Coastal defense system – Number operated: 10
During the 1960s, the Yugoslavian Navy (Jugoslovenska Ratna Mornarica) became interested in Soviet anti-ship missiles for installation on its ships. Based on experiences with these weapon systems, nearly two decades later, the Yugoslavian Navy acquired 10 4K51 ‘Rubezh’ coastal defense systems from the Soviet Union. These vehicles and their service in Yugoslavia are generally unknown and very poorly documented, even though they would see use for nearly three decades until finally being phased out of service in 2007.
The story of how the Yugoslav Navy got its first 4K51 Rubezh vehicles is actually related to the acquisition of 10 Project 205-type missile boats between 1965 and 1969. The armament of these vessels consisted of four 2.5 tonne Soviet P-15 ‘Termit’ anti-ship guided missiles. These carried a 454 kg hollow charge warhead out to a range of 40 kilometres. Additional Soviet naval missile launchers of this type would be purchased from 1976 to 1988 for the needs of Yugoslav Navy. They were mounted on ships like the Rade Končar-class.
Following the experience gained while operating those Soviet anti-ship missiles, the Yugoslav Navy military officials were becoming interested in acquiring a land-based system armed with the same missile. One reason was to supplement the firepower of the coastal artillery, which was mostly based on older Second World War artillery and anti-aircraft guns, such as the German 88 mm Flak. For this reason, in the late 1970s, a purchase agreement for 10 4K51 Rubezh vehicles was signed with the Soviets.
As these vehicles began to arrive, they received a five-digit designation. Somewhat confusingly, these five-digit designations were not given as the vehicles arrived, but instead by their year of production. For example, the vehicle that was built in 1978 was marked as 22764, while the ones built-in 1979 were 22761, 22762, and 22763. Vehicles built in 1980 were marked as 22765, 22766, and 22768. The one produced in 1981 was 22767, and the last two vehicles built in 1983 were marked as 22759 and 22760.
These vehicles were kept under high secrecy by the Yugoslavian Navy for some time. For these reasons, their use and pictures of them from this period are quite difficult to find. Their first public appearance was during the last Yugoslavian People Army parade held in Belgrade in 1985.
The last JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija) Parade in Belgrade 1985.
The Soviet 4K51 Rubezh
During the late 1960s, the Soviets had the coastal mobile missile system “Redut”. It was basically an 8×8 wheeled chassis armed with one P-35 anti-ship guided missile which carried a 1,000 kg warhead and had a maximum operational range of 450 km. This vehicle was intended to destroy enemy ships at long ranges. However, the Soviet Navy wanted a new missile system that would be capable of engaging enemy ships at closer ranges, but also be able to carry at least two missiles. The new armament of this new vehicle consisted of two P-15M ‘Termit’ tactical anti-ship missiles. The large 8×8 MAZ-543 truck chassis was chosen as the carrier of the system. This new vehicle received the 4K51 Rubezh designation. The 4K51 was adopted into service by the Soviet Navy in late 1970s. Despite being newly designed, it saw use with many Communist countries around the world (Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Cuba, etc.), including the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In Yugoslav service, the 4K51 Rubezh was generally known as BROM, Baterija Raketa Obala-More (English: Missile Battery Coast-Sea). This was actually the name given to the unit which operated these vehicles. Why this designation was used instead of the original one is unfortunately not mentioned in the sources.
The BROMs were intended to be used as a “deterrence of aggression”, as described by the Yugoslavian Navy. Their role was to act as a defense screen against any possible enemy invasion of the Adriatic coast.
The basic unit equipped with these vehicles was the Missile Battery. This battery consisted of only one vehicle, with two batteries forming a Missile Squadron, numbered from 201 to 205. These were then distributed to the islands and coastlines of the Adriatic sea in modern-day Croatia and Montenegro. The 201st was positioned on the isle of Mali Lošinj, 202nd on Visu, 203rd at Lastovu, and the last, the 204th, on Radovićima. The vehicles from the 205th Missile Squadron were stationed at Duvilama and were used for crew training and, if needed, as replacements.
The BROM was divided into a few different sections, which included the chassis, the command control cabin, and the rear positioned missile launcher.
The BROM was built using a modified chassis of the MAZ-543 (and the slightly improved MAZ-543M) 8×8 wheel truck. This vehicle had been developed by MAZ in the early 1960s and entered mass production in 1965. It was powered by a forward mounted 525 [email protected],100 rpm D12A-525A 38.9 liter V12 diesel engine. Despite its large size, the MAZ-543 had excellent off-road capabilities. It could reach a maximum speed of 60 to 65 km/h and 25-30 km/h cross-country. The operational range was some 625 to 635 km.
The main armament of the BROM consisted of two P-15M Termit missiles. These included the P-20 and P-21 sub-versions of the P-15M. The difference was that the P-20 was guided using radar, while the P-21 was guided using an infra-red signal. The BROM’s missiles had a length of 6.56 m, a diameter of 78 cm and a wingspan of 2.5 m. Their initial launch mass was some 2,523 kg.
