Monday 31 August 2015

A-20 and A-32 Trials

"Summary of results from proving grounds trials of the A-20 and A-32 from July 18th to August 23rd, 1939

The A-20 convertible drive tank with 6 drive wheels was built according to tactical-technical requirements #284797 composed on May 13th 1939 with the following exceptions:
  1. The flamethrower mount was not included.
  2. The tank weight is 1.5 tons greater than projected.
  3. The underwater driving equipment is not finished.
During trials, the A-20 travelled 4200 km with the following average movement speed:
  1. Highway: 44.4 kph
  2. Dirt: 31.7 kph
The A-20 tank can keep moving on highways, off-road, and over obstacles with only one track while the wheel drive is engaged. The tank can move in a column on a highway at any time of year and on dry dirt roads. The maximum speed on tracks is 75 kph.

During trials the tank demonstrated satisfactory reliability.

The A-32 tank is built according to the same tactical-technical requirements and is armed with a 76 mm gun. During trials, the tank travelled 3000 km and also demonstrated satisfactory reliability.

The A-20 and A-32 have the following advantages of the the BT tanks:
  • The armour is thicker and placed at an angle, guaranteeing protection against 12.7 mm bullets.
  • Tanks have larger internal volume, and it is used better.
  • The tanks are more stable as a firing platform and have a front machinegun in the hull.
  • The tanks have better off-road performance than the BT tanks.
  • The V-2 diesel is less dangerous from a fire safety standpoint, is more economical, works off heavy fuel, gives the ability to drive more in battle, and is easier to service.
  • The crew is increased to 4 men.
  • The A-32 has a reserve in mass, meaning it can be protected by thicker armour.
Drawbacks of the tanks:
  • Insufficiently reliable idler mounts.
  • Fuel and oil leak due to insufficiently robust tanks.
  • The A-20 wheel drive bearings are unreliable.
  • Crew positions and optics are not finalized.

The A-20 tank is acceptable for use by the RKKA. Include improvement in blueprints based on the results of trials.
The A-32 tank is acceptable for use by the RKKA. Use the mass reserve to increase armour to 45 mm or equivalent. Produce two prototypes that will be sent to military trials.

Chief of the 8th Department of the ABTU RKKA, Military Engineer 1st Grade, Afonin."

RGVA 31811-2-1181

Sunday 30 August 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Defense Medals

Medals for defenders of a city were one of the first to be awarded in the Great Patriotic War. They were made from brass (some batches from stainless steel) and awarded not only to soldiers or sailors, but also to civilians. The latter was extraordinary, but recognized the contributions of those who helped bring victory without being on the front lines.

For Defense of Leningrad

The medal "For Defense of Leningrad" was ordered during the heroic defense of the besieged city. During the toughest blockade winter of 1941-42, the city did not surrender. At Sinyavino heights, at Luban, at the Neva foothold, fierce battles with German forces continued. The Red Army attempted four operations to break through the blockade, but it lacked the strength for the time being. However, hundreds of fortifications built after the blockade and collected experience in battle helped reduce the losses on the front lines. Thanks to counter-battery fire, the amount of shells falling on Leningrad's streets decreased by orders of magnitude.

Life in the city recovered, slowly but surely. Each scrap of land turned into a garden, workers managed to re-launch the trams. Deaths from starvation decreased due to more supplies coming across the Ladoga, but the situation remained dire. Civilians helped construct hundreds of fortifications, thousands of kilometers of trenches, build pillboxes and other structures.

On December 22nd, 1942, three weeks before the long-awaited successful breakthrough, the medal for defenders of Leningrad was issued. They began production in early 1943 at the Leningrad mint, and the first awards were made in the spring of that year. By 1962, over 900,000 soldiers and civilians were awarded the "For Defense of Leningrad" medal.

For Defense of Odessa

One can easily call the 73 day defense of Odessa one of the most successful Red Army defensive operations in 1941. 18 German and Romanian divisions approached the city in early August. While the Red Army was fighting on the outskirts, 60,000 civilians were evacuated from the city, along with valuable equipment and materials.

On August 13th, Odessa was completely cut off from the rest of the Soviet Union. Stavka gave the order to fight until the end. Several days later, the Odessa fortification region was created, manned by the Coastal Army and Black Sea Fleet. Until September, cannons on coastal batteries and ships kept the enemy 15-30 km from the city. Odessa was one of the first cities, if not the first, defended by Soviet marines. Their landing at Grigoryevka delivered a serious defeat to the Romanian forces.

On September 30th, Stavka gave the order to evacuate the defenders of Odessa to Crimea, where they were needed more. Within 16 days, soldiers left the city.

A special medal commemorated the bravery of Odessa's defenders, issued on December 22nd, 1942. As of 1985, about 30,000 people were awarded this medal.

For Defense of Sevastopol

Sevastopol, the most important strategic element of the defense of the Crimean peninsula, held out for 250 days. The Germans reached Crimea in the middle of September. Knowing the importance of this territory, they assigned it to one of their best generals, Erich von Manstein.

The Germans did not achieve a swift breakthrough, but Soviet defenses did not hold completely. After a month of fighting, Manstein's forces reached the Sevastopol fortification region. This was one of the largest fortified regions in the world, with dozens of artillery batteries, many minefields and pillboxes. A separate mention must be made of two batteries armed with 305 mm guns in armoured turrets.

The first German attack resulted in a small dent in the front line. After that, German artillery and bombers pummelled the city for over a month. Superheavy guns were shipped from Germany specifically to break through Soviet defenses. This was the only time in WWII where the Germans used the Dora 800 mm gun that fired 7 ton shells.

Soviet counteroffensives in Crimea were fruitless, but Sevastopol held out until the summer of 1942. On July 7th, the Germans launched the last assault with 6 corps numbering about 200,000 men, with support from artillery, aircraft, and SPGs. Battles were so heated that some German companies were down to 20-25 soldiers, but the defenders were drained. On July 1st, Sevastopol fell.

On December 22nd, 1942, the "For Defense of Sevastopol" medal was issued. As of 1962, about 39,000 people received this award.

 For Defense of Stalingrad

Another medal that was issued before the defense of the city was actually over. The medal was issued on December 22nd, 1942.

The Battle of Stalingrad, lasting from the summer of 1942 to February of 1943, was one of the most frightening and heated battled in history. Its defensive period lasted from July 12th (the day of the formation of the Stalingrad Front) to November 19th.

City fighting became a representation of the defense, the biggest art of which was fought by the 62nd and 64th Soviet armies. The city, turned to ruins by bombs and shells, became one continuous battlefield. Battles were fought not only for every building, but often for individual floors. Fighting was done not only with firearms, but hand to hand, with knives and shovels. Soviet and German snipers roamed the ruins. Attack groups crawled along the ground, through sewers, basements, tunnels. Individual houses had significant strategic meaning in this battle, equivalent to any fortifications.

By the middle of November, the Soviets were down to three small footholds near the Volga, but the enemy did not have time to crush them. On November 19th, the first shots of Operation Uranus were fired, signifying the beginning of the end for the Germans in Stalingrad. The 6th Army was surrounded in the city, and surrendered on February 2nd, along with Field Marshall Paulus.

As of 1995, over 700,000 people were awarded the "For Defense of Stalingrad" medal.

For Defense of Moscow

For the German army, taking Moscow would be more than just a propaganda victory. Moscow was a massive industrial, transport, and scientific hub, as well as the most populous city.

In late November of 1941, the Germans began Operation Typhoon, which was supposed to destroy the Soviet forces in the Moscow direction and lead to its capture. To achieve this goal, Army Group Center had almost 780,000 men, over 450 tanks, many guns and mortars.

The battles in the Moscow direction were going poorly for the Red Army. The Germans successfully encircled hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers. Battered Soviet divisions displayed feats of heroism, holding on to every scrap of land. Here is where Panfilov's legendary division fought, here is where Soviet tank ace Lavrinenko destroyed 52 enemy tanks. M. Katukov's tank brigade stopped "Fast Heinz" at Mtensk. Even though legends claim that German officers could see the Kremlin through binoculars, the offensive stalled hopelessly 30 kilometers from Moscow.

