An assault gun is a form of self-propelled artillery which utilizes
an infantry support gun mounted on a motorized chassis, normally an
armored fighting vehicle. Assault guns are designed to provide
direct fire support for infantry attacks, especially against other
infantry or fortified positions. The term is a literal translation
of the German word Sturmgeschütz, which was applied to the first
purpose-built assault gun, the StuG III, in 1940.
Historically, the concept of assault guns was very similar to that of
the infantry tank, as both were combat vehicles intended to accompany
infantry formations into battle. However, during World War II
assault guns were more mobile than tanks and could be utilized as both
direct and indirect fire artillery. Although they could approximate
the firepower of a tank, assault guns mostly fired high explosive
shells at relatively low velocities, which were well suited for their
role of knocking out hard points such as fortified positions and
buildings. They were not intended to be deployed as tank
substitutes or dedicated tank destroyers. Nevertheless, as the
conflict progressed, the increasing proliferation of tanks on the
battlefield forced many assault gun units to engage armor in defense
of the infantry, and led to armies becoming more dependent on
multipurpose designs which combined the traditionally separate roles
of an assault gun and a tank destroyer.
German and Soviet assault guns introduced during
World War II
World War II usually
carried their main armament in a fully enclosed casemate rather than a
gun turret. Although this limited the field of fire and traverse of
the armament, it also had the advantage of a reduced silhouette and
simplified the manufacturing process. The
United States never
developed a purpose-built assault gun during the war, although it did
modify preexisting armored fighting vehicles for that role, including
M4 Sherman and
M5 Stuart tanks and the M3 Half-track.
The assault gun concept was largely abandoned during the postwar era
in favor of tanks or multipurpose tank destroyers attached to infantry
formations which were also capable of providing direct fire support as
needed. In the
United States and most Western countries, the assault
gun ceased to be recognized as a unique niche, with individual
examples being classified either as a self-propelled howitzer or a
Soviet Union continued funding development of new assault
guns as late as 1967, although few of its postwar designs were adopted
in large numbers. In Soviet and other Eastern European armies, the
traditional assault gun was primarily superseded by tank destroyers
such as the
SU-100 capable of supporting either infantry or armor.
1.1 World War II
1.2 Post-war use
2 See also
World War II
SU-76 was easily constructed in small factories incapable
of producing proper tanks.
Assault guns were primarily used during
World War II
World War II by the forces of
Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Early in the war, the
to create makeshift assault guns by mounting their infantry support
weapons on the bed of a truck or on obsolete tanks with the turret
removed. Later in the war, both the
Germans and the Soviets introduced
fully armoured purpose-built assault guns into their arsenals.
Early on, the Soviets built the KV-2, a variant of the KV-1 heavy tank
with a short-barrelled 152 mm howitzer mounted in an oversized turret.
This was not a success in battle, and was replaced with a very
successful series of turretless assault guns: the SU-76, SU-122, and
the heavy SU-152, which were followed by the I
SU-122 and I
the new IS heavy tank chassis.
Sturmtiger in the
Deutsches Panzermuseum at Munster, Lower Saxony.
The primary German assault gun was the
Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III).
At about the same time (March 1942) as the howitzer-like KwK 37 gun
was dropped from the
Panzer IV's use, its Sturmkanone equivalent in
StuG III up to that time, was likewise replaced with a
longer-barreled, high-velocity dual-purpose 75mm gun that had also
been derived from the successful
PaK 40 anti-tank towed artillery
Germans also built a number of other fully armoured
turretless assault guns, including the StuG IV, StuIG 33B, Brummbär
and Sturmtiger. The latter two were very heavy vehicles, and were
built only in small quantities.
Battalions of assault guns, usually StuG IIIs, commonly replaced the
intended panzer battalion in the German panzergrenadier divisions due
to the chronic shortage of tanks, and were sometimes used as
makeshifts even in the panzer divisions. Independent battalions
were also deployed as "stiffeners" for infantry divisions, and the
StuG III's anti-tank capabilities bolstered dwindling tank numbers on
the Eastern and Western fronts.
A preserved Sherman M4(105).
US and UK forces also deployed vehicles designed for a close support
role, but these were conventional tanks whose only significant
modification was the replacement of the main gun with a howitzer. Two
versions of the American Sherman tank were armed with the M4 105 mm
howitzer, the M4(105) and the M4A3(105); these were designated assault
guns in US usage of the term. The M8 Scott, based on the chassis of
M5 Stuart light tank, was also an assault cannon and carried a 75
mm short howitzer. The Churchill, Centaur and Cromwell tanks were all
produced in versions armed with 95 mm howitzers: the Churchill
Mark V and Mark VIII, the Centaur Mark IV and the Cromwell Mark VI.
Earlier British tanks, such as the Crusader cruiser tank and the
Infantry tank were produced in versions armed with the
3-inch howitzer; the first versions of the
Churchill tank also had
this gun in a hull mounting. American tank destroyer units were often
used in the assault gun role for infantry support.
The AVRE version of the Churchill
Tank was armed with a Spigot mortar
that fired a 40 lb (18 kg) HE-filled projectile (nicknamed
the Flying Dustbin) 150 yards (140 m). Its task was to attack
fortified positions such as bunkers at close range (see Hobart's
In the post-WWII era, vehicles fitting into an "assault gun" category
were developed as a light-weight, air-deployable, direct fire weapon
for use with airborne troops. Current weapons were either based on
jeeps or small tracked vehicles and the airborne troops thus always
fought at a distinct disadvantage in terms of heavy weapons. The
Soviet Union and the
United States were the most attracted to the idea
of providing this capability to traditionally light airborne forces.
Their answers to the problem were similar, with the United States
M56 Scorpion and the
Soviet Union developing the
ASU-57, both essentially air-droppable light anti-tank guns.
The Soviets went on to develop an improved air-droppable assault gun,
the ASU-85, which served through the 1980s, while their SU-100
remained in service with Communist countries, including Vietnam and
Cuba, years after World War II. The US M56 and another armoured
vehicle, the M50 Ontos, were to be the last of the more traditional
assault guns in US service. Improvised arrangements such as M113
personnel carriers with recoilless rifles were quickly replaced by
missile carrier vehicles in the anti-tank role.
The only vehicle with the qualities of an assault gun to be fielded
after the removal of the M50 and M56 from service within the US
military was the M551 Sheridan. The Sheridan's gun was a low-velocity
weapon suitable in the assault role, but with the addition of the
Shillelagh missile could double in the anti-tank role as well. The
Sheridan, however, was not developed as an assault gun but as a light
Currently there appears to be a move toward wheeled vehicles fitting a
"tank destroyer" or "assault gun" role, such as the M1128 Mobile Gun
System of the US Army, the
Tank Destroyer of the
Italian and Spanish Armies, the Chinese anti-tank gun PTL-02 and ZBL08
assault gun, and the French
AMX 10 RC
AMX 10 RC heavy armoured car. While these
vehicles might be useful in a direct fire role, none were developed
with this specifically in mind, reminiscent of the use of tank
destroyers by the US military in the assault gun role during World War
Armoured fighting vehicle
List of assault guns
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