The SU-100 was probably the pinnacle of WWII Soviet tank destroyer design. After WWII, it saw extensive service all over the middle east, stretching into the 21st century.
(Soviet army SU-100 in 1944 during WWII.)
(Houthi rebels with a captured Yemeni army SU-100 seventy years later, in 2014.)
The 31 ½-ton SU-100 was designed by Lev I. Gorlitsky and built by Uralmash in Yekaterinburg. A total of 2,325 were manufactured during WWII: 500 in 1944, and 1,825 in 1945 up until Japan’s surrender in September. A further 702 were built after the end of WWII before the Uralmash production line closed down in March 1946. In 1947, Omsk Zavod #174 produced an additional 204 SU-100s. Altogether 3,241 were manufactured in the USSR.
Throughout the entirety of the European part of WWII from 1944 onwards, the Soviets lost only 13 SU-100s in battle (a quarter of which were by Panzerfaust rockets in the war’s final hours in Berlin street fighting, for which the vehicle was not designed for), plus several more due to breakdowns or accidents.
Between 1953-1957, Czechoslovakia built SU-100s under license: 460 for the Czechoslovak army’s own use and 311 for export. The Czechoslovak-built examples (designated SD-100 in Warsaw Pact documents but functionally identical) were the most desired by Arab armies. During WWII, Uralmash had used untrained teenagers and women on the production line and WWII-built SU-100s often had minor defects or differences from the blueprints. The peacetime Czechoslovak examples were made to the highest quality with expert craftsmanship.
The SU-100 was 30′ long and 7’5″ tall. It had a four-man crew (driver, commander, gunner, loader). The top speed was 30mph. The turretless SU-100 is often called a “casemate”-type tank destroyer. The main gun was fixed far forward and could elevate +20°/-3°, but could only traverse ±8°, and even that very slowly. Basically, the whole SU-100 had to turn to aim.
(An Egyptian SU-100 captured by Israel and now displayed at the Latrun Museum. The polygon baggage box over the right fender was a post-WWII improvement.)
The main advantage of this set-up is that the gun size is not limited by what recoil a turret can bear, and that the vehicle’s armor can be extremely thick on the forward glacis. This was true during WWII and the early Arab-Israeli wars, when almost nothing could penetrate the front of a SU-100. Despite the thicker armor, a casemate-type tank destroyer is cheaper and faster to build than a true tank, as there is no need for a machined turret ring or traversing gears.
(Soviet schematic of the SU-100’s armor, with thicknesses in millimeters. This shows how the front glacis, sloped at 50° to help generate ricochets, was much thicker than the sides or top. The commander’s ‘pulpit’ copula in the right side was armored to the highest degree as well.)
The disadvantage is that the armor, other than the massive glacis, is at or below average thickness on the rest of the vehicle. Another problem is fighting from defilade. Normally, this is when a turreted tank is on the defense, it fights from an upward-sloping dugout, with the gun fully depressed, so that only the gun and the very top of the turret above it is above ground level. To move, the tank just drives up out of the dugout. Because the SU-100’s gun could barely depress, it had to basically do defilade in reverse, hiding in a downward-sloping dugout with the gun fully elevated. This left the top half of the hull still exposed, plus, the extreme rear of the vehicle was up in the air above ground level. To move, the SU-100 needed to back out in reverse gear, then steer around the dugout.
(A British paratrooper atop an Egyptian SU-100 knocked out during the 1956 Suez conflict. This shows the “backwards defilade” problem the SU-100 had; the whole vehicle above the bottom of the gun barrel remains exposed and it would have had to back out in reverse to fight a threat on either side.) (Imperial War Museum photo)
Many Egyptian SU-100s, especially during the Six Day War, were destroyed in defilade. Fast-moving Israeli Super Shermans, Pattons, and Centurions at top speed outflanked them and shot them from the side before they could react. Finally of course, if a SU-100 became untracked in battle, it was in serious trouble as it had no turret to aim and stay in the fight. Israeli paratroopers discovered that grenades, or even sustained bursts of .50cal bullets, were enough to untrack a SU-100 and leave it defenseless.
The main gun was a Gorlitskiy D-10 with 33 rounds of ammunition. This 100mm gun was based on a pre-WWII naval destroyer gun and, by WWII standards, was remarkably powerful. It fired a 34 lbs shell at a sizzling 3,281fps muzzle velocity. In theory, the maximum range was 9 miles however this was obviously limited by how far the gunner could see. Even at 3 miles, the shell was still traveling at high velocity with minimal drop. At a full mile, a SU-100 could penetrate anywhere on the thick armor of a PzKw V Panther. The only real German challenge during WWII was the King Tiger, and even some of these were knocked out by SU-100s.
(The base of the D-10’s barrel and it’s colossal armor mantlet on a SU-100 captured by Israel. The D-10 was a single assembly, and by removing the row of bolts, a crane hooked into the padeye on the matlet to extract the whole thing. The hole in the massive mantlet is where the nearly-useless machine gun fired through. This shows the thick driver’s hatch open. The seven spare track links were both spare parts and a bit of added armor for the crew.)
(The UBR-412 armor-piercing shell of WWII was the main ammunition of the SU-100 in Arab service, along with the F-412 fragmentation round for use against infantry. Up until the time of the Six Day War, these WWII rounds were used almost exclusively and even as late as the 1980s Iran -Iraq War some WWII-era ammunition was still used by middle eastern SU-100s.)
