It appears that the Ukrainian army has lost its first ex-Slovenian M-55S tank. Thursday’s online video shows one of the super-upgraded T-55 tanks consuming a Russian artillery projectile.
It is not surprising that the Ukrainians would ultimately write off one of their 28 M-55Ss. The four-crew M-55Ss, which are ex-Soviet T-55s from the mid-1950s modified by Israeli and Slovenian manufacturers with British L7 105mm guns and modern optics, are no longer tanks.
In comparison to a modern tank, their protection of 200 millimeters of steel and a few blocks of reactive armor is inadequate. Currently, the M-55S is most effective as a mobile gun—a self-propelled direct-fire artillery piece that can contribute firepower to infantry formations but would not lead a direct assault against formidable enemy defenses.
Surprising is the location of the M-55S when it was hit: outside Russian-occupied Kreminna in northeastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian army assigned the M-55Ss to a tank battalion in the 47th Assault Brigade, which has been in the thick of the fighting in southern Ukraine since early June, along one of the primary axes of the 2023 counteroffensive.
In other words, the M-55S that exploded outside Kreminna is over a hundred miles from its intended location.
Possibly, the 47th Brigade transferred its tank battalion to a different brigade prior to the June 4 counteroffensive. This may help explain why this is the first time we’ve seen photographic evidence of an M-55S on the front lines in weeks and the first time we’ve seen an M-55S engaged in combat.
It may also help to explain why the 47th Assault Brigade has partnered with the neighboring 33rd Mechanized Brigade, which possesses the majority of Ukraine’s Leopard 2 tanks manufactured in Germany.
It’s conceivable that Ukraine’s southern command evaluated Russian defenses along the southern front and determined that the aging M-55Ss couldn’t survive, or at least couldn’t make a significant contribution, as Ukrainian brigades shifted from defense to offense in the south.
The Leopard 2A6 is one of the best-protected tanks in the Russia-Ukraine conflict; however, the 33rd Brigade has lost a number of these tanks during hazardous assaults across Russian minefields. The weakly armored M-55Ss would have performed even worse than the Leopard 2s.
The practice of Ukrainian brigades exchanging transporters, tanks, and even entire tank companies and battalions is not unprecedented.
The Ukrainian air assault force dispatched crews from the veteran 25th and 80th Air Assault Brigades to the United Kingdom for training and then assigned those crews and their tanks to the new 82nd Air Assault Brigade.
The 82nd Air Assault Brigade is the first and, so far, only Ukrainian unit equipped with ex-British Challenger 2 tanks.
However, if Ukrainian strategists intended to keep the old M-55Ss away from the most intense combat, they may have miscalculated. There are indications that the Kreminna sector will soon be the scene of intense combat.
Notably, the Ukrainian army has begun deploying its unique 21st Mechanized Brigade—which operates ex-Swedish CV90 combat vehicles and Strv 122 tanks—to the sector, possibly signaling that it intends to attack along a new trajectory during the seven-week-old counteroffensive. A northeast-oriented axis.
As if there wasn’t already enough uncertainty surrounding Ukraine’s now 27-year-old M-55S tanks, there is an additional complication. Just one day prior to the release of the video depicting the Russian attack on one M-55S in northeastern Ukraine, a distinct image allegedly depicting another M-55S in southern Ukraine was shared on social media.
Did the 47th Brigade deploy separate tank battalions to hundred-mile-apart sectors?