On December 5th, 1941, a Soviet counterattack was launched that threw the Germans back over 200 kilometers, and the myth of an unbeatable German army began to crack.

As of 1995, over one million people were awarded the "For Defense of Moscow" medal.

For Defense of the Caucasus

In the spring of 1942, the Red Army suffered a defeat in the south part of the front. The Germans broke through to the Don, Volga, and Caucasus. Hitler prioritized the latter, as it was the main source of oil for the Soviets, as well as other strategic materials.

In battles of June-August of 1942, the Germans emerged victorious, taking a significant part of the Kuban and reaching the Caucasus escarpment. Their path was blocked by forces of the Transcaucasian Front. A line of fortifications was built on the Military-Georgian and Military-Ossetian roads. Paths that could not be defenses were demolished.

The Germans almost had enough strength to reach Tuapse. There were not enough forces left to keep moving, and Stalingrad consumed all reserves. The last successes of the Wehrmacht in this direction were the capture of Nalchik and Gizel. In November, the Red Army launched a counteroffensive that closed the window to Transcaucasia for the Germans. In December, many forces from the region were sent to Stalingrad. The decisive Soviet offensive began on January 1st, 1943.

On May 1st, 1944, to commemorate the achievements of the defenders of the Caucasus, a medal was issued. As of 1962, 580,000 people were awarded the "For Defense of the Caucasus" medal.

For Defense of the Soviet Far North

The Battle for the Far North includes the actions of the Red Army starting from the beginning of the Great Patriotic War to October of 1944 at the Kola peninsula in North Karelia, as well as on the Barents, White, and Kara seas. Here, the primary goals of the German and Finnish armies were the port of Murmansk and the Kirov railroad.

Ground battles in this region didn't last very long. The first offensive in this direction was launched on June 29th. The enemy managed a slight penetration of Soviet defenses, and the offensive stalled in only a few days. A large portion of this success can be attributed to the landing at Greater Western Litsa, which diverted a significant German force. By the fall, the enemy attempted to take Murmansk once more, but this offensive fared even worse; a Soviet counterattack destroyed an entire mountain infantry division.

Until 1944, the most fierce fighting happened on the sea and in the air. The north seas carried a stream of Lend-Lease supplies to Murmansk: tanks, cars, clothes, strategic resources, and dozens of other important goods. Polar convoys were constantly under the threat of attacks by German ships, submarines, and aircraft. Over three years, the North Fleet guaranteed the delivery of almost 1500 convoys.

The "For Defense of the Soviet Far North" medal was issued on December 5th, 1944. As of 1962, over 300,000 people were awarded this medal.

For Defense of Kiev

The last Soviet medal for the defense of a city, the only one issued two years after the start of the war: on June 21st, 1941.

The defense of Kiev is one of the most tragic and heroic chapters in the first year of the war, and one of the largest battles between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. It began in July of 1941, approximately on the 1939 Soviet border, where the South-Western Front retreated after defeats at the new border.

Despite the Wehrmacht's technical advantage in 1941, the Soviet forces provided a fierce resistance, as a result of which an offensive towards Kiev could only be launched in August. The Kiev Fortification Region deserves special mention, as it held elements of the German 6th Army west of the city for two months.

Attempts to hold the Germans at the Dnieper were fruitless. Battles in August and September drained the South-Western Front, but Soviet command demanded that the city hold out at any cost. Stavka only permitted retreat on September 18th. Sadly it was too late. The Germans already surrounded the South-Western Front.

As of 1995, over 107,000 people were awarded the "For Defense of Kiev" medal.

Original article available here.

Saturday 29 August 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Panther Slaughter at Zhudre

The defensive phase of the Battle of Kursk was over. The Red Army triumphed in the fierce fight against the Germans and began their counterattack. Starting on July 12th, 1943, elements of three Soviet Fronts trampled over one division of Army Group Center after another, moving through to Orel.

The 11th Guards Army of the Western Front, reinfoced with tank corps, successfully penetrated enemy defenses and travelled 70 km in a week. German reserves and forces from other portions of the front were moved to stop them. Especially fierce battles raged in the region of Karachev-Khotynets, where a railroad that was vitally important for the Germans was located. One of the strongest German divisions, Grossdeutschland, arrived here in late July. It rushed into battle without waiting for full assembly and with no idea what was in store.

Alisovo in the Line of Fire

Advancing Soviet forces collided with Grossdeutschland on July 26th at the small village of Alisovo, north of Khotynets, namely elements of the 16th Guards Infantry Corps and tanks from the 1st Tank Corps. After a week of battle, by August 3rd, German command planned a powerful counterattack that would destroy the Soviet forces. The ace up their sleeve consisted of 96 new Panther tanks given to Grossdeutschland as reinforcements. The division had about 200 tanks and SPGs in total.

Predicting possible enemy action, Soviet forces prepared for tank attacks. Tanks from the 1st Corps occupied for forest behind Alisovo. Six SU-122 SPGs were placed in ambush close by. Infantry and vehicles entrenched inside the village itself. Minefields were set up.

Early in the morning on August 3rd, after bombing runs and an artillery barrage, Grossdeutschland began their offensive. A large amount of infantry was committed to battle, as well as two armoured groups numbering 80 tanks and StuG SPGs. The first group attacked Alisovo from the east, from Izmorozn village, the other, more numerous, attacked from the west, from Progress village.

From the very start, the Germans took losses from minefields. The attack paused, but continued. Using their numerical advantage, the Germans displaced our infantry and opened the way for tanks. However, their attempt at a quick breakthrough failed. The first group was fired upon by Soviet tanks from ambushes when it approached the forest. Having lost four tanks including a Tiger, the group retreated. The tanks coming from Izmorozn were held back by artillery.

Attacks came one after another. Enemy infantry with tank support fruitlessly attempted to tank control of Alisovo. It took until mid-day for the Germans to reach the northern outskirts. Soviet infantry in the village was surrounded, but kept fighting, and broke through to their lnes on the next day.

Certain that victory was close, Grossdeutschland commanders decided to bypass Alisovo and go further north to Zhundre. Panthers were to play a decisive role in this offensive.

Panthers in a Fire Trap

At 16:00, after a short artillery barrage, the Germans moved about 40 tanks around Alisovo. Vehicles moved in two groups, one consisting of about 20 Panthers, the other of medium PzIII and PzIV tanks.

At first, the German tanks moved with no resistance. It appeared that the path to Zhundre was clear, but Soviet tank crews had a warm welcome prepared. Tanks were placed in a forest clearing waiting for the Germans. The SU-122s were ordered to only fire at tanks that broke through in order to conceal themselves.

When frontline Panthers reached the ambush, Soviet tanks opened fire at their flanks. Several of them caught fire. SPGs and antitank guns fired as well. The Germans stopped, caught by surprise, and the remaining Panthers attempted to maneuver and return fire.

The battle escalated. After a few minutes, the enemy knocked out three Soviet SPGs. Sergeant Petr Detsura, a mechanic-driver from one of them, managed to put out the fire and drive away his vehicle to a safe place. He later received an Order of the Red Star for this heroic action.

The duel continued, but the Panthers lost. Out of eight tanks that reached the SPG positions, five were destroyed completely and three were knocked out.

The second group was stopped by SPGs without help from tanks. SU-122s fired on the PzIIIs and PzIVs from the left flank of the ambush. The Germans were caught in the open, and their commanders understood that they won't last long. The tanks that could still move started to pull back, taking cover behind the smoking and burning wrecks. Only three out of seven tanks that broke through from the second group made it back. After such a defeat, Grossdeutschland ceased its offensive.

With smaller numbers, Soviet tankers surpassed their enemy in skill. Acting from ambushes, they not only knocked out 20 German tanks, but forced the enemy to stop all attacks at Alisovo. Grossdeutschland's trump card was useless, and the elite division no longer participated in combat action at Karachev.

