Saturday 31 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Skoda T-40

After the defeat of Germany in WWII, Czechoslovakia had a chance to return to its status as one of the world's biggest tank builders. To help them, they had six years of "inheritance" from being forced to work for their occupants. The experience, documentation, and equipment helped out during the first post-war decade, which turned out to be the most active.

For many reasons, both economical and political, many projects from the time not only did not enter mass production, but did not even reach the prototype stage. Nevertheless, they represent a monument to technical thought and deserve detailed exploration. One of those tanks is the Skoda T-40.

Muddled intentions of military minds

In 1945, the military formed a list of tactical-technical requirements for a vehicle called Všeobecného Použití (All Purpose Vehicle) or TVP. The military wanted a medium tank with 65 mm of armour and an 88 mm gun, capable of reaching a speed of 50 kph. As secondary armament, the TVP would have a paired machinegun and flamethrower.

Workers from the Military-Technical University (VTU) performed a colossal amount of work, creating a whole family of tanks with small differences. In his work on Czech vehicles between 1945 and 1955, historian Martin Dubanec credited Skoda with these vehicles, but this was corrected by another Czech historian, Irzhi Tintera. In reality, VTU and Skoda went with similar, but different designs.

Both the VTU project and the requirements for it were more of a concept than a technical solution. It is known that the tank was supposed to have a spring suspension, six road wheels, and three return idlers. The suspension was designed rather loosely, and would have to undergo a deep and long design process. It was still unknown how the tank would be powered.

Unlike specialists from the VTU, Skoda engineers did not just envision an approximate design, but made calculations for their "parallel" medium tank. Even though some design details are similar, there are more differences than similarities between the projects.

T-40: Thought through, but not implemented

The VTU design had a complex turret with a V-shaped front. The T-40 had a simpler design, similar to Krupp's turrets. This is no coincidence, as Skoda worked with Krupp during WWII and even built some Tiger II hulls and turrets.

The caliber requirement demanded an 88 mm gun, effectively the German KwK 36, like on the German Tiger. The Czechoslovak variant lacked a muzzle brake. The flamethrower was eventually dropped, and the designers settled on a coaxial machinegun. The T-40 mantlet was similar to the one designed by Krupp for "narrow" Panther turrets.

Unlike the TVP's engine, which was unclear, Skoda's design had an almost ready solution for their tank, with the X-shaped air cooled Skoda 16ADH140 700 hp at 2000 RPM engine. Even though that engine did not meet the hp/ton requirements, it could accelerate the tank to the necessary 50 kph. The T-40 used more advanced torsion bars instead of springs.

The main problem of both the T-40 and TVP was insufficient armour, but it would be incorrect to blame the designers for this. The military based its requirements on the T-34-85, which was hardly the most protected tank at the time.

With the exception of its armour, the Skoda tank was a modern and interesting design. Without copying either German or Soviet designs, the T-40 was a mix of solutions from two of the most powerful tank building schools of thought, resulting in a harmonious and original vehicle, which was sadly never built in metal.

Original article available here.

Friday 30 October 2015

German Tank Bunkers

Rounding out my collection of Soviet tank turrets dug in for defensive purposes, here are some designs for German attempts at the same thing. These three light tank turret designs appear mostly identical: a relatively short turret ring with a wider fighting compartment beneath it. Ammunition storage is not shown, but presumably it would be placed along the walls of the compartment.

Thursday 29 October 2015

Cannons vs. Buildings

The topic of penetration of armour with cannons comes up often, but their effects on buildings less so. Let us take a look at these effects in Breslau, 1945.
Photo #4. Portholes in a basement window. Above them, a breach made with a 76 mm divisional cannon AP shell.

Photo #5. Breach from a 76 mm regimental cannon shell. The shell was aimed at a sniper positioned above the door.
Photo #6. This building had machineguns in the windows. Damage was done with 122 mm cannons.

Photo #8: A path for infantry made by 76 mm divisional cannons in a park wall.

Photo #14. This corner house contained an enemy machinegun. The damage was done by a 122 mm howitzer firing with open sights.

