Soviet Tank Production WWII




Unlike the United States, the Soviet Union came into World War II with an extensive tank industry-one the Soviets had unashamedly based on American-style mass production. This made sense, since many Soviet factories had been designed and built by Americans during the 1920s and 30s, when the Communists, working to improve the Soviet industrial base, aspired to the American production model. Indeed, Albert Kahn himself had designed the tractor factory at Stalingrad. And the Soviets weren’t just hiring American architects, but also American production engineers and tool manufacturers.

But by mid-1941, the German invasion had badly disrupted Soviet industry. During that disastrous summer, the invaders had captured, besieged, or threatened the Soviet Union’s western industrial cities. In six months, the U. S. S. R. effectively lost 40 percent of its gross domestic product and population, and 60 percent of its coal and steel production. In the face of this disaster, Russia hurriedly rushed equipment and skilled workers from hundreds of factories onto trains and sent machines and men east to the Ural Mountains.

The Soviets relocated the salvaged equipment to four towns: Nizhny Tagil, Omsk, Sverdlovsk, and Chelyabinsk. Each possessed an existing railroad equipment or tractor factory; the arriving equipment expanded those facilities. As workers set up the machine tools again, sometimes in the naked elements until buildings could be constructed, existing plants at Gorky and Stalingrad “kept the lights on” through 1942, producing enough vehicles for the Red Army to continue fighting. By the time the Stalingrad factory finally fell to the Nazis in October 1942, the new Ural plants were going full tilt.

This massive industrial exodus left the Russian railroad system on the brink of collapse by 1942. Overtaxed track had gone without proper maintenance; rolling stock and engines needed repair or replacement. This led to an effort to minimize railway freight tonnage, which in turn powered an emphasis in Russian factories on centralization and vertical integration- meaning that the Russians concentrated more of the entire process, from manufacture of subcomponents to final assembly, at individual factories. Doing so reduced efficiency, as even the largest factories couldn’t achieve the economies of scale that, say, an engine provider like Germany’s Maybach or the United States’ Ford could. But it helped keep the Soviet Union’s transportation network functioning.

The Ural facilities were huge: the largest in the world, in terms of manpower committed. The Chelyabinsk tractor works, for instance, was known simply as Tankograd: “Tank City.” Tankograd could fabricate nearly everything needed to make an AFV except the gun. It cast steel and armor; produced the engine, transmission, and other components; and assembled the vehicle. It even produced ammunition. The number of workers at the new facility skyrocketed: from 21,000 in 1937 to 40,000 in 1942. By 1944, while Chrysler had 19,500 workers engaged in tank production at the Arsenal and subsidiary plants, Tankograd had 60,000 people under its roof, most of them women, teenagers, and old men. Working conditions were primitive: hot, smoky, cramped, and dimly lit. But Tankograd and the other Ural facilities poured out vehicles.

One principle the Russians adopted with a vengeance from the Americans was planned obsolescence. In a manufactured product, it makes no sense to have subcomponents that last longer than the product itself. The Soviets weren’t dummies. They had carefully studied battlefield data and realized that the average lifespan of a tank on the Eastern Front was less than six months. In combat, tank lifespan was about 14 hours. These were disposable vehicles, with disposable human beings inside. This brutal insight clarified everything about vehicle design, leading the Soviets to embrace a methodology that might be called “The Zen of Shoddiness.”

Viewed this way, there was no sense in building a tank engine or transmission good for more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles); the tank would be dead by then. The Soviets realized they could machine those components to looser tolerances, using lower-quality metals. And they replaced machined parts with stamped metal components whenever possible. Paint jobs were lamentably bad; welds often crude-although the Soviets did experiment with innovative technologies. At Nizhny Tagil, welding tank hulls underwater hastened cooling and sped up the manufacturing process.

At the same time, the Soviets did everything possible to reduce cost. They standardized Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns on just three chassis: the KV-1 heavy, T-34 medium, and T-70 light. And they kept production runs long and design changes to a minimum, implementing a change only if it made a vehicle simpler or cheaper to manufacture. With the T-34 medium tank, for example, manufacturers simplified 770 parts and eliminated more than 5,600 from 1941 to 1943. During that period the tank’s cost fell by half, from 269,000 rubles to 135,000. While everyone knows that time is money, the inverse is also true: less money meant less time on the line. Components were machined more quickly. And as workers learned the intricacies of assembling the same vehicle over and over, assembly time went down, too. Taken together, the overall labor cost of the vehicle plummeted.

None of this should imply that Soviet tanks were poorly designed. Quite the opposite: the T-34 was a great tank. Its firepower, protection, and mobility surpassed any AFV the Germans fielded until the end of 1942. Cosmetics and comfort simply didn’t concern the Soviets; natty paintjobs and ruler-straight welds didn’t kill Germans; the T-34’s 76mm gun did. That component of the vehicle worked very much as advertised. True, the tank’s loader had to scramble around inside the hull, because the T-34 had no turret basket in which he could sit. In Russian tanks, the things that mattered worked well enough; the things that didn’t were afterthoughts.

While it’s easy to ridicule the simple, sometimes shoddy, weapons the Soviets cranked out, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the philosophy underlying the Russian manufacturing approach was nothing less than brilliant. From an emasculated industrial base that left the Soviets under-producing Germans in coal and steel by a ratio of one to four, Soviet factories turned the tables, out-producing Germany nearly three to one in tanks during the vital 1942-1943 period. This monumental achievement was crucial to the war’s outcome.

2S25 Sprut – SD: self-propelled anti-tank gun



The 125 mm 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun was developed by the Volgograd Tractor Plant Joint Stock Company to meet the requirements of the Russian Air Assault Divisions. It is understood that prototypes of the 2S25 were completed some time ago but as of 2001 volume production had yet to commence. It is already being offered on the export market as the Russian Army has insufficient funds to purchase this vehicle at the present time. In mid-2001, it was stated that the Volgograd Tractor Plant had been working on the 2S25 for about seven years. It was also stated that the 2S25, which is also referred to as the SPRUT-SD, could operate in the water and still be able to fire its 125 mm gun while afloat. It can also operate in altitudes of up to 3,000 m.

