JVBT-55A in the Army History Museum Park of Kecel, Hungary
In the late 1960s one aspect of the Soviet Army (and by extension of the Warsaw Pact) that was lacking was the supply or recovery vehicles. This was part due to the doctrine use of the ground forces: With the immense fleet of T-54, 55, 62 and 72. Some NATO experts estimated a total potential of of 50,000 (and still 40,000 serviceable T-34s in reserve) and at least 20,000 operational on the western front at all times. The offensive through the fulda gap was to be overwhelming and short as the west had a disadvantage of eight to one. In a few days, it was planned to reach the Franco-German border and take most of remaining NATO forces in a giant pocket.
In that short term vision the need for redcovery vehicles seemed accessory at best. They were only imagined in a protracted conflict context. However, even when traning tanks usually due to their weight fell into self non-recoverable positions on almost a daily basis. Specialized Trucks ususally did the job. But in case of war, an armoured equivalent was necessary and Germany in WW2 gave plenty of examples of various types (Bergepanzer). The first developed in 1944-45 on the Soviet side was the BTS-T, derived from the SU-152 ???. In the cold war period were produced the BTS-2 (T-54 Chassis) and BTS-4A (T-44 Chassis). However they were so short in number to be exported to Warsaw pact nations, which also needed that type of vehicles (as well as bridgelayers and engineering vehicles).
Production of the T-55 was widespread in these countries, mainly those with a long-standing, solid industrial basis, namely Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. They contributed greatly not only to the production of their own tanks, but also exported large numbers. Czechoslovakia was credited for the production of an excellent T-55A, manufactured by the thousands (3,820) between 1967 and 1982 at ZTS Turčianske strojárne n.p., Martin. Licence produced, it differed by a few details and notably its distinctive stowage bin on the turret's side. 1,800 T-54s were already made from 1957 under license (1958-1963) and 1,700 T-55s between 1964 and 1973 for a grand total of 8,300 T-55s and T-55As between 1964 and 1983, most of the T-55A being for export, passed on to successor states post-cold war.
Soon, the chassis was also declined into a multitude of more dedicated vehicles like the T-54AK command tank, T-54AR "Rieka" with better snorkel or specialized variants like the VT-55A (vyprošťovací tank) recovery tank and the MT-55A (Mostni Tank) bridge layer tank. The JVBT-55A was the last of these. It was an extrapolation of the VT-55A, as the latter was an old style recovery vehicle, with a 15 tonnes cap. crane, 44 tonnes main winch, 800 kg secondary winch. The JVBT was more a dedicated "crane tank" with a BTU-55 dozer blade. It is not certain of when the JVBT was first proposed and studied.
DevelopmentThe project back in 1967 was to develop for export a variant using the VT-55A tank recovery assembly kit, but adding in addition to its rescue tasks, the lifting of loads up to 20 tons (lifting a tank from the front or rear, moving the turret or power unit for repair in the field, etc.) as well ad doing landscaping as a bulldozer, under fire if needed.
Development started at the Turčianske strojárni n.p. Martin Plant from 1967, based on an East-German request. A prototype was ready to be tested in 1970. In 1971, the first serial vehicles were produced for initial field tests until greenlighted, and it went on until 1983 with approximately 50% of these exported to East Germany, Finland (ex-East German) and Yugoslavia but also USSR in the Warsaw Pact, and the rest to Iraq.
Chassis, engine and drivetrainThe basis chassis has the following compared to the basic T-55: Improved NBC radiological protection thanks to a new internal lining and better seals, amplification of the main clutch and planetary directional system, redesigned tensioning nob, improved engine started by compressed air, electric backup, new fluid control for planetary directional system (gearbox), better underwater snorkel and insulation, new G-6,5 dynamo, R-124 and R-123 radios, and no fixed hull 7.62 mm LMG.
The powerplant was a four-stroke diesel with liquid cooling, max torque 2,400 Nm at 1,200 - 1,500 rpm rated for 426 hp at 2,000 rpm driving though a Mechanical gearbox with stepped change of gear ratios, 5 forward, one reverse. Top speed was limited to 40 kph at best on flat, down to 20-30 on average. Range was 250 km without additional tanks.
The chassis was the same as the T-55 family with same stamped five roadwheels per side, rear sprocket, front idler. Changes started above it, and inside the former turret basket. The power unit, transmission was the same as the T-55A tank. The JVBT could cross a river 1000 m wide by wading deep using the "RIEKA" snorkel down to no more than 5 m in depth. NBC protection was the same as the T-55A tank.