During launch, the missiles were powered by a smaller auxiliary solid fuel rocket engine which had a thrust of 10 tons. After only 1.3 seconds, this auxiliary engine would be cast-off. The main engine of the P-15M missiles would begin to work half a second after launch. At the same time, two smaller wings would open. The main engine was fueled by a mix of TG-02 liquid fuel in combination with AK-20K nitric acid. The P-15M missiles could reach a maximum speed of 1,100 km/h (0.9 Mach). This speed could be achieved at a sea height of 25 to 50 m or 250 m over hard soil. The warhead consisted of 513 kg of explosives. The Soviets could also arm these missiles with a 15 kiloton nuclear warhead. The Yugoslavians did not have nuclear warheads. The missiles could be launched one after another, at an interval of between seven to nine seconds.
The maximum firing range of BROM missiles was about 80 km. This could be slightly increased up to 90 km with a reduced probability of hitting the target. The minimum operational range of these missiles depended on the altitude at which the BROM was located during firing. For example, at an altitude of 150 m, the minimum range was about 8 km. At 600 m, it was 18 km and at 800 m it was 22 km. Ideally, in order to achieve the best possible chance of hitting enemy targets, the BROM had to be as close to the coast as possible. If that was not the case for various reasons, the maximum distance from the coast had to be less than 19 km. The P-15M missiles could hit enemy targets with a speed of up to 80 knots and with a wind speed of 20 m/s.
Both missiles were stored in the large fully enclosed missile launcher bay (KT-161), which was placed to the rear of the vehicle. It consisted of two fully enclosed, pentagonal shaped launch bays. Inside of each of them, a ‘U’ shaped missile ramp was placed. In front and to the back of the launchers, four pyramid shaped cap covers were placed. During firing, these would be opened, moving to the top of the missile launcher compartment. In addition, there were several smaller inspection hatches across the launcher compartment. The firing missile point was actually located to the rear of the vehicle. When the vehicle was combat ready, depending on the combat situation, the missile launcher compartment could be rotated 110° either to the left or right side. The maximum elevation of this missile launcher was 20°. The dimension of the missile launcher bay length was 7 m, while the width was 1.8 m.
When reaching the designated area of deployment, the BROM needed some 2 to 5 minute to be combat ready. It depended on the experience training of the crew, but also on the geographical characteristics of the terrain.
Command control cabin
The command control cabin was located behind the front driver’s cabin. Four crew members were needed to effectively operate the missile system. They were tasked with operating a number of different systems, including pre-launch preparation, inspection of missile control systems, missile firing control, vehicle inclination measurement systems, communication equipment, etc.
For acquiring targets, the 3Ts-25 Harpun type radar was used. It was located above the command control room. When preparing for action, the radar antenna would be raised to a height of some 7.3 m with the help of a hydraulic arm. The maximum effective range of this radar was around 100 km when the vehicle was at an altitude of some 600 m. The BROM was fully capable of finding and firing at targets on its own. Depending on the combat situation, it could be linked to other external radar units.
Power to the command control cabin was provided by a 100 hp strong turbo gas engine. In addition, there were two 32 kW direct and one 22 kW alternating current generators. As a backup power source, there was an additional direct current generator. With these, the BROM could effectively work on its own power up to a maximum of two hours.
The BROM had a crew of five which consisted of the commander, the driver, who was also the launcher operator, the electrician, the radar operator and the radar technician. The precise crew positions inside the command control cabin are not mentioned in the sources.
Service during the Yugoslav Wars
During 1991, the disintegration of Yugoslavia was becoming a reality. In order to avoid losing the BROM vehicles, the Yugoslav Navy began an evacuation. The 201st and 205th Missile Squadrons were evacuated to Boka Kotorska (Montenegro) at the end of 1991. The 202nd and 203rd were evacuated during May 1992. The remaining 204th had been stationed in Montenegro prior to the war. One vehicle (22762) could not be recovered, as it was awaiting repairs at Šibenik at the time of the outbreak of the war and was captured by Croatian Forces. Luckily for the Yugoslavian Navy, its vital electronic components and weapons were not present when it was captured. Its electronic components were also relocated to Montenegro and served as spare parts for the remaining vehicles. The precise fate of the Croatian captured vehicle is sadly not clear. Once all nine vehicles were relocated to Montenegro, these protected the newly created Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s (Savezna Republika Jugoslavija) coastline from an anticipated NATO intervention that was expected to occur during summer of 1992, but which never came.
During 1994, the BROM units were reorganized, placing them all into the 110th Coast Missile Brigade (Obalska Raketna Brigada). The Brigade was divided into two Squadrons, with the first having five and the second four vehicles. In 1996, the BROMs were used during the ‘Laser 21’ military exercise. During these exercises, older torpedo boats were used as target practise.
Due to international military sanctions, the acquisition of new spare parts for the BROM was impossible. While smaller repairs could be done by the Brigade’s own mechanics, major overhauls had to be completed at the repair institute in Banja Luka. Some six vehicles received a major overhaul during 1998, with two more in early 1999.
During the 1999 war against NATO
In 1999, the tense situation in Kosovo and Metohija between the Serbian and Albanian population worsened to the point that the international community felt the need to intervene. The government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia refused to allow foreign soldiers onto its territory. A war between Yugoslavia and NATO officially started on 24th March 1999. NATO Air Forces began bombing military targets like airfields, barracks and industrial centers, but civilian objectives were also targeted.
