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Steve Zaloga has given us here a very well done potted history of this tank series. He actually begins with the T-44, designed with a new hull and suspension to replace the T-34 and accepted for service in 1944. It never saw combat although 1,823 were built before production ended in 1947 with about 20 of them ready by the end of 1944. Its turret was very similar to the T-34/85 but too cramped for handling the larger shells of the desired 100 mm gun for an upgrade, so a new turret design was initiated for the same basic hull.
The new turret and some internal changes to the hull resulted in the T-54-1. This first T-54 turret had shot traps at front and rear and was replaced by an improved one, introducing the pig’s-head mantlet, for the T-54-2. Apart from its turret rear overhang this looked very much like the T-54A that eventually emerged and developed into the T-55.
Steve goes into the detail of designations throughout the whole series, clarifying the whole story so distinguishing the Soviet, Czech and Polish-built T-45s and –55s is much easier after reading this book. The Chinese copies are included too, making this a very useful reference for the whole series. All the late upgrades are described as well, and it is pointed out that the major rebuild programme resulted in many mixtures of late and early features.
The photographs are well chosen to illustrate their sub-types, and although many are familiar they are properly captioned here with the types distinguished. The plates are by an artist new to the series and he’s done a good job with them.