This will be my go at the Takom T-54B kit released recently and sent to Armorama for a review directly from China.
What I sum up below is based on some Russian sites, pictures, discussions and forums and some advice from knowledgeable friends. I did my best to give an accurate overview however later you will see that it is not easy to gain 100% accurate information.
The development of the T-54 battle tank – culminating in the production of the T-54B for a few short years – paved the way to the introduction of the iconic T-55 tank. Before digging deeper into the features of the T-54, one question should be addressed - why is it sometimes more difficult to model (for manufacturers and kit builders alike) early Soviet armor? The key lies in continuous upgrades and rebuilds... Series produced T-54s and T-55s were changing as time went by and more recent technologies were developed and then incorporated into production. This would not be an issue as it's normal to any vehicle that is mass produced for longer period. However the Soviet Union was upgrading and/or rebuilding their already existing tanks from time to time to level them up using some of the latest technologies that were available that time. They had a network of factories that were specialized to such upgrades/rebuilds.
As a result, surviving factory original vehicles are very rare since most T-54s were upgraded/rebuilt with later technologies to meet the standards of a T-55. Archive pictures are available, but normally these do not cover all the details of a specific vehicle in a walkaround style. The tanks seen at exhibitions were most probably upgraded, but not all of them necessarily to the same extent. Also we need to keep in mind that museum vehicles may have inaccurate features just to make a tank look more convincing or complete.
To add more to the (potential) confusion, the T-54s were manufactured in three different plants in the Soviet Union, and also in Poland and Czechslovakia, and we should never forget about on-the-field modifications (like replacing a damaged road wheel with an early style “spiderweb” design if there is no other option at hand).
The T-54A tank was developed in 1952-53 and with its production some important new features were added, such as the STP-1 "Horizon" vertical stabilizer, the D-10TG gun with bore evacuator and also night sights for the driver (TVN-1).
The T-54B that was mass produced in the Soviet Union from September 1956 until the beginning of 1959, packed more new technology: the STP-2 "Cyclone" stabilizer (both vertical and horizontal) and full night vision capability, consisting of:
- TVN-2 system for the driver (used with the IR headlight on the front)
- TPKUB (day) and TKN-1 (night) sights (these were interchangeable) for the commander with OU-3 IR searchlight mounted on the commander’s cupola
- TPN-1 gunner’s sight coupled with the Luna-2 infrared illuminator attached directly to the gun mantlet.
The T-54B was the first tank ever to be series produced with wading equipment (OVPT-54).
Now let’s see, what can be built out from the box – what is almost sure, not a factory original tank, but one that was upgraded at some point in the 60’s. Let’s see some of the kit’s details that suggest this.
The new mount used for the L-2 (attached directly to the turret and not to the mantlet) IR searchlight was introduced around April 1959 for both T-54s and -55s. By then, T-54Bs were not mass produced already(at least as per my source), so the new mount was added as an upgrade later. Probably most tanks were upgraded pretty soon as the old fashioned mount attached to the mantlet made the water proofing of the tank more difficult in case of wading.
Photo: early L-2 mount, source unknown (internet).
The two 200 l fuel drums that we have in the kit were also added later (introduced end of 1959). Before that, two BDSH-5 smoke canisters were located at the rear end of the tank. With the introduction of the new fuel drums, the smoke canisters were stowed on brackets on the rear fenders, and moved back to their original position when in use. The canisters and their brackets are not present in the kit, but they are visible on some pictures (mostly the brackets only, which can be scratched from PE strips if you wish). However the fuel injection smoke screen generation of the T-55 tank was most probably added to upgraded T-54s later. Still, the inclusion of the canisters would have been a nice feature.
In 1960 an additional TNP-165 periscope was added, on the right side of the gunner’s sight (just like on T-55s and -62s). This is not present in the kit, but it should not be an issue as most pictures I have seen do not seem to have this periscope at all.
In the Takom kit, the area around the driver’s hatch is reinforced with metal strips. On T-55s this was introduced only in 1963. Unfortunately I could not check how this was on early T-54Bs as all the archive photos I have either do not have this part visible, or already has this reinforced.
Photo: reinforced driver’s hatch area, source: Dishmodels.ru
The mine plough/dozer blade attachment points can have a factory original and updated/rebuilt configuration as well. The early one consists of 8 lines of bolts on the lower front plate and two short “arms” on the upper. Luckily both are in the box, however the instruction has the early one only (with some errors – but more on this later).
Upgraded versions are the same as T-55s.
The kit has two sets of road wheels, the “spiderweb” (early) and the “starfish” (later) ones. Most T-54Bs (especially after the upgrades) have the starfish wheels, however I have seen some (undated but probably quite early) photos with spiderweb wheels too. Damaged starfish wheels sometimes were replaced by spiderweb ones if no other option was available.
Photo: T-54 or -55 with both types of road wheels, source: Facebook (The T-54 and T-55 Research Group)
Two more observations – mainly for the river counters.
The commander’s IR searchlight is from the Takom T-55 kit. This is an OU-3G which is a bit different compared to the OU-3 that was on factory original T-54Bs. The difference is not too big. I was told that it was adopted in 1964 but could not verify this date.
Photo: OU-3 searchlight, source: T-54 instruction manual.
Also the driver’s headlights are newer type (FG-125 and -127) in the kit, however as per the references available to me, these were not always updated on T-54s. The difference again is not very noticeable but it’s still there. Again, I was told that this was adopted in 1964 but could not verify this date.
Photo: driver’s early headlights, source: Dishmodels.ru
All in all at first inpection I would say that the T-54B we can build out of box (not necessarily by following all the instructions) possibly existed out there…however chances are high that you won’t find pictures that show all the details of the exact vehicle you wish to build…unless you opt for a museum one. Again, this is an upgraded vehicle, so factory original drawings are useful, but not entirely accurate.
These are my initial findings, more will come during the build.
Photos will follow soon!