The hero of the battle at Alisovo, the 1st Tank Corps, received reinforcements and continued to fight in Operation Kutuzov. On August 15th, its tanks broke through to Karachev. On August 18th, the city was freed from the Germans.

Original article available here.

Friday 28 August 2015

IS-3 Reliability Testing

"Report on the mobility trials of the modernized IS tank, Kirov factory

On April 8th, 1945, the tank travelled 108 km over dirt roads. The engine worked for 6 hours and 9 minutes. During this time, the following data was collected:
  • Average speed in motion: 19.7 kph
  • Average technical speed: 18.8 kph
  • Fuel consumption per hour of work: 73 L
  • Fuel consumption per 100 km: 370 L
  • Maximum coolant temperature: 85 C
  • Maximum oil temperature: 87 C
  • Oil pressure: 6-7.5 kg/cm^2
At the end of the march, a road wheel and drive wheel broke down due to the destruction of the ball bearings. The tank travelled 980 km and the engine worked for 58 hours and 18 minutes since trials began."

An interesting part of this document is a handwritten note over top of it: "Why does the IS-3 have such a large advantage in speed compared to the 701 tank? This must be confirmed." Looks like the IS-4 wasn't doing so hot in its race to become the Red Army's next heavy tank.

Thursday 27 August 2015

Repair Rewards

I already wrote about the rewards given out for destroying enemy tanks in battle, but what about poor sods that also put their lives at risk evacuating tanks from the battlefield, don't they get to see a nice bonus? Turns out, they did. A GOKO decree issued them some pretty tangible rewards.

"20. Establish a monetary award for crews of tanks or evac groups for each tank retrieved from enemy or neutral territory: 5000 rubles for a KV tank, 2000 rubles for a T-34, 500 rubles for a T-70 or T-60.

21. GABTU may issue monetary awards to evacuation companies for evacuation of tanks in need of repairs to army collection yards, in the following amounts:
  1. No less than 10 medium and heavy tanks or 50 light tanks within 10 days: 2000 rubles.
  2. No less than 15 medium and heavy tanks or 75 light tanks within 10 days: 3000 rubles.
  3. No less than 20 medium and heavy tanks or 100 light tanks within 10 days: 5000 rubles."
As you can see, recovery of domestic tanks was valued much more greatly than the destruction of enemy ones, as far as the wallet is concerned.

The workers labouring in the rear could also get a reward if they did their job well enough. If major repairs of vehicles exceeded the norm, the reward is 20% of the excess cost for repairs of vehicles and 10% of the excess for the repairs of the parts. If more than 34% of the quota is consistently achieved, the reward goes up to 25% for vehicles and 12% for parts. However, an opposite harsher rule existed as well. If your repair base did not meet quota, a fine for double of the missed quota's value will be issued. If past month exceeds quota and the current month is below quota, the awards or penalties are calculated as an average of the two months. The percentage of the awards that goes to management can only be up to 5% of the current month's award funds, the lion's share must go to the workers. If repaired parts or vehicles are returned to the base, management is not eligible to any awards at all.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Vodka Refactoring

Remember the decree to give vodka to everyone in the army? That didn't last long.

"State Committee of Defense decree #GOKO-1727s
May 11th, 1942
Moscow, Kremlin

On the order of issuing vodka in the acting army
  1. As of May 15th, 1942, cancel the mass daily distribution of vodka in the acting army.
  2. Retain the daily vodka rations ONLY for soldiers of the front lines that demonstrate success in battle against the German invaders, increasing the ration to 200 grams of vodka per person per day.
  3. Other front line soldiers will receive 100 grams of vodka only on the following revolutionary and public holidays:
    1. Anniversary of the Great October Revolution, November 7th and 8th
    2. Constitution Day, December 5th
    3. New Year's Day, January 1st
    4. Red Army Day, February 23rd
    5. International Labour Day, May 1st and 2nd
    6. All-Union Physical Exercise Day, July 19th
    7. All-Union Aviation Day, August 16th
    8. International Youth Day, September 6th
    9. Regimental Holiday (anniversary of that unit's formation)
  4. Cancel GKO decree #562s issued on August 22nd, 1941.
Chair of the State Committee of Defense
I. Stalin"

That decree did not live long. Decree #1889s reduced the 200 gram rations to 100 grams for all units that are advancing, but even this decree did not last, for winter was coming.

"State Committee of Defense decree #GOKO-2507s
November 12th, 1942
Moscow, Kremlin

The State Committee of Defense decrees that:
  1. Vodka will be issued to the acting army in the following manner:
    1. 100 grams per person per day for units directly engaged in combat with the enemy, in trenches and on the front lines, reconnaissance units, artillery and mortar units supporting infantry, airplane crews upon completion of their mission.
    2. 50 grams per person per day for regimental and divisional reserves, supply units working on the front lines, units performing special tasks on special occasions (building or fixing bridges, roads, etc. in difficult conditions under enemy fire), and the wounded in field hospitals, if allowed by the doctor.
  2. All soldiers of the acting army will only be issued 100 grams of vodka per person per day on revolutionary and public holidays listed in GOKO decree #1889 issued on June 6th, 1942.
  3. On the Transcaucasian Front, substitute 100 grams of vodka for 200 grams of fortified wine or 300 grams of table wine and 50 grams of vodka for 100 grams of fortified wine or 150 grams of table wine.
  4. The military councils of Fronts and Armies must establish monthly limits on issuing vodka to units and act according to the established limit.
  5. When the limit is reached, report to Red Army GUPS to receive the quota for the next month.
  6. Establish the following limit for distribution of vodka among the Fronts from November 25th to December 31st, 1942 (see attachment).
Chair of the State Committee of Defense
I. Stalin."

I'm not going to translate the entire attachment, but in total, 5,691,000 liters of vodka and 1,200,000 liters of wine were needed in the specified period. 

On May 3rd, 1943, the vodka rations returned to summertime quotas, as previously seen: 100 grams for units on the offensive only, everyone else gets to drink on holidays. This order of things keeps flipping back and forth every time the seasons change, with some extra details here and there. For instance, the standards of recycling glass containers were set at 50%, and barrels at 80%. 

The limits for 1943 decreased compared to 1942: between November 25th and December 31st, only 5,665,000 liters of vodka were issued, and no wine at all. As the war went on, the rations kept decreasing. For instance, the winter quota only lasted from December 1st, 1944, to March 1st, 1945, as opposed to from November 25th to March 15th, like in the previous year. This was explained by the fact that the army was fighting in warmer climates.

From here

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Tractor Hunger

Since even before the war, the Red Army had a tractor problem. After all, what good are all those cannons if you can't get them to the front lines? Sure, the crew can push a 45 mm gun for a bit, but 76 mm guns and larger have very limited mobility when on foot. Thankfully, Lend Lease was there to help!

"Report on the minimal requirement for tractors and prime movers for artillery units in 1943

Willys 1st quarter 2nd quarter 3rd quarter
For resupplying existing frontline units with 45 mm and 76 mm guns 1000 1000 400
For forming new AT artillery regiments armed with 45 mm guns, assuming 10 regiments per month, 30 cars each, for 10 months 600 1200 1200
For forming new light artillery regiments with 76 mm ZiS-3 guns, assuming 12 regiments per month, 30 cars each, for 10 months 720 1440 1440
For commanders of newly formed divisions, brigades, and units 440 880 880
Total 2760 4520 3920

Total need: 11200

Studebaker 6x6 or M2 halftracks 1st quarter 2nd quarter 3rd quarter
For finishing the formation of howitzer regiments for artillery divisions, assuming 18 regiments and 30 prime movers each 540 - -
For equipping howitzer regiments and forming new artillery divisions, assuming 3 divisions per month, 90 prime movers each, for 10 months 540 1080 1080
For equipping small caliber AA divisions, assuming 4 divisions per month, 50 prime movers each, for 10 months 400 800 800

There were complaints that a Willys can't tow a 45 mm gun well, let alone a 76 mm gun, but remember, it can always be worse!

