A Real Chinese TD – Interview with Will Kerrs

Today, Will Kerrs from Tanks-Encyclopedia, presented us with an exclusive look at a truly odd tank destroyer of Chinese origin (the one above). This is one of the first times it has been shown to the public. He has also given us a chance to interview him about the vehicle.

Question 1: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Will Kerrs: I am Will Kerrs from Tanks Encyclopedia. I’ve been working with them for two years, and I focus mainly on the early 20th century – Spain 1920-1939, China 1916-1955, and the USSR 1925-1945. I do also dabble elsewhere, such as Saddam’s Iraq, and modern day Syria. In terms of China, i’ve been studying their early AFVs for around six months now. I’ve been able to compile a list of all the AFVs I know they used, and i’m working on a comprehensive history of Chinese AFVs (and in their correct historical contexts, I might add – something a lot of historians neglect to do). I’m largely building on the work of China experts such as Benny Tsang (who used to be very active on forums, and Dr. Martin Andrew (who I used to talk to, but unfortunately lost contact with). So I can safely say that I have a solid basis for my work.

Question 2: What is this strange tank destroyer?

Will Kerrs: That’s a good question. Essentially, it looks as though we have an SU-76 (which was supplied to the PLA between 1951 and 1954) that has been modified with a new superstructure which resembles a Type 59 or Type 62. It’s definitely not just a straight conversion of a turret onto an SU-76 hull – those turrets are too big for the chassis, and the superstructure itself appears simplified – see the cupola, just in shot. The gun is obviously a 76mm ZiS-3 – there’s not much to dispute there. Those are all the things we can really say with any degree of certainty. I also think that the superstructure is entirely static, but it’s very hard to be sure. The fenders appear non-standard – almost certainly Chinese made. The front idler wheel on the left side also appears to be missing, but I don’t know why.

Question 3: Do you have any theories as to why it was built/converted?

Will Kerrs: There are really two theories. The first one comes from Dr. Martin Andrew, a Chinese PLA expert I used to talk to. He said: “The Chinese never made any SU-76s*, but certainly received a lot from the Soviet Union. China had, and still does, has [sic] a habit of looking at different turret/hull combinations. My suggestion is that it is a developmental project for the Tyue [sic] 62 project, to see whether a scaled down Type 59 turret can fit an 85mm tank gun… …They [SU-76s] were never produced in China, perhaops [sic] overhauled and rebuiltm [sic] but teh [sic] T-7- [sic] hull was only produced in the USSR.” *We know this not to be true – see the “SU-76 Local Production”, itself likely a one-off. So I think he is suggesting that this is some kind of testbed to see if the PLA can scale down the Type 59 turret. That doesn’t really stack up when you consider that the Type 62 used an 85mm gun, not a 76mm gun. He might be onto something, but there’s another theory.

It’s also possible that the PLA were seeing if they could modernise their SU-76s. They were obsolete, certainly in the PLA, by the mid-50s. They were never likely to see any front line combat action like Red Army SU-76s did during WWII. So, what can the PLA do with their SU-76s? Well, if you look at the gun, you can see that its new mount seems to give it a much higher firing arc. This probably means that it might be better as a Self-Propelled Gun for indirect fire, as opposed to direct fire. So perhaps this was a prototype for a modernisation into SPGs? It’s hard to say.

I really can’t see this conversion dating anywhere outside of 1953-1963. The uniforms of the soldiers are fairly generic for that period.

Question 4: This might seem as an off-topic question at first, but what are your opinions on the Chinese tank destroyers that are coming to World of Tanks?

Will Kerrs: I’ve had a look at these, and i’m in two minds about them. Anyone who has read my fake tanks articles on Tanks Encyclopedia knows that I really hate fictional tanks that Wargaming and Kongzhong come up with. I also assume “FT” stands for “Fake Tank”. However, I will say this – Wargaming does do a good job of making these concepts look the part. Some of these are an obvious carbon copy of Soviet designs (i’m looking at most of them here). Some don’t look too out of place – the M3A3 mounting the ZiS-2 looks fine, but just doesn’t seem to have actually existed. The KMT do seem to have been supplied turretless M3A3s, and the PLA may have captured them. Whether or not they’d mount a gun onto them is unclear. The now famous LVT(A)-4s with ZiS-2 and ZiS-3 guns had them mounted onto their original turrets. Maybe that’s something to consider? Generally I don’t like them, but they’re nice what-ifs. I just don’t like that they write a fake history for them (or any fake tanks, for that matter)

Question 5: Do you think the Chinese tank destroyer you found might find a nice home as a replacement for one of these dubious tank destroyers?