The hull and turret of the 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun is of all-welded construction with the crew compartment at the front, turret and fighting compartment in the centre and engine compartment at the rear. Through the frontal arc of 40º left and right the armour provides protection against attack from small arms fire up to 12.7 mm and through the remainder of the vehicle against attack from 7.62 mm small arms fire. Many of the automotive parts of the 2S25 are the same as that installed in the BMD-3 airborne combat vehicle that was also designed and built at the Volgograd Tractor Plant. As of early 2001 the BMD-3 was only in service with the Russian Army. The driver is seated at the front of the hull in the centre and has a single-piece hatch cover and three day periscopes, the centre one of which can be replaced by a night vision periscope. There is an additional seat either side of the driver for the commander and driver as they are normally seated here rather than in the cramped turret when the vehicle is travelling in a non operational area. There is a single hatch cover above their position to enable them to quickly leave the vehicle.

Main armament consists of a 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore tank gun developed at Artillery Plant No 9 at Ekaterinburg and is based on the 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore tank gun installed in the T-72, T-80 and T-90 MBTs. For this lighter chassis application it has been fitted with a new low recoil system. The 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore tank gun is fitted with a fume extractor and a thermal sleeve but is not fitted with a muzzle brake. It is fully stabilised in elevation and traverse. This fires the same family of separate loading ammunition as the 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore gun installed in the T-72, T-80 and T-90 series MBTs. It can also fire a laser guided projectile out to a range of 4,000 m. Maximum rate of fire is quoted as 7 rds/min. The 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore gun is fed by a horizontal automatic loader that is located below the turret. This holds a total of 22 projectiles and charges ready for immediate use. The projectile is loaded first, followed by the charge with its semi-combustible cartridge case. A manual back up loading system is also provided. A 7.62 mm PKT machine gun is mounted coaxial with the main armament and this is fed by a belt of 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Additional 7.62 mm ammunition is stowed externally in boxes on the turret rear. The commander is seated on the right and the gunner on the left with both crew members being provided with roof mounted day/night observation devices and a single piece hatch cover. The gunner also has a sight in the forward part of the turret roof. The commander’s sight is stabilised in elevation and traverse and has a laser sighting device to guide the 125 mm laser guided projectiles onto the target. The gunner’s sight is stabilised in elevation and incorporates a laser range-finder which feeds target information into the ballistic computer. There is an infra-red searchlight mounted externally on the right side of the turret and a smaller infra-red light on the right side of the hull front. There is a standard white light searchlight on the turret roof and a smaller one on the left side of the hull front for driving at night.

The suspension is of the hydropneumatic type and allows the ground clearance to be adjusted by the driver from his seat between 100 and 500 mm in 6 to 7 seconds. The running gear either side consists of seven single rubber tyred road wheels, idler at the front, drive sprocket at the rear and track return rollers. Two types of track are fitted, standard and the wider snow/mud track which reduces the ground pressure of the vehicle. The 2S25 is fully amphibious being propelled in the water by two water jets situated one either side low down at the rear. Before entering the water a trim vane is erected at the front of the vehicle and the bilge pumps are switched on. It can operate in up to Sea State 3 and can also fire the 125 mm gun while afloat over a 70º frontal arc. Standard equipment includes night vision equipment for the commander, gunner and driver and an NBC system. According to the manufacturer, the 2S25 can be air dropped from transport aircraft with the crew inside the vehicle. Optional equipment includes a thermal channel for the gunner’s sight, improved amphibious capability and additional armour protection. A defensive aids suite can also be installed, for example the Russian Arena.


There are no known variants of the 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun. Some Russian sources have indicated that the 2S25 chassis could be the basis for a complete family of airborne light armoured vehicles to replace systems based on the older BMD-1/BMD-2 series airborne combat vehicle chassis.


Crew: 3

Combat weight: 18,000 kg

Power-to-weight ratio: 28.33 hp/t

Ground pressure: (standard track) 0.53 kg/cm2 (wide track) 0.36 kg/cm

Ground clearance: 100 to 500 mm

Max speed: (road) 71 km/h (water) 10 km/h

Range (road): 500 km

Gradient: 60%

Side slope: 40%

Engine: Model 2B06-2C diesel developing 510 hp

Transmission: hydromechanical/hydrostatic drive

Suspension: hydropneumatic

Armament: (main) 1 x 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore gun (coaxial) 1 x 7.62 mm PKT machine gun

Ammunition: (main) 40 x 125 mm (of which 22 are ready for use) (coaxial) 2000 x 7.62 mm Gun control equipment:

Turret power control: powered/manual (by commander) yes (by gunner) yes

Turret traverse: 360º

Gun elevation/depression: +15/-5º (bow); +17/-3º(aft)

Gun stabiliser: (vertical) yes (horizontal) yes

NBC system: yes

Night vision equipment: yes

Status The only operators of the 2S25 are the Russian airborne troops with 24 of these vehicles in service. Serial production starts 2018.


German WWII Self-Propelled Artillery


The Germans were early entrants into the field of SP artillery, albeit in a rather half-hearted way. In March 1940 Alkett converted 38 PzKw IB chassis to the artillery role by removing the turret and building up a huge superstructure into which was set the 15cm slG infantry gun. The vehicle could be used in the indirect fire mode, but it was more commonly used as a direct-fire weapon in spite of its thin armor. They were used in the French campaign of 1940 and the concept proved sound, but the actual vehicles were fir from ideal.

The replacement used the PzKw II made wider and longer, with an additional roadwheel each side. This permitted the gun to be mounted much lower than in the original version. Although much superior to the earlier PzKw I-based vehicle, only 12 were built in 1941 and all were dispatched to North Africa, where they served until early 1943. In the meantime, interest had turned to better -protected vehicles that could serve right up in the front lines. The original concept of a SP infantry gun thus evolved into a heavy assault gun, and those vehicles are covered separately.