Photo #17. Eisendorf Strasse, house #189. Destroyed by a direct hit from a 203 mm shell. A 70 cm thick wall and the floor of the first storey were penetrated. Significant damage was caused in the basement. 

Photo #18. Eisendorf street, house #26. A direct hit from a 152 mm shell penetrated the wall. There is significant damage to the inside of the house.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

T-60s for Moscow

"To comrade Stalin

I consider it necessary to switch 25-30 Moscow factories to the production of the T-60 tank at the cost of any other production barring rockets, AA gun shells, and 76 mm shells.

If we can use 2500-2700 machines at these factories, then we can produce 30-35 T-60 tanks per day by October 25th.

Despite the evacuation of Moscow's factories, I believe that these 2500 machines need to remain until the very last moment. I also believe that if it comes to that, the evacuation of the Kolomna factory must be delayed, as it produces T-60 hulls.

If you agree, please approve the attached decree.

V. Malyshev
October 9th, 1941"

"State Committee of Defense Decree $759ss
October 10th, 1941

The State Committee of Defense decrees that:
  1. Production of 30-35 T-60 tanks per day should be organized in Moscow by October 25th of this year.
  2. Comrade Malyshev is authorized to make the necessary decisions in order to carry out this decree.
  3. Comrade Malyshev is permitted to cancel any orders excluding rockets, AA shells, and 76 mm shells from Moscow factories (aside from NKAP, NKV, and NKB factories). 
  4. Peoples' Commissars comrades Efremov, Parshin, Kazakov, Kabanov, Sedin, Vakhrushev, Akopov, Mithokhin, Tevosyan, Kaplun, Arutyunov, Pekshev, Smiryayev, Letkov, the Mossovet and comrade Pronin must carry out comrade Malyshev's orders regarding T-60 production.
  5. It is forbidden to evacuate any equipment or workers connected to T-60 production without permission from the GKO.
  6. The Moscow Oblast Committee, comrades Sherbakov, Popov, and Chernousov must provide daily help in the execution of this decree.
  7. This decision is of paramount importance for the defense of Moscow."
Via gistory.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Army Formation

Here's an interesting diagram of a Soviet combined arms offensive, featuring the 69th Army and some pretty heavy tank support. 

Infantry goes first, with each infantry division advancing along the width of roughly a kilometer. The 274th division gets slightly more ground than average, and the 370th gets slightly less, perhaps due to the number of available men or due to the peculiarities of terrain. The 61st Infantry Corps (top half) gets heavy firepower in the form of 60 IS-2 tanks, with 30 SU-76es follwing behind with the 134th Infantry Division. 91st Infantry Corps (bottom half) is also packing heat with 50 T-34-85s followed by 20 ISU-152s and 14 SU-76es, with the 117th division, 35 SU-76es and 15 IS-2s remaining as reserves for the Army commander. A very impressive list of artillery support is listed on the right, with M-13 rockets and heavy artillery available to both corps.

Of course, no plan survives an encounter with reality. The 61st corps didn't seem to be affected much, but the 91st corps lost an entire attacking division in the revision, plus 2 T-34-84s. The Army commander lost all IS-2s in his armour reserve, but kept all 35 SU-76es. The units were spaced out to compensate for the loss of an infantry division.

Monday 26 October 2015

Early War KV

"Award Order
  • Name: Fomin, Nikolai Nikitovich
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Position, unit: deputy commander of a heavy tank company, 1st Guards Tank Battalion, 5th Guards Tank Brigade
is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  1. Year of birth: 1920
  2. Nationality: Russian
  3. In the Red Army since: 1939
  4. Party affiliation: VKP(b) candidate
  5. Participation in battle (where, when): participant in battle against German fascism
  6. Wounds or concussions: killed
  7. Prior awards (what reason): Order of the Red Banner for courage and bravery in battle against fascism
Brief and specific description of heroism or achievements: In the brigade since the first days of the Patriotic War, participating personally in numerous battles with German invaders, Lieutenant Fomin Nikolai Nikitovich showed himself a heroic knight, combining the qualities of unchecked bravery and excellent knowledge and skill in using a tank in combat.