During this war, 8 BROM vehicles were fully operational. The ninth vehicle was under maintenance, awaiting repairs to its engine. These 8 were divided into two combat groups, with the task of preventing any possible NATO amphibious assault. One group was tasked with defending the Luštica Peninsula and its surroundings. The second group defended Petrovac-Bar. Some vehicles from this group were pulled back further inland.
Any reconnaissance and use of radar equipment had to be undertaken with great care due to NATO Air Supremacy. In general, the NATO ships that were patrolling in the Mediterranean did not come closer to 100 km from the Yugoslav shore. There was only one incident, when a NATO ship approached the shore accompanying a large non-military tanker. The crews of the BROM did not fire their missiles in order to avoid hitting the civilian ship. Despite its large size and huge NATO aerial advantage, no BROM vehicle was lost during the 1999 war.
In the years after the 1999 war, the condition of the technical equipment of the Yugoslav Army was generally poor due to a lack of funds. The BROMs were gradually becoming a hindrance, slowly losing their military importance. In early 2004, Serbian and Montenegrin Army officials decided to maintain only four such vehicles in operational use for the defense of the Adriatic coast. The remaining five were to be temporarily stored. These four were allocated to the 108th Coast Defence Brigade. To compensate for the reduced number of operational BROMs, the 108th Coast Defence Brigade was reinforced with towed artillery. Due to the limited budget and huge maintenance cost, seven of the vehicles were declared surplus equipment.
In March of 2004, it was decided to sell all BROM vehicles abroad if possible. A firm called Cofis Export was responsible for organizing this sale. Shortly after that, a contract was concluded with the Egyptian Navy, which bought five fully repaired and equipped vehicles. These were shipped to Egypt the following year. This shipment also contained a number of spare P-20 and P-21 rockets.
By 2006, the remaining two operational BROMs, in addition to the two vehicles that were stored at that time, were retired from service. This was done mainly due to huge financial cuts to the Army’s budget. That same year, Serbia and Montenegro split up, which essentially meant the end of the coastal defence forces, as Serbia no longer had a coast. In 2007, the remaining two operational vehicles were also sold to Egypt. Only two non-operational vehicles (22767 and 22768) were left, which were placed in storage at Lepetinima. If they will ever be put on display in a museum or scrapped is unknown.
The Yugoslavian Army was always interested in acquiring new and modern equipment. While not always successful, they did manage to acquire the advanced BROM system in the late 1970s. They were kept under great secrecy. Following the collapse of Yugoslavia, they remained in service with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. While this was an obscure and less known vehicle operated by the Yugoslavian Navy, it nonetheless served for a long amount of time, covering the Adriatic coast from potential invasion.
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1968)
Amphibious Light Tank- Number operated: 63
During the 1960s, the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, JNA (Yugoslavian 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.
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.
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 Yugoslavian 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 Yugoslavian 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.
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 Yugoslavian Army.
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 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.
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 Yugoslavian 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.
During 1991, the tensions between the Yugoslavian 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.
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 Yugoslavian 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.
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).
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.
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 Yugoslavian 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.
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.
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 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 Yugoslavian 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.
Yugoslavia and succesor states(1985-present)
Main Battle Tanks – 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 Yugoslavian industry, it proved how complex and demanding tank production can be even for medium-sized countries.
Context – Playing Both Sides of the Cold War
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 AmericanM3 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 Jacksontank destroyers as military aid part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, along with many other kinds of military vehicles.
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.
In the early seventies, the T-72 appeared on the world stage and captured the interest of Yugoslavian 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has 16 M-84/M-84A’s in service.
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.
Total length 9.53 m, Hull length 6.96 m, Width 3.46 m Height 2.19 m
Total weight, battle-ready
3 (driver, gunner, and commander)
780 hp V-46-6 (M-84), 1000 hp V-46TK (M84A/AB)
60 km/h (M-84), 65 km/h (M84A/AB)
Torsion bar, shock absorbers
Manual, 7 forward, 1 reverse gear
700 km on-road, 460 km off-road
125 mm 2A46 with 42 rounds
12.7 mm NSVT with 300 rounds
7.62 mm PKT with 2000 rounds
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
SAVREMENI TENKOVI U SVETU- Iztok Kocevar, Beograd 1988.
PRAVILO TENK M -84 i T-72 PRVI DEO VOJNOIZDAVACKI I NOVINSKI CENTAR Beograd, 1988.
ILUSTROVANI PRIRUCNIK UZ PRAVILO GADJANJA NAORUZANJEM OMJ
VINC, Beograd 1991.
mr Dragan Petkovic, dipl. inz.
UTICAJ SISTEMA ZA UPRAVLJANJE VATROM NA VEROVATNOCU POGADJANJA TRODIMENZIONALNIH CILJEVA TENKOVSKIM TOPOM 125 mm NA TENKU M84
Spasibuhov, Bahmetov, Mihaylov
Yugoslavskiy tank M-84
Tankomaster -1999- nr. 2
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1963-2006)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle- 120-125
In a search to equip its army with modern anti-aircraft vehicles, the JNA (Jugoslovenska narodna armija, Yugoslav People’s Army) High Command decided to negotiate the purchase of over 100 copies of the Soviet ZSU-57-2. These vehicles arrived in the 1960s and would be used to equip armored and tank brigades. The ZSU-57-2 would see action during the chaotic Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. A few vehicles would remain in service up to 2005 in the Serbian Army (Vojska Srbije) and 2006 in the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Oružane snage Bosne i Hercegovine) before finally being retired from service.