The development of SP artillery had been envisioned as early as 1934, but by 1935 attention had turned to a tank with a 105mm howitzer. Thus, it was not until early 1940 that approval was given for development of a true SP artillery piece. In January 1942 Krupp showed a prototype of a 105mm howitzer on the PzKw IV chassis and in July a contract for 200 was placed. This was to be an interim design, as the Automotive Design Office really wanted a weapon with 360° traverse and capable of dismounting tor use separate from the carrier vehicle. This resulted in the “Heuschrecke 10” vehicle with a light howitzer in a dismountable turret. In the meantime, however, it had become clear that the interim design was both heavy and expensive and Rheinmetall and Alkett were called upon to. mount the 105mm howitzer on the chassis of the PzKw II light tank. Using experience previously acquired in mounting the 15cm infantry gun and the 75mm Pak on this vehicle, they demonstrated the vehicle in July 1942. The contract for the PzKw IV SP vehicle was thereupon cancelled. In fact, the Heuschrecke 10 never entered series production, and the Rheinmetall/AJkett SdKfz 124 “Wespe” soldiered on to the end of the war.

The companion heavier piece to the Wespe was the 15cm sFH18/l howitzer on a hybrid PzKw III/1V chassis. Approval tor development was given to Alkett in July 1942 and a prototype shown in October, along with the very similar Hornisse SP anti-tank gun. The first production vehicle came off the line in January 1943 as the SdKfz 165 “Hummel”. For the most part they served in mixed battalions, one per panzer division, with two 6-gun batteries of Wespe and one of Hummel.

In the meantime the availability of captured chassis in France led to the conversion of significant numbers into SP artillery for the use of local forces. Most of the chassis were too small to handle anything larger than the 105mm howitzer and were actually marginal for that role. In particular, a reluctance to undertake extensive modifications left the engine at the rear, which limited the maximum elevation of the piece, and hence the range. The one exception was the Lorraine tractor, which had a large, open bed at the rear. The usefulness of the Lorraine with the 15cm howitzer was such that it was the only one of the French conversions to be shipped out of theater, with one battalion going to the 21st Panzer Division in North Africa.

If the second half of 1942 proved anything about the Eastern Front at the operational level, it was that the panzers were more than ever not merely the army’s core, but its hope. The Reich’s manpower resources continued to erode, making it impossible to keep the infantry divisions at anything like authorized strength. A new generation of personal weapons was coming off the drawing boards. Light machine guns, assault rifles, and rocket launchers would enhance the infantry’s firepower and fighting power alike beginning in 1943. But at unit level the new hardware would at best be able to balance the lost men. In a wider context the Reich’s factories could not produce enough of it to replace existing weapons in anything but fits and starts. What had begun in the 1930s as a choice to enable forced-draft rearmament had become a necessity in the context of forced-draft war. The panzers must be the focal point of the army’s post-Stalingrad reconstruction.

Seven panzer and three motorized divisions—four if the 90th Light Africa Division were counted—had gone under in Stalingrad or surrendered in Tunisia. More than half the rest had been battered back to near-cadre status at Rzhev, on the south Russian steppes, or from Leningrad to points south. Reorganizing and reequipping them took most of a year. Even more than their predecessors, the revised tables of organization and equipment tended, in practice, to be approximations depending on what was available. The tank regiment was returned to its authorized two-battalion strength, each with four companies of 22 tanks—Panzer IVs in theory; in practice a mix of IIIs and IVs, depending on what was available. The antitank battalion was up-gunned to three batteries of open-topped, self-propelled Marders carrying the 75mm PAK 40, the definitive German antitank gun in the second half of the war, which inflicted much of the damage credited to the 88. The artillery regiment converted one of its battalions to self-propelled, full- tracked mounts: twelve 105mm howitzers and six 150mms. Both equipments were excellent. The lighter Wespe (Wasp), based on the still-useful Panzer II chassis, was a rough counterpart of the US M7 Priest. The 150mm Hummel (Bumblebee), with a chassis purpose-built from Panzer III and IV components, outmatched anything any other army’s self-propelled divisional artillery would see until well into the Cold War.

leFH 18/2 auf PzKw II (SdKfz124) (Wespe)

This vehicle mounted the 105mm light field howitzer on a slightly lengthened PzKw II chassis. The engine was moved forward to the center of the vehicle to create space at the back for the fighting compartment, the sides of which were extended upward. The howitzer could traverse 17° each side of center and elevate from -5° to +42°, and this relatively high elevation for an SP mount gave a range of 10,500 meters. The vehicle carried 32 rounds of ammunition. A light machine gun was carried, but not mounted, on the vehicle for close-in defense. Some vehicles were completed without guns as ammunition carriers to carry 90 rounds. These could be converted to gun vehicles in the field with little trouble if required. The vehicles were effective and popular in all theaters except Italy, where they proved underpowered for operations in mountains.

sFH 18/1 auf PzKw III/IV

The standard SP heavy field piece mounted the 15cm sFH 18/1 on a hybrid PzKw III/IV chassis, essentially a PzKw IV lengthened slightly with the engine moved forward to the center. The piece had a traverse of 15° each side of center, while the open bed at the rear allowed an elevation of+42° to yield close to the piece’s theoretical maximum range. A light MG was carried, but not mounted, for local defense. The driver and radio operator sat at the front and the gun crew of four at the rear. The Hummel carried only 18 rounds tor the howitzer, and a version without the gun but with extra ammunition racks was also built as an ammo carrier to provide two such vehicles to each six-gun battery. The lack of a muzzle brake (eliminated alter the prototype) prevented the weapon from firing with uppermost (eighth) charge.

sFH 13/1 auf Lorraine Schlepper (SdKfz 135/1)

This was the most common, and successful, of the conversions of French chassis into SP artillery. Because of the open rear compartment the Lorraine was a good basis for conversions and 94 were used for the 15cm howitzer, 12 for the 10.5cm howitzer, and 170 for 7.5cm Pak, all using a similar configuration. In fact, the only real alterations were the addition of the superstructure sides, the gun, and a recoil spade at the rear (the spade not being present on the anti-tank vehicle). Because of the light weight of the tractor the old 15cm sFH 13 was chosen in lieu of the more powerful sFH 18. It was mounted with 5° of traverse each side and 0 to +40° elevation, but only eight rounds of ammunition could be carried. As mounted in the vehicle, the howitzer had a maximum range of 8,600 meters.

