Ammunition shell types
Tank shells come in two general categories: kinetic energy shells, and chemical energy shells.
Kinetic energy shells penetrate and deal damage based on a number of factors; shell type, projectile mass, round velocity and material hardness. Mass, shell type and hardness are constants, but velocity reduces with distance travelled and as such at longer ranges kinetic rounds will lose penetration ability and in some cases post-penetration efficacy.
Chemical energy shells do their damage based on a chemical reaction, and unlike kinetic shells, their ability to penetrate and deal damage are not affected by the shell's speed. This means that they do the same amount of damage regardless of the distance to the target if they hit.
It is worth noting that there is no '-T'-suffix in the names of tank shells. It is assumed that all tank shells have a tracer component in the shell base.
Kinetic energy shells
Armour Piercing is a basic solid steel shot which is entirely reliant on kinetic energy to penetrate and deal damage. Providing the round possesses enough energy to penetrate any given armour, it will deal internal damage from steel fragments and spalling of the internal surfaces which can damage vehicle components, stored ammunition and crew members.
AP is a standard early World War II ammunition for many nations. In War Thunder, AP rounds should be used as a general use anti-armour round, with careful round placement to maximise post-penetration damage.
APC rounds have a nose cone (or cap) of softer metal is fixed to the front of the solid shot. When this strikes the target armour the shock of the impact is transferred away from the tip of the round to the neck, helping prevent shattering. Additionally, the cap will collapse on contact with armour and the deformation will cause the round to angle towards the armour, more efficiently directing energy into the armour and improving the angled performance of the round. A downside of the cap is a decrease in long-range accuracy due to the cap interfering with the shell's aerodynamics.
APC is commonly found as a mid-tier shell for both the British and French on their mid-to-late WW2 vehicles. In War Thunder, APC is best used as a short-to-mid range round for combatting angled armour that regular AP rounds may not easily penetrate.
APBC rounds utilise a ballistic cap, designed to improve aerodynamic performance and hence round performance at longer ranges. The cap usually utilises a soft or brittle metal which collapses on impact and does not aid penetration or angled performance.
APBC is found on some early Russian vehicles, but is relatively uncommon otherwise compared to APCBC. In War Thunder, APBC is best used as a longer-range alternative to APC or APHE rounds which often exhibit less favourable ranged performance.
APCBC rounds combine the standard cap and the ballistic cap, improving the round's aerodynamic and penetration performance. As such, APCBC rounds tend to exhibit the best 'all-round' characteristics of any conventional kinetic rounds.
APCBC is found as a high-tier shell for British, French and American mid-to-late WW2 vehicles. In-game, APCBC should be the preferred option of solid shot rounds in all situations, when available, and should be situationally switched for APHE rounds if they're available.
APHE rounds utilise a similar form to AP rounds, but incorporate a small chamber of high explosive filler within the round. This often slightly reduces the round's mass and construction strength and as such APHE rounds tend to exhibit slightly worse penetration performance than their solid shot counterparts. However, upon successful penetration, APHE rounds often cause significantly more damage within a vehicle. APHE rounds have a fuse which will only activate on sufficiently thick armour.
APHE is primarily found on Russian vehicles earlier in the tech tree, and on some earlier American and German vehicles. It should be prioritised for use when penetration is likely, or switched for AP or APCR if improved penetration is required.
Armour Piercing, High Explosive, Ballistic Capped (APHEBC)
APHEBC rounds, similarly to APHE, utilise APBC concepts with the addition of high explosive filler. Again, the rounds tend to exhibit slightly worse penetrative performance than their solid shot brethren, but significantly more post-penetration damage. APHEBC rounds have a fuse which will only activate on sufficiently thick armour.
APHEBC is primarily found on Russian vehicles earlier in the tech tree as a mid-tier round, and on some American and German vehicles. It's ideally used against targets where angled performance is required and HE filler is preferable.
Armour Piercing, High Explosive, Capped, Ballistic Capped (APHECBC)
APHECBC rounds utilise standard APCBC designs with added explosive filler. APHECBC is often referred to as 'APCBC' in-game, and can be identified instead by the graphic or the explosive filler content in the round stat sheet. As with other APHE rounds, APHECBC significantly improves the post-penetration lethality over that of a standard APCBC round. APHECBC rounds have a fuse which will only activate on sufficiently thick armour.
APHECBC is found throughout the Russian tech tree as a high-tier round, and on some American and German vehicles. APHECBC should be used preferentially and interchangeably with a high-penetration round where available.
APCR rounds often use tungsten carbide or other extremely hard metals as a sub-calibre penetrator, wrapped within a softer full-calibre sabot - the APCR concept is essentially a predecessor to the APDS design. Upon impact, the soft shell will deform, allowing the hard metal penetrator contained within to penetrate the target's armour with force spread over a smaller surface area, resulting in significantly better penetration ability. APCR rounds often suffer from less post-penetration damage than a standard AP round of the same calibre, and due to their design perform much worse when facing angled armour.
APCR is found throughout most tech trees, most commonly available to vehicles from mid-WW2 through to early cold war vehicles. APCR rounds are best used against minimally angled armour, where other rounds will be unable to penetrate.