After the Second World War, the long process of building and rearming the new Yugoslav People’s Army was underway. Despite attempts to develop domestic tanks, this was not possible, so the JNA was forced to acquire new equipment from abroad. Initially, the Soviet Union was the main supplier. However, during the so-called Tito-Stalin split that started in 1948, the JNA turned to Western countries and managed to sign the MDAP (Mutual Defence Aid Program) with the United States. Thanks to MDAP, the JNA received, during 1951-1958, plenty of new military equipment, including a small number of M15 anti-aircraft half-tracks. The JNA also made a few of its own anti-aircraft vehicles by mounting captured German anti-aircraft guns, mostly 20 mm ones, on any available trucks. While the M15 was a properly designed military vehicle, it was still outdated by the fifties. The truck versions were simple modifications and, in reality, of little combat value as they had no armor protection nor sophisticated tracking sights. The truck version appears to have been used only in military parades.
For nearly a decade, these vehicles were the only mobile anti-aircraft vehicles available in the JNA. For this reason, JNA officials were desperate to find more modern anti-aircraft vehicles. As the political tensions with the Soviet Union began to relax after Stalin’s death in 1953, the possibility of purchasing new Soviet military equipment emerged again. For this reason, during the early sixties, the JNA managed to buy over 100 Soviet ZSU-57-2 anti-aircraft vehicles. Ironically, in their desperation to find more modern anti-aircraft vehicles, the JNA actually bought a vehicle that was already becoming obsolete even during its introduction to the Soviet army.
The ZSU-57-2 was designed by the artillery designer Vasiliy Grabin shortly after World War II. The first prototype was completed in the summer of 1950 and the production began in 1955. ZSU stands for Zenitnaya Samokhodnaya Ustanovka (anti-aircraft self-propelled mount) and 57-2 stands for the fact that it was armed with two 57 mm cannons. This vehicle was built using a modified chassis of the new T-54 tank. The modification of the chassis included reducing the road wheels per side to four and using lighter armor.
On top of the T-54 chassis, a new open-top turret was added. This turret was powered by an electric motor with hydraulic speed gears. The turret traverse speed was 36° per second. Inside this turret, two 57 mm S-68 cannons (L76.6) were mounted. Each cannon had a rate of fire of 240 rounds per minute. For these guns, both fragmentation and armor-piercing ammunition were available. The ammunition load was 300 rounds, with 176 rounds being stored inside the turret and the remaining in the hull. The effective range, when used against flying targets, was 6 km. To efficiently operate the vehicle, six crew members were needed: commander, gunner, loader, driver, and two sight adjusters.
The ZSU-57-2 was powered by a V-54 12-cylinder diesel engine providing 520 hp. Despite the weight of 28 tonnes, thanks to the strong engine, the maximum speed was 50 km/h. With a fuel load of 850 liters, the operational range was 420 km.
The ZSU-57-2 had serious firepower that could easily destroy any aerial target but had many issues. The greatest weaknesses were the lack of modern range-finding and radar equipment, the impossibility of engaging targets at night, the lack of protection for its crew (being open-topped), and low ammunition count. While many would be sold to other Warsaw Pact countries, like East Germany, Romania, and Poland, its service within the Soviet Army was limited. By the end of the fifties, it was mostly replaced with the ZSU-23-4.
In JNA Service
In October 1962, a JNA military delegation was sent to the Soviet Union to negotiate the purchase of new military supplies and equipment. During this visit, the Soviets presented the ZSU-57-2 to the Yugoslav delegation. The delegation was highly interested in it and, during the following month, an agreement was reached for the purchase of 40 vehicles and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. The price for each vehicle, with two spare barrels, was US$80,000. By the end of 1963, the shipment of the first group was completed. The following year, 16 more vehicles were purchased, followed by 69 in 1965, for a total of 125 vehicles (or 120 depending on the source).
The Soviets were somewhat confused when the JNA delegation asked for more ZSU-57-2 vehicles during 1965. While the Soviets were willing to sell their older and obsolete equipment, there were no more ZSU-57-2s available. By that time, the majority of the ZSU-57-2s were either sold or given to the Warsaw Pact Allies, with a small number preserved for military parades.
Due to the small number acquired by the JNA, the ZSU-57-2 was used to equip Armored Brigades, Armored Regiments, and Tank Brigades with smaller numbers used as training vehicles. The Armored Brigades and Regiments were each equipped with six ZSU-57-2 and one M3A1 scout armored car that served as a command vehicle. Tank Brigades were equipped with two batteries of four vehicles each.
During the seventies, the JNA anti-aircraft units were equipped with more modern Strela-1M surface-to-air missile system vehicles. For this reason, new mixed anti-aircraft units were formed, which consisted of two 12 vehicle batteries of ZSU-57-2s and one 6-vehicle Strela-1M battery.
