Tank Driving in Finland: Piglet and the T55

We were going to have a couple serious military vehicles as range props for Finnish Brutality back in February, but with the match postponed because of covid restrictions that didn’t come to pass. However, Jari (CEO of Varusteleka) and I were not going to let that stop us from having a bit of fun! So we headed out to Mil-Safarit.com in Pornainen (about 50km northeast of Helsinki) to get some driving lessons.

First up, the “Nasu”. That is an abbreviation for Nauha-Sisu, but it also translates as “Piglet” (just like the Winnie the Pooh character) and that’s what it is called by troops in service. It’s a light tracked utility vehicle with a really neat steering system. The vehicle consists of a front driver’s compartment and a rear cargo section, each in an independent set of tracks. A flexible drive shaft connects the two, along with a pair of hydraulic cylinders that bend the two sections side to side. That is how it steers; by being the vehicle in the middle – the tracks are always turning at equal speeds. It’s a very effective and reliable vehicle, used to haul pretty much anything, as well as towing trains of infantry on skis.

Jari had experience driving these in the service, but it was a pretty neat new experience for me. The steering definitely took some getting used to, but it will pretty much go anywhere.

Next up was the real star, a Polish T55 (the Finnish military used Soviet T55s for a while). This beast weighs in at about 40 tons, powered by a 39-liter V12 Diesel engine. It has a 5-speed manual transmission, and hydraulic-assisted steering levers. It was intimidating at first (and still at the end, if I am to be honest), but actually not that hard to drive once I squeezed myself into the driver’s compartment. And a tremendous amount of fun!

We will have either these vehicles or something comparable at the rescheduled Finnish Brutality: Continuation War match in October 2021. Thanks to Varusteleka for setting this little excursion up, and to Mil-Safarit.com for not sending me straight to the gulag after I drove their tank into a ditch!

www.Varusteleka.com
www.Mil-Safarit.com

42 Comments

  1. “NASU”, manufacturer’s designation NA-140 and NA-110, were inspired by the Swedish Bandvagn 206, but the actual design is quite different and not a copy. The Bv 206 of course is used by many armies around the world. Although designed primarily for snow, the mobility of this type of vehicle is simply unsurpassed on any soft terrain.

    • Yes they can go everywhere. The French Foreign Legion use Bv206 to patrol the swamps around Kourou space launch site in French Guyana.
      Beside those tracked vehicles, articulated steering is quite common in construction and farming equipment: dumpers, loaders, tractors…
      Italy make a specialty of producing small articulated tractors for gardening or farming purposes. Like our trusty Goldoni I used last week to till the garden.

    • That’s interesting… I’d always been told that it was a license-built version, not something “inspired” by the original Bv-series from Volvo. Did the Finns license any of the technology, at all?

      The guys up in Alaska really liked the Bv-series stuff they got. Of course, anything motorized is better than US Army skis and Mickey Mouse boots…

      • As far as I know there was no licensing of Volvo technology by Sisu Auto. Articulated steering, like RO Phil wrote, has been used elsewhere as well. To my knowledge, Volvo was the first to use it for a tracked military vehicle in the original Bandvagn 202, but I don’t think there was anything patentable in it. Even if there was, the patents would have been expired by the time the NA-140 appeared in 1985.

  2. Driving the Nasu (the CCs wrote it out as “sisu,” which is not bad either) looks like a specialized skill. The T-55 looks like a piece o’ cake to any old-time cat-skinner who’s done time on the seat of a D9 or such. Howsomever, when buttoned up for combat (or just realistic training), a T-55 would be more of a handful. In a blizzard with the wind behind you, visibility would get to be a problem.

    I really think I’d prefer a staff job.

  3. Ever think of a trip to the tank museum at Bovington , maybe with lindybiege and the chieftain ?

  4. If Comrade Putin see, Comrade Ian have job. Look like crazy tank driver in Russian Federation Army. But no fun if not shoot big gun – then death knocking…………….

  5. Hagglunds BV206
    Got one, with a Ford V6 petrol engine in it 😛

    Don’t know about the T55

    The T62 had an opposed piston 2 stroke diesel, modelled after the Junkers.

    They were port scavenged, and when you revved them up, they blew any oil out that had got past the rings.