The D-10 was essentially a Cold War gun ahead of it’s time, and was later selected as the main gun of the T-54/55 tank. This was a tremendous blessing for the SU-100, as it then shared ammunition with that tank, which was the mainstay of Arab armies. As the USSR developed new ammunition for the T-54/55, this could also be immediately used by the SU-100. Some of these new shells, like the 3UBM6 HEAT round of the early 1960s or 3BM6 sabot round later in the 1960s, gave the WWII SU-100 a new lease on life against Cold War tanks.
Most of the propulsive components, including the Christie suspension, were the same as the T-34 tank. The engine was the liquid-cooled 500hp Kharkiv B-2-34 (same as the T-34) diesel. There was a slight difference in the roadwheel spacing to compensate for the weight shift forward. The roadwheels could be interchanged with those of the T-34 and T-44 tanks. The tracks were 500mm-wide steel, with 72 links.
(Idler, roadwheel, and tread design of the SU-100.)(photo by Victor Krestinin)
About 72% of the SU-100’s parts were interchangeable with the WWII T-34 tank (including some entire subassemblies which could be lifted directly out of one into the other); meanwhile the Cold War-era T-54/55 tank had about 5% backwards-compatibility. The spare parts compatibility with these two tanks, both very common in the middle east, helped keep the SU-100 in Arab service.
(The top of the engine compartment was very lightly armored. Shown here is the motor hatch, along with the unarmored external fuel tanks. In the back of the casemate house, the little anthill-shaped steel object is the shutter for one of the small arms firing portals.) (photo by Victor Krestinin)
The gun’s mantlet was a massive piece of hardened steel 4 ¼” thick. The glacis was 3″, while the rest of the armor was much thinner. The sides and rear plate were 1 ¾”, while the roof of the fighting compartment was just ¾” and the upper areas of the rest of the vehicle even less.
(Detail of the massive gun mantlet and the very thick glacis plate armor. This shows the driver’s hatch shut with the vision portals covered. The sheet metal on the top of the mantlet is a rainguard to stop water from seeping in the seams. This SU-100 was captured by Israel.) (photo by Victor Krestinin)
(The roof of the SU-100’s casemate structure. To the extreme left is the gun rainguard and lifting padeye. The hatch lower left is the gunner’s, with the top of his aiming optics on the left door. The commander’s copula with his optics atop is center top. Behind it are the two ‘mushrooms’ of the gun fume extraction system. The large rectangular rear hatch is to load ammunition.) (photo by Victor Krestinin)
The only secondary armament was a coaxial DT 7.62mm machine gun with 720 rounds. Given the casemate arrangement of the main gun, this was useless unless enemy infantry stood directly in front of the SU-100. There was no AA gun. There were firing ports for the crew to shoot small arms out of, and stowage for two PPSh-41 submachine guns. By the time SU-100s reached Arab armies after WWII, these were usually gone and replaced by AK-47s. In practice, the firing port system was nearly useless on the battlefield against enemy infantry.
One issue, possibly amusing now but certainly not funny in use, was the danger of self-damaging the gun while driving. Unlike a turreted tank, the SU-100 could obviously not turn the gun backwards for travel. The issue was exacerbated by the long barrel length, and the gun being in the extreme front of the SU-100. Care had to be taken when cresting an obstacle, that the muzzle did not strike the ground first when the vehicle itself was not level. All of the Arab armies suffered broken guns due to this happening.
Many SU-100s transferred to the Arab armies had post-WWII Soviet upgrades. Often, the commander’s optics were changed from the WWII MK-4 viewing device to the TPKU-2 fixed binoculars, which gave 5x the magnification. A few had the primitive BVN night-vision device for the driver installed.
The SU-100 was equipped with the 9RM radio which had a range of about 10 miles with the vehicle stopped, or 7 miles in motion. All of the Arab operators tried to upgrade as many SU-100s as possible to the Cold War-era R-113 radio. The R-113 was the radio of the T-54/55 tank which was the mainstay of the Arab armies throughout the second half of the 20th century.
(The heavily-armored commander’s copula on a SU-100 captured by Israel. This shows the optics port atop the hatch, and the vision slits. The radio’s whip antenna (broken off on this example) could rotate 90° backwards as not to reveal a SU-100 in defilade.) (photo by Victor Krestinin)
SU-100 OPERATORS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
In 1963, Algeria ordered 30 SU-100s from the USSR as part of a large armor buy that also included 100 WWII-vintage T-34 tanks, along with 40 more modern T-54/55 tanks and 350 armored personnel carriers. The SU-100s were delivered in 1964.
As far as is known, Algeria never used the SU-100 in combat. Perhaps the most famous appearance of the type in a 1967 movie about the Battle of Algiers, where a pair of SU-100s portrayed “French” tanks.
(Algerian army SU-100s during the filming of the Battle Of Algiers movie.)
Around the turn of the millennium, Algeria was credited with having five dozen SU-100s which would contradict the initial 1963 contract. One possibility is that more were delivered in 1964 than ordered; a second possibility is that the initial Algerian allotment was given to Egypt after the Six Day War to replace that country’s losses, then compensated by an unpublicized replacement shipment from the East Bloc. A third possibility is that the intelligence was simply wrong.
In 2004, an independent intelligence assessment stated that Algeria still had 50 SU-100s, now all in storage. In 2009, the same number was given, still in storage. No mention of the SU-100 in Algerian service was made after that date.
Egypt was one of the first overseas customers for the SU-100, with receipts starting in the early 1950s. It’s SU-100 force was a mix of Soviet and Czechoslovak production. Many (but not all) of Egypt’s SU-100s were of the SU-100M modification. These had all the post-WWII improvements, plus a new extraction-type dust filter replacing the WWII cyclonic model, and adjustments to the transmission and suspension to suit driving through drifting sand for long periods of time.