During its nearly 30-year long career in the JNA, no attempts were ever made to increase the effectiveness of this vehicle. While more modern equipment was eventually acquired (like 30 mm Praga vehicles), the ZSU-57-2 would be never truly replaced. While there were plans that by the year 2000, all available anti-aircraft vehicles would be replaced by 40 mm caliber weapon systems, due to a lack of funds and the breakup of Yugoslavia, this was never achieved. Prior to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the ZSU-57-2 was never used in any combat operations and was mostly used in military exercises and some parades.
During the Yugoslav Wars
At the start of the Yugoslav war, in 1991, there were still 110 operational ZSU-57-2 vehicles. Due to their small numbers, they were quite uncommon on the battlefields. In most cases, individual vehicles were used in combat, while, in rarer cases, small units were formed as supporting elements for other units. As the usage of aviation in the Yugoslav war was limited on all sides, the ZSU-57-2 was often used in a fire support role. Thanks to its firepower and high elevation, it could be used effectively against enemy forces that were hiding in larger buildings during urban combat. The best example of this can be seen during the Croatian attempt to storm the JNA anti-aircraft school center in Zadar. The Croatian forces were taking firing positions in the surrounding buildings. Thanks to the ZSU-57-2’s high elevation, these could be quickly neutralized by short bursts. Another example was the use of the single ZSU-57-2, nicknamed by its crew ‘Strava’ (Eng: ‘horror’ or ‘dread’), belonging to the 2nd Ozren Brigade operating in the Krivaja valley. There, the ZSU-57-2 proved to be an excellent support vehicle in engaging the enemy forces in the hilly terrain. In July 1995, forces of Republica Srpska, with support of a few ZSU-57-2s, engaged the Bosnian 28th Division. One ZSU-57-2 was destroyed and one was captured and immediately put to use by the Bosnian forces against the former user.
While the majority of the ZSU-57-2 SPAAGs would be operated by the JNA and Republika Srpska armies, smaller numbers would be captured by Croatian and Slovenian forces as well. In an attempt to increase protection, at least one vehicle used by the army of the Republika Srpska was equipped with a top cover. In addition, this vehicle had several spare ammunition boxes added to the front glacis armor.
After the war
After the war, the ZSU-57-2 was operated for a limited time by the former Yugoslav Republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia/Republika Srpska. After the withdrawal of the JNA forces from Slovenia, some 22 ZSU-57-2 SPAAGs were left behind. These remained in use by the Slovenian Army up to the end of the 1990s, when all were removed from service. The Croatians managed to capture a few ZSU-57-2s during the war, but their use after the war was probably limited. The Republika Srpska operated a small number of such vehicles. In 2006, the Army of Bosnia and Republika Srpska were united into a single Army force. At that time, there were 6 ZSU-57-2s which were withdrawn from service.
The ZSU-57-2 remained in use for the longest time within the new SRJ (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Savezna Republika Jugoslavija) Army. The depleted number of ZSU-57-2s would again see combat action during the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia in 1999. By that time only two units, the 36th and 252nd Armored Brigades, still operated the ZSU-57-2. The 36th Armored Brigade was tasked with defending a 70 km long defense line from any possible NATO advance through Hungary or Croatia. Its ZSU-57-2 was used in the anti-aircraft defense of Northern Serbia against the NATO bombing raids. Due to extensive NATO aviation operations in this area, the 36th Armored Brigade used a large number of dummy wooden mockups, false firing positions, tank engine temperature imitation techniques, or other improvisations in order to fool NATO forces. While the ZSU-57-2, due to their general obsolescence, did not have any success against NATO aviation, the 36th Armored Brigade did manage to preserve almost all of its equipment.
The second unit to use this vehicle was the 252nd Armored Brigade initially stationed at the city of Kraljevo. When NATO started a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia the 252nd Armored Brigade was surprisingly moved by train to Kosovo and Metohija. There the unit reported having problems with the equipment and vehicles that were previously placed in storage. By the end of the 1999 war, only one ZSU-57-2 was lost.
Some 32 vehicles were reported to be still operational by 2005. By that time, they were deemed obsolete and all were eventually scrapped.
While over 100 were purchased from the Soviet Union, only a few have survived to this day. One can be found in the Bosnian Military Barracks in Banja Luka. At least two are in Slovenia, with one at the Pivka Military History Park. A ZSU-57-2 is in the Military Museum in Vukovar, Croatia. Remains of damaged ZSU-57-2s were located in Kosovo and Metohija.
Ironically, in the search for a modern anti-aircraft vehicle, the JNA actually obtained the obsolete ZSU-57-2. Until being supplemented by Praga anti-aircraft vehicles, the ZSU-57-2 represented the backbone of the JNA mobile anti-aircraft defense. Unfortunately, though intended to protect Yugoslavia from any external air force threats, it saw action against the people it was intended to defend. During the breakup of Yugoslavia, despite the small numbers available, the ZSU-57-2s would nevertheless see combat action in a new role of fire support vehicles. While of little combat value in contrast to other more modern and radar-equipped SPAAGs, it nevertheless had an exceptionally long career of over 40 years.
