupy. The negotiations for resolving this issue and avoiding possible conflict lasted several days. Finally, on 9th June 1945, an agreement was signed between the Yugoslav and Western Allied representatives. The Yugoslav Army was to evacuate Trieste. The city and its surroundings were divided into two spheres of influence. Zone A was controlled by the Allies and included the city itself and its surrounding. Zone B included the city of Istra and part of the Slovenian coast. Both the First and Second Tank Brigades (equipped with the T-34-85 tanks) were present during this crisis.

On 9th June 1945, an agreement was signed between the Yugoslav and Western Allied representatives. The city and its surroundings were divided into two spheres of influence. Zone A was controlled by the Allies and included the city itself and its surrounding. Zone B included the city of Istra and part of the Slovenian coast. Source: Wiki

At the end of 1945 and the start of 1946, the Allies began repositioning additional Polish units to the area of Trieste. This caused great concern to the Yugoslav hierarchy, which followed these new developments with interest. The Yugoslav build-up of additional forces began shortly after, as the Second Tank Brigade was repositioning to this area. After a series of peace negotiations, an agreement was signed in September 1947. This allowed Yugoslavia to take some of the disputed territories in Slovenia. This was actually the first usage of tanks after World War Two ended.

In October 1953, the Western powers authorized the Italians to position their forces in the city of Trieste. This move caught the Yugoslav military and political authorities completely unprepared. They immediately responded by concentrating additional forces, with the aim of expelling the Italians in case they entered the city. First to respond was the 265th Tank Brigade equipped with M4 tanks. Due to political reasons, this unit was to be replaced with the 252nd Tank Brigade equipped with T-34-85 tanks, which was previously positioned in the eastern part of Yugoslavia for an anticipated Soviet attack. Luckily for all sides, despite the great confusion and stubbornness on both sides, no actual combat occurred. Political negotiation began shortly and a final agreement was signed. Yugoslavia agreed to stop attempts to annex this area.

Prior to the Yugoslav Wars

The T-34-85 represented a great portion of the JNA’s armored forces. For example, in 1972, there were 1,018 T-34-85 tanks in service within the JNA, which was 40% of Yugoslav armored forces in total. They served in armored units such as the 5th Armored Brigade, including the 14th, 16th, 19th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 41st, and 42nd Armored Regiments. The vehicles were also used in motorized units, such as the 36th and 51st Motorized Brigades, and rifle units, for example, the 12nd Rifle Brigade. The tanks were used in training units and educational centers, among others, at Zalužani, as well.

During the 1980s, the process of withdrawing the T-34-85 tanks from service began. They were moved from armored units to motorized and even to infantry units in the independent armored battalions. A huge number of this type of vehicle was transferred to warehouses, where they remained until the early 1990s. By 1988, there were around 1,003 T-34-85 tanks in the JNA’s inventory. In the early 1990s, T-34-85 tanks were in service with at least 17 armored battalions of various motorized brigades.

T-34-85 tanks in one of the warehouses of the JNA. Notice that one vehicle has a five-digit tactical number (18704), while the vehicle on the left (2884) has a standard four-digit tactical number. Another interesting detail is the different types of road wheels on vehicle no. 18704. Source: Poligon 2/2018
The T-34-85s were quite common during many military parades celebrating the victory in the Second World War. Source:www.srpskioklop.paluba

The Yugoslav Civil Wars

The political and economical crisis of the late 1980s, together with ever-rising nationalism in all federal entities in Yugoslavia, would ultimately lead to a bloody and costly civil war. These events are still politically and historically controversial, especially in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. The reasons why it started, who started it, when and even its name are still ferociously debated to this day. Unfortunately, the war was accompanied by great suffering and crimes committed by all warring parties.

The authors of this article seek to be neutral and to write only about the participation of this vehicle during the wars without any involvement in current-day politics.

By the early 1990s, the JNA, despite the obsolescence of the T-34-85 tanks, still had fairly large numbers of them. The majority were, by this point, stored in various military warehouses across the country. All warring parties would manage to get their hands on them. They would see extensive action simply as they were available in sufficient numbers and relatively simple to use.

Just prior to the civil war that broke out in 1991, Yugoslavia was home to many different, mostly Slavic people. While for decades they lived in peace, the rise of nationalism and economic stagnation, to name a few reasons, ultimately plunged this country into a bloody civil war, with thousands of human lives lost. Tenths of thousands were also forced to abandon their homes. Source:


The tensions that would eventually lead to open war, began in late 1990. By 25th June 1991, both the Croatian and Slovene parliaments unilaterally declared independence. The remaining Yugoslav government issued orders to the JNA to begin military action against these two republics. In late June 1991, in Slovenia, a short and the least bloody conflict in the breakup of Yugoslavia took place. Even though the T-34-85 tanks were present in Slovenia, it is likely that the vehicles were not used in this conflict.

After the war and retreat of Yugoslav forces, the tanks were returned to warehouses, located in Vipava and Pivka. According to some sources, over a dozen were sold to Croatia, while the rest were either sent to museums or scrapped.


Soon after the end of the war in Slovenia, clashes started in Croatia. Prior to this event, there had been some minor skirmishes between Croatian and Serbian paramilitary forces. After June 1991, the JNA took a more aggressive stance. At first, the JNA also used units equipped with T-34-85 tanks against the Croatian forces. It is known that the 16th Rifle Brigade used them, which participated in the fighting in Western Slavonia. The tanks were also used during the battles near Dubrovnik and Konavle.

Destroyed T-34-85 operated by the JNA during the fighting for Stari Grabovac, near Vukovar, Eastern Slavonia. Notice the ‘JNA Jugoslavija’ inscription. The tank has also received a new tactical number at the front of the turret – 6. The older number, 18018, was also kept. Source: Poligon 2/2018

Several units operated vehicles of this type: the 5th Proletarian Brigade, 145th Rifle Brigade, and the 316th Motorized Brigade. The 9th Corps, stationed near the city of Knin, also operated T-34-85 tanks. Some of the tanks were transferred from the island of Vis a year before.

At the moment when the war broke out, Croatian forces did not have a single T-34-85 tank. However, they managed to capture some and, after doing necessary repairs, the tanks were sent to Croatian units. Some sources also imply that Slovenia delivered over a dozen tanks to Croatia.

In the late Autumn of 1991, units of the 2nd Titograd Corps started blocking and shelling Dubrovnik. The main goal of this attack was either to annex the city to Montenegro or declare the separatist Republic of Dubrovnik. The fierce clashes ended in May 1992 with the JNA’s defeat.

A Croatian T-34-85 nicknamed ‘Leopard’ in the Dubrovnik region. The man on the right is Major Andrija Matijaš Pauk. He was one of the most famous Croatian commanders of the armored forces. Source: Poligon 2/2018

An important role in the defense of Dubrovnik was played in the Croatian 163rd Dubrovnik Brigade. One of the T-34-85 tanks became a true legend within Croatian forces, nicknamed Malo bijelo (English: Little White). Allegedly, during the battle, it survived two shots from 9M14 Malyutka anti-tank guided missiles. The tank also managed to destroy several enemy vehicles. At least two armored personnel carriers, one T-55, and a truck were claimed to have been destroyed.

Malo bijelo allegedly survived two shots from Yugoslav 9M14 Malyutka anti-tank guided missiles. Source: Poligon 2/2018

The characteristic feature of vehicles that belonged to the Croatian 136rd Brigade was the sandbags added to the hull and around the turret. Even though this kind of protection was primitive, it may have been somewhat effective, as the Malo bijelo story could indicate.

Malo bijelo seen from the other side. The word Sokol (Falcon) is written on the barrel. Source: Poligon 2/2018

Moreover, this kind of protection was also used by other Croatian units in the region of Dubrovnik between 1991 and 1992. In 1992, Croatian forces started pushing the Serbs back. During this period, the Croats captured over a dozen T-34-85 tanks. After some months, they were sent to armored battalions of various brigades of the Zbor narodne garde – ZNG (English: Croatian National Guard), later renamed to the Hrvatska vojska (HV, English: Croatian Army).

Croatian T-34-85 with the characteristic protection made of sandbags and checked red and white coat of arms painted on the front, Dubrovnik, 1992. Source: Poligon 2/2018

In August 1992, Croatian tanks of the 114th, 115th, and 163th Brigades participated in Operation Tigar (English: Tiger) and then in Operation Medački džep (English: Medak Pocket) during September 1993.

Destroyed T-34-85 operated by the Army of Serbian Krajina by Croatian forces in Karlovac, 1992. Source:,_Croatia.jpg

The T-34-85 tanks also participated in Operacija Bljesak (English: Operation Flash) during May 1995 in Slavonia, and in Oluja (English: Operation Storm). These two operations basically marked the end of the war in Croatia. However, the T-34-85 tanks were not used in the first line, but rather in infantry support tasks.

Soldiers of the Army of Serbian Krajina posing in front of a T-34-85 tank, Osijek, between 1991 and 1992. Poligon 2/2018

It is not known how many tanks survived the war but it is known that, after the war ended, they were retired and gradually scrapped. An interesting fact is that some vehicles were still in a military base in Benkovac between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. The state of the vehicles shows that it was some kind of warehouse.

Croatian tanks used various types of improvised protection. In addition to the already mentioned sandbags, rubber was also used. They also strongly differed from Yugoslav tanks in the paint job. While some kept their original olive green color, some were painted with camouflage. The first type of camouflage consisted of brown stains on the standard olive green, while the second type had three colors – light green and brown stains on the base olive green. The fourth type had the most colors – light green, brown and black stains on the base olive green. A lot of vehicles had a painted red and white Croatian checkerboard and their nicknames as well (Belaj bager, Demon, Mungos, Malo bijelo, Leopard, Pas, Sv. Kata, and Živac) on the hull and turret.

While the Croatian forces often managed to take over equipment from the now disintegrating JNA, some military units managed to repel the attacks using their manpower and equipment. One such event occurred during the JNA break out of the Stjepan Milanšić-Šiljo military barracks near Logorište. This barrack, which was meant to house fairly large units, was guarded by only a skeletal crew of 40 soldiers. These had the responsibility of guarding some 63 T-34-85 and T-55 tanks and other equipment. The encirclement of this JNA point began to tighten in August 1991. Due to the poor organization of the attacking Croatian units, this could not be fully implemented and the JNA could slowly reinforce its beleaguered garrison. The situation escalated when the Croatian soldiers killed 17 previously disarmed JNA soldiers. On 4th November 1991, the trapped garrison launched a general breakout with all available equipment. After two days of heavy fighting, the previously trapped JNA units managed to escape. They managed to evacuate 21 T-55 and 9 T-34-85 tanks. During the harsh fighting, the JNA forces lost between 8 to 10 tanks, many of which were T-34-85s. The Stjepan Milanšić-Šiljo military barracks was previously set on fire and were shelled by the JNA artillery, destroying much of its pre-war inventory.

One of the JNA T-34-85s lost during the Stjepan Milanšić-Šiljo breakout. Source: www.srpskioklop.palubal

Bosnia and Herzegovina

In spring 1992, another war broke out, this time in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Territorial Defense Force of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina managed to capture 19 T-34-85 tanks in Zenica at the beginning of the conflict. Later, they were assigned to various units, where armored battalions (platoons) were formed.

Later, the Bosniaks (known before as the Bosnian Muslims) captured more vehicles of this type, and after repairs, the tanks were sent to units of the Armija Bosne i Hercegovine (English: Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina).

It is assessed that the total number of T-34-85 tanks operated by Bosnia and Herzegovina was around 45. Some sources also state that a part of these vehicles were imported from other countries, with the West turning a blind eye. This is rather interesting as, officially, there was an embargo on exporting arms to warring countries in the Balkan region.

T-34–85 operated by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, probably in 1993. National insignias representing the country are on the turret (Coat of Arms, inscription BiH). Notice also the improvised protection made of rubber. Source: Poligon 2/2018

After the beginning of the war, the T-34-85 tanks were intensively used by the JNA, mainly in the regions of Posavina, Herzegovina, and central and eastern Bosnia. They were also used during the Siege of Sarajevo to support infantry and as entrenched firing points.

In May 1992, the JNA (which also changed its name to the  Vojska Jugoslavije (VJ, English: Army of Yugoslavia) withdrew from Bosnia and Herzegovina, while huge numbers of heavy equipment left behind, including T-34-85 tanks. They were sent into service with the Vosjka Republike Sprske (English: Army of the Republika Srpska) including personnel that had decided to stay. At first, armored equipment was stationed in the region of Banja Luka, then being split between individual units for infantry support tasks.

Besides Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs, the Bosnian Croats within the Hrvatsko Vijeće Odbrane – (HVO, English: Croatian Council of Defense) also operated T-34-85 tanks. They were used against the two other groups, mainly in 1993.

During the war, there were also attacks on international peace forces. On 3rd May 1995, Bosnian Serb forces attacked a checkpoint of the UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) in Maglaj, where soldiers of the 21st Regiment of the Royal Engineers were stationed. On the Serbian side was at least one T-34. Even though the attack was repulsed, six British soldiers were injured because of the tank’s fire.

Many tanks used during the war were equipped with improvised protection in order to protect the crew. According to available photos, the protection was made from thick sheets of rubber. However, a universal scheme of up-armoring did not exist, so, in reality, every tank had its protection made in a different way. Still, many tanks had this kind of protection on the hull and on the turret as well. It is not known if this kind of protection was effective, especially against modern anti-tank weapons.

