IS tank family

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Iosif Stalin tank
IS-2 and IS-3
IS-2 model 1943 (fore) and IS-3 at the Great Patriotic War Museum, Minsk, Belarus
Type Heavy tank
Place of origin Soviet Union
Service history
Used by Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, DPRK, Egypt, Poland
Wars World War II
Six Day War
Production history
Designer Zh. Kotin, N. Dukhov
Designed 1943 (IS-2)
1944 (IS-3)
1944–45 (IS-4)
Manufacturer Kirov Factory, UZTM
Produced 1943–44 (IS-1)
1943–45 (IS-2)
1945–47 (IS-3)
1945–46 (IS-4)
Number built 130 (IS-1)
3,854 (IS-2)
2,311 (IS-3)
250 (IS-4)
Specifications (IS-2 Model 1944[2])
Weight 46 tonnes (51 short tons; 45 long tons)
Length 9.90 m (32 ft 6 in)
Width 3.09 m (10 ft 2 in)
Height 2.73 m (8 ft 11 in)
Crew 4

Armor 60–110 mm (2.4–4.3 in)[1]
D25-T 122 mm gun (28 rounds)
2 × DT (2,079 rounds)
Engine 12-cyl. diesel model V-2
600 hp (450 kW)
Power/weight 13 hp/tonne
Suspension torsion bar
Fuel capacity 820 l (180 imp gal; 220 US gal)
240 km (150 mi)
Speed 37 km/h (23 mph)

The IS Tank (IS in Cyrillic "ИС", meaning the Joseph Stalin or Iosif Stalin in Cyrillic "Ио́сиф Ста́лин") was a series of heavy tanks developed as a successor to the KV-series by the Soviet Union during World War II. It was named after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The heavy tank was designed with thick armour to counter the German 88 mm guns, and carried a main gun that was capable of defeating the German Tiger and Panther tanks. It was mainly a breakthrough tank, firing a heavy high-explosive shell that was useful against entrenchments and bunkers. The IS-2 was put into service in April 1944, and was used as a spearhead in the Battle of Berlin by the Red Army in the final stage of the Battle of Berlin.

Design and production

KV-85 and IS-85/IS-1

IS-85 Prototype (IS-1)

The KV-1 was criticized by its crews for its poor mobility and lack of any heavier armament than the T-34 medium tank. It was much more expensive than the T-34, without having greater combat performance. This led Moscow to order a portion of KV-1 assembly lines to shift to T-34 production, which fed into fears that KV-1 production would be halted and the SKB-2 design bureau led by Kotin closed.[3] In 1942 this problem was partially addressed by the KV-1S tank. The KV-1S used thinner armor than the original, making it lighter and faster. It was competitive with the T-34, but at the cost of no longer having the heavier armor. Production of the KV-1S was gradually replaced by the SU-152[4] and ended completely on April 1943.[5]

The capture of a German Tiger tank in January 1943 led to a decision to develop a new heavy tank, which was given the codename Object 237.[6] Before Object 237 had time to mature, intense tank fighting in the summer of 1943 demanded a response. Dukhov's team was instructed to create a stopgap KV tank, the KV-85, which was armed with the 52-K-derivative gun of the SU-85, the 85 mm D-5T that proved capable of penetrating the Tiger I from 1000 meters. The KV-85 was created by mounting an Object 237 turret on a modified KV-1S hull. This necessitated increasing the diameter of the turret ring by adding fillets to the sides of the hull. The radio operator was removed and in his place was inserted an ammunition rack for the larger 85 mm ammunition. The hull MG was then moved to the opposite side of the driver and fixed in place to be operated by the driver himself. Soviet industry was therefore able to produce a heavy tank as equally well armed as the Tiger I before the end of 1943. There was a short production run of 148 KV-85 tanks, which were sent to the front beginning in September 1943 with production ending by December 1943.[7]

