Ensign’s Q&A #20 Special Edition

Previous Q&A is here.

A long time ago (well, not too long), I received a question that was very long and very thorough. It could be split up into two questions:
1) Were specific Soviet tanks designed to withstand specific German guns?
2) What was the quality of steel used by the Soviets?

The questions were asked about specific vehicles, but I thought it would be more interesting to spread out the scope of it, partially because this is an interesting topic, and partially because I didn’t have (and still don’t have) all of the information that was requested.

The first part of the question is easy: yes, but not only German. Resistance to certain guns from a certain distance is a common requirement. For example, the KV-3 was designed to resist the German 88 mm AA gun, and the KV-4 went one step higher, resisting the 105 mm AA gun. The Shashmurin IS-2 was designed to meet the requirement of resisting the Panther, Tiger, and Ferdinand guns at any range from the front and at 500 meters from the side. The meek  MS-1 also had a similar requirement: resistance to .30 caliber AP bullets at 25 paces. That requirement migrated to subsequent T-26 and T-37 tanks, so I see no reason to doubt that the above requirements of resisting German cats were not applied to other tank designs of the era.

Some projects also come with hard armour requirements (ie. 180 mm instead of “impenetrable to 88L/71 gun at 500 meters”), but it is very likely that these figures were taken from the penetrations of real guns.

The question originally asked if the IS-3 was designed to be immune against the 88L/71, IS-4 against 105L/52, and IS-7 against 128L/55. The IS-3 against the 88L/71 is likely, since it was tested extensively. Svirin writes that the IS-4 was up-armoured to protect against 105 mm and 128 mm guns, so that is likely another checkmark. I have read that the IS-7 was immune to the 128 mm gun from the front, but whether or not that was a design requirement is a mystery.

Now, for a much more controversial topic, Soviet steel quality. You’ll see a lot of complaints about Soviet steel online, such that it was crushed into pieces at the softest of touches, poor QA, things like that. The reality is that the Soviets tested their steel. A lot. If you don’t want to read the article, here’s a summary: the plates were shot hundreds of times, both independently and as a part of a complete hull, heated up, cooled down, and shot again. A lot of people complain that Soviet penetration tests were unfair because the tanks were stripped and then shot at several times, but those standards applied to domestic tanks too. It wasn’t important to anyone if the plate could take a single shot from whatever gun, since that is not something that happens in combat. Multiple shots are always fired. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some pictures.

A T-37 hull after being shot hundreds of times during testing.

shot up T-34

A T-34 after penetration testing. The caption reads “the turret was torn off the turret ring and shifted to the side”. This was not exactly a gentle handling of the armour, and yet not a single crack can be seen.

Object 701, being shot at from the rear. Every part of the surface is covered in deep pits from bounced shells.

BL-10 penetration tests. The penetration through the plate are clean, one caliber in size, with no cracking.

7 hits to the front from 88-152 mm guns, and this IS-3 prototype keeps on trucking.

A KV after combat. The armour does not crack after many shots.

As you can see, Soviet armour passes these “unfair” tests with flying colours. This performance is not limited to proving grounds. Guderian himself pointed out the quality of Soviet steel in his memoirs.

78 thoughts on “Ensign’s Q&A #20 Special Edition

    • Same with the T-34, KV and IS tanks. If you can’t fix it with a hammer, then you need a bigger hammer.

      • The KV series often needed a hammer just to change gears under normal operation (it had problems with the gearbox due to being a bit too heavy).

        • Also T-34-75 was allegedly hard to shift. But the soivet engineers learned from that and didn’t make overweight tanks anymore, while Germans just continously strapped armour onto Tigers and Panthers until they were so far over the projected weight they could barely move. Mind you, projected weight of a Panther was around 35 tons. The final design weighed almost 10 tons more, and the transmission and final drive just couldn’t take it.

  1. While the Pictures are not bad it would be good to know what kind of armor they used (RHA or simply cast) and the britleness and composition (like for instance the Tiger had a frontplate made of hardened nickel-steel wiith a brinell hardness of 265) of these.

    Since showing penetration holes without the other information does not automatically mean that the armor is good. Also, correct me if im wrong with this but is not the non penetrating hits more commonly creating the cracking than those that go straight thru?

    • That information is readily available elsewhere. The claims that I am addressing is that Soviet armour is magically not good because of its country of origin, and that Soviet penetration tests are unfair because they hit the same armour plate more than once.

