Type 59 Main Battle Tank

Last updated on February 19th, 2019 at 08:53 pm

The Type 59 main battle tank was the most common tank of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – the unified armed force of Communist China – until the start of the 21st century.

It is based on the Soviet Union’s T-54 main battle tank.

In the early 1950s, the Soviet Union gave China some T-54 tanks.

The Chinese used the design to create their own tank, with Chinese parts. This became the Type 59 main battle tank.

The Type 59 main battle tank entered service in 1959. Mass production began in 1963.
Type 59 main battle tanks (the front two tanks in the photo) at a training base in Shenyang, China
When it was first built, the Type 59 was almost identical to the T-54. However, the Type 59 did not have any night vision equipment and its main gun was not stabilized.

Later versions had infrared night vision equipment, a weapon stabilization system, a laser rangefinder, and a fume extractor for the main gun.

The first version of the Type 59 had armor that was relatively thin, in comparison with that of the T-54.

Like the T-54, the Type 59 has a four man crew.  However, in the Type 59 the driver sits at the front of the hull on the left, rather than on the right. Some ammunition is stored on the driver’s right.

The commander, gunner and loader sit in the turret – the commander and gunner on the left, the loader on the right.

The Type 59 MBT has a loader’s cupola as well as a commander’s cupola.

Weapons on the Type 59 consist of a 3.94 inch (100mm) main gun, two 0.3 inch (7.62mm) machine guns – on a coaxial and one in the bow – and a 0.5 inch (12.7mm) anti-aircraft gun.

In later versions, the 3.94 inch (100mm) main gun was replaced with a 4.13 inch (105mm) main gun.

The Type 59 main battle tank, like the T-54, is capable of laying a smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust pipe on the left side of the hull.

Type 59D, a variant of the Type 59 main battle tank which was developed in the 1990s, has explosive reactive armor.

The Type 59 MBT  has been used in many conflicts around the world, including the Vietnam War, when it was used by the North Vietnamese, and the 1990/1991 Gulf War, when it was used by the Iraqis.

Chinese students protesting at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 faced Type 59 main battle tanks.

Production of the Type 59 main battle tank ended in 1980.

However, the Type 59 is still used by many countries around the world, including Vietnam, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

There are about 5,000 Type 59 main battle tanks in China today, but they are mostly used for training or support.


Type 59 Main Battle Tank

Active: 1959
Crew: 4
Weight: 35 tons (36,000kg)
Length: 19ft 9in (6m)
Height: 8ft 5in (2.6m)
Width: 10ft 7in (3.3m)
Weapons: Main – 3.94in (100mm) gun, Secondary – 1 x 0.3 inch (7.62mm) coaxial machinegun, 1 x 0.3 in (7.62mm) machinegun in bow, 1 x 0.5 in (12.7mm) anti-aircraft gun
Armor Maximum – Earliest version: 3.94in (100mm); Later variants: 7.99in (203mm)
Engine: Model 12150L V-12 liquid cooled diesel, 520hp
Speed: 31 mph (50kph)
Range: 273 miles (440 km)