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Type 59
Type 59 tank - front right.jpg
A Type 59 tank at China People's Revolution Military Museum.
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin China
Service history
In service 1959 – present
Production history
Manufacturer First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory, Norinco
Produced 1958 – 1980
Number built 9,500
Weight 36 tonnes (35 long tons; 40 short tons)[1]
Length 6.04 metres (19.8 ft) (hull)[1]
Width 3.27 metres (10.7 ft)[1]
Height 2.59 metres (8 ft 6 in)[1]
Crew 4[1]

Armor 20 - 203 mm[2]
100 mm rifled gun
2 x Type 59T 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun,[3] Type 54 12.7 mm air-defence machine gun
Engine Model 12150L V-12 liquid cooled diesel
520 hp (390 kW)
Power/weight 14.44 hp/tonne[1]
Suspension torsion bar
450 km,[1] 600 km with external tanks
Speed 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph)[1]

The Type 59 (Chinese: 59式; pinyin: Wǔjiǔ shì; industrial designation: WZ-120) main battle tank is a Chinese produced version of the Soviet T-54A tank, the earliest model of the ubiquitous T-54/55 series. 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 tanks 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 People's Liberation Army until early 2000s (decade) 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.


Note the gap between the first road wheel and the second, and the small hole below the splash board for the bow mounted machine gun.

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 infrared 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 gun turret in the centre of the hull. The hull is welded steel varying in thickness between 99 mm on the front lower glacis to 20 mm on the hull floor. The turret varies from 39–100 mm 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, which complicated the crew's operations.

The turret mounts a rifled 100 mm Type 59 cannon, 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[3]) 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.

Type 59 tank in Royal Australian Armoured Corps Tank Museum, captured by ARVN troops in South Vietnam on 4 July 1972.

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 (the average depression for Western tanks is -10, which allows for better usage of hull-down tactics). 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 infrared 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 km 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. (Gelbart 1996:16)


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 1959,[1] and given the designation Type 59.

Over the years, the Type 59 design was enhanced with various domestically developed and western technologies; When the PLA captured a Soviet T-62 during the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969, improvements based on the T-62 were incorporated into the Type 59 design to become the Type 69 MBT. The Type 69 was further upgraded with Western technology and became the Type 79 MBT. The Type 59 was therefore, the first in China's first-generation of main battle tanks, the Type 79 being the last. The Type 79 was superseded by the Type 80 second-generation MBT.

The Type 59 MBT is also known as WZ-120 by its manufacturer. Over 10,000 were produced between 1959 to mid 1980s,.[1] This tank gained worldwide infamy after the "Tank Man" incident in 1989. The Type 59, and its successor, the Type 69, were widely exported, with thousands sold overseas. Today an estimated 5,000 Type 59 MBTs remain in PLA inventory, but its being supplemented by the more capable Type 96 and Type 99 MBTs.

Combat Service

The Sino-Vietnamese War was the largest usage of tanks to date by the People's Liberation Army. China committed nearly 300 Type 59, Type 62, and Type 63 tanks into the conflict, of which 48 were lost to Vietnamese action. The tanks of 42nd Corps as the vanguard force responsible for cutting off the city of Cao Bằng bore the blunt of the losses, advancing only 30 km in 3 days. The poor performance of tanks in this battle was attributed to the mountainous terrain in North Vietnam that was inherently unsuited for mechanized warfare. The light armor on the Type 62 variant also proved inadequate in protection against small anti-tank weapons.


A line-up of Chinese armoured vehicles at Shenyang training base, in the foreground are two Type 59-II tanks. Note the bore evacuator in the middle of the barrel.

Albanian Type 59 Tanks at the border during the Albania-Yugoslav border incident (1999).

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 system, 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 (a 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 tank with additional plastic armour, which include: B59G and BW120K.

The BW120K is fitted with an indigenously developed 120 mm smoothbore gun comparable in general performance to the Rheinmetall 120 mm gun used on the German Leopard 2, American M1A1/A2 Abrams, and other current western main battle tanks.[4] These variants have cannons which reportedly have a muzzle velocity of 1660 m/s and are reportedly able to penetrate ~550 mm rolled homogeneous armor at 1500 m.

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, a 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.[5] Type 59D tanks are thought to utilize a 105 mm gun reportedly called the Type 83-I or Type 83A, which reportedly is able to penetrate 460~510 mm rolled homogeneous armor when using APFSDS ammunition, or ~600 mm rolled homogeneous armor when using depleted uranium ammunition. The Type 59D variants are believed to be able to launch anti tank guided missiles, which are believed to be able to penetrate 700 mm rolled homogeneous armor, have a range of 5200 m, and are able to defend against helicopters and UAVs. The Type 59D has armor which is capable of protecting it against a 105 mm shot from 2000 m.

Type 59P

Advanced variant built for the export market, with many high-tech components found in modern third-generation tanks.[6]

Type 59G

A heavily modernized variant approaching 3rd-generation standards with a new welded turret similar to the Type 96G replacing the original cast turret and a 125mm main gun with semi-automatic loader. In service with PLA and recently ordered by Bangladesh Army. Around 300 Type 59G will be procured and upgraded by the Bangladesh Army.

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 machine guns. 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 earth-mover.

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 MBTs.

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.[7]

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 worldwide. See Type 69/79 for more info.