      Armour cracks when subjected to harsh impacts, penetration or no. There are many images of German armour cracking under such tests, but this is a post about Soviet armour, not “Soviet armour is better than German armour”.

    • I would guess RHA, if you were using cast pieces they’d need a heat treatment, and the only evidence of that in ww2 I could find was austenite tempering; which was for weapon parts.

        • That does bring up a good point, the soviet steel is obviously softer (for want of a better word) than the German Steel. I would be interested to know how a German tank would look after a similar test. While the soviet tanks can obviously take a good pounding, I would expect their single shot performance to be inferior. Lack of surface hardening = less crack propagation, but reduces the yield strength.. Also looking at the T34 tests, it seems that even though the plate did not break, that the tank was definitely not impervious to the fire, with several penetrating hits, even from the low calibre weapons involved.

          • Soviet steel was very hard (low or medium thickness armour) and surface hardened with medium hardness (thick armour). This is the first time I’ve seen someone claim that it’s too soft.

            No tank is impervious to fire. If you try to make one, you get the Maus, which is not a good thing. The trick is to make it impervious to fire from common enemy weapons at medium distances, which the T-34 achieved. The shots in this test were done from under 100 meters.

            • The other ones look fine, but the KV’s steel is rather obviously on the soft side judging by the pictures. This is not a bad thing when you’ve got plenty of spare capacity to eat the round, as it were. KV armour was more than a match for any 37mm or 50mm round and being a bit soft reduces the chance of cracking. So it can be a conscious decision to reduce the hardness (and brittleness!) of your steel if you know that it’s unlikely to face anything too powerful.

    • Not really.

      What it came down to is not steel itself. But the additives that turned the steel into an alloy. The Germans, for lack of any better word, ran out of the additives they needed to make steels that worked the way they wanted the steel to work with the minimum amount of negative side effects. IE spalling and cracking.

      Plus the US did ship several thousand tons of additives to Russia for their steel. (I have the Lend Lease shipment charts.)

      • Steel is already an alloy :P

        Even without additives, you could to somewhat mitigate the issues caused by their absence through a decent amount of grain optimization (though it would require more time and resources, not so great…).

        Saying that, I’ve no idea what level of metallurgy technology existed during the war so this could be an irrelevant statement!

        • Well, yes, Steel itself is an alloy but I look at it as just plan steel (Iron-carbon only). And anything added to the steel as making it an alloy for the sake of discussion.

          Because it is really the additives in the steel that make the steel workable and still able to do the intended job. Chromium etc.

          • I don’t suppose you know which additives were most commonly used throughout the war? Only one I can find evidence of is nickel.

            • I got a very detailed list for the German armor from the Tiger books.

              I have some alloys for US armor and a few for the UK. I dont think I have any from Russia.

    • Both sides used different kinds of steel. Your statements are grossly oversimplified and incorrect. As for steel with American additives, the T-34 and T-37 in the pictures are pre-war tanks, without Lend-Lease components.

      • Well, IS-3 worked by default to decrease the comfort inside it. While IS-2 was quite roomy in the turret and hull, IS-3 was it’s own level of hell because of the extremely flat turret and big gun.

  2. Although the above pictures look good in reality that wasn’t the case during war time it wasn’t about quality of steal it was pumping out supply i have seen countless amounts of pictures of poor sloppy Russian handy work and cracking on Russian tanks it maybe that the testing tanks because they were made to a higher standard. For example IS3 was a shit tank in real life poor quality, outdated gun and shit materials etc. I have read a story of the IS3 front Armour cracked the whole way down the plate.

      • Butt-hurt because am speaking negatively towards a Russian tank. Cry me a river. This is the internet no fucks were given for spelling and grammar.

      • Its common knowledge that the IS3 (JS3) Sucked no sources are needed my friend and a quick look up on Google you can find everything I have stated.

        • Yes, it’s common knowledge that it sucked, which is why the Western Allies shat their pants when they saw it at the Victory Parade and kicked their own tank development up another notch.

          Pro tip: Google is not a primary source.

          • I agree Google is not a primary source. The Western allies never had an inspection of the tank themselves they could only see from pictures and videos etc.

