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IS-2/3 Heavy Tanks in KPA Service
I recently received a message from a friend concerning the possible use of
the IS-2/3 heavy tank in KPA service and thought that the list members would
be interested in some of the original message and my reply. I would
certainly enjoy and additional comments by list members.
Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.
PGP key available on request
> ...Ran across something that qualifies as ancient history, but you might add
> to your database. There is a site run by Valeriy Potapov out of Moscow that I
> was looking at for some info on Russian WW2 weapons. The site is,
> Very well done, but the interesting part was one paragraph in regards to the
> IS-2 heavy tank. As an afterthought the author mentions that two regiments of
> IS-2s (total of 42 tanks under the Russian system at that time) were
> transferred to North Korea and two tank divisions were each given one of the
> regiments. The reference to two tank divisions is interesting.
I checked out the site, its very interesting and informative.
The reference is to the late-1950s and early 1960s. As far as I can tell
[since most of my files are still back in NY :-(] the KPA reorganized their
armor units a number of times during this period. During the late 1950s the
105th Tank Division, which was the KPA's primary Korean War tank unit, was
only a division in name being the size of a regiment or brigade. It
apparently provided a cadre for the establishment of other tank units. It
appears that during the early to mid 1960s the KPA did reconstitute the
105th as a tank division and possibly established a second tank division. By
the early 1970s a second tank division was confirmed by U.S. Intelligence
and was located in the Koksan region.
The Russian sources might be correct (they certainly seem reasonable). I
have only a few references to the IS-2/3 use by the KPA or CPV (Chines
People's Volunteers) during the war through the mid 1960s,
1) A 1951 (?) U.S. intelligence report on weapons in the hands, or possibly
in the hands, of the KPA and CPV mentions IS-2/3 heavy tanks. To the best of
my knowledge none were confirmed throughout 1950-1951.
2) A mid 1950s (1956-57?) U.S. OOB report on the KPA and CPV indicates
several CPV units which might have been equipped with the IS-2/3 heavy tank.
These were stationed in the rear areas. (Damn, I wish I had my files with
3) A 1958 U.S. OOB report on the KPA makes no mention of the IS-2/3 heavy
tank, only T-34/85, Su-76/85/100. The same report also identifies no tank
unit larger then a regiment (including the 105th).
4) A 1967 (?) U.S. report indicates a tank division and the possibility of
IS-2/3 heavy tanks in KPA service.
5) A 1968 DIA study states the following,
"The North Korean Army (NKA) has increased from an estimated 263,000 in 1953
to 350,000 in 1968. This has been accompanied by a series of organizational
changes so that, at the present time, there are 5 army groups, 19 infantry
divisions, 1 missile division, 3 AAA divisions, 1 tank division, and 5
infantry brigades. Additional fire support is provided by two howitzer and
two heavy mortar brigades, and one rocket launcher brigade. Five tank
regiments (four medium and one heavy) complete the major combat elements."
BTW, the "missile division" refers to surface-to-air missiles. The study
goes on to say,
"Since the Korean War, armor support has been improved with the addition of
the T-54 medium tank and the JS-2/3 heavy tank. This improvement has been
complemented by an increase in the number of SU-76 self-propelled assault
guns. The inclusion of this relatively modern equipment provides the NKA
with a potent striking force for rapid exploitation."
It would not be unreasonable for the tank division (the 105th) to have a
regiment of IS-2/3 heavy tanks.
6) A 1977 U.S. intelligence report on KPA armor makes no mention of the
IS-2/3 but does state,
"This force totals 63 tank battalions and 12 mechanized infantry
battalions. Its basic units are:
2 Armored Divisions
5 Armored Regiments
1 Armored Task Force
23 Tank Battalions organic to Infantry and Motorized Infantry
6 U/I Tank Battalions
1 Armor School"
" At press time, there was strong PHOTINT evidence that some Infantry
units of the 1st Motorized Infantry Division in the 3rd Corps and the 4th
Infantry Division in the 5th Corps were being equipped with North Korean
M-1973 armored personnel carriers (APC).
 "One is assessed as being slightly less then full strength."
It goes on to state,
"Finally, 2 armored divisions form the nucleus of the North's strategic
reserve. The 105th Armored Division is located north of PYONGYANG; the
other, its national designator still unknown, is situated around KOKSAN in
northeast 2nd Corps."
 For simplicity, this unit is referred to as the KOKSAN Armored