The IS-7 (Object 260) is one of the most well-known tanks developed by the USSR, in part due to its massive size and weight, placing it with the likes of Tiger II. However, few know about its lengthy and intricate development process, consisting of many years of work and prototypes, with a total of seven different prototypes sharing the name IS-7. One of these was the Object 257, the bridging in between the failed IS-6 and the renowned IS-7.
In February of 1945, a replacement program for the Object 701 (IS-4), which had just started development seven months earlier, was requested by the GABTU (Main Directorate of Armored Forces). The SKB-2 factory, which designed the Object 701, was too busy with it and was working on its production. This left a window of opportunity for Factory No.100 to take over and begin work on the IS-4 replacement. Factory No.100 had just lost to SKB-2, as the Object 252 and 253 (IS-6) were deemed inferior in many ways to the Object 701. An upgrade to the Object 252, known as the Object 252U, was made in November of 1944, using pike-shaped angled armor with help of engineers from NII-48 research institute. However, the changes were not able to revive the already canceled IS-6. Despite its failure, it served as a good basis for the upcoming heavy tank.
On 7th April 1945, requirements for a 122 mm tank gun with a muzzle velocity of 1,000 m/s (3,280 fps), two-part ammunition, and a rate of fire of four rounds per minute (15 seconds reload) were issued. Factory No.100 had already done work with OKB-172 on the BL-13 gun which was used on the late alterations of the Object 252 and 252U. Earlier prototypes of the IS-6 had the D-30. This new gun was called BL-13-1 and featured improvements over the BL-13, such as a mechanical gun rammer, increasing its rate of fire to a whopping 8-10 rpm. Even a mechanical autoloader was tested, but, despite its claimed solid reliability, it was sluggish and was not worth losing a crew member on. It also decreased the rate of fire to 7-8 rounds per minute at a higher price tag. Nonetheless, the idea was never fully dropped, as the final IS-7 prototype used a loading assistant, using a conveyor belt. The shells were however larger, as the gun had a 130 mm caliber.
Work started on the new heavy tank in May 1945 with P. P. Isakov, who had previously worked on the Object 252U and IS-2U projects, as chief designer. The turret was taken directly from the Object 252U, and so was the pike-nose design. The engine and transmission, rather interestingly, were taken from the Object 253, the IS-6 variant which used a mechanical-electrical transmission, which caught fire during trials, was expensive and unreliable. The biggest change was made to the lower hull and suspension. This project would get the designation Object 257 and was the first design to get the name IS-7.
As mentioned earlier, many elements from the IS-6 program were used in Object 257. The turret and pike nose came from the Object 252U and the engine and transmission from the Object 253. However, one of the main focuses of the Object 257 project was sturdier protection. The same principle applied on the pike nose, which was implemented on the side of the hull as well. The previously flat hull sides were now angled inwards at an extreme angle, forming a diamond shape silhouette from the front and rear. On the downside, this caused huge internal problems. Primarily, torsion bars could no longer be used, since the hull was too narrow, meaning that the suspension had to be moved on the outside of the hull. For the suspension, four volute springs were mounted on each bogie, with two wheels per bogie, a very similar design to that of the American M4 Sherman. This made the Object 257 one of the most unique looking Soviet heavy tanks of the post-war era, as this was the first time a Soviet tank used volute spring suspensions.
The turret was identical to that of the Object 252U, being heptagonal and of a low profile. Inside, the gunner was seated to the left of the gun, with the commander behind him. The loader was located to the right of the gun. A coaxial machine gun was also mounted to the right of the gun, and could be fired by the gunner. It is unclear if it was a 7.62 mm SGMT machine gun or a 12.7 mm DShk heavy machine gun. The loader was responsible for loading this weapon as well.
As the Object 257 focused mainly on protection, crew comfort and overall ergonomics of the tank had to be sacrificed. The pike-like front end of the vehicle decreased the amount of space available for the driver. As shown in the drawing, the driver’s pedals would be located high up, his feet being on the same level as his torso. This would have been uncomfortable, especially when driving for longer periods of time. The driver had an entry and exit hatch on top of him, however, it was directly under the gun, meaning that entering and exiting would have been frustrating when the barrel was over the hatch. To add to his misery, he only had one periscope, relying more on the commander for command.
The gunner and commander could sit on chairs mounted to the floor through a long arm. Even for them, the conditions were not great. The low turret profile gave them very little headroom, not to mention it restricted the main gun from depressing more than a few degrees. The commander’s position lacked a cupola, and only had one periscope facing forwards and one backward. This further limited his visibility.