(The rear of an Egyptian SU-100M, showing the rear external fuel tank brackets without the tanks, and round transmission access hatch. On the “M” variant, the exhaust pipes were usually truncated to lessen the roostertail the SU-100 kicked up in loose sand.) (Imperial War Museum photo)
This was the first combat of the SU-100 in the middle east. The 1956 conflict was the result of Egypt nationalizing the Suez Canal. The objective of the British and French was to seize the Canal, weaken Egypt’s military, and (hopefully) humiliate Nasser enough that he’d be overthrown. The Israelis wanted to stop Egyptian coastal guns on the Sinai peninsula from shelling merchant ships headed to Israel, and more simply, to inflict as much damage as possible on the Egyptian army while the opportunity presented itself.
The whole scheme was centered on an amateurish plan to discretely support the Israeli operation, then, “protect” the Canal by demanding a cease fire which Egypt, under Israeli invasion, could obviously not do. Under this pretext the European forces would attack Egypt.
The Israeli invasion (operation “Kadesh”)
Israel concentrated it’s thrust on the village of Abu Ujaylah (also called Abu-Ageila), which was the crossroads of the three (north, south, and central) road systems in the Sinai. The central road was paved and the best of the three going east to west, and controlling it would prevent lateral moves between north and south. The central road ended at the Canal opposite Ismailia, which in 1956, was the one and only bridge over the Canal. The Egyptian army realized the importance of Abu Ujaylah and had half a division stationed there, heavily dug in. Included in these forces were some SU-100s, mixed in with a larger number of Archer tank destroyers, both supporting a still-larger unit of T-34 tanks.
(The two mounts of the Egyptian army’s 89th Anti-Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division during the Suez conflict; the SU-100 and (also a WWII vehicle) the Archer.)
Abu Ujaylah is where the Egyptian SU-100s performed best during this conflict. Their main opposition was about five to six dozen Israeli tanks, some basic WWII-configuration (75mm gun) M4 Shermans and also some M4A1 Shermans, upgraded with the high-velocity 76mm M1 tank destroyer gun. The Egyptians SU-100s backed up the T-34 tanks according to proper tactics, and were responsible for the destruction of at least one Sherman plus a M3 half-track. Against the frontal armor of a SU-100, the 75mm shells were nearly ineffective while the higher-potency 76mm weapon on the upgraded version was only slightly better. The SU-100’s main gun was more than a match against the Sherman’s armor. The deciding factors were superior Israeli tactics, and air strikes, first by IAF P-51 Mustangs and then French air force jets.
(Israeli air force P-51D Mustang shot down by Egyptian AA guns. This WWII fighter was a severe problem for Egyptian SU-100s in 1956.)
Egyptian forces in the northern part of the Sinai included two infantry battalions in the Gaza Strip, and a third (with a SU-100 detachment) just inside Egypt proper. These forces had been digging in for months but were let down by their commanders. On 28 October, with the Anglo-French invasion imminent, these units were ordered out of their fortified positions and westward to defend the Canal. Thus when Israel attacked on 29 October, they were in transit on open highways and highly vulnerable. Israeli P-51 Mustang aircraft destroyed one SU-100 and six more were captured intact when el-Arish airbase was overrun by the IDF’s 27th Mechanized Brigade on 1 November.
(A disabled Egyptian SU-100 stopped just east of the Ismailia bridge, which in 1956 was the only road crossing of the Suez Canal.)
The barren southern part of the Sinai was poorly defended by Egypt prior to the conflict. At Sharm-el-Sheik, on the peninsula’s southern tip, there was an understrength battalion guarding the coastal artillery, which included a T-34 tank company and a SU-100 platoon. Four SU-100s were captured intact there by the IDF’s 9th Infantry and 202nd Airborne brigades, along with a huge cache of small arms ammunition. This location was far from Israel and very isolated. According to an Israeli veteran, the ammunition was considered more valuable of a prize considering the limited truck capacity back to Israel, and some or all of the SU-100s were bulldozed off a cliff into the Red Sea.
Israel announced that it was halting it’s advance 10 miles from the Suez Canal however some forward elements were as close as 5,000 yards when they finally halted. Had it wished, the IDF could have easily advanced all the way as Egypt had already blocked the Canal itself anyways and abandoned any idea of defending the Sinai.
(A lineup of Egyptian armor captured intact by Israel in 1956; T-34 tanks and SU-100 tank destroyers, both WWII vehicles.)
The Anglo-French invasion (operation “Musketeer”)
(Map of the Suez Canal, with Port Said and Port Fuad at it’s northern mouth; the targets of the European part of the war.)
Egyptian SU-100s saw significant action against the British and French forces. On 31 October 1956, with Israeli forces already rolling across the Sinai, French and British aircraft began bombing Egypt. Egypt immediately scuttled ships inside the Suez Canal, blocking it. The air raids (a mixture of WWII and Cold War-era types) targeted the Egyptian air force and by sunset on 1 November, over 200 Egyptian warplanes had been destroyed.
In the early hours of 5 November, British paratroopers landed at el-Gamil airfield (a former WWII RAF base) near Port Said at the Canal’s northern mouth. The airfield was protected by an infantry force which included three SU-100s.
(Reconnaissance photo of el-Gamil airfield near Port Said, still a grass-runway facility as in WWII. The little white triangle in the lower center was the Egyptian airfield garrison HQ; the SU-100s were spread out along the airfield’s edges.)