Croatian ZSU-57-2, now preserved
Serbian ZSU-57-2 in the 1990s. These were modified with extra storage acting as armour and fitted with a hard top made of armour plates.
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1953-2003)
Tank Destroyer – 399 Supplied
After the so-called Tito-Stalin split that took place in 1948, the new Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA- Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija) found itself in a critical situation. It was impossible to acquire new modern military equipment. The JNA had been heavily dependent on Soviet military delivery and aid in armament and weapons, especially armored vehicles. On the other side, the Western countries were initially in a dilemma whether to help the new communist Yugoslavia or not. But, by the end of 1950, the side arguing in favor of providing military assistance to Yugoslavia had prevailed.
In the middle of 1951, a Yugoslav military delegation (led by General Koča Popović) visited the USA in order to achieve military cooperation between these two countries. These negotiations were successful and, on the 14th November 1951, an agreement for military aid was concluded (Military Assistance Pact). It was signed by Josip Broz Tito (Leader of Yugoslavia) and George Allen (American ambassador in Belgrade). With this contract, Yugoslavia was included in MDAP (Mutual Defence Aid Program).
Thanks to MDAP, the JNA received, during 1951-1958, plenty of military equipment, and armored vehicles, like the M36 Jackson, were amongst them.
During military exercises, somewhere in Yugoslavia. Having captured a large amount of German military equipment, one should not be surprised by the fact that the JNA soldiers were equipped with German WW2 weapons and other equipment. Photo: SOURCE
As the M10 3in GMC American tank hunter had insufficient penetration power (3in/76 mm main gun) to stop the new German Tiger and Panther tanks, the US Army needed a more powerful vehicle with a stronger gun and better armor. A new 90 mm M3 gun (modified AA gun) was developed relatively quickly. It had enough penetration power to destroy most German tanks at long ranges.
The vehicle itself was built by using a modified M10A1 hull (Ford GAA V-8 engine), with a larger turret (this was necessary due to the larger dimensions of the new main weapon). Despite the fact that the first prototype was completed in March 1943, production of the M36 started in mid-1944 and the first delivery to units on the front was in August/September 1944. The M36 was one of the most effective Allied tank destroyers on the Western front in 1944/45.
Along with the main version, two more were built, the M36B1 and the M36B2. The M36B1 was built by using a combination of M4A3 hull and chassis and the M36 turret with the 90 mm gun. This was considered necessary due to an increase in demand for these vehicles, but it was also cheap and easy to carry out. The M36B2 was based on the M4A2 chassis (the same hull as for the M10) with the General Motors 6046 diesel engine. Both of these versions were built in some numbers.
The rare M36B1 in JNA service. Photo: SOURCE
The M36 had a crew of five: commander, loader, and gunner in the turret, and driver and assistant driver in the hull. The main armament was, as already mentioned, the 90 mm M3 gun (elevation of -10° to +20°) with a secondary heavy 12.7 mm machine-gun located at the top of the open turret, designed to be used as a light AA weapon. The M36B1, as it was based on a tank chassis, had a secondary ball-mounted Browning M1919 7.62 mm machine-gun in the hull. After the war, some M36 tank hunters had a secondary machine-gun installed (similar to the M36B1), received an improved main gun and the open top turret, which was an issue during combat operations, was modified with a folding armored roof for extra crew protection.
Unlike other tank-hunter vehicles of the same type used by other nations, the M36 had a 360° rotating turret which allowed a great level of flexibility during combat.
Thanks to the MDAP military program, the JNA was reinforced with a large number of American armored vehicles, including the M36. During the period of 1953 to 1957, a total of 399 M36 (some 347 M36 and 42/52 M36B1, the exact numbers are unknown) were supplied to the JNA (according to some sources the M36B1 and M36B2 versions were supplied). The M36 was to be used as a replacement for the obsolete and outdated Soviet SU-76 self-propelled guns in the anti-tank and long-range fire-support roles.
The M36 was used during military parades often held in Yugoslavia. They often had political slogans written on them. This one reads ‘Long-live the November elections’. Photo: SOURCE
A number of infantry regiment batteries equipped with six M36 vehicles were formed. Infantry divisions were equipped with one anti-tank unit (Divizioni/Дивизиони) which, besides the main command battery, had three anti-tank battery units with 18 M36s. Armored brigades of armored divisions were equipped with one battery of 4 M36s. Also, some independent self-propelled anti-tank regiments (with M36 or M18 Hellcats) were formed.
Due to bad international relations with the Soviet Union, the first combat units that were equipped with M36s were those who guarded the eastern border of Yugoslavia against a potential Soviet attack. Fortunately, this attack never came.
Yugoslav military analysis of the M36 had shown that the 90 mm main gun had enough penetration firepower to efficiently fight the mass-produced T-34/85. Modern tanks (like the T-54/55) were problematic. By 1957, their anti-tank capacities were considered inadequate to deal with modern tanks of that time, although they were designed as tank hunters. According to JNA military plans from 1957 onwards, the M36s were to be used as fire support vehicles from long distance and to fight on the sides of any possible enemy breakthrough. During its career in Yugoslavia, the M36 was used more as mobile artillery then as an anti-tank weapon.
