Tank gun
Overview
 
A tank gun is the main armament of a tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

. Modern tank guns are large-caliber
Caliber
In guns including firearms, caliber or calibre is the approximate internal diameter of the barrel in relation to the diameter of the projectile used in it....

 high-velocity gun
Gun
A gun is a muzzle or breech-loaded projectile-firing weapon. There are various definitions depending on the nation and branch of service. A "gun" may be distinguished from other firearms in being a crew-served weapon such as a howitzer or mortar, as opposed to a small arm like a rifle or pistol,...

s, capable of firing kinetic energy penetrator
Kinetic energy penetrator
A kinetic energy penetrator is a type of ammunition which, like a bullet, does not contain explosives and uses kinetic energy to penetrate the target....

s, high explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank warheads are made of an explosive shaped charge that uses the Munroe effect to create a very high-velocity partial stream of metal in a state of superplasticity that can punch through solid armor....

 rounds, and in some cases guided missile
Guided Missile
Guided Missile is a London based independent record label set up by Paul Kearney in 1994.Guided Missile has always focused on 'the underground', preferring to put out a steady flow of releases and developing the numerous GM events around London and beyond....

s. Anti-aircraft guns can also be mounted to tanks.
Tank guns are a specific field of weapon design that meet the particular needs of the tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

. As the tank's primary armament, they are almost always employed in a direct-fire mode to defeat a variety of ground targets at all ranges, including dug-in infantry, lightly armored vehicles, and especially other heavily armor
Vehicle armour
Military vehicles are commonly armoured to withstand the impact of shrapnel, bullets, missiles, or shells, protecting the personnel inside from enemy fire. Such vehicles include tanks, aircraft, and ships....

ed tanks.
Encyclopedia
A tank gun is the main armament of a tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

. Modern tank guns are large-caliber
Caliber
In guns including firearms, caliber or calibre is the approximate internal diameter of the barrel in relation to the diameter of the projectile used in it....

 high-velocity gun
Gun
A gun is a muzzle or breech-loaded projectile-firing weapon. There are various definitions depending on the nation and branch of service. A "gun" may be distinguished from other firearms in being a crew-served weapon such as a howitzer or mortar, as opposed to a small arm like a rifle or pistol,...

s, capable of firing kinetic energy penetrator
Kinetic energy penetrator
A kinetic energy penetrator is a type of ammunition which, like a bullet, does not contain explosives and uses kinetic energy to penetrate the target....

s, high explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank warheads are made of an explosive shaped charge that uses the Munroe effect to create a very high-velocity partial stream of metal in a state of superplasticity that can punch through solid armor....

 rounds, and in some cases guided missile
Guided Missile
Guided Missile is a London based independent record label set up by Paul Kearney in 1994.Guided Missile has always focused on 'the underground', preferring to put out a steady flow of releases and developing the numerous GM events around London and beyond....

s. Anti-aircraft guns can also be mounted to tanks.

Overview

Tank guns are a specific field of weapon design that meet the particular needs of the tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

. As the tank's primary armament, they are almost always employed in a direct-fire mode to defeat a variety of ground targets at all ranges, including dug-in infantry, lightly armored vehicles, and especially other heavily armor
Vehicle armour
Military vehicles are commonly armoured to withstand the impact of shrapnel, bullets, missiles, or shells, protecting the personnel inside from enemy fire. Such vehicles include tanks, aircraft, and ships....

ed tanks. They must provide accuracy, range, penetration, and rapid fire in a package that is as compact and lightweight as possible, to allow mounting in the cramped confines of an armored gun turret
Gun turret
A gun turret is a weapon mount that protects the crew or mechanism of a projectile-firing weapon and at the same time lets the weapon be aimed and fired in many directions.The turret is also a rotating weapon platform...

. Tank guns generally use self-contained ammunition, allowing rapid loading (or use of an autoloader
Autoloader
An autoloader or auto-loader is a mechanical aid or replacement for the personnel that load ordnance into crew-served weapons, such as tanks and artillery...

). They often show a bulge in the barrel, which is a bore evacuator
Bore evacuator
A bore evacuator is a device on the gun barrel of an armoured fighting vehicle which helps prevent poisonous propellant gases from venting back into the vehicle's fighting compartment when the gun breech is opened to load another round. Bore evacuators are most often used on large-calibre tank...

, or a device on the muzzle, which is a muzzle brake
Muzzle brake
Muzzle brakes and recoil compensators are devices that are fitted to the muzzle of a firearm or cannon to redirect propellant gases with the effect of countering both recoil of the gun and unwanted rising of the barrel during rapid fire...

.

