Even after the KV-2 entered service with the Soviet military, its mediocre concrete penetration still left the Soviet artillery units craving for a more powerful bunker buster after the encounters with the Finnish Mannerheim Line. Development would lead to the Object 212 SPG, but due to the start of the war with Germany and no immediate need for such a vehicle, progress would slow down until it was canceled completely.
Cracking the Mannerheim Line
The Winter War (November 1939 – March 1940) between the Soviets and Finnish taught both sides a series of lessons on fighting a modern war. For the Soviets, this meant incorporation of armor and penetrating the heavily fortified lines of the Mannerheim defensive line on the Karelian Isthmus. Its construction began in the early 1920s, but those segments were poorly built and out of cheaper materials, such as wood. A second plan of building the line started in 1932, which included concrete bunkers with underground sections. Fixed gun mounts of various calibers, trenches, and traps, such as anti-tank pyramids and barbed wire, were meant to funnel attacking troops towards well dug-in defenders. These defensive features combined with the marshy area, with either bogs, lakes or thick forest in winter time, posed a difficult fighting area for the attacking Soviet troops. The line managed to delay the Soviets for a few months.
The biggest problem were the “millionaires” (hinting at the cost), as the Soviets would call them, which were large, complex, and thickly armored bunkers built in the period before the war. For combating these, the most effective way was artillery fire from the massive 152 mm BR-2 howitzer, capable of penetrating 2 m of concrete. However, the system was incredibly large and cumbersome. Transporting the tracked howitzer through the rough terrain was a logistical nightmare.
The 1930s were a period of considerable maturing of the Soviet armored forces, and the Winter War would be a great testing area for various Soviet tanks, such as the serially built T-26, T-28, and BT-series light tanks, but also various prototype and projects built for the needs created by the war, such as the Object 217 (PPG), SMK, T-100, and KV tank. The KV (U-0) specifically would see action in December 1939. The tank was armed with a main 76 mm L-11 gun and a secondary 45 mm one in a small turret, which was removed on serially produced tanks. After unpleasant experiences with Finnish fortifications, on 11 January 1940, the Leningrad Kirov Plant (LKZ), the builder of the SMK and KV tanks, was asked to develop a tank mounting the M-10 152 mm howitzer. The conversion was made by developing a larger turret on the KV with the M-10T howitzer (the T meaning that the gun was adapted for use in an AFV). It was originally just called KV with a big turret, but was later named KV-2. Several prototypes/early vehicles of the KV-2 would see service against the Finns.
Early Bunker Busters
While the KV-2 was being tested in battle, on 17 January 1940, a decree from the Soviet Defense Committee was signed. Plant No.185 was also tasked with continuing their projects on the SU-14 by installing the 152 mm BR-4 inside. The SU-14 was a troubled self-propelled gun project dating back to summer 1933, but due to various reasons, only two were built and tested. The project involved taking the two open-topped self-propelled guns based on the T-35 heavy tank and armoring them, giving them the capability for direct fire from closer ranges, though it was estimated that the average combat range would be between 1.5 to 2 km. The vehicles were given up to 60 mm of armor frontally, increasing the total weight to 64 tonnes, and were renamed to SU-14-2. Despite the progress, the Izhora Plant was only able to deliver the first vehicle by 13 March, a day before the end of the Soviet-Finnish War. The two vehicles were still tested at Kubinka and would partake in the defense of Moscow, but would never enter mass-production.
During the same period, Plant No.185 would not only upgrade its previous SPGs, but also design new vehicles. Their T-100 tank, a competitor to the SMK, would become the basis for heavy gun carriers. Firstly, as a response to the KV-2, the T-100 was fitted with a larger turret and M-10T howitzer and named T-100Z. Additionally, three other projects based on the T-100 were designed to equip the 130 mm B-13 gun, which had a lighter and faster firing shell with similar ballistics. The first two were the T-100X and T-100Y, which replaced the two turrets of the T-100 with a large fixed casemate. The T-100Y was to be built, but it was delivered by the Izhora Plant only on 14 March and thus would not be tested against Finnish “millionaires”. The third project, T-103, was meant to equip the B-13 gun in a large turret, but the project was abandoned after a mock-up was built.
