Type 59

Type 59

Infobox Weapon|is_vehicle=yes | name=Type 59

caption=A Type 59 tank seen from above at the China People's Revolution Military Museum.
type=Main battle tank
origin=People's Republic of China
manufacturer=First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory, Norinco
length=6.04 m (hull)
width=3.27 m
height=2.59 m
weight=36 tonnes
armour=200 mm (steel)
primary_armament=100mm rifled gun
secondary_armament=2 x Type 59T 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, Type 54 12.7mm air-defence machine gun
engine=Model 12150L V-12 liquid cooled diesel
engine_power=520 hp (390 kW)
suspension=torsion bar
speed=50 km/h
pw_ratio=14.44 hp/tonne
vehicle_range=450 km, 600 km with external tanks

The Chinese Type 59 (Chinese industrial designation: WZ120) Main Battle Tank is a Chinese produced version of the ubiquitous Soviet T-54A tank. The first vehicles were produced in 1958 and it was accepted into service in 1959, with serial production beginning in 1963. Approximately 9,500 of the tank were produced by the time production ended in 1980 with approximately 5,500 serving with the Chinese armed forces. The tank formed the backbone of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army until early 2000s with an estimated 5,000 of the later Type 59-I and Type 59-II variants in service in 2002.

The Type 59 was modified several times during its service with the replacement of the 100 mm Type 59 rifled gun with a 105 mm rifled gun. It was also the basis of several later Chinese tank designs including the Type 69 and Type 79 tanks.


Essentially the Type 59 is identical to the early production Soviet T-54As, however there are some key differences. The Type 59 was not originally fitted with the infra-red searchlight or main gun stabilization of the T-54.

The Type 59 has a conventional post-war layout with the fighting compartment at the front, an engine compartment at the rear, and a cast dome-shaped turret in the centre of the hull. The hull is welded steel varying in thickness between 99 millimeters on the front lower glacis to 20 millimeters on the hull floor. The turret is between 203 and 39 millimeters thick.

The driver sits in the front left of the hull, and is provided with hatch immediately above his seat, which opens to the left. the driver has two pop-up vision blocks which give coverage ahead and slightly to the right when buttoned up. The commander sits in the turret along with the gunner and loader. The commander's hatch is on the turret left, with the gunner sitting forward and below him. The loader sits on the right of the turret and has a hatch above him. The turret has a non-rotating floor.

The turret mounts a 100 millimeter-calibre Type 59 rifled gun, for which 34 rounds are typically carried. A Type 59T 7.62 mm machine gun is mounted coaxially with the main gun. A Type 54 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine gun (a Chinese copy of the Russian 12.7 mm M1938/46 DShKM) is provided above the gunner's hatch for which 200 rounds is carried. Additionally a Type 59T 7.62 mm bow machine gun is provided for the driver, which fires through a very small hole in the center of the glacis. 3,500 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition are normally carried.

The turret has a powered traverse mechanism that is probably comparable to the T-54 traverse mechanism which can rotate the turret through 360 degrees in 21 seconds. Very early models of the Type 59 gun had manual elevation gear, later replaced with a powered system which allowed the gun to be aimed at between +17 and -4 degrees. Later models added vertical stabilization to make firing on the move practical. An infrared searchlight based night vision system was retrofitted to the tank with infra-red periscope for the commander gunner and driver.

The tank is powered by a Model 12150L V-12 liquid cooled diesel engine, which develops 520 horsepower at 2,000 rpm. The engine feeds a manual gearbox with five forward and one reverse gear. A total of 815 litres of diesel can be carried internally in the tank, with a further 400 litres carried externally giving a maximum road range of 600 kilometers, or approximately 430 kilometers using only internal fuel. The tank has five road wheels on each side with a prominent gap between the first and second road wheel. The track is driven by a drive sprocket at the rear, with an idler at the front. It is notable that there are no return rollers. The suspension is a torsion bar system. Engine exhaust is on the left fender.