10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f)

There were two main types of self-propelled guns in the German Army during WW2. One was fitted with an anti-tank gun and the other with an artillery howitzer, like the 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun. The vehicle fitted with the artillery howitzer was called a ‘Geschuetzwagen’, which is literally translated as a ‘gun vehicle’. The letters ‘SF’ stand for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’ – self-propelled carriage. The letter (f) indicates that the chassis was of French origin.

There was enough room for the crew to be transported towards the battlefield whilst protected from small arms fire and shell shrapnel. The vehicle had good mobility and could follow the infantry almost anywhere. The gun was quicker to get ready for action and fire on targets than towed artillery guns. They were cheaper and faster to build than a new vehicle. They used the chassis of an obsolete captured French tank and an existing artillery howitzer. Putting the 10.5cm leFH 18 howitzer on top of the Hotchkiss tank chassis was a more efficient use of manpower from the traditional form of German artillery battery transportation. Even in WW2, horse power was still widely used although tracked vehicles were also used when available.

Geschützwagen Tiger für 17cm Kanone/21 cm Mörser

In November 1942, Krupp received order to design the vehicle (waffentrager) using Tiger II components, which was to be part of the “Grille” series. It was to be able to mount 170mm Kanone 72 L/50 gun which could deliver a 68 kilogram projectile up to 25500 meters in range or a 210 mm “Mörser” (a howitzer actually) with a maximum range of 16500 meters firing a 111 kg shell. Grille 17 had its armament mounted on the rail platform inside the hull allowing it to be dismounted at any time and used independent of the actual tank itself. The maximum elevation of the main gun was 65º and its azimuth just 5º at right or left. In order to achieve the 360º fully rotation the gun and its turntable had to be placed in the ground which was folded and carried in the back of the vehicle.

German Armored Cars




In the German concept of mobile war, wheels were only marginally less important than tracks. That said, the first example was unimpressive: an open-topped scout car built on a civilian truck chassis, with a two-man crew, 8mm of armor, and a light machine gun. Entering service with the cavalry, by 1939 it had devolved to the infantry’s reconnaissance battalions as one step above bicycles. Next step was a two-step: the development and introduction of the Leichter Panzerspähwagen Sonderkraftfahrzeug (SdKfz) 221/222—a Teutonic mouthful that translates as Armored Reconnaissance Car Special Purpose Motor Vehicle 221/222, and thankfully shortens simply to Armored Car 221/222. The latter, definitive version began joining reconnaissance battalions during 1938. A four-wheeled, five-ton vehicle, with a 20mm cannon or a light antitank rifle in an open-topped turret and a two-man crew, it could do 50 miles per hour on roads, half that across country, thanks to its four-wheel drive and a relatively powerful engine. The 222 was popular in service and easy enough to manufacture that a number were exported to Nationalist China, where it was also well liked.

The 222 is best understood as an upscale version of the Daimler scout car coming into British service about the same time. It could gather information but was ill-suited to fight for it. Apart from that, the German army had enough of a tradition of heavy wheeled vehicles to encourage the simultaneous development of the SdKfz Heavy Armored Car 231—Six-Wheeled. The 231 could trace its origins to a civilian-developed vehicle whose initial version was too heavy and too expensive. Rejiggered into a six-wheel design built, initially, around a Daimler-Benz truck chassis, the 231 first entered service in 1932. Its ancestry was both visible and problematic. It looked like a civilian automobile, in that unlike the 222, its engine was up front and vulnerable even given the well-sloped 14.5mm armor. At almost six tons, the weight was too heavy for the chassis, and the suspension was a constant source of concern despite the good road speed of 40 miles per hour. Like the 222, it was easy to manufacture—a thousand were created by the time production ceased in 1935. But even more than the Panzer I, the Armored Car 231 was used as a training vehicle and relegated to second-line service as fast as a replacement could be made available.

That replacement kept the designation, but was an entirely different vehicle: an eight-wheeled, rear-engineered design built on a Buessing-NAG chassis. It could do over 50 miles per hour on roads, 30 miles per hour off road. With dual steering, all-wheel drive, and independent suspension, its cross-country capacity even through sand and mud exceeded any wheeled, armored vehicle in any army, despite its relatively heavy weight. Its turret-mounted 20mm cannon and 15mm armor were adequate for the scouting mission that was its fundamental purpose, and from its first entry into service in 1938, the Achtrad “eight-wheeler” was popular with its crews. The complexity that made it difficult and expensive to manufacture was an acceptable tradeoff, especially given the increasing quality of unit-level maintenance in the Panzer arm. The new 231’s major tactical drawback was its size. At seven feet eight inches and 8.3 tons, it was not exactly suited for “sneak and peek.” For “shoot and scoot,” however, the Achtrad was unmatched during the war’s first half, and its size enabled the inclusion of a radio system that added “communication” to its long list of positives.

The 222 and 231 spawned a long list of modifications. Most were specialized radio vehicles. The 222 in particular was too small to carry both a radio and a cannon. Its near-sister SdKfz 223 was distinguished by a smaller machine-gun turret and carried a third crew member. Both six- and eight-wheel versions of the 231 also had radio versions with frame aerials. These, perhaps because of their distinctive appearance, are disproportionately featured in illustrated works despite their relatively small numbers.

As a footnote the design staffs, after years of work, finally developed the war’s best armored car. The SdKfz 234/2 Puma[1] had it all: high speed, a low silhouette, and a 50mm L39 still effective against tanks in an emergency. Unfortunately, by the time the Puma and its variants entered production, the panzers’ need for a long-range reconnaissance vehicle was itself long past. Now their enemies all too often found them.

