IS it a bird, IS it a plane, IS-3?

Today, Duncan looks the next unit to hit his painting queue in the #FateofFourGamers Challenge; the IS-3.

Background to the IS-3

When the first three Iosif Stalin 3 (IS-3) tanks trundled through Berlin in May 1945 as part of the Soviet victory celebrations they represented the pinnacle of Soviet heavy tank design that could draw its lineage back to 1939 and the KV-1. The IS-3 was conceived to fight the latest German tanks but ended up opposing the American Pershing and British Centurion across the Iron Curtain.

These early IS-3 tanks flattered to deceive and had issues with the antiquated transmission inherited directly from the KV-1. The main gun, whilst a monster at 122mm, was slow to fire and the ammunition supply onboard was impractically small. Finally, the production of the hull itself was also troublesome especially the welding around the engine compartment which had an inclination to crack open – not something you really want in terms of a heavy first line tank. When the last IS-3 rolled off the production line in 1946 a total of 2,311 but this was just the beginning for the IS-3.

The next phase of development, IS-3M, initiated in 1948 saw new strengthened brackets for the engine, a modified gearbox mount, reinforced under-turret plate, and an improved design of the main clutch. The radio was also modernised, but this all leads to the weight topping 49 tonnes. In the 1950’s more changes saw an increase in the rigidity of the overall frame and the replacement of all machine guns to the DshKM and DTM variants.

Isn’t it pretty in desert colours?

It was during this period in the 1950’s that Egypt acquired 100 IS-3 and 60 IS-3M tanks. During the 6 Day War, the IS-3s formed part of the 7th Infantry Division, holding the position in the Khan Yunis-Rafah line and part of the 125th Armoured Brigade near El Kuntilly. The Israelis had some difficulties dealing with the heavy armour of the IS-3 due to its thick armour, which shrugged off hits to the front from normal infantry anti-tank weapons such as the bazooka and even the 90mm rounds of the IDF M48 Patton tanks.

Ultimately slow rate of fire, poor engine performance, it was not well suited to the heat and environment of the desert operations, proved to be significant weaknesses to the IS-3 and 73 tanks were lost in the1967 conflict. The Egyptians perceived with at least one regiment remaining in service until the 1973 Yom Kippur War but the majority of its mainline battle tanks with the newer T54s and eventually the T-62.

The IDF did investigate the use of the captured IS-3s but found the same weaknesses that the Egyptians had encountered in the quick-paced desert operations they found themselves fighting in and those not simply scrapped were turned into stationary pillbox emplacements on Bar-Lev Line; to face their former owners in the 1973 conflict.

The IS-3 in Fate of a Nation

In game terms, the IS-3 is a bit of a monster but its effectiveness is tempered by some of the design and operational drawbacks we looked at in its background. So let’s look at the main pros and cons of this behemoth.


Armour 14 is crazy. The Magach-6 is more but nothing on the Egyptian side comes close. The IS-3 will straight bounce 50% of 105mm shots at long range… 50%! Side Armour 9 is nice, but if you need it you are probably dead anyway.


The 122mm gun is AT14 with a 2+ firepower. Nice. Not going to take out a Magach-6 ‘nice’ but, against older IDF tanks, it is more than serviceable. What I really like is the Brutal characteristic and the 2+ firepower; making infantry, and gun teams, re-roll saves and then digging them out on a 2+; that is nasty. The IS-3 is the only Brutal main gun armed Egyptian tank.


The IS-3 is mid-range in the cost of Egyptian Tanks. This means you can sneak them in as a cheap-ish decent sized, second formation without breaking the bank; I’m thinking two units of five with a HQ.


Small thing but a Cross of 3+ with a Cross Here order gives you a great unit to get where your opponent doesn’t want it. Cross Here not requiring a Skill check is also a bonus.



Slow Firing is a big impediment. Especially for a tank that can get outranged by the IDF main battle tanks almost all of the time. AT14 is ok but is not going to trouble the Magach series tanks to the front and if you are trading shots with a tonne of Ishermans then you may not be winning that firefight anyway.


Your Dash speed is slower than the other main battle tanks. Not a massive deal but still a negative when you need to flank some of the chunkier IDF tanks to be able to even make them roll dice to save.


If you are taking the IS-3 as a formation then be prepared to be underwhelmed in terms of a) slots and b) choices. The limitations around only have BTR-152 infantry and IS-3s as choices in formation compared with the T-62s and T-54s is stark. I don’t think I would ever take the IS-3 as my only or main formation.

Final Thoughts

I love the look of the IS-3, it’s what tipped me over the edge to take Egyptians rather than one of the other Arab forces in Fate of a Nation.

Only nine… one is now a lovely objective marker

I also like that the actual limitations that were seen in 1967 and again in 1973 are reflected in game terms and make the IS-3 a challenge to use. I think that there are definitely uses for the beast and I plan to run mine alongside the Thunderbolt infantry as my objective grabbers whilst the T-62 snipe at the IDF forces arrayed against me.

Stuff is going to explode in Fate of a Nation – there are tonnes of high AT assets available to both sides and the armour is not comparable so you can’t be too precious with the IS-3. They are a tough nut to crack but if your opponent wants them gone they will eventually pop; the trick will be in making them have to sacrifice something to do that. The high AT means that it will only take a few dud rolls to hit at long range and you can be in amongst your opponent.

I’m looking forward to seeing these brutes on the table top and hopefully up against Lee at the end of month two…

Just remember, there are five in a box, whatever the front says… unless it’s an old box… hopefully that makes sense.