Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, China increasingly began to recognize the drawbacks and flaws of their Soviet-based tank designs, many of which (like the Type 69) were simply upgraded versions of the now-obsolete Type 59. To produce modern and competitive designs, Chinese tank developers worked in two directions. The first was simply to continue improving existing designs. The other was to develop a brand new indigenous tank that would be different from anything previously built in China. One of the attempts at the latter was the WZ-1224.
The WZ-1224 (a factory designation) was a unique design, originally intended to replace the Type 59, although other sources claim it was simply a technology demonstration built to advance certain elements of Chinese armor engineering. Development started in the late 1970s and at least one prototype was built. Unlike previous Chinese tanks that were heavily influenced by Soviet designs, the WZ-1224 carried many elements present in western armored vehicles.
The crew consisted of three men – a driver, gunner (who also loaded the gun) and commander. The vehicle had a low silhouette but the turret was welded instead of cast and the armament consisted of an indigenously-developed experimental 120mm smoothbore cannon designed with the help of Western components imported from Israel. The fire control system included a ballistic computer and infra-red sights. The gun was also stabilized and equipped with an indigenous fume extractor. The Chinese planned to make the gun load automatically, but the development of a loading mechanism was not successful.
The 45-ton vehicle was powered by a license-produced German Maybach MB8V331TC41 950hp diesel engine and could achieve a maximum speed of 65 kilometers per hour on pavement and 45 kilometers per hour in terrain. These speeds were achievable partially due to a new suspension model that was clearly inspired by the American Patton series tanks – six smaller roadwheels, three return rollers, drive sprocket in the rear and an idler in the front. It’s quite possible that the Chinese got a good look at these tanks either in Pakistan or when some were captured during the Vietnam War.
The armor of the vehicle was heavily sloped and consisted of simple steel plates. Attempts were made to improve it even further by adding appliqué armor layers to the front of the vehicle and some reports even mention the turret front being equipped with a composite armor layer.
In the end, the novelties have proven to be this tank’s downfall. The automatic loading mechanism development was unsuccessful, and the gun didn’t perform as well as it was hoped for, not to mention that the turret was quite complicated (and expensive) to produce. Following unsuccessful trials in early 1980, a modified version of this tank with a simpler cast turret (similar to the Type 59/69/79 series in design) called the WZ-1226 was built. Two prototypes of this new tank were built and tested in 1981, each with a different Maybach engine. Unfortunately these trials too were unsuccessful. The Chinese military came to the conclusion that even with the cast turret the design was fundamentally flawed and the project was completely cancelled soon after the trials ended. The 120mm gun development continued and an advanced variant of the 120mm smoothbore was later used on the PTZ-89 Tank Destroyer. The Chinese military, however, preferred the 105mm and 125mm caliber guns for its tanks – the 105mm Chinese rifled gun was used on several more advanced models while the 125mm smoothbore was finally adopted from Type 96 onwards as the standard Chinese tank armament.
In Armored Warfare
In Armored Warfare the WZ-1224 is a Tier 5 Premium Main Battle Tank. It has several very attractive features that make it stand apart from other MBTs of the same tier.
- It is very well protected in the frontal arc and capable of deflecting a large number of shells
- It has relatively good mobility, its engine allowing it to accelerate very quickly
- The firepower is excellent as well
To offset these advantages the vehicle has several drawbacks. The gun depression is not the best and the vehicle’s turret is not as well protected as the cast variant of the regular Chinese vehicles. The excellent mobility will however make this tank a great – if a bit fragile – brawler.