Monday 24 August 2015

Tiger Dominator

"Award Order
  • Name: Frolov, Mikhail Pavlovich
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Position, unit: T-34 tank company commander, 389th Tank Battalion, 178th Tank Brigade, 10th Tank Corps
  • Location at time of award: hospital
is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  1. Year of Birth: 1916
  2. Nationality: Russian
  3. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member since 1942
  4. In the Red Army since: 1940
  5. Participation in battle in the Great Patriotic War: Western and South-Western Fronts from June 22nd, 1941 to February 10th, 1943, Voronezh Front from July 7th, 1943 to August 16th, 1943.
  6. Wounds or concussions: heavily wounded.
  7. Previous awards: none.
  8. Recruited by: Alma-Ata recruitment center.
Brief and specific description of heroism: While in battle from July 7th, 1943 to August 16th, 1943 in the Belgorod direction north-east of Kharkov and south-west of Sumy Lieutenant Frolov Mikhail Pavlovich demonstrated his mastery in battle and courage many times. In the recent battles for Gaponovka and Bratskiy, he showed himself to be an exceptionally courageous commander and good organizer of close quarters combat. He is a brave and decisive commander, showing initiative, uses his tank with skill. With careful maneuvering, he destroyed 10 enemy tanks, including 7 Tiger tanks, 8 cars, 4 guns, and over 80 enemy soldiers and officers. On August 9th, 1943, the enemy counterattacked our units with tanks and infantry. With his tank in ambush, Lieutenant Frolov climbed up to a hill and located enemy tanks. Choosing convenient avenues of attack, his tank could withdraw from enemy fire and shoot them in the side, setting one after another alight. This duel ended with him personally destroying 4 Tiger tanks and knocking out a PzIV. The enemy attack failed. During the battle, the company commander was wounded, and the courageous tank commander took command of the company, fighting until the end. In the last battle, while repelling an enemy attack, Lieutenant Frolov was heavily wounded.

Conclusion: due to his bravery and heroism, Lieutenant Frolov is worthy of the highest state award, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-50

7 Tiger tanks in a T-34, that's quite a feat! The tank unit he was beating up was 13./Panzer-Regiment "Grossdeutschland", which wasn't doing so well at the time. Since they go from 9 tanks to 1 tank between August 8th and August 10th, it seems like the battle of August 9th was pretty feasible.

Sunday 23 August 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Mius Front

The Wehrmacht's defensive line at the Mius river in the Donbass was a comfortable place for the Wehrmacht ever since the end of 1941. The Caucasus offensive moved the front lines all the way to the Volga, and the line temporarily emptied, but not for long. In the winter of 1943, after the catastrophe at Stalingrad, the Germans had to renew the old trenches and hurriedly refill them with fresh troops to fill the breach formed after the surrender of Paulus' army.

By the time the Red Army reached this line of defense, they were exhausted from prolonged combat, their supply lines were stretched, most infantry fell behind tanks that rushed forward. In February, the Mius front was an impenetrable obstacle for the Red Army. The next attempt to take it was in mid-July.

Hanging on a Foothold

The Dobass region was especially important for Hitler's commanders, but this did not prevent them from leaving the defending 6th Army without any tank reserves. They were all sent to Kursk. General Hollidt was left with about 50 tanks from the roughed up 16th Panzergrenadier Division and three squadrons of StuGs (about 90 vehicles). If necessary, the 23rd Tank Division, resting nearby after battle, could come to their aid.

The HQ of the Soviet South Front also understood the importance of the Mius front for Germany as they prepared for their offensive.

Over two years of war, Soviet commanders studied their enemy well. They knew that the Germans' favourite maneuver was to strike in the flank of an attacker. This happened, for example, in February of 1943, when elements of the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps and two infantry regiments that crossed the Mius became encircled and had to fight their way back. Soviet commanders paid special attention to protecting their flanks from German counterattacks.

On the dawn of July 17th, forces of the South Front began their offensive, crossed the river, and captured a sizeable foothold. On the next day, the Germans attempted to cut the 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps off from the Mius after they crossed it. This battle did not go well for the tanks and panzergrenadiers of the 16th division. German tanks were preoccupied with fighting Soviet tanks. Infantry, cut off from their tanks, was unable to achieve significant results. The Germans only managed to temporarily delay advancing Soviet tanks. As a result of these battles, the Soviets captured Stepanovka, which played an important role in the battles ahead.

Fiery Deadlock

By the evening of July 18th, the Germans had 20 battle-ready tanks left out of 53, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The panzergrenadiers were ordered to attack again on the next day, this time in support of the 23rd Tank Division that came to plug the breach. The counterattack resulted in a fierce battle with elements of the 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps. Seven German tanks managed to break through to the outskirts of Stepanovka from the north-west, but they were stopped by Soviet tanks and artillery. The panzergrenadiers achieved some local successes, but the offensive was a failure once again. The number of working tanks was reduced to five.

The 23rd Tank Division wasn't doing much better. The 5th Shock Army took good care of its flanks. Tanks and artillery fired upon German vehicles from high ground, assault aircraft actively worked them over from above. Infantry from the 23rd division, stopped by artillery fire, mortars, and small arms, took heavy losses and was unable to help its tanks. Without support, the tanks had to return to starting positions with heavy losses. The 23rd Tank Division was down to 22 functional tanks.

In total, the Germans lost 24 tanks irreparably over two days. More than 40 needed repairs, nearly 20 of which were long-term repairs.

The difficult terrain impeded both sides of the battle. If the heights around Stepanovka were a thorn in the Germans' side, then height 277,9, Saur-Mogila hill. Brigades of the 2nd Mechanized Corps only managed to take it on July 19th. In the morning, remaining German tanks counterattacked the height. Control over Saur-Mogila changed several times that day, but by midnight, it was firmly in Soviet hands.

On July 21st, attempts to break the German defenses continued. Almost completely out of tanks, the 16th Panzergrenadier Division managed to create a defensive line with 88 mm AA guns. Instead of meaningfully supporting Hollidt, German command sent him small groups of tanks as they came in from the factories. He only needed to hold out a little bit longer. Three tank divisions from the 2nd SS Tank Corps were coming to help from Kursk.

Last Push

Of course, by the end of July, the SS divisions weren't the same as at the start of Operation Citadel. Due to timely repairs, Death's Head, Das Reich, and the 3rd Tank Division cobbled up about 250 combat-capable tanks and StuGs.

Divisions coming to help Hollidt already felt the quality of Soviet anti-tank defenses on their own hides. The experience was a painful one, but, compared to what was waiting for them, incomplete. The 5th Shock Army had ten days to create a line of defense before the SS forces arrived, with mines and anti-tank guns.

On July 3rd, the newly arrived forces attacked in the direction of Stepanovka, Gerasimovka, and the dominant heights in the region. Das Reich was supposed to take Stepanovka, where many Soviet anti-tank guns controlled access to the heights. Even without the guns, the Germans were not doing well. Several dozen tanks were immobilized on a mine field immediately and the infantry and SPGs got stuck in battle on the outskirts of the village. In total, 25 vehicles were lost, in addition to significant amounts of men.

Das Reich's failure had a direct effect on the success of Death's Head. The division, attacking Gerasimovka with "impenetrable" Tigers in front of them quickly bogged down in Soviet minefields. While sappers raced to set up passages, everything that could be firing at them was: machineguns, mortars, guns of all calibers. Most of the fire was aimed at the German flank from Stepanovka, the village that Das Reich failed to take. Soon, Il-2 Sturmoviks joined the hunt. During the thole day, both combat groups from Death's Head did not make it past the Eastern slopes of the heights at Gerasimovka. After dark, they were forced to retreat, leaving behind 8 Tigers out of 10, 12 StuGs out of 26, and almost 50 other tanks.

The 3rd Tank Division mostly repeated this script. A minefield, a stop, some progress, more mines. After Soviet tanks counterattacked, the enemy was forced to retreat. The 3rd Tank Army regrouped and attacked again several times, but fruitlessly and with great losses.

