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Book Review: Soviet T-62 Main Battle Tank

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It's easy to dismiss the T-62 tank. It was not produced in the numbers that its predecessors, the T-54 and T-55 enjoyed, nor did it have the technical novelties of the T-64 tank that came just a few years later. Discussion of this tank in Western sources usually boils down to a list of its drawbacks and a brief description of its lackluster performance in various Middle Eastern wars. Nevertheless, the tanks were used well into the 21st century not only by Soviet client states, but even by ex-Soviet nations, despite availability of more recent vehicles. The latest book by James Kinnear and Stephen "Cookie" Sewell takes a look at why this is the case.

One of the first things that I found interesting is the list of acknowledgements. The names are almost all Russian, including Yuri Pasholok and Igor Zheltov, who should be well known to readers of this blog. Indeed, the bibliography is full of Russian language sources, although a handful of English language books and articles are also listed. This raised my hopes for the book immediately, and it did not disappoint.

The book begins with a chapter comparing the approach of two Soviet tank designer legends: Morozov, a revolutionary thinker responsible for the T-34, T-54, and T-64 tanks and Kartsev, whose greatest achievements were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The book covers how the two designers helped their respective tanks navigate the political realities of the Soviet military procurement system.

The second chapter covers the development of the T-62 how Kartsev's T-62 tank made its way from a tank destroyer with a limited potential for procurement to a stopgap design, and then to a truly mass produced MBT.

The third chapter contains a thorough description of the T-62's family tree, starting with the Object 142 and working its way through the decades towards the most recent modernizations of these vehicles developed in the 80s and 90s. The reader does not have to work from text alone, as the book offers a wide array of black and white period photographs and colour photographs taken in museums, most importantly both of the exterior and interior of the vehicles. Illustrations from the tank's service manual are also provided.

If that wasn't enough, chapter four repeats the concept with derivative and experimental vehicles. This includes both Soviet models such as the IT-1 tank destroyer, foreign modifications such as the Israeli Tiran-6, and copies such as the Chinese WZ-122. 

The fifth and last chapter focuses on the tank's service history. The tank's performance in events starting with Operation Danube and ending with the Syrian Civil War is recounted and analyzed. The chapter ends with a retelling of the scrapping of thousand of T-62 tanks under the Conventional Forces Europe treaty. In addition to making their own conclusions with the benefit of modern sources, the authors theorize as to how the limited information available to the general public at the time could have shaped the tank's reputation. This chapter is accompanied both by period photographs from the respective conflicts and colour profiles. 

About one sixth of the book is taken up by appendices. The appendices include specifics about the production volumes of T-62 tanks, who obtained them from the USSR and when, and a brief history of development of various components of the tank. Appendix 11 might be the most useful to many readers who do not speak Russian, as it offers a glossary of terms and acronyms used in Soviet tank documents. This is also one of the book's few weaknesses, as nearly all of the the transliterated Russian terms suffer from spelling or grammar mistakes. Nevertheless, this should be sufficient for a non-Russian reader to understand the terminology. Keep a bookmark in this section, as the acronyms and Russian language terms are not always explained inline and you might have to jump to the back a few times until you get a hold of the terminology.

If you are deeply infatuated with the T-62 tank to the point of learning Russian and subscribing to Russian language periodicals, this book might not offer you anything new. To almost everyone else this is an incredibly important collection of knowledge vetted by seasoned tank historians that shines a light through the language barrier and information vacuum of the Cold War to give a more detailed view of the T-62 tank than any other English language book written to date.  

Soviet T-62 Main Battle Tank by James Kinnear and Stephen L. Sewell is now available from Osprey Publishing. I would like to thank Osprey for providing me a PDF review copy of this book.


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