Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 1)

A U.S. M1 155mm towed artillery piece being set up for firing during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944.

[This series of posts is adapted from the article “Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor,” by Richard C. Anderson, Jr., originally published in the June 1997 edition of the International TNDM Newsletter.]

Posts in the series
Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 1)
Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 2-Kursk)
Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 3-Normandy)
Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 4-Ardennes)
Artillery Effectiveness vs. Armor (Part 5-Summary)

The effectiveness of artillery against exposed personnel and other “soft” targets has long been accepted. Fragments and blast are deadly to those unfortunate enough to not be under cover. What has also long been accepted is the relative—if not total—immunity of armored vehicles when exposed to shell fire. In a recent memorandum, the United States Army Armor School disputed the results of tests of artillery versus tanks by stating, “…the Armor School nonconcurred with the Artillery School regarding the suppressive effects of artillery…the M-1 main battle tank cannot be destroyed by artillery…”

This statement may in fact be true,[1] if the advancement of armored vehicle design has greatly exceeded the advancement of artillery weapon design in the last fifty years. [Original emphasis] However, if the statement is not true, then recent research by TDI[2] into the effectiveness of artillery shell fire versus tanks in World War II may be illuminating.

The TDI search found that an average of 12.8 percent of tank and other armored vehicle losses[3] were due to artillery fire in seven eases in World War II where the cause of loss could be reliably identified. The highest percent loss due to artillery was found to be 14.8 percent in the case of the Soviet 1st Tank Army at Kursk (Table II). The lowest percent loss due to artillery was found to be 5.9 percent in the case of Dom Bütgenbach (Table VIII).

The seven cases are split almost evenly between those that show armor losses to a defender and those that show losses to an attacker. The first four cases (Kursk, Normandy l. Normandy ll, and the “Pocket“) are engagements in which the side for which armor losses were recorded was on the defensive. The last three cases (Ardennes, Krinkelt. and Dom Bütgenbach) are engagements in which the side for which armor losses were recorded was on the offensive.

Four of the seven eases (Normandy I, Normandy ll, the “Pocket,” and Ardennes) represent data collected by operations research personnel utilizing rigid criteria for the identification of the cause of loss. Specific causes of loss were only given when the primary destructive agent could be clearly identified. The other three cases (Kursk, Krinkelt, and Dom Bütgenbach) are based upon combat reports that—of necessity—represent less precise data collection efforts.

However, the similarity in results remains striking. The largest identifiable cause of tank loss found in the data was, predictably, high-velocity armor piercing (AP) antitank rounds. AP rounds were found to be the cause of 68.7 percent of all losses. Artillery was second, responsible for 12.8 percent of all losses. Air attack as a cause was third, accounting for 7.4 percent of the total lost. Unknown causes, which included losses due to hits from multiple weapon types as well as unidentified weapons, inflicted 6.3% of the losses and ranked fourth. Other causes, which included infantry antitank weapons and mines, were responsible for 4.8% of the losses and ranked fifth.


[1] The statement may be true, although it has an “unsinkable Titanic,” ring to it. It is much more likely that this statement is a hypothesis, rather than a truism.

[2] As pan of this article a survey of the Research Analysis Corporation’s publications list was made in an attempt to locate data from previous operations research on the subject. A single reference to the study of tank losses was found. Group 1 Alvin D. Coox and L. Van Loan Naisawald, Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, CONFIDENTIAL ORO Report T-117, 1 March 1951.

[3] The percentage loss by cause excludes vehicles lost due to mechanical breakdown or abandonment. lf these were included, they would account for 29.2 percent of the total lost. However, 271 of the 404 (67.1%) abandoned were lost in just two of the cases. These two cases (Normandy ll and the Falaise Pocket) cover the period in the Normandy Campaign when the Allies broke through the German defenses and began the pursuit across France.

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Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

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  1. This is not suprising as the Soviets opted for 76mm field guns which were utilized in both indirect and direct fire roles, this also encompassed the engagement of enemy armour. This isn’t always beneficial though. It was significantly more effective to invest into heavier firepower (US or German model, 105/150mm howitzer) while leaving the role of AT to dedicated units. This would indicate that German armour was able to frequently eliminate Soviet artillery positions.