APDS rounds utilise a hard core as a sub-calibre penetrator, with a full calibre sabot. Unlike APCR rounds, APDS rounds discard their sabot after exiting the cannon barrel. The result is an extremely high-velocity round with particularly high penetration values and good ranged accuracy. APDS produces a minimal amount of post-penetration damage. There is also a small chance for APDS rounds to shatter given certain circumstances.
APDS is first made available on post-WW2 British vehicles, and is available to most vehicles in possession of an L7-derived gun. In War Thunder, APDS is best used as a long-range round, with multiple shots often being a necessity due to the lack of post-penetration damage. APDS is quite ineffective against lightly-armoured vehicles.
APDS-FS (usually referred to as APFSDS in-game) is the pinnacle of the kinetic anti-armour rounds. As with APDS, APFSDS utilises an extremely hard penetrator and a discarding sabot, however the penetrator is usually significantly longer than that of APDS and incorporates fins for added long-range accuracy. The additional penetrator legnth improves the post-penetration damage effects. APFSDS rounds are the most powerful kinetic rounds available in-game.
APFSDS is first available to some late Rank V vehicles, and is often the primary round for most Rank VI or VII vehicles. It's effective at all ranges, and due to most APFSDS rounds having an extremely high velocity they maintain their performance at even extreme ranges. APFSDS is quite ineffective against lightly-armoured vehicles.
Shrapnel rounds are a kinetic round utilising a thin shell and a chamber of metal fillings or ball bearings. Upon successful penetration, Shrapnel rounds cause a significant amount of damage. However, due to the thin outer shell, shrapnel rounds only perform well against particularly light armour and are completely ineffective when used against even moderately armoured targets.
Shrapnel rounds are available exclusively to early Russian vehicles. Shrapnel is exclusively useful against lightly armoured targets, and shouldn't be used against front-facing armour of any other tank.
Chemical energy shells
High Explosive rounds are primarily intended for use as an anti-infantry/anti-emplacement round. As such, HE rounds tend to have minimal armour-piercing capability and are better used against particularly lightly armoured vehicles, although on occasion it can prove effective against the sides of a vehicle. Particularly high-calibre HE rounds may cause enough area damage to destroy a tank regardless of the round placement.
HE rounds are available to almost every vehicle in-game. However, low-calibre HE rounds are particularly ineffective and they should only be utilised by vehicles with large-calibre guns, such as the KV-2 or Sturmpanzer II.
HESH rounds are designed as an anti-emplacement round. The 'squash head', usually comprised of some form of plastic explosive, is designed to squash onto a surface and detonate, causing the opposite side of the surface to rupture. If the given surface happens to be metal, this will often result in metal shards flying off the surface at high velocity. Due to this design, HESH rounds perform better the further they can spread, and as such they're more effective when applied to angled armour, within reason.HESH rounds are available to most British vehicles from Rank V, and other vehicles in possession of an L7-derived gun. HESH should be primarily used against lighter armour or side armour, although occasionally the HE splash effect can cause unexpected results. HESH is completely ineffective against heavy armour.
HEAT rounds are designed as a multi-stage anti-tank round. Initially, a chemical reaction superheats armour on contact, melting a hole. Afterwards a shaped charge detonates, causing directed HE damage on the interior of the tank. Early HEAT rounds have limited effectiveness, however their penetration values stay consistent at all ranges.
HEAT rounds are available to a variety of WW2 German vehicles, as well as higher-performance HEAT becoming available to some late French and American vehicles. HEAT is limited in effectiveness and its usage should be carefully considered as many vehicles have armour it cannot penetrate.
HEAT-FS rounds are an improvement over the HEAT concept, using improved penetrative chemicals and utilising fins for improved ballistic performance. HEAT-FS rounds maintain their penetration values at all ranges, and are well-suited to long-range engagements.
HEAT-FS rounds become available to many nations from Rank V although notably the British do not receive HEAT-FS at any stage due to its incompatibility with rifled cannons. At Rank VI and Rank VII, HEAT-FS may prove ineffective in many cases due to the prevalence of ERA and composite armour. Despite this, it can still be used for ranged engagements as particularly late HEAT-FS rounds have extremely high penetration power.
Main article: Anti-tank Guided Missile
ATGMs largely utilise the same concept as HEAT, however they integrate some form of propulsion and are usually guidable, either manually (MCLOS) or semi-automatically (SACLOS). ATGMs usually pack a large amount of explosive and often have particularly powerful penetrators. However, they require specialised equipment to fire and tend to have long reload times.ATGMs become available through Rank V, and are primarily carried by specialised ATGM carriers, however some tanks have ATGM-capable main cannons. ATGMs are powerful and SACLOS guided missiles are easily aimed, however they travel slowly and well-aware targets may be able to move into cover prior to the ATGM reaching them.
Main article: Smoke
Smoke shells are not designed as a damaging shell, and largely consist of chemicals designed to create a smoke screen. The produced smoke has a limited lifetime.
Smoke shells are available to various vehicles throughout most tech trees, however their effectiveness is somewhat limited compared to dedicated smoke launchers.
Ammunition for ground vehicles is stored in Ammo racks.