ZIS-3: 100 thousand guns of Victory

Army loves the artillery as many things depend on it in wartime. From the experience of WWI and WWII artillery fire is known to cost up to 80% of deaths and wounds. There were a lot of famous barrels in the Soviet army during the Great Patriotic War. Both “sorokopiatka” (nickname for the 45 mm anti-tank gun) and the BM-37 82 mm mortar are weapons that accompanied our infantry first on its way from Brest to Moscow, then, as Vysotsky used to sing: “spinning the Earth backwards”, from Moscow to Berlin.

The ZIS-3 is among these barrels. Being chary of praise, Joseph Stalin said after getting to know it: “A masterpiece of artillery systems”. 

“The 76.2 mm divisional gun M1942” was the official name of the gun. It missed the withdrawal from Brest, as it entered the service in winter of 1941/42 as the battle of Moscow was in full swing, and they were planning counterattacks on all fronts. The industry, however, produced 103 thousand guns by 1945 making them the most mass-produced weapon of the WWII. Artillery regiments as well as anti-tank regiments and brigades were supplied with the ZIS-3. 13300 guns were installed on the SU-76 self-propelled guns.

In fact, Vasili Grabin, the gun designer and an outstanding Russian engineer, developed it in secret, without approval of the Soviet artillery seniors. Upon his own initiative, Grabin conducted all operations and combined a well-made barrel of the hard-to-produce F-22USV gun with the handy ZIS-2 57 mm anti-tank gun carriage. It was however just half the battle. Grabin unified the production process thus reducing the production cost by three times. These innovations allowed launching the first in history mass-production of the artillery system.   

“Ratsh-boom” they called the ZIS-3 in the Wehrmacht. Those were two sounds following the gun shooting. The former was the swish sound of the supersonic projectile (muzzle velocity of 600 ms) which moved close to the observer. The latter was actually the shot sound, which came later.        

The ZIS-3 is a typical sample of the Russian engineering school. It was inexpensive, reliable, easy to use and required low maintenance.

The guns were mass-produced by more or less prepared workers and without loss of quality. The guns were easy to master and to keep in order. For the conditions the Soviet Union found itself in, the ZIS-3 was quite an ideal decision both from the combat use and from the production point of view.    

They could apply the ZIS-3 against enemy’s infantry as well as fortifications and tanks. It did a good job: there were not just the caliber armor-piercing shells in the ammunition but also reel-shape high-velocity projectiles. Later on there appeared high-explosive antitank projectiles.   

Despite not being able to get all kinds of armor plates of the German tanks at reasonable distances, the ZIS-3 remained the main anti-tank means of the Soviet army. Its mobility and transportability allowed the artillery crews to apply the ambush tactics and to support the infantry with “wheels and fire” choosing the right angles to kill the enemy’s armor. Besides, they could do that in the battlefield on their own, without waiting for the towing cars.  

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