On November 20th, 1941, given the order to penetrate the enemy line of defense near Agrafemovka (Rostov oblast), comrade Fomin's vehicle rushed in front of all others, bursting through the enemy lines at high speed, destroying 4 AT guns, 2 field guns, 6 cars, and over 20 soldiers, ensuring that Agafenovka was taken and Kleist's group in that sector of the front was beaten.

Fomin's tank, alone behind enemy lines, was knocked out. Fomin did not waver. Camouflaging the tank, he repaired it with his crew and returned to his unit in two days. On the next day, Fomin once more took his tank into battle.

February 7th, 1942: The enemy counterattacked near Upper Bishkin (Kharkov Oblast). Under the pressure of superior enemy numbers, the front lines of our infantry wavered. A direct hit to the gun mantlet of comrade Fomin's tank disabled the gun. He did not retreat, but rushed forward, crushing an enemy AT gun and mowing down enemy infantry with his machinegun. Seeing that the neighouring tank's commander was injured, comrade Fomin replaced his comrade and drove it towards the enemy fortifications around the windmill. Our wavering infantry was encouraged and moved forward. Having reached the windmill, Fomin destroyed one stronghold after another. As a result, the German counterattack failed and Upper Bishkin was ours.

In battles for Likhachevo station on February 13th, 1942, Fomin's tank was in front as always. Fomin reached the station three times, but his supporting infantry was unwilling to advance. Fomin lost his patience, left his tank, and led the infantry himself. While doing this, he killed a German officer, took his submachinegun, and fired on the enemy. In this battle, comrade Fomin was mortally wounded.

During combat, comrade Fomin's tank destroyed:
  1. 7 enemy tanks
  2. 9 guns of various types
  3. 12 machineguns
  4. 4 mortars
  5. 4 carts with ammunition
  6. 6 cars
  7. About 500 soldiers and officers
Comrade Fomin was one of the first to earn the title of Guards for his brigade.

I propose that Lieutenant comrade Fomin Nikolai Nikitovich be awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-50

Sunday 25 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Sherman's Debut

American M4A1 tanks first saw battle without American crews. This happened in Africa, towards the end of the summer of 1942, when things weren't going well for Anglo-Canadian forces. Tobruk fell, an important port city and foundation for Allied forces. The possibility of the Germans reaching the Suez Canal was very real. About 100 kilometers separated the front lines and the city of Alexandria.

The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill requested help from the USA. He needed tanks, as many of the newest Shermans as possible, sent to Africa. American President Franklin Roosevelt agreed and promised to send George Patton's 2nd Tank Division to reinforce the front, a rushed and impossible move, as in order to fully equip the division, all Sherman training tanks would have to be confiscated from other units. The division lacked tanks and trained crews. Simply sending it to Egypt would be impossible before November. The Afrika Corps was unwilling to wait while the Allies got help, so it was decided that just the tanks could be sent to the British.

Armoured help from across the ocean

Over 300 Shermans were ready by September, mostly M4A1, and some M4A2. In order to achieve this, some training centers in the US were cleared out. One ship carrying Shermans was sunk by a German torpedo, making it necessary to send another 52 tanks. The first Sherman reached the British as early as August.

Even though it was an early M4A1 that had many cosmetic differences from its later versions, the main characteristics of the vehicle were unchanged. As a result, when the main shipment of tanks arrived, the British had a good idea of what they were dealing with and what they had to do for it to function in Africa.

In Africa, every tank is a mobile warehouse. If it's not carrying a load of crates, canisters, tarps, sacks of rations, kindling, etc, it is useless, such is the law of the African theater of war. This load was, of course, removed before battle, but it was mandatory during a march. Field repairmen spent their time making sure that all these goods didn't fly everywhere when the turret turned. Crews hurriedly mastered their new tanks.

