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Sturgeon's House

Russian tanks and fighting vehicles in the Finnish Defence Forces


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Hello fellow members, a newcomer here.

I just finished reading  the exhaustive Ukrainian armor -thread among few other great threads, and felt like I shall contribute something to this forum in return.
Hopefully I can drag other authors with me into this thread, but I restain the right to start the topic with the vehicle, of which retirement has caused most butthurt among Finnish armor community. That is, of course, the T-72M1, "Seittenkakkonen" (Finnish for "semdesyatdvoyki" / "seventytwo"). All data presented here is translated from public Finnish articles and seminarys.

In this post I focus on the initial acquirement process of the T-72 from the USSR, and in later posts I will adress the NVA-deal, some interesting modifications and last, the disqualification of the T-72M1 in the FDF.


A Nižni Tagili T-72M1, produced somewhere between 1985 and 1988, in AALTO-2004 exercise with reservist crew. The attached combat simulator equipment is Saab BT 41. Photo most likely courtesy of the FDF.

T-72M1 in Finnish Service

The acquisation and preparations

During the 60's and 70's the Finnish land force's fist was one <sic> Armored Brigade, which main battle tanks were T-54's and T-55's delivered from 1959 to 1972. During 1975-1977, The parliaments defense commitee proposed the renovation of armored equipment. The next committee left its memo in 1981, which suggested acquiring armor from the USSR, utilizing possible bilateral trade. Such procedure was usual way of business in heavy machinery and equipment between Finland and USSR at the time. This would enable the FDF to form another war-time armored brigade.

In  May, 1979, The T-72 Ural, among armor workshop trucks and other armored vehicles was presented to the Finnish delegation in Vystrel training centre in Solnetshnogorsk. In December another delegation was sent to examine the T-72, first in theory at Malinovski armor academy and in practice at Vystrel. Memos from both trips review the T-72 very suitable for the FDF's usage, and to be a vast improvement in contrast to the T-55, but it was also considered to demand more service due its complexity. The buying process was initially started, but during may 1983 the Soviet counterpart notified for the Finns surprise that more modern, T-72M and T-72MK-tanks would be available. These vere reviewed by the Finns later in the same year. Later the acquisition refined to apply T-72M1 and T-72M1K's.

Training in Odessa

The process started to materialize, when a 22-men delegation formed of personel from the Headquarters, Armored Brigade and depots took a trip to Moscow in early September 1984, and continued from there to Odessa, where instructors and maintenance personell received their training.  The journey memorandum is still held secret by the headquarters, but a good overview in to their studies was publicly presented by one of the participants in 2014.

The course were held in military academy in Fontanskaya street. Gunnery took place in Khornomorskje, driving studies in Štepanivka near Kiev,  and deep fording training was held near the town of Nikojalev. The academy was a combined arms cadet academy, and held participants from satellites such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola, Mosambik, Afganistan and Mongolia, but also equipement course students from a countries whose ties to the USSR were little looser, such a Finland and Algeria. The cadet courses lasted for five years, of which the first one consisted of only studies of Russian language.

The delegation was led by colonel Tauno Ylänne, while their soviet counterpart was army captain. The students were split into three courses: The instructors, weapons and electrics, and service & maintenance. The Finns attending the course were no greenhorns; all had solid experience on the T-54 and the T-55, the most experienced elders even beyond that, from the T-34-85. They shared the views of acquisition delegations and considered the T-72M1 remarkably advanced in terms of  fire control, night vision and loading automatics <no way...> compared to its predecessors. The cultural difference between the instructors and students was wide: The Soviets wanted to call their Finnish students comrades, which the delegation refused to accept. The instructors had gotten used to the low knowledge level of their students, thus for example the training for the command (K)-models navigation apparatus started from the basics of trigonometry.

The Finns were taught like they had no prior experience of the armor branch, but these issues was to be solved quickly. Not every participant was fluent in Russian language, or understood it at all. The three interpreters included in  the delegation could not be serving all need simultaneously, but with help of colleagues the students kept up. The Finns also had translated the technical documentation of the T-72 on their own, which greatly helped the self-studies. The translation was done by a major called Ari Puheloinen. He would later become the commander of the defense forces. A tankist to the bone, he left service for retirement in 2014,  driving a BMP-2 in the streets of Helsinki. 