The loader was to the right of the gun, having to push the shells in with his left arm, a rather large inconvenience, considering the size and weight of a 122 mm shell. In addition, the ammunition was made out of two parts, the shell and the cartridge. In a turret bustle at the back, 30 rounds were stored, protected by an armored case. The cartridges were stored along the sides of the hull, diagonally, meaning that if one cartridge was taken out, another could possibly slide down. This, however, is only speculation. The average loader could load the gun in around 15 seconds. More warheads were stored in the hull, behind the driver. All this meant that the loader could easily load in the warheads, but had to bend down to grab a cartridge. As indicated earlier, an autoloader system was designed, however, despite its reliability, it was slow. If an autoloader was used, it is unknown if the loader would have been dropped or he would have had other tasks.
One of the most interesting aspects of this tank is the armor layout. The pike nose was an increasingly common feature in Soviet heavy tanks of the time. It was 150 mm (6 inches) thick, angled at 28° from the side. Yet the lower hull was completely new. Instead of flat plates, like on the IS-6, the plates were angled inwards, forming the same effect as a pike nose. This would have helped immensely against incoming rounds, deflecting them into the ground. The top parts were 150 mm (6 inches) thick and angled at 30°. The bottom plates were 85 mm (3.3 inches) thick angled at 23°. This thickness was not maintained all the way to the bottom of the hull. Halfway in, the armor was thinned down to only 20 mm (0.8 inches) yet kept at the same angle. This was most likely done to save weight, as the chances of enemy fire hitting this area were rather low, with the large suspensions being in front. The new side armor was impenetrable to the German 105 mm Flak 39 and the front was even strong enough that the BL-13-1 gun could not penetrate it at point-blank range. The turret armor was thick as well. The sides, although tinner in some areas, since they were curved, were 150 mm (6 inches) thick, angled at 45° degrees. Of course, this came at a cost. The weight of the hull increased to 23 tonnes (25.3 tonnes) over the IS-6’s 21 tonnes (23 tonnes).
If there is something that makes the Object 257 stand out, it is the suspension. As previously stated, the lack of room in the hull meant that the suspension had to be moved on the outside. Curiously, a bogie with four volute springs per wheel was used. These were very similar to the M4 Sherman medium tank, and it is entirely possible the design was derived from it. The wheels were mounted on opposite sides of the bogie and had arms on either side. These arms would then be attached to two volute springs that compressed when the wheel moved upwards.
As the weight had been increased up to 55 tonnes (60 US ton) on paper, a new engine was needed. Since 1944, Factory no.77 had been working on a new engine, based on the V-2, called V-16F. It was coupled to a similar (if not the same) electric transmission used on the Object 253. However, this engine was deemed very poor. Trials took place between March and May of 1945 and it was found to be unreliable. Even supercharging the engine to 600 or 750 hp that the IS-6 and IS-4 had would have put a huge strain on the engine, and failures occurred. Even at 520 hp, the engine was faulty. However, an engine this underpowered would have been disastrous if mounted on a 55 tonnes heavy tank, considering a 50 km/h (31 mph) speed was wanted. Further development was done on the V-16F, however, efforts were abandoned, and improved V-12 engines were used on the further IS-7 project.
New German heavies and Conclusion
After the discovery of the Maus and Jagdtiger and their analysis, the armor on the Object 257 was deemed insufficient. The 128 mm KwK 44 guns of the Jagdtiger and Maus would have pierced the hull. Likewise, the armor on the Maus and Jagdtiger was too strong for the BL-13. All this meant that the Object 257 needed to be reworked significantly. In addition, on 11th June 1945, the requirements of a new heavy tank were set by the GABTU. The weight increased to 60 tonnes (66 US tonnes) and the new armament was to be an S-26 130 mm gun. Lastly, torsion bar suspension was required. The Object 257 clearly was not adequate, leaving factory No.100 to start work on a new heavy tank. Nonetheless, work was not in vain, as the experience gained and armor features of the Object 257 were passed on. Many other tanks were designed, until the final Object 260 was made, the IS-7 we know today.
Object 257 specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||7.375 x 2.430 x 3.390 meters
(24 x 9 x 11 feet
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||55 tonnes (60 US tons)|
|Crew||4 (Commander, Gunner, Loader and Driver)|
|Propulsion||V-16F engine and electrical transmission|
|Speed||50 km/h (31 mph)|
|Armament||122 mm BL-13-1 2-part ammunition gun
co-axial 7.62 mm SGMT machine gun
Front top plate: 150 mm at 28°
Front bottom plate: 150 mm at 40°
Side top plate: 150 mm at 30°
Side bottom plate: 85 mm & 20 mmTurret armor
Front: 150 mm
Side: 150 – 120 mm
Rear: 100 mm
Top: 30 mm
|Total Production||0; blueprint only|