    Run them hard at night, and port scavenged 2 stroke diesel will give you a firework display as they de-coke themselves.

  6. The ultimate (feck up) in opposed piston 2 stroke diseasels, is the Napier Deltic.

    Modelled after the Junkers, but multiplied by three

    The cylinders were arranged in a triangle, with a crank shaft at each corner, and a piston at either end of each cylinder.

    They were intended for high speed light boats, and were trialled in captured/ surrendered E boat hulls.

    They were later used in an iconic and very unreliable diseasel electric railway locomotives (oddly enough, it was known as the “Deltic”, I just can’t work out how that came about)

    Apparently it wasn’t suited to the digital driving of a railway locomotives with all those full power to idling and back to full power alternation.

    Its still in use in navy mine sweepers, where it’s construction out of dairy-lea triangles of aluminium foil, has weight and magnetic benefits.

    However, the engine also turns out to be unsuited for operation for long periods at constant revs.

    Strange that
    Hmmm?

  7. Not sure how to start a thread….

    Mark Felton Productions has just posted a very interesting video “WW2 weapons in service today”. If you don’t know the channel, well, it’s fantastic, as is “War Stories with Mark Felton”. His “… Dam Busters…” series is compelling.

    Also, Malcolm Gladwell’s audiobook “The Bomber Mafia” is riveting, and perhaps controversial…

  8. Now, go find a tank driving course and drive an American M60 of the same age as that T55. I think I have heard of one in Nevada (I THINK Reno, but do your research.) Then you can make an assumption of the differences between the two. (I’m jaded but think that the M60 was a better driving vehicle as well as better over all. But, do know that it would be a matter of numbers in a real battle.) If you find the right tank course, some offer firing the main guns too. IT is a BLAST (pun intended!!)

    • The M60 contemporary was T64, the first Soviet tank with composite armour. It had 125mm smoothbore gun with autoloader firing missiles.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-64

      The U.S. Army M60 tankers in Germany were training to encounter T64 from fixed hull down position, fire 1-2 shots and quickly retreat to back up positions. The M60 had one advantage – gasoline engine which made it potentially quicker to maneuver. Its main gun was already bit dated in mid 60s.

      • M60 was diesel… Only the early M48 series were gas-fired. M60 started with the Continental AVDS 1790 series engines, continually upgraded throughout the service life of the vehicle.

        Granted, mind you, that engine block started life as a gasoline engine, and had many variants, including some that made up to 1500hp.

        • You are right, it was bi-turbo with 750HP on top. I had wrong fixation from past.
          I am sure it had many civilian off-shots. Once you invest money into something like this (with huge gov’t boost on top of it) you want to get every penny out of it back.

      • I’d also point out that the M60 was the tank designed to counter hordes of T-54/55 tanks, contemporary to the Leopard 1, the Chieftain, and AMX-30. The T-64 was the next rachet-click of Soviet design, and was never quite the mass-issue tank, being quite the complicated and specialized beastie. The T-72 was more the mass-issue creature, cheaper and simpler to built. T-64 got all the cutting-edge tech, and was intended for the breakthrough Guards units, while T-72 was what got put into the hands of everyone else. Notably, the T-64 was never seen very much on the export market… Even for other Warsaw Pact countries.

        If you were a NATO soldier, and saw T-64, you knew you were screwed–If only because that meant you were in the path of the main effort. T-72? Likely on the edge of it all… If you were seeing T-62 and earlier, you were heaving sighs of relief, ‘cos that meant that it was down to the second-string divisions and (hopefully…) the really good stuff was attrited down to where you stood a chance of surviving a little longer.

        T-64 got all the cool toys, like cannon-launched guided missiles, the first automatic loaders, and all the high-tech sight systems. It was also notable for all of its teething problems, which was why the T-72 got greenlit in the first damn place…

        • “(…)were a NATO soldier(…)”
          According to https://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=26458
          T-62 THIS IS OUR CURRENT BASIC TANK, ALTHOUGH WE’RE PRODUCING A NEWER MODEL. THAT 115 MM GUN’S PRETTY GOOD AT 1500 M WHERE THEY SAY WE CAN EXPECT TO ENGAGE AN ENEMY!
          T-55/54 THERE ARE SOME OF THE OLDER TANKS STILL IN USE BY MANY OF OUR UNITS. WE’VE UPDATED THE BASIC MODELS SO THAT THEY’-RE STILL FORMIDABLE SYSTEMS.