    • They did though. The red army had AT units equipped with 45mm, 57mm and 100mm AT guns. They had the 76.2mm divisional guns used in both roles. They had the 122mm and 152mm howitzers filling the same roles as their US counterparts, the 105 and 155 howitzers. They had the 122mm and 152mm Corps guns filling the same role as the US 155mm gun. Of course US artillery was far superior but it isn’t as simple as the red army failing to have the specialized pieces.

      • The share made up by heavier caliber of the total output was considerably higher in the US Army, than it was the case for the Red Army. In 1944, the Red Army expended approx. 300,000 t > 100mm and 600,000 tons of mortar, field and regimental guns, below 100mm.
        In contrast, the US Army consumed 615,000 tons above 100mm alone (in a similar period), by an overall smaller number of barrels. Of course, this does not take into consideration the lethality index, their utilization, firing techniques, sound ranging, organizations and their subtleties.
        From a total of 12,923,000 rounds of dedicated AT systems (above 20mm, non multi-purpose), over 90% were 45mm and derived from the basic projectile to plate ratio, the 45mm AT gun could be rated as an average counter to even PzKpfw III/IV – at that time in terms of combat rating, they filled the lower side in the spectrum of the German AFV park. On the EF, the Wehrmacht was broken by 82/120mm mortars/76mm field guns and on the WF, by 105mm Howitzers.
        On a side note: Equal roles do not presuppose equal effectiveness/quality, not even in terms of material. Historically, the Red Army would need to have access to training facilities and field guns considerably more sophisticated in order to produce the same amount of daily casualties (relative to given caliber). Afterall, a 21st century light Infantry fighting vehicle with a mounted ATGM module has better self-defence capabilities than an interwar heavy tank, also filling a different combat role (at different weights).

        I would argue it is more of a question of the potency of the chemical industry and the nature of the environment anyway. The German soldier enjoyed greater casualty infliction potential over a Soviet soldier due to an inequality that is not observable between a US and a German soldier.

  2. >>>The highest percent loss due to artillery was found to be 14.8 percent in the case of the Soviet 1st Tank Army at Kursk (Table II).
    Very funny statement.
    Western historians even now do not know the basic positions of the Soviet accounting system.
    In fact, it is possible to establish the cause of loss in at least 85-90% of cases.
    In the “Act of inspection of the technical condition of the vehicle,” the reason for loss must be written. Something like the following:
    “Hit of artillery shells in the turret and starboard, near the fuel tank. The tank burned down.”

    • That sentence and the subsequent sentence “The lowest percent loss due to artillery found to be 5.9 percent in the case of Dom Butgenbach (Table VIII)” are clearly a simple reference or comparison between the eight tables presented in the article….not a statement of something further.

      • >>>The TDI search found that an average of 12.8 percent of tank and other armored vehicle losses[3] were due to artillery fire in seven eases in World War II where the cause of loss could be reliably identified. The highest percent loss due to artillery was found to be 14.8 percent in the case of the Soviet 1st Tank Army at Kursk (Table II)
        Please understand me correctly, I do not understand where the figure of 14.8% comes from.
        From combat reports it is very rare to find the distribution of casualties by type of fire. Everything is quite simple there:
        Сгорел / burned – this scrap metal.
        Разбит / Broken or ruined – this warehouse SPTA .
        Подбит / damaged – this tank, can be repaired by repair units.
        Details must be sought in the reports of the repair service.
        A good illustration would be Table II:
        The 31st tank corps. In the column “Air” – 3 tanks.
        Report of the 242nd tank brigade for the period from 4 July – 6 September 1943.
        Page №3. July 7:
        “… Losses:
        Damaged and burned by aviation: T-34 tanks – 9; T-70 – 3. … ”
        P.S. In the combat report of the 1515th SPAR:
        “Irretrievable losses – 8. Require repair – 6.” And that’s all.

          • I have this report, sir. And not only he.
            I am seriously approaching my books. 🙂
            “Information on combat losses …” (page 37)
            Column №4 in the table: “put out of action”, then nine decryption columns, the last column is “MiA”.
            Sir, in the sub-column “artillery fire” are shown damaged vehicles, that were evacuated.
            As is clear from paragraph №1 of the notes under the table and ink marks, irretrievable losses were counted by column “Burned”.
            Three corps of the 1st TA – 358 tanks. “Attached units” another 116.
            Total losses (“put out of action”) 530 and 131.