The SS did not see such a crushing blow even at Kursk. On July 30th alone, the 2nd SS Tank Corps lost over 100 tanks and SPGs and over 1500 men killed, wounded, or missing.

Fierce battles continued. The Soviets knew that the Germans brought in significant reserves, and will sooner or later wring the defenders dry. At the same time, the Germans couldn't keep the 2nd SS at Mius, it was needed at Kharkov to stop another offensive. Ironically, both sides decided to stop advancing almost simultaneously.

On August 2nd, forces of the South Front finished the crossing to the eastern shore of the Mius. The offensive temporarily stopped. The Mius Front had little more than two weeks left.

Original article available here.

World of Tanks History Section: Overlord, Behind the Curtains

The biggest amphibious operation in WWII, Operation Overlord, began with the landing of the Western Allies on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. Allied soldiers managed to hang onto the shore and push the Germans back from La Manche with more than just shells and bullets. Engineering vehicles worked no less than infantry, tanks, and ships. Bulldozers, assault bridges, mine flails, and fascines laid the road for soldiers from the narrow strip of sand further inland. Underwater pipelines and enormous floating harbours provided fuel, ammunition, and medicine for the Allies.

Let us look at engineering solutions in the Normandy operation.

Steel Helpers

Transports, bulldozers, bridgelayers, and other vehicles must reach the beach along with infantry. Without them, making it through obstructions, wire, and minefields on the shore would have been much more difficult.

Bulldozers went into action soon after the landings started. There were various types, regular bulldozers with armour plates welded on and tank bulldozers. Americans used regular M4 Sherman tanks equipped with bulldozer blades and hydraulic devices for raising and lowering them. The tank remained combat-capable. At the time of the landing, the US Army had about a hundred of these engineering hybrids. The British had about 250 "Centaur" bulldozers, built on a Cromwell chassis with the turret removed.

There was plenty of work to be done. The bulldozers destroyed obstructions on shore, moved away damaged landing craft and other vehicles, cleared the roads, covered up bomb craters, and cleared minefields. Sometimes they even dealt with enemy bunkers, burying them. During low tide, bulldozers worked on more convenient landing zones for subsequent waves of soldiers.

During the failed landing at Dieppe in 1942, walls by the shore became a serious obstacle for tanks. The British took that into account and created the Churchill ARC MkI. The tank's turret was removed and replaced with two ramps, the rear one longer than the front. The tank was supposed to climb as far up as possible on the walls and then open the ramps, allowing other vehicles to drive over the obstacle.

There was another widely used vehicle on the Churchill chassis, the AVRE engineering tank. Some of them were armed with a supercaliber (the diameter of the shell is greater than the diameter of the barrel) 290 mm spigot mortar, firing 18 kilogram HE shells to destroy fortifications. Others were equipped with mine flails, explosive charges, assault bridges, and various other sapper equipment. The crew of the AVRE was interesting: only one man was a tanker, the rest were engineers.

"The longest day" finished with a success, but the main part of the offensive was yet to come.

Mulberry Fruit

By the end of the first day, 150,000 men and hundreds of tanks and other vehicles were on shore. This was far from the entire force destined for Overlord, the total was many times higher. In order to deliver the people and vehicles, as well as supply them with everything necessary, British engineers built two unique constructions: Mulberry artificial harbours.

These massive structures consisted of a whole system of seawalls, piers, and roads. The construction of the harbours was carried out in secrecy since 1943. In total, they were composed of over 200 enormous concrete pontoons and 70 obsolete ships that were loaded with ballast and turned into foundations. Mulberry piers could rest on either these ships or their own foundations that could be raised during transport and lowered at the destination.

Why were these harbours necessary? The experience of the aforementioned Dieppe raid showed that significant casualties are unavoidable when taking a well defended port, and these piers allowed the British to avoid these casualties. Setting up the piers only took a few days. Building a regular harbour takes years, even at peace time.

On June 6th, the tugboats towing the foundation ships came under heavy fire. Fortunately, the Germans managed to sink a few ships where they were supposed to sink. A protective barrier calmed the waters in the harbour, and on the next day, tugboats delivered the multi-ton pontoons, each with a crew of two sailors and two AA gunners. They were positioned next to Omaha and Gold beaches, about a mile from shore. Each harbour was about a mile long, and towered 3-9 meters above the sea, depending on the tide.

The first harbour, Mulberry A, was unlucky. On July 19th, the strongest storm over the past 40 years hit La Manche and destroyed most of its pontoons. The remainder were used to repair Mulberry B. Thanks to these two harbours, over two million men, half a million vehicles and four million tons of cargo were delivered on shore. This was an engineering wonder of the 20th century. According to Dwight Eisenhower, the construction of these harbours was the most daring element of the landings.

Underwater Veins of Overlord

Operation Overlord needed a steady stream of fuel. A hidden network of fuel pipes was laid from Bristol and Liverpool to La Manche. The pump stations and terminals were disguised as garagers, quarries, or even ice cream shops. But how can the fuel get over the channel?

The British developed a plan of building an underwater pipeline called PLUTO (PipeLine Under The Ocean) with the help of engineers from the Britain-Iraq Oil Company. The basis was the well tested technology of underwater pipelaying, aside from the core. This was an incredibly reliable technological process. Some telephone cables laid this way in the 19th century kept working until the 1950s.

There were two types of pipes planned: lead and steel. The lead one used a 5 cm thick pipe covered in several layers of thin steel strips reinforced with steel wire. Trials in 1942 showed that the pipeline needed significant internal pressure, or it would be crushed or burst. Engineers came up with a clever design. The lead pipe was covered with paper saturated with bitumen, steel wire, and jute. The steel design was almost the same (except for a greater diameter, 7.5 cm) and was developed because lead was in deficit at wartime. External pressure was as dangerous for these pipes as internal, which is why they were filled with water during laying, so that they were not crushed by their own weight.

The pipelines were wound on enormous spools, unrolled with steam-powered winches. One spool weighed more than two destroyer ships at the time. Over 30 ships participated in the laying. The first proper pipeline was finished on August 12th, 1944. Work only took less than 10 hours, even though the pipeline was over 130 km long. The amount of pipelines constantly increased. By spring of 1945, nearly 20 steel and lead veins connected Britain to the mainland. By the end of the war, they pumped about 700 million tons of fuel.

The success of the Western Front was built on a firm foundation. Soldiers and commanders could be sure that new tanks, cars, and reinforcements will be there on time and their fuel won't run dry at the most inopportune moment.

Original article available here.

Friday 21 August 2015

RPG-40 Effectiveness

It feels pretty good to be in a tank against infantry. I mean, what can they really do against your armour? Turns out, well equipped infantry, even without AT guns or armour piercing bullets, can do plenty. Here's what happens when "Voroshilov's kilogram", a hand thrown anti-tank grenade, comes flying at you.

The machinegun ball is torn off, the driver's roof is gone, along with the driver. The massive crack running along the roof suggests that this tank will never be repaired. Livejournal poster 38t credits this photo to the 19th Tank Division, with the tank in it being #425.

