Privately owned Type 59 tank on display in 2010.
Source: Alf van Beem - © Public domain
The Type 59 is an early Cold War era main battle tank of Chinese origin. In the early 1950's the USSR allowed China to copy and produce the T-54. Over time the Type 59 design was improved in various areas and led to the development of the improved Type 69. These improvements are unrelated to the T-55 and Soviet modernization programs. The Type 59 was the primary Chinese tank for many decades and large numbers remain in service, although the design has aged and can even be considered obsolete by todays standards.
The Type 59 has the same layout as the Soviet T-54. The driver is seated in the front and the cast turret is located in the middle. The engine and drivetrain are located at the rear. The chassis has five large roadwheels with a space between the first two wheels. Over time the Type 59 design was improved by the Chinese in various ways. The Type 59 may be encountered with improved fire control systems with a laser range finder over the barrel, improved 100mm ordnance, a 105mm cannon, slat armor, ERA blocks and an improved engine.
The original Type 59 is armed with a non-stabilized 100mm Type 59 cannon for which a total of 34 rounds are carried. The Type 59's can be encountered with a 105mm rifled cannon which fires NATO type ammunition. All versions have a 7.62mm Type 59T machine gun in the bow and a second as a coaxial weapon. A 12.7mm Type 54 heavy machine gun is mounted on the turret roof.
The Type 59 has the same protection level as the T-54. This means that the armor can easily be pierced by modern cannon, anti-tank missiles and even portable anti-tank weapons. Some Type 59 variants feature ERA or slat armor, although these versions are rare but often retained for second line units as older models are scrapped. An NBC system is not fitted to the Type 59 and a small number of vehicles feature smoke grenade launchers in addition to the exhaust diesel injection.
The tracked chassis provides good all terrain mobility. The maximum speed on road and average cross country speed are rather low. The Type 59 is powered by a 520 hp diesel engine. Maximum speed on roads is 50 km/h. When using a snorkel the Type 59 may ford water up to a depth of 5 meters.
The Type 59 and its variants have been the main Chinese tank up from the 1950's up to the late 1980's and large quantities remain in service. In the early 2000's about 5.000 were assigned to active and reserve units. The Type 59 was also exported, mainly to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. During the Iraq - Iran war it was widely used by both sides. Nowadays the Type 59 is considered an old design and most are in second line service, stored or scrapped.
Original Type 59 with 100mm rifled gun on display in a museum.
Source: Tyg728 - © CC BY-SA 4.0
A Type 59-II tank showing its 105mm barrel with bore evacuator in the middle.
Source: US Air Force (Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen) - © public domain
The Type 59 is a license produced T-54 that has features from both the T-54 and T-54A. Early versions had no night vision systems while later versions do have one. The Type 59 can be identified by its 100mm rifled cannon with a bore evacuator near the muzzle. The Type 59 served as the basis for continuous Chinese development for domestic use and export sales.
The Type 69 series, described separately, was to be an upgraded generation of Type 59 tanks. However, these were mostly produced for export. Access to a captured Soviet T-62 and improved relations with Western nations allowed for new insights and possibilities. This lead to the Type 79 series instead, which is also described separately. An interim solution was to utilize the Type 59 production line with some upgrades, such as the 105mm gun. This is how the Type 59-II came to be.
The Type 59-II is a Type 59 that is armed with a 105mm Type 81 gun, which is derived from the British L7. This rifled gun that fires 105mm NATO standard ammunition of Chinese design. The 105mm barrel with its bore evacuator in the middle distinguishes the Type 59-II from the original Type 59.
The Type 59D is an upgrade package for existing Type 59 tanks that was introduced in the early 1990's. The upgrades include a 105mm Type 83 cannon, ERA armor on turret and glacis plate, new fire control and sighting system and more powerful 580 hp engine. This variant is described in a separate article.
Upgrade of Type 59 by fitting the entire ZTZ96A tank turret with its 125mm smoothbore gun.
Pakistani upgrade program of their Type 59 tank fleet. Includes a stabilized 125mm smoothbore gun, thermal sight, explosive reactive armor, ballistic computer with laser range finder, 730 hp diesel engine and various other improvements.
Iranian upgrade program applied since the late 1990's. Improvements include a copious amount of ERA blocks, a 105mm M68 rifled gun, ability to fire Bastion guided missile from the barrel, a 780hp V-46-6 diesel, stabilizer, laser range finder, ballistic computer and various other upgrades.
Upgrade project by Myanmar. Very similar to the Type 59G, but is instead fitted with a different welded turret.
The Koksan is a North Korean large caliber self-propelled howitzer based on the Type 59 tank chassis.
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