The conclusion of the Winter War marked the end of the immediate need for heavy bunker busting vehicles, but they were still seen as a long-term necessity. Thus, on 10 April, testing of the Factory 185’s SU-14-2 and T-100Y commenced. However, due to the archaic chassis of the SU-14 and failure of the T-100 heavy tank, both self-propelled guns were doomed. Attention shifted back to LKZ, and while the KV-2 was a quickly designed vehicle that was forced into service before it was properly tested, it was far from what the Soviet artillery forces needed. The M-10T howitzer had mediocre concrete penetration, 900 to 1,140 mm of reinforced concrete from 1,000 m distance.
On 17 July 1940, LKZ would be tasked with developing a series of new heavy tanks based on the KV tank. In total, there would be four heavy tanks, with 90 mm to 100 mm of armor, as well as being armed with 76 mm and 85 mm main guns. Additionally, a heavy self-propelled gun was also requested, based on the chassis of these new heavy tanks, and armed with the 152 mm BR-2 howitzer.
These heavy tanks would become the T-150, T-220, and T-221, the first two which were built in the fall of 1940 and tested in January-February 1941. The T-220, which was a lengthened KV-1 (seven roadwheels) and 100 mm of armor all around would become the basis for the self-propelled gun.
It is worth mentioning that, during the same period, the mounting of large caliber howitzers (122 mm, 130 mm, 152 mm, and 180 mm) on the chassis of the SMK was also explored, as a document from 11 June specifically requested the 152 mm BR-2 be mounted on the SMK. Likewise, the idea of mounting the 152 mm BR-2 on the T-100Y was also raised, but by summer 1940, both the SMK and T-100 chassis were dead for good and these plans never went past proposal stages.
On the other hand, the KV-1 and KV-2 would enter full-scale serial production in June 1940 after the implementation of the “Stalin Task”, which demanded the yearly production of 230 KV tanks (130 KV-1s and 100 KV-2s). It seemed as if the KV chassis was the optimal choice for a heavy bunker busting SPG, and there were doubts even about the development of such a vehicle, considering the expected high numbers of KV-2s in the upcoming future.
Development of the self-propelled gun started in August-September 1940 at SKB-4, the LKZ artillery design bureau, headed by P.F. Fedorov, who appointed Ts.N. Golburt as the chief engineer of the project. Design of the hull was done at the SKB-2 design bureau instead, as they had more experience with heavy tanks and designed the KV-220. The self-propelled gun would be based on the Object 212 artillery tractor, and would receive the same name, though some modern resources add the suffix “A” at the end (Object 212A) to make the distinction, though this was never official.
Object 212 Tractor
The original Object 212 tractor was a proposal designed between January and February 1940. It was a 35-tonne recovery tractor on a heavily modified KV chassis, meant to tow knocked-out tanks, as well as for supply and logistics support. The project was never approved for production. It was designed at the SKB-2 design bureau with chief engineer N.V. Khalkiopov. Early blueprints, from 9 February, show that the tractor was to have the final drive towards the front of the vehicle, with the 3 man crew and engine in the center. The rear was reserved for a flatbed for storage. Although derived from the KV tank, all of the components were unique, from the running gear and return rollers, to the hull.
However, by May 1940, the design was changed to use an inverted KV-1 hull, with KV-1 components. The driver was moved to the extreme left of the hull, to allow for the engine and driveshaft. Other small differences, such as the addition of a sprocket guard, were added. Sometime thereafter, a full-scale wooden mock-up of the hull was built. The same general layout was kept as on the earlier tractor. The Object 212 tractor was canceled after the SKB-2 transition to ChTZ.
The technical drawings of the 212 SPG were completed and signed by Kotin on 5 November, but the 1 December deadline set by the GABTU (Main Directorate of Armored Forces) was not met. Furthermore, LKZ officials Goldburt, Kotin, and P.F. Federov sent a ‘complaint’ letter to the GABTU Artillery Office on the topic of the technical requirements. Firstly, they claimed that keeping the vehicle at a weight below 55 tonnes while still packing 75 mm of frontal armor was not possible. Alternatively, they proposed that the weight threshold be increased to 65 tonnes, but still the vehicle would only receive 60 mm of frontal armor. The Artillery department had to back down and accept these measures.