The complete Objekt 237 prototype, itself an evolution of the cancelled KV-13, was accepted for production as the IS-85 heavy tank.[8] First deliveries were made in October 1943 and went immediately into service. Production ended in January 1944. Its designation was simplified to IS-1 after the introduction of the IS-122, which itself was redesignated to IS-2, for security purposes.[9]


Gun choice

Through this period, further development of the T-34 was taking place, and by 1943 engineers had succeeded in mounting the 85 mm gun to this chassis as well. This made the IS-85 superfluous in the same way the original T-34 had with the KV-1. Efforts to up-gun the IS-85 began in late 1943. Two candidate weapons were the A-19 122 mm gun, a derivative of a standard field gun, and the D-10 100 mm gun, based on a Naval dual-purpose gun. The D-10 had been custom designed for the anti-armor role and had better armour penetration than the A-19, 185 mm compared to 160 mm, but the smaller calibre meant it had a less useful high explosive round. Also, the D-10 was a relatively new weapon in short supply, while there was excess production capacity for the A-19 and its ammunition. Compared to the older F-34 76.2 mm tank gun, the A-19 delivered 5.37 times the muzzle energy.

After testing both A-19 and D-10 guns, on the IS-122 and IS-100 respectively, the former was selected as the main armament of the new tank, primarily because of its ready availability and the effect of its large high-explosive shell when attacking German fortifications. The A-19 used a separate shell and powder charge, resulting in a lower rate of fire and reduced ammunition capacity, both serious disadvantages in tank-to-tank engagements. The gun was very powerful, and while its 122 mm armour-piercing shell had a lower muzzle velocity than similar late-issue German 75 mm L/70 and 88 mm L/71 guns, Soviet proving-ground tests claimed that the D-25 could penetrate the front armour of the German Panther tank at 2500 m while the D-10 could do so at a maximum range of 1500 m.[10][11] It was therefore considered adequate in the anti-tank role.

Projectiles and charges of the separate-loading ammunition of the A-19/D-25T 122mm gun. Left to right: cartridge case, high-explosive/fragmentation shell OF-471, armor-piercing tracer shell BR-471, armor-piercing ballistic capped shell BR-471B. All shells are shown from two sides.

A Wa Pruef 1 Report dated 5 October 1944 has data on the penetration ranges of the 122 mm A-19 gun against a Panther tank angled at 30 degrees : this estimated that the A-19 gun was unable to penetrate the glacis plate of the Panther from any distance, could penetrate the lower glacis plate of the hull from 100 m, could penetrate the mantlet from 500 m and could penetrate the front turret from 1500 m.[12] The Panther's 40 to 50 mm thick side armour would've been exposed and vulnerable at such angle; the sides at 30 degrees are penetrable from over 3500 m according to the same Wa Pruef 1 report.[12] Testing with captured Tiger Ausf Bs in Kubinka claimed that the 122 mm D-25T was capable of penetrating the Tiger Ausf B's turret from 1000 to 1500 m and the weld joint or edges of the front hull plates at ranges of 500 to 600 m.[13] It was the large HE shell the gun fired which was its main asset, proving highly useful and destructive in the anti-personnel role. The most recognizable disadvantage of the D-25T gun was its slow rate of fire due the massive size and weight of the shells, only one to one and a half rounds per minute could be fired, initially.[14] After some modernizations and the additional semi-automatic drop breech over the previously manual screw, the rate of fire increased to 2-3 rounds per minute.[14] According to Steven Zaloga, the increase amounted to 3-4 rounds per minute.[15] Another limitation imposed by the size of its ammunition was the payload: only 28 rounds could be carried inside the tank, with a complement of 20 HE rounds and 8 AP rounds the norm.[16][17]

Line drawing of IS-2


IS-2M at the Kubinka Tank Museum

The IS-122 prototype replaced the IS-85, and began mass production as the IS-2. The 85 mm guns could be reserved for the new T-34-85 medium tank, and some of the IS-1s built were rearmed before leaving the factory, and issued as IS-2s.

