Since the aircraft took center stage in the fighting of World War 1 (1914-1918), it fell to warplanners to better assess and neutralize the threat by way of ground-based options. This eventually led to the development of some very effective solutions such as the automatic cannon. While calibers eventually grew in size throughout the subsequent decades, including those solutions developed for use in World War 2 (1939-1945), the 37mm form remained the primary small caliber choice and went on to be used in large numbers.
In the 1930s, Soviet authorities began a search for a modern, small-caliber air defense gun and this led to the Swedish 25mm Model 1933 by Bofors. The weapon was extensively trialed during the middle part of the decade and found to be of sound design. Being more interested in a larger-bore weapon, Soviet engineers used this knowledge to develop their own "49-K" of 45mm caliber but then this same weapon was reworked to become a more handier battlefield form - the "61-K", generically designated the "Model 1939". Work on the new gun took place in 1938, leading to adoption in 1939 - just in time for the fighting of World War 2.
For its time, the M1939 had contemporaries in the Swedish Bofors 40mm, the German 3.7cm SK C/30, the American 37mm Gun M1, and the British QF 2-Pounder (Navy).
During the conflict, the gun more than proved its worth where it was especially effective against low-flying aerial threats and could be brought to bear against infantry and light-armored vehicles at range. In practice, the complete system required a complement of eight for maximum efficiency in directing, aiming, firing, and reloading tasks. The gun was fed by way of five-round clips and a total of 200 projectiles were kept ready-to-fire with the platform. Soviet gun crews went on to claim thousands of Axis-piloted aircraft through skillful use of these guns which were initially mounted atop ZU-7 carriages featuring a quadruple wheel arrangement. Lacking power, the guns were towed behind pack animals or mover vehicles as needed.
The gun was also fitted to a specially-designed, open-air structure and mounted atop the rear of the SU-76 Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) vehicle hull to produce a mobile air defense platform during World War 2 for the Red Army - such was its versatility.
The success of the land-based model inevitably led to the development of navalized forms that began with the "70K". These succeeded the older 21-K series guns of 45mm caliber and became the primary 37mm mounting on most all Soviet warships during the war and beyond. While production of the land-based guns ended with the war in 1945, naval guns were produced into the mid-1950s. By then, the land-based models had, themselves, succeeded the aging AZP S-60 types in the Soviet Army.
The "V-11" (also "W-11") was the twin-gunned version of the 70K, developed due to barrel fracturing/deforming issues when using the single barrel beyond its rated 100 rounds. These guns were introduced in 1946 and, though not produced in the same numbers as the 70K, were equally popular weapons.
The 45mm /85, as its designation suggests, was nothing more than a 45mm version of the gun with an /85 calibers measurement. These began appearing in 1954 and could be found in both twin- and quad-gunned arrangements on Soviet ships.
With its stellar showing in the Second World War and their general availability in number, the M1939 was also widely exported to Soviet allies and neighboring states. NORINCO of China eventually manufactured the type in considerable numbers and went on to apply local developments to the series to generate a whole family of Chinese-originated variants.
The original copy was the single-gunned "Type 55" and this led to the twin-gunned "Type 65". Its upgraded form was the Type 74 of 1974 which increased Rate-of-Fire (RoF). The Type 74SD followed with the Type 800 series laser course director system installed to help aid in accuracy. The Type 79-III of 1979 was an upgraded model now with Electro-Optical (EO) directing system and power-assisted traversal/elevation control.
The twin-gunned Type 65 in navy use was the "Type 76". The same arrangement fitted to the chassis of the Soviet T-34 Medium Tank in Chinese Army service became the "Type 63" (detailed elsewhere on this site). The P793 was another enhanced twin-gunned version complete with EO direction, increased RoF, and longer barrel assemblies for increasing muzzle velocity (and therefore range and penetration-at-range). This model also reduced the typical crew of eight to six men.
With its best days clearly behind it, the 37mm M1939 is still found in far-off parts of the world, typically with those nations having had ties to the former Soviet Union, and this ranges from Angola and Algeria to Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The M1939 was produced from 1937 until 1945 in the Soviet Union and some 20,000 units were built. Weight was 4,600lb and the L/67 barrel measured 8.9 feet long. The primary 37mm projectile was the QF 37x250mmR which weighed 1lb, 12oz. The barrel was supported by a hydro-spring recoil system. The mounting hardware allowed for an elevation span of -5 to +85 degrees while traversal was a full 360-degrees. Rate-of-fire reached 160 to 170 rounds-per-minute and muzzle velocity was 2,900 feet-per-second. Effective range was 13,000 feet of altitude up to a maximum of 16,000 feet.
Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Angola; Bangladesh; Bulgaria; Cambodia; Cameroon; China; Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Egypt; Ethiopia; East Germany; Gabon; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Iraq; Israel; North Korea; Laos; Mali; Mauritania; Mongolia; Morocco; Mozambique; Nicaragua; North Korea; Pakistan; Russia; Soviet Union; Romania; Serbia and Montenegro; Somalia; Sudan; Syria; Tanzania; Thailand; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Vietnam; Yemen; Yugoslavia; Zaire; Zambia; Zimbabwe
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Anti-Aircraft / Airspace Denial
Base model or variant can be used to search, track, and neutralize airborne elements at range.
✓Fire Support / Assault / Breaching
Support allied forces through direct / in-direct fire, assault forward positions, and / or breach fortified areas of the battlefield.
18.0 ft 5.5 m
5.9 ft 1.79 m
6.9 ft 2.11 m
4,630 lb 2,100 kg
2.3 tons LIGHT
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base 37mm M1939 (61-K) production variant. Length typically includes main gun in forward position if applicable to the design)
None. This is a towed-artillery piece.
1, 2 or 4 x 37mm m Automatic cannons depending on model.
(Not all weapon types may be represented in the showcase above)
200 x 37mm projectiles (typical) fed in five-round clips.
M1939 (Model 1939) - Base Series Designation.
70K - Navy single-gunned variant.
V-11-M - Navy twin-gunned variant.
W-11 - Polish/East German designation of V-11.
45mm /85cal - Navy twin- or quad-gunned variant.
ZSU-37 - 37mm gun fitted to open-air housing and mounted to rear of modified SU-76 SPG chassis for self-propelled air defense role.
Type 55 - Chinese Army variant by NORINCO.
Type 63 - Chinese self-propelled AA vehicle on T-34 tank chassis.
Type 65 - Chinese twin-gunned form.
Type 74 - Upgraded Chinese Type 65; increased rate-of-fire.
Type 74SD - Chinese Type 74 with improved accuracy.
Type 76 - Chinese naval gun variant.
Type 79-III - Upgraded Chinese Type 74 with Electro-Optical (EO) direction system; power-assisted controlling.
P793 - Chinese improved twin-gunned variant; increased RoF, muzzle velocity, and accuracy.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns / operations.
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Image from the United States Department of Defense; Public Release.
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