According to the ’Drvar’ military plan (late 1959), the M36 was ejected from use in infantry regiments but remained in use in mixed anti-tank units (four M36 and four towed anti-tank guns) of many infantry brigades. Mountain and armored brigades had four M36. First line infantry and armored divisions (marked with a capital letter A) had 18 M36.
The M36 was often used on military parades during the sixties. By the late sixties, the M36 was removed from the first line units (most were sent to be used as training vehicles) and moved to support units equipped with missile weapons (the 2P26). In the seventies, the M36 was used with units equipped with 9M14 Malyutka ATGM weapons.
Although the process of modernizing military technology was initiated in the 1980s, there was no adequate replacement for the M36, so they remained in use. The Soviet towed smoothbore 100 mm T-12 (2A19) artillery was considered better than the M36, but the problem with the T-12 was its lack of mobility, so the M36 remained in use.
By the decision of JNA military officials in 1966, it was decided that the M4 Sherman tank would be withdrawn from operational use (but for various reasons, they remained in use for some time afterward). Part of these tanks would be sent to units equipped with the M36 to be used as training vehicles.
Development of New Shells and Ammunition Supply Problems
The 90 mm main gun did not have enough penetrating power for the military standards of the fifties and sixties. There were some attempts to improve the quality of the ammunition used or even design new types and thus improve the characteristics of this weapon.
During 1955-1959, experiments were carried out with new types of domestically developed and manufactured ammunition for the 90 mm gun (also used by the M47 Patton II tank which was supplied through the MDAP program). Two types of ammunition were developed and tested by the Military Technical Institute. The first was the HE M67 round and late during the seventies a new slowly-rotating HEAT M74 round was developed and tested. These tests showed that the M74 round had good penetration power. The pre-production of this type of ammunition began in 1974. Order for the full production was given to the ‘Pretis’ factory. This round was supplied to all units equipped with M36 and M47 tanks.
In the late fifties and early sixties, despite great help from the West, there was a great problem with maintenance and ammunition supply. Many tanks were not operational due to insufficient spare parts, lack of ammunition, an insufficient number of repair workshops, equipment defects, and an insufficient number of adequate vehicles for delivering supplies. Perhaps the biggest problem was the lack of ammunition. The problem with 90 mm ammunition was such that some units ran out of shells (during peacetime!). Available ammunition for the M36 was at only 40% of the necessary.
With the Soviet technique, the problem was solved by adopting domestic production of the ammunition. For the Western vehicles, the problem with ammunition was solved by purchasing additional ammunition, as well as by attempting to produce domestic ammunition.
Dimensions (L x W x H)
5.88 without gun x 3.04 x 2.79 m (19’3″ x 9’11” x 9’2″)
Total weight, battle ready
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Ford GAA V-8, gasoline, 450 hp, 15.5 hp/t
48 km/h (30 mph)
240 km (150 mi) on flat
90 mm M3 (47 rounds)
cal.50 AA machine gun(1000 rounds)
8 mm to 108 mm front (0.31-4.25 in)
1772 in 1945
Croatian M36 077 “Topovnjaca”, War of Independence, Dubrovnik brigade, 1993. Illustrated by David Bocquelet.
GMC M36, fitted with the armored roof, used by one of the Yugoslav successor states, the Republika Srpska. This one has an unusual and a bit ridiculous markings ‘Angry Aunt’ (Бјесна Стрина) and ‘Run away, Uncle’ (Бјежи Ујо) inscriptions. Illustrated by Jaroslaw ‘Jarja’ Janas and paid for with funds from our Patreon campaign.
During the long service life of the M36 in the JNA, some modifications and improvements were carried out or were tested:
– On some M36s, a domestic-built infrared night vision device (Уређај за вожњу борбених возила М-63) was tested. It was a direct copy of the one used on the M47 tank. It was tested in 1962 and produced in some numbers from 1963 on. At the beginning of the seventies, a number of M36 vehicles were equipped with a similar system.
– Besides the original 90 mm M3 gun, some models were rearmed with the improved M3A1 (with a muzzle brake) gun. Sometimes, a heavy 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine-gun was used, located on the turret top. The M36B1 version had a hull ball-mounted 7.62 mm Browning machine-gun.
– By the seventies, due to significant wear out in some vehicles, the original Ford engine was replaced with the stronger and more modern engine taken from the T-55 tank (according to some sources, the T-34/85 tank’s V-2 500 hp engine was used). Because of the larger dimensions of the new Soviet engine, it was necessary to redesign and reconstruct the rear engine compartment. A new opening door measuring 40×40 cm was used. Brand new air and oil filters were installed and the exhaust pipe was moved to the left side of the vehicle.
This M36, in the process of being scrapped, was equipped with the T-55 engine. Photo: SOURCE
– An unusual fact was that, despite experimenting with various types of camouflage for its armored vehicles in addition to its primary grey-olive (sometimes in combination with green) color, the JNA never adopted any use of camouflage paint for its vehicles.
– The first radio used was the SCR 610 or SCR 619. Due to obsolescence and reorientation towards Soviet military technology, these were replaced with the Soviet R-123 model.