Will Kerrs: Well. No. It’s more akin to a self propelled gun. You could argue that the new superstructure is an attempt to improve the vehicle’s armour, so maybe it is intended as a tank destroyer? I will say that the hull is unchanged, so that’s a slightly dubious suggestion. We’ll probably never know if it was a testbed, tank destroyer, or SPG.

I have no idea why they haven’t used the LVT(A)-4s with the ZiS-2s and -3s, the SU-76, SU-100, ISU-122, and ISU-152. I suppose it’s to have some diversity, but I think they are preferable, at least to me as a historian, to outright fakes. The Chinese tree overall is a mess, and there is a means to make it historically accurate, if a little repetitive of other trees.

Question 6: Last question. What do you think are the chances of ever finding a vehicle such as this again?

Will Kerrs: That’s a difficult question. On the one hand, it seems as though the PLA was doing quite a lot of experiments. Who knows – maybe some of the tanks in the PLA tree I regard as fake are actually real? It’s hard to say. So in that respect, I think it’s likely that there were other experimental tanks, conversions, local production models, etc. There is, of course, a photo or two of what appears to be an SU-76 converted into a SPAAG with a low calibre AA gun fitted into a fairly large, but crude superstructure (there were apparently two conversions in Vietnam service, which might have been made with Chinese technical assistance). So there’s almost certainly more weird conversions out there. Will we ever see them? We all know the score with Chinese archives – they’re rather hush hush. Just think of how many Soviet projects have come to light since the Russians opened up their archives to historians. Maybe we will see some more come to light through Chinese language books, private photos, new exhibitions in museums, etc, but we’ll need an eye in China for that. The LVT(A)-4 only seems to have come to light because of BeijingMan.blogspot posting photos from a museum in Beijing, lest we forget.

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38 thoughts on “A Real Chinese TD – Interview with Will Kerrs

  1. Nice interview STD. I’m totally with Kerrs here. Having Chinese tank chassis and stick a gun that is a tier higher is not acceptable.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Like I say, they’re really nice concepts. In some sort of alternative history forum, they’d go down a storm. However, because WG present them as realities (a lot of the Chinese tech tree currently has the tagline “destroyed in nuclear testing”, when they’re probably, if not almost certainly fake), that’s where the issues come. I’d go as far as to say WG are intellectually dishonest from time to time – and that’s a very strong accusation, I know.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. You know, I keep hearing the same thing but I’ve not seen any proof to the contrary. There’s a lot of paper tanks, and indeed, even a lot of imagined tanks in this game, cus, well, real-life is not a game with tiers. So I don’t take exception to it. This is a game after all.

          So, when you say it’s fake, where is your proof? With the amount of tanks only accessed by going into the archives, have you been in the Chinese archives to say conclusively? Is there any evidence for or against WG or their Chinese partner KZ having been in there? Anything at all? I’m asking cus everybody seems to think they know but I’ve seen nothing to suggest one way or the other.

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          1. What you are asking for, is proving a negative. This is not possible and shouldn’t be used as an argument in a fair discussion. The question really is: Are they real. Their fakeness can never be proven, their reality or lack thereof, can.

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        2. I mean, you didn’t even know FT stands for anti-tank, which has been covered on this site in another article.

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          1. The burden of proof is not on me to prove that they do not exist, but on Kongzhong and Wargaming to prove that they do. World of Tanks has a bad reputation of making fake tanks – see GW E100 for an example.

            Also, the “FT standing for Fake Tank” comment was a joke. It obviously went way over your head.