Ammunition is stored inside the turret, which increases the odds of a catastrophic secondary explosion should the tank's interior be penetrated by enemy fire. Crew survivability is hence low. ()


After the signing of Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance, the Soviets agreed to assist China in building a tank manufacturing facility to manufacture the T-54A MBT in 1956. Initially, the tanks were assembled with Soviet-supplied parts, which were gradually replaced by Chinese-made components. The tank was accepted into service by the PLA in 1959cite book |last=Gelbart |first=Marsh |title=Tanks main battle and light tanks |year=1996 |publisher=Brassey’s UK Ltd |Pages=pp.16-17 |isbn=185753168X] , and given the designation Type 59.

The Type 59 MBT represented China's first-generation tank development. Over the years, it was upgraded with various domestic and western technologies. When the PLA captured a Soviet T-62 from the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969, improvements based on the T-62 were incorporated into the T-59 design to become the Type 69 MBT, which was further upgraded with western technology and became the Type 79 MBT. The Type 59 was the beginning of China's first-generation MBT, and the Type 79 last, superseded by the Type 80 second-generation MBT.

The Type 59 MBT is also known as WZ-120 by its manufacturer name. It was produced in great numbers from 1959 to mid 1980s, totaling over 10,000. The Type 59, and its successor, the Type 69, were widely exported, with thousands sold. Today an estimated 5,000 Type 59 MBT's remain in PLA inventory, but is used primarily for training and support roles. The Type 59-series are being replaced by the more capable Type 96 and Type 99 MBTs.

This tank gained worldwide infamy after the "Tank Man" incident in 1989.


Type 59

The basic variant, a T-54A clone without IR searchlight. Entered production in 1957.

Type 59-I

Improved variant fitted with a Type 69-II 100 mm rifled gun, as well as a laser rangefinder, hydraulic servo-system, primitive fire control, automatic fire suppression system, and rubber track skirt. The Type 59-I includes several versions with different armour and fire control configurations.

Type 59-II

Manufacturer designation WZ-120B. Mounts the 105 mm Type 81 rifled gun design provided by Austria (copy of the Royal Ordnance L7), distinguished by the fume extractor midway on the barrel, rather than on the muzzle. Other improvements include new radio and fire suppression system. Produced from 1982 to 1985.

Type 59-IIA

Fitted with thermal sleeve for 105 mm gun and some composite armor. Variants include MBT, command tank, and mine-sweeper tank.

Type 59 Gai

This is an experimental variant to test various Western technologies integrated on the Chinese-made MBT. Variants include: B59G and BW120K. The BW120K is fitted with an indigenously developed 120 mm smoothbore gun comparable in general performance to the US M-256.

Type 59D

Also known as WZ-120C. The Type 59D was developed in the 1990s. Instead of replacing all ageing Type 59s in service with newer models, the PLA decided that they should be upgraded with new technologies to meet the requirements for future land battle.The Type 59D is fitted with explosive reactive armour, new tank gun, passive night vision, and new fire control. The 12150L diesel engine was also replaced by a 580 hp 12150L7 engine. Variants include Type 59D and Type 59D1.

Sudan's Military Industry Corporation (MIC) may have licensed the T-59D for domestic production as the Al-Zubair 2 tank. [http://mic.sd/images/products/wepons/ar/endb/dbAlZUBAIR2.htm]

Type 62 Light Tank

In late 1950s, the PLA submitted requirements for a light tank more suitable for operations in China's southern region. Development on the new Type 62 tank began in 1958, which was a scaled-down Type 59 MBT with simplified equipment. The Type 62 light tank entered batch production in 1963, and approx. 800 were produced by 1978.

