How to Stop a Tiger in 25 Photos – The Soviet SU-85 Tank Destroyer

SU-85 at The Museum of Russian Military History. Photo by museum / CC BY-SA 3.0

After the appearance of the German tanks Tiger and Panther, the Soviet command needed effective techniques to combat them. The existing SU-152 and SU-122 self-propelled guns, despite their reliability, had a significant drawback: they had a low rate of fire.

In 1943, a group of designers led by Lev Gorlitsky began to create an artillery mounted SU-85. Construction was carried out at the Urals plant of heavy engineering and the tank T-34 was taken as a basis. An armored combat cabin was installed on the chassis of the tank. The thickness of the frontal armored sheet was 45 mm.

SU-85 tank

Armed with an 85-mm cannon, D-5S-85, which was placed in the cabin on a special carriage meant this gun had  higher rates of fire, power, and range in comparison with the SU-122.

The SU-85 was intended for firing directly. The self-propelled nature of the gun allowed it to fight the German Tiger and Panther tanks at distances of 600-800 meters. In addition to the main sight, there was also a mounted panoramic sight, designed to fire from closed positions.


In addition, the SU-85 designers got rid of the fifth tankman’s place. This created additional free space and allowed for storage of extra ammunition, which included 48 shells. The SU-85 only needed a crew of 4 people. For self-defense, the crew used sub-machine guns and hand grenades.

The SU-85 had a weight of 29.2 tons and had excellent manoeuverability and patency. A twelve-cylinder V-shaped diesel engine V-2-34 with a power of 500 hp facilitated this. It meant the SU-85 could reach a maximum speed of up to 47 km / h. The maximum power reserve was 400 km and was directly dependent on road conditions.

Soviet 85 mm self-propelled gun SU-85.

In 1943, the SU-85 took part in the battles for the Dnieper. In the autumn of 1943, self-propelled units participated in the battles during the liberation of Left-bank Ukraine. Despite the effectiveness of the SU-85, it still had its shortcomings. Major General Katkov noted the following:

“The SU-85 self-propelled gun is currently quite effective in combating heavy Wehrmacht tanks. For its effectiveness and maneuverability, it is not inferior to the T-34, and with the new 85-mm cannon, it shows itself in combat quite well. However, using the fire and armor of their tanks “Tiger”, “Panther” and “Ferdinand”, the Germans are trying to impose a fight over long distances – 1500-2000 meters. In such conditions, the power of 85-mm guns and the frontal armor of the SAU SU-85 are not enough…”

SU-85 (early version)

Despite such misgivings, the SU-85 actively participated in covering the infantry and tanks until the end of the war. After the appearance of the new SU-100 in 1944, the SU-85 began to recede into the background. From August 1943 to August 1944, only 2050 units of SU-85 were created.

Su-85 (later version)


SU-85 at Museum Drzonow Photo by 270862 CC-BY 2.0


SU-85 Museum Drzonów Photo by 270862-FLickr CC BY 2.0


Su-85 Photo by Hubert Śmietanka CC BY-SA 2.5


SU-85 tank destroyer in Polish Army Museum. Photo by SuperTank17 CC BY-SA 3.0


Su-85, Great Patriotic War Museum, Kiev Photo by Andrew Milligan sumo CC By 2.0


Su-85, Great Patriotic War Museum, Kiev Photo by Andrew Milligan sumo CC By 2.0


Su-85, Moscow Photo by Gandvik CC BY-SA 3.0




A Russian KamAZ military tank transporter carrying an SU-85M. Photo by Vitaliy Ragulin -CC BY-SA 3.0


SU-85s lined up in Sverdlovsk – 1944


SU-85s in East Prussia – January 1945


SU-85s in Berlin – 1945


SU-85 Crossing the Dnieper River


SU-85 in Minsk – July 1944


SU-85 in action.


SU-85 Frontal View


SU-85 and T-34-85s of the 9th Mechanized Corps


Rear View of an SU-85


Berlin 1945


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Soviet tanks from the Second World War at the War Monument in Prokhorovka Photo by Navigator-avia CC BY-SA 3.0
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