Specifics of the JVBT-55AThe game changer was the combination of the 15t crane (with winch demultiplication to reach 20t). The Main winch was a mechanical type with traction drums 500 kN force at the single pulley and 750 with two, 200 m steel cable 28 mm in diameter. The Auxiliary winch had a drum working with liquid drive, 8 kN in traction, 400 m long cable 6.3 mm in diameter.
The Crane had a maximum lenght fully extended of 8 m and a maximal load capacity of 100 kN without blade support, rotating at 360°, 150 kN with blade support and 200 kN on the front only with load, so without boom rotation.
The third elements was the Bulldozer blade BTZ-55 fitted with an assembly with suspensers at the front, large teethed blade able to scrape soils of the 1st to 4th class between 130-150 m3/hour.
The vehicle also had a utility 3.31 m2 cargo platform to load up to 1,500 kg.
The armament was limited to a pintle-mounted 7,62 mm PKT LMG in addition to the crew's small arms. The vehicle had no smoke dischargers.
|Total weight, battle ready|
|Crew||3 (commander, driver, operator)|
|Propulsion||4-str. Diesel 426 kW, 5+1 gearbox|
|Suspension||Torsion bars, dampers|
|Speed (road)||20-40 kph max|
|Armament||7,62 mm PKT|
*c50 For Yugoslavia
*? for USSR
*172 exports to Iraq
Main export VariantThe JVBT-55KS ("kapitalistické státy") was the Export version of JVBT-55A for non-Warsaw Pact states (172 to Iraq). Other variants were made for other operators (see also below for details):
-Kranpanzer T-55TK: East German variant
-T-55TZI: Yugoslavian Variant
The upgraded JVBT-55KS
Shared some elements and systems in addition to the chassis.
-VT-55A: Czechoslovak ARV (T-55A hull): 15 tonnes capacity crane, main winch 44 tonnes cap., secondary winch 800 kg capacity. Denomination changed from MT-55 which became the bridgelaying tank.
-VT-55KS Export version for non-Warsaw Pact countries (Iraq and Syria), with 2,321 produced between 1967 and 1983.
-ZS-55A, sub-variant of the VT-55A fitted with the dozer blade BTU-55.
-MT-55A standard bridge layer tank, redesigned MT-55 (Soviet version). According to some sources there was the "short" MT-55K and "long" span MT-55L, both produced between 1969 and 1983: 1,278 MT-55As, by TS Martin. The PM-55L was the same gear mounted on a Tatra T-813 truck.
-MT-55KS was the Export version of the same for non-Warsaw Pact countries (India, Iraq, Syria) with 183 built and sold from 1971.
Operators & Actions
The most surprising perhaps was USSR, which operated the BTS-1 to BTS-4 series, and found the JVBT-55A far more compelling to the point of ordering it to Czechoslovakia. It was called the BTS-3 for "Bronetankoviy TyagachSredniy" or "Medium Armoured Tractor", a JVBT-55A without modifications but new denomination. The model later inspired a conversion called the BTS-4B, basically a conversion of former and very old T-54-1s and T-54-2s (obosolete) converted into armoured recovery vehicles with the same kit and a dozer blade. This led also to the development of the BTS-4BM, a prototype BTS-4B with front winch capacity, in addition to rear. Not adopted for production.
The T-55TK was the East-Germany denomination for the 119 Czechoslovakian JVBT-55As received between 1968 and 1979, called "Kranpanzer T-55TK", all disposed of and sold in 1992.
The Yugoslavian army had two variants of the vehicle under new denominations: The TZI-JVBT, basic Czechoslovak JVBT-55A in service with the Yugoslav Army, and the T-55TZI, a Yugoslavian modification which detailed are to come.
Iraq used the type extensively during the Iran-Iraq war. It was the sole export customer of the type. An image from the times shows an Iraqi JVBT-55KS during the removal of the Iranian Chieftain damaged during one of the Iranian army's offensives around Basra in 1982. Iraq also received 2 more JVBT-55As in 2005 from Hungary, used for the continuation of the Iraq war against ISIS.
Serbia used an unknown number of JVBT (Serbian Armed Forces), inherited from the Yugoslav army and used during the war of 1993-1997.
Syrian Czech-made VT-55 for comparison
Standard Czech VT-55A in basic green livery
Camouflaged ex-Hungarian Iraqi JVBT-55KS (2005).
JVBT-55A today (Czech Army)
Vehicle in Parola FLICKR. JVBT-55A built in Czechoslovakia, called T-55TK in DDR. Photographed during Armoured Brigade´s 55th anniversary parade in Parola Finland 28 June 2007.
valka.cz - JVBT 55
Model Kit on scalemates
Demonstration of recovery with several vehicles types including the JVBT.