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Modelling the T-55 Main Battle Tank

Modelling the T-55 Main Battle Tank

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Modelling the T-55 Main Battle Tank

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Feb 20, 2012


The T-55 tank first appeared in 1958, a result of numerous improvements made to the (1949) T-54 series, and with a lineage stretching back to the wartime T-34 and the T-44. The T-55 series has seen service around the world with many armed forces, including the Warsaw Pact countries, Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Poland, Somalia, Sudan, and Vietnam, and has seen action in key modern conflicts, most recently in the two Gulf Wars. This title showcases the talents of several leading modellers, and presents Serbian, Iraqi, Czech, Syrian, and Russian variants across 1/35 and 1/72 scales. It also features several challenging projects that involve extensive scratchbuilding.
Feb 20, 2012

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Modelling the T-55 Main Battle Tank - Nicola Cortese



The Russian T-55 is one of the most prolific main battle tanks ever produced. A direct descendent of the infamous and prevalent Russian T-34, the T-55 was first introduced in the ‘cold war’ era of the 1950s. By the time production ended in the early 1980s, an estimated 50,000 examples had been built under license by Russian allies such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and China.

Many versions and modifications were developed, both by the original Russian manufacturer and by licensed producers throughout the world. Many different camouflage and paint schemes have been displayed on the T-55 through the years, such as during the Balkan wars and the two Iraq wars, making the T-55 a consistently interesting modelling subject. Given the T-55’s simplicity, reliability, and its powerful 100mm gun, it is not surprising that many T-55s are still in service today, as seen in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For more information concerning the T-55 and its long history it would be remiss not to mention Osprey Publishing’s New Vanguard 102: T-54 and T-55 Main Battle Tanks 1944–2004, written by Steven J. Zaloga. It provides a perfect companion to this modelling volume.

This guide to modelling the T-55 Main Battle Tank mainly features the fantastic, long-awaited Tamiya 1/35-scale kit as a base to showcase several variants and building possibilities. Trumpeter and Esci (the latter’s offering having also been re-released by Italeri), have and still continue to offer the T-55 kit in 1/35 scale. However, these offerings unfortunately appear obsolete in terms of quality and accuracy compared to Tamiya’s all-new, ‘state of the art’ offering.

Readers will note that a basic build suitable for beginners has been omitted from this volume. This was a deliberate choice, in order make room for more interesting, informative, and challenging building and finishing techniques. Those seeking a simple ‘out of the box’ build should simply follow the kit’s instruction sheet.

In terms of aftermarket accessories, manufactures have released a plethora of resin conversion and photoetch update sets covering many variants – enough to satisfy every T-55 fan’s dreams. Among those on offer are MIG Productions incredible ‘burnt-out’ T-55 and Blast Models’ excellent T-55 ‘Tiran 5’ conversion.

As far as 1/72-scale T-55 kits are concerned, PST and ACE models have been the only real players in the market. Unfortunately the offerings from both of these parties are a little basic in terms of details. However, with a little ‘TLC’ they can be turned into fine models.

In this volume, the work of several modellers is on display. Each project presented showcases distinctive yet similar approaches to modelling. We hope you enjoy the variety on offer. Many people enjoy this hobby for the fun and relaxation it affords, while others aim to develop their building and painting skills to the maximum. Hopefully, you will be inspired by some of the models featured here, perhaps enough to try to some new modelling techniques. As Michelangelo once said: ‘The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.’

Tools and materials

Assortments of large and small files as well as good reliable sanding sticks are important items for any modeller to have. An X-acto hobby knife, and a range of tweezers (which can be modified for handling smaller parts) are also vital. Also, a good metal ruler is a must, especially when considering that most scratch-building takes place at a very small scale; a good, firm ruler is best for getting into those hard to reach areas. Circle templates are great for all kinds of modelling uses, and be sure to get hold of both the metric and standard versions.

A good rule of thumb is keeping it simple. And nothing is simpler than equipping yourself with a good X-acto knife and a small, stiff metal ruler. This should be at the heart of every modeller’s toolbox.

A Minimite Dremel tool will prove itself useful in almost every application, and it can be used as a mini-lathe, particularly handy when scratch-building. The various Dremel tools on offer can be supplemented with a collection of dental burrs too.

The Minimite Dremel was the first proper tool I bought years ago, and is still one of my favourites too. Now I also use it as a mini makeshift lathe.

One particular recommendation for anyone attempting to scratch-build with any form of styrene (beit rod, strip or sheet) is to invest in ‘The Chopper’. It’s well worth the money, giving nice, even cutting when required.

It should be remembered that a well-stocked parts bin, full of metal or plastic spares and extra bits, is just as important as your modelling tools. The spares bin can be a lifesaver when you are looking for specific bolt and nut detail.

Fillers such as Mr Surfacer and Tamiya’s are fantastic. They can be used as fillers, for texturing, and as adhesive.

In terms of glues and adhesives, Tamiya Extra Thin glue is highly recommended. You can apply layer upon layer, for example when fabricating weld patterns, and it never clumps together or thickens. When applying photo-etch, ‘Zap’ (a fast bonding cyanoacrylate glue available in both regular and extra thin viscosities) is very handy. It bonds well and does not seem to crack and bear brittle later unlike some other cyanoacrylate (or ‘super’) glues. Another good setting solution for metal and photo-etch is a mixture of Mr Surfacer 500 and Tamiya glue. This mixture works well for the smaller parts that sometimes need adjusting before final setting.

For painting, investing in an airbrush and compressor will produce some excellent results. They work well with acrylic paints, and the reduction in fume output makes them well worthwhile.

Here are the sponges I use to obtain my chipping effects. They were originally used for applying make-up. I cut them to nice flat angles, so the paint dabs evenly onto the model surface.

In my view, nothing compares to my Iwata Custom Micron airbrush.

Mr Surfacer is a staple in the arsenal of many modern modellers, and it is now available in three different viscosities: 500, 1000, and 1200. Mr Surfacer is great for achieving a casting effect, and performs well as a filler – the viscosity used depending on the application. Tamiya now offers a surfacer/filler, which works well but is somewhat grainy in texture compared to Mr Surfacer.

Other items that you should obtain include a Historex punch set (Bolt & Hex), Winsor & Newton artist oil paints, some nail clippers, and Testors liquid cement.

Czechoslovakian T-55AM2B (Kladivo)

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