Instructor's training consisted of 300 hours, of which over a half was spent for combat vehicle course and a degree. Relatively little time was used for weapons and gunnery training, and the emphasis of the studies was on the cassette autoloader which represented new technology for the Finns. The maintenance group instead, focused on the repairs and evacuation, and also carried out a degree to attest their 336 hour training. The studies took place from Monday to Saturday, from 0800 to 1500 followed by a three hour self-study time. The method of theory followed by self-studies was seen successful, and was later to be applied on the training of conscripts.

In the  exams the Finns cheated abundantly : The interpreters had heard the correct narrations many times over, and despite of what the student sobbed them in Finnish, they provided the correct answers for the instructors. On the other hand, the Finns repeatedly broke the 2,8 km  long tank driving tracks speed records for a great nuisance for their instructors. Practical training remained a bit thin; no full-calibre shots were fired, and deep fording was presented only as an exhibition. The combat frog, MT-LB was also presented for the students, and later it was chosen to be bought also. The students returned in Finland 27.10.1984.

The tanks arrive

The first 15 T-72M1's and T-72M1K's of the order of 60 tanks, crossed to border on a railbed 13.12.1984 and were transfered to Siikakangas depot for acceptance and modifications. Also a "work brigade" of two russian mechanics arrived to fix faults and deviations noticed in the acceptance checks. The new vehicles and its systems were put on several tests during 1985 in order to examine and clarify its features and performances.  The tanks were localized with Finnish light package for road usage, Finnish plates in instruments, fire extinguisher and such minor things. The Odessa men were called in May for a week to recap their studies, exercise driving and perform so called "driving licenses" for the tank in order to start its usage on the Armour Brigade. The first batch on tanks, 3 T-72M1's and one T-72M1K was delivered from depot to the Armored Brigade in May, where they were used in public presentation and in additional training for the brigade staff.  In autumn 1985, 10 tanks more were delivered and the conscript training (production of war-time troops) begun.  In the next summer the Armored Brigade received next 13 tanks to start training in another Tank Company and a first T-72 cadet course. For the next decade they would be training two T-72's companies concurrently, until the second unit switched to modernized T-55's in 1996 in order to fulfill new troop production demands.

The rest of the tanks were delivered in four batches, 15 in February 1985, 10 in December 1986, 10 in Apri 1987 and 10 in September 1988, respectively. All the delivered tanks, 54 T-72M1's and 6 T-72M1K were new and were shipped straight from Nižni Tagil. The exported vehicles represented a productions from November 1984 to August 1988, there were some degree of structural differencies, which caused minor problems with spare part fitment and documentation. Configuration was usual for the type, but the GO-27 gas/radiation meter lacked from all Nižni Tagili vehicles. This wasn't the case with Warsaw Pact T-72M1's.

Later the war-time Armour Brigade rosters were adjusted and changed, which created a demand for three more T-72M1K's. These were amidst very interesting political situation, in December 1991. They were equipped with brand new radio gear R-173 and R-134 and new R-174 intercoms.

Training equipment

In addition to the tanks them selves, a large assortment of training equipment was acquired. It consisted of UDS-172 demonstration tank (a cage model of the T-72, nowadays shown at the Armour Museum), demonstration turret SAZ-172, autoloader training apparatus, demonstration main gun and broad range of cut-models of various equipment. In 1993 started training with three TOPT-3 turret simulators, which were modified in Finnish-Israeli co-operation. The modifications allowed to train the turret crews of whole platoon in a classroom.

First usage experiences and maintenance 

When the users had got familiar with their new tanks and their most common faults and issues, a repair training was initiated with the Soviet counterpart, based on earlier agreements.  The field maintenance troop was trained in Kiev, and the major overhaul training was held in Moscow, Atamanovka and Saransk. The Soviet union broke up meanwhile, and changes in organizations caused a few years break in the training. When the training resumed, qualitative problems arose as some of the organisations supposed to train the Finns weren't yet familiar with the T-72 them selves, as they had just took over functions which were had been located in the Baltic states.  Additional training was bought from former DDR, where their biggest tank repair factory in Neubrandenburg, now operated by company called SIVG provided the Finns training for the repairs in transmission and sighting complex TPD-K1. Some testing equipment were also bought from SIVG, which proved to be excellent and some still remain in use while the T-72 is long gone. Discussions with the Russians in 1993 were held in order to find out at which phase and in what scale  they applied interval repair to their vehicles. While the Russian procedure was not applied "as-is" in Finland, the discussions strengthened the Finnish perceptions of the tanks usual wear and tear.

The overhaul literature and technical drawings were bought as full series in their whole broadness. Spare parts were bought per manufactureres guidelines, but adapted in the light of Finnish experiences. Repair equipment and tools  was purchased both in metal and in paper (to be manufactured by the buyer, if necessary). Finnish repair volumes didn't correlate at all with huge quantities of Russian workshops, and thus it was not necessary to obtain a specific tool for every single work phase. 

