Tuesday 7 January 2014

Tanks in the Mud

"I maintain the opinion that a man that has never seen these roads, here, in the South, during the Spring, cannot fully imagine what they are like. Imagine a highway, made of massive boulders placed side by side, sometime in the middle of a repair, when the workers pulled the stones out, and placed them right back, without the chance to rearrange or remove them. That's one.
Two. Imagine that, on top of these torn out boulders, there is a half a meter of mud. It has nowhere to go, since the mud is up to the same level to the sides of the road, and it is even deeper there. 
Three. Imagine that, after driving on that highway on an all terrain vehicle, furious from the constant climbing out, pushing the car, placing logs, straw, anything that can make the vehicle move again under the tires, you decide to forget the road and go through the fields. A sight overturns this decision, the sight of a tank turret, not even the tank itself, about 15 meters from the road. Upon closer inspection, the tank is undamaged, and merely sank in the mud. When I walked to, emphasis on the walked, a general that I knew back from Khalkin-Gol, he answered my profanity regarding the condition of the road with laughter, and replied that I was merely following his example. In order to keep up with his advance forces, he left his car behind two days ago, and has been walking since. 
And the last, most strangely comforting thing, is that the roads are covered with signs of German retreat. It is hard to be surprised by these things with my imagination, but after I came here, I am still shocked daily at the amount of abandoned German vehicles of all makes and models, combat and transport. There are famous Tigers and Panthers, intact and burned up, self propelled guns, massive APCs, small motorcycle-like APCs with one leading wheel, huge blunt-nosed Renault trucks stolen from France, endless Mercedes and Opel, staff cars, radios, field kitchens, AA guns, disinfection chambers, anything and everything the Germans came up with and fought with during their retreat is now broken or abandoned in the mud of these roads." 
-Konstantin Simonov, April 1944

Simonov isn't exaggerating in his writings. In order to successfully fight a war, you need to make sure your tanks can do a little off-road driving. This means putting them through trials like this: 

"6. Typical road segment, indicative of its condition"

"12. The vehicle is crossing a ravine with a stream. Vehicles typically get stuck here."

"Overall view of the heavily mudded and swamped road."
"The tank submerges in the mud 0.6 meters to 0.8 meters during motion."

If you are unprepared for mud, prepare to face losses. The following is a fragment of a German report on losses due to mud.

3 cannons and 33 vehicles is nothing to scoff at. However, contrary to popular belief, Russia isn't the only European country with mud in it. Soviet forces came across plenty of mud on their march through Germany. 

The British didn't have much fun in France.

 A Sherman that met a similar fate in Italy, Spring of 1944.

Spring of 1944 seems to have been very rainy in general. Here are some fragments from "Report on the supply of the offensive operations of the 1st Guards Tank Army in March-April of 1944":
"The army was carried by Studebakers, which lived up to their expectations. Aside from Studebakers, we had to use tanks that towed cars behind them."
"The Rear Directorate of the 1st Guards Tank Army was faced with great difficulty due to the mud in the Winter of 1943/44. Studebakers could barely move with the speed of 5-6 kph, while all other wheeled vehicles were completely paralyzed."

Sometimes, it doesn't even have to be a particularly muddy spring to ruin your day, all you have to do is find a stream.

From the combat diary of the 48th Tank Corps:
"July 5th, 1943
6:30. Infantry and tanks belonging to "Grossdeutschland" reached an anti-tank trench and a ravine East of Berezovo. There are a lot of minefields and barbed wire in front of it. Its crossing is going to be difficult, as despite a good weather forecast, the ravine is full of water. After last night's rain, everything turned to mud.
10:45. "Grossdeutschland" managed to get an insignificant number of tanks across a heavily swamped ravine. One Tiger fell through, and blocked all movement. The engineers are hurriedly constructing crossings, but the building materials sink in deep mud. The regiment with Panthers is still south of Height 229.8. It will take much longer to cross the ravine than estimated. Vehicles and tanks of the division that are stuck in front of the ravine are constantly under attack from enemy aircraft, which caused notable losses, especially among officers. The grenadier regiment HQ took a direct hit from an enemy shell. The regimental adjutant, and two other officers are dead."

Another, similar episode happened to the 503rd s.Pz.Abt on October 4th, 1943. 

Tiger #331 attempts to cross the reinforced bridge to the other side of the river that appears to have already claimed one Tiger. 

#331 backed off. Why? You can clearly see where the bridge boards buckled under its weight. No matter how many logs you stack in the center, simple wood isn't going to support 56 tons of steel. 

Tiger # 332 decided to go around, and also met an unfortunate fate.

Pulling the Tiger proved ineffective. 

The diary of the 503rd reproduced in Schneider's Tigers in Combat I describes this episode laconically: "All tanks out of action."

The British came up with a creative solution to helping a tank get out of mud: rockets! They tried it out on the Universal Carrier.

That went about as well as you could expect.


  1. Lol at the epic failure of the Universal Carrier.

    1. Yeah, don't tell us this was a serious idea? I mean come on, a first semester physics student could have told you that. [Or a fifth semester engineering student :P]

    2. Chill, only the wacky British thought it was a serious, practical idea (unless you count T-80 with rockets strapped to it).