            This led to a lot of paranoia to kick up as a result which led to the development of the M103 for example (another crappy tank that had many issues) When the allies found out that it sucked when Israel faced it in the 6 day war with their M48s and Centurion tanks they slaughtered them.

            • Centurion : Conceived in 45, with the Sho’t variant upgraded in 63 by the british with the 105mm L7.
              M48 : Conceived in 51, A3 version in 63. A3 were further upgraded by the Israeli to fit the 105mm L7 (Magach 3).
              IS3 : conceived in 44, slightly modernized in 60 (IS3M).

              During the Six day war in 67, the M48A2 couldn’t penetrate the IS3M from the front. Only Sho’ts and Magach 3 with the 105mm L7 (a gun that went to gun trials in 56).

              So basically you argue about how tanks in a defensive positions equipped with 1956 guns managed to destroy 1944 conceived tanks (probably even a monkey version but i’m not sure), and i’m not even going into the issue of training, and that is supposed to prove that the IS3 was a crap tank ?

              BEST ARGUMENT EVER !!1!!1!

            • By those standards, most tanks of ww2 were over hyped. I don’t think there were many (if any at all) that didn’t have some combination of issues it brings up.

              • Exactly my point another example of another over hyped tank is the Tiger 1 which suffered from really bad reliability issues and manufacturing issues due to the fact the Germans couldn’t get good steal and were rushing production towards the end of the war.

                • That is not entirely true. First of all, you can’t say IS-3 sucked in battle because it never participated in a battle (not in WW2, at least).
                  The Tiger 1 was very good armour-wise (“impenetrable”), but suffered from bad design. They designed it to be 45 tons heavy, but it went from that to 55 tons, which the engine and final drive just couldn’t handle.
                  The final drive was the problem that plagued every single late german tank, because it was so weak, designed for lighter loads.
                  The Americans also used superior final drives in their Shermans, with different gear designs. Germans used normal Spur gears, with single teeth that were very likely to break, while shermans had double helical gears, basically V shaped teeth, that were much stronger.

            • “IS-3 was bad, here’s an article about the T-34 to prove it”.

              Chris’ Intel Corner is a trash website. That article is entirely composed of statements that are provably wrong or contribute nothing to the writer’s argument.

            • Wow, who ever wrote that clearly has some issues they need to work through.

              I’m no fan of the T-34, but that is seriously “aliens built the pyramids” level of building a case out of cherry picking facts.

    • So much fail and success here I don’t know what to think.

      I will say that the first 100mm plates made for the Tiger I protos did fail their proof testing… not sure about the second attempt. No tank is perfect from day one.

      The Pz I spent a good 6 years being developed from nothing into the Pz II B. No less then 6 series of production tanks and modifications are recorded between the start and the end of Pz II B production.

      Also the first armored plated produced for the Pz I were made by Krupp and also failed. Krupp had no experience building thin armor plates. Only Daimler Benz at the time had that experience from their armored car series. Just shows you cant get it right the first time.

      PT 1-1 and 1-2.
      Germany’s Tiger Tanks D.W. to Tiger I, Design, Production & Modifications

      • I think everyone is not understanding me am not saying all Russian tanks sucked every tank had manufacturing and material issues and that’s my point one test does not prove the overall quailty of a tank manufactured in the hundreds to thousands.

        • Hm, if only there was some kind of document, investigating the quality of armour in a statistically significant sample of tanks. And if only that document was linked in an article of some sort, perhaps an article on a well known World of Tanks community website “For the Record”.

          Oh well, one can only dream.

        • It does prove the quality of the tank actually.
          (Except for the small fact that the tests are at point blank range.)

          Usually the tank is pulled at random from a given supply(ideally). Or in the case of German tanks the manufactures were asked to supply between 1 and about 6 tanks for test purposes off the assembly line. Sometimes more then once. Sometimes these tanks would be returned later on to the manufacture to be refurbished and then sent off to units.

          Also the fit and finish on the early Russian tanks was much better then later war time production however the quality didn’t really drop too much. What was skipped was all the fine finish work that made the out side of the turret and tank smooth. Even late war German tanks had interior paint ignored, welds left rough, casting edges unfinished and unfilled.

          Plus most tanks went through the “poor armor quality phase” when it came to production.

          • And that’s my point every tank went through poor quality Armour phase and that’s all i was trying to get across. Jesus its 1AM am going to watch a movie

            • Now you copy someone else’s idea as “your point.”

