Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun Platform
The ZSU-57-2 tracked anti-aircraft platform can still be found in active service around the globe, despite its 1950s origins.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The ZSU-57-2 served the Red Army of the Soviet Union throughout the bulk of the Cold War years. However, within a short window of time, the type was relatively outdated thanks to advancements in technology within the nations of NATO. As such, the ZSU-57-2 was quickly replaced by more capable types by the end of the 1970s but not before being procured by many of the countries allied with or friendly to the Soviet Union. As such, the ZSU-57-2 still maintains a fairly large presence in the world of military weapons and still sees occasional combat action from time to time - most recently in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
World War 2 had shown all parties involved the battlefield value of a self-propelled, anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) to the fast-moving, fully-mechanized land army. Since strikes from ground attack aircraft had by now become all-too common by the middle stages of the war, the threat was met with the defense of such mobile ground systems so as to add a basic layer of protection for combat systems that had little or no way in contending with inbound enemy aircraft. Early Soviet vehicle attempts were initially armed simply with heavy machine guns but these then graduated to feature heavy-caliber repeating cannons. With the war over by mid-1945, there was a general lull in the development and procurement of newer, more modern SPAAGs for the Soviet Army - but the requirement still remained.
In early 1946, an attempt was made to mate 4 x 37mm cannons to the chassis of the war-winning T-34 medium tank. However, the design was not selected for serial production which led to the idea of mounting 2 x 57mm autocannons to a four-wheeled towed carriage system. Again, this design idea was not met with much fervor and fell to history. Work began on still another type in 1947 though it was not until 1948 that the "Object 500" design emerged as a frontrunner that Soviet SPAAGs ranks would receive their long-awaited for shot in the arm.
Object 500 combined the repeating firepower of a pair of 57mm S-68 cannons to the a chassis of the soon-to-be, all-new T-54 main battle tank. A pilot vehicle was completed in June of 1950 with a second prototype appearing by the end of the year. The following year, the prototypes were featured in a variety of trials centered on powerplant performance and gun reliability. Six more evaluation vehicles followed that featured slight modifications that only benefitted the original design. Delays in the availability and development of the intended S-68 series cannons dragged the project across several more years until the type was formally accepted into service with the Red Army in February of 1955 as the "ZSU-57-2". Even then, production lagged to the point that the ZSU-57-2 was not replacing the previous frontline BTR-40 and BTR-152 units until 1957. Serial production was handled by the state facility of Omsk Works No 174 and ran from 1957 to 1960 to which more than 2,000 examples were ultimately delivered. The first public display of the new ZSU-57-2 was during a November 1958 Moscow military parade.
The ZSU-52-2 designation was formed from the title of "Zenitnaya Samokhodnaya Ustanovka" (translating to "Anti-Aircraft Self-Propelled Mount") with the number "57" marking the bore of the cannon armament and the number "2" designating the number of barrels use by the design.
Externally, the ZSU-57-2 was nothing more than the original T-54 hull with a rounded-box shaped turret fitting two long-barreled cannons. The hull was characterized by its low profile and sloped glacis plate ala the T-54 and the tracks featured four large doubled road wheels to a track side, wrapped around by the flexible track system. The upper portion of the track was covered over by a fender type installation to contain mud and water spray during traversal of cross-country grounds. The engine was fitted to the rear of the hull and the driver sat at the forward front left. The open-topped turret maintained full 360-degree traverse and her guns could elevate extensively to engage low-flying aircraft. Each gun was capped with a noticeable conical flash suppressor. The open-topped nature of the turret meant that the gunnery crew was exposed to the elements as well as battlefield dangers so a windowed tarp was issued. Armor protection was lighter as compared to the original T-54 tank design - running from 8mm to 15mm in thickness - but crews welcomed the more spacious confines. The crew consisted of six personnel made up of the driver, commander, gunner, dedicated sight adjuster and two ammunition loaders. The ZSU-57-2 was armed with 2 x 57mm S-68A autocannons and each were afforded 300 rounds of 57mm ammunition. The vehicle weighed in at 30.96 tons and featured a length of 8.46 meters with the guns positioned forward over the glacis plate. The hull itself was 6.22 meters in length with a 3.27 meter width. Overall height of the ZSU-57-7 (including the turret) was approximately 2.71 meters.