The main production model was the IS-2, with the powerful A-19. It was slightly lighter and faster than the heaviest KV model 1942 tank, with thicker front armour and a much-improved turret design. The tank could carry thicker armour than the KV series, while remaining lighter, due to the better layout of the armour envelope. The KV's armour was less well-shaped and featured heavy armour even on the rear, while the IS series concentrated its armour at the front. The IS-2 weighed a little less than Panther and was much lighter than the Tiger series and presented a slightly lower target than either.

Western observers tended to criticize Soviet tanks for their lack of finish and crude construction. The Soviets responded that it was warranted considering the need for wartime expediency and the typically short battlefield life of their tanks.[18]

Armour plan of IS-2, models 1943 and 1944 top and bottom, respectively.

Early IS-2s can be identified by the 'stepped' front hull casting with its small, opening driver's visor. The early tanks lacked gun tube travel locks or anti-aircraft machine guns, and had narrow mantlets. According to Steven Zaloga, the IS-2[19] and Tiger I could knock each other out in normal combat distances below 1000 m. At longer ranges the performance of each respective tank against each other was dependent on the crew and combat situation.[20]

Later on, with the aforementioned late-1944 modernization, the stepped hull front was replaced with a single plate of 120 mm thickness angled at 60 degrees. Some sources called it IS-2m, but it is distinct from the official Soviet designation IS-2M for a 1950s modernization. Other minor upgrades included the addition of a travel lock on the hull rear, wider mantlet, and, on very late models, an antiaircraft machine gun.

In the mid-1950s, the remaining IS-2 tanks (mostly model 1944 variants) were upgraded to keep them battle-worthy, producing the IS-2M, which introduced fittings such as external fuel tanks on the rear hull (the basic IS-2 had these only on the hull sides), stowage bins on both sides of the hull, and protective skirting along the top edges of the tracks.


The IS-3 had a superior armour layout, with a hemispherical gun turret like many later Soviet tanks. Military Technical Museum Lešany (2010)

There are two tanks known as IS-3. IS-3 (Objekt 244) was an IS-2 rearmed with the long-barrelled 85mm cannon (D-5T-85-BM). It was developed by LKZ (in Leningrad) and was not taken in service. IS-3 (Object 703) was developed in late 1944 by ChTZ (in Chelyabinsk) and left the factory shop in May 1945.[21] This tank had an improved armour layout, and a semi-hemispherical cast turret (resembling an overturned soup bowl) which became the hallmark of post-war Soviet tanks. While this low, hemispherical turret improved protection, it also significantly diminished the working headroom, especially for the loader (Soviet tanks in general are characterized by uncomfortably small interior space compared to Western tanks; however, this was addressed by Soviet recruitment criteria, which classified recruits' eligibility by numerous parameters, and specified that only very short men be drafted to serve in tank crews). The low turret also limited the maximum depression of the main gun, since the gun breech had little room inside the turret to pivot on its vertical axis. As a result, the IS-3 was less able to take advantage of hull-down positions than Western tanks.[22] The IS-3's pointed prow earned it the nickname Shchuka (Pike) by its crews. It weighed slightly less and stood 30 centimetres (12 in) lower than previous versions. Wartime production resulted in many mechanical problems and a hull weldline that had a tendency to crack open.[23]

The first public demonstration of the IS-3 came on 7 September 1945 during the Allied victory parade on Charlottenburgerstrasse in Berlin with the heavily reinforced 71st Guards Heavy Tank Regiment of the 2nd Guards Tank Army.[21] The IS-3 came too late to see action in World War II.

Starting in 1960, the IS-3 was slightly modernized as the IS-3M, in a manner similar to the IS-2M.


