About the photos: these photos were taken in the Patton Museum maintenance shop buildings on Eisenhower Blvd, at Ft. Knox, KY. Few people know about this shop, and the buildings are loaded with vehicles being restored to operating condition. The museum has two T-72s (unless they've received more), both from the Gulf War. One is a T-72M2 (on display in the museum building), while this verison is the T-72M1. Both are "runners" and in very good condition. When the T-72M2 was being shipped to the museum, somebody accidently set the auto-loader into motion, and the device (with no ammunition, of course!) cycled through operations for seven hours until the flatbed truck arrived at Ft. Knox, and it was turned off. This is a testimonial to the ability of the auto-loader to function reliably, and without draining the batteries quickly. The vehicle in the foreground is a BTR-40.
Automotively, The T-62 is a somewhat mediocre creation, and suffers from several serious problems, among them being the engine. The V-55 diesel is nothing more than an upgraded V-2 from the pre- T-34 era. The engine is mounted transversely in the hull, and the area around it is so cramped as to make routine maintenance a nightmare. Sometimes the pack must be pulled simply to perform a minor task. Another problem is when the vehicle approaches maximum speed (about 30mph) the tracks and engine set off harmonic vibrations which begin to loosen critical components. This same vibration rattles the crew mercilessly, and couple this with the fact that the driver controls are not power-boosted, and one wonders how the crew could operate the vehicle for any extended period of time.
Furthermore, inside of the vehicle (even worse than the T-54) the turret walls are loaded with brackets and mountings, and when one first climbs in it is not uncommon to wind up with bruised elbows and forearms. Of course, once crew members became accustomed to the vehicle, such would not be a major factor. The U.S. M-60a2 ("A-Deuce") with the 152mm gun-launcher, is more cramped than any Soviet tank. Yet, once crew members knew the vehicle, they could recklessly throw themselves inside through the hatchways without hitting any brackets or fittings.
With the continued development of new tanks, especially the onset of the upcoming generation of western tanks (M1 / Leopard II / Challenger), Soviet engineers took the basic proven design and produced two new vehicles, the T-72 and T-64. Initial reports on these vehicles (at first thought of as one, and given the designation T-70) credited them with road speeds in excess of 60mph. This was soon found to be exaggerated, but capabilities were still impressive. It appears as if both vehicles were designs from rival firms, set to a basic Soviet Army requirement report. As much as they look similar, they have few parts in common. The T-64 is the older vehicle, and is already being phased out. The well-publicized video of Soviet tanks being pulled from Eastern Europe were of burned out T-64s, ready for the scrap heap. The T-64's main problem was its engine, a 710 hp opposed-piston design copied from the British Chieftain. However, Soviet engineers did a poor job in copying the British design, and their own creation was a fiasco. Although fast (up to 50mph) the engine was too unreliable.
The T-72 was a much better creation, with a more conventional power plant. Initial reports were quite alarming. The designers had eliminated the infamous T-62 rattle, producing a powerful engine which ran smoothly. Furthermore, the new track and suspension design allowed the T-72 to achieve speeds up to 38mph. As T-72s were being fielded, the U.S. Army was still using the M-60a1, demonstrating that the Soviets had a 1/2 generation lead in design. This was indeed a serious threat. Crew: 3; main gun: 125mm smoothbore; coax 7.62mm and turret mounted 12.7mm machine guns.
The T-72 was a unique design, and was a minor surprise to many observers. The Soviets, with both the T-64 and 72, innovated by adding an automatic loading device in the turret. This allowed a reduction in crew from 4 to 3. One problem with this is in the realm of vehicle maintenance, since the loss of one man increases the work load for the remaining crew. Initial reports indicated the auto-loader was unreliable, and early satelite photos of range firing found several vehicles with turrets blown off, indicating catastrophic detonation within. Furthermore, the mechanical device reportedly had a nasty tendency of grabbing the gunner's right arm, attempting to load it into the breech. But once these quirks and accidents were cleared up, the auto-loader proved itself to be a reliable component, and has been installed in every new generation Soviet tank up to the T-90. In fact, one East German tank commander indicated that the auto-loader problems were mostly myth.
One of the secrets of the T-72's success is the new track layout, which has become standard on Soviet main battle tanks. Prior to this, Soviet tanks used the "dead track" system, where track blocks were joined by pins without rubber bushings. A "live track" system uses rubber bushings and end connectors where the pins join each track block. This was coupled with a completely revised suspension system, which provided for a smoother ride, and more efficiency. Rolling rate improved tremendously, and hence the initial speculation of the high speed for the tank (along with rumors of a more powerful engine). There is some confusion regarding "live" vs "dead" tracks, with many believing that a drooping track (as in the T-62) is a dead track. Whether drooping or supported by return rollers is not an indication of this.
An interesting note.... the vehicle on the right is none other than a German World War II Kubelwagen (their jeep)!