Power was supplied from a single V-54 series 12-cylinder, 4-stroke water-cooled diesel engine delivering 520 horsepower at 2,000rpm. This provided the ZSU-57-2 with an operational range equal to 260 miles on paved roads and up to 198 miles off-road. Maximum speed was 31 miles per hour on roads and 18 miles per hour off-road.
Once in service, the ZSU-57-2 was delivered in numbers strong enough to arm the anti-aircraft batteries serving Soviet tank units. In practice, the vehicle was soon shown to lack behind the advancements being made in enemy aircraft and comparable air defense elements elsewhere. The ZSU-57-2 depended upon the visual sighting of enemy aircraft by the gunnery crew to which then the sight adjuster would input numbers into the onboard system for a relatively precise response from the gunner. The method entailed a mechanically operated computing reflex sight system meaning that the gunnery crew could only engage targets they could visually see. This provided for inherent limitations during daylight hours and made the use of the ZSU-57-2 in night defense a moot point. Additionally, the air-cooled nature of the cannons meant that long displays of sustained firepower were risky and the ZSU-57-2 was not designed to fire its guns while on the move with any level of accuracy. Thusly, the ZSU-57-2 was rendered obsolete in a rather short amount of time and ended up proving rather unpopular with Soviet crews. By the 1960s, the ZSU-57-2 was not viewed as a favorable battlefield implement on any level.
The ZSU-23-4 "Shilka", a radar-operated tracked anti-aircraft system, was made available in 1965 and was soon to join the existing formations of ZSU-57-2s then in service. By the time the ZSU-23-4 was available in quantity, the role of the outmoded ZSU-57-2 was extremely limited and all were outright replaced within the Red Army. Some hulls were still in use for tank driver training in the early 1970s while other ZSU-57-2s were sent into storage, used as live fire targets or sold for scrap. By the 1990s, the ZSU-57-2 in Soviet/Russian service was no more and many were passed on to friendly nations. Some were further modernized (with radar) by their new owners to help extend service lives amidst the changing face of modern warfare.
This being the Cold War, the ZSU-57-2 was quick to find itself in the inventories of Warsaw Pact and Soviet-allied nations and states. East Germany became the first foreign operator of the Soviet weapon system and these served until the late 1970s. Despite her late 1940s origins, the ZSU-57-2 still maintains a presence (albeit limited) in several modern army establishments such as those in Angola, Bulgaria, China (Type 80), Egypt, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. North Korea may be the largest modern operator of the type to date with some 250 vehicles delivered. Former ZSU-57-2 operators include Finland, Iran, Iraq, Israel (captured Egyptian and Syrian models), Poland, North and South Vietnam and Yugoslavia.
The ZSU-57-2 was used in the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the Six Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002), the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Lebanon War (1982), the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), the Yugoslav Wars (from 1991 to 2001) and as recently as the US invasion of Iraq (2003).
The Vietnam War was the first published involvement of the ZSU-57-2 in a war setting. Though originally designed for combating aircraft, the ZSU-57-2 proved quite handy in support of infantry actions. Used in both roles during the war, the type was fielded by North Vietnam and saw first actions in 1972 and later featured in the 1975 Ho Chi Minh Campaign.
With the Soviet influence strong in the Middle East, it was only an inevitability that the ZSU-57-2 would find its way into the region and used against the newly founded nation of Israel. This occurred in the Six Day War, Yom Kipper War Lebanon War and were part of the armies of Egypt and Syria. However, the systems were highly outclassed in modern theater and suffered heavily as a result - particularly against Israeli air support and tanks.
Iraq proved a large consumer of the ZSU-57-2 defense system, acquiring some 100 examples in the 1970s. They were fielded (interestingly by both sides) in the near-decades long war between Iran and Iraq. Enough survived the conflict to witness use in the Gulf War and scored a few aircraft kills against low-flying British Tornado strike fighters. The ZSU-57-2 was still in the Iraqi inventory by the time of the 2003 American invasion.