World War I

The first tanks were used to break through trench defences in support of infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 actions particularly machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

 positions during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and they were fitted with machine guns or high explosive firing guns of modest calibre. These were naval or field artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 pieces stripped from their carriages and mounted in turret
Turret
In architecture, a turret is a small tower that projects vertically from the wall of a building such as a medieval castle. Turrets were used to provide a projecting defensive position allowing covering fire to the adjacent wall in the days of military fortification...

s or sponson
Sponson
Sponsons are projections from the sides of a watercraft, for protection, stability, or the mounting of equipment such as armaments or lifeboats, etc...

s on armored vehicles. The early British Mark I tank
Mark I tank
The British Mark I was a tracked vehicle developed by the British Army during the First World War and the world's first combat tank. The Mark I entered service in August 1916, and was first used in action on the morning of 15 September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, of the Somme...

s of 1916 utilised naval 57 mm Hotchkiss guns
QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss
The QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss was a light 57 mm naval gun and coast defence gun of the late 19th century used by many countries, and was adapted for use in the early British tanks in World War I.- Canada History :...

 ("6-pounders") mounted at the sides in sponsons. These guns proved too long for use in the British tank designs as they would come into contact with obstacles and the ground on uneven terrain, and the succeeding Mark IV tank of 1917 was equipped with the shortened 6 pounder 6 cwt
QF 6 pounder 6 cwt Hotchkiss
The Ordnance QF 6 pounder 6 cwt Hotchkiss Mk 1 and Mk 2 was a shortened version of the original QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss, and was developed specifically for use in the sponsons of the later Marks of British tanks in World War I, from Mark IV onwards.-History:...

 which can be considered the first specialised tank gun. The first German tank, the A7V
A7V
The A7V was a tank introduced by Germany in 1918, near the end of World War I. One hundred vehicles were ordered during the spring of 1918, but only 21 were delivered. It was nicknamed "The Moving Fortress" by the British because of the shape of the hull...

, utilized 57 mm Nordenfelt fortification guns captured from Russia, but mounted at the front. The early French Schneider CA1
Schneider CA1
The Schneider CA1 was the first French tank. It was inspired by the need to overcome the stalemate of the trench warfare of the Great War.-Caterpillar development:...

 mounted a short 75 mm mortar on each side, while the St Chamond
St Chamond (tank)
The Saint-Chamond was the second French heavy tank of the First World War.Overall an inadequate design born of commercial rivalry, the war ended before it was replaced by British heavy tanks.-Development:...

 mounted a standard 75 mm field gun in the nose. The thin armour of the tanks meant that such weapons were effective against other vehicles, though the Germans fielded few tanks anyway and the Allied tanks concentrated on anti-infantry and infantry support
Infantry tank
The infantry tank was a concept developed by the British and French in the years leading up to World War II. Infantry tanks were tanks designed to support the infantry in the attack. To achieve this they were generally heavily armoured compared to the cruiser tanks, to allow them to operate in...

 activities.

World War II

This thinking remained pervasive into the dawn of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, when most tank guns were still modifications of existing artillery pieces, and were expected to primarily be used against unarmored targets. The larger caliber, shorter range artillery mounting didn't go away however. Tanks intended specifically for infantry support (the infantry tank
Infantry tank
The infantry tank was a concept developed by the British and French in the years leading up to World War II. Infantry tanks were tanks designed to support the infantry in the attack. To achieve this they were generally heavily armoured compared to the cruiser tanks, to allow them to operate in...

s) which were expected to take out emplacements and infantry concentrations carried large calibre weapons to fire large high-explosive shells -- though these could be quite effective against other vehicles at close ranges.

However, other strategists saw new roles for tanks in war, and wanted more specifically developed guns tailored to these missions. The ability to destroy enemy tanks was foremost on their minds. To this end, the emerging anti-tank gun designs were modified to fit tanks. These weapons fired smaller shells, but at higher velocities with higher accuracy, improving their performance against armor. Such light guns as the QF 2-pounder
Ordnance QF 2 pounder
The Ordnance QF 2-pounder was a British anti-tank and vehicle-mounted gun, employed in the Second World War. It was actively used in the Battle of France, and during the North Africa campaign...

 (40 mm) and 37 mm equipped a number of cruiser tanks in the 1930s. These weapons lacked a good high-explosive shell for attacking infantry and fortifications, and were not powerful enough to penetrate the heaviest armor.