These were quickly backed up by SU-100s of the 53rd Artillery Company, which Egypt had held in reserve away from the immediate coast. The SU-100 turned out to be a surprisingly stubborn obstacle for the British. One was destroyed by a M40 recoilless rifle used by British paratroopers. More were destroyed by airstrikes, or abandoned by their Egyptian crews after cumulative small-arms damage and ammunition exhaustion. The combat against the SU-100s was not at all easy as they were often dug in around civilian buildings and manned by well-trained crews.
(Soldiers of the 6th Tank Regiment secure an Egyptian SU-100 which had been battling the 3rd Para Regiment’s paratroopers at el-Gamil airfield.) (Imperial War Museum photo)
(An Egyptian SU-100 knocked out by British paratroopers near el-Gamil airfield.) (Imperial War Museum photo)
(A British soldier, still with a WWII-era Enfield rifle, inspects an abandoned Egyptian SU-100 near Port Said.)
Immediately after the British paratrooper assault on Port Said on the Canal’s western bank, French paratroopers began landing at Port Fuad, the smaller town opposite Port Said on the Canal’s eastern bank. Here, the French troops encountered Egyptian SU-100s approaching from the east; these had originally been intended to reinforce the Sinai but then recalled when that became hopeless. F4U Corsairs off two French aircraft carriers bombed the SU-100s mercilessly, destroying the entire force.
(SU-100 of the Egyptian 4th Armored Division during the Suez conflict.)
(The French navy flew F4U Corsair fighters off two aircraft carriers during the Suez conflict. These planes heavily bombed Egyptian SU-100s. They were marked with yellow-black stripes to avoid friendly fire shootdowns. The Corsair, like the SU-100, was a design of WWII.)
By the morning of 6 November, the British had secured el-Gamil and encircled Port Said itself, while the French completely controlled Port Fuad across the Canal. At mid-morning British tanks began coming ashore and by early afternoon, there were British tanks on both sides of the Canal’s northern mouth, plus some light French tanks in Port Fuad.
(British forces next to a disabled Egyptian SU-100 on the morning of 6 November 1956.)
(A Centurion of the British 6th Tank Regiment comes ashore at the northern mouth of the Suez Canal. The statue in the background is Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Frenchman who organized the construction of the Suez Canal. After the end of the Suez conflict, the Egyptian government removed the statue from it’s pedestal. Amazingly it still survives today in 2016, stored in an Egyptian shipyard.) (Imperial War Museum photo)
The tanks were mainly Centurions, a post-WWII design which exceeded the SU-100 in both gun size and armor. This was the first mismatch between the Centurion and the SU-100 in the middle east, but it would not be the last.
(British troops examine an Egyptian SU-100 near Port Said.)
(Yet another disabled Egyptian SU-100. Here, it appears the soldiers are removing the gunner’s optics.)
The Suez conflict ended on 7 November 1956. The operation was overwhelmingly condemned worldwide, including the USA. At the time of the cease-fire, the Franco-British force controlled the northern mouth of the now-blocked Canal, while Israel controlled most of the Sinai peninsula. French and British troops left before Christmas while Israel completed it’s pull-out in March 1957. The whole poorly-planned operation was a flop. The Suez Canal (blocked for a year after the fighting) remained Egyptian, the Egyptian military west of the Canal remained largely intact, and from a European perspective, nothing at all was accomplished. For the Israelis, it bought them a few years of quiet on their southern border until the Egyptian army rebuilt there.
Egypt started the conflict with 100 SU-100s. It is thought that 24 were destroyed and 11 more captured intact. One SU-100 was brought back to Great Britain where it was evaluated by NATO for a year then donated to the Bovington Tank Museum.
(The SU-100 which was transported back to Great Britain for evaluation. Egypt used the green crescent marking between 1945-1958, before switching to it’s current red-white-black roundel.) (photo via Bovington Tank Museum)
(After the evaluation, the captured SU-100 was donated to the Bovington Tank Museum, which has done a spectacular job of keeping it in excellent condition. As of 2016, it is not only preserved but driven from time to time.)
After the Suez conflict
The losses were quickly replaced by shipments from Warsaw Pact countries. In fact, Egypt’s net SU-100 strength probably grew in the two of three years after the Suez conflict, as Egypt’s other main pre-conflict tank destroyer, the British-made Archer (also of WWII vintage), suffered massive losses which would obviously never be replaced. SU-100s also replaced a medley of obsolete WWII towed anti-tank guns left behind from the war.
(Pictured in a 1959 Egyptian military parade, a Ya-12 artillery tractor, an A-19 field gun, and a SU-100. All of this equipment was of WWII Soviet origin.)
(An Egyptian army SU-100 in the early 1960s. This particular vehicle was actually a SD-100, the Czechoslovak-made clone. This photo is a good view of the gunner’s eyepiece, on the door of his opened hatch.)
(Egyptian SU-100s after the Suez conflict.) (photo from Life magazine)
Six Day War
This June 1967 conflict was a preemptive Israeli attack on Egypt, faced with an imminent invasion by the same. The war started at 07:45 on 5 June, with a massive Israeli air attack that destroyed most of the Egyptian air force on the ground.
In the central Sinai, the focus was again Abu Ujaylah (Abu-Ageila), the site of the large battle in 1956. This was the main concentration of Egyptian SU-100s on the peninsula, with 22 SU-100s backing up about 70 tanks (almost all WWII-era T-34s).
(Three Egyptian SU-100s and one T-34; all WWII designs; destroyed by the advancing Israelis in the Sinai during June 1967.)