Sd Kfz 222

The Sd Kfz 222 design was a modified version of the Sd Kfz 221, with a larger turret designed to carry an automatic gun. Seven series were ordered and completed, each entailing minor modifications. Production ceased in mid 1943, but the proposed new four-wheel armoured car was not put into production because of changing requirements. It was felt that the heavy eight-wheel Sd Kfz 234 would be more suitable for reconaissance operations in the future.

The first five series of the Sd Kfz 222 had the sPkw I Horch 801 chassis with the 3.51it engine. In May 1942, an improved chassis, the sPkw I Type V, was introduced, incorporating hydraulic brakes and a 3.81it engine. At the same time, the armour on the hull front was increased to 30mm, but the rest of the armour plate thicknesses remained unchanged. The 2cm automatic gun was mounted coaxially with a machine-gun in the turret, and could be elevated to an almost vertical position for engaging enemy air- craft.

The Sd Kfz 222 was issued to the Panzerspahwagen squadrons of the Aufklarungs battalions. With only a short-range radio, it accompanied the armoured cars with long-range sets, in order to provide covering fire and engage enemy armoured reconnaissance vehicles. The Sd Kfz 222 served in all campaigns on all fronts from 1939 until the end of the war.

Sd Kfz 231 6-Rad

The development of an armoured car based on the chassis of a 6 x 4 truck was ordered in 1929. The three companies involved in the manufacture of the trucks were given contracts to modify their truck chassis to adapt them to a six-wheeled armoured car. Thus, these early armoured cars were basically an armoured body fitted to a slightly modified truck chassis.

The engine was still mounted in the front as in normal trucks. The chassis was strengthened to take the additional weight, and a second steering control was added at the rear. The Sd Kfz 232 was the same model as the Sd Kfz 231 except for the additional long-range radio and its large frame antenna. The Sd Kfz 263 had a fixed turret with a single MG 13, a long-range radio set and a large frame antenna together with a telescoping mast antenna. The engines ranged from 3.61it to 4.51it and developed between 60PS and 70PS at 2,000rpm.

The Sd Kfz 231 and 232 were issued to the motorized Aufklarungs detachments of the developing motorized forces in the German Army. The Sd Kfz 263 was issued to the motorized Nachrichten (signals) units. Taking part in the marches into Austria and Czechoslovakia and the campaigns in Poland and France, the six-wheeled Panzerspahwagen were withdrawn from front-line service in 1940 because of their very limited mobility off the road.

Sd Kfz 231 8-Rad

The development of a schwerer Panzerspahwagen with improved cross-country mobility was ordered in 1934. Designated Versuchskraftfahrzeug (experimental vehicle) 623 and 624, an eight- wheeled chassis was developed to carry the armoured body and turret. The designation changed to Sd Kfz 233 and 234 in mid 1937 and, finally, to Sd Kfz 231 and 232 (8-Rad) in October 1939. Only the Sd Kfz 232 version was produced after May 1942. Sd Kfz 232 production ceased in September 1942 to be replaced by the Sd Kfz 234 series.

All chassis were produced by Bussing-NAG, and featured steering and drive for all eight road wheels. Double controls were installed to allow rapid manoeuvring, advancing and retiring. The engine was located in the rear, which gave adequate protection together with adequate cooling. Early in 1940, an 8mm armour shield (Pakschutz) was added to the front of many of the Sd Kfz 231/232 already produced, and this practice continued until early 1942. From May 1942, this temporary solution was eliminated from production vehicles, since the hull and turret frontal armour thickness was increased to 30mm. The weight then increased to 9.1 tons.

Six Sd Kfz 231 and 232 were issued to the heavy platoon of the Panzerspahwagen squadron of each motorized Aufklarungs detachment. The entire platoon was not usually em- ployed together, but was split up to accompany and give support to the smaller, four-wheeled armoured cars. The Sd Kfz 231 and 232 were employed in all campaigns throughout the war.

Sd Kfz 234/1/2/3/4

In September 1943, an order was given that fifty per cent of the Sd Kfz 234 production was to mount the 2cm KwK38 following the completion of the 100 Sd Kfz 234/2. In June 1944, this was increased to 75 per cent to be produced in conjunction with the Sd Kfz 234/2 and later Sd Kfz 234/4. The Gerat number 95 was that formerly allocated to the Sd Kfz 263 (8-Rad) which was no longer available by June 1944.

The Sd Kfz 234/1 had the same hull as the Sd Kfz 234/2, but mounted a different turret. The turret for the Sd Kfz 234/1 resembled the short, open-topped turret mounted on the Sd Kfz 222, but was of simpler, six-sided construction with thicker frontal armour. The designation for this turret was 2cm Hangelafette (swinging mount) 38.

Nineteen Sd Kfz 234/1 were included in the organization of the Panzerspahwagen company (d) of the Panzer Aufklarungs battalions. Issued to the Panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions, the Sd Kfz 234/1 saw action on the collapsing fronts in the East and in the West, from July 1944 until the end of the war.

On 5 August 1940, the order was given to design an eight- wheeled armoured car similar in design to the Sd Kfz 231. Instead of the previous design, where the armoured body was bolted to a chassis, the Sd Kfz 234 armoured hull was to serve as the chassis. This s pz Sp W 9 8-Rad TP (Tropen == tropical) was to have heavier armour and a 12-cylinder air-cooled diesel engine designed to operate in the hot climate of North Africa, and in the Steppes of Russia. Two trial vehicles were built and an initial order for 500 was later in- creased to 1,500. The initial order was for a vehicle carrying the Scm KwK 39/1 which was given the designation Sd Kfz 234/2. In January 1944, the order was cut to limit the Puma production to 100 vehicles and to continue the series by mounting .the 2cm KwK and 7.5cm KwK.

