Staff Writer (Updated: 3/7/2015):
Artillery formed a major portion of Red Army units during the Second World War. In September of 1939, Germany invaded neighboring Poland to officially bring about the start of World War 2. They were joined, through a loose alliance, by the Soviet Union weeks later as Poland was hopelessly divided in two by its conquerors. The German attention then turned to Norway, the Low Countries and finally France while Soviet leaders concentrated on Finland. The alliance remained until June of 1941 when German forces - having failed in their bid to take England - turned their firepower against the heart of the Soviet Empire beginning the Eastern Front through Operation Barbarossa. German progress was incredible, slowing down just miles from the capital city of Moscow due to stretched supply lines and the onset of Russian Winter.
With rebuilt corps and national fervor, the Soviet response was brutal and swift, sending the Eastern Front into a series of high-profile and historical battles in an effort to drive the Germans and her allies back west. During the response, all manner of weaponry was brought to bear for the Soviets. Throughout the conflict, evermore powerful designs appeared in the form of tanks, aircraft and artillery. One such of the latter became the Model 1944 (M1944) field gun of 100mm caliber (also recognized as the BS-3). The type was deployed as both a basic field gun for artillery support and as a direct-fire anti-tank weapon once it was found to excel in both roles.
By 1944, German tank armor had grown past the configurations of the original Panzer I and II light tank series and into the Panzer III and IV medium tank series. These were then followed by the Panzer V "Panther" medium tank and the Tiger I and Tiger II heavy tanks. To counter these steel beasts, better penetrating weapon systems were required. While the Soviet 76.2mm guns proved one of the finer 76mm offerings of the war, an increase to caliber was the Soviet way.
The M1944 had its origins in the B-34, a naval gun of strong design and developed specifically for the rigors of life at sea. This provided an excellent pedigree in which to convert to land-based use and provide the Red Army artillery formations with an equally excellent projectile-launching system. The conversion was headed by V.G. Grabin (1900-1980) who was also responsible for the 76.2mm ZiS-3 series field gun for the Soviet Army - a gun that saw production reach 103,000 units by the end of its story. As such, the M1944 brought with it an excellent base and made for a durable, robust and reliable field gun. The M1944 was quickly issued to Red Army artillery brigades alongside the ZiS-3.
The M1944 provided good long-range hitting power through its basic 100x695mmR High-Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) projectile. This proved lethal against light targets and concentrations of enemy troops. Each HE-FRAG round weighed in at 34lbs. An armor-piercing shell was also developed as the BR-412, BR-412B and BR-412D and these managed a hefty weight of 35lbs. When utilized as a direct-fire anti-tank gun, the M1944 gave good penetration of 6 inch armor out to 1,100 yards. Projectiles were loaded through a conventional breech at the rear of the barrel assembly in the usual way.
Design of the M1944 was conventional featuring a centralized gun barrel assembly capped by a double-baffled muzzle brake. The barrel sat atop a positional mounting which, itself, was seated atop a split trail carriage fitting single or double-tired rubber road wheels across a single axle. The mounting hardware allowed for elevation values of -5 to +45 degrees and traversal of 58 degrees to either side before the entire gun would need to be turned by the crew. Due to the size of the weapon and weight of the individual projectiles, the M1944 was typically crewed by six to eight personnel made up of the unit commander, gun layer, support personnel and ammunition handlers. Ammunition was only limited by the supply on hand, typically delivered by vehicle. The M1944 was transported by vehicle itself. A trained crew could fire between eight and ten 100mm projectiles per minute in the sustained fire artillery role. Muzzle velocity was 2,953 feet per second supplying the needed penetration at range. Maximum range was approximately 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) in the arced artillery support role. Overall weight of the system was 8,050lbs with the barrel measuring 19 feet, 7 inches long. The M1944 design included a thin armored shield for basic defense against battlefield hazards. Otherwise, the crew was exposed to the elements and enemy fire.
The M1944 gave good service throughout the remainder of World War 2 (ending in May of 1945). Beyond its use in that conflict, the series saw widespread service in the inventories of many Soviet states and allied nations throughout the Cold War years that followed. Production spanned from 1944 to 1951 though its historical reach went much further than that. Many M1944s are still said to be in active circulation as of this writing (2013) owing to its excellent engineering and sound design.
The M1944 was eventually replaced in Red Army service by the 85mm D-48 model of 1955. The M1944 was also modified for use as a direct-fire tank gun and fitted to the wartime SU-199 tank destroyer and the famous T-54 Main Battle Tank.