        • Yep, you got it right. The T64 remained in Soviet hands, although numbers made were formidable.

          As for Czechoslovak armed forces who were facing NATO till Fall of 1968 alone, it was the T55. It was built in Martin, Slovakia. They never bought T62/64 and anything after except the T72. The last one was substantially upgraded and in still on par with similar tanks.

          If you wanted to discuss the strategies developed by CSLA general staff, I read them and could translate for you. It was NEVER to attack as the first, but respond and after that enter enemy’s territory. I know it beats lots of perceptions from the past. Realities were always little different.

        • Being qualified on a Leopard 1, the ergonomics of the T55 leave a lot to be desired. The Leo 1 had a fully automatic gear box and a fast rotating turret and was crew friendly even for crew members over six foot tall. The Leo was fun to drive and the 105mm gun was accurate and fully stabilised on the move. Russian tanks such as the T72 were extremely cramped for tall crews and being over six foot tall myself I could not fit in the drivers position. Ergonomics in Leopard probably gave Leopard crews a distinct operational advantage over the T55 and T72 tanks.

          • Yes, and the T-62 was reportedly even more cramped than the T-55 (or the T-72). When you consider that you had to fit three crew members in that turret… At least the T-72 had the autoloader, so you could have a two man turret. Of course the autoloader took up some space as well and the turret was still small compared to Western designs, but overall the T-72 was supposedly less cramped then the T-62, albeit still quite bad by Western standards.

            The Leopard 1, by the way, did not have a gun stabilizer from the beginning. Like with the M60, it was a later addition to the design. The T-55 and all subsequent Soviet tanks had a two plane stabilizer, which was sometimes misunderstood in Western sources. It’s purpose was not to provide a full on the move stabilization like the (later) Western stabilizers, but simply to make target acquisition from a short halt faster and also to provide some fire on the move capability while moving slowly on an even terrain. It was just that Soviet stabilization technology did not advance very much from the T-55 to the T-72 and therefore the T-72 ended up with the stabilizer that was inferior to the Western MBTs. (It was later improved in the T-72B and T-90.)

      • The closest contemporary of the M60 was probably the T-62, which wasn’t that good. It was still based on the old T-54 technology, but with an all new turret and gun. The 115mm gun was better than some outdated data originally from Israeli sources leads you to believe (there were problems with the accuracy of the original ammunition, which is why some outdated sources still list only 1500 meters as the effective range), but that was about the only thing it had over the T-55. The turret was so cramped that it made the T-55 feel like a limousine in contrast. In fact the Warsaw Pact countries refused to operate the T-62 (they did have SOME say in the weapons their armies would use), because they didn’t see it as a significant upgrade over the T-55. Manufacturing of the T-62 actually ended before the T-55A. It was exported only to Soviet clients in the Middle East.

        About the T-64: the gun launched missile was a later addition which appeared in 1976 with the T-64B. The first production variant of the T-64 had a 115mm gun like the T-62, although they were all later rebuilt with the new 125mm gun.

        I don’t think it’s entirely fairly to say that the 105mm gun of the M60 was outdated in the 1960s. After all it was still good enough for the original M1 Abrams nearly 20 years later. The problem was over-reliance on HEAT-FS (Fin Stabilized) ammunition, which could defeat any reasonable thickness armor plate of simple steel armor. That became a problem when the Soviets used composite armor in the T-64, which suddenly made HEAT less effective. Once good Kinetic Energy (KE) armor piercing (that is, APFSDS) ammunition was developed, the 105mm gun became quite viable again. Of course developing such ammunition didn’t happen overnight, but that is another story.

        • The Soviet tanks were always cramped (I was inside of T55 servicing Goryunov’s MGs). The payoff was lesser silhouette and high mobility. The first tank which is different is Armata. But then, this is a different animal altogether. Btw. Russian ground forces have just limited number of them. The mainstay remains venerable T90 “flying tank”.

          The 105 gun on M60 A3 was not outdated, but it was an outgoing technology based on British L7. The new one based on 120mm Rheinmetall gun was just about to arrive.