After "just" couple years of use, malfunctions started to appear in the V-46-6 engine, on its head gaskets to be more specific. The problems were examined, among other means, by instrumenting one engine. The instrumentation proved that the cooling usage after heavy duty before engine switch-off had major effect on the internal temperatures of the engine. During repairs it was observed that measurement, machining if necessary, and hand-picking the bi-metal gaskets with accuracy of 1/100 mm cured the situation in some extent.  Even thou the cooling was given big attention in use, the problem of coolant and pressure leaks between the block and the heads  followed the tank thru its whole lifespan, and appeared to be unrelated to the origin of the engine; both Russian-made and later Polish-made engines suffered from it.

The experiences with the T-72M1 in the FDF were mixed in their nature, when compared to our other tank at the time, the T-55M. The tactical mobility of the T-72 superior, but it suffered from its slow reverse speed in typical fire position action. It had less daily maintenance subjects and adjustments than the T-55, but the final drives in the sprockets was noticed to wear prematurely. 2E28M stabilizer, the autoloader and the sighting complex TPD-K1 suffered from small defects and malfunctions thru the lifespan. The ammunition provided to the T-72M1 was outdated, especially the 3BM15 APFSDS lacked performance. As for Fire Control Systems, the differences were such big in favor of  the T-55M that it not a huge wrong to declare that the T-72M1 did not have one. Meanwhile the T-55M presented a superior night figthing capability with its gunners image intensifier, and its Belgian 100mm sabot ammo was considered capable for the mission.

A Nižni Tagili T-72M1 on an OPFOR mission, 28.6.2012 in the Armored Brigades 70 year anniversary. This vehicle is a rare example, as it retains the fording tube. It was not usually carried in the Finnish T-72 .Photo: Niko Juvonen

Panssariseminaari 2014. (The armour seminary 2014).  Parolannummi 4.2.2014. Lecture:  Colonel (ret.) Kari Haapanen : Odessan miehet - Suomalaiset T-72 koulutuksessa Neuvostoliitossa. (The men of Odessa - Finns in T-72 training in the USSR.)

Panssarilehti 4/2014. (Armor magazine 2/2014) Esa Muikku: T-72 Suomessa. (T-72 in Finland) ISSN 1235-3469.

Lecture, 4.11.2014, Armour Guild, Parolannummi, Hattula: M.Sc.(Tech.) Esa Muikku, Millog Oy technical chief: T-72 Suomessa 13.12.1984-28.12.2006. 
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Thanks collimatrix, but all kudos to my sources. I've never ridden a T-72. I also consider the T-55M to be the most intriguing vehicle in the Finnish inventory (well the BMP-2MD gets close!), but to discuss that I need to obtain literature and check facts. As per FCS, the closest relative is the Serbian M-84. Firepower was adressed with MECAR M-1000 APFSDS. Will sure get back to it at some point.

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The T-55M

Comprehensive listing of T-55M mods by "CV9030FIN" on tanknet :http://www.tank-net.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=16797&p=419944 For readability, I copypaste it on this post, too: 

Finnish T-55's came from USSR in 1965 (regular T-55 MBT's ~40 pcs) & 1967 (T-55K command variants ~10 pcs), 12 more came in 1972 (regular MBT's). All were in service to late 1980's when modernization project started. After modernization T-55 MBT variants were named as T-55M* and command variants T-55MK.

Modernization of T-55 to T-55M standard included:
- Thermal sleeve around gun barrel
- New MECAR 100mm APFSDS-T ammo
- New FCS from Bofors (FCS-FV/K) with passive day/night (II-) sight for Gunner with LRF
- New loaders hatch with AAMG (12.7mm NSVT with new Norwegian sights)
- 1 million cd's IR-light
- 8x 76 mm Wegmann smoke grenade discharcers
- 1x 71 mm Bofors Lyran illumination grenade mortar
- New storage and equipment boxes (also acting as "standoff armor")
- New RMSh tracks (similar as T-72M1's)
- Hull's new side skirts (also acting as "standoff armor")
- Abilty to deep-wading taken off (air intake tubes taken off)

T-55MK had similar modilfications plus extra radio and antenna. Beacause of EAPU those did not have front classis mounted PKT's.
All exept few special training and few museum T-55M/T-55MK's will be destroyed until end of year 2007.

I have no competence beyond that listing. I've got a thin hunch about "CV9030FIN"'s identity and consider his knowledge very credible. 