Bosnian Serb T-34-85 with improvised protection, Bijeljina, between 1994 and 1995. Source: Poligon 2/2018

The war ended in 1995, when the Dayton Peace Treaty was signed. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the last post-Yugoslav operator of the T-34-85 tanks, as the last 23 tanks were sent to be scrapped in 2000.

Abandoned T-34, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1995. Source: Poligon 2/2018
T-34-85 which belonged to the Army of Republika Srpska, Doboj, 1996. Source: Poligon 2/2018


Meanwhile, Macedonia became independent in the Autumn 1991. There were either 4 or 5 T-34-85 tanks that were operated by the JNA in the area, but they were not evacuated from Macedonia in time. The Macedonian Army operated them for a short time. They were retired and probably used as monuments and sent to museums. However, it is not known when this happened and some sources state they were repaired and entered service in the Summer of 1993. This means they could have stayed in service for a bit longer.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

The Savezna Republika Jugoslavija (SRJ, English: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was the union between Serbia and Montenegro. At the beginning of 1993, its army had some 393 T-34-85 tanks. The end of the T-34-85 tanks in VJ service came to an end in 1996 due to the armament regulations instituted by the Dayton Agreement (late 1995). The former Yugoslav countries had to reduce their numbers of military armored vehicles. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia retained the right to have around 1,875 armored vehicles, of which 1,025 were tanks). Following these restrictions, a large number of older vehicles were removed from service. All VJ T-34 tanks were removed and sent for scrap metal, with the exception of those few which were given to museums. One can be seen at the Kalemegdan military museum in Belgrade.

The surviving T-34-85 at the Serbian Kalemegdan military museum in Belgrade. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba

Given the rather large number of used T-34-85, it should not be surprising that over a dozen or so vehicles survived the Yugoslav wars. They are exhibited in various museums, storehouses, or even in private collections.

A JNA T-34-85 in the Pivka museum in Slovenia. Source:/
T-34-85 tanks operated by the Croatian Army lined up in Benkovac. The photo is interesting because it shows various versions of modernized T-34-85s. It is also interesting because of the various camouflage types. Source: Poligon 2/2018

JNA T-34-85 on the Movie Screen

The Yugoslav film industry often made films with the theme of the Partisan’s exploits during the Second World War. The JNA often provided the necessary military equipment to portray enemy armored vehicles. One example was the movie Battle of Neretva from 1969. In it, some T-34-85 were modified to resemble the German Tiger tanks, even though these tanks were never actually used in Yugoslavia during the war. The creators of this movie went for a much more imposing visual effect than historical accuracy.

A Yugoslav T-34-85 disguised as a Tiger tank in the movie Battle for Neretva. Source:

The JNA’s T-34-85s were also used to portray German Tiger tanks in the 1970 classic Kelly’s Heroes. The film featured Hollywood greats, such as Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland. Three modified T-34-85 were used in this movie. The film was a US-Yugoslav co-production, filmed mainly in the Croatian village of Vižinada, on the Istria peninsula

Similar Tigers in the movie classic Kelly’s Heroes. Source:


Despite being obsolete, the T-34-85 was an important armored vehicle in the JNA arsenal. It represented over 40% of all available tank models. Even though the JNA acquired more modern tanks, and despite many mechanical and maintenance issues, the T-34-85 persisted in service up to the 1990s. Unfortunately for a weapon intended to protect Yugoslavia, it helped tear it apart during the civil wars in the 1990s. After those wars, nearly all would be removed from service and sent to be scrapped, with the last vehicles finally being sent to the scrapyard in 2000, several decades after they first entered service.

An article by John Stevenson and Marko Pantelic. The authors of this article would also like to thank Discord user HrcAk47#2345 for providing data related to ammunition.

T-34-85 in JNA service. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

T-34-85 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.68  x 3 x 2.45 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 32 tonnes
Crew 5 (driver, radio operator, gunner, loader and commander)
Propulsion 500 hp
Speed 60 km/h (road)
Range 300-400 km (road), 230-320 (off-road)
Armament 85 mm ZiS-S-53 gun, with two 7.62 mm DT machine guns and one 12.7 mm Browning M2 heavy machine gun.
Armor from 45 mm to 90 mm
Number operated 1,000+ vehicles






Cold War Yugoslav Tanks Has Own Video

PT-76B in Yugoslav Service

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1968)
Amphibious Light Tank – 63 Operated

During the 1960s, the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, JNA (Yugoslav People Army, YPA) wanted to replace their aging Second World War reconnaissance armored cars. Given the good military cooperation between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, it was logical for the JNA military to ask the Soviets for such equipment. By the late 1960s, an agreement was sought for purchasing 63 PT-76B amphibious light tanks. These would be used to reinforce the reconnaissance elements of many armored units. During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, these would see action mostly as fire support vehicles.

PT-76B in JNA service.

The Need for a Reconnaissance Vehicle

In the years after the Second World War, the main reconnaissance vehicles of the JNA were the American-built M3A1 Scout Cars and M8 Armored Cars. These were clearly aging and outdated designs and not suited for more modern combat operations, having insufficient firepower and weak armor protection. On some occasions, Sherman or T-34-85 tanks were used to supplement the firepower of reconnaissance units. The JNA needed a more modern vehicle that had sufficient firepower and good speed to reinforce the reconnaissance elements of the armored formations.

For many years, the M3A1 Scout Cars and M8 Armored Cars were the main reconnaissance vehicles employed by the JNA. Source:

In the 1960s, JNA Army officials began negotiating with the Soviet Union to resolve this issue. As a provisional solution, small numbers of BRDM-1 reconnaissance armored cars were acquired. However, this only temporarily solved the critical lack the suitable vehicles. In 1965, JNA Army officials decided to try to procure the PT-76 amphibious light tank. While the necessary funds were allocated for this project, the final decision was postponed for the next year.

In early 1966, a delegation led by the commander of the Yugoslav Armored Formations, General Dušan Ćorković, arrived in the Soviet Union. In March 1966, another delegation arrived in the Soviet Union to finalize an agreement for the purchase of military equipment. Interestingly, during the initial negotiations, the Yugoslav delegation showed interest in buying the new BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, but nothing came from this. Eventually, the deal was struck for the purchase of 600 T-34-85 and 67 PT-76B tanks, although the number of PT-76Bs was eventually reduced to 63. As these vehicles began to arrive in late 1967, they would be first transported to the military base at Pančevo, near the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade. Officially the PT-76Bs were accepted into service on 25th April 1968.

The PT-76B was officially accepted into service in the JNA in April 1968. Source:


Work on a new Soviet amphibious light tank began shortly after the end of the Second World War. It was introduced to service in the early 1950s. The PT-76 had good amphibious capabilities. On the other hand, it was a relatively large target and had poor armor protection. Despite this, some 12,000 would be produced and would see widespread use in the Soviet Army (and later Russian army, up to 2006), as well as service aboard. During its service life, a number of modifications would be introduced in order to improve its overall performance and extend its operational service life. One of these included the PT-76B (original name PT-76 Model 1957), which incorporated changes such as an improved muzzle brake. This version would be exported to Yugoslav Army.

Soviet PT-76B amphibious light tank. Source: Wiki

Organization and distribution to first units

Once the PT-76Bs were available, they would be used to reinforce the reconnaissance companies of armored units. The basic unit was a Platoon that consisted of three PT-76Bs and was supported by a Platoon of BRDM-2 armored cars (also with three vehicles). These were mainly allocated to Armored Regiments in addition to the Armored and Mechanized Brigades. During its service life, the PT-76B was almost never issued in units greater than a Platoon. The only exception to this rule was the reconnaissance Battalion of the 7th Armored Division, which had in its inventory 7 PT-76B tanks. A few tanks were allocated to various training centers and schools.

The PT-76B in JNA service was to be used together with BRDM-2 armored cars. Three of each would be used for the reconnaissance battalions of armored units. Source:

Service Life

The PT-76B in JNA service kept the original Soviet dark green camouflage. In addition, it received five-digit numbers painted in white. These were usually painted on the turret sides.

In order to train new crews, the first vehicles were allocated to various training schools. Initial training programs were carried out with the help of Soviet instructors from 15th May to 15th August 1968 at the main training center in Banjaluka. After some experience was gained with operating the PT-76B tanks, it was possible for further training to be conducted with JNA instructors. The first local training was carried out on the Sava river and later at a specially designed military range at Manjača.

Side view of a JNA PT-76B. The white five-digit markings are visible. Source:

The PT-76B was frequently used during military exercises during the 1970s and 1980s. It would be also used during one of the largest military maneuvers ever undertaken in Yugoslavia, named ‘Sloboda 71’ (English: ‘Freedom’). These lasted from 2nd to 9th October 1971, and some 40,000 regular and territorial defense soldiers were present, together with large quantities of newly acquired equipment. This maneuver also had a political background. After the Prague Uprising in 1968, political tension in Europe was high. At that time, there was even some political turmoil in Yugoslavia, especially in Croatia. This potential quelling of political instability has often been cited as one of the main reasons why the Sloboda 71 maneuvers were actually carried out. The PT-76Bs were also present on a number of military parades held in the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade.

During the early 1990s, there was a huge military reorganization of the JNA known as Jedinstvo-2 (English: ‘Unity’). It was planned that the JNA would operate some 3,078 tanks during the following years, including 48 PT-76Bs.




A rear view of a PT-76B during a river crossing exercise. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.
Two rows of PT-76Bs during one of many military parades held in Belgrade. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

Yugoslav Wars

During 1991, the tensions between the Yugoslav Federal Republics worsened to the point that open conflict erupted. The JNA was initially involved in preventing any larger military uprisings, which it ultimately failed to prevent. During 1992, the JNA initiated a general evacuation of its personnel and equipment to Serbia. Many of its vehicles had to be left behind, and they were often captured and reused by the various military and paramilitary organizations which were present in Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The PT-76B, while a rare vehicle during this conflict due to the small number operated by the JNA, would be operated by all warring parties in Yugoslavia to a limited extent.

One of the first engagements of the PT-76B during the Yugoslav wars was as a part of the 1st Armored Brigade (which had three vehicles), which was stationed in Vrhnika, in Slovenia. A JNA armored column was advancing in the direction of Vrhnika-Ljubljana-Kranj at the end of June 1991. This group with three PT-76B was tasked with taking the Rateče border crossing and the Karavanke crossing. Shortly later, a brief engagement with the Slovenian territorial defence forces occurred at the Karavanke crossing. The PT-76B was used in this engagement. While one of them was hit (sources do not specify the weapon used), no damage was noted on it. After a few days, the JNA elements that participated in these operations surrendered to Slovenian forces and the three PT-76B were captured.

Two PT-76Bs during the brief war in Slovenia. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

The Yugoslav collapse was chaotic in its nature, and this also reflected in the overall operation and use of equipment by the JNA. Despite being intended to fulfill the role of reconnaissance, during the Yugoslav wars, the PT-76Bs were used in certain combat situations for which it was never indeed to. For example, the PT-76Bs were often used to spearhead attacks either in urban centers or against fortified positions. Being lightly armored, the choice of these vehicles to lead an assault verged on suicidal. On one such occasion, a PT-76B was destroyed during an attack on the village of Jankovci.

Due to general confusion and chaos prevalent during the Yugoslav wars, the PT-76B was never used in its intended role. It was mostly used as a mobile long-range or even close-range fire support vehicle, roles which it was not meant to cover. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

The use of large amounts of anti-tank weapons, close proximity to the frontline, and, in many cases, hilly terrain prevented the PT-76B from performing its original task as a reconnaissance vehicle. For these reasons, the PT-76B was mostly used as a fire support vehicle. It is also unknown if the PT-76B was ever used in any offensive amphibious assault during the war.

Anti-tank weapons, which were either captured from the JNA or even received from outside of Yugoslavia, caused huge problems to any armored vehicles. To protect themselves, crews of many tanks, including PT-76Bs, often added improvised additional armor. This basically consisted of whatever was at hand (storage boxes, spare tires, rubber, etc).

A PT-76B with improvised anti-missile armor. The use of improvised armor during the Yugoslav wars was relatively common. Its general effectiveness is unclear, with some sources mentioning that it was effective in some cases. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

The majority of PT-76Bs would be used by the JNA and later the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Army. The Slovenian forces managed to capture some 3 vehicles. Croatian armored forces captured at least 10 such vehicles during 1991, which then saw action during the war. A few, possibly up to four, PT-76Bs were operated by the Army of the Srpska Krajina. Lastly, some 9 to 11 (depending on the source) vehicles were used by the Army of the Republika Srpska.

A PT-76B from the Army of the Republika Srpska during the war. Source: www.srpskioklop.paluba.

A video of the PT-76Bs of the Army of the Republika Srpska.

Final Fate

Following the conclusion of the Yugoslav wars, in 1996, an agreement for the reduction of arms and weapons was signed by all sides. With this agreement, most of the older equipment was declared surplus and, in many cases, scrapped. The new Yugoslav Army still had over 30 PT-76B light tanks in its inventory. The majority of these, some 33, would be scrapped in 1997 (or 1996 depending on the source). The few vehicles in the Army of the Republika Srpska were also scrapped later in 2000. Croatian and Slovenian vehicles were also mostly removed from service by the war’s end.