In a letter dated December 1940 from Major General Slavchenko, Deputy Chief of GABTU, to Lieutenant General T. Fedorenko, Chief of the GABTU, reported the status of self-propelled gun developments at LKZ. Firstly, the first prototype of the Object 212 SPG was projected to be finished by April, with 12 units built by 1 October. Secondly, the mounting of the B-13 130 mm gun on a SPG chassis (likely the same as on the Object 212) was also mentioned, with the first prototype to be complete by 1 May and 12 pieces to be built by 1 November. The 130 mm naval B-13 which had previously been mounted on the T-100 series of heavy SPGs would now get a second chance, being mounted on a KV chassis.
The project of the 212 SPG was completed by January and the drawings and documentation were sent to the Izhora Plant for prototype manufacturing. By 5 March, the Izhora Plant started to deliver components from the same batch as the two T-220 and T-221, but assembly was delayed in a sudden turn of events.
On 11 March, the Soviet intelligence services submitted a report on German tank developments, which included the alleged design of a Mark VII heavy tank, with 105 mm gun and 90 tonnes of weight (Pz.Kpfw.VII Löwe). Other heavy tanks included the Mark V and Mark VI heavy tanks, with weights of 36 and 45 tonnes respectively. The Soviet officials scrambled towards designing a Soviet equivalent, and thus the KV-4 (Object 224) began its development, with a weight of 75 tonnes and 107 mm main gun.
On 7 April, more heavy tanks were proposed, namely the new KV-3, also known as Object 223, which used the hull of the T-221 (up-armored to 120 mm) and an entirely new turret and 107 mm gun. Lastly, a 100 tonne heavy tank with 170 mm of frontal armor was also requested, the KV-5 (Object 225).
As the new KV-3 was to essentially replace the T-220, while still having an nearly identical hull (the only difference was the 120 mm of armor instead of 100), the Object 212 SPG would now reuse the hull of the KV-3, though no major changes were required.
From Bunker Busting to Lion Hunting
In wake of the German heavy tank developments, Marshal of the Soviet Union G.I. Kulik would send a letter on 17 April to Stalin. Kulik, who was supervising work at LKZ, claimed that the BR-2 gun on the Object 212 in development could be used against heavily armored tanks effectively, penetrating 155 mm of armor at 2,300 m. Likewise, he mentioned the development of the self-propelled gun armed with the 130 mm B-13, but this time on the lengthened chassis of the KV-4. An unspecified high-power 107 mm gun was also under consideration.
It must be noted that the KV-4 Marshall Kulik mentions was likely a mistake or confusion on his part and could not have been the KV-4 super heavy tank, the design of which was not completed until early May. The two SPGs with 130 mm and 107 mm guns were to be built by 1 September and 1 October respectively. This is confirmed at the end of Kulik’s letter, which states that the two tank destroyers were to use the same chassis as the 152 mm howitzer variant (Object 212). Lastly, Marshall Kulik mentions that the original Object 212 prototype would have to be finished on 1 June, allowing for production for the remainder of the year. Another option is that Kulik simply misspelled or confused the KV-3 and KV-4. Realistically, the KV-4 would wind up being so large there was no point in enlarging it for mounting these bigger guns. Likewise, an SPG based on it would have weighed far more than 55 tonnes, considering that the heaviest KV-4 design, by G.V. Kruchyonyh, weighed 107 tonnes, and the lightest, designed by N.L. Dukohv, weighed ‘just’ 82.5 tonnes.
The SPG armed with the 130 mm B-13 was to have a weight of 55 tonnes and thus be lightly armored, at only 30 mm all around the casemate, with adequate protection against shrapnel and diving aircraft attacks. This vehicle is commonly known today as the SU-B-13, though it was not an official name.
The other vehicle was also meant as a tank destroyer and to be equipped with an unspecified high power 107 mm gun, likely the ZiS-24 or M-75, but the vehicle never went past the proposal stage.
Regarding developments on the Object 212, activity was stagnant from March to April. On 27 May, it was confirmed that the 212 SPG would now use the KV-3 (Object 223) chassis instead of the T-220. Whether this means that the Object 212 SPG would have inherited the KV-3’s 120 mm of hull armor as opposed to the original 100 mm on the T-220 is unknown. Delivery of the first prototypes was once again postponed to August, with 12 vehicles to be built and later cut down to 10.