An offical conscript tabloid, Ruotuväki told following in their article considering T-55M retirement  in March 2002:



The T-55 served unchanged from the 60's until late 80's, when a modernization of all 70 tanks took place. The installation of the Swedish Bofors FCS was the single most important improvement. Firepower was also enchanced by a new Belgian ammunition for the main gun.

2nd Lt. (reserve) Risto Tammela commends the FCS: "Thanks to the Swedish FCS, accuracy and firepower were unbelievable." Tammela served on 1st Armor Co. at the Armoured Brigade in 1999.

As for the development of the T-55M, I find it very hard to obtain written literature. Esa Muikku scrapes the topic on his de-facto base book for Finnish armor enthuasist; The Finnish Armored Vehicles 1918-1997: 


Design of modification and upgrade package for the T-55 was undertaken in 1986-1988. As a result the new T-55M and T-55MK models were born and all original T-55s and T-55Ks were modernized in 1989-1993.

It's of course worth mentioning that the FDF was not aware of the looming dissemination of the DDR and its NVA. When the T-55M project was finished, the FDF was about to have two war-time armored brigades equipped with T-72M1's, and one with T-55M. Ultimately the desicion was made to divert the T-55M's to Separate Armor Battalions. The quantity of vehicles suggest that two such battalions were formed.
I'm aware of two surviving museum vehicles, of which another, labeled Ps 262-25 is particulary interesting one. As far as I am concerned, it is possibly one of the modernization testbeds, and thus differs from the rest of the series for at least one detail: It's got add-on "Brow armor" on its turret, very similar to that of the Polish T-55AM "Merida". The vehicle is stored but not publicly shown by the Armour Museum.  Meanwhile, some undisclosed figure of T-55Ms continue to serve in the FDF; either in OPFOR role equipped with very elementary simulator equipment, but also in conscript service in the Armored Brigades Armoured Engineer Company, who utilize KMT-5M mineroller equipped T-55Ms. They are getting replaced by similarly roled and equipped Leopard 2 A4's possibly very soon. 

13974470.jpg?264a7b7e2b1d5cb8b7052b262dbT-55M (Ps 262-1) of the Armored Engineer Co. unloading from train in execise "LÄNSI 11" Photo courtesy of the FDF, 2011.

13974474.jpg?ac29db16e18cc1234d29996d00eT-55M (Ps 262-1) with KMT-5M attached during the same "LÄNSI 11" exercise. Photo courtesy of the FDF, 2011.

13974482.jpg?4af15ff6d07cb52ca31983aa371T-55M in typical camouflage with its KMT-5M attachments and yellow "OPFOR" marking visible. Unknown date (2012?) and photographist.

13974487.jpg?e4bd22ff0d8cb33c07985a39b24T-55M in Sipoo during exercise "HELSINKI 2000". At the time all of the T-55M were assigned to Separate Tank Battalions. One company (10 tanks) took part on the exercise.  Photo courtesy of the FDF, 2000.

Now, from the last photo a sharp guy notices that the main sights top unit/mirror is completely identical to the Yugo/Serb M-84's DNNS-2. I'd really like to know the story about it's development, as I know for fact that the T-55M's FCS is called Bofors FCS-FV/K. All of its capabilites match with datasheets of the DNNS-2. I've heard rumours of Yugo-Swedish joint development of the mentioned FCS, but nothing that I could doublecheck. Also most of  the FCS handles and components within the M-84 and the Finnish T-55M are if not identical, at least very similar. I hope I can provide photos some day to back it up.

In the Armour Seminarium 2014, held in the Armored Brigage 1.2.2014, following statement was given by Ove Engvist, Commander (resigned), Doctor in War Sciences and a writer, during his lecture about 100 56 TKs,  the coastal battery gun turrets based on the  T-55 turrets: "During maintenance and modernization of the gun turrets initiated in the late 80's, included installation of laser range finder equipped gun periscope sights made by Yugoslavian company "Iskra". The same Yugo-sight was considered to be used in the T-55M modernization program, but instead a Swedish option was chosen." If somebody could enlighten me about the Swedish-Yugo connection and development, I would be glad.


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  • 1 month later...


That is Czech-made example from NVA-stocks, if somebody is interested.






I'd guess this is at least decade old picture, based on the tankers uniforms and the presence of PSTOHJ82M (9M111-1 Konkurs). The missile was removed from service long ago.

The BMP-2, in other hand, is due to modernization as we speak, and the whole fleet will be upgraded by 2017. I can mash up an article about if you wish?

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