Home Forums WWII Tank gun vs Anti-tank gun. Effectiveness?

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    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Another “I wonder how this really fits together” post.

    I’ve seen books suggest that anti-tank guns are more effective in terms of the speed of acquiring targets and their rate of fire compared to tanks, and intuitively that seems to make sense (better visibility and more room to work) but does anyone have anything suggesting how big that difference really is, when evaluating the same gun?

    Avatar photoTony S

    Some of the difference might be due to training.  I seem to recall the number of kills in WW2 was much higher among the tank destroyer crews than the panzer crews, which was attributable to the fact that the tank destroyer gunners were from and trained by the artillery arm, and more specifically the anti tank guns, whereas the tank gunners were trained by the panzer korps.

    I remember reading about the tank destroyer gun sights were rather cleverly designed to be both fast in acquiring the target and range, while rather simple to use.  The autobiography “Panzer Gunner” describes it rather well, with illustrations.  Apparently the equivalent sights in a PzIV for example, were not as good.

    Reports also stated that the regular tanks, like the Panzer IV, were not at ease in this kind of offensive due to their preference for mobility. With less refined optics, a high silhouette and poor cooperation with infantry, they were found less efficient in every way. So much so that it was reported from an anonymous tank commander “I would rather have one StuG Abteilung rather than an entire Panzerdivision”.


    (As an aside, I was a little startled when I began reading his memories of his hometown – the author grew up about a block away from me and went to the school I see out my front window)!

    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    As usual for anything requiring a vaguely numerical answer, it’s a good idea to consult David Rowland’s “The Stress of Battle”, formerly available at eye-watering prices and now available on much more moderate terms now that it has been re-published by John Curry’s History of Wargaming project.

    In vague hand-wavy terms, it seems anti-tank guns are something like two or three times as effective in terms of casualty infliction as tanks in defence. Partly this seems attributable to the greater number of officers and NCOs per weapon, but Rowland suggests other factors as well, including the point that tanks have the choice of disengaging, whereas gun crews have little choice but to fight it out. This latter point is I think a large part of the reason the Russians have historically preferred towed anti-tank guns to give a stable anti-tank defence, and, unlike the Western powers, retain them to this day.

    Rather differently, the following figures give a Russian figure, based on GPW experience, of the probability of a breakthrough by tanks against an anti-tank defence based on the correlation of forces. I have extracted these numbers from a table I originally encountered in a copy of “Strategy and Tactics” magazine in 1979, and have since seen reproduced in Isby’s”Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army”, 1981, and in a couple of Soviet sources, although I regret that I cannot recall the name of the original author. In the earliest Soviet source I have seen, it contains a mistake which becomes obvious when the curves are plotted on a graph; nobody seems to have done this, for the error is faithfully copied everywhere I have seen the table reproduced.

    Anyway, here we are:

    Tks/gun P(breakthrough)
    1.25 1%
    1.50 2%
    1.67 5%
    2.00 10%
    2.50 30%
    3.00 50%
    4.00 75%
    5.00 92%
    6.00 98%
    8.00 100%

    This shows that you need three times the concentration of tanks as anti-tank guns in order to get an even chance of achieving a breakthrough, which seems quite consistent with Rowlands’ estimate of the superiority of anti-tank guns.

    Hope that’s of some interest.

    All the best,


    Avatar photoWhirlwind

    That is of interest. What was the error in the original?

    Also, wondering a little about why you would go for a 3-tank platoon if that was what your calculations were.

    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    That is of interest. What was the error in the original?

    The original table has A/Tk weapons per km along the top and tanks per km down the side. The entry for 40 tanks against 15 guns shows a breakthrough probability of 65%. Plot the curves and it becomes very obvious that this does not belong with all the other points plotted, and it should be something more like 35%. It seems to me pretty easy to mistake a 3 for a 6 when transcribing numbers.

    Also, wondering a little about why you would go for a 3-tank platoon if that was what your calculations were.

    I think the Russian idea was to make platoon commanding as simple a job as possible. Tank platoons more than three strong tend to arrange themselves into sections, or at least do fire and movement within the platoon, whereas if it’s only three they all do the same thing. An early T-34 commander was severely overloaded anyway, without trying to co-ordinate fire and movement within his platoon.

    All the best,


    Avatar photoMartinR

    As John has noted, various OR studies have shown AT guns are two to three times more effective than tanks at anti tank fire. That is identical weapons in tank vs AT mounts.

    WHY that is, has been the subject of much ink spilled and military head scratching. Western tank manufacturers did a brilliant job of convincing NATO that tanks are the answer though, becauss everybody  likes a big, expensive, tank.





    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

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