World War II saw a leapfrog growth in all areas of military technology. Battlefield experience led to increasingly powerful weapons being adopted. Guns with calibres from 20 mm to 40 mm soon gave way to 50 mm, 75 mm, 85 mm, 88 mm, 90 mm and even 122 mm calibre. In 1939, the standard German panzer had either a 20 mm or 37 mm medium-velocity weapon, but by 1945 75 mm and 88 mm high-velocity guns were common. The Soviets introduced their 122 mm in a turreted heavy tank series, the Iosef Stalin tanks. Shells were improved to provide better penetration with harder materials and scientific shaping. All of these meant improvements in accuracy and range, although the average tank had to grow as well to carry the ammunition, mounting, and protection for these powerful guns.

Many nations devised tank destroyers
Tank destroyer
A tank destroyer is a type of armored fighting vehicle armed with a gun or missile launcher, and is designed specifically to engage enemy armored vehicles...

 during the war, with the Germans re-purposing captured 76.2 mm Russian field cannon and Czechoslovak Praga tank chassis to form the potent and cost effective Marder
Marder II
The Marder II was a German tank destroyer of World War II based on the Panzer II chassis.-History:During the very first days of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans were shocked to encounter Soviet T-34 medium tanks and KV heavy tanks...

 tank destroyer. A typical tank destroyer traded armor weight for a much more powerful primary armament. Some of these lacked turrets, with a limited-traverse weapon mount only.

During the Second World War, the British produced some variants of their tanks with howitzers, notably the Churchill tank
Churchill tank
The Tank, Infantry, Mk IV was a heavy British infantry tank used in the Second World War, best known for its heavy armour, large longitudinal chassis with all-around tracks with multiple bogies, and its use as the basis of many specialist vehicles. It was one of the heaviest Allied tanks of the war...

 which had a hull mounted gun similar to the contemporary French Char B as well as a turret gun. This was dropped as an unworkable idea and the majority of British "Close Support" (CS) tanks had their turret gun replaced with a howitzer or similar weapon, as with the Centaur CS with its 95 mm HE firing gun.

After World War II

By the end of the war the variety in tank designs was narrowed and the concept of the main battle tank
Main battle tank
A main battle tank , also known as a battle tank or universal tank, is a tank that fills the heavy direct fire role of many modern armies. They were originally conceived to replace the light, medium, heavy and super-heavy tanks. Development was spurred onwards in the Cold War with the development...

 emerged. After World War II, the race to increase caliber slowed. Slight increases were made between tank generations. In the West, guns of around 90 mm gave way to the ubiquitous 105 mm L7
Royal Ordnance L7
The Royal Ordnance L7 is the basic model of Britain's most successful tank gun. The L7 was a 105 mm L/52 rifled design intended for use in armoured fighting vehicles...

. This lasted a long while with a shift to 120 mm in the 1970s and 80s (the UK changed in the late 60s with their Chieftain tank
Chieftain tank
The FV 4201 Chieftain was the main battle tank of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s. It was one of the most advanced tanks of its era, and at the time of its introduction in 1966 had the most powerful main gun and heaviest armour of any tank in the world...

). In the East, the 85 mm quickly yielded to the 100 mm and 115 mm gun, with the 125 mm caliber now standard. Most of the improvements were instead made in ammunition and fire control system
Fire-control system
A fire-control system is a number of components working together, usually a gun data computer, a director, and radar, which is designed to assist a weapon system in hitting its target. It performs the same task as a human gunner firing a weapon, but attempts to do so faster and more...

s.

With kinetic energy penetrator
Kinetic energy penetrator
A kinetic energy penetrator is a type of ammunition which, like a bullet, does not contain explosives and uses kinetic energy to penetrate the target....

 rounds, solid shot and armour-piercing shell gave way to armour-piercing discarding sabot
Sabot
A sabot is a device used in a firearm or cannon to fire a projectile, such as a bullet, that is smaller than the bore diameter, or which must be held in a precise position. The term is also applied to a battery stub case, a device used similarly to make a small electrical battery usable in a...

(APDS
Armour-piercing discarding sabot
Armour-piercing discarding sabot is a type of kinetic energy projectile fired from a gun to attack armoured targets. APDS rounds are sabot rounds and were commonly used in large calibre tank guns, but have now been superseded by armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot projectiles in such...

) (a product of 1944), and fin-stabilized (APFSDS) rounds with tungsten or depleted uranium
Depleted uranium
Depleted uranium is uranium with a lower content of the fissile isotope U-235 than natural uranium . Uses of DU take advantage of its very high density of 19.1 g/cm3...

 penetrators. Parallel developments brought rounds based on chemical energy; High explosive squash head
High explosive squash head
High explosive squash head is a type of explosive ammunition that is effective against buildings and is also used against tank armour. It was fielded chiefly by the British Army as the main explosive round of its main battle tanks during the Cold War...