On 30 May, a report on the costs of KV heavy tank projects was published, and here, the 212 SPG was mentioned. In total, it cost 2 million rubles, the equivalent price of four KV-1 mod.1941 tanks.
|Stage of Object 212 SPG Development||Price (thousands of rubles)|
|Prototype construction and factory trials||1100|
|Proving ground trials||100|
|Drawing correction after trials||75|
|Repair of prototypes and improvements||300|
Source: CAMD RF 38-11355-101
The design of the Object 212 self-propelled gun was very different from any previous vehicles, as it was based on the combination of 212 tractor and the T-220 heavy tank. As remnants of the 212 tractor, the engine and final drive were in the front of the hull, with the idler towards the rear. The platform that was previously used for transport was lengthened, as the chassis was now borrowed from the T-220, and fitted a very large armored casemate, housing the crew and the BR-2 howitzer.
The vehicle is claimed to have resembled the SU-14 in terms of general design, but it might just be pure coincidence. Mounting a large howitzer and its crew towards the rear of the hull offers more internal room, better recoil management, and less frontal gun overhang.
The exact crew details were never specified, but based on the type of vehicle, at least seven men were required: commander, driver, radio operator, two gunners, and two loaders. Although the BR-2 field howitzer used a crew between 10 and 15 men, a lot of this manpower went to preparing the vehicle for transport, ammunition supply, and other logistical difficulties, which would not exist on a self-propelled chassis. Furthermore, a larger crew would have been unbearable in the large, but enclosed casemate.
The driver was positioned to the extreme left of the chassis, to the left of the driveshaft, as opposed to the center on the KV-1, due to the engine and driveshaft now occupying a large volume inside the hull. The radio operator likely sat behind the cooling system and operated a 71-TK-3M radio. The tank commander and the gun operators would stand in the casemate. The commander would have a slightly elevated ‘cupola’ with a PTC rotating periscope for vision, to the right of the gun. The main gunner would sit on the left side of the gun and had 3 fixed periscopes, main gun periscope, and a PTC rotating periscope, for a total of seven periscopes in the casemate. For self-defense, four firing ports were made on the side walls and one 7.62 mm DT machine gun was mounted in a ball mount on the rear wall. For entry and exit, two to three hatches were mounted on the top, as well as a door on the rear wall, for easy entry/exit and ammunition resupply.
The 212 SPG had a V-2SN, a centrifugally supercharged variant of the standard V-2 12-cylinder diesel engine, outputting 850 hp. It was developed by Plant No.75 for the T-220 heavy tank. During its testing on the tank in January-February 1941, the engine was still unfinished and would prove to be a disaster. It lasted for 5 hours and 51 minutes or 106 km on the nearly 63 tonne heavy tank, the tank reaching a top speed of 21.2 km/h. Fuel consumption was 15.5 liters per hour or 0.83 l per 1 km. Wearing out of the pistons squirted hot oil and led to power loss, stopping the trials. Due to the lack of a spare engine, the trials were terminated.
The 700 hp V-5 mounted on the T-150 would suffer a similar fate, but with slightly better results. Due to the engine plant’s inability to provide engines for the new heavy tank projects, the trials of the T-150 and T-220 were postponed until Plant No.75 could fix these issues.
The KV-3 (Object 223) heavy tank, which would become the chassis for the 212 SPG when the T-220 was canceled, was also meant to equip the same engine.
The fuel tank capacity on the 212 SPG was of 845 liters, for an estimated road range of 200 km.
The most important element of a self-propelled gun is its main armament. For the Object 212 SPG, this was the 152 mm BR-2 Model 1935. The field gun counterpart was particularly controversial. It weighed over 18 tonnes, had a maximum road speed of 15 km/h, and took a 15 man crew 25 minutes to set it up from marching position into firing position with maximum firing elevation. Additionally, by the start of the invasion of the USSR, only 37 pieces had been built, of which only 27 were in active service. Other concerns were the poor horizontal traverse of just 8° towards each side and 100 round barrel life. The latter was fixed in 1937 with deeper riflings. The gun would still see intensive use, from the Siege of Leningrad all the way to shelling Berlin. After modernisations in the 1950s, the guns would be used all the way into the 1970s. The rate of fire was a standard 1 to 2 rounds per minute and maximum range was around 25 km.