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            1. While I agree that the burden of proof lies with WG; I think they’re doing alright under the circumstances, I imagine getting information from the Chinese archives is difficult and what they’re proposing with both tanks and tank destroyers appears to be relatively plausible; inspired by Soviet vehicles with similar weapons.

              I would suggest that while the individual vehicles may not be 100% real it’s entirely plausible that the Chinese looked at what they could produce domestically along the lines of the Soviet designs they had in their inventory/were aware of; particularly after the Sino-Soviet split.

              For example, I think it’s perfectly believable that there were paper project tank destroyers based on most Chinese tank designs of the late 50s to mid/late 60s and it’s also perfectly believable that certain prototypes were destroyed in nuclear tests (this happened in the USSR and the West as well; while I agree that every tagline “destroyed in nuclear testing” probably doesn’t relate to a vehicle destroyed at Lop Nur, it is believable that some-particularly obsolete heavy tank prototypes were destroyed in nuclear tests).

              I would be interested in your opinion regarding Silentstalker (http://ftr.wot-news.com/2013/07/17/chinese-td-line-how-it-might-look/ ) and genfunk’s (https://thearmoredpatrol.com/2017/02/12/revisiting-the-chinese-td-line/) Chinese TD lines; particularly when compared against the in game TD line and your own research.

              Don’t get me wrong, I want the game to be as historically accurate as possible (a historical battle mode with more sim level damage would be fantastic), but I think you have to allow for some creative licence with regards to some of the trees; particularly when what were discussing is highly plausible (for the record there are some vehicles in the German, Japanese, American and Chinese trees which I consider both unhistorical and implausible which should be replaced with more historical and plausible alternatives).

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              1. LAV, apologies for snapping at you, but telling me I need to prove that something doesn’t exist is absurd – see any debate on disproving the existence of God for an example of this.

                Mao, there isn’t really a viable alternative, unless you shoehorn some self-propelled guns into the tree as tank destroyers. I’m also not sure why the article has this title. I didn’t get to pick the title. My thoughts are pretty clear on the vehicle’s role.

                T-34-3Hero, you make some very valid points, and I think that’s a more than fair conclusion to come to. I will say that not all of the Chinese tanks are plausible – the T-34-1 is somehow shorter than the T-34, but has a bigger and better engine? I find that dubious.

                With regards to those tech trees you posted. The one on ftr.wot.news is dubious. The M3A3 with a 57mm gun does not seem to have existed. It seems strange that the photo suddenly disappears. Is it plausible? Sure it is. However, there is no photo, and i’ve not even seen a credible literary source refer to such a modification. The LVT(A)-4 with ZiS-2 series also kept the original turrets. Ones with a ZiS-3 don’t appear to have, however.

                The rest are a little dubious. No citation of sources anywhere for where these images came from. (Which reminds me, the “SU-76 Gai” was taken from “The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1955”, 2017. Must have been missed off in the publication of the interview.)

                Genfunk’s tree is generally better (again, the lower class ones are 99% likely to be fake), but the use of SPAAGs isn’t good.

                I would also like to point out something which I overlooked with regards to the “SU-76 Gai” photo. The man on the left’s shoulder and arm appear translucent. The source material for the photo does not comment on this. Now, this doesn’t mean that the tank is fake, but it might mean that the photo has been altered. (It’s possible, if a little unlikely, that there was something wrong with the film, the man moved during the photo, or there was some kind of exposure problem. I really can’t say.) The photo is printed on terrible paper, so I can’t really analyse it too much.

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                1. Most of your points stress history and are completely irrelevant here.

                  To think on the level of games and game development, I’d say assemble your tree of historical vehicles in the tier 1-10 system of WOT. You’ll find that it’s not easy, and hence, plausibility is used to assemble parts that exist but not as a whole in real life.

                  I mean, did you even look at the historical vehicles in this game? Tiger I is equipped with the 8,8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71, and Tiger II the 10,5 cm Kw.K. L/68. That right there says it all. I’d never run the 8,8 cm Kw.K. 36 L/56 on the TIger I or the 8,8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 on the TIger II. Neither would anyone else who plays this game if they could run something better. That’s the nature of game.

