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Cold War Yugoslavian Armor Modern Serbian Armor

M-84

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.

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

Context – Playing Both Sides of the Cold War

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the early seventies, the T-72 appeared on the world stage and captured the interest of 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.

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

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

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

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

Design

Armor

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

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

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

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

Firepower

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

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

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

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

A diagram of the ammunition storage in a T-72. The same system was also used on the M-84.
Source: 3.bp.blogspot.com

Mobility

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

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

Production and variants

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

Yugoslav

M-84A

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

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

M-84AB/ABK

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

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

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

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

Croat

M-84A4 Snajper

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

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

M-84D

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

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

Serbian

M-84AB1/AS

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

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

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

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

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

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

M-84AS1/AS2

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

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

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

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

M-84AI

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

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

Service

Use in the Yugoslav Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current operators

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

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

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

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

An M-84 in Slovenian service Source: Wikimedia

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Specifications

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

Sources:

  • 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
  • www.srpskioklop.paluba.info

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