The advantages of mounting this cumbersome but otherwise very powerful gun on a tank chassis were obvious, hence the Soviet Artillery department’s wishes for one. The low towing speed and long setup time could be vastly improved, while the thick armor of the vehicle would allow for flexibility in operation, whether it would be close-range support or indirect fire.
However, the mounting of the gun inside an enclosed casemate would have certain negative side effects. Firstly, the tight operating space could have decreased rate of fire and made it a cramped space to be in, but still better than being exposed to the elements and enemy counterbattery. Additionally, as seen on the SU-14, a casemate significantly decreased the elevation angle of the gun, from 60° to 30°, while in the case of the Object 212 SPG, it decreased to just 15°, making indirect fire virtually impossible. This was not seen as an issue, as the vehicle was meant for direct fire support. Gun depression was -3°.
The vehicle was equipped with a respectable 47 two-part rounds for the main gun. In comparison, the SU-152 had 20 rounds. The shells were stowed in the rear corner of the vehicle floor, as well as on the casemate sides. Loading was assisted by a bracket for resting the rounds on. Ammunition for the single 7.62 DT machine gun was 3,000 rounds.
|Comparison chart of the KV-2 and Object 212 SPG main guns|
|Caliber||152.4 mm||152.4 mm|
|Muzzle velocity m/s||400-500||880|
|Shell weight||40 kg||49 kg|
|Explosive weight (kg TNT)||5.3-5.8||6.5 -7|
|Penetration (armor)||72 mm @ 60° from 1,500 m||155 mm from 2,300 m|
|Penetration (reinforced concrete)||900-1,140 mm from 1,000 m||1,500 mm|
Br-2 152 mm Howitzer on Turreted KV Chassis
Sometime during spring 1941, Kotin, with SKB-2 engineers L.E. Sychev and A.S. Ermolaev, went on a day trip to study naval guns of ships at the Baltic Fleet. There, they inspected the battleship Marat and a Kirov-class cruiser, as well as various other ships. Several systems were analyzed, including gun mounts, loading systems, and ammunition stowage mechanisms. The goal was to incorporate naval guns on tank chassis. One of these projects was mounting the Br-2 152 mm howitzer inside an armored turret and onto a KV chassis (likely also KV-220/KV-3).
Unfortunately, not much is known about this project, aside from the recollections from SKB-2 engineer, K.I. Buganov:
“Before the war, we worked on a hull for a self-propelled artillery installation based on KV with the placement of a 152-mm Br-2 naval gun in its armored turret. The car turned out to be two tons heavier than the calculated one, and Joseph Yakovlevich asked me: “Do you have any proposals for weight reduction?” I said, if you reduce the distance between the engine and the gearbox, you can reduce the length of the car by 500 mm. Reduce the length of the sides, roof, bottom, tracks, and this will give great weight savings. Joseph Yakovlevich said only one word “good”, and then instructed to rework the drawings, regardless of the fact that tracing papers had already been released, that is, essentially the work had ended. Joseph Yakovlevich always quickly grasped the main thing, and if he saw a technical benefit, he never stopped before the difficulties of rework.”
Unfortunately, no drawings of the vehicle are known to survive. The project likely did not survive summer 1941, and was undoubtedly a very challenging feat to fit the Br-2 in a rotating armored turret and still be capable of firing.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June did not have much effect on the 212, which had effectively been frozen in development for nearly 5 months. An attempt to cancel the project would infuriate the head of the Artillery Department, Colonel-General V.I. Khoklov, which after one-and-a-half years, still did not get an improvement over the KV-2 in terms of direct fire bunker busting.
By August, the German forces were approaching Leningrad, the city where LKZ was based and so most of the engineers and projects were transferred to ChTZ in Chelyabinsk, which would be renamed to ChKZ (Chelyabinsk Kirov Plant). Some tank projects were canceled, like the KV-4 and KV-5, while the KV-3 was to continue development at ChTZ. The prototypes of the KV-220 and T-150 would be pressed into combat service at such a desperate time.