Beside a few vehicles that were put in museums or in storage, most ended like this one, being scrapped. Source:

A New Chance

The Army Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, while scrapping the majority of the PT-76Bs, preserved some turrets. Based on the experience from the Yugoslav wars, the Army wanted to develop and build a number of small fire support boats. These were to be armed with one PT-76B turret each. This plan never materialized, mostly due to a lack of funds and political will. In 1999 and 2000, there were new proposals to revive the project, but ultimately, nothing came from this, and the fate of these turrets is not clear. They were likely scrapped.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Army planned to build fire support boats. This was based on the experience of the War, but also on the usage of such ships by the Soviets years before. Source: /

Surviving Vehicles

At least two PT-76s are now preserved in Serbia. Both are placed in Army storage, with one in Žarkovo and the second in Kačarevo. Another one is located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the Kozara museum. One more is located in the Slovenian Museum in Pivka and a few more are located in Croatia.

The surviving PT-76B in the Kozara museum in Banja Luka. Source:
Slovenian PT-76B at the Pivka Museum.


The PT-76B was operated by the JNA in quite small numbers compared with other tanks imported from the Soviet Union. By the time of the Yugoslav 1990s wars, it was a rare vehicle and would see little use. It would mostly be employed as mobile artillery and never saw combat in its original intended role.

A PT-76B with improvised anti-missile armor used during the Yugoslav wars
The PT-76B in JNA Service

PT-76B specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 7.62 x 3.14 x 2.55 m
Total weight, battle-ready 14.4 tonnes
Crew 3 (Commander, Loader, and Driver)
Propulsion V-6, 6 cylinder in-line, 4-stroke, water-cooled diesel, outputting 240 hp@ 1800 rpm
Speed 44 km/h, 10-12 km/h (cross country), 10-11 (on water)
Range 400 km, 100 km (on water)
Primary Armament Armament: 76.2 mm D-56TM
Elevation Armament 7.62 mm SGMT
Armor 6-15 mm
Number operated 63



Cold War Yugoslav Tanks Has Own Video Modern Serbian Armor


Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Successor States (1985-Present)
Main Battle Tank – 650 Built

Symbol of Brotherhood and Unity

Development and production of the M-84 Main Battle Tank (MBT) by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia perfectly symbolized their national slogan, Brotherhood and Unity, just a decade before the country fell apart. It combined the economies and production capacities of six Yugoslav multi-ethnic republics to produce what will become their national pride. Considered one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the Yugoslav industry, it proved how complex and demanding tank production can be even for medium-sized countries.

M-84 Source: (Танкомастер. — 1999. — № 2)

Context – Playing Both Sides of the Cold War

Members of the Second Tank Brigade with their new T-34-85s
Source: Srpski Oklop

After the Second World War, Yugoslavia operated a wide variety of Axis and Allied armored vehicles. Two armored brigades consisted of captured German Panzer IIs, Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs, along with American M3 Stuarts and around five Soviet T-34-76s captured from German Anti-Partisan units. Italian L6/40, M13/40, M14/41, and M15/42 tanks were also captured during the war and kept in limited service. Based on an agreement with the Soviet Union, 308 T-34-85 tanks and 52 SU-76M self-propelled guns arrived in 1947. This was just before the Tito-Stalin Split of 1948, after which the relations with the Soviets became distant.

Two years later, an attempt to produce an unlicensed copy of the T-34-85, known as the Type A, proved unsuccessful. Production was slow and required skilled workers due to a lack of blueprints and standardized parts, which resulted in just five prototypes being built before the programme was cancelled. Following an agreement, this time with the United States, between 1951 and 1957, Yugoslavia received 599 M4A3 Shermans and 319 M47 Patton tanks, 140 M18 Hellcat and 399 M36 Jackson tank destroyers as military aid part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, along with many other kinds of military vehicles.

Yugoslav tankers replenish their M47 Patton’s ammunition
Source: Srpski Oklop

Without the means to produce spare parts for the newly acquired tanks, maintaining them became a rising problem. In the meantime, the relationship with the USSR started to improve after Stalin’s death. A Yugoslav Army delegation visited the Soviet military academy and attended a military exercise, at which they had a chance to see the new T-54 tanks in action. During the next 25 years and across several contracts, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) acquired 140 T-54s and over 1,600 T-55s. In the late sixties, JNA military officials realized that many of the older T-55s needed to be completely replaced by new tanks. It was also becoming apparent that the procurement of a tank more modern than the T-55 could not be postponed any longer.

The crew left the muzzle cover in place on this T-55
Source: Srpski Oklop

In the early seventies, the T-72 appeared on the world stage and captured the interest of Yugoslav military experts. It was available for sale, but obtaining a license for its production was impossible during the first few years, even for Warsaw Pact countries, let alone Yugoslavia. In 1978, after Yugoslav military officials had seen the T-72 during a presentation near Moscow, a decision was made to purchase the license. The Soviets quickly rejected the request, with an explanation that Yugoslavia was not able to produce such a vehicle due to its complexity. Shortly after, President Tito visited the USSR and, even with the strong objection of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, he managed to convince Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, to sell the license to the Yugoslavs. The price was 39 million dollars ($162 million in 2020 values), with the license expiring after 10 years or 1,000 produced tanks. The agreement also stated that Yugoslavia could not sell, modify, or co-produce the tank with other countries without the USSR’s approval.

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev on the left and Josip Broz Tito on the right.
Source: Pinterest

Before the beginning of production, obtaining various machines and tools proved to be very difficult. For example, in order to reduce the weight, the tank’s main wheels were made out of aluminium alloy. The production process was very complex, requiring a 30,000-tonne press, additional smaller presses, and a special furnace. At that time, there was only one press of similar characteristics in the whole of Europe. The production was a real endeavor. Over 200 companies from all six of Yugoslavia’s republics were contracted to produce different parts and subsystems, along with the Djuro Djakovic factory, responsible for the final assembly.

The prototype, designated T-72MJ, was finished in April 1983, followed by 10 test vehicles in 1984. Serial production started in 1985 and the vehicle received its new designation: M-84. Some of the factories involved in the production and their products were:

  • “Djuro Djakovic” – Slavonski Brod – Final assembly
  • “Famos” – Pale (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Engine
  • “Iskra” -Ljubljana (Slovenia) – Laser rangefinder and electronic parts
  • “Zrak” – Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Optics
  • “Slovenske Zelezarne” – Ravni (Slovenia)- steel / armor
  • “Prvi Partizan” – Uzice (Serbia) – ammunition
  • “Pretis” – Vogosca (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – ammunition
  • “Prva petoletka” – Trstenik (Serbia) – hydraulics
  • “21 Maj” – Rakovica (Serbia) – manual turret traverse system
  • “Bratstvo” – Travnik (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – cannon
  • “Metalski zavodi Tito” – Skoplje (Macedonia, today North Macedonia) – parts of the transmission
  • “Rudi Cajevec” – Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – electronics and Fire Control System
  • “Sever” – Subotica (Serbia) – autoloader mechanism
  • “Industrija lezajeva Kotor” – Kotor (Montenegro) – bearings



For its time, the M-84 was a fairly modern tank with good protection, thanks to its composite armor. The upper front plate had a slope of 68 degrees and consisted of an 80 mm rolled homogeneous (RHA) steel plate followed by 105 mm of glass-reinforced plastic called textolite, backed by a 20 mm steel plate. This armor arrangement equated to around 350 mm of RHA against Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) and around 450 mm against High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) projectiles. The lower front plate was at a 60-degree angle with a thickness of 80 mm. Some additional 20 mm of protection was in the form of a mounted dozer blade and it also enabled the tank to dig a cover for itself in a short amount of time. The hull sides were vertical and had a thickness of 80 mm at the crew compartment and 70 mm at the engine-transmission compartment, while the backplate was 40 mm thick and inclined at 30 degrees. The floor and engine deck were 20 mm thick. Rubber side skirts were also mounted to reduce the amount of dust kicked up by the tank when moving.

While the hull had a welded construction, the turret was cast. Due to its variable thickness, it provided approximately 280-380 mm of RHA protection. This early armor layout was equivalent to the T-72M and had no composite material in the turret.

The M-84’s low silhouette also contributed to the overall protection. The tank featured Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) protection equipment and two ways of deploying a smokescreen. The first was using 12 smoke dischargers on the turret front. These launched grenades 150 m in front of the tank, making a smokescreen either 20 m or 100 m wide which lasted 4-5 minutes. The second was through the use of an engine smoke generation system. The system sprayed fuel into the hot exhaust to create a trail of white smoke behind the tank. The M-84 was also equipped with an automatic fire extinguisher system.

Two M-84’s during a military exercise. The one in the back is making a smokescreen to conceal the retreat.
Source: Wikimedia


The M-84 tank was armed with a smoothbore 2A46 125 mm main gun with a thermal sleeve – the same gun as on the T-72 Soviet MBT. It could fire 3BM9 and 3BM12 APFSDS with 350 mm of penetration at 90 degrees at 2 km, 3BK14M HEAT-FS with 500 mm of penetration at 90 degrees and High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) ammunition.

The gunner also had a 7.62 mm PKT coaxial machine gun at his disposal, while the commander operated a 12.7 mm NSVT anti-aircraft machine gun. The main difference between the T-72 and the M-84 was in the Fire Control System (FCS). The new FCS was developed domestically and had better capabilities compared to the one used in the T-72M. It was named SUV M-84 and was claimed to be comparable to the best fire control systems in the world at that time. The FCS main module was the DNNS-2 gunner’s sight with an integrated laser rangefinder. This device was installed on the left side of the turret, in front of the gunner’s hatch. It had two different magnifications, 3x and 7x, while the night channel had an 8.5x magnification. The night channel had a second-generation image intensifier. The gunner also had a direct vision periscope. The commander was equipped with a DNKS-2 binocular periscope with a 360-degree view and image intensifier for night operation. With a press of a button, he could slew the turret to the target’s direction or engage it himself. There were four additional periscopes at his disposal. Another component of SUV M-84 was the meteorological sensor located on the front of the turret roof, which measured wind speed, ambient temperature, and atmospheric pressure. The FCS used this information, combined with additional data such as distance to the target, powder charge temperature, the longitudinal and horizontal tilt angle, and the tank’s movement speed to ensure high first-hit probability while on the move or when stationary. While the gunner tracked a moving target, the SUV M-84 automatically applied lead by calculating the target’s angular velocity.

DNNS-2 sight
Source: My City Military
The gunner’s station- visit the link to see a full 360-degree view

Instead of a human loader, the tank had an electro-mechanical autoloader for the main gun. With one crew member less, the turret could be made smaller and better armored for the same weight. The autoloader was located under the turret, on the tank’s floor. It held 22 rounds in its rotating transporter, commonly called a carousel, while additional 20 rounds were stored in the crew compartment. The autoloader had a fixed loading angle, which meant that the gun needed to be elevated to +3 degrees in order to line up the breech with the ammo rammer. Since the gunner’s sight was independently stabilized and not slaved to the gun, the sight remained on target during the loading process. The rate of fire was 8 rounds a minute. Contrary to popular belief, the carousel was well protected from shrapnel in case of a turret penetration. A door, through which the ammunition passed, closed after the loading process, protecting the ammunition. Though the ammunition in the carousel might be safe from most penetrations, the ammunition in the crew compartment could still ignite. Studies after the 1991 Gulf War showed that most of the catastrophic explosions of Iraqi T-72’s were caused by ammunition outside the carousel getting hit.

A diagram of the ammunition storage in a T-72. The same system was also used on the M-84.


The M-84 was powered by the V46-6, a 38.8 liter V12 multifuel engine delivering 780 horsepower. It could use diesel, low octane gasoline, or kerosene. The engine was reliable and gave the tank adequate mobility with a 19 hp/tonne ratio. The manual transmission had 7 forward and 1 reverse gear. The only downside was a painfully slow reverse of just 4 km/h. which plagued almost all tanks built on the T-72 platform. Although useful while maneuvering and parking in a non-combat environment, it seriously hampered the ability to quickly reverse out of trouble. The tank had a fuel capacity of 1,600 l (with additional fuel drums at the back) and an operational range of 700 km on the road and around 460 km off-road. Depending on the terrain, fuel consumption went from 230 to 350 l per 100 km. The tank had a torsion bar suspension with double shock absorbers on the first, second, and sixth pairs of doubled road wheels. The tracks, 580 mm wide, were supported by 3 return rollers. The sprocket wheel was at the back. The system could span a 2.8 m trench, climb an 85 cm wall, and ford 1.2 m without preparation. With full preparation, it could ford water obstacles 5 m deep and 1,000 m wide.

The M-84’s powerpack could be easily replaced in 15 minutes.
Source: Yugoimport
Climbing a steep slope gives a better look at the folded dozer blade on the lower front plate.
Source: Srpski Oklop

Production and variants

In total, around 650 tanks of all variants were produced. The most numerous variant was the basic M-84 with 370 vehicles made between 1984 and 1987.



In 1987, a new variant of the M-84 started production and received the designation M-84A. While firepower remained the same, armor protection and mobility were substantially improved. The upper frontal plate had a different laminate layout and consisted of a thin 16 mm high hardness steel plate welded to a 60 mm rolled homogenous plate, followed by 105 mm of textolite backed by a 50 mm plate. While the basic M-84 had a simple cast steel turret, the M-84A’s turret had a cavity filled with Quartz sand mixed with an adhesive. The thickness of this insert was 130 mm. The tank’s new armor layout was claimed to be effective against contemporary NATO 105 mm projectiles. Mobility was improved by replacing the old 780 hp engine with a 1000 hp V-46TK. The new engine gave the M-84A an excellent power-to-weight ratio of 24 hp/tonne. That was enough to propel the 41.5-tonne tank to a respectable top speed of 65 km/h. Around 100 vehicles were assembled until the end of production in 1992.