The SU-100’s Israeli opposition in the Sinai in 1967 was much tougher than in 1956. Most of Israel’s WWII-level armor was gone. The Israelis were now using the Cold War-era Centurion with a 105mm gun, the M50 Super Sherman with a French-made high-velocity 75mm gun, and the M51 Isherman, which was an Israeli creation mating a refurbished Sherman hull with a new turret mounting a 105mm gun. All of these were at least on par with the SU-100 in any situation; with the Centurion clearly superior and the Isherman a surprisingly effective asset when firing French-made HEAT rounds.
(An Israeli anti-tank team during the Six Day War; a M50 Super Sherman and jeep-mounted recoilless rifle.)
During the 1967 Abu-Ageila battle, the Egyptian SU-100s managed to knock out one of the upgraded Sherman types, but in return the entire Egyptian unit was destroyed. The two-day battle resulted in the destruction of all 22 SU-100s and an equal number of T-34s. The Israelis lost 19 tanks, some of which were recovered and repaired after the war.
(Egyptian SU-100 on fire during the Six Day War.)
As the Abu-Ageila defeat was happening, Israel had captured el-Arish airfield in the north of the Sinai, cutting off the Gaza Strip. The head of the Egyptian army, Field Marshal Abdel Amer, panicked and ordered a total withdrawal to the west bank of the Suez Canal. The withdrawal lacked any sort of military character and was basically a free-flight, uncoordinated race westwards by Egyptian units. Now caught out in the open, surviving SU-100s were attacked repeatedly by Israeli air force jets. Advance elements of the IDF were actually moving so fast, that some doubled back eastward and attacked uncoordinated retreating Egyptian units fleeing westward when they were bottlenecked in mountain passes.
Early on 7 June, some IDF units had already reached the Suez Canal. On 8 June, Sharm-el-Sheik on the peninsula’s southern tip was captured and the campaign against Egypt was over, just 96 hours after it had began.
(A line-up of Israeli trophies from the Egyptian army during the Six Day War: 1) a ZSU-57-2 self-propelled AA gun 2) a PT-76 amphibious tank 3) a SU-100 4) a T-34 tank 5) three T-54/55 tanks 6) a IS-3 tank)
Egypt lost 51 SU-100s in the war plus another 3 which Israel captured intact. This was about 50% of the total Egyptian SU-100 inventory at the start of the war, and commensurate with the appalling losses the Egyptian army overall suffered; losing 66% of it’s tanks and armored vehicles of all types. The Egyptian SU-100 losses represented about 4% of all SU-100s still existing worldwide in 1967 and 1.3% of the total quantity ever manufactured, including the Czechoslovak run. To put it in perspective, Egypt lost about 4x more SU-100s in four days than the USSR had lost in all of WWII.
(Another SU-100 captured by Israel during the Six Day War. A T-34 tank is behind it. Egyptian armor losses were catastrophic.)
After the Six Day War
Unlike 1956, in 1967 Israel had no intention of withdrawing from the Sinai and fortified positions on the Suez Canal’s east bank, which it called the Bar Lev Line. The IDF reasoned that the water barrier, combined with the width of the peninsula itself, was an ideal buffer against future Egyptian threats. Closure of the Canal also hit the Egyptian economy.
(The emblem of the IDF Sinai Occupation Command, which existed from 1967-1979. It is a shield surrounded by water on three sides, bisected by the black & green colors of the IDF tank forces.)
Some of Egypt’s SU-100 losses were offset by emergency transfers from other allied nations, but this WWII vehicle, now two and a half decades after it’s entrance into Soviet service, was never again an important asset. It was noted that the Egyptians positioned a battery of SU-100s dug in around Ismailia on the now-dormant Canal’s west bank, occasionally firing over the waterway at the Israelis on the opposite bank.
Yom Kippur War 1973
Surprisingly, there were still a few SU-100s in the Egyptian army at the start of this October 1973 conflict. By this time, they were organized into independent platoons controlled at the battalion level.
The objective of this surprise attack was, for Egypt, to cross the Suez Canal and establish something of a beachhead on the Sinai side. This limited goal was realistic in that, only six years after it’s near-destruction in 1967, the Egyptian military was still simply too weak to fully liberate the entire peninsula and invade Israel itself. The idea was that if a foothold could be established in the Sinai, Israel would be forced to permanently defend a land border and would be worn down financially.
(The M51 Isherman, an Israeli upgrade of the WWII M4 Sherman, fought in the Sinai in both 1967 and 1976.)
The first phase of the Egyptian attack (operation “Badr”), which started at 14:00 on 6 October 1973, went astonishingly well and even today, is regarded as a masterpiece of combined-arms and combat engineering skills. Just a half-hour after the operation began, Egyptian troops were on the eastern bank and by nightfall, there were 32,000 Egyptians in five small beachheads on the eastern bank, including tanks and infantry teams armed with anti-tank missiles. All were operating under an umbrella of protection from surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on the western bank.
On 7 October the beachheads were enlarged to be about 5-10 miles deep into the Sinai, and on 8 October several joined up laterally to form two large beachheads on the eastern bank. Secondary waves of forces, including a handful of the old SU-100s, crossed over. An Israeli counter-attack on 9 October failed and by the morning of 10 October, Egypt had won the first Arab victory over the Israeli military.
(Egyptian SU-100s cross a makeshift bridge across the Suez Canal on the morning of 9 October.)
At this point Egypt had accomplished it’s objectives however because the Syrian army was collapsing in the Golan Heights, it was decided to push further eastward to put new pressure on Israel. Now, Egyptian tanks were beyond the range of their SAMs and subject to Israeli air attack, as they faced off against dug-in and prepared Israeli tanks. Israel’s tank inventory had improved again since 1967 and was now mainly a mixture of Centurions and M60 Pattons, which were the most advanced tanks in the middle east at that time. Tanks like these were problematic even for the T-54/55, and against a WWII tank destroyer like the SU-100, might as well have been from a different planet.
