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Bigger Is Better: The 115mm Tank Gun

Pictured: Lieutenant-General V. I. Chuikov and Major-General K. A. Gurov, Stalingrad.

There are times when leaders must face precarious circumstances with direct, decisive leadership. The directing leadership style was first described by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s. A directing leader supplies specific instructions to team members, ensuring roles and tasks are clearly defined while providing close supervision. It is largely a one-way communication style since decisions are made by the leader and communicated to the followers. As a professional military leader, Marshal Chuikov often had to take a direct stance on situations with the expectation that others would follow his orders. One such scenario is shared in Steven Zaloga’s publication titled T-62 Main Battle Tank 1965-2005, which contains the following anecdote:

“In December 1960, the new American M60 tank was issued to US troops in Europe for the first time. The initial Soviet evaluation of the design was made available to senior army officers in January 1961, recognizing that it had better glacis armor than the previous M48 and that its new 105mm gun was superior to the 100mm gun on the T-54/-55. The Commander of the Soviet Ground Forces, Marshal V. I. Chuikov, was infuriated to learn that NATO was receiving a 105mm tank gun. Chuikov, the victor of Stalingrad, was a coarse and profane soldier of the old school, with no subtle understanding of tank technology. When informed that the next-generation Obiekt 430 tank would still be armed with a 100mm gun even though NATO now had a 105mm gun, he made it abundantly clear that he wanted the next Soviet tank to have a bigger gun than NATO's.

Chuikov did not want to hear any technical arguments about the advantages of the D-54 100mm gun, and since Khrushchev had already demanded that heavy-tank production cease in favor of missile tanks, this meant that a larger gun would have to be mounted on the medium tanks. He called the head of the GBTU Main Armor Directorate, Marshal Pavel P. Poluboyarov, into his office in Moscow for a severe dressing down. Poluboyarov admitted that Uralvagon had developed a tank with a 115mm gun, but that there had been problems with the stabilizer. Chuikov screamed at Poluboyarov, ‘Why are you jerking me around over this stabilizer? I don't care if it's mounted on a pig! Just come up with this gun!’

Chuikov demanded that a more powerful gun be fielded immediately and he didn't care whether it was mounted on the preferred Obiekt 430 modified with the 115mm gun or the Obiekt 166. Since the Obiekt 166 had already been designed around the 115mm gun, it was ready for production. On the other hand, the Obiekt 430 would have to be redesigned as the Obiekt 432, and the U-STS gun would have to be modified to accept split-case ammunition because the small internal volume of the tank needed an autoloader that could only handle two-part ammunition. This would take years to develop, and Chuikov made it very clear he wanted a more powerful tank now.

To placate the tank bureaucracy as well as Chuikov, in July 1961 the head of the defense industry-recommended adopting both the Obiekt 166 with the U-STS Molot 115mm gun as well as the related Obiekt 165 with the rifled D-54 100mm gun. Government approval took place on August 12, 1961, with the Obiekt 166 being designated as T-62. On January 8, 1962, Obiekt 165 was accepted for Soviet Army use as the T-62A” (13-14).

When I read this account, I chuckled at Marshal Chuikov’s response—I don’t care if it’s mounted on a pig! True—Vasily Ivanovich did not mince words when a situation needed to be handled expeditiously. One must understand the time period and international political context of Chuikov’s passionate demand for a larger gun to counter the American M60’s 105mm. In his position as the Commander of the Soviet Ground Forces, he was entrusted with national security, and the arrival of a new US tank in Europe was perceived as a direct threat from the West. So yes—his argument of ‘bigger is better’ was true from a psychological/ideological standpoint. The Soviet Union’s administration had no desire to appear weak in the eyes of an enemy, and pushing forward a larger caliber gun to ‘outdo’ the M60’s 105mm was necessary to accomplish this.

One other item to address… Marshal Chuikov possessed a technical background. After completing academic courses at the Military Academy of Mechanization and Motorization of the Red Army, he graduated in 1936 and became commander of a mechanized brigade, the 5th Rifle Corps. It was his job as a Red Army Commander to understand how weapon systems functioned, as he often performed training exercises with his soldiers to maintain combat readiness. This scenario demonstrates the seriousness of the perceived threat by the West, not Chuikov’s lack of knowledge of weapon systems technology per se. He knew that producing the 115mm gun was essential to national security, and that Soviet engineers had the expertise to address the situation with tank design. While Marshal Chuikov’s heated exchange with Marshal Poluboyarov exhibits his strong personality traits, he needed to impress upon his colleague about the time-sensitive nature of the 115mm gun to counter what the West developed.


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