The Object 212 had a different fate. It was transferred to the Ural Heavy Engineering Plant (UZTM) in modern day Yekaterinburg. The design bureau, headed by F.F. Petrov, had plenty of experience on artillery pieces and just started producing KV-1 tanks as a subcontractor to ChTZ. On the other hand, this was their first encounter with a tracked SPG project. A.S. Ryzkhov was appointed Head of the Object 212 project.
In October, UZTM sent a letter to ChTZ requesting material and components of the KV-3 to be able to start concrete work on the 212 SPG. The problem was that ChTZ was not working on the KV-3, which had been transferred from LKZ, but it was frozen.
The Object 212 would have its final breath in November 1941, when it was noticed that the switch from tractor production to KV production at ChTZ would mean no more tractors to tow artillery, and thus self-propelled guns were necessary, of which the Object 212 was first mentioned.
However, by December 1941, the KV-3 was virtually canceled and focus at ChTZ went towards other vehicles. Without the enlarged hull of the KV-3, UZTM could not build a prototype and the project was canceled as well.
Interestingly, in March 1942, Experimental Plant No.100 was appointed to design and develop a 152 mm BR-2 heavy self-propelled gun on a KV chassis, the bunker buster. Plant No.8 was responsible for the gun mount. 1,500,000 Rubles were assigned to the project, but the death of the KV-3 and complexities of lengthening the KV-1 chassis doomed it as well.
Various heavy self-propelled gun designs on KV chassis would be drawn out in the following period by several design bureaus, but it was not until 1943 that the Soviets could field one, in the form of the SU-152, armed with the ML-20S 152 mm howitzer mounted on the KV-1S chassis.
The Object 212 was a very promising project on paper. The ability to improve the BR-2 howitzer’s main drawbacks and mount it on an armored chassis would have proven very beneficial. However, the project was on a rough route right from the start. The end of the war with Finland meant that there was no immediate need for such a vehicle, while the mass-production of the KV-2 could (on paper) fulfill the same role already. Lastly, the vehicles it was intended to be mounted on, the T-220 and KV-3, were too heavy and unreliable, and with the start of the war with Germany, the Soviets could not afford to spend time and resources on uncertain projects. The need for a self-propelled gun armed with a potent 152 mm howitzer would persist well into the war, until the SU-152 would enter service.
Object 212 SPG Specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H) (approx.)||7.90 x 1.92 x 2.57 m|
|Total weight, battle-ready||65 tonnes (50 tonnes without ammunition, fuel and equipment)|
|Crew||7 (Commander, driver, radio operator, 2x gunners, 2x loaders)|
|Propulsion||V-2SN 12-cylinder supercharged diesel, outputting 700 hp.|
|Speed||35 km/h hypothetical|
|Suspension||Torsion bar, 7|
|Armament||152 mm BR-2 howitzer
Single 7.62 mm DT machine gun
|Armor||Front: 60 mm (75 mm originally)
Sides: 60 mm
Rear: 45 mm
Roof: 20 mm
Belly: 20-30 mm
|Some components built|
Breakthrough tank KV – Maxim Kolomiets
Supertanki Stalina IS-7 – Maxim Kolomiets
Victory Tank KV Vol.1 & 2 – Maxim Kolomiets
Constructors of Combat Vehicles – N.S. Popov
Domestic Armored Vehicles 1905-1941 – A.G. Solyakin
Bronevoy Schit Stalina. Istoriya Sovetskogo Tanka (1937-1943) – M. Svirin
Heavy Tank KV – M. Baryatinsky
About the forgotten creators of Soviet armored power. (historyntagil.ru) – S.I. Pudovkin
Pillbox Hunter | Warspot.ru – Yuri Pasholok
Вторая жизнь устаревших шасси | Warspot.ru – Yuri Pasholok
КВ-3: набор танковой массы | Warspot.ru – Yuri Pasholok
Опытный танк с боевой биографией | Warspot.ru – Yuri Pasholok
The history of the Mannerheim Line, part 2 (winterwar.com)
Tank Archives: Heavy Trials – Peter Samsonov
Tank Archives: Heavy Tank Costs – Peter Samsonov
Tank Archives: Kirov Factory Prototypes, March 1941 – Peter Samsonov
152-mm gun Br-2 model 1935. USSR (victorymuseum.ru)