The M-84A is recognisable by the two “ribs” under the driver’s port instead of four, and equal number of smoke launchers on each side of the turret
Source: Braca Ratnici


The M-84AB/ABK was an export variant made for Kuwait. The company in charge of export and shipment was Yugoimport SDPR. It impressed the Kuwaitis after it won a desert trial against the M1A1 Abrams. It proved more reliable and finished the 102 km course without breakdowns, while the Abrams was not able to finish due to a fuel system malfunction. Later, Yugoslav mechanics demonstrated engine removal, complete disassembly, and reassembly in the field. The Kuwaitis were sold and made an order of 200 M-84AB and 15 M-84ABK command tanks. The price was 1.58 million dollars per vehicle (3.4 million in 2020 values).

Around 150 were shipped to Kuwait before the Yugoslav Civil War and a small number after the war. It differed from the M-84A by having a desert color scheme, slightly different positioning of the smoke launchers, Racal Dana or Jaguar V radio instead of the standard RUT-1, conventional searchlight on the right turret front, lettering in Arabic, additional equipment for desert operations, and around 200 smaller changes requested by Kuwait. The Command versions had a generator for keeping the tank’s radios and electrical systems running with the engine off.

During the 1991 Gulf War, M-84s operated alongside Coalition tanks against the Iraqis, but somewhat cautiously. The M-84 could be easily mistaken for an enemy T-72 during the night or in a sandstorm and potential friendly fire was a major concern. Luckily, this did not happen. Kuwait found their M-84’s excelled in desert conditions. Sweden, Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt also showed interest in the tank. Pakistan extensively tested two examples. They completed rigorous evaluation and traveled 1,600 km without any failures or mechanic interventions. Libya ordered 200 vehicles but later withdrew the order in favor of the cheaper Soviet T-72M. Since 240 companies were contracted for making parts and components, none of the former Yugoslav republics could independently produce the tank.

Crossing the Iraqi infantry trenches during Operation Desert Storm.
Source: Wikimedia
Crossing the Iraqi infantry trenches during Operation Desert Storm. Source: Wikimedia


M-84A4 Snajper

Even though Croatia only had a 25% share in the M-84 productions, the company that assembled the tank into a finished product was on its soil. After the breakup of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, during a bloody civil war, the Djuro Djakovic factory still had enough parts to roll out new M-84s and pass on M-84ABs intended for export to Kuwait to the newly established Croatian Army. After the war, many M-84ABs were finally delivered to their original buyer. Some were kept in service and by 2003 modernized together with remaining M-84As. The main objective of modernization was the Fire Control System. A new FCS called Omega-84 was developed in cooperation with the Slovenian company Fotona and is claimed to be more effective than the original SUV-M84. The system had new stabilization systems for the sight and the main gun, a new meteorological sensor, a second-generation image intensifier for night operations, and a new laser rangefinder accurate up to 10 km with a probable error of +/- 7.5 m. The rest of the tank was left basically unchanged. This variant received the designation M-84A4 Snajper (Eng. Sniper). As of 2021, the Croatian Army still operates around 80 tanks of this type.

M-84A4 Snajper is recognizable by the rectangular gunner’s sight housing. Source: Srpski Oklop


A Croatian upgrade to the M-84A4 that incorporates many modern improvements is the mid-2000’s M-84D. The tank is equipped with explosive reactive armor of Israeli origin, along with the Omega-84D FCS featuring a thermal imager, laser warning receivers, navigation and battle management systems for improved situational awareness. An air-conditioning device is installed to improve the crew’s comfort. The commander’s independent weapon station with a 50. caliber Browning M2 machine gun is also added. This rectifies the safety problem of using the old non-remotely fired heavy machine gun in a combat environment. The turret traverse system is now electric, which operates faster and more precisely than the old hydraulic system. A bustle rack that doubles as RPG slat armor protection is located on the back of the turret, as well as laser warning receivers. The engine remained the 1,000 hp V-46TK, but a new automatic transmission was installed. A more powerful engine (probably a German MTU) could be ordered. The M-84D has a modular construction that provides the potential buyer a degree of freedom in choosing the tank’s subsystems and equipment. This upgrade package was intended for Kuwait and Croatia’s Army’s, but neither of them decided to upgrade their tanks to M-84D standards yet. The tank remained at the prototype stage.

A commander’s 50. cal CIWS is installed on this M-84D
Source: Srpski Oklop
M-84D with the new type of tracks and side skirt ERA called RRAK
Source: Srpski Oklop



In July 2004, on the 55th anniversary of the Serbian company YugoImport SDPR, the M-84AB1 was revealed. This was a modernized M-84AB model primarily intended for export. The cost of modernization was around 1 million dollars per vehicle (1,374,000$ in 2020 values). The armor was improved by the addition of the Kontakt 5 ERA in a layout similar to the Russian T-90 MBT. Protection was further enhanced with the Shtora-1 soft-kill passive protection system. This Soviet system dating back to the early 1980s is an electro-optical jammer that uses two InfraRed (IR) dazzlers to disrupt semiautomatic command to line-of-sight (SACLOS) anti-tank guided missiles. It is also equipped with laser warning receivers that detect and inform the crew of incoming laser beams from rangefinders and target designators. This system can automatically turn the turret towards the threat and deploy an aerosol smokescreen to conceal the tank. The M-84AB1 received an electro-magnetic mine protection system, which moves the tank’s magnetic field upfront to trigger this type of mines.

The firepower was also improved. A new Fire Control System was installed, coupled with the Thales Catherine-QW gunner’s sight. This thermal imager had a target detection range of 3.5 to 8.6 km, depending on the selected level of magnification. The tank also had an optional device called TOMS that could be elevated to provide observation and measurement behind cover without exposing the tank. Improved main gun stabilizer, meteorological sensor, and crew periscopes were also installed. The newer 2A46M main gun enabled the tank to fire modern APFSDS projectiles with around 550 mm of penetration at 2.2 km, a tandem-charge HEAT projectile with around 600 mm of penetration, and a Refleks ATGM that has a range of 5 km and penetration from 700 to 900 mm. The commander could now fully take control of the main gun and remotely operate the heavy machine gun. The remote machine gun was optional and was not present on all examples. Crew comfort was improved with an air-conditioning device, and situational awareness became much better with the new navigation and battle management systems.

M-84AS with TOMS (above the gunner’s sight) and 12.7 mm remote weapon station Source: Yugoimport
M-84AS with elevated TOMS device Source: Pinterest

Two different engine options were offered with M-84AB1. The V-46TK with 1,000 hp or V-46TK1 with 1200 hp. The engines were equipped with a safety system that prevented starting with improper procedures. This system also switched the engine off if the oil pressure dropped below 2 bar. A new high-pressure fuel pump gave 16% more power with no increase in fuel consumption. The tank had a new type of tracks with extended service life from 3,000 to 8,000 km.

In 2009, the M-84AB1 was renamed M-84AS. Kuwait tested this modification but the decision to upgrade their M-84 fleet to this standard was not made. This variant can arguably be described as a commercial failure. The Serbian Army operates around 10 examples of the M-84AS.

This example does not have TOMS, remotely operated heavy machine gun nor the new type of tracks Source: Wikimedia


The most recent Serbian M-84 modification is known as the M-84AS1. Not much is officially revealed about the tank, but some assumptions can be made. The tank’s base armor is probably augmented by a new domestic M19 ERA, which is claimed to be effective against tandem-charge HEAT and 3BM42 Mango APFSDS projectiles. Laser warning receivers are also present on the turret. The Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) covers a large portion of the fighting compartment sides and slat armor protects the engine and transmission compartment from Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks.

M-84AS1 showing very good ERA coverage even on the turret roof Source: Politika
Cut-out of the M-19 ERA Source: My City Militar

The M-84AS1 received a Belorussian PKP-MRO commander’s independent thermal viewer with a detection range of 7 km and recognition range of 4 km for tank sized targets, along with a remotely operated 12.7 mm machine gun weapon station with its own fire control system and thermal imager. The commander has access to all-around low light cameras for observing the tank’s surroundings, mounted on a new type of meteorological sensor, as well as a battle management system. An improved version of the gunner’s sight called DNNS-2 TI is equipped with a thermal imager but it is not clear if this type of sight is installed on the new tank since it looks almost the same as the old DNNS-2 from the outside. The driver is equipped with a rearview camera, digitized control panel, and GPS or GLONASS navigation system. M-84AS1 is planned to have a second stage of modernization called M-84AS2. What systems will be upgraded in the second stage or how many tanks will be upgraded to the M-84AS1/AS2 standard is not revealed yet.

1: Laser Warning Receiver
2: Smoke grenade launchers
3: Remote weapon station
4: Meteorological sensor with low light cameras
5: The commander’s independent thermal viewer (CITW)
Source: Politika
M-84AS2 followed by an M-84AS1. The towing hooks are covered with ERA on the AS2 model. Source: Facebook/Sve o vojsci


In the mid-1990s, the M-84AI Armored Recovery Vehicle was developed on the chassis of the M-84A with the help of Polish engineers and strongly resembles their WZT-3. It has vehicle recovery and towing equipment, along with hydraulic dozer blades for landscaping and barrier removal. A crane was mounted for lifting heavy objects or assisting in vehicle repair. For vehicle recovery, the main winch with a pulling force of 300 kN (30 tonnes) and a 200-meter cable was used. It has a mechanical drive with a two-speed transfer case. An additional smaller hydraulic winch with 20 kN of force (2 tonnes) and 400-meter cable was used for less demanding tasks. The TD-50 hydraulic telescoping crane with a capacity of 15 tonnes had a 360-degree range of motion and a maximum lifting height of 8.6 m. The vehicle was also equipped with a welding apparatus and toolsets for lighter repairs. The transport platform on the back had a 3,500 kg capacity. The vehicle was powered by the 1,000 hp V-46TK and weighed 42 tonnes. The vehicle was armed with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun with 300 rounds mounted in front of the commander’s hatch. Only five examples were built.

M-84AI next to the Puch Pinzgauer truck Source: Srpski Oklop


Use in the Yugoslav Wars

The M-84s were operated by all sides during the chaotic and bloody Yugoslav Civil War that lasted from 1991 to 1995. This topic is very complex, and accurate information is not available for many units that used these tanks. Given the fact that T-55s and T-34s still made the majority of unit strengths, M-84s were, in comparison, less common. Right before the start of the war, Yugoslav National Army (JNA) units equipped with M-84s were:

  • 1st Armored Brigade – Vrhnika / Slovenia
  • 4th Armored Brigade – Jastrebarsko / Croatia
  • 211th Armored Brigade – Nis / Serbia
  • 252nd Armored Brigade – Kraljevo/ Serbia
  • 329th – Banja Luka – Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • 51st Motorized Brigade – Pancevo/ Serbia
  • 243rd Armored Brigade – Skopje/ Macedonia (today called North Macedonia)

Before the start of the civil war, each armored brigade was equipped with 40 tanks. The actual number once the conflict began and reinforcements were harder to come by is uncertain.

As the war progressed and former republics started to gain their independence, many of the JNA’s military vehicles were captured and used to equip newly formed units of the Slovenian Army (SV), Army of Serbian Krajina (SVK), Croatian Army (HV), Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH), and Army of Republika Srpska (VRS).

Early in the war, JNA’s armored units suffered heavy losses against the HV. During the battle for the city of Vukovar, the inexperienced supporting infantry often refused to advance forward without tanks leading the way. This lack of proper infantry support made the tanks easy targets for the Croatian defenders armed with handheld rocket launchers and anti-tank mines.

A horrific scene from the battle of Vukovar. Source: My City Military

One example was the destruction of 9 JNA armored vehicles on the infamous Trpinjska Road (Trpinjska cesta). The Croatian National Guard (ZNG), the precursor to the Croatian Army, and members of the police, while keeping the JNA infantry at bay with mortar and sniper fire, destroyed four M-84s, one T-55, three BVP M-80 armored personnel carriers, and a TZI recovery vehicle.

M-84 destroyed by an anti-tank mine on Trpinjska Road Source: Srpski Oklop

Even though the terrain of that part of Croatia was ideal for the use of armored units, being open and flat, instead of exploiting weak points or quickly maneuvering to a different position on the frontline, tanks were often used as self-propelled guns or immobile hardpoints, completely ignoring the JNA’s doctrine. Tank-on-tank engagements were very rare. On one occasion, however, the HV attempted a breakthrough with several captured T-55s and probably one M-84 tank. They frontally attacked dug-in JNA M-84s and suffered losses. Three T-55s were destroyed and two were damaged.