        • “Evacuated” AFVs were those damaged, to be sent away for major repairs in either: the front repair units, the zone of interior/repair depots or the factories/homeland for further evaluation (i.e. to be dismantled). These vehicles were totally lost to the units (the German equivalent would be “Totalausfall”). All material listed under “irretrievables/burned out” are AFVs which sustained major battle damage, corrupted beyond repair (in this case, mostly due to 75mm fire). The ratio of loss by artillery to total losses (sum of all categories) for the Tank Army is approx. 15% (disregarding the attached units). Total combat losses are harder to deduce, as many tanks were repaired and sent into combat more than once.

          • Rostislav,

            The record we actually used for the article written in 1997 was Fond: 299, Opis: 3070, Delo: 226, List: 19. It does have a column “OT Art./Aviatsii”

            I did not see it in the files you linked to.

            I did look at the files you linked to and they are, of course, similar to the ones we have, but not exactly the same. For example, our version of the 18:00 6 July 1943 report no. 203 has hand written notes correcting some lines of the report. It looks to be an earlier draft of the same report (Opis: 3070, Delo: 170, page 219).

            Anyhow, this is a conversation we should probably continue off-line. Why don’t you email me at


          • I object.
            In the south of the Soviet-German front, tanks sent to overhaul “at the plants of industry” counted as irretrievable loss (burned down / destroyed).
            Tanks repaired by Army repair units – is “damaged”. It is worth noting that prior to the order of the level of the HQ Tank Army/Corps (HQ of the Commander of the armored troops of the Army) on the transfer of the tank to the repair unit, these combat vehicles were on the balance of their brigades and regiments. . The tanks transferred to repairmen, in the general statistics Army were called “depersonalized tanks”. “Depersonalized tanks” could be written off as irretrievable losses. This “tanks that can not be restored”

          • Tanks which were so badly damaged, that they had to be “evacuated” from the combat area, are a casualty. Furthermore, a substantial amount of tanks which were evacuated during the war, never returned to their original units.
            TsAMO f 38 on11371 d 16 l11.13 (for the period of 43-45) gives: 83,920 Evacuated AFVs, 20,641 sent to Repair Depots and manufacturers, 63,279 evaluated as corrupted beyond repair.
            1943: 32,539 evacuated material, 9,344 shipped away
            1944: 29,009 AFVs evacuated from combat, 8,754 fixed at homeland repair depots, 16,129 dismantled
            1945: 22,372 AFVs evacuated from combat, 2,543 shipped away for repair, 10,471 dismantled.
            20,641 refurbished and reassigned, just to be potentially destroyed a second time.
            Thus researchers and historians continue to compare the wrong categories for more than 6 decades now.

  3. Stiltzkin. I agree.
    I have no complaints about the scientific honesty of the researchers and the Dupuy Institute. I write about the fact that researchers do not have at their disposal the full volume of documents.
    As for the documents of the repair-technical service, from my experience in Tsamo I can testify that practically no one has studied them. Maximum 3-4 extradite “document case” for 70 years. 90% have none.
    To calculate the effectiveness of artillery, you need to work with the acts of the technical condition of the vehicle and the Orders and Statistical documents
    Act :
    P.S. The nuances of the production of tanks in the USSR :). T-34/85 of production of plant N174, based on the hull of T-34 of plant N112. “Sormovo freak” was made at the end of 42 – the first half of 43. T-34/85 in winter 44-45 (but this is not certain).

  4. Ardennes sample with 6 AFV destroyed by air strike is also questionable. Many of those AFV were abandoned and some of 6 had also hit by AT guns/combat armor. Picking some ideal examples for ground attack aircraft like Falaise and that sample of Ardennes is giving too big slice for Allied pilots. Kursk with less than 2% share for Luftwaffe might actually be near the big picture of ground attack aircraft vs armor. Let’s not forget that Luftwaffe had almost all their eastern front Stukas and Jabos and Henschels in Kursk and about 70% in southern sector where Soviet 1st Tank Army operated.

  5. The armour thickness of T-34’s hull top was just 20 mm. What might have happened when HE shell of 152 mm (41 kg)howitzer got direct hit on it? What about HE shell of 120 mm (21 kg)? Or that of 105 mm (15 kg). What might have happened to engine?

    1800 rounds of 20 artillery battalions exploaded during one minute in area of 6 hectares is average one round per 36m2. The size of T-34’s top rear hull is 9m2. The chance of direct hit was as high as 25% during that barrage if T-34 regiment was taken pants down.

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