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 While the M15 was a properly designed military vehicle, it was still outdated by the fifties.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 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.
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Surviving ZSU-57-2 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns
Arsenal 81-90 Magazine 2014.
|Dimensions (L-w-h)||8.5 x 3.23 x 2.75 m|
|Total weight, battle ready||28 tonnes|
|Crew||6 (commander, gunner, loader, driver and two sight adjusters)|
|Propulsion||520 HP V-54 twelve-cylinder diesel engine|
|Speed||50 km/h, 30 km/h (cross country)|
|Range||420 km, 320 km (cross country)|
|Armament||2 x 57 mm S68 autocannons|
|Elevation||-5° to +80°|
|Armor||Up to 15 mm|