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Cold War Assault Guns
Samokhodnaya Ustanovka

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The development of anti-tank self-propelled artillery mounts, which became widespread during the Great Patriotic War, ceased in the post-War period in the Soviet Union. Self-propelled artillery, possessing the same maneuverability on the battlefield as tanks, and more powerful artillery guns, were an indispensable means of artillery escorting tanks and infantry in combat. However, the installation of a weapon in a non-rotating armored cabin made it impossible for the self-propelled guns to engage in a round-up attack, which made it difficult to transfer fire. Besides, the absence of machine guns reduced the self-defense crew’s ability to self-defense, especially against infantrymen equipped with individual anti-tank weapons. Therefore, in battle, it was necessary to cover the self-propelled guns with tanks and infantry.

After the war, only three samples of anti-tank SAUs (SU-122, developed on the basis of the T-54 tank for the Ground Forces, as well as ASU-57 and SU-85, created on the original bases for the Airborne Forces) were mass-produced. Termination of work on anti-tank ACS was associated with the emergence of effective and significantly cheaper anti-tank missile systems (ATGM).

In the immediate postwar years, there was still considerable interest in assault guns in the Soviet Army. In the light assault gun category, the SU-76M remained in production until late 1945 and remained in service well into the 1950s. The SU-76 was also used in independent assault gun units, but was mainly deployed in 6-vehicle batteries in each rifle regiment. It is still in service with some former Warsaw Pact countries such as Romania, and in North Korea. By the early 1950s, there was a consensus that its gun was becoming inadequate, and efforts were made to develop replacements. This took two directions.

The Morozov design bureau in Kharkov offered the more radical solution, called the Obiekt 416 or SU-100 which mounted a 100mm gun in a turret mounted at the rear of a new light tracked chassis. This vehicle essentially resembled a light tank, and was somewhat similar to the US Army's T-92 airborne tank of the same period. However, its turreted configuration and weapon raised questions as to why it should be manufactured instead of the existing T-54A tank, and it never was accepted for service. Four years later in 1956, the Astrov design bureau in Mytishchi developed the Obiekt 573 which consisted of an 85mm gun mounted on a light armored chassis derived from PT-76 light tank components. Although intended for the mechanized units of the Soviet Army, when accepted for service in 1956 it was manufactured only for the VDV Airborne Assault Force, and its designation was changed from SU-85 to ASU-85 as a consequence.

The concept of a light assault gun for direct infantry support gradually faded in the late 1950s for three reasons. First, the growing density of tanks in the Soviet Army reduced the need for a specialized vehicle which had poorer armor and firepower than the standard T-54A tank. Secondly, the anti-tank mission began to be performed by missile-carrying tank destroyers. Thirdly, the Soviet Army began mechanizing the infantry on BTRs which enabled the infantry to carry more firepower including recoilless rifles, rocket grenade launchers, mortars and other support weapons.

Instead of creating anti-tank self-propelled guns, which were practically tanks, all efforts of the respective design bureaus were focused on developing artillery combat vehicles for firing concentrated fire from closed firing positions. In this area of development of artillery combat vehicles, the USSR was lagging behind the United States. These machines, which had anti-bullet armor protection, were organizationally part of the artillery units and were intended for artillery support in the battle of rifle, mechanized and tank units and formations.

The work in this direction was successfully completed by the creation of the SU-100P self-propelled artillery installation. In the medium category, the SU-100 remained in production until 1953 at the Uralmash plant in Sverdlovsk, and production was also initiated in Czechoslovakia, lasting until 1956. The SU-100 was intended primarily for the role of tank destroyer, although it could also be used in the assault gun role. The SU-100 was used mainly by independent assault gun regiments and brigades, although it could be found in the armored regiment of rifle divisions as well.

The power plant, transmission units and chassis components of this machine were subsequently used in the development of mass-produced artillery combat vehicles: 152-mm self-propelled howitzer 2S3 Acacia, 152-mm self-propelled gun 2S5 "Hyacinth", 420-mm self-propelled mortar 2S4 "Tulpan", As well as machines of the anti-aircraft missile complex 2K11 "Circle" and tracked minelayer GMZ.

In 1944, the experimental SU-101 was developed as a possible replacement, moving the weapon's compartment to the rear of the hull and employing a modernized chassis derived from the new T-44 medium tank. Two versions were built, the SU-101 with a 100mm D-10 gun and the SU-102 with a 122mm D-25 gun. This vehicle had no advantages over the SU-100, (or its experimental 122mm armed version, the SU-122P) and suffered from many of the technical problems of the immature T-44 design, so was never accepted for production.