Type 73

This armored recovery vehicle is a Type 59 with its turret removed. The vehicle is armed with a single 12.7 mm machine gun. This armored recovery vehicle is not believed to have a winch and is limited to towing operations.[3]

Foreign variants

United Kingdom

The 105-mm L7 gun was offered as an upgrade package for owners of the Type 59. No Type 59s served with British forces.[3] Marconi offered their Marksman anti-aircraft system as a conversion to operators of the Type 59. The Marksman consisted of a twin 35 mm autocannon system in a turret that could be fitted to most any MBT.[3]


North Korea

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


Al-Zarrar MBT

  • Al-Zarrar - Heavy Industries Taxila of Pakistan has introduced the Al-Zarrar Main Battle Tank. The Al-Zarrar series was designed to improve and rebuild the Pakistani army's Type 59 tanks by way of more modern armament, fire control, defensive equipment, etc. Improvements include:

Type 59 tanks played an important role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.


Operators of the Type 59 main battle tank

  •  Afghanistan - 100
  •  Bangladesh - 36 Type 59 tanks were ordered in 1980 from the PRC and delivered between 1980 and 1981 (aid). 240 T-54s, T-55s, Type 59s and Type 62s were in service in early 2001[8] and 180 in early 2003.[9] 80 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks were in service in 2004 and 2006.[10][11] 264 (including 30 Soviet-made T-54A MBTs received as gift from Egypt, they were later modified to incorporate Type 59 parts with Chinese help).[2] According to inventory as of 2010, the army currently has 264 T 59 and T 59IIs and 30 T-54 which is however been converted to heavy APC / IFV .
  •  Cambodia - 150 T-55s, Type 59s, and PT-76s were in service in early 2001[12] and 170 in early 2003.[13] 50 Type 59 tanks were in service in 2004 and 2006.[10][11] 200[2]
  •  People's Republic of China - 6,000 Type 59s were in service in 1985, 1990, 1995 and 2000, 5,000 in 2003 and 2005 and around 5,000 in 2010. 5,500 - 6,000[14]
  •  Democratic Republic of the Congo - 20[2]
  •  Republic of the Congo- 15[2]
  •  Iran - 300 Type 59 tanks were ordered in 1981 from the PRC and delivered between 1982 and 1984. 200 T-54s, T-55s and Type 59s have been upgraded to Safir-74 (also known as T-72Z although it shouldn't be confused with Iraqi modernization of the same name) standard (20 could possibly be Sudanese vehicles modernized for Sudan).[15] 220 Type 59 tanks were in service in 2000.[16][17] 540 T-54s, T-55s and Type 59s were in service in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.[10][11][16]
  •  Iraq - 1,500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks were in service with Iraqi Regular Army in 1990.
  •  Sri Lanka - 80+
  •  Burma - Type 59D/D1 - 160+
  •  North Korea - Between 50 and 175 ordered in 1972 from the PRC and delivered in 1973. 250 ZSU-57-2 turrets ordered in 1967 from the Soviet Union and delivered between 1968 and 1977 were fitted to Type 59 hulls. 500 T-55s were ordered in 1973 from the Soviet Union and delivered between 1975 and 1979 (The supplier may have been PRC in which case the vehicles wouldn't be T-55s but Type 59s).[15] There 175 Type 59s in service in 1985 and 1990 and 500 in 2000.[2][18] There were 3,500 T-34s, T-54s, T-55s, T-62s and Type 59s in early 2001,[12] around 3,500 in early 2003[13] and 2004[10] and more than 3,500 in 2006.[11]
  •  Pakistan - 80 Type 59 tanks ordered in 1964 from the PRC and delivered between 1965 and 1966. 210 Type 59 tanks ordered in 1968 from the PRC and delivered between 1970 and 1972. 159 Type 59 tanks ordered in 1973 from the PRC and delivered in 1974. 852 Type 59 tanks ordered in 1975 from the PRC and delivered between 1978 and 1988.[15] Around 1,300 Type 59s were in service in 1990, 1,200 in 1995 and 2000, 1,100 in 2002, 1,000 Type 59s and 80 Al-Zarrars (Type 59 upgrade) in 2005, 600 Type 59s and 300 Al-Zarrars in 2008, 1100 Type 59s and 400 Al-Zarrars in 2010.[19] 600 Type 59s and 600 Al Zarrar's in 2012.[20] 600
  •  Sudan - 10[2]
  •  Tanzania - 30 upgraded to Type 59G in 2011[2]
  •  Vietnam - 350[2]
  •  Zambia - 20[2]
  •  Zimbabwe - 30[2]

Former Operators

  •  Albania - 721+ delivered by China and used by Albanian government alongside 75 Russian T54 & 300+ T55 tanks. Today most are retired and some in storage.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Gelbart, Marsh (1996). Tanks main battle and light tanks. Brassey’s UK Ltd. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1-85753-168-X. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Christopher F Foss.. Jane's Armour and Artillery 2005-2006. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Gary's Combat Vehicle Reference Guide"
  5. "AL- ZUBAIR 2 Battle Tanks". Military Industry Corporation (MIC). Archived from the original on 2012-04-03. Retrieved 2010-03-21. 
  6. "China’s Type 59P MBT shows more details | China Military Power Mashup". Retrieved 2010-03-21. [dead link]
  7. "Type 62 Light Tank". 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2010-03-21. 
  8. Армии стран мира : Вооруженные силы иностранных государств на 2001 год : Б
  9. Армии стран мира : Б
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Military balance 2004-2005
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Military balance 2006-2007
  12. 12.0 12.1 Армии стран мира : Вооруженные силы иностранных государств на 2001 год : К
  13. 13.0 13.1 Армии стран мира : К
  14. Estimates vary depending on source. Jane's gives 5,500.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 SIPRI Arms Transfers Database
  16. 16.0 16.1 Iranian Ground Forces Equipment
  17. John Pike (2009-02-13). "Iranian Ground Forces Equipment". Retrieved 2010-03-21. 
  18. Global North Korea
  19. Pakistan Army Equipment
  20. "Pakistan Land Forces military equipment and vehicles of Pakistani Army". 

External links

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