The Type 62 light tank weights only 21 tons, and is equipped with a Type 62-85TC 85 mm rifled gun, and 3 machineguns. An improved Type 62-I version was produced with better FCS with laser rangefinder, and turret storage racks for added protection. Other versions based on the Type 62 include the Type 79 recovery vehicle (prototype only) and Type 82 earthmover.

The PLA deployed the Type 62 light tank to Vietnam during the 1979 Sino-Vietnam conflict. They found that the thin armor of the Type 62 tank could be penetrated easily by hand-held anti-tank weapons, such as the 40 mm RPG. The Type 62 tank suffered severe losses during the conflict, which convinced the PLA to develop new second-generation MBT's.

The Type 62 tank received a major upgrade in 2000, with new welded turret, vertically stabilized 105 mm rifled gun, fire-control system, night vision device, smoke grenade launchers, and explosive reactive armor (ERA) package. [http://www.sinodefence.com/army/tank/type62.asp]

Type 69 / 79

Improved Type 59 MBT built by 617 Factory (Inner Mongolia First Machine Group Co. Ltd). Only saw limited service in the PLA, but was an export success in the 1980s with more than 2,000 sold world-wide. See Type 69/79 for more info.

Type 73

This ARV is a Type 59 with its turret removed. The vehicle is armed with a single 12.7 mm machine gun. This ARV is not believed to have a winch and is limited to towing operations.

Foreign variants

Great Britain

*Type 59 with 105-mm L7 gun. [http://www.inetres.com/gp/military/cv/tank/Type59.html "Gary's Combat Vehicle Reference Guide"] ]
*Type 59 Marksman - Type 59 fitted with a twin 35 mm air defense turret.


*Type T-72Z

North Korea

*Kok'san - 170 mm artillery piece, based on the Type 59 chassis.


*Al-Zarar - Heavy Industries Taxila of Pakistan has also introduced the Al-Zarar Main Battle Tank. The Al-Zarar series was designed to improve and rebuild the Pakistani army's Type 59 tanks by way of most modern armament, fire control, defensive equipment, etc. It is rumoured to have fifty-four improvements. Features:
** 125 mm smoothbore gun, firing APFSDS, HEAT-FS and HE-FS. Semiautomatic loading and image Stabilized fire control.
** 730 hp Engine for improved mobility.
** Superior suspension.
** Improved defenses with explosive reactive armour and anti-mine cover underneath.Type 59 tanks played an important role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. (See Battle of Longewala)


*AFG - 100
*BAN - 264 (including 30 Soviet T-54A MBTs received as gift from former Yugoslavia, they were later modified to incorporate Type 59 parts with Chinese help) cite book|title=Jane's Armour and Artillery 2005-2006|author=Christopher F Foss.]
*CAM - 200
*COD - 20
*IRN - 220 [ [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iran/ground-equipment.htm Iranian Ground Forces Equipment ] ]
*PRK - 175
*PAK - 1,200
*PRC - 5,500 - 6,000 [Estimates vary depending on source. Jane's gives 5,500]
*COG - 15
*SRI - 80+
*SUD - 10
*TAN - 30
*THA - 158
*VIE - 350
*ZAM - 20
*ZIM - 30

Former Operators

*ALB - 721 (All scrapped or retired)
*IRQ - 1500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks were in service with Iraqi Regular Army in 1990. All destroyed or scrapped.

ee also

Type 59/62 -
Type 69/79 -
Type 80/85/88 -
Type 90/96 -
MBT 2000 -
Type 98/99 -
T-72 -
M-84 -
M-95 -
PT-91 -
M-2001 -
T-80 -
T-84 -
T-90 -



External links

* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/china/type-59.htm Type 59 Main Battle Tank] - GlobalSecurity.org
* [http://www.sinodefence.com/army/tank/type59.asp Type 59 Main Battle Tank] - Chinese Defence Today
* [http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/row/type-59.htm Type 59 Main Battle Tank] - FAS
* [http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/mbts-pr.cfm Type 59 Main Battle Tank] - CDI

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