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"Tank Versus AT Gun" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following article by Russian tank expert Lt. Col. P. Kolomeitov discusses the evolution of tanks and antitank guns in World War II. It was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 41, December 30, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


In the following article, the Russian tank expert, Lt. Col. P. Kolomeitov discusses the current phase of the age-old contest between projectile and armor.

*          *          *

a. Tank Versus AT Gun

Which is the stronger -- tank or antitank gun -- armor or shell? Before the war there were different answers to this question. Some thought that in the contest between armor and shell, armor would be victorious; others doubted the possibility of providing a tank with invulnerable armor.

b. The Lightly Armored Tank

These conflicting opinions were reflected in the pre-war models of tanks. The basic quality of a fighting machine was considered to be high speed, on the theory that "the best armor is speed." And it is not surprising, therefore, that the peace-time tank forces of most countries consisted almost exclusively of light machines with armored plating from .236 inch to .630 inch thick. The war in Spain revealed the power of antitank artillery. The experience gained there was taken into account in all countries, but not fully appreciated by any of them.

After Spain there was a definite tendency to increase tank fire-power. As regards plating, however, no real advances were made. Preference was given, as before, to speed. During the invasion of France, for example, the Germans used the Pz Kw 2b, together with the Pz Kw 3, as their basic machine. The armor of the first type of tank was from .276 inch to .591 inch thick, and of the second, from .630 inch to 1.181 inch. [The maximum speed for each was reported to be between 37 to 43 mph.]* To give some idea of their vulnerability, it may be pointed out that 1.181-inch armor is easily pierced by a shell fired from a 37- or 45-mm (1.457- or 1.772-in) gun at medium range. During the battles in France, however, the tanks were very effective by virtue of numbers and mobility. In other words, massed tanks were not opposed by massed antitank artillery.

c. Russian AT Gun Tactics

Apparently the Germans were thoroughly satisfied with the results of the fighting in France. They evaluated highly the battle qualities of their machines and considered them invulnerable. Disillusionment only came when the German tanks encountered Soviet artillery. The German tank divisions which advanced against the Red Army were chiefly equipped with PzKw 3's. With their aid, the Nazi generals counted on being able to swiftly and completely annihilate the Soviet troops. At the time it seemed doubtful that the swift iron flood unleashed by the Germans could be stopped.

The Germans were astonished at the power of Soviet artillery, and its ability to combat massed Panzer attacks. As early as August 1941 damaged Pz Kw 3 tanks were observed to have been hurriedly strengthened with additional sheets of armor plating which naturally reduced their speed. Nevertheless, armor-piercing shell could still penetrate the plating and wreck the tank's vitals.

d. Antitank Gun Wins

Victory was now with the antitank gun. No tank could face it without the risk of being set on fire at the first shot. New tactics had to be developed for the tanks; they operated in masses and carefully by-passed regions saturated with antitank artillery. Such tactics were, of course, expedient, but they definitely bespoke the weakness of tank armor. At the beginning of the war the basic antitank armaments consisted of 37- and 45-mm guns (1.457 and 1.772 inch) and also special antitank rifles, and tank specialists devoted all their attention to counteracting them. Realizing that it was impossible to protect a tank against shells of all calibers, they considered it imperative to create a tank invulnerable to the basic antitank armaments.

e. The Heavy Tank

Such tanks later appeared -- the Soviet heavy KV and medium T-34. In this way, Soviet engineers initiated a new trend in tank building. The basic types now became medium and heavy machines with thick armor, and yet quite mobile. It would be wrong, however, to imagine that tanks of the KV type are invulnerable to shells of all calibers. There is still not an invulnerable tank, and, perhaps there never will be. Yet the KV is but slightly vulnerable to the basic antitank armaments, and therein lies its strength. The best type of tank now is the one which combines the necessary mobility (about 24 miles an hour) with the strongest possible armor. If it is impossible to find an absolute protection against guns, then at least it is vitally necessary to reduce the effectiveness of the basic antitank weapons. One of the means is thicker armor.

f. German Innovations

Let us consider what the Germans have done to increase the protection of their tanks. A new machine, the Pz Kw 6 (Tiger),** has now appeared on the battlefield. Its armor reaches a thickness of 4.33 inches, and it is armed with an antiaircraft gun of 88-mm caliber. This gun has been chosen not as protection against aircraft but on account of its range and the great initial velocity of its projectile.

The Germans consider that with the Tiger they had made a revolution in tank building. However, the Pz Kw 6 is in essence an imitation of the Soviet KV type. It can be safely said that it was really the success of the latter that induced the Germans to take up the construction of a heavy tank. However, there is one thing about the German Pz Kw 6 that merits attention. At first it seemed strange to arm a heavily armored tank with a long-range gun. Yet it was done in order to win superiority over enemy artillery and tanks.

The Germans thought that by opening fire from a distance of 2,000 to 2,500 meters, their Tiger tank would be safe from medium-caliber guns. Such has not been the case in practice. Of course, it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the Tigers, but combat experience has shown modern antitank artillery is still more powerful.

g. The Contest Continues

The contest between armor and shell continues. In this, as in other spheres, tremendous progress has been made during the war, but the limit has not yet been reached. Simultaneously with the increase in armor there will apparently be a growth in the penetrative power of the shell.

It seems [to the writer] that the struggle between tank and gun will be ever-present. After all, every tank -- for example the German Tiger -- carries a gun that fires a shell capable of piercing its own armor.

*Our own data give the speed of the Pz Kw 2b as 34 mph maximum and that of the Pz Kw 3 (earlier models) at 29 mph.
**For a detailed report on this tank see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 34, p. 13.


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