As the M-84 had a three-man crew, the lack of a fourth crew member put an increased strain on them during maintenance due to an insufficient increase in auxiliary staff at the unit level. Enemy action was not always the cause of tank losses, as many accidents occurred due to inadequate or skipped maintenance. For example, the lack of regular cleaning of the cannon barrel could result in a deformation upon firing. The projectile would take a couple of milliseconds longer to exit and the pressure exerted for a longer duration of time deformed the barrel enough to become stuck between the cannon trunnions during the recoil cycle. In another instance, the shell exploded in the cannon breech and launched the barrel almost 30 meters in front of the tank, while the breech ended up hitting the back of the turret. Luckily, the crew survived with only minor injuries. Another flaw of the M-84 was that the commander needed to be exposed in order to operate the anti-aircraft machine gun, as it could not be fired remotely. This is the case with almost all tanks built on the T-72 platform and the machine gun was commonly left unused or removed to prevent snagging on foliage and debris. In the Bosnian hills or urban fighting, due to the low turret roof, a lack of gun elevation and depression became noticeably problematic.

Abandoned M-84 during the battle for Vukovar Source: Wikimedia

The autoloading system proved reliable, but almost all hits to the lower sides of the tank ignited the ammunition storage with deadly consequences. The frontal armor of the M-84 was never penetrated during the war, but one vehicle was put out of service after it was hit with what was most likely an unexploded High-Explosive or illumination shell fired from either 122mm howitzer or 130 mm field cannon. The projectile struck the glacis plate and warped the hull longitudinally, making it structurally unsound, so it was written off. Around 40 M-84s were destroyed during the war, but some were later repaired.

Result of a catastrophic ammunition explosion Source: Photobucket
Boxes placed on the front act as spaced armor and, more importantly, provide better crew morale. Source: Srpski Oklop
The front fenders were usually removed to prevent the buildup of mud and rubble Source: Srpski Oklop

The M-84s were last used against the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) in the Kosovo province during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Although the main tank used against the KLA insurgents was the T-55, the M-84s were kept in reserve for the expected land invasion. The 252nd Armored Brigade managed to keep their tanks hidden from NATO aviation and only a few tanks were lost. Many decoys were built and placed on fake fighting positions for the NATO aircraft to “destroy”.

The official NATO reports numbered 110 tanks, 200 APCs, and 545 artillery pieces destroyed. In reality, the Yugoslav Army lost nine M-84s during the 78 days of constant bombing and KLA attacks.

Since the land invasion never came and the peace treaty was signed, the Yugoslav 3rd Army, along with the 252nd Armored Brigade, nicknamed the “Invisible” Armored Brigade, withdrew from Kosovo province in front of the UN and NATO eyes almost unscathed.

Current operators

Serbia operates 199 M-84 and M-84A’s, along with a few M-84AS and AS1/2 tanks included in this number.

Kuwait still uses 149 of its M-84AB/ABK tanks.

Croatia has 72 tanks of the M-84A4 standard, two M-95 Degman prototypes and one M-84D.

Slovenia operates 54 M-84/M-84A’s captured from the JNA.

An M-84 in Slovenian service Source: Wikimedia

Bosnia and Herzegovina has 16 M-84/M-84A’s in service.

A Bosnian M-84 on Manjaca testing ground
Source: YT, Vladimir Ivanovic


While the initial M-84 version was a slightly improved T-72 licensed copy, it spurned the Yugoslav arms industry into producing a competitive Main Battle Tank that saw export success and is still in use to this day. However, due to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the production facilities were split up between the successor states, so none of them was able to keep producing the tank.

The M-84 in a regular Serbian Army three-ton camouflage. Illustration by Jaroslaw ‘Jarja’ Janas, funded by our Patreon Campaign.


Dimensions Total length 9.53 m, Hull length 6.96 m, Width 3.46 m Height 2.19 m
Ground clearance 470 mm
Total weight, battle-ready 41.5 tons
Crew 3 (driver, gunner, and commander)
Propulsion 780 hp V-46-6 (M-84), 1000 hp V-46TK (M84A/AB)
Speed 60 km/h (M-84), 65 km/h (M84A/AB)
Suspension Torsion bar, shock absorbers
Transmission Manual, 7 forward, 1 reverse gear
Fuel capacity 1200+400 l
Range 700 km on-road, 460 km off-road
Armament 125 mm 2A46 with 42 rounds
12.7 mm NSVT with 300 rounds
7.62 mm PKT with 2000 rounds
Armor Composite UFP, steel turret (M-84)
Composite UFP+16 mm plate, 130 mm quartz insert in the turret (M-84A/AB)
LFP 80 mm+20 mm dozer blade
Hull sides 80-70 mm, back 40 mm, floor and engine deck 20 mm
Production 650


  • SAVREMENI TENKOVI U SVETU- Iztok Kocevar, Beograd 1988.
    VINC, Beograd 1991.
  • mr Dragan Petkovic, dipl. inz.
  • Spasibuhov, Bahmetov, Mihaylov
    Yugoslavskiy tank M-84
    Tankomaster -1999- nr. 2
Cold War Yugoslav Tanks Has Own Video WW2 Yugoslav Partisan Armor of Western Origin

Light Tank M3A1/A3 in Yugoslav Service

Yugoslav Partisans/Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1944-1960)
Light Tank – 56-100+ Received

The Yugoslav communist Partisans, or National Liberation Army, were one of the largest resistance movements against Germany in occupied Europe, fighting many hard battles against the Axis forces during WWII. The Allies, seeing the importance of this struggle (as large number of Axis troops were sent to the Balkans to quell the Partisans), decided to supply the Partisans with a number of American Stuart light tanks and other military equipment, such as armored cars, trucks, military uniforms, and small arms etc. These Stuart light tanks were not first to be operated by the Partisans (they had used tanks such as the Italian L3 or the French Hotchkiss H35 and SOMUA S35 tanks among others) but were provided in enough numbers to equip a Tank Brigade. This Brigade would see heavy fighting from late 1944 until the end of the war in Yugoslavia in May 1945. The Stuart tanks were important not just for the Partisans, but they represented the nucleus from which the future JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) armored force would be created. The Stuart tanks would remain in operational service into the beginning of the 1960s.


After the Italian defeats in North Africa and Greece, Mussolini had no choice but to seek help from his German ally. Hitler, unwillingly, decided to send German military aid to help the Italian conquest of Greece. For the planned occupation of Greece, Hitler counted on the neutrality of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact of Germany, Italy, and Japan on 25th March 1941. Two days later, Air Force General Dušan Simović, with the support of other military officers, staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the government (and the Regent Prince Paul) which had intended to join the Axis forces. The new government under Simović did not ratify the Tripartite Pact and commenced negotiations with Britain and the USSR. Due to these events, and in preparation for the attack on Greece and the Soviet Union, the German High Command decided to occupy Yugoslavia and create a safe environment for further operations. Thus began the ‘April War’ (codenamed Directive 25); the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 6th April 1941.
After the end of the April War, Yugoslavia was divided amongst the Axis forces. Mostly because of the brutality of the occupying forces, the discontent of the occupied nations grew more and more. Very quickly in the territory of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia, two liberation movements were formed, the Royalist Chetniks (Četnici/Четници) and the communist Partisans (Partizani/Партизани). The communist side would form the NOV (National Liberation Army) (Narodno-oslobodilačka Armija/Народно-ослободилачка Армија) but are more commonly and simply known as the ‘Partisans’.
These two groups at first cooperated together against the common enemy. In October 1941, joint Partisan and Chetnik forces attacked (with some captured German Beutepanzer SOMUA S35, Renault R35, and Hotchkiss H35/39 ) the city of Kraljevo (in southern-central modern-day Serbia). This attack failed and soon after, conflicting ideology would lead the former partners into an open civil war which would last until the end of WWII.

Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. The Axis forces used the southern parts of Yugoslavia, to quickly attack Greek positions. Source: Wikipedia

Forming of the First Tank Brigade

1943 was an important year for the Partisan movement for several reasons. Italy capitulated and the south of the country was occupied by the Allies. After the capitulation and withdrawal of Italian forces in September 1943, large parts of what was once Italian occupied Yugoslav territory were left undefended and abandoned. Partisans succeeded in capturing large quantities of weapons, including Italian tanks, self-propelled guns, armored vehicles, and trucks. The withdrawal of the Italians directly influenced the increase in the number of people who joined the Partisan side.
The communication and supply link between the German forces in Greece with the rest of Germany came under risk. The Germans were forced to send a large number of troops (14 division and 2 partly equipped divisions). The remaining German allies, the Hungarians and Bulgarians, were also heavily involved, with a total of 9 Divisions and 2 corps, with all available NDH forces (Independent State of Croatia/Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) and a number of Chetniks and Serbian collaborationist units also committed. In total, this combined force numbered some 1.1 million men (soldiers, support units and others).
Due to the fact that the Partisan movement was increasing in size and was tying down such a large number of enemy soldiers and equipment, they became an important factor in any future Allied war planning for this theatre of Europe. This was one of the many reasons why by the end of 1943 and early 1944, the Allies decided to support the Partisan movement only. Although they had also helped Chetniks in the past, due to the lack of Chetnik actions against the Axis forces in the Balkans (and many other factors which are under contentious and heated debate even to this day), they stopped any further assistance to this group. Thanks to the fact that the southern part of Italy was under Allied control, the possibility of closer cooperation with the Partisans opened up.
From 1943 and 1944 onwards, the Partisans liberated large territories that now had to be defended from any Axis attack. This led to the change of guerrilla-style fighting to a more direct one, but due to the increasing number of Axis forces, and more importantly the lack of a sufficient number of heavier equipment, these open battles were costly and not always successful.
The Allies decided to help the Partisans by training them and equipping them with much needed heavy weapons, such as tanks and aircraft. Many Partisan fighters that had some experience with this kind of equipment were transported to Italy to be used to form future training camps and centers. For the creation of the first tank unit with Allied equipment, 94 soldiers and officers in total from the 4th Tank Battalion (a unit that had been operating in Croatia and was equipped with captured Italian light tanks) were used. In April 1944, this group was transported by the Allies by sea to El Katadba in Egypt (near the city of Cairo). This group was reinforced with some 200 members of the Royal Yugoslav Army in Africa. This number would increase to 1,200, as most soldiers of the Royal Yugoslav Army would join this unit. By May 1944, it was moved to Chenifa (a training camp in Egypt), where the training of the crews would commence. The training was mostly carried out by British instructors and great attention was given to driving and firing. For training purpose, Stuart tanks and AEC armored cars were used. After some demanding and exhausting exercises, the training process was considered complete, and by late June, the unit was shipped to Italy once more. There, at Gravina Di Puglia (a village near the city of Bari), the First Tank Brigade was formed on 16th July 1944.
The British provided all the necessary materials needed to equip this brigade. At the very beginning, the Brigade had only 10 Stuart tanks. The British were at first reluctant to supply more tanks, as they did not believe that the Partisans could efficiently operate and maintain a larger number of armored vehicles. There were no more tanks available and the British could not provide personnel for maintenance of these vehicles. In order to discuss this issue, a meeting between the Supreme Allied Commander for the Mediterranean, General Sir Henry ‘Jumbo’ Wilson, and Josip Broz Tito (leader of the Partisans) took place on 10th August 1944. These negotiations were successful for the Partisan side and an agreement was made to supply a sufficient amount of armored vehicles to equip at least one tank brigade.

Stuart tanks and their crews prior to their transportation to Yugoslavia. The photograph was taken at Gravina Di Puglia in 1944. Source

Brigade organization

The original planned organization structure of this brigade was the following: It consisted of a headquarter company (with additional support staff), an ambulance company, four tank battalions, an engineering battalion, a company of armored cars, a mechanics company, and a unit for crew training (this unit was removed from the brigade very early on). Each of these four tank battalions was further divided into two tank companies (there is no precise information on how many tanks each had), an anti-tank battery, and a rear support company.
The Brigade unit’s fighting strength consisted of 56 light tanks, mostly M3A3 Stuarts (though there were a small number of M3A1’s and possibly even few M5’s), 24 AEC Mk. II Armored Cars, and two M3A1 ‘White’ Scout Cars (to be used as command vehicles). Support elements consisted of 21 Ford 3t trucks, 21 Chevrolet 3t trucks, 2 1.5t trucks, 8 Jeeps, 6 fuel trucks, two unidentified tracked vehicles, and 9 motorcycles. There is a chance that other vehicles were included, but these are not listed in the sources. This speculation is based on the fact that when the Brigade was transported to Yugoslavia it had 59 tanks, more than the official documented (which also complicates the task of determining the exact number of tanks used).
As there were not enough tanks to equip all four tank battalions, a decision was made to use only three tank battalions and one armored car battalion. This armored car battalion was never used as a whole unit, but was instead divided into smaller groups and given to the tank battalions to be mostly used in an anti-tank role, as the QF 6-pdr (57 mm) gun on the AEC provided strong firepower.
The anti-tank battery was equipped with towed 6-pdr AT guns, which was the same gun as on the AEC Mk.II Armored Car, allowing for ammunition crossover. For the purpose of towing these guns, trucks and two unidentified tracked vehicles (possibly Bren Gun Carriers) were used. The engineering battalion was only mechanized after the Partisans captured a number of vehicles, mostly German.
For supplies necessary for the functioning of the Brigade, the Allies supplied the Partisans with 29,000 liters of fuel (with additional 35,000 liters requested by the Partisans official), 12,000 liters of oil, 19,000 rounds for the 37 mm and 6-pdr guns, and some 220,000 machine gun rounds.
In total, the Brigade had some 1,619 men. The remaining soldiers that were not included in the Brigade were instead sent to the Soviet Union to be a part of the Second Tank Brigade.

