During the 1950s, the Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, or JNA (Eng. Yugoslav People’s Army, YPA) acquired a series of different armored vehicles from the Soviet Union. While some of this equipment would remain in use up to the 2000s, others were only operated for a short period until more modern replacements were acquired. This is the case of the SU-76M, of which some 87 were operated by the JNA up to 1957, before being scrapped.
The SU-76 was developed as a Soviet attempt to increase the mobility of its 7.62 cm guns. To speed up the development time, it was decided to reuse components that were already in production. For this purpose, the T-70 light tank chassis and its suspension were reused. The new vehicle, designated as SU-76, had a forward-positioned driver, central engine, and rear fighting compartment. Unusually for Soviet vehicles, it used two engines placed side by side. Initially, the rear fighting compartment was fully enclosed. During the initial production run, some problems with the engine and the enclosed fighting compartment were noted. To resolve these, slightly stronger engines were reconfigured into a linear position while the fighting compartment was opened at the top and partially to the rear. This version received the SU-76M designation. While it was built in huge numbers, over 12,000 vehicles, it was not a particularly competent vehicle given its poor armor protection and insufficient firepower. Regardless, this vehicle would see extensive action with the Soviet Army from 1943 until the end of the Second World War. Obsolete, the Soviets exported the SU-76M to a number of Soviet-aligned countries around the world, including Yugoslavia.
The SU-76M in Yugoslavia
The SU-76M was used in Yugoslavia for the first time by the advancing Soviet 3rd Ukraine Front. These supported the Yugoslav Partisans, helping them liberate many towns in Serbia, including the capital, Belgrade. A rather limited number of them, fewer than 30, were used. Despite the small quantities used, they likely would have seen extensive combat action, especially during the fighting for the capital Belgrade. After their objectives were completed, the 3rd Ukraine Front began moving toward Hungary to continue fighting the remaining Axis forces there.
After the Second World War
Following the end of the Second World War, the Partisan forces became the nucleus of the JNA. Initially, the main armored forces consisted mainly of captured or supplied Allied vehicles. Due to the shattered industry and infrastructure across Yugoslavia, the production of new vehicles and equipment was not possible. Thus, the rearmament of this new army was heavily based on foreign imports. In the first few years after the war, the main Yugoslav arms and weapons supplier was the Soviet Union. Given that both countries were led by Communist parties and had cooperated during the war, this was not surprising. From 1946 on, the JNA received great quantities of weapons, equipment, and armored vehicles. While the majority of them were T-34-85s some 52 SU-76M were also acquired. Not all these Soviet vehicles were donated, as the majority were actually purchased from the Soviets. Each of the 52 SU-76Ms cost US$14,320. The SU-76Ms arrived at the Yugoslav-Hungarian border on 27th April 1947. From there, they were transported by rail to Subotica in Vojvodina. Additionally, a further 35 SU-76Ms were gifted by the Soviet Union in September 1947.
While these two countries were nominally friendly toward each other, the Soviet tank shipment quality was less so. The majority of the tanks received lacked any kind of documentation of their previous use or their mechanical life. Information, such as their age or usage, was also unknown. Some even had completely unusable engines. In the case of the SU-76, they appeared to be in much better shape, especially the second batch, which had undergone a general overhaul and received new parts.
While the JNA was still in its early development phase, political tensions between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union and, more precisely, between Tito and Stalin, began to arise. Stalin wanted to impose more direct Soviet control over Yugoslavia, something that Tito fiercely objected to. This led to the famous so-called Tito-Stalin Split in 1948, which basically isolated Yugoslavia from the Eastern Bloc. This meant that all further shipment of military equipment and vehicles was discontinued.