The hull design, similar to that of the Sd Kfz 231, had better frontal protection, provided by thicker plates laid at a greater angle. A large, fully-enclosed turret with curved side plates was provided to mount the Scm KwK 39/1 and the coaxial MG42 in the ‘Saukopf’ (sow’s head) gun mantlel.

In September 1943, 50 per cent of the Sd Kfz 234 production was ordered to mount the 7.5cm KwK37. This was decreased to 25 per cent in June 1944, reflecting an organizational change by the reconnaissance troops. In late November 1944, Hitler ordered that, from December 1944, the 7.5cm PaK40 be mounted on the Sd Kfz 234. Therefore, production of the Sd Kfz 234/3 ceased in Decem- ber 1944, but production of the Sd Kfz 234/4 continued until March 1945.

The Sd Kfz 234/3 and 234/4 both consisted of the basic Sd Kfz 234 hull without a turret. The superstructure roof was open, with the 7.5cm KwK51 in a gun shield at the front of the superstructure, and the 7.5cm PaK40 mounted with its original gun shield and carriage on a pedestal mount.

Six Sd 234/3 made up a platoon of the Panzerspahwagen company (d) to support the nineteen Sd Kfz 234/1. They were also issued to the armoured reconnaissance companies during the closing months of the war, to give anti-tank support to the other armoured cars.

[1] Puma was used as a popular soldier’s name for ALL 8 wheeler German armoured car whether Sd Kfz 231 or 234 of all sub-types.

Evolution of Tanks from 1918… Part I


When the First World War ended there were, broadly speaking, two categories of tanks. One consisted of tanks of 20 to 40 tons which were armed with guns of 57 to 75mm and which were intended for assaulting or breaking through enemy positions. The other category consisted of lighter tanks, which ranged in weight from 6.5 to almost 20 tons but which were armed only with machine guns or, at most, with 37mm guns. The great majority of them and in particular the Renault FT and its derivatives were intended for close infantry support.

Before the war ended much heavier tanks began to be developed in France and in Germany. In France this led to the 2C tanks of 68 tons, each of which was manned by a crew of 12 and was armed with a 75mm gun mounted, for the first time, in a turret. However, only ten of these tanks were completed, after the war In Germany construction began of two K-Wagen, which weighed about 150 tons and which were armed with four 77mm guns, mounted in sponsons. Each was to be manned by 22 men but both were destroyed after the war when they were about to be completed. The 2C tanks remained in service with the French Army until 1940, when they were destroyed without ever going into action but for two decades they were the heaviest tanks in use anywhere.

Nothing more was done about the development of tanks as heavy as this after the First World War when armies were generally concerned with much lighter vehicles. In particular, the French Army planned to develop a replacement for the Renault FT. But a successor to it. the Renault R-35 light tank, was not put into production until 1935. With a maximum speed of 20 km/h it was significantly faster and the maximum thickness of its armour was 40mm instead of 20mm. But the general concept of the two-man R-35 was much the same as that of its predecessor and its main armament consisted of the same short-barrelled 37mm gun as that mounted in the Renault FT. This showed a remarkable lack of concern about the most important characteristic of tanks, which is their armament, and made the R-35 virtually incapable of fighting other tanks.

Much more sensibly, the French Army also embarked on the development of a char de bataille armed with a 75mm gun, albeit mounted in the hull. But this was not put into production until 1934 in the form of the 27 ton Char B. I, which was quickly made obsolescent by the appearance of other, more recently developed tanks.

Better progress was made in Britain. It started with the recognition by the engineering staff of the Tank Corps that the speed of tanks could be increased by the use of sprung suspensions, which none of the British war-time tanks had, and by the use of higher powered engines. This led to the design of the 20 ton Medium D, which had a higher power-to-weight ratio than any previous tank and a maxi- mum speed of about 30 km/h, or more than twice the speed of any British or French tank built until then. But even this was improved upon by the 8 ton Light Infantry Tank derived from the Medium D which, on trials in 1922, attained a speed of 48 km/h. The two tanks represented therefore a considerable advance in mobility and they were also amphibious, at least to the extent of being able to swim across calm inland waters. But their design also incorporated a number of dubious features. These included a suspension consisting of a cable interconnecting all the road rollers on each side and a single spring, pivoted track plates in the case of the Medium D and laterally flexible tracks with spherical joints between the track plates in the case of the Light Infantry Tank. Moreover, both had fixed turrets and although some of the Medium D were to have a 57mm gun the rest were to be armed only with machine guns. What is more, the maximum thickness of their armour was only half that of the Renault FT. As fighting vehicles they therefore left much to be desired but it was mechanical troubles and financial stringency which led to a decision in 1922 to abandon them.

At the same time the British Army decided to order the second of two tanks designed by Vickers Ltd. as competitors to the Light Infantry Tank. This tank, which became known as the Vickers Medium, was not quite as fast as its competitor but it was capable of about 30 km/h, which put it well ahead of most contemporary tanks and enabled the Royal Tank Corps to take a lead in the development of more mobile methods of employing tanks. Its high speed was made possible by a properly sprung suspension and it was sensibly armed with a 47mm gun. What is more, in contrast to the one-man turrets of the tanks being developed in France, its turret accommodated a gunner and a commander who, being free of the task of firing the gun. could better exercise his craft. On the other hand, it suffered from the contemporary preoccupation with machine guns, having as many as six of them which could hardly be operated by its five-man crew. Also its armour was at first only 6mm thick. Nevertheless, in spite of its various shortcomings and the criticism levelled at it at different times, the Vickers Medium represented an important step forward in the development of tanks. It was also the only tank produced in quantity during the 1920s anywhere in the world, even though the total was not more than about 160 vehicles.

After the Vickers Medium entered service attention in Britain turned to much lighter vehicles. These were conceived, like the Renault FT, as small, light tanks for use with or by the infantry. But after a number of vehicles was tried between 1925 and 1927 it was decided that there was a need for two different light armoured vehicles: one was a machine gun carrier for the infantry and the other a reconnaissance tank, with a turret, for the armoured units.