This ill-advised second attack failed with heavy losses, and was met by an Israeli counterattack (operation “Gazelle”) which pushed back the front lines. By 15 October, in the Sinai’s north, Israel was within a few thousand yards of the Canal, in the center, had reached it, and that night in the Sinai’s southern sector, the Israelis themselves made a crossing and put infantry and a bridging team on the Canal’s western bank. On the 16th, Israeli tanks began crossing the Canal.
This left the Egyptians in a terrible predicament. The entire 3rd Army was still inside the Sinai, surrounded, but now all the Egyptian supply bridges eastward over the Canal were gone and the Israelis themselves had tanks on the western bank. Whatever of the 3rd Army’s SU-100s which still survived at that point were generally abandoned as their fuel ran out and / or their crews tried to hitch rides on trucks fleeing westward towards the Canal. As far as is known, no Israeli tank was destroyed by an Egyptian SU-100 during the whole war. A cease-fire was declared on 28 October 1973.
That was the end of the SU-100 story in Egypt. The handful of SU-100s which had been held in reserve were briefly used for training after the war, then scrapped.
Iraq ordered 250 SU-100s as part of a larger 1959 defense buy. The vehicles were delivered in batches between 1960-1963, however it’s not entirely certain that the whole 250 were actually delivered.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Iraq dispatched a 60,000-man “expeditionary force” to shore up Syria’s crumbling position in the Golan Heights. This included elements of the Iraqi 6th Armored Division, which was an operating unit of the SU-100. However it’s unclear if the expeditionary force had the SU-100 subunits with it in Syria, or if so, if they were used. The Iraqi force in Syria failed to accomplish much either way.
Saddam Hussein formally came to power in 1979, but as early as 1976 was the CinC of the Iraqi military and also the final word on defense budget allocations. During the late 1970s he undertook a massive modernization and enlargement of the Iraqi army including huge buys of T-62 and T-72 tanks; all much more modern than the WWII-vintage SU-100.
(Iraqi SU-100 in action during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.)
Of whatever quantity of SU-100s had been delivered, for certain some took part in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. The Iranian army in 1980 was very modern, and fielded Cold War-era Cheiftain and M60 Patton tanks, light years ahead of the WWII-era SU-100. Iran also had American-made BGM-71 TOW wire-guided anti-tank missiles and AH-1 Cobra anti-tank helicopters, neither of which were even in the realm of imagination when the SU-100 was designed. Iraq’s use of the SU-100 was generally limited to areas of less intense combat, such as the central and northern fronts. By the end of the war in 1988, they were rarely seen at all and almost nothing was said about their performance in combat.
No SU-100s were encountered during the August 1990 occupation of Kuwait, nor Desert Storm in 1991. It’s possible that Iraq had withdrawn the SU-100 in the interim after the 1988 cease-fire with Iran. During the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, none were encountered in battle. Two SU-100s were found derelict, not attached to any unit and not in a functional state.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) captured a decent number of SU-100s intact during the Suez and Six-Day wars, but never fielded them operationally. The Israelis had made use of captured T-34s for a brief while, and absolutely made use of the many T-54/55s captured. So many of these tanks were captured that entire units were formed of ex-Arab T-54/55s, and in fact, many were “isrealized” into a tank called the Tiran, which saw combat in the 1970s and 1980s.
(A captured ex-Egyptian SU-100 on parade after the Suez conflict.)
The low quantity (in comparison to the T-54/55) would have made an “israelization” of captured SU-100s uneconomic for the defense contractors involved. Also the whole concept of a dedicated tank destroyer really didn’t fit into the IDF’s armored warfare doctrine. Finally, omitting the SU-100 from the lineup of ex-Arab vehicles removed one opportunity for friendly-fire incidents on the battlefield.
At least one SU-100 was in service for a year after the Suez conflict.
(The same vehicle as above, here shown on the 1-year anniversary of the Suez conflict. The SU-100 has been assigned the IDF serial number Tsadik 54662. Curiously, the IDF usually uses the right fender for a platoon marking. A tank platoon with more than 30 vehicles would be grossly over-strength. It’s possible that the “platoon” was a temporary hodge-podge of miscellaneous captured vehicles, or, that the number was fake to prevent an estimate of how many SU-100s Israel captured.)
(Three Syrian SU-100s captured during the Six Day War. They were towed to a collection point at Kirat Shimona which later became a public park, with the SU-100s suitably repainted.)
(A SU-100 captured by Israel. The small nib on the side of the casemate area is one of the small arms firing portals.) (photo by Victor Krestinin)
Morocco (traditionally a western-oriented Arab kingdom) received 12 SU-100s from the Soviet Union in 1962. These were delivered as part of a larger 1961 arms buy which included 40 T-54/55 tanks. Some of the delivered tanks were of Czechoslovak license-build and it’s quite possible that some or all of the dozen SU-100s were Czechoslovak-made as well.
This departure from Morocco’s normal arms import sources had to do with the country’s ambition to annex Spanish Sahara (which it did, after Franco’s death in 1975). Terms & conditions of American weapons exports to Morocco during the Cold War prohibited out-of-country use and the USA did not formally recognize Morocco’s claim to the territory (today called Western Sahara). Meanwhile Morocco’s other main weapons source, France, was hesitant to upset Spain which was viewed as a more lucrative market, nor did it wish to threaten Mauritania, a French satellite state which also claimed part of Western Sahara.