In 1949, work began on a replacement for the SU-100, the Obiekt 600 or SU-122-54 by the Troyanov design bureau in Omsk. This consisted of the new D-49 122mm gun developed by the Petrov design bureau in Perm with the standard T-54A tank chassis. This was the first Soviet tank gun to use a fume extractor, based on examples from US Army M-46 tanks captured in Korea. The SU-122-54 followed the wartime pattern with a fixed forward casemate and a large socket mount for the gun. The T-54A chassis was modified to better distribute the weight, and wheel spacing was different than on the standard T-54A tank chassis.

The SU-122 had several advantages over the SU-100. The gun was significantly superior in armor penetration, and more suitable for dealing with newer NATO tanks. In addition, a new TKD-09 stereoscopic rangefinder was provided for greater accuracy in long-range engagements. The armor layout was superior to the SU-100 as well as having greater effective thickness. Series production of the SU-122 began in 1954 and lasted until 1956. The SU-122-54 had long been a mysterious design for Western observers, and it was never identified in NATO vehicle identification handbooks of the 1950s and 1960s. This was probably due both the secrecy attending the design as well as its relatively small numbers. Its short production run was probably brought about by three factors. With the arrival of missile-armed tank destroyers, the rationale for a large and expensive gun vehicle began to disappear. Nikita Khrushchev was particularly antagonistic to traditional artillery designs, favoring missile weapons. Finally, specialized tracked anti-tank vehicles were disappearing in most armies since the role could be performed by tanks.

There have been reports that a 130mm replacement was developed, but there is little evidence from recent Russian accounts. By the 1970s, most of the SU-122-54s were removed from service and converted into improvised recovery vehicles. They were a frequent feature in Revolution Day parades in Moscow in the 1980s were there were always a few lurking in the background to drag off any vehicle that broke down.

Of the three main categories of the assault guns, the most long-lived was the heavy assault gun. The ISU-152 assault gun remained almost continuously in production from 1944 to 1964 at the Kirov Plant in Leningrad and the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant. It was substantially modernized in 1959 as the ISU-152M. It continued to be used in the same fashion as during World War 2, as a direct fire assault gun. Its stablemate, the essentially similar ISU-122, remained in production until 1955 in Leningrad. There were several attempts to improve upon the wartime assault guns. In 1945, an ISU-152 prototype was built on an IS-3 Stalin heavy tank chassis with a revised armor layout. It offered no significant combat advantages and was not accepted for service. In 1956, another 152mm self-propelled gun was developed as the Obiekt 268 on the basis of the T-10 heavy tank chassis. Although it offered many sophisticated new features including stereoscopic ranging, it was not accepted for production.

Postwar deployment of the heavy assault guns followed much the same lines as wartime use. The ISU-122 and ISU-152 were found in independent heavy assault gun regiments and brigades. One of the few changes from the war years was the formation of heavy armored regiments to support tank, mechanized (and later, motor rifle) divisions. These regiments were a mixed formation of 46 IS-2 or IS-3 tanks and 21 ISU-122 or ISU-152 assault guns. These heavy armored regiments were used to provide long-range fire support to the division's medium tank regiments. This formation gradually disappeared in the late 1950's, being replaced by a homogenous heavy tank regiment as more T-10 heavy tanks became available. Although heavy assault guns remained in use in some units well into the 1970's, by the 1960's most had been relegated to secondary roles, especially by conversion into heavy armored recovery vehicles.

With the use of units and assemblies of a heavy T-10 tank, a batch of special-purpose self-propelled guns, 406.4-mm howitzer SM-54 "Capacitor" (Object 271) and 420-mm self-propelled mortar guns, were produced at the Leningrad Kirov Plant. "Oka" ("Object 273"), capable of firing nuclear weapons. When creating the chassis of self-propelled launchers with operational-tactical missiles of the “earth-to-ground” class, units and assemblies of self-propelled units IZU-152 and heavy tank T-10 were used.

The Soviet Army was one of the last armies to employ assault guns. By the 1960s, the idea of building both tanks and assault guns to perform direct fire missions had been abandoned, with tanks being assigned to carry out both battlefield missions. By the 1960s, tank guns had increased in firepower substantially from the Great Patriotic War, and were more than adequate for direct fire missions. This had the triple advantage of standardizing production, logistics and tactics.

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Page last modified: 21-08-2019 18:27:31 ZULU