– Headlights and infrared night vision devices with an armored box were added on the front armor.
Even though the M36 was completely outdated as a military vehicle in the early nineties, it was still used during the Civil War in Yugoslavia. This was mostly due to the simple reason that it was available in large quantities and, since no stronger tank forces were available in sufficient numbers (many improvised armored vehicles, tractors and even armored trains were used), something was certainly better than nothing. Nearly all 399 were still operational by the beginning of the war.
During the Yugoslav wars of the nineties, almost all military vehicles had different inscriptions painted on them. This one has an unusual and a bit ridiculous marking ‘Angry Aunt’ (Бјесна Стрина) and ‘Run away, Uncle’ (Бјежи Ујо) inscriptions. ‘Uncle’ was a Serbian ironic name for the Croatian Ustashe. In the upper right corner of the turret, it is written ’Mица’, which is a woman’s name. Photo: SOURCE
Note: This event is still politically controversial in the countries of former Yugoslavia. The name of the war, the reasons for the beginning, who and when started it and other questions are still being debated between politicians and historians of the former Yugoslavian nations. The author of this article sought to be neutral and to write only about the participation of this vehicle during the war.
During the confusion of the beginning of the Civil War in Yugoslavia, and the gradual withdrawal of the JNA from the former Yugoslavian countries (Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia), many M36s were left behind. All participants of this war managed to capture and use certain numbers of this vehicle under various circumstances and conditions.
As most tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles were mainly used in the infantry fire support role, the older vehicles could still be used without fear of engaging modern vehicles. Thanks to the M36’s good gun elevation and strong explosive shell, it was considered useful, especially in the mountainous parts of Yugoslavia. They were mostly used individually or in small numbers (larger groups were rare) for the support of infantry battalions or company advances.
During the war, the crews added a rubber ‘boards’ on some M36 vehicles, partially or on the whole vehicle, in the hope that this modification would defend them from high-explosive anti-tank warhead (this practice was carried out on other armored vehicles as well). Such modified vehicles could often be seen on television or images published during the war. Whether these modifications were effective is hard to say, although almost assuredly they were of little value. There were several cases when these modifications were claimed to have helped protect the vehicles which had them. But again, it’s difficult to determine whether these occurrences were due to this ‘rubber armor’ or some other factor. One such vehicle can be seen today at the Duxford military museum in Great Britain. It was bought after the war with the original Republic of Srpska markings.
M36 with improvised ‘rubber armor’. Photo: SOURCE
After the end of the war, most M36 tank hunters were withdrawn from military use due to the lack of spare parts and obsolescence and were scrapped. The Republika Srpska (a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) used the M36 for a short period of time, after which most were sold or scrapped. Only the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia and Montenegro) still continued to use them operationally.
According 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. By this regulation, a large number of older vehicles (mostly T-34/85 tanks) and 19 M36s were removed from service.
Some units which were equipped with the M36 were based in Kosovo and Metohija (Serbia) during 1998/1999. In that period, the M36s were engaged in fighting the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). During the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, a number of M36 were used in the fighting in Kosovo and Metohija. During this war, only a few were lost due to NATO air strikes, apparently mostly thanks to the camouflage skills of the Yugoslav ground forces.
The old M36 and the new M1A1 Abrams meet during the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army from Kosovo in 1999. Photo: SOURCE
The last operational combat use of the M36 was in 2001. They were defending the southern parts of Yugoslavia against Albanian separatists. This conflict ended with the surrender of the Albanian separatists.
Changing the name of the country from the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ to ‘Serbia and Montenegro’ in 2003, the M36 had, ironically, outlived yet another Yugoslavia. By the order of the High Command of the Armed Forces of Serbia and Montenegro (in June 2004) all usage and training on the M36 was to be terminated. The crews who were on training on this vehicle were transferred to units equipped with the 2S1 Gvozdika. In 2004/2005, the M36 was definitively removed from military service and sent to be scrapped, ending the story of the M36 after nearly 60 long years of service.
Several M36s were placed in various military museums and barracks in the former countries of Yugoslavia and some were sold off to foreign countries and private collections.
Links & Resources
The illustrated guide to Tanks of the world, George Forty, Anness publishing 2005, 2007.
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-USA, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
Military Magazine ‘Arsenal’, Number 1-10, 2007.
Waffentechnik im Zeiten Weltrieg, Alexander Ludeke, Parragon books. www.srpskioklop.paluba.info
Experimental 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 ‘Then you have a task now!’ 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 M3A3conversions 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.
8.15 (5.12 without gun) x 3 x 2.6 m
26’9″ (16’10” without gun) x 9’10” x 8’6″
51 cm (1’8″ ft.inch)
Total weight, battle ready
V12 diesel GAZ, 400 bhp (30 kW)
38 km/h (26 mph)
Range (road/off road)
185 km (114 mi)
85 mm (3.35 in) ZiS-S-53
2x MG-42 (7.92 mm)
1x Browning .50 Cal (12.7 mm)
20 to 100 mm (0.78-3.93 in)
Yugoslav Type A by David Bocquelet
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.
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. www.srpskioklop.paluba.info www.warhistoryonline.com www.mladenovac.publikacija.rs
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