Thursday 20 August 2015

KV-7 and KV-8 Trials

"Act of Examination and Practical Gunnery Trials of Experimental KV-7 and KV-8 Prototypes produced by the Kirov Factory

The examination of tanks happened on January 5th, 1942, at the factory #8 proving grounds at Mytishi. Present: [long list of names]

KV-7 Tank

The experimental KV-7 breakthrough tank has a suspension and transmission identical to the production KV-1 tank. Instead of a turret with 360 degrees of traverse, it has an immobile casemate with three guns, two of which are 45 mm guns and one of which is 76 mm (F-34). The guns have horizontal traverse of +/- 7.5 degrees, -5 degrees of depression, and 15 degrees of elevation. The guns have separate triggers. There are also two DT machineguns.
Ammunition: 200 45 mm shells and 93 76 mm shells.
The front armour is 100 mm thick, the turret armour is 105 mm thick, and the gun mantlet is 100 mm thick.
Crew: 6.
After inspection and trials, the following was observed:
  1. The driving performance is satisfactory.
  2. The armour of the hull and turret is insufficient.
  3. The practical rate of fire (5-6 volleys per minute) is satisfactory.
  4. The layout of the guns is satisfactory.
  5. The precision is unsatisfactory.
It is necessary to:
  1. Increase the turret armour thickness to 115-120 mm, increase the front hull armour to 110 mm.
  2. In order to improve gun precision, rework the turning mechanism of the gun mount. Improve the optical sight installation. Improve the firing mechanism in order to fire from all three guns at once.
  3. Consider it necessary to subject one of the January-February production tanks  to further trials according to the UVNA GAU KA standards in order to evaluate the correction of aforementioned flaws in the pre-production batch.
    Trials must be performed before February 15th, 1942.
KV-8 tank

The experimental KV-8 flamethrower tank has a suspension, transmission, and armour identical to the production KV-1 tank. The tank turret has a 45 mm gun with an ATO-1 flamethrower and a DT machinegun instead of a 76 mm gun with a DT machinegun.
The angle of elevation of the armament is 20 degrees. The angle of depression is -5 degrees. The turret can rotate 360 degrees.
Ammunition: 85 45 mm shells. 90 shots (10 meter range) for the flamethrower.
Crew: 4.

After inspection and trials, the following was observed:
  1. The driving performance is satisfactory.
  2. The flamethrower range is satisfactory.
  3. The design of the flamethrower and ammunition storage is satisfactory.
It is necessary to:
  1. Turn off the ignition flame between shots.
  2. Prevent the penetration of gasoline and fire through the gun mantlet into the tank.
  3. Guarantee at least 60 shots from the flamethrower given a normal rate of fire and full tanks.
  4. Check and correct all defects in the ATO-1 automatic mechanism design.
  5. Consider it necessary to provide a January-February production KV-8 tank for trials in order to evaluate the correction of the aforementioned flaws in the pre-production batch.
The commission considers it necessary to develop and install a twin 76 mm gun system on the KV-7, as well as develop more powerful 85 and 122 mm gun systems for this tank.

The design bureau of the Kirov factory is tasked with the design of these experimental SPGs."

The commission's suggestion was taken, and on the next day, Stalin issued decree #1110ss ordering the replacement of the three gun system on the KV-7 with a two-gun system. The same decree approved the KV-8 for production and ordered the development of a KV-1 with a 122 mm howitzer (later indexed KV-9).

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Tank Siege

"Award Order
  1. Name: Sokolov, Aleksei Ivanovich
  2. Rank: Senior Sergeant
  3. Position, unit: mechanic-driver, 328th Tank Battalion, 118th Tank Brigade
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1918
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: none
  7. Participation in the Civil War, subsequent combat action in defense of the USSR, Patriotic War (where, when): 2nd Baltic Front since October 1943
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: died of wounds on December 31st, 1943
  9. In the Red Army since: 1941
  10. Recruited by: Krasnooktyabrsk recruitment office, Stalingrad
  11. Previous awards: none
Brief and specific description of heroism: On December 17th, 1943, the tank battalion crossed Dolysitsa river near Gatchino and concentrated north of Demeshkino to attack. Some tanks were knocked out or destroyed by enemy artillery and mortar fire.

The tank commander, Lieutenant Tkachenko, driver Sokolov and radio operator Chernyshenko burst into the Demeshkino village in their tank. The tank became bogged down and had to be evacuated. Lieutenant Tkachenko and the turret gunner exited the tank to determine how it can be extracted into cover, but were both killed. Only the driver and radio operator were left in the tank. By then, Sokolov was already thrice wounded by bullets and shrapnel. From their tank, Sokolov and Chernyshenko began an uneven battle against the enemy. Inside the tank, their emergency rations consisted of 3 tins of preserves, some biscuits, 200 grams of salo, and no water at all. Despite that, Sokolov and Chernyshenko, with no order to retreat, continued to destroy attacking submachinegunners with the cannon and machineguns for 13 days. Hungry, cold, and bleeding, they continued to defend their tank.

On December 30th, as a result of our offensive, the area where the tank was bogged down was liberated. Sokolov and Chernyshenko were removed from the tank and sent to the medical battalion, where Sokolov died of his wounds on the next day.

Comrade Sokolov demonstrated patriotism and heroism, he is worthy of the posthumous title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-44

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Harsh Language

"To comrade Stalin

We send you a message from our agent, received by the USSR NKGB from Berlin.

People's Commissar of State Security, V. Merkulov."

Comrade Stalin, however, answered briefly, right on that page.

"Comrade Merkulov, you can go tell your "source" from the German aviation HQ to go fuck himself. This is not a source, this is disinformation.

I. Stalin"

Unfortunately, the date of the document, June 17th 1941, gives a pretty good hint as to what it was about and indicates that Stalin should perhaps not have dismissed it so quickly.

Monday 17 August 2015

T-34 Spaced Armour

"To the Chair of the State Committee of Defense, comrade Stalin

We report on the results of testing German and domestic HEAT and subcaliber shells against a T-34 hull and spaced armour plates and on improving protection against these shells. This work was performed by GABTU, TsNII-48, and factory #112.

As a result of the trials, it was determined that:
  1. T-34 armour is insufficient against HEAT and especially subcaliber shells. The most vulnerable parts of the tank are the sides, the turret, the overtrack hull, and to a degree the rear.
    German 50 mm subcaliber shells with a muzzle velocity of 1200 m/s penetrate the side of the tank from 1260 meters, the turret from 690 meters, the overtrack hull from 530 meters, and the rear from 360 meters.
    The front is impenetrable, aside from the connecting joint, which can be penetrated from 600 meters.
    The German 75 mm HEAT shell can only penetrate the lower hull side, destroying the bottom of the overtrack hull and the suspension.
    Additionally, the HEAT shell destroys holders and anything that sticks out when it hits the rear, and can penetrate the roof of the hull if it hits low enough on the turret.
  2. As a result of trials, it was determined that the best measure against HEAT and subcaliber shells is spaced armour, located 100-600 mm from the main armour. In order to protect against HEAT shells, an iron plate only 4-5 mm thick is enough. To protect against subcaliber ammunition, 16 mm of armour is necessary.
    As a result, when the sides of the tank have spaced armour 16 mm thick, the T-34 will be almost completely protected from 50 mm subcaliber and 75 mm HEAT shells from a range of 50-360 meters.
    We ask that you let us produce T-34 tanks at factory #112 to test in battle, in two variants:
    1. First variant: 15-16 mm screens for the upper and lower sides and turret. The mass of the tank will increase by 2622 kg, which will make the tank 1152 kg heavier than a mass produced factory #183 tank.
    2. Second variant: upper and lower sides with spaced armour 10-15-16 mm thick. The mass will increase by 1833 kg,  which will make the tank 363 kg heavier than a mass produced factory #183 tank.
Deputy Chief of GABTU, Major-General of the Tank Forces, Korobkov
People's Commissar of Tank Production of the USSR, Zaltsmann

State Committee of Defense, decree #2594ss

Moscow, Kremlin
December 7th, 1942

The State Committee of Defence decrees that:

In order to improve protection of tanks from HEAT and subcaliber shells, the following must be done:

1. The People's Commissar of Tank Production (comrade Zaltsmann) and factory #112 director (comrade Rubinchik) must produce 46 T-34 tanks with spaced armour by March 1st, 1943, as a part of the quota for the first quarter of 1943. The variants are as follows.
VariantAmountTank partSpaced armour thickness in mmSpace between armour plates in mm
123Lower side
Upper side
223Lower side
Upper side

2. GABTU (comrade Fedorenko) must test these tanks in combat during February and March and present GOKO with conclusions.
3. The People's Commissar of Tank Production (comrade Zaltsmann) and factory #38 director (comrade Yakovlev) must develop spaced armour for the T-70 by February 15th, 1943, test two prototypes together with GABTU. Present GOKO with conclusions by March 25th, 1943.

I. Stalin."

However, the T-70 wasn't lucky enough to get extra armour. The entire section is crossed out and marked "exclude completely".