The Light Tank M3 ‘Stuart’

The M3 light tank was designed in 1940 to replace the older and outdated M2 tanks that were in service with the American armored forces. The M3 had many improvements over the M2, including thicker armor, stronger (due to the increase in weight) vertical volute spring suspension with a rear idler wheel, increased speed, and improved firepower consisting of four .30 machineguns and a 37 mm cannon. The first series was powered by the gasoline-fueled (petrol) Continental seven-cylinder four-cycle radial aircraft engine, but after 1942, a new four-stroke diesel radial Guiberson A-1020 engine was used. It had a crew of four (driver, driver assistant, gunner, and commander). From March 1941 to August 1942, some 5,811 Stuart (with petrol engine) and 1,285 (diesel engine) were built.
The much improved M3A1 version was produced from April 1942 onwards. The first batches of M3A1 tanks were built by using riveted armor, but later models had welded armor. The changes that were made were: improved turret design (the small commander cupola was removed) with two hatch doors, reducing the number of machine guns to three on later built vehicles, and the addition of a turret basket. Some 4,621 M3A1 tanks were produced by February 1943, including a small number of diesel-powered tanks (around 211).
Soon after the M3A1, a new model, the M3A3, was made (the M3A2 was only a paper project) as a result of poorly designed frontal armor and small fuel capacity. The front and side armor of the Stuart M3A3 was angled and the front viewing hatch for the driver and his assistant were replaced by new overhead ones. The radio was moved from the hull to the turret rear. Due to extra space that the Stuart M3A3 now had, it was possible to increase the fuel capacity. This version was produced until August 1943 (when the production of the Stuart was finally canceled) with a total of 3,427 vehicles being built.
The Stuart series saw extensive operational service throughout the war on many different fronts. The USA supplied the Stuart series to other nations through Lend-Lease, including 5,532 (of all variants) to the British Empire, 1,676 to the USSR, 427 to Brazil, with several other hundreds going to China, France, the Netherlands, and many Latin American nations. Britain would subsequently give some of their Stuart’s to Yugoslav Partisans. By 1943, however, the M3 was already outdated, due to its weak gun and feeble armor.

Partisan Stuart tanks in combat

Author’s note: as the sources often do not specify the exact model of M3 tank used by the Partisans (it could be either M3A1 or M3A3 or even M5), this article will use the Stuart designation for the sake of simplicity, unless the sources specify which model or version. Also, note that the Partisans and later in JNA documents designation Stuart was wrongly written as ’Styart’ or ‘Stuard’.
The Brigade was transported by British ships to the island of Vis (off the Yugoslav Adriatic coast) in early September 1944. This operation was successfully completed by October. Immediately after, all elements of the Brigade were transported onto Yugoslav mainland and were divided into two groups: Northern and Southern.

The Northern Group

The Northern Group (the 2nd Tank Battalion and half of the 3rd Tank Battalion, in addition to AEC Mk.II armored cars which were equally divided to reinforce the 3rd Battalion in both groups) was tasked with helping other Partisan units in fighting and expelling the German (118th Jagerdivision) near the island of Brač (in the south of modern day Croatia). For this operation, 34 Stuart tanks and 12 AEC Mk.II armored cars were chosen. The transportation process on behalf of the British was slow, and by the time the 2nd Battalion was ready for action, the Germans forces had been driven-off. The next step was to transport these units to the mainland, but there was a problem due to the insufficient number of adequate Partisans transport ships. The British refused to help because of enemy coastal artillery. The Partisans however, decide to attempt to land by using all ships they could find. By late October, most tanks were transported onto the mainland, with only one tank being lost as a consequence of heavy German artillery fire. This group, along with other Partisans forces, pursued the retreating German forces. The progress was slow due to obstacles and mines which had been placed by the Germans. By late October, Partisans broke through the German defense line (Solin-Kaštel-Sučurac). In the night of 27th-28th October, a group of four Stuart tanks were sent to attack retreating enemy forces, but in this attack one Stuart tank was lost to enemy fire.

Transportation of a M3A3 tank by a British ships. Source:
After securing the coastline, the Northern group was moved toward the city of Šibenik (in central Dalmatia). It was planned by the Partisan high command to attack the city from two sides. Expecting a larger attack on the city, the German began withdrawing their forces (there was some number of Chetnik forces helping defend the city). During the advance on the city, elements of the Second Battalion unexpectedly came across a German force, and after some fierce fighting, lost four Stuart tanks with most of their crews being killed. The Germans had a battery of 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank guns which could easily destroy Stuart tanks. There were other skirmishes with both German and Chetnik forces. A group of Chetniks came across a column of Stuart tanks, incorrectly thinking they were German tanks. The Partisan tanks immediately opened fire, killing many while the rest surrendered. Some German forces were left behind during the retreat and were surrounded. All available tanks and armored cars in the region were sent to destroy this group, but after some intense fighting, they failed and lost four tanks in the process, with one falling off a cliff. Consequently, the Germans managed to fight through the Partisans lines and escape. Regardless of this, the city of Šibenik was captured on 3rd November 1944.
Before the war, Šibenik had been a large naval shipyard and possessed a number of workshops. For this reason, the Partisans (despite some heavy sabotage made by the German) chose to make a repair and maintenance facility there. The Partisans managed to salvage some facilities and trained personnel in repairs and maintenance. As there was no reserve of new tanks, all tanks were considered important. Vehicles which had been destroyed or damaged were transported to Šibenik (how this was done is unknown, though possibly other tanks were used for towing) to be repaired if possible or to be used for spare parts. Those with turrets damaged beyond repair were used for different modifications equipped with captured German weapons. Šibenik would remain the main base for repairs and maintenance until the end of the war. In November, a tank school was moved to Šibenik from Gravine in the south of Italy to train new personnel. Training was mostly carried out on captured vehicles such as French and Italian tanks.

Šibenik was an important repair facility for the Partisans. Here we can see an M3A3 being repaired. As a number had lost their turret, they were reused for mounting captured German guns. The photographed vehicle could be one of those. Source

Collection of tanks of the Northern group at Šibenik, Winter of 1944/1945. Source
The next vital city to capture was Knin (on the Zagreb-Split road in inner Dalmatia). It was defended by a large force of entrenched German troops supported by Croatian Ustasha (Ustaše/Усташе), and Chetnik units, consisting of some 20,000 men, 20 tanks ( French Hotchkiss H35/39 and Italian FIAT (possibly) L6/40 tanks – under German flag). The Brigade’s Northern group was tasked in supporting other Partisan units (26th and 19th Divisions) in taking this city. The Brigade was further divided, with 13 tanks and 6 armored cars being assigned to the 26th Division and 12 tanks and 5 armored cars being assigned to the 19th Division. On 25th November, the first attacks using tanks and armored cars were unsuccessful, resulting in the loss of one tank and one armored car. The Brigade’s vehicles were not used as a single entity, but were instead divided into even smaller combat groups to support infantry units, which limited their offensive power. Furthermore, due to their tactical usage, the vehicles were easy targets for the defending forces. The armored vehicles were withdrawn and sent to support the attack of the 1st Dalmatian Proletarian Brigade on the city. The attack began on 2nd December, and after some heavy fighting, the Partisans managed to break the German resistance, which forced them to abandon Knin. By 4th December, all retreating German forces were destroyed or forced to surrender. The battle for Knin had been bitter and bloody, with the Partisans losing four Stuart tanks and one AEC armored car.

Actions of the Southern Group

The second Southern group (1st Battalion and the remaining elements of the 3rd Battalion) was tasked with the liberation of the Mostar region, which was vital to the Germans, as this was the main line of retreat for their remaining forces in Greece. Prior to the arrival of the Stuart tanks, Partisan forces had been stopped at the village of Buna (modern-day Bosnia). It was well defended, and the Neretva River flew through it, giving an extra obstacle that the Partisans had to overcome. Partisans with support of Stuart tanks and anti-tank guns attacked these positions but were not able to break through. The Stuart crews had great problems with the unknown terrain, with two being bogged down and a third falling on its side, forcing the crews to abandon the vehicles. Even though there was a danger that the Germans would destroy them, the Partisans went to great effort to salvage them. The Germans then launched a counterattack using Italian tanks which drove the Partisans back and brought a local Partisan hospital into danger. To save the situation, a tank company was quickly sent to try to stop the German advance. The counterattack was successful and drove the German back, with the loss of a single Stuart tank.
The next Partisan move was to attack the city of Široki Breg, which was a strong forward defense position defending Mostar. For this attack, 3 Stuarts and 3 AECs were chosen. But this attack proved unsuccessful, as the commander of the leading tank ran into (what he assumed was) a minefield. Instead of moving to another position, the commander decided to wait for infantry to clear the way for him. His tank was spotted by the Germans who immediately opened fire, hitting the tank, which caught fire, forcing the rest to withdraw. The next attack was also unsuccessful.
Using another similar force, the Partisans attacked another strong point at Nevesinje. The attack began on 30th November with three Stuart tanks and one AEC armored car with infantry support. The attack started well, but it was stopped as the Germans had six tank (four Italian, and two German tanks which the Partisans identified as ’Panthers’) and a number of Flak 3.7 cm guns. In the following battle, the Stuarts proved to be no match against the German tanks and one was lost, with one AEC receiving three direct hits, but miraculously, despite the damage, managing to pull back. The Germans lost one of their FIAT tanks. These actions were mostly unsuccessful due to the inexperience of the crews and commanding officers, poor positioning, insufficient scouting, and the use of tanks individually in a fire support role.
The fighting for Mostar continued until January 1945, when the Germans and their allied Croatian forces launched attacks on two bridges over the Neretva river in the hope that their destruction would slow down any future Partisan attack. One bridge near the city of Čapljina was briefly captured, only to be recaptured by Partisan forces with the help of several Stuart tanks (the bridge was damaged but still in use). Three Stuarts were damaged, though the Germans claimed five or more had been damaged. Two were captured by the Germans and used against the Partisans, with one later being destroyed in February and the second being recaptured. This indicates that the Partisans lost more than three tanks.

Unification of the Two Groups

As the Southern group alone proved insufficient to take down Mostar, the Northern group was called in to help in the upcoming planned offensive. Total Partisan strength was around 40,000 men, while the Germans (with Chetnik, Ustasha and a small numbers of Italians) had some 20,000. The Northern group made a 186 km long journey to reach its destination. On this journey, five Stuart tanks had to be abandoned due to mechanical breakdowns but would later be recovered.
At this time, the Brigade was reformed. As both groups had used the armored cars to reinforce the split 3rd Battalion, the Brigade HQ made the decision to rename the 3rd (Northern Group) into the 4th Battalion, as it was deemed that its dissolution would affect the battalion’s efficiency given that it had proved to be an effective force. As there were no spare British vehicles to equip this unit, enemy captured vehicles were used (exact models are unknown but possibly French – one Panhard 178 was used – or Italian).
The first attack with the reunited Brigade was launched against Široki Breg (6th February 1945), which was defended by a force of between 6,000 and 7,000 men equipped with different caliber anti-tank guns (37 mm to 75 mm). The attack was led by a group of Stuart tanks, while the AEC armored cars provided fire support against pillboxes and anti-tank guns, both being supported by Partisan artillery fire. But there was confusion as to how to proceed when the leading tanks ran into a minefield. Five tanks were lost to enemy fire and the attack was called off. All tanks were recovered, but at a great loss of life (eight killed and twenty-two wounded). Partisan high command decided to attack from the south with the 3rd Tank Battalion. Fortunately for them, due to the uneven terrain, this part of the defensive front was poorly defended and there were fewer mines and anti-tank guns. The attack was successful, which led to Germans leaving the first line of defense and pulling back into Mostar. A number of enemy armored vehicles were captured (at least one Somua S35 and one Semovente 47/32).

One Stuart M3A3 during the fight for Široki Breg in 1945. Source
The main attack began on 13th February with the support from the tanks from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. After some fighting and navigation through bad terrain, they finally managed to cross three bridges and enter the city. Partisans also attacked from Nevesinje, with progress being slow due to the terrain, but they eventually managed to enter the city. German forces managed to escape toward Sarajevo, but with great losses. The Brigade had only lost one Stuart in addition to four damaged tanks.