 (HESH), and shaped-charge High explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank warheads are made of an explosive shaped charge that uses the Munroe effect to create a very high-velocity partial stream of metal in a state of superplasticity that can punch through solid armor....

 (HEAT). These had the same penetrating power irrespective of muzzle velocity or range.

Stadiametric range-finders were successively replaced by coincidence
Parallax
Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines. The term is derived from the Greek παράλλαξις , meaning "alteration"...

 and laser rangefinders. Accuracy of modern tank guns is pushed to the limits by computerized fire control systems, wind sensors, and muzzle referencing systems which compensate for barrel warping, wear and temperature. Fighting capability at night, in poor weather and smoke was improved by infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

, light-intensification
Image intensifier
An image intensifier tube is a vacuum tube device for increasing the intensity of available light in an optical system to allow use under low light conditions such as at night, to facilitate visual imaging of low-light processes such as fluorescence of materials to X-rays or gamma rays, or for...

, and thermal imaging equipment.

Gun technology has had only a few innovations. Throughout the history of tank guns, they have almost exclusively been rifled
Rifling
Rifling is the process of making helical grooves in the barrel of a gun or firearm, which imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis...

 weapons. Rifling of the barrel imparts spin on the projectile, improving ballistic accuracy. The best traditional antitank weapons have been kinetic energy rounds, whose penetrating power and accuracy decrease with range. For longer ranges, high explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank
High explosive anti-tank warheads are made of an explosive shaped charge that uses the Munroe effect to create a very high-velocity partial stream of metal in a state of superplasticity that can punch through solid armor....

 rounds are better, but accuracy still suffers and for extremely long ranges, anti-tank guided missile
Anti-tank guided missile
An anti-tank missile , anti-tank guided missile , anti-tank guided weapon or anti-armor guided weapon is a guided missile primarily designed to hit and destroy heavily-armored military vehicles....

s (ATGMs) are considered to have a better chance of hitting the target.

The use of the autoloader
Autoloader
An autoloader or auto-loader is a mechanical aid or replacement for the personnel that load ordnance into crew-served weapons, such as tanks and artillery...

 has been a development favoured by some nations and not others. Some countries adopted it as a means to keep the overall size of the tank down. Interest has also been shown as a means to protect the crew by separating them further from the gun and ammunition.

Smoothbore

In the 1960s smoothbore tank guns were developed by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and later by the experimental U.S.–FRG
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 MBT-70
MBT-70
The MBT-70 was a 1960s German-U.S. joint project to develop a new main battle tank, which was to be equipped with a number of advanced features. It utilized a newly developed hydropneumatic "kneeling" suspension and housed the entire crew in the large turret...

 project. Based on their experience with the gun/missile system of the BMP-1
BMP-1
The BMP-1 is a Soviet amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicle. BMP stands for Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty 1 , meaning "infantry fighting vehicle". The BMP-1 was the world's first mass-produced infantry fighting vehicle...

, the Soviets produced the T-64
T-64
The T-64 is a Soviet main battle tank, introduced in the early 1960s. It was used solely by the Soviet Army in its front-line divisions and was a more advanced counterpart to the T-62...

B main battle tank, with an auto-loaded 125 mm smoothbore high-velocity tank gun, capable of firing APFSDS ammunition as well as ATGMs. Similar guns continue to be used in the latest Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n T-90
T-90
The T-90 is a Russian third-generation main battle tank that is a modernisation of the T-72 . It is currently the most modern tank in service with the Russian Ground Forces and Naval Infantry...

, Ukrainian
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 T-84
T-84
The T-84 is a Ukrainian main battle tank, a development of the Soviet T-80 main battle tank. It was first built in 1994 and entered service in the Ukrainian Armed Forces in 1999. The T-84 is based on the diesel-engined T-80 version, the T-80UD...

, and Serbia
Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

n M-84AS MBTs. The German company Rheinmetall
Rheinmetall
Rheinmetall AG is a German automotive and defence company with factories in Düsseldorf, Kassel and Unterlüß. The company has a long tradition of making guns and artillery pieces...

 developed a more conventional 120 mm smoothbore tank gun which does not fire missiles, adopted for the Leopard 2
Leopard 2
The Leopard 2 is a main battle tank developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s for the West German Army. The tank first entered service in 1979 and succeeded the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and twelve...

, and later the U.S. M1 Abrams
M1 Abrams
The M1 Abrams is a third-generation main battle tank produced in the United States. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and Commander of US military forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. The M1 is a well armed, heavily armored, and highly mobile tank designed for...

. The chief advantages of smoothbore designs are their greater suitability for fin stabilised ammunition and their greatly reduced barrel wear compared with rifled designs.

External links

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