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T-72/72M in Detail

T-72/72M in Detail Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review August 2008 Title T-72/72M in Detail
Author Frantisek Koran, Frantisek Sykora, Josef Spurny, Jan Martinec, and Tomas Bouchal Publisher Wings and Wheels Publications
Published 2008 ISBN 80-86416-52-6
Format 216 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $50.00

Review

As most historians now know, the T-72 came about by “accident” in 1969 when the designers at Factory No. 183 in Nizhniy Tagil were ordered to develop a “contingency” variant of the T-64A which used the older V-2 series V-12 diesel engines instead of the flat 5-cylinder opposed piston design of that tank. Chief Designer Leonid Kartsev then pulled a fast one and combined all of the Tagil design features they had wanted to use on a T-64 based chassis design. Initially GABTU and the Council of Ministers in Moscow were furious, but then found that Article 172M (the factory designator for the new tank) was somewhat superior to its parent. But they originally only authorized its production for second-echelon formations, and five years after it was accepted for service with the Red Army in 1973, export to Warsaw Pact members and foreign production in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia.

The Soviet-approved and coordinated export models (other than Yugoslavia) were basically designated the T-72, T-72M and T-72M1. But while they noted only three different variants (plus the usual command variants with “K” suffices) the fact of the matter was that the Soviets themselves identified either eight or nine completely separate production series of these vehicles. These were internally noted as “Ob”yekt 172MEh” to “Ob”yekt 172MEh8.” The first ones were basically Soviet T-72 tanks with a different quality of steel armor protection and a different level of protection in the turret, and fitted with a cross-turret coincidence rangefinder.

Later this changed over to the use of the TPK-1-49 laser rangefinder sight, and later on they also added the TNK-2-49 night sight to replace the earlier model night sight. Later the tank began to slowly add features from the Soviet T-72A series tanks, with the final variant, the T-72M1, also adding a modified turret with increased “cheek” and glacis protection.

While the T-72M1 was considered to be (and is counted as such by the Soviets) as the equivalent of the Soviet T-72A, they are actually quite different. A “real” T-72A has a turret which bulges up on either side of the aperture for the main gun, which is how the tank’s turret got the name “Dolly Parton” from imagery analysts in the early 1980s. The T-72M1 has a much flatter profile with a supplementary bulge just visible under the banks of smoke grenade launchers on the turret.

Over 20,000 T-72 tanks were built before the Russians – who took over from the Soviets by “default” – changed over to the T-90 series, a product-improved T-72. Few other models have been built since then, so most owner-operator countries have thus concentrated on upgrades such as the T-72M4CZ (Czech Republic) or T-72M2 (Slovakia).

Be that as it may, the authors of this book have managed to collect a massive number of good, clear color photos of the various T-72s in service with the Czech army and concentrate them in one nicely presented volume. The book is broken down by sections, with the first 85 pages focused on external components, six pages on a “skeleton” East German training simulator, 58 pages on internal components of the T-72, and then 36 pages on the T-72M1. The last two sections are for Czech vehicles, the T-72M4CZ upgrade (20 pages) and the VT-72B tank retriever (15 pages).

While the photos are grouped together pretty well to cover both their subjects and the specific variants noted, the book is somewhat let down by the painful fact that none of the authors are native English speakers (the book is completely in English) and their translations vary from disjointed to the frankly weird. Some of the comments appear as if they are verbatim sections out of Soviet field manuals (which require a knowledge of both the target language as well as what the items discussed actually are) and are very hard to make sense of as presented.

Overall, for modelers, the book should be quite useful and very, very helpful in both making an accurate T-72 export tank as well as correcting the Tamiya T-72M1 kit into a better representation of a T-72M1. But for the historian, we still need a “T-72 snizhu doverkh” series to cover all of the details, model by model, in order to get them sorted properly.

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