Little is documented about the dozen SU-100s in the Moroccan army. Presumably, after the 1975 annexation, they were based in Western Sahara to avoid diplomatic hassles of operating American-made tanks there. In 2007, 8 were still listed in the Moroccan army’s inventory but thereafter they disappeared.
Syria received 80 SU-100s in 1959-1960. At the time, the Syrian armored corps was a fascinating array of types (all of it obsolete) including WWII French tanks, a few American-made Shermans, Soviet T-34s, and even some ex-Wehrmacht panzers.
Six Day War
Syria’s participation in this war was haphazard and ultimately disastrous. After the initial Israeli attack on Egypt on 5 June 1967, the Syrian GHQ in Damascus was fed a stream of confusing and irrelevant information by the Soviet embassy. At the same time, Syrian generals were monitoring Radio Cairo via shortwave, which was broadcasting a stream of absurd propaganda of glorious Egyptian victories, all the while as the Egyptian army, in actuality, was being crushed.
A decision was quickly made to invade the Galilee region of Israel. Syria already had about 250 tanks, tank destroyers (including SU-100s) and artillery pieces in the Golan Heights, which they had been using for several years to bombard Israeli farmers across the border. Early in the morning of 6 June, these units were ordered to cross the border. To nobody’s surprise, the unplanned invasion was a fiasco. Some of the units either never received the advance order, or (according to a Soviet account) ignored it. A planned flanking maneuver failed when tanks tried fording the Jordan River at the wrong point and were washed away. The deepest penetration into Israel was only 2 miles and in most places less than that.
(A Syrian SU-100 knocked out during the Six Day War. This particular example was the SU-100M version as also supplied to Egypt.)
On 8 June 1967 (the same day that fighting in the Sinai was ending) all Syrian troops had been driven out of Israel. The Syrian government announced a cease-fire, but for reasons still unclear, five hours later announced it’s cancellation. Anticipating more problems with the Syrians, Israel had already begun shifting units from the Sinai back into Israel. The West Bank had not yet been captured from Jordan, and these units moved in a huge stream down residential highways through Tel Aviv and Haifa.
On the morning of 9 June, the Israelis crossed the border into the Golan Heights. The main thrust of the attack came where Syria least expected it, the northern part of the Golan Heights along the border with Lebanon. This completed, the Israelis looped around and began attacking Syrian positions from their rear.
Their situation collapsing, at 08:45 on 10 June the Syrians prematurely announced that Israel had occupied Quneitra, a crossroads on the Damascus-Beirut highway and the last major city before Damascus. The Syrian government hoped this announcement would panic the USSR into intervening on their behalf. That didn’t happen, but, when Syrian troops in the Golan Heights heard the announcement, they were terrified of being surrounded and fled en masse eastward. Some of the SU-100s that survived the fighting were simply abandoned as their crews hitched rides on trucks or staff cars fleeing to Damascus. At the village of Mansura the IDF found the equivalent of an entire armored company (including one SU-100) abandoned but completely undamaged.
(Wrecked Syrian T-34 tank and SU-100 after the end of the Six Day War.)
By 23:00 on 10 June the entire Golan Heights was under Israeli control. Fighting there, and the Six Day War overall, came to an end.
After the Six Day War
The exact Syrian SU-100 losses in 1967 are unknown. By best estimate, a quarter of the inventory (about 20) was lost, including 4 which Israel captured intact. The losses were made up by a supplementary resupply from the Warsaw Pact.
(Israel proper, at the start of the Six Day War, is shown in blue. Everything else – the Sinai in brown, the Gaza Strip in red, the West Bank in green, and the Golan Heights in orange – was occupied in less than a week.)
The Yom Kippur War
The 1973 offensive was completely different than Syria’s actions in 1967. This time, the Syrian attack was meticulously planned and precisely timed to coincide with Egypt’s attack.
On 6 October 1973, as Egypt was attacking Israel in the Sinai, five entire Syrian divisions rolled past useless UN peacekeepers and into the Golan Heights. Syrian tanks outnumbered Israeli armor by about 4:1 and at one point during 9 October, the IDF only had a half-dozen functional tanks in the Golan Heights.
During the initial 1973 offensive, Syrian SU-100s were less effective than their Egyptian counterparts had been in 1967, as the SU-100 was not really designed with alpine fighting in mind.
(A Syrian SU-100 knocked out in 1973.)
On 10 October Israeli reinforcements arrived, notably a highly-upgraded version of the Centurion known as the S’hot (whip, in Hebrew). It was fitted with a massively powerful British-made 105mm gun with an auto-stabilizer, an American diesel, night vision, and other improvements. The S’hot greatly exceeded the best Syrian armor (the T-62) and against the WWII-vintage SU-100, the comparison was laughable.
(The Israeli S’hot, an upgraded Centurion, completely outclassed Syrian armor during the Yom Kippur War.)
On 12 October the IDF had completely routed the Syrians in the Golan Heights and had pushed back to the prewar line, which they crossed into Syria proper. The USSR was conducting a massive airlift into Damascus, flying in replacement T-62s and T-54/55s from Europe to replace Syria’s appalling losses. Now, old Syrian SU-100s drawn from reserve were sometimes assigned one-per-unit to tank companies of newer Cold War-era tanks, escorting them into battle. As the situation further deteriorated, some were simply sent alone as fast as crews could be found.
(A destroyed Syrian SU-100 during the Yom Kippur War.)
No Israeli tank is known for certain to have been knocked out by a Syrian SU-100 in 1973. The reverse was certainly not true. One particular spot in the battle became known as the Valley of Tears. A low point in the eastern part of the Golan Heights, it turned it a killing field of Syrian armor. In a 96-hour span, 260 Syrian armored vehicles (about ¼ of the entire Syrian armor inventory) was destroyed here. Included were very many of the grossly mismatched SU-100s.