There are 2 different tanks known as IS-4. One of these (Objekt 245) was an IS-2 rearmed with a long 100mm D-10T cannon. The other IS-4 was a new vehicle projected by LKZ in parallel with the IS-3 (Objekt 703) by the same design and development bureau. For this second IS-4 the IS-2 hull was lengthened, with an extra set of road wheels added and an improved engine. Both hull and turret armour were increased. Several alternative armaments were explored in paper studies but ultimately the IS-2's original 122mm gun was retained. An effort was also made to make use of technical data derived from study of the German wartime Panzer V Panther tank, which influenced the layout of the second IS-4's engine cooling system. The tank was approved for mass production from 1947 to 1949 but due to disappointing speed and mobility only 250 were built. Most of these were transferred to the Russian Far East. In 1949, production was cancelled and later these tanks were removed from service.


There existed two different IS-6s: the Object 253 was an attempt to develop a practical electrical transmission system for heavy tanks. Similar systems had been tested previously in France and the United States and had been used with some success in the German Elefant/Ferdinand tank destroyer during World War II. The experimental transmission proved unreliable and was dangerously prone to overheating, and development was discontinued. The alternative Objekt 252 shared the same hull and turret as the Object 253, but used a different suspension with no return rollers, and a conventional mechanical transmission. The design was deemed to offer no significant advantages over the IS-2, and the IS-6 project was halted.


An IS-7 tank during trials (1948)

The IS-7 heavy tank was developed in 1948.[24] Weighing 68 metric tons, thickly armoured and armed with a 130 mm S-70 gun, it was the largest and heaviest member of the IS family.[25] In spite of its weight, it was easy to drive due to numerous hydraulic assists. The loaders noted that the IS-7 was comfortable and that the autoloader was easy to use. It was also able to achieve a top speed of 60 km/h thanks to a 1050-horsepower engine giving it a power to weight ratio of 15.4 hp/ton, a ratio superior to most contemporary medium tanks. Its armour was not only immune to the Jagdtiger's 12.8 cm Pak 44 but was even proof to its own 130mm. Due to the reasons unknown, most likely because of the considerable issues arising from its mass (bridges, rail transport - no Soviet/Russian tank accepted into service afterwards exceeded 55 t), the tank never reached the production lines.[26]


The IS-10[27] (also known as Objekt 730) was the final development of the KV and IS tank series. It was accepted into service in 1952 as the IS-10,[27] but due to the political climate in the wake of Stalin's death in 1953, it was renamed T-10.

The biggest differences from its direct ancestor, the IS-3, were a longer hull, seven pairs of road wheels instead of six, a larger turret mounting a new gun with fume extractor, an improved diesel engine, and increased armour. General performance was similar, although the T-10 could carry more ammunition.

T-10s (like the earlier tanks they replaced) were deployed in independent tank regiments belonging to armies, and independent tank battalions belonging to divisions. These independent tank units could be attached to mechanized units, to support infantry operations and perform breakthroughs.

This was the last Soviet heavy tank to enter service. When the advanced T-64 MBT became available it replaced the T-10 in front line formations.

IS and other heavy Soviet tanks compared

Soviet heavy tanks of World War II[28]
T-35 T-100 SMK KV-1
M1945[clarification needed]
Crew 12 7 7 5 5 5 5 4 4 4
Weight (tonnes) 45 58 55 43 45 47 42.5 46 46 46.5
Gun 76.2 mm
M. 27/32
76.2 mm
76.2 mm
76.2 mm
76.2 mm
76.2 mm
76.2 mm
85 mm
122 mm
122 mm
Ammunition 100 111 111 114 114 70 28 28
Secondary armament 2×45 mm
5×7.62 mm
45 mm 45 mm DT 4×DT 4×DT 4×DT 3×DT 2×DT, DShK 2×DT, DShK
Engine 500 hp
M-17M gasoline
500 hp 850 hp
600 hp
V-2K diesel
600 hp
600 hp
600 hp
600 hp
600 hp
600 hp
Fuel (litres) 910 600 600 600 975 975 820 520 + 270
Road speed (km/h) 30 35 36 35 35 28 45 40 37 37
Road range (km) 150 150 335 335 250 250 250 240 150 (225)
Armour (mm)[clarification needed] 11–30 20–70 20–60 25–75 30–90 20–130 30–82 30–160 30–160 20–220