              No, your point was that IS-3 sucks universally. And it’s been proven that you had no idea what you were talking about.

              • Why are we still taking about the is3. It was a terrible tank Ensign even agreed with me. The is3 was a terrible tank because it was designed for ww2 and it wasn’t even finished to fight in the war by the time it was ready the war was over.

                so not only was it outdated,it suffered from a terrible gun that couldn’t fire heat (as their wasn’t any 122 heat rounds untill after it was retired), the gun only had -3 gun depression useless in the real world, crew comparments were tiny, used a two charge system, couldn’t care barely any ammo, only had a range of 150 miles, was really slow.max speed of 23 i could go on.

                The is3 was a failure because Stalin had to much influence on military decisions they could of just pushed the t54 into service but no lord Stalin wanted a fat heavy tank that was useless.

                all typed on a phone so i don’t give a crap for spelling

                • Obviously, HEAT shell was not needed at the time because no tank of the era could stand 122mm AP round. Even Tiger II front plates were cracking open after a couple of hits.

                • I quote from Ensigns above comment “Yes, it’s common knowledge that it sucked” yes the is3 was designed to take on the likes of a Tiger 2 but the IS3 was in service well into the 1960s where it was meant to take on the likes of M48s and centurion tanks of which it was incapable of in every way and this was proven in the 6 day war the Israel army slaughtered them in their M48s and centurion tanks.

                  Israel even captured a few and didn’t even use them as reverse tanks because they were useless they used them as Pillboxs

  3. Production is not perfect in reality, some tanks are more resilient than others in same series. It depends on the conditions of the factory which produces them

    • Thank god someone who understands that test tanks do no equate to a overall good quality of a tank.

    • Perhaps we need a +1-ing system here for when people speak sense.

      It was an issue for all the players. The Americans were almost certainly the most consistent in production quality, the others varied a fair bit. Early German stuff is probably superior to American in terms of meeting design tolerances, but quite the opposite by the end. Soviet assembly quality has always been on poor side, but the designs have tended to factor this in such that it’s not too big a deal. The only surprising thing is that they never seemed to manage to have a set of high quality teams for the really fancy stuff. Alfas cracked, Kirovs were nightmares, etc. and these were pride units rather than mass-produced front line units.

  4. Blasphemy! German armor the best in the world.

    I hope Y.P. quotes that as he is reading FTR.

    • German armor was good. But it is hard to say it was better or best compared to anyone else.

      In terms of alloys used it would be possible to set a test up of uniform think armor (say sheets of 100mm 150mm and 200mm thick) made out of alloys used in wartime by all country’s but it would cost an arm and a leg to do it.

      Plus there would still be claims of bias. Unfair guns were used in test… unfair ammo used… you know the drill. Then there is still the testing procedure and every country had their own way of testing things…

      • It’s interesting how everyone focuses on armour when it comes to tank performance. In the war, stuff like mobility, range of operation and mechanical reliability played a giant role. The Ferdinand for example. Sure, it was impenetrable from the front and could penetrate anything, but it could barely traverse or move, not to mention the three Ferdinands that spontaneously combusted on their way to Kursk.

        • Armor consists of alloys. Which have hardness’s and thicknesses. They can be mathematically calculated to do specific things under given conditions. Thus they can me measured.

          War and combat for the most part is unpredictable.

  5. I haven’t heard the russian armor cracking bit, only things I’ve heard is soviet armor was “soft” IE easy to pen relative to thickness, and weld failures.

    The first is likely the cost of picking a lesser hardness than the germans who pretty clearly were going to too hard since they suffered serious cracking issues.

    The second? Well sure. Welding isn’t a perfect art and russia was building insane amounts of T-34 each day. If a few weren’t welded properly who would be suprised. The point of the T-34 was having two kinda decent tanks instead of one “proper” tank. The other one is the pictures of KV-1 shot enough to peal the armor sections apart. Which is understandable when you take a large number of shots at the junction of armor plates. I’m betting the “superior” germans didn’t do any better.

  6. Why hasn’t the Shashmurin IS-2 been introduced in the game yet, could make an interesting HT-line with rear-turreted tanks, but maybe no tier 10 tank that could fit??

  7. Hey EnsignExpendible – though you are risking a shitstorm, could you please do an article on German Armor? I’d rather get the information from you guys than the comment section.

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