At the battle for Široki Breg, even the Stuart M3A3 armed with the German 7.5 cm PaK 40 was used. Source:
The First Tank Brigade was later involved in supporting a large Partisan force of some 70,000 men against German and Croatian forces (20,000 men and 20 tanks) located in western Bosnia and the Croatian coast. The Brigade was again divided into two groups: the 1st and 3rd Battalions were given to the 26th Division and 2nd and 4th Battalions to the 19th Division. This was done by the Partisan HQ due to previous experience and cooperation of these forces. The 19th Division was tasked with capturing the city of Bihać (modern-day northern Bosnia). This Division was supported by Stuart tanks which made good progress, and after a few days of fighting, forced the German to pull back to the city. Two tanks were damaged, one by mine and one by a grenade. The advance was temporarily stopped as the Germans placed many mines and obstacles in the way, so the tanks had to wait for pioneers to clear the way. After the road was cleared, the advance carried on. As they approached the city, two AEC armored cars were sent to capture an intact bridge, but as they were crossing it, the Germans blew it up. One AEC dropped into the river, with the second one being destroyed by the Germans. The Germans, not willing to lose the city, sent reinforcements. To counter this, the 1st and the 2nd Tank Battalions were sent into the fight. The enemy was stopped at the cost of two Stuarts from the 2nd Tank Battalion. The 1st Battalion engaged heavy enemy resistance and lost 3 Stuarts with an additional one being damaged. As the battle was turning against them, the German and Croatians began a withdrawal. During the battle and retreat, they lost nearly 14,000 men. The First Tank Brigade suffered heavy losses. Out of the original 43 tanks, 8 Stuarts and 2 AEC’s were lost with an additional 7 Stuarts being damaged. Partisan mechanics worked day and night to repair as many of them as they could.
The Partisans continued to move towards the west, reaching the city of Gospić in what is today southern Croatia. On 4th April, the attack lead by the First Tank Brigade and five infantry divisions began. To counter this advance, the German sent 10 tanks (Italian L6-40). The Germans lost two tanks and had to pull back. After that the German defense was breached, they began to withdraw. One Stuart was destroyed and another damaged by enemy anti-tank fire. German and Croatian forces sent to stop them were beaten back. The Germans and the Croatian allies lost some 4,000 men, 40 guns and 20 armored vehicles.
The 2nd Tank Battalion was sent to capture Tounj (a small town southwest of Zagreb). Capturing this city would prevent German withdrawal from western Bosnia. The attack began on 13th April, and after a few days of heavy fighting, it was captured. Only one Stuart was damaged. Allegedly, one ‘Panther’ tank was destroyed by two AEC armored cars. This vehicle was proven later to be in fact a StuG III.
The final operations were the battles for Rijeka and Trieste, in the very west of Yugoslavia. The German positions were heavily defended with three defense lines consisting of a large number of old and new bunkers with 88,000 men, 338 guns, 60 tanks and 15 armored cars defending it, supported by Italian, Croatian and Chetnik forces. The total strength of the Partisan 4th Army (which had charged name before the attack) was 90,000 men, 366 guns, and 80 armored vehicles, counting with the support of the British RAF. The 4th Tank Battalion was the first to see action (17th April) in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue the defenders of the city of Sušak. The tanks proved useless in the attack on the well-defended city. The city was liberated on 21st April. In following days, two Stuarts were destroyed in addition to another one being damaged. By end of April, four Stuart tanks were cut-off and surrounded by German forces. The crews dismounted their tanks and used the Stuart’s machine guns to make a defensive perimeter whilst the gunners fired the main guns in support. The next day, Partisan infantry broke the German line and the Stuarts were saved. Due to bad terrain, tank use was limited, and one Stuart was lost on 28th April. Finally, by 3rd May, the line was broken and the city Rijeka was taken.
The city of Trieste was one of the last German resistance lines in this region. For its taking, the 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions were chosen to support the infantry divisions. The attack was carried out in two directions (each supported with one Tank Battalion). The 4th Battalion advance was successful, which led to the capturing of large stockpiles of ammunition and other war materiel near the village of Sežana. The second column was stopped as the bridge leading to Škofije was destroyed. This column was instead moved to Sežana to join forces with the 4th Battalion. This force managed to destroy many German units which were retreating in that direction. The battle for Trieste began on 30th April. German resistance was heavy and the first Partisan attack was repelled. On the same day, the 2nd Tank Battalion fought for the village of Basovizza, which was defended by 12 German tanks (including unknown numbers of captured Soviet T-34/76’s). During the following skirmishing, the Germans lost two tanks, with one T-34/76 being destroyed by an AEC armored car.

Advance on Trogiro of the First Tank Brigade in 1945. Source
The war for the Germans was all but lost. They continued to fight stubbornly to defend their last defense line at Trieste. The 2nd and 4th Tank Battalions were involved in liberating Trieste. As the Partisan attack was too strong, many Germans tried to flee by boat to Venice. Most boats were sunk by the guns of the Stuart tanks. By 2nd May, the battle was mostly won bar a few pockets of German resistance, which, with the help of the Stuart tanks were eliminated. By 3rd May, the last German resistance was crushed.
The last action of the First Tank Brigade was at the city of Rijeka, near Trieste, where large numbers of Germans were retreating to Austria. The 1st Tank Battalion was the only battalion available, but its tank forces had been depleted. The first attack on the German positions was unsuccessful, with the loss of four Stuart tanks. The Partisan HQ’s, after the capture of Trieste, moved large forces to this area. By this time, the 1st Tank Battalion had only a few operational tanks, and was not able to stop the German advancing forces. The 2nd and the 4th Tank Battalions arrived, but even they were hard pressed by the now desperate Germans. Two Stuart were lost on the night of 6th-7th May. Seeing that there was no hope of breaking out, the German Commander, General Kibler, unconditionally surrendered to the Partisans.

Small numbers of the obsolete M3A1 Stuart light tank were sent to the Yugoslav Partisans.

Most of the Stuarts supplied to the Partisans were the improved M3A3 version with sloped armor.

illustration of the M3A3 Flakvierling
One M3A3 Light Tank which had a damaged turret had it replaced with a 20 mm Flakvierling.

Another M3A3 Light Tank that had its turret or its armament damaged was modified to carry the potent 75 mm Pak 40 AT gun.

Fictional illustration of a Partisan 15 cm sIG 33 gun mounted on an M3A3 chassis. Such a vehicle was allegedly converted, but there is no proof to back this claim.

Fictional illustration of a Partisan M3A3 Stuart armed with a 120 mm Granatwerfer 42 mortar. While some sources claim this vehicle exists, there is no proof to back its existence.
Illustrations by David Bocquelet with modifications by Leander Jobse.

Even though most tank used by the 1st Tank Brigade were M3A3’s, smaller numbers of older M3A1 (second tank in the column) were also used. This photograph was taken near Molmino in early 1945. Source

Total losses and reasons for them

By the end of the war, the First Tank Brigade had suffered heavy losses, with 33 tanks and 5 armored cars being destroyed, with a further 31 tanks and 2 armored cars being damaged. The Partisan tank losses were high as the Germans were using well-trained infantry (especially in the use of anti-tank weapons, such as the Panzerfaust and explosives), a lack of coordination with infantry, the inexperience of the crews, lack of adequate scouting, and difficult terrain. Poor and inadequate coordination with infantry were the reason why many tanks were lost. The infantry often lied to the Stuart tank crews of the presence of German anti-tank positions. They were hoping that the tank crews would somehow spot enemy anti-tank weapons and destroy them. This practice forced the Partisan High Command to give special orders forbidding this kind of actions. Another problem was lack of reconnaissance, as the ordinary infantry reports were not always the most reliable as seen earlier.

After the war

In June 1946, the total number of Stuart tanks was 54 (two of which were locally converted Flak Stuart’s). The First Tank Brigade was (from 1946) equipped with Soviet T-34/85 tanks and the Stuart were passed on to the 6th Tank Brigade. In later years, they were used mostly in military parades or as training vehicles. They remained in use by the Yugoslav People’s Army until 1960.

When they were finally withdrawn from operational use most were scrapped. Because of the historical significance these tanks had for the JNA, it was decided to preserve a certain number of them. Two Stuarts (one M3A1, serial number ‘8770’, and one M3A3, serial number ‘8776’ ) were placed at the Belgrade Military Museum (Serbia). One was placed as a monument in the Serbian city of Kraljevo. Three can be found in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): one M3A1 in Sarajevo and two (M3A1 and M3A3) in Banja Luka. Two others (M3A1 and M3A3) are in Slovenian Military Museum in Pivka. The M3A1 in Pivka was bought from the Brazilian Army by a private collector before being given to the museum in 2008.

The M3A1 at the Belgrade Military Museum Source: Wikipedia

The M3A3 at the Belgrade Military Museum Source: Wikipedia

The M3A3 in Kraljevo. Source

The M3A1 (serial number ‘6739’) from the Sarajevo (BiH) National Museum. Source

The M3A3 in Banja Luka. Source

The M3A1 and M3A3 in the Pivka Museum Slovenia. The M3A1 (to the left) was originally in the Brazilian army. Source

Color and Markings

The Stuart tanks supplied to this Brigade had the original British continental green color, though a small number of tanks were painted in desert yellow or even combinations of both camouflage schemes.
Marking-wise, all tanks had the Yugoslav tricolor Flag (red, white and blue) with a red star in the middle painted on the hull side. Sometimes, a small red star was also painted on the turret. Political slogans (Za Zagreb-toward Zagreb) and the names of some cities (Beograd-Београд, Ljubljana-Љубљана etc.) were often written on the tanks, especially towards the end of the war.

How Many Were Supplied?

Although at first glance it seems that the number of Stuarts supplied can easily be determined, this is not the case. What is known with certainty is the fact that the British forces during the foundation of the First Tank Brigade supplied it with 56 M3A1/A3 tanks. It is possible that a few M5 were also included in this, but there is little or no evidence of this.
Authors Bojan B.D. and Dragan S. cited that on 6th March 1945, additional 36, mostly older, M3A1’s were supplied to the Partisans, with a few more in April. Additionally, three more tanks (abandoned by the Allies) were repaired by members of this brigade before their shipment to Yugoslavia.
According to Aleksandar R., some 51 tanks were supplied to replace the damaged and destroyed during the war. It is a possibility that an unknown number of tanks were supplied in small quantities by the end of the war.
The author Dinko P. presents several interesting facts:

  • When the Brigade was transported to the island of Vis, it had 59 tanks (here he agrees with Bojan B.D. and Dragan S.).
  • He also found information for additional M3A1/A3 tanks supplied on several occasions in Yugoslav official documents, but the exact number of vehicles are not mentioned.
  • The author was able to talk to a soldier from the First Tank Brigade (who had been part of it since the very beginning of the Brigade). According to him (the name of this soldier is not mentioned), all vehicles that were given by the Allies were operated in this unit, including the ones used for training. These (that were used for training) were transported by Partisan ships after the original transfer (by the Allies) of the Brigade to the territory of Yugoslavia. Also, an unknown number of tanks were ’obtained’ in various (and suspicious) ways, aka they stole them intact or slightly damaged from Allied army depots. In these cases, the Allies decided to turn a blind eye and did not prevent the Partisans from doing this.
  • On 31st January 1945, the total number of M3A1/A3 is listed to be 60 tanks, which is a bit more than the original number of 56 tanks.
  • Registration numbers and British labels (which were not removed in most cases) on a number of tanks give some indications that these vehicles were not originally intended to be supplied to the Partisans, but somehow these tanks found themselves in Yugoslavia.

According to Leland N., the British had supplied the Partisans with 52 M3A3 tanks with an additional 40 in the first half of 1945. Author Steven J, Zaloga writes that one M3A1 and 56 M3A3 were supplied.
Determining the exact number of supplied vehicles is more complicated given the fact that a fairly large number of damaged tanks were salvaged and put back into action. These vehicles could possibly be mistaken as newly supplied ones, and thus give a wrong impression of the total numbers. So, according to these facts, the total number may range from the original 56 to 100, or even more.

Partisan Stuart modifications

During the heavy fighting for the liberation of Yugoslavia, several Stuart tanks were damaged. Given that the caliber of the main gun on the Stuart tank was inadequate for a successful anti-tank role, the partisans decided to try to mount some captured German weapons in order to increase their firepower.
By the end of 1944, in Šibenik, the Partisans set up a workshop to repair their vehicles. In addition to the workshop, a collection office (also located in Šibenik) for captured, damaged, and destroyed vehicles was set, which also served as a source of spare parts. There, damaged M3A3 tanks were modified and armed with German weapons, such as the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling. It is also alleged that the Partisans rebuilt two more tanks and armed one with a mortar and the other with a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry artillery gun, but the existence of either of these vehicles cannot be ascertained at this time. It is also worth mentioning that a single Somua S35 was rearmed with the 6-pdr gun taken from a damaged AEC armored car.
A final note is that most, if not all, British supplied Stuart tanks had track mudguards. The Partisan tank crews began removing them early on as they were a hindrance during tracks repairs.

Light Tank M3A3 with 7.5 cm PaK 40

As the 37 mm main gun was almost useless against stronger armored vehicles, the powerful 75 mm PaK 40 was installed on three Stuart tanks. The upper structure mounted the 75 mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with its twin layer gun shield of 4 mm (0.16 in.) thick steel and a small armor plate between the gun and the tank hull in addition of two side armored plates.
One such armed Stuart managed to destroy a German T-34/76 in April 1945. Installing this gun made these vehicles capable of destroying any tank on this front. Drawbacks of these modifications include, among several others: slim armor, high recoil when firing the gun, low ammunition capacity.

One 75mm PaK 40 armed Stuart during the Battles for Trieste and its surroundings in May 1945. Source 

Light Tank M3A3 with 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling

On two damaged M3A3 tanks, the German 20 mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun was installed. The only armor protection for the gun operators was the front gun shield, with no side or rear armor. This vehicle would be mainly used in the role of fire support for ground troops. The immense rate of fire of their Flakvierling armament was used to suppress enemy infantry, unarmored vehicles, and anti-tank positions.
The reasons for building these two modifications are not clear, as there were only a limited number of German and their allied planes flying over Yugoslavia by the end of 1944 and in early 1945. Both vehicles survived the war and continued in use for some time, possibly as long as up until the sixties.