Operational history

The IS-2 tank first saw combat in early 1944. IS-2s were assigned to separate heavy tank regiments, normally of 21 tanks each.[30] These regiments were used to reinforce the most important attack sectors during major offensive operations. Tactically, they were employed as breakthrough tanks. Their role was to support infantry in the assault, using their large guns to destroy bunkers, buildings, dug-in crew-served weapons, and other 'soft' targets. They were also capable of taking on any German AFVs if required. Once a breakthrough was achieved, lighter, more mobile T-34s would take over the exploitation.

Frontal view of an IS-3. The squat, solid-looking front profile and pointed prow are highly distinctive. US Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen Maryland (2008)

The IS-3 first appeared to Western observers at the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin in September 1945. The IS-3 was an impressive development in the eyes of Western military observers, the British in particular, who responded with heavy tank designs of their own.

By the 1950s the emergence of the main battle tank concept—combining medium-tank mobility with the firepower and later armour of the heavy tank—had rendered heavy tanks obsolete in Soviet operational doctrine. In the late 1960s the remaining Soviet heavy tanks were transferred to Red Army reserve service and storage. The IS-2 Model 1944 remained in active service much longer in the armies of Cuba, China and North Korea. A regiment of Chinese IS-2s was available for use in the Korean War, but saw no service there. In response to border disputes between the Soviet Union and China, some Soviet IS-3s were dug in as fixed pillboxes along the Soviet-Chinese border. The IS-3 was used in the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Prague Spring in 1968.

Chinese IS-2 tanks in the country's 1956 National Day parade

During the early 1950s all IS-3s were modernised as IS-3M models. The Egyptian Army acquired about 100 IS-3M tanks in all from the Soviet Union.[31] During the Six Day War, a single regiment of IS-3M tanks was stationed with the Egyptian 7th Infantry Division at Rafah and the 125th Tank Brigade of the 6th Mechanized Division at Kuntilla was also equipped with about 60 IS-3M tanks.[31] Israeli infantry and paratrooper units had considerable difficulty with the IS-3M when it was encountered due to its thick armour, which shrugged off hits from normal infantry anti-tank weapons such as the bazooka.[31] Even the 90 mm AP shell fired by the main gun of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) M48 Patton tanks could not penetrate the frontal armour of the IS-3s at normal battle ranges.[31] There were a number of engagements between the M48A2 Pattons of the IDF 7th Armoured Brigade and IS-3s supporting Egyptian positions at Rafah in which several M48A2s were knocked out in the fighting.[31] However, in one engagement between a battalion of IS-3s and 90MM-gun-armed M48A3's, 7 IS-3s were destroyed. The slow rate of fire, poor engine performance (the engine was not well suited to hot-climate operations), and rudimentary fire control of the IS-3s proved to be a significant handicap, and about 73 IS-3s were lost in the 1967 war.[31] Most Egyptian IS-3 tanks were withdrawn from service, though at least one regiment of IS-3 tanks was retained in service as late as the 1973 October war.[31] The IDF itself experimented with a few captured IS-3M tanks, but found them ill-suited to fast-moving desert tank warfare; those that were not scrapped were turned into stationary defensive pillbox emplacements in the Jordan River area.[31]

After the Korean War, China attempted to reverse-engineer the IS-2/IS-3 as the Type 122 medium tank. The project was cancelled in favour of the Type 59, a copy of the Soviet T-54A.


