Ivan Could Swim!

A Craig tank posting again.  Here’s another video from the American Wartime Museum open house:


Many will jump to compare the PT-76 to the M551 Sheridan.    But the Russian tank had been around some 15 years before the American tank even did test laps. While the American tank used a highly advanced (perhaps too advanced) hybrid gun-missile armament, the PT-76 used a tried-and-true 76mm main gun.  The gun fires both high velocity armor piercing (HVAP) and high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds.  A 7.62 caliber coaxial machine gun complements the main gun.

AWM 20 Aug 11 075
PT-76 on Display

The Russians kept the PT-76 in production through the late 1960s.  All told over 5000 rolled out of the factories.  Production variants introduced better NBC and night vision systems.  A few PT-85s were produced with an 85mm main gun.  And experimental versions featured 90mm or anti-tank missile armament.

The PT-76’s design put emphasis on amphibious capabilities.  In fact, the PT-76 came with water jets to allow speeds of 6 mph when swimming.

AWM 20 Aug 11 077
Water Jet Exhaust

In addition to great amphibious capabilities, the PT-76 had a roomy interior and good cross country mobility.  But the tank’s armor was only good against rifle-caliber fire.  And the main gun lacked any stabilization.  You wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with enemy tanks.  However, the PT-76 was designed to operate and exploit the fringes of a defense line where enemy tanks were not supposed to be.

In Soviet service the PT-76s armed reconnaissance companies in line divisions and tank companies in the marine divisions.  Russia retains a significant number of the PT-76s.  Here’s an old documentary forwarded by the political officer (can anyone translate what he’s saying?):


With over 2000 exported, many nations around the world continue to operate the amphibious tanks.  Examples manned by the North Vietnamese participated in some of the few tank-vs-tank battles in the Vietnam War.  In fact, PT-76s were the first to fall victim to TOW missiles.

While technically the tank COULD be airdropped or air-transported, the Russians opted to use the ASU-57 and ASU-85 self-propelled guns in airborne formations (and later BMD series recon/carriers).

AWM 20 Aug 11 078
Rear Deck of PT-76

Speaking of the ASU-85, that weapon used the chassis of the PT-76, with of course an 85 mm gun fixed in a superstructure.  Other systems using the PT-76 chassis include the BTR-50 amphibious carrier, the ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, missile carriers, and various support vehicles.  The Chinese improved the basic design into their own Type 63 tank.

AWM 21 Aug 10 087
Same Tank from Last Year's Open House

Certainly there are some features of the PT-76 that make me wish the US Army or Marine Corps had procured something similar.  On the other hand, the American habit of misusing light armor would make any “Yankee” version a death trap.

1 thought on “Ivan Could Swim!”

Comments are closed.