Two Stuarts were armed with German 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. They were possibly used in combat but there is no information about their actions. Both vehicles would survive the war. Source

M3A1/A3 Mortar

Allegedly, during the war, one or two mortars were mounted on a Stuart chassis. The caliber of these mortars could be either 81 mm or 120 mm. One of the main ‘culprits’ for this confusion is a picture published (possibly after the war or just before its end) that shows Partisan crews using a vehicle which is assumed to be an M3A1/A3 as the base armed with two 120 mm mortars. However, this is not true, as the vehicle was, in fact, a German Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf. D half-track armed with twin 120 mm Granatwerfer 42 (which is basically a direct copy of the Soviet M1938 without any changes to it). It is not known whether it was a Partisan modification or if they had captured this vehicle from the Germans (the second option is the most likely). So it is very likely that such a vehicle based on the M3A1/A3 did not exist.

Both pictures are taken in Šibenik. The first allegedly shows the M3A1 armed with two mortars, while the second picture shows that it is actually a German Sd.Kfz. 251 Ausf.D half-track. Source

M3A1/A3 with 15 cm schweres Infanterie-Geschütz 33 (15 cm sIG 33)

The existence of the 15 cm schweres Infanterie-Geschütz 33 (15 cm sIG 33) armed version, sometimes (mostly online) called SO-150, is also under question. There are only a few mentions (in different mostly online sources) of an M3A1/A3 being modified with such a weapon It was allegedly destroyed in its first combat mission. In addition, there is no information on its exact characteristics. It is unknown if the whole gun (with wheels or without them) was used, and there is no known pictures or document that exist to prove it. This modification was probably impractical, because it would have put a lot of stress on the tank’s chassis, especially when firing, but also because of the weight of the gun itself. Limited ammunition storage in this vehicle would also be a problem. The biggest drawback though would be the low-level protection for its crew, an important fact as this vehicle was supposed to be involved in close combat operations. If it ever existed, this vehicle could very likely have similar characteristics and problems as the similar German vehicle based on the Panzer I Ausf. B.


The Stuart was rated as a good vehicle compared to other captured enemy vehicles used by the Yugoslav Partisans. The positive side was the availability of a more than adequate number of spare parts (and there were enough numbers of Stuart tanks that could in case of necessity, be reused for spare parts) and ammunition. In contrast, captured tanks were available in smaller quantities or even only as individual examples, which complicated the maintenance and ammunition logistics. Availability of at least 59 Stuart tank offered great offensive punch, but in most occasions, Partisans used them in smaller groups and often supporting infantry in attack, reducing their offensive power. The 37 mm main gun was by 1944-1945 standards obsolete, and ineffective in its role as an anti-tank weapon. But as on the Yugoslav Front most enemy tanks were older types (such as the L6/40 and H35/39), it was not that much of a problem. But on several occasion, modern German tanks (and self-propelled vehicles) were almost immune to this gun, which forced Partisans to use the 6-pdr gun of the AEC armored cars. This was the main reason why the Partisans modified a number of damaged Stuarts and armed them with German captured weapons in an attempt to increase their firepower, proving they had the skill and imagination necessary to do such modifications effectively so that they could be used in combat. The Stuart proved to be very important to the Partisans and was involved in many hard-fought battles for the liberation of Yugoslavia.

A column of Stuart tanks preparing for an attack on Mostar in 1945. Source

Light Tank, M3A3 Specifications

Dimensions Length 5.03 m, Width 2.52 m, Height 2.57 m,
Total weight, battle ready 14.7 t
Crew 4 (driver, driver’s assistant, gunner and commander)
Propulsion Continental W-670
Speed 58 km/h, 32 km/h (cross-country)
Range 217 km
Armament 37 mm M6 gun, with three 7.62 mm machine guns
Armor 10-44.5 mm


The Stuart light tank series, Bryan Perrett, Osprey Publishing London.
Tanks of the world, George Forty, Hermes House,
Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o Narodnooslobodilačkom ratu naroda Jugoslavije, Beograd 1975.
Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, part I, Allied armored vehicles, Dinko Predoević, Digital Point Rijeka 2002,
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Bojan B. Dumitrijević and Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles, Leland Ness, HarperCollins Publishers 2002.
Magazine Arsenal No. 15, Aleksandar Radić, Beograd 2008,
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-USA, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008.


Cold War Yugoslav Tanks Has Own Video

Tenk Tip-A

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1948-1952)
Medium Tank – 5 Built

An interesting and somewhat unusual story states, that on the 26th of February 1949, while visiting the ’Petar Drapšin’ (Петар Драпшин) tank workshop, Yugoslav President Tito (Josif Broz) asked all the gathered workers if they could build a tank? Everyone answered aloud ‘we can comrade Tito!’ Tito allegedly replied something along the lines of ‘In that case you have been given a task!’ and so the work on the Vehicle A started. Whether this is the whole truth or just a myth, it’s hard to say. Even if true, it was a more or less a symbolic gesture, because the decision to start the production of Vehicle A had already been made in 1948.

All the Vehicle A’s were first shown to the public at a military parade held in Belgrade on the 1st of May 1950. Photo: SOURCE

Yugoslavia after WW2

After Tito’s famous ‘No’ reply to Stalin’s demand for Yugoslavia to join the newly formed Communist Eastern Block in 1948 (the so-called Tito-Stalin split), Yugoslavia found itself in a major political and military crisis. As a consequence, this forced Yugoslavia to turn politically more and more to the west. This would result in a slightly ‘liberal’ variant of communism in contrast to the Eastern Block. That lead Yugoslavia to become the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was one of the better economies in Eastern Europe during the 60’s and 70’s, with much better living conditions in comparison with other communist countries.
As for the more important military crisis, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA- Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija) found itself in a very serious situation. The army was in the process of reorganization and rearmament and was heavily dependent on Soviet military supplies. The problem also resided in the fact that the Western allies refused to deliver any military support to communist countries. This later changed as Yugoslavia became more friendly to the Western countries, which started sending large amounts of military aid.
But, in the meantime, the Yugoslav People’s Army had to find a way out of this crisis. The armored forces mostly consisted of old and captured (and also supplied by Allies and Soviets) equipment. One way to solve this problem was to build domestic tanks, which is what the Yugoslav People’s Army did.

The New Tank

During 1948, a special commission was formed to examine the tactical and technical characteristics for the future domestic build tank, named ‘Vehicle A’ (Возило А) sometimes also called ‘Type A’ (Tип A). The Yugoslav designers had two dilemmas: should they improve the characteristics of the already existing T-34-85 Soviet tanks or design and build a brand new tank?
The construction of a new tank required a developed industry and also a high number of educated and qualified personnel and, perhaps most importantly, it would take a long time to complete the implementation and the production. Due to the bad economic situation, mostly due to the damage done to the industry and infrastructure during the war, production of a new tank was not realistic or possible in the near future. As a result of this, the special commission proposed a plan to improve the T-34/85 tank.
The first proposals regarding the new tank were: better armor, weight of about 28 tons, smaller dimensions, and stronger gun or the improvement of the characteristics of the already existing gun.

History & Development

Three workshops were selected to work on the new Vehicle A project. These were Petar Drapšin from Mladenovac (Младеновац), ‘Đuro Đaković’ from Slavonski Brod (Славонски брод) and Institut no.11 from Kragujevac (Крагујевац). Although the Petar Drapšin workshop received an order for the production of the first 5 prototypes, due to the complexity of the task, other workshops were later included.
Workshop Petar Drapšin was formed on the 8th of August 1949 in Mladenovac (Serbia). It was named after Yugoslav Partisan commander Petar Drapšin (1914 – 1945). This workshop had at first some 200 workers, but this number was increased to 400 (later even more) due to an increase in production and repairs of tanks and tank parts for the T-34 and SU-76 self-propelled gun. The head of this project was Major Anton Kurt. During the war, he worked on the Stuart M3A3 conversions using German weapons.
It was unusual that the new tank was built without previous project plans, as opposed to how such an endeavor usually progressed (first the designers work on plans and calculations, and then proceed to production). This was to have great (and negative) consequences in the late development of this tank.
The first thing done was to have the workers disassemble one T-34 tank into parts, and then start to copy them, but without testing the material or even to do more detailed analysis of them. The lack of some metals (especially nickel) forced them to find alternative materials to be used as an improvised solution to this problem.

Five Vehicle A’s, during inspection in 1950. Photo: SOURCE
After the list with the necessary parts was ready, the production of the new modified parts began in several different workshops. The whole tank was later assembled in the Petar Drapšin workshop. The main armament was supplied by the ‘Red Star’ (Crvena Zvezda) workshop from Kragujevac. An interesting fact is that the engine was designed by a lone soldier from the town of Bihać. The turret and the rest of the tank body was mostly made in the Đuro Đaković workshop. As previously noted, the final assembly was done in Petar Drapšin when all the parts had arrived. After 14 months of hard labor working in two shifts (more than 14 hours per day), five prototypes of Vehicle A were ready to be tested.
The first tests were conducted at the foot of Mount Majdan (Мајдан) near the Capital, Belgrade. The next trials were conducted with three tanks in the region of Mladenovac-Aranđelovac-Topola. The other two vehicles were used for testing of the gun.


Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.15 (5.12 without gun) x 3 x 2.6 m
26’9″ (16’10” without gun) x 9’10” x 8’6″
Track width 51 cm (1’8″ ft.inch)
Total weight, battle ready 33.5-34.7 tons
Crew 5
Propulsion V12 diesel GAZ, 400 bhp (30 kW)
Speed 38 km/h (26 mph)
Range (road/off road) 185 km (114 mi)
Armament 85 mm (3.35 in) ZiS-S-53
2x MG-42 (7.92 mm)
1x Browning .50 Cal (12.7 mm)
Armor 20 to 100 mm (0.78-3.93 in)
Production 5

Illustration of the Yugoslav Type A
Yugoslav Type A by David Bocquelet

Technical characteristics

This tank was based on the T-34/85, so it is no surprise that it shared a lot of similarities with the Soviet vehicle in almost all aspects (armor, gun, running gear etc.).
The interior and the crew positions of Tank A were almost identical to the T-34. The driver was located on the left side, while the radio operator, who was also the machine gunner, (the radio used was the British SET-19WF with an operational range of 10-15 km) was on the right side of the hull. In the tank turret there were a commander, the gun operator and the loader.
To gain access to their battle positions, the crew had two ways of entering the tank, through two hatch doors on the turret roof or through the hatch door on the front hull armor (same as the T-34). As well as the driver’s view hatch slides, two periscopes were located on top of the turret and used for observation.

Almost all vehicles seen during displays had some political slogan written on them. Photo: SOURCE
The main armament was the Soviet 85mm ZIS-53 gun with some minor modifications done on it such as improved hydraulics and adding a muzzle brake although the original Soviet ammunition was still used. Fifty rounds of ammunition for the main gun were carried inside Vehicle A. The original Soviet TS-15 sight device was exchanged with the German TZF one (taken from captured Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks) with an improved magnification x4 instead of x3. The maximum elevation of the main gun was -10° to +17°.
The secondary weapons were also changed. The Soviet DTM (7.62mm) machine guns were abandoned and, instead, two MG 42’s (7.92mm) were installed (one in the hull and one in the turret). A third, heavy machine gun (Browning 12.7mm) was installed on the roof of the turret, to be used for light anti-aircraft role.
The frontal armor thickness was 50mm (at an angle of 30°), while the angled front hull corners, sides, and the rear armor was 45mm thick. The hull roof and floor armor were similar (20-25mm). The turret was elliptical-shaped with frontal thickness of around 100mm, with the side 82-86mm and the rear 60mm. The tank turret was narrower but higher than the original T-34 one.
A new 500 hp V2 diesel (12-cylinder) engine was installed. This engine was mostly built from domestic parts, but the materials used to build it were of low quality, which affected the engine performance and caused many overheating problems. The running gear was identical to the T-34. There were a lot of problems with the transmission, as it was bumpy and unreliable. The tracks were 50 cm wide and weighed more than the Soviet ones.

Operational Use

The Vehicle A was never used in any combat operations. They were first shown to the public at a military parade held in Belgrade on the 1st of May 1950. After that, they were used for a limited time for testing and crew training.

Production and Fate

Only five were ever built, simply because the entire production was too slow and too expensive, and because foreign armored vehicles had become available in sufficient quantities for use.
A more damning reason for the rejection of this project lies in the very way in which these tanks were built. Although several vehicles were made, each of them was a unique vehicle. Because there were no design plans or calculations, each of the five tanks was built in a unique way with some differences in production (like the materials used, tonnage etc.). So, when the Yugoslav Army field tested these vehicles, it was not possible to make an accurate conclusion as to whether they were successful or not. They could not be considered as prototype vehicles for the possible future production and in order to get any useful information, it was necessary to produce several more vehicles, which was too expensive.
Others problems were that the Vehicle A was a few tons heavier than it was originally planned, the height and width did not meet the specifications and there were too many breakdowns during testing. Generally speaking, Vehicle A did not offer any better performance than the T-34. The final decision was made to quit the development of this project. The order for 10 more vehicles planned was canceled. Despite the cancellations of the Vehicle A project, experiments on improving the T-34 continued for some time after that.
At the beginning of March 1952, one vehicle was sent to the Kalemegdan Military museum in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, where it is still located and can be seen. A second vehicle was supposed to be placed in the Petar Drapšin workshop (fate unknown). Two turrets were put on display in front of the workshop Đuro Đaković. The rest were initially used for testing and training, but most ended as firing targets.

The sole Vehicle A survivor can be found in the Military museum at Kalemegdan Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: SOURCE

Links, Resources, & Further Reading

Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
Artillery and Armoured vehicles in exterior of military museum, Mirko Peković i Ivan Mijatović, Vojni muzej Beograd 2009.
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.