IS-2M - stowage bins over tracks
A stopgap model built from a modified KV-1S hull mated to an Object 237(IS-1)'s turret and armed with the 85 mm D-5T.[32]
IS-85 (IS-1)
1943 model armed with an 85 mm gun. When IS-2 production started, many were re-gunned with 122 mm guns before being issued.
A prototype version armed with a 100 mm gun; it went into trials against the IS-122 which was armed with a 122 mm gun. Though the IS-100 was reported to have better anti-armour capabilities, the latter was chosen due to better all-around performance.
IS-122 (IS-2 model 1943)
1943 model, armed with A-19 122 mm gun.
IS-2 model 1944 (sometimes "IS-2m")
1944 improvement with D25-T 122 mm gun, with faster-loading drop breech and new fire control, improved simpler hull front.
1950s modernization of IS-2 tanks.
1944 armour redesign, with new rounded turret, angular front hull casting, integrated stowage bins over the tracks. Internally similar to IS-2 model 1944, and produced concurrently. About 350 built during the war.
(1952) Modernized version of IS-3. Fitted with additional jettisonable external fuel tanks and improved hull welding.
1944 design, in competition against the IS-3. Longer hull and thicker armour than IS-2. About 250 were built, after the war.[33]
Prototype with an experimental electrical transmission. Chassis tested further with a conventional transmission after failure of the experimental system, but not deemed a significant enough improvement over existing heavy tank designs to warrant mass production.[34]
1946 prototype, only three built. The IS-7 model 1948 variant had a weight of 68 metric tons and it was armed with the 130 mm S-70 naval cannon (7020 mm long barrel) innovation is the incorporation of automatic loader can achieve up to 8 rounds per minute, stabilizers, infrared night scopes, 8 machine guns, armour from 220 to 300 mm thickness and 60 km/h roadspeed. Crew of five. A Slostin machine gun was to be installed as its AA armament.[25][26]
[27] 1952 improvement with a longer hull, seven pairs of road wheels instead of six, a larger turret mounting a new gun with fume extractor, an improved diesel engine, and increased armour. Renamed T-10 as part of the Destalinisation of the Soviet Union in the 1950s.


  • People's Liberation Army: 60 IS-2s operated during the Korean War and in concrete bunkers along the Sino-Soviet border.
Chinese IS-2s
  • Czechoslovak Army: 8 IS-2/IS-2M in service between 1945-1960. Two IS-3 delivered in 1949 were used only for trials and military parades.
  • Egyptian Army: Operated IS-3M from 1956-1967, some in use in 1973.
Former Egyptian Army IS-3M
 Nazi Germany
  • IDF: IS-3M, captured from Egypt in 1967.
 North Korea
  • Polish Land Forces: Approximately 71 IS-2s used in combat between 1944-1945. 180 IS-2s survived as of 1955, and remained in service until the 1960s; some later were converted to armoured recovery vehicles. Two IS-3s were bought in 1946 for trials only.
IS-3 heavy tank at the Museum Polskiej Techniki Wojskowej in Warsaw.
 South Ossetia
  • Red Army: Heavy Breakthrough Tank from 1944-1945.
  • Soviet Army: Phased out of service in the early 1970s.

Surviving vehicles

There are several surviving IS series tanks, with examples found at the following:

  • Os. Górali [standing tank], Kraków, Poland
  • Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Poland
  • Museum of Arms in Fort Winiary, Poznań, Poland
  • Museum of Armoured Weapon in Training Center of Land Forces, Poznań, Poland (operational, see movie)
  • Tank Museum of the People's Liberation Army, Beijing, China.
  • Liberty Park, Overloon, The Netherlands.
  • Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Kiev, Ukraine
  • Kurzeme Fortress Museum, Zante, Latvia.
  • Diorama Battle of Kursk, in Belgorod, Russia.

See also

Tanks of comparable role, performance and era

  • German Tiger I - comparable to IS-1/IS-85
  • German Tiger II - comparable to IS-2 model 1944
  • United States M26 Pershing - comparable to IS-1/IS-85


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External links