(A collection of wrecked Syrian armor in the Valley Of Tears: 1) a BTR-60 armored personnel carrier 2) a SU-100 3) three T-54/55 tanks 4) a GAZ-66 truck)
(Another SU-100 destroyed in the Valley Of Tears with a tank unit. The Golan Heights are in the background.)
(Syrian SU-100 during the Yom Kippur War. Syrian tankmen typically inscribe the names of deceased comrades on the sides of their mounts.)
By 20 October, the IDF had opened a huge salient into Syria proper and was 25 miles away from downtown Damascus. The fighting in the area petered out after that.
(A field of dead Syrian armor, including a SU-100, on 19 December 1973, about two months after the war.)
Very few, probably no more than a dozen, Syrian SU-100s survived the Yom Kippur War and it was never again used operationally by Syria.
Between 1918-1990, Yemen was divided into North and South nations.
North Yemen (then known as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom) received 50 SU-100s from the USSR in 1961. Almost immediately they saw action, as from September 1962-December 1970, the country fought a civil war between royalist and republican forces. This civil war saw massive Egyptian involvement starting in October 1962, and ending abruptly with the Six Day War in 1967. This ill-fated Egyptian adventure involved all imaginable aspects of war, from infantry patrols up to strategic bombing and even the use of chemical weapons. The involvement in North Yemen nearly bankrupted Egypt and failed to accomplish anything other than 26,000 casualties. Today it is widely called “Egypt’s Vietnam”.
Of the 50 SU-100s originally delivered in 1961, only a handful were still serviceable when the civil war ended in 1970. Even fewer were still in a running state when North Yemen merged with South Yemen in 1990.
South Yemen was formed in 1967 out of the corpse of the South Arabia Protectorate, a failed British-designed federation intended to take over after the final British withdrawal from Aden (which became South Yemen’s capital) in November 1967. The country as a whole was run as a puppet of the USSR, and the USA considered it an illegitimate nation.
South Yemen received 30 SU-100s between 1968-1970. Most, if not all, of this order was Czechoslovak-built examples. The South Yemeni SU-100s were perhaps the best of all delivered to any of the Arab armies, as they had previously been part of the Czechoslovak run retained for Czechoslovak army use, not for the export lot. They had been immaculately maintained in Europe and benefited from the presence of a large number of Soviet military advisers in Aden.
Despite their age, the SU-100s were liked in South Yemeni service. Easy to maintain, they shared parts with the T-34s that served alongside them, and ammunition with the T-54/55s. The SU-100 saw combat in South Yemen in 1986, in a bizarre internal conflict called “The Events” which saw two factions of communists fighting each other for about a month. It’s unknown if any SU-100s directly fought each other; if so; that would have been the only time this happened.
South Yemen merged with North Yemen in 1990.
Yemen (united republic)
In 1990, Yemen had in service about three dozen of the WWII-era SU-100s, the survivors of the former North and South inventories. The Yemeni military was hit with two problems right off the bat; the first being a cutoff of Soviet aid as the USSR collapsed, then, a very foolish decision in August 1990 to diplomatically endorse Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. This led to most countries putting an arms embargo on Yemen. The old SU-100s were kept in service as no new tanks were forthcoming, and, because they shared ammunition with the T-54/55 which was readily available on the black market.
By now, Yemen’s SU-100s were between 30-45 years old and wearing out. A degree of creativity was shown in keeping them running; for example it was discovered that modern civilian truck radiators could be adapted to replace the WWII design, at least good enough to keep the vehicle mobile. The SU-100s main fuel tanks had a tendency to bang up against the hull in rough driving, and pieces of wood were used as a brace inbetween to keep them going a bit longer.
(This SU-100 was destroyed near the village of Ma’rib during the 1994 conflict. Many years later, Ma’rib was briefly the center of al-Queda activity in Yemen.)
The SU-100 still had more combat in it’s future in Yemen. In 1994 there was a brief but extremely violent three-month civil war in the country. When the Yemens had merged in 1990, their former militaries did not, so there was an odd situation of one country having two armies, one in the north and the other in the south and east. This conflict saw everything both sides had thrown against one another, from supersonic jets and ballistic missiles, down to old Cold War-legacy artillery, and even WWII-vintage gear including the T-34 tank and the SU-100. All of the SU-100s were used by the southern faction.
(Houthi rebels with a captured SU-100 near Sana’a, the capital of Yemen before it descended into anarchy. The rebel is exiting through the ammunition loading hatch. This photo gives a good look at the twin ‘mushrooms’ of the gun gas extraction system. This particular vehicle was a SD-100 (the Czechoslovak clone) and was never operationally used by the Houthi after it’s capture in 2014.)
In 2002, the Yemeni army had 30 SU-100s still in service; all were put into storage near the end of that year. In 2012, a new conflict started, this time between the national government and a faction known as the Houthi. By 2014, this had escalated into a full-blown civil war, with the government on one side holed up in major cities, the Houthi, and forces of al-Queda and ISIS which fought the government, the Houthi from time to time, and occasionally each other. Finally there was a small contingent of secular Yemenis who wanted to undo the 1990 merger and re-establish a South Yemen. Some (at least a half dozen, by most accounts) were hauled out of storage and used by both the government and the Houthi. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia began a bombing campaign against all non-government forces and by the summer of 2016, the SU-100 is probably extinct in Yemen.
(SU-100 heading into combat in Yemen in 2015, seven decades after the end of WWII.)