Sunday 16 August 2015

World of Tanks History Section: BT-7 Artillery

The interbellum period was a time when armoured forces were actively pondering the meaning of their existence. Many types of tank were invented by 1920, among which was the support tank. This tank was created because 37-57 mm guns on vehicles of the time were useful for fighting infantry and sometimes enemy tanks, but were insufficient against even light fortifications.

All tank-building nations developed this kind of tank. The British installed a 94 mm howitzer on the Medium Tank MkI. The Germans picked a 75 mm short-barrelled gun for the experimental Grosstraktor, assuming that it will be enough to complete its tasks. The Soviet Union did not remain an observer either.

BT-7 Artillery, not to be confused with BT-7A

Two prototypes among Soviet tanks of the early 1930s require a closer look. One was a project by a self-taught engineer Nikolai Dyrenkov, built in metal. This was a BT-2 with a new turret and a 76 mm gun. The vehicle underwent testing, but it was discovered that the turret was too small for the crew to work in it. The project was shut down. Experiments with 76 mm guns continued on the chassis of the T-26 light tank, and they got quite far. A second prototype appeared, the T-26-4. After that, the BT was abandoned as a platform for a 76 mm gun, but not for long.

In 1934, the Kharkov Locomotive Factory began work on the BT-7 tank. At first, designers proposed that it should be armed with a 76 mm gun in a new turret. However, the prototype turned out to be as cramped as Dyrenkov's design. The BT-7 entered production with the same turret as its predecessor and the same 45 mm gun.

The idea to put a more powerful gun into the BT-7 remained, especially since the T-26-4 project was promising, and even made it to a trial production batch of 5 tanks.

The designers had a logical idea: combine the hull of one tank and the turret of another. HPZ already had experience with the T-26, since the BT-7 with a large caliber gun was developed on the basis of the T-26 artillery tank project. In April of 1935, one turret was sent to Kharkov. The design was changed a little and installed on the BT-7 hull. In October of 1935, the prototype was sent to trials. Modern sources refer to this tank as the BT-7A, but this is incorrect. That index was used to refer to early BT-7 vehicles. The vehicle with a 76 mm gun was called "BT-7 Artillery".

Trials went successfully, but the fate of the tank hung by a thread. This happened due to an accident on September 19th, 1935 with one of the T-26-4 vehicles, where gunpowder gases ruptured the gun breech during trials. Even though the KT-28 was a temporary gun choice and would have been replaced with a more modern gun, this incident caused the termination of the T-26-4 project.

The "lucky seven" was more fortunate. Work never ceased, and the tank eventually made it to mass production.

Brief Life at Peace and War

The first batch of BT-7 Artillery tanks was assembled in late August of 1937. In January of 1938, there were over 150 of them, not that many, but a shortage of KT-28 guns caused production to stop. The cause was pretty common for the time: the gun was removed from production, and no adequate replacement was found. This was the end of the first Soviet artillery tank. 132 vehicles were used by the army, supplementing regular BT-7s. One other vehicle was used as a mount for experimental weapons.

The last burst of activity around the BT-7 Artillery happened in 1940, when Vasiliy Grabin's F-32 gun entered production. It was meant for the perspective KV and A-34 (future T-34) tanks. The military decided that there should be no reason for this new weapon to skirt existing designs. It was planned that the BT-7 Artillery would receive new guns in 1941, if not with first priority. The start of the war interfered with these plans.

On June 1st, 1941, 122 vehicles of this type were in military service, most of them in the Kiev Military District. Due to their small numbers, BT-7 Artillery tanks left nothing behind but photos of wrecks and records of written off vehicles. The last of these tanks fought in the Battle of Moscow in November of 1941. The 58th Tank Division arrived from the Far East with these types of tanks. It lost almost all of them in only a few days of fighting at Volokolamsk.

Despite its difficult history, the BT-7 Artillery was an important step in Soviet tank building. It was the first mass production vehicle that could be put in the SPG class. The KV-2 was built in 1940 according to a similar principle. As with the BT-7 Artillery, its job was to aid its forces in breaking through enemy fortifications.

Original article available here.

Saturday 15 August 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Armoured Sumo

One of the least applicable adjectives to Japan in the first half of the 20th century would be "peaceful". The Japanese fought a lot of wars, and by the 1930s, their influence in the Far East was great. A significant part of this success could be attributed to the careful attention that the highest military ranks paid to technical novelties in the field of armament. Naturally, the Japanese could not pass up on tanks. Purchases of vehicles began in 1917 and domestic designs reached the battlefield less than a decade after. These were medium and light tanks whose firepower was sufficient against China or island garrisons with no anti-tank armament.

The least studied part of Japanese armoured history is the design of heavy tanks. The data about this class of vehicles is scarce and contradictory, but there is still something that can be said.

Prewar Heavies

The topic of heavy tanks was explored by Japanese engineers long before the war. Work on the first project built in metal, called Type 91 or 2591, began in 1930. The design of this tank relied largely on the experience of building the Chi-I medium tank. The group of engineers working on it included Tomio Hara, who will become the most well known Japanese tank designer.

Type 91 weighed only 18 tons, which was closed to a medium tank by European or Soviet standards. However, due to the tank's 70 mm gun, it was designated a heavy tank. Under the influence of the British armoured school of thought that embraced multi-turreted tanks, the Type 91 carried three turrets placed along the hull. Only one tank was built in metal. Even though it made a good impression on the military, the tank did not enter mass production, as a modernization was requested.

Type 95, the last pre-war heavy, appeared in 1935. The tank's designers made an emphasis on technological simplicity and improvement of armament. For instance, the low velocity 70 mm gun that was only useful for fighting infantry and fortifications was complemented by a high velocity 37 mm gun. It could penetrate 30 mm of armour at 300 meters, making it a dangerous foe for lightly armoured Soviet T-26 and BT tanks.

Compared to the Type 91, the tank weighed in at a hefty 27 tons. Again, it was closer to medium tanks, but the Japanese decided otherwise. They had the right to do so, as the Type 95 had no equals in armament or armour in the Far East. Nevertheless, the reaction of the military was mixed. On one hand, the increased combat capability was good, on the other hand, the increased mass and decreased speed were not. They to limit the tank's production to a small batch, assigned to an arsenal in Osaka. It is not known how many vehicles were finished, but modern historians consider that it was most likely less than 10. Type 95 was largely used for training purposes on Japanese territory. It is known that in 1938 some tanks were sent to China for the final stages of the Sino-Japanese conflict.

Superheavy Spectre

If built, the Mi-To would be the height of the Japanese tank industry. As it stands, it is only a mystery. Data on this super-heavy is scarce and contradictory. Only three things are known for sure. One: work began after the Japanese defeat at Khalkin-Gol in 1939. Two: the Mi-To was not just one tank. It was a series of experimental designs that lasted all the way until Japanese surrender in 1945. Three: all superheavy tank designs were multi-turreted.

"Mi-To" was short for "Mitsubishi-Tokyo", the factory that was developing the tank under the strictest veil of secrecy. In military documents it is also encountered under the index "O-I". Engineer Shigeo Otaka, who participated in the development, recalls that his group worked in barracks, in a small room separated from the outside world by a double door. This minimized the chances of anyone accidentally looking into the room and seeing what was happening. Various groups at Mitsubishi worked on different parts of the tank and had no idea what they were designing. Engineers in that "chamber of secrets" were tasked with assembling this mosaic of components.

As mentioned above, several Mi-To projects existed over the years. An evolutionary chain was followed where every link was superior to the previous in armour and armament. As a consequence, each tank grew heavier and heavier. The first Mi-To weighed about 100 tons, the last was 140-150.

Why did Japan need such a beast? At first, before the home islands were in danger, these tanks were designed as assault vehicles. In 1944, the Japanese defense perimeter of Pacific islands was breached. In April of 1945, Iwo Jima fell to the Americans. It was clear that an armada of landing craft could land on Japanese shores at any time. A superheavy tank was now a mobile coastal defense stronghold.

