The ISU-152 was an extension of the SU-152 self-propelled heavy assault gun vehicle developed by the USSR in late 1942 for service in World War II. It earned the nickname "Beast Killer" for its effectiveness against German tanks.
Development History of the ISU-152
After recovering from Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Soviet Army realised it required a heavy assault weapon to remove enemy positions at range, especially in urban environments. Thus, the ISU-152 was born.
The ISU-152 was the successor to the SU-152, as the KV-1 chassis that the SU used was at the end of its production cycle. This made the modernisation of the tank a necessity, and as such, the IS Heavy Tank chassis was chosen to be the base of the new ISU-152. On 25 May 1943, Factory 100’s administration ordered the modernisation of the SU-152, which included several improvements.
Under the designation IS-152, it was tested from September 1943 until November 1943, when several critical errors were found in development, so it was sent for further improvement. On November 6th of the same year, the tank adopted its designation ISU-152, with production beginning in December 1943.
The Story of the ISU-152K
This variant of the ISU-152 was a modernised version falling under the unification program, where the USSR built combat vehicles using components from other modernised vehicles from the mid-late 1950s.
The parts that were used from other vehicles were:
- The engine from a T-54, which also included a cooling and heating system
- Running gear from the T-10
While under production, its initial designation was Objekt 241K. One of the internal fuel tanks was removed from the crew compartment, which led to being able to store even more ammunition than before (up to 30 rounds). There was also a new cupola and sight installed for the tank commander, as well as improvements to the other existing fuel tank. Other modifications included 15mm armor plating welded on top of the 60mm plating that was already present above the mantlet; several K models were also given additional armor plating above the mantlet front.
About the BL-10 Gun
The BL-10 gun was originally mounted on the ISU-152-2 towards the end of World War II, and is an improvement on the BL-8 gun– it is able to penetrate 205mm of armor from 1km. Due to the war being won during testing as well as poor barrel integrity and horizontal guidance, the development of the gun soon ceased as there were no German vehicles that needed such a weapon.
Historical Tactics & Uses of the ISU-152 in World War II
The main operation of the ISU-152 was second-line support, usually behind IS tanks who had similar manoeuvrability. Due to the nature of its main gun, the ISU could also be used as a heavy self-propelled artillery.
During the Assault on Berlin, ISU-152s operated in pairs as heavy assault gun platforms, and were accompanied by several infantry squads to minimise the risks of Panzerfaust attack. These squads usually had a dedicated sharpshooter, several machine guns, and sometimes a flamethrower.
The tasks that the ISUs were given were to assault fortified positions in a direct role, as their armor was very effective at repelling German anti-tank fire. Their HE shells were also more than enough to destroy or immobilise the best armored vehicles that the German Army could throw at them–even the Tiger I and II, as well as the rare Jagdtiger and Ferdinand/Elephant.
The ISU-152 in Service
Aside from helping the Allies defeat Germany in World War II, the ISU-152 remained in service with the Soviet military until the 1970s, and went on to serve in many armies and conflicts around the world.
Countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, China, North Korea, Egypt, Iraq, and even Finland (who captured one during the Continuation War) all leveraged the tremendous power of the ISU-152, either in conflict, or as sovereign protection.
The Soviets again called on the ISU-152 in 1986 during the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster, in what was described as ‘unconventional action’.
Where to See an ISU-152
If you are a tank buff and want to witness just how big these Beast Killers were, you can visit some of these museums from around the world:
- Bastogne Barracks, Bastogne, Belgium
- Polish Army Museum, Fort IX Czerniakowski, Warsaw, Poland
- Great Patriotic War Museum, Minsk, Belarus
- Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow, Russia
- 3 at the Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia
- 3 at The Tank Museum, Beijing, China
- Yad la-Shiryon Museum, Israel
- And many other museums in Russia, Poland, or Ukraine!
In the meantime, you can watch the process of recovering an ISU-152 in the video below. Enjoy!