Financial considerations, which made the relatively cheap light tanks so attractive to armies, did not inhibit them from going to the other extreme and trying to develop tanks that were large and expensive. In particular, the British Army planned to replace its Vickers Medium with a tank officially designated the A. 6 and commonly known as the Sixteen-tonner. This tank, which was designed by Vickers-Armstrongs in 1927, was a considerable advance on the Vickers Me- dium in having a better layout with a separated engine compartment at the rear of the hull and a three-man turret, and it was capable of up to 48 km/h. But at 14mm the maximum thickness of its armour was not greater than that of the contemporary light tanks and less than that of the Renault FT. What is more, its main armament consisted of a 47mm gun, which was virtually the same as the gun already used for several years in the Vickers Medium. The use of this gun was hardly compensated for by the addition of two small turrets, each with two machine guns, which were incorporated in the Sixteen-tonner at the express request of the Royal Tank Corps.

Evolution of Tanks from 1918… Part II


The penchant for additional machine gun turrets was not confined to the British Army. The French 2C heavy tank already had a second machine gun turret at the rear of the hull and so did the 16 ton Grosstraktoren built secretly in Germany in 1929. The very first Japanese tank built in 1927 went further in having an additional machine gun turret at the front as well as the rear. The 19.5 ton Neubaufahrzeuge built in Germany in 1934 also had two machine gun turrets. But the provision of additional machine gun turrets was carried to an extreme in the A. 1 Independent heavy tank built in Britain in 1926 which had no fewer than four.

This aberration in tank design can be ascribed in part to the influence of naval ideas and the concept of the employment of tanks by themselves, which required them to ward off attacks from all quarters. In part it was also due to the contemporary tendency in Britain to overrate the effectiveness of machine guns and to ignore the need to arm tanks with guns of more than small calibre. This tendency was clearly demonstrated by the main armament of the 32 ton Independent which consisted only of a 47mm gun.

The other multi-turreted tanks, such as the Grosstraktoren and the Neubaufahrzeuge. did at least mount 75 mm guns in their main turrets. Multi-turreted tanks built in the Soviet Union were similarly armed with 76.2mm guns. They included the 17 ton T-2S first built in 1932. which had a machine gun turret on either side of the driver, like the British Sixteen-tonner. and the 45 ton T-32 and T-35, built in 1930 and 1933 respectively, which had five turrets like the Independent.

The 75 or 76.2mm guns mounted in German and Russian multi-turreted tanks were what the tanks of the period should have been armed with in general. Although they were short-barrelled, they fired projectiles which were effective against the armour of the contemporary tanks. At the same time they were of sufficiently large calibre to fire high explosive shells that were effective against various other targets. In consequence, tanks armed with them became what they basically are, namely a mobile source of fire power effective against virtually all battlefield targets. As versatile tank weapons they differed fundamentally from the 93.4mm mortars mounted in the close support versions of the Vickers Medium and other British tanks which were specialised weapons, intended primarily to fire smoke shells and never provided with armour-piercing ammunition.

In the meantime another category of tanks had come to the fore. It consisted of light tanks larger and heavier than those of the Vickers Carden Loyd pattern and armed not only with machine guns but also with 37 to 47mm guns. Unlike the lighter tanks they were capable, therefore, of fighting other contemporary tanks and they were also generally more effective tactically because they had two-man turrets.

Although they were lighter than the contemporary medium tanks but because they were armed with guns of the same calibre as some of the latter, tanks of this kind could be regarded as ‘light-medium’ rather than light tanks.

The BT, a ‘light-medium’, which was built in large numbers in the Soviet Union, was the most successful. The BT owed its origin to the outcome of several years’ work in the United States by J W Christie on fast tanks which could run on wheels as well as tracks, an idea explored in several different forms during the 1920s. The most notable outcome of this work was an experimental vehicle built by Christie in 1928 which attained what was then a record speed of 68 km/h. A small number of T3 and T4 tanks was built from its basis between 1931 and 1936 for the U. S. Army, which did not however develop them any further. But in 1930 Christie sold two chassis to the Soviet Union, where they served as the basis for the design of the BT, which began to be produced by the end of 1931.

Of the major features which the BT inherited from Christie, the ability to run on the road wheels after the removal of the tracks proved of little value. But the BT very successfully followed Christie’s ideas in having large, independently sprung road wheels and a high power-to-weight ratio. In 1933 the Russians added to this a 45mm gun and the BT became what was probably the most effective tank of the mid-1930s.

Six years after the Russians adopted Christie’s ideas the British Army took note of what they had achieved with the BT and decided to use his type of suspension for British tanks. In the meantime, the A. 6 Sixteen Tonner and the Mark III Medium derived from it had been abandoned as too expensive and an attempt to produce a cheap medium tank with three turrets, the A. 9, did not prove a success. The next tank to be designed, in 1934, the A. 10 was much more sensible as it dispensed with the additional machine gun turrets. What is more, its original, A. 10 E. 1 version introduced what was to become many years later the standard configuration of tanks, with only the driver at the front, a three-man turret in the centre and the engine and transmission compartment at the rear of the hull. This configuration was then combined with a Christie-type suspension to produce in 1938 a new tank, the A. 13.

The A. 13 was somewhat larger than the BT but it was superior to it in having a three-man turret and short-pitch tracks, instead of Christie’s noisy long-pitch tracks with which the Russians persevered. It also dispensed with Christie’s idea that tanks should be able to run on their road wheels without tracks as well as with them, which was rightly adjudged in Britain to be an unjustified complication. Otherwise the general characteristics of the two tanks were similar, which included their weight of 13.8 to 14 tons. Thus A. 13 had the makings of a highly mobile, light-medium tank that could be used effectively in a number of roles. Unfortunately it was not regarded as such but as a more specialised ‘cruiser’ tank intended to be used in the cavalry role to which British armoured formations were being confined.