        • I think the T-64 was indeed the response to the M60; as the M60 was the response to the T-54/54 and T-62 families. As you say, the T-62 was really not that popular a tank, being mostly a slap-dash “upgrade” to the T-54/55.

          The various tank programs around the world during the Cold War had their ups and downs… I remain forever dubious of a lot of the efforts, like the M60A2, which was a bit of faddish response to the modern development of electronics and so forth, but which didn’t work out all that well in practice. The Shillelagh missile system was a bit much of a muchness, and way before its time. Good friend of mine was an Airborne tanker on the Sheridan light tank, and you do not want to hear his opinion on that system–Every time they fired it with live cannon shells, it was back to the depot for the sight systems, the way he told it. Per his testimony, he never once fired a live Shillelagh missile that hit the target, and his primary reason for reclassifying to Combat Engineer was the fact that he felt the Sheridan was a death trap, as well as being an utter waste of time. I distinctly recall him saying that the happiest day of his life was watching his Sheridan burn in from a LAPES drop that went bad… Apparently, that thing had been a lemon from day one, and was even worse than the general run of the beast.

  9. Don’t feel bad about putting it in the ditch. Arnold didn’t do so hot as a tank driver in Germany either.

  10. This is a welcome break from Arizona’s heat. When I see T55 tank I always realize how compact it is (it was not looking as small when I was a child). It was done for purpose – it makes for a difficult target to follow. The later T72 is not much bigger.

    Ian’s entry skill are pretty impressive.

  11. In Finnish Sisu means “Strength, perseverance in a task that for some may seem crazy to undertake, almost hopeless” – or so sez the interweb. Seems a good description of Finish nature overall.

    SISU also make/made the PASI six wheel APC. We used them with the Irish UN battalion in Lebanon during the 1990’s. Mainly used on roads as armoured transport with 50 cal defensive weaponry they were imposing in UN white and very roomy and comfortable inside. Soooo much better that the Panhard M3 we were using at home – later replaced by the Mowag Piranah.

  12. When I was an Eltee, we had two families of articulated vehicles. The M561 series Gama Goat

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gama_Goat

    powered by a slant three engine (slice a V-6 down the center and keep one half) that was so loud, Army regulations required the crew to wear ear protection. So much for sneaking up on the enemy…and the GOER – which had no suspension besides its huge tires and seemed to bounce down the road (or tank trail)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M520_Goer

    Up in Alaska, they had the M116, which wasn’t articulated, but was the replacement for the WW2 M29 Weasel

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHlblXhmfL0

    Of course, the Gyrenes used theirs in Vietnam…

  13. Col Beausabre – I did not know that. So it seems that ‘tanks’ are to military buffs as tractors are to farmers sons.

    • It pays the professional soldier of any rank to become “interested” in that which might well kill him… Or, conversely, enable him to kill the enemy before being killed himself.

      I could never understand the mentality that many of my peers held to–That of utter and complete obliviousness to military affairs, other than that which was put deliberately in front of their noses, and then force-fed like grain to a foie gras goose. In the service everything applies–I found it handy to have access to industrial safety manuals, for example, with the general idea that were I to know how to prevent major industrial disaster, I was well on my way towards being able to create such, in the service of maximizing my efforts as a combat engineer. My bosses once set us the challenge of “disabling” (read: destroy and render useless to the enemy…) a major highway bridge across the Rhein, using the minimal amount of military materials possible. I turned in a plan for something like forty pounds of high explosives and an awful lot of det cord. The major who was doing the assessments at that part of the training laughed his ass off, initially, and then turned white when he saw what I intended to do–Which was to make use of the immediately adjacent chemical storage areas and LNG tanks. After a bit of calculation, I was politely informed that I was never to be let loose in the German countryside unsupervised, and that if I felt like initiating the nuclear phase of WWIII on my own behalf, I’d best have another think coming.

      Apparently, my efforts would have created a fairly significant blast, likely in the kiloton range. At least, in all of our assessments…

      I did win the competition for “lowest amount of demolition materials used”, though… Although, that major never did look at me without a distinct look of nervousness, ever afterwards. One rather got the impression that my enthusiasm rather disturbed him.

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