The main armament of the Mi-To series consisted of battleship guns ranging from 100 to 150 mm. These guns were powerful enough to deal significant damage to light landing vessels and the ships protecting them. At the same time, the armour of these superheavy tanks would protect the crew from explosions and shrapnel. Only a direct hit could destroy the tank, and enemy ships would not be able to hit such a small target.

The long history of the Mi-To ended with the end of the war. Was even one prototype finished? According to the book "Imperial Japanese Army Land Weapon Guide", only one was. After assembly, it was taken apart and shipped to Manchuria for field trials, which revealed serious problems with the reliability of the suspension. However, like most information on Japanese superheavy tanks, this data is not 100% confirmed.

Original article available here.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Armour Up

"State Committee of Defense
Decree #GKO-1062ss
December 25th, 1941, Moscow, Kremlin

On T-34 and T-60 tanks
NKTP and comrade Malyshev must:
  1. Begin production of T-34 tanks with an armour screen bringing up the front armour to 60 mm starting on January 15th, 1942, and then solid 60 mm armour starting on February 15th.
  2. Begin production of T-60 tanks with an armour screen bringing up the front armour to 35 mm starting on January 15th, 1942, and then solid 35 mm armour starting on February 15th.
Chair of the State Committee of Defense, I. Stalin."

However, nothing is permanent.

"State Committee of Defense
Decree #GKO-1333ss
February 23rd, 1942, Moscow, Kremlin

Cancel part 1 of GOKO decree 1062ss issued on December 25th, 1941 regarding the addition of armour screens on the front of the T-34. NKTP is allowed to use up any hulls with extra armour that were already produced.

Chair of the State Committee of Defense, I. Stalin"

RGASPI 644-1-22

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Leningrad SPGs

Remember the SPG on the T-26 chassis that showed up on the Leningrad Front? For the sake of convenience, it was referred to as SU-26, but it turns out that's not the real name at all, nor was it a wartime improvisation.

Order of the Red Banner Voroshilov factory #174
Department #1
June 3rd, 1941

To the factory director

I ask you to order the Planning Department to begin preliminary development of the following:
  1. SU-51: ZiS-4 gun on the T-50 chassis.
  2. SU-52: AA SPG on the T-50 chassis.
  3. T-26-6: SPG with a KT-28 gun on the T-26 chassis.
    This work is to be done on the orders of Marshall of the Soviet Union, comrade Kulik
  4. T-26-8: AA SPG on the T-26 chassis.
    The project is open, but no work has been done."
Here are the SPGs being assembled.

"Tank assembly in a plant inside the S. M. Kirov Factory"

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Beast Slayer

"Award Order
  1. Name: Sultanov, Isa Klychevich
  2. Rank: Senior Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: T-34 tank platoon commander, 126th Tank Regiment, 17th Guards Order of the Red Banner, Order of Suvorov Mechanized Brigade, 6th Guards Lvov Order of the Red Banner Mechanized Corps, 4th Tank Army, 1st Ukrainian Front
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1917
  5. Nationality: Kumyk
  6. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member since 1944
  7. Participation in the Civil War, subsequent action in defense of the USSR and Patriotic War (where, when): 1st Ukrainian Front since March of 1944
  8. Wounds and concussions in the Patriotic War: lightly wounded on January 19th, 1945 on the 1st Ukrainian Front
  9. In the Red Army since: September 1939
  10. Recruited by Agryz recruitment office, Tatar ASSR
  11. Prior awards: Order of the Red Star in 1944
Brief and specific description of heroism or achievements: This is a fearless officer. In battle, he is daring and courageous. In battles from January 14th to January 25th in the region of Beletske Mlyny, Bilche Zastawe, Kowal, Sitkivka station, Zarnow, Zguv, his platoon destroyed five T-6 tanks, four T-5 tanks, eight APCs, 18 cars, and up to 80 fascists. Personally, he destroyed one T-6 tank, two T-5 tanks, and two APCs. At Zguw, where the company commander was wounded, comrade Sulatnov took command of the company. With swift action, his company reached the Oder on January 24th, 1945. With fire from his tanks' guns, he destroyed all enemy strongholds on the left side of the Oder, completely and fully allowing for a crossing to be made so that infantry could cross. On January 25th, 1945, he was one of the first to cross the Oder and capture a foothold on the left shore, which was decisive for the course of battle.

Currently, comrade Sulatnov is in his unit.

He is worthy of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union"

CAMD RF 33-793756-46

Pretty impressive, but who exactly was he fighting with such a strange unit composition? Transliterated names of tiny villages that don't appear on any map make such a task difficult, but fortunately enough places were named to figure out at least the vague area where he was fighting at this time. As it so happens, the area was also temporarily home to the ill-fated s.Pz.Abt 501 that was also suffering from another Hero of the Soviet Union at the time. Since there aren't enough Panthers to go around for everyone, it's likely some leftover Tiger IIs that were mistaken for Panthers again.

Monday 10 August 2015

More on Tank Bunkers

I posted some photos of dug-in tanks used as bunkers before, but not many details about them. Here are some more details about the various tank components that were dug in around Leningrad. As you remember, the tank park on the Leningrad front was very colourful, and this is reflected in this document.

"In BT-2 turrets with dual machineguns that still had a mantlet, no changes were made. Where there were no mantlets, a successful combination was used (fig. 38) designed by Red Armyman Sidorov, nicknamed Sidorov's Mantlet. In this case, the DT mount from a 45 mm gun mantlet was used. As no more than 100 pillboxes could be made if we only used DT machineguns, a simple mantlet for the Maxim machinegun was made and has proven itself worthy (fig. 39).

Pillboxes made from old tank turrets at UNI make powerful fortifications. There is the "YuL" type for 45 mm guns and "VS" type for 76 mm guns and larger (fig 40-41).

Machinegun turrets are attached to a turret ring and installed on top of a blockhouse (fig. 42), but artillery turrets are installed on a special welded metal frame (fig. 43). Starting with a simple blockhouse on top of a ditch, we gradually perfected the design until we arrived at the method shown in fig. 44: turrets (machinegun and cannon) are placed on a blockhouse that is installed on top of a dugout where the crew lives. A more detailed description would be excessive. Let us focus on some characteristic cases:
  • A turret with a 152 mm gun needed to be installed (fig 45). This took 1950 man-days. 
  • Same with a turret with a 85 mm gun.
Both of these projects consumed 36 cubic meters of concrete with an internal volume of 9 cubic meters, which was too small for the crew to operate and supply shells. Additionally, the ammunition magazine was protected by only wood and stone. These problems were considered when installing 76 mm KV turrets, and the design was changed (fig. 46). Here, the above defects were corrected, each turret took 43 cubic meters of concrete with an internal volume of 25 cubic meters. Construction of each bunker with a dugout for the crew took 2000 man-days.

Lastly, a design made of stone and wood due to a lack of concrete in Leningrad (fig. 47).

When using the turrets in the winter, there is one downside that is also observed in other structures, but to a lesser extent. Condensation gathers on the inside.

The turret is cooled externally. Inside, it contains warm moist air that rises from the basement or from the breath of the crew. The turrets are covered with frost or moisture on the inside, which seeps into the turret traverse mechanism and freezes, locking the turret in place. This effect is accelerated by snow on the outside that melts.

Measures were taken to protect our turrets from the above problems.
  1. The turret and its platform are always kept clear of snow and water.
  2. The turret ring is covered with a warm cover made from sacks reinforced with felt.
According to our calculations, a turret needs a 5 cm thick cover. When the covers were applied, the condensation stopped. Special desiccant packets also helped (see fig. 53).

Fig. 46. "VS" type artillery pillbox with a reinforced concrete base and ammunition magazine.

Fig. 47. 

Report of an artillery pillbox with an armoured KV-4 type turret, built by 125th OSB from September 29th to October 8th, 1942

Photo #8. KV artillery pillbox with a 76 mm L-11 gun.
Photo #9. KV artillery pillbox with a 76 mm ZiS-5 gun.