What is more, those in charge of British tank development still hankered after multi-turreted tanks and in 1938 placed orders for the A. 14 and A. 16 ‘heavy cruisers’. Each of these, once again, had two additional machine gun turrets but neither mounted in its main turret a gun larger than that of the A. 13. Development of the A. 14 and A. 16 was mercifully abandoned in 1939 but the tank which followed the A. 13 cruisers, the A. 15 or Cruiser Tank Mark VI, Crusader, still had one additional machine gun turret and the same 40mm gun as the A. 13.

IS-3 tank


‘And for sheer visual impact, I would recommend anyone stand in front of the IS-3 at Aberdeen and contemplate what it would have meant to have that pike’s head coming at you. The IS-3, by the way, was not a very good tank, but it sure looks potent.’ – Robert Slayton







The final Soviet heavy tank of the war was the IS-3, with the same 122 mm gun, but completely redesigned hull and turret armor. Peter Gudgin, in his _Armoured Firepower_, (Sutton, 1997) comments that “its appearance in the Berlin Victory Parade in September 1945, however, caused considerable shock to Western observers who knew that nothing as powerfully armed or well armoured existed in the inventories of their own armies.”

The IS-3 was not a terribly successful design, by most accounts. While it represented a revolutionary design in armour configuration it suffered from, even by Soviet standards, poor crew accommodation and “fightability”, while its engine and drive train were apparently unreliable. It never replaced the IS-2 in service and was in turn replaced by IS-7/T-10.

Several countries did receive IS-3s, most notably the Egyptians who used them in 1956 and 1967, without much success. The IS-3 were released for export when the IS-7/T-10 took their places in the Soviet inventory but because so relatively few had been produced, not many other nation’s got them.

A Polish cargo ship was intercepted off Malta early October 1956, this proved to have a cargo of fifty IS-3’s on board, it being allowed on its way. No units of the Egyptian Army were operational with these AFVs on 29 October when hostilities broke out. Probably 11 Egyptian battalions of IS-3 (22 AFVs each) fought in the 1967 War, a small number of T10 Battle Tanks also saw service in this war (with three examples (at least) being handed over to American and British authorities for testing) reports differ in that they were Egyptian or Syrian. In the 1970’s small numbers of T10’s were present on the Revolutionary Day parades, while UN reference documentation in the 1970-80’s period made reference of a small number being in service with Syria.

IS-3 in Combat WW II?!

According to Steve Zaloga and Peter Sarson in IS-2 Heavy Tank 1944-1973 (New Vanguard Issue 7) “no significant number of IS-3s were ready before the end of the war in Europe.” (P. 17) and Steve further states that “Although there have been accounts in Russian publications stating that the IS-3 had been employed during the 1945 Berlin campaign, recent research indicates that this was not the case.” (Military Ordnance Special Number 20, Darlington Productions, Inc.) However, on the flip side, George Forty describes an action on April 12-13 1945 in the German defense of the Floridsdorf Bridge in Vienna. In this action, SS Obersturmfuehrer Arnold Friesen is credited with knocking out an IS-3 with his Panther. (George Forty, “Tank Action, from the Great War to the Gulf”, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1995 pp 183-190). I believe that Mr. Forty’s reference depends mainly on an article in Armor from Jan-Feb 1986 by Maj. Peter R. Mansoor. Allegedly, Friessen identified the IS-3 before knocking it out through use of a German AFV recognition guide (the tank was knocked out from an ambush position at short range. The ambush was laid after the tank had been spotted and recceed by Friessen on foot.)

Only a few IS-3’s were completed before the war ended. The first test group of IS-3’s left the factory’s gate in mid-May 1945. Despite western opinion (usually I hear about IS-3’s seen on the streets of Vienna), IS-3 tanks weren’t involved in battles on the Eastern Front. The participation of IS-3’s in Far Eastern Front battles (in August 1945) is still unverified: one tank regiment of IS-3 tanks was sent, but the Soviet combat records don’t confirm it.


Continued analysis of the combat performance of tanks, in particular the location and type of damage inflicted on them, led to the development of the IS-3 tank. This was to be the last Soviet heavy tank produced during the war. The vehicle’s design was drawn from ideas which were developed by two separate teams.

One under Kotin developed an unusual frontal armour glacis. This consisted of two plates welded together at an angle, sloping down to the vehicle’s front, termed a Pike nose by its creators. The design reduced the tank’s weight but, it was hoped, increased the strength of the hull and its resistance to enemy fire. The other team under N. L. Dukhov developed a radical rounded-bowl shaped turret, housing a 122mm (4. 8in) gun. This radical shape increased protection by deflecting the kinetic energy of incoming shells, whilst improving the internal layout of the turret and consequently the tank’s fighting efficiency.

The decision to combine the two teams’ novel ideas into a single model was taken by the Minister of Tank Industry, V. A. Malyshev. The first prototype was shown to Marshals G. K. Zhukov and A. M. Vasilevsky in October 1944, and received a strong recommendation for production. Production of the vehicle was continued until mid-1946, by which time a total of 2311 tanks had been produced.



1944 armour redesign, with new rounded turret, angular front hull casting, integrated stowage bins over the tracks. Internally similar to IS-2 model 1944, and produced concurrently. About 350 built during the war.


(1952) Modernized version of IS-3. Fitted with additional jettisonable external fuel tanks.


1944 design, in competition against the IS-3. Longer hull and thicker armour than IS-2. About 250 were built, after the war.


Manufacturer: Kirov, Chelyabinsk

Crew: 4

Armament: 122mm Gun D-25; 1 x 12.7mm DShK machine gun; 2 x 7.62mm DT machine guns

Weight: 102,486 lbs.

Length: 22’4”

Width: 10’6”

Height: 8’11”

Armor: maximum 132mm; minimum 60mm

Ammunition storage and type: 28 x 122mm; 945 x 12.7mm; 1,000 x 7.62mm

Power plant: V-2-IS (V2-K) V-12 600-hp diesel engine

Maximum speed: 23 mph

Range: 100 miles

Fording depth: 4’3”

Vertical obstacle: 3’2”

Trench crossing: 8’2”