The JNA did not attempt any major modifications on the SU-76M. In the photographs of them, the 7.62 mm DT machine gun usually mounted inside the vehicle can instead be seen placed on an improvised mount on top of the main gun barrel. The available sources do not specify why this was done. Given that one of the crew would have had to go out to operate it and expose themselves to enemy fire, this would have been a questionable design choice. In addition, this crew member that operated the outside-positioned machine gun could be injured from the main gun’s recoil. A possible explanation for this outside machine gun position is that it was used for crew training. Possibly to preserve main gun ammunition, the machine gun may have been used to simulate the firing of the 7.62 cm gun. It is not clear on how many SU-76Ms such modifications were made on, but given the available photographic evidence, at least two. Both of these had completely different mounts. One was placed above the gun, while on the other, the machine gun was placed above the protected recoil cylinder.
The first available SU-76Ms were grouped into two Mehanizovana Artiljerijska Diviziona (Eng. Mechanized Artillery Division/Battalion). The 1st Tank Division received 12 SU-76Ms while the 2nd Tank Division, which had US-supplied 105 mm armed M7 vehicles in its inventory, received only 8 SU-76Ms. The JNA was quite aware that the SU-76Ms were outdated vehicles, and their combat value was deemed insufficient. Given that nothing else was available, they remained in use. As a result of the rising tensions with the Eastern Bloc, the SU-76M was used in a series of military exercises that simulated attacks from the east. As the war with the Soviet Union did not occur, the JNA’s SU-76Ms would never see action. They were occasionally used in military parades, though.
In 1950s, through the MDAP (Mutual Defence Aid Program) that Yugoslavia signed with the Western Allies, plenty of new military equipment was obtained between 1951 and 1958. This included 240 M18 Hellcats and 399 M36 Jacksons. As these were deemed far superior, the SU-76M was quickly removed from frontline units. By 1957, due to wear and lack of spare parts, the number of operational SU-76M was reduced to 46. Some 20 more vehicles, of which only 4 were operational, were present in reserve.
Lack of spare parts often leads to the cannibalization of damaged vehicles. At the same time, the JNA’s officials requested that a study be made about whether it was possible and worthwhile to maintain these vehicles at all. The remaining 46 vehicles were in a such a poor state of repair that their further use was questionable. Some attempts were made to locally produce spare parts, but this proved to be too costly and was quickly abandoned. In the end, it was decided that due to their poor combat effectiveness and mechanical wear down, to remove these vehicles from the JNA’s inventory.
The M-60 Project
With the JNA, the SU-76M saw only limited service. Nevertheless, some elements of its design, such as the suspension, would later be reused for the M-60 armored personnel carrier. It was developed by the Yugoslav military industry and pressed into service in the late 1960s. While it too proved to be a flawed design, it was an important vehicle for gaining valuable experience in designing such a vehicle. With further improvements, this eventually would lead to the creation of the much more successful M-80.
The Surviving JNA SU-76M
Not surprisingly, due to its extensive use and limited numbers, only one JNA SU-76M has survived to this day. It is now displayed at the Military Barracks Kozara, in Bosnia.
The SU-76M was simply used by the JNA until a proper replacement was found. It was quickly delegated to second-line units before being completely phased out after only a decade in service. Most notably, some of its design elements would be reused for the later M-60 APC project.
SU-76M Technical specifications
|Crew||4 (driver, gunner, loader, and commander)|
|Dimensions||Length 4.9 m, Width 2.7 m, Height 2.41 m|
|Engine||Two GAZ 202 70 hp engines|
|Speed||40 km/h (road)|
|Range||320 km (road), 1900 (off-road)|
|Armament||One 7.62 ZIS-3|
|Secondary Armament||7.62 mm DT machine gun|
B. B. Dimitrijević and D. Savić (2011) Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd.
B. B. Dimitrijević (2010) Modernizacija i Intervencija Jugoslovenske Oklopne Jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju
D. Predoević (2008) Oklopna vozila i oklopne postrojbe u drugom svjetskom ratu u Hrvatskoj, Digital Point Tiskara
D. Nešić (2008) Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-SSSR, Beograd
Magazine Arsenal 65/2012