The S-35 CA is an archetypal “bodge” project – get a chassis of an old tank, take
out the turret, and stick a big gun on it. History is replete with such ideas, most of which did not progress. Of course there are some insane ideas that do actually turn out to work, which is why people keep on making them, and they are hardly limited to tanks. One example of this might be the Sea King AEW variant – basically a standard Sea King with an AEW radio stuck on the side with a bit of piping. Of course, the ideas that turn out to work become less slapdash as they are refined. The S-35 CA was not one such project in real life, but in World of Tanks it is a great tank destroyer with one particularly curious feature.
Myself I found, both when fighting against the S-35 CA and when playing it, it really all comes down to the gun. The rest of the vehicle is really just a thing to put the gun on. One can look at the vehicle as containing two parts, the hull itself and then the gun and mantlet. The hull is pretty unremarkable. Even with the top engine and tracks this is a sluggish vehicle, and it feels it. The hull is not terribly well armoured, especially the sides and area. Being flanked should be a death sentence. The mantlet around the gun however is a different matter, and will bounce quite a lot of incoming fire of its own tier and even some Tier VI. Just remember however that as an open-topped vehicle it is very vulnerable to artillery fire.
One of the virtues of this tank is that all three guns – even the stock gun – are truly viable. The stock 17pdr has the best penetration, accuracy, and rate of fire, but least alpha damage. The Canon de 105 has almost as much penetration as the 17pdr and also twice the damage (the highest of the three), but the slowest rate of fire (less than half the 17pdr). The 90mm canon has the least penetration, 80% of the damage of the Canon de 105, but fires nearly 50% quicker.
Myself I ended up playing mostly with the Canon de 105, and this in my experience this is the most popular option. My own reasoning is that I find it the best combination of damage and penetration, and while its rate of fire is slow – the 90mm canon will do far more damage over time – in practical terms I find myself generally backing away behind cover and so would not be able to use the higher rate of fire. The 17pdr is best for those who wish to play a true sniper, sitting back where they are generally less vulnerable yet able to rapidly fire at enemy targets. The 90mm canon is a more all-around gun. Its lower penetration means that a knowledge of weakspots, especially for any Tier VII opponents, is more important. With that knowledge however the higher rate of fire and still decent alpha means this gun will rack up damage very quickly.
The gun depression for the S-35 CA is alright – not brilliant, but enough to reduce the amount of vulnerable hull that needs to show. The gun arc large – well over 40 degrees in total – but curiously it is also very lopsided. It can shift almost twice as much to the right than it can to the left. This is because, I believe, that the gun is situation a bit to the right of the centre-light, so there is not room in the mantlet superstructure for the gun to move more to the right. If you look top-down on the tank it is easier to see what I mean. Practically speaking this can open up some interesting tactical possibilities, the most obvious being the ability to maintain a greater angle on the frontal armour when firing to the right. It is not something one can make use of in all situations, but if one remains alert to opportunities it can be a useful little features. If an opportunity to use this is not present, just remember to position oneself properly to take advantage of the full arc.
I have played 38 games in the S-35 CA, with 20 victories and 69 enemy tanks destroyed. I only have one Battle Honour – a single Sniper medal. Given my good accuracy – 76% – one might expect more except the slow rate of fire means one often does not qualify for the sniper medal – and the slow speed means one generally only impacts a single area of the battlefield. Along the way I have managed to get the Ace Tanker badge.
I was very tempted to keep this vehicle, but I am going to sell it on and send the crew into the ARL V39. However, I am going to keep it in mind as a tank to possibly reacquire at a later date, as I have found it great fun to play. I have equipped it with a rammer, and then I use a camo net and binocular telescopes. Just be aware that it is a relatively tall vehicle, making it easier to spot than many TDs.