                  History has its place, that place is in the real world ie. a museum. And in this case Munster Tank Museum said it best: http://ftr.wot-news.com/2014/04/29/opinion-of-munster-tank-museum-on-world-of-tanks/

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                    1. Munster Tank Museum addressed this exact point under “techno-fetishism without real background.”

                      Basically, historical means what actually happened.

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                    2. Yes, and there was actually a plan circa 1944-45 that involved the mounting of 10,5cm L/68 on a Tiger II. That’s also historical. Those were actually planned. Designed by German engineers.

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            2. I think you are the one with the over your head point.

              There’s no burden of proof needed. WOT has no incentive and, indeed need to have historical vehicles only. It’s not a sim. Some of us may be here for history, but people stick around for the gameplay. Cus the game is fun. The fact that they started out with this directive, admirable, has proven to be detrimental to themselves cus of the tier and balance – which are the real key to the success or failure, not historical accuracy.

              From a historical perspective, do the battles in WOT look realistic to you?

              Also, work on your jokes.

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                1. No it does not. It’s a general term referring to what happened in the past or past events.

                  And what happened in the past?

                  An 8,8cm L/71 for the Tiger I and an 10,5cm L/68 for the Tiger II was planned.

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  2. To me this one looks like the Panther V/IV – as if there was a chassis and a turret spare in some repair depot and those guys had some spare time and mated them. Looks like a “non-standard” one time conversion, more like “do it before we have to throw both into the trash bin ,,,”,

    And for sure this was meant to be an SPG, no TD, as I doubt the turret would be turnable. Probably they seeked to convert old open top SU-76s into something more comfortable in bad weather plus a neat crew protection invrease.

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  3. Will, at some point in the future (when you are further into your research) would you be able to put together a more realistic Chinese tech tree for comparison with WGKZ’s tech tree? I would be very interested to see what a realistic Chinese tech tree covering the World of Tanks period looks like and how different it is to the in-game tech tree.

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  4. Looks fake/ photoshop to me. Might even be a propaganda or deception image, if original.

    The hull has the tracks broken and hanging loose on both sides, and at least one road wheel missing. The ZiS-3 does not appear to be vertically aligned, and is a different size to the (presumably scaled) drawn version. The original photo is probably of a scrapped hulk.

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    1. Now you mentioned it, the pic is VERY LIKELY photoshopped

      I mean, look at the left arm of the man below the gun. You can see the outlines of tank behind his arm, so unless he has arm made of glass the pic is definitely photoshopped and fake.

      Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here we have another chinese fake…

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        1. To be fair, thats a common error when a grainy black and white photo is digitised. Sometimes a line and/or a colour shade is copied across a separate object.

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      1. Very possible. As I said in another comment:

        The man on the left’s shoulder and arm appear translucent. The source material for the photo (“The Tank Division of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1945-1955”, 2017) does not comment on this. Now, this doesn’t mean that the tank is fake, but it might mean that the photo has been altered deliberately – to what end, I don’t know.

        It’s possible, if a little unlikely, that there was something wrong with the film, the man moved during the photo, or there was some kind of exposure problem. I really can’t say.The photo is printed on terrible paper, so I can’t really analyse it too much. A digitization issue does, indeed, sound a little dubious.

        If it is a photoshop, do you not think that the producer would do a better job of covering things up? The turret is clearly a new construction, it is not simply a Type 62 or Type 59 turret pasted onto an SU-76 chassis. They would have to go out of their way to design a new superstructure in photoshop (which looks surprisingly neat). In my own private collection of Chinese photos, the paper is often poor quality, and it’s evident that cameras used are not of the highest quality. This might contribute towards the image looking the way it does.

        In any case, I think it’s a little problematic to immediately dismiss it. I’ll contact a photo-boffin and see what they think.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an SU-76 chassis as the driver’s port is located in the middle. The T-70 has its driver’s port located quite a bit to the left, from the driver’s perspective.

      The SU-76 is armed with a 76mm ZIS-3.

      The SU-76 chassis is based off the T-70 so I can see why there is seen me confusion.

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