The British did not manage to prepare in time. By the Second Battle of El-Alamein, the first real test for Sherman tanks, only 252 tanks from the 8th Army were ready. The 9th Armoured Brigade received its 36 tanks on October 23rd, on the first day of battle. The tankers did not even have time to check over their new tanks.

In total, the Allies brought 1029 tanks to this battle. 250 Shermans is almost every fourth tank: more than enough to evaluate the effectiveness of the new vehicle in battle, and there was no shortage of battles.

Difficult start in the African dust

During the first stage of the offensive, the 9th Armoured Brigade supported the New Zealand division. Its first losses weren't from enemy tanks.

German infantry prevented the widening of passages through minefields, and the silhouettes of tanks were very visible against the morning dawn, making it easy for AT guns to work from camouflaged positions deep within the German defenses. In return, the gun was only revealed by the flash of its shot. The British tankers had trouble firing back. Generous amounts of HE shells and support from artillery didn't help.

The first contact between Shermans and enemy tanks happened soon after dawn. Late model PzIIIs and PzIVs with long guns that fought in this battle had high muzzle velocity, and could effectively fire from long ranges.

The tank battle occurred at a range of just under two kilometers. It lasted a short time, but the Shermans proved themselves an effective and reliable weapon for fighting enemy medium tanks. It is not known how many tanks each side lost, but the losses appear about equal. This meant that the Allies finally made up their deficiency in quality of tanks that was observed since the start of the war.

On the other hand, the Shermans were no wonder weapon. They were as sensitive to a lack of infantry support as any other tank. Attacks head-first at AT positions ended as poorly as with Crusaders or Valentines. All of this happened during the Second Battle of El-Alamein, which concluded on November 11th, 1942. The Germans lost for many reasons, including the sinking of several cargo ships in the Mediterranean that carried vitally important supplies for the Afrika Corps.

The Shermans' debut at El-Alamein could be easily called successful, even though these tanks barely entered production and were manned by insufficiently trained crews. The M4 had thirty years of combat ahead of it.

Original article available here.

Saturday 24 October 2015

World of Tanks Armoured Fantasy: Death Harvesters

Inventors of the previous century bravely moved the limits of what is possible. They did not mind that their projects remained only in sketches and blueprints. Since it was impossible to combine thick armour and high speed or plant many tiny turrets on your tank to get more guns, most of these projects were technological dead ends.

As a rule, the most fantastical designs were made by those who had no connection with fighting vehicles. As a rule, specialists did not share this hobby, but there were some exceptions.

Buchinskiy's limitless tank

Engineer S.E. Buchinskiy spent about 27 years working in the machinebuilding industry and earned a military rank of Captain. In September of 1939, he was appointed as the chief of the armoured forces of the Mogilev-Yampolsk fortified region. After 11 months of service, Buchinskiy was inspired to create a design of unparalleled ambition. In May of 1940, his proposal reached the People's Commissar of Defense, Marshal S.K. Timoshenko.

Without exaggeration, the inventor did the job of a whole project organization. He not only described, but drew blueprints of a dozen types of armament and vehicles, from an armoured Maxim gun to an armoured train. Among everything, Buchinskiy thought of a tank. He wrote: "I consider it necessary to create a heavy tank that carries several types of armament, thick armour, and large size, so that it can travel anywhere."

Buchinskiy spared no expense for his tank's firepower: seven 45 mm AT guns, an AA gun, 6 Maxim guns, four DT machineguns, and a flamethrower.

Such a menacing arsenal deserves an impressive chassis. The engineer thought of that too: "The hull is a rectangle with sides that overhang the tracks a little more than half of their width. This solution allows more space for crew positions, ammunition, and an electrical generator." One turret would be placed at the front of the hull, one on the back. One more turret would go in the center, with an AA cupola on top. The total length of the tank was 16 meters, 4.2 meters in width, and 5.7 meters in height, with an estimated weight of 110 tons.

Buchinskiy designed composite armour for his tank long before it was implemented in reality. "The tank's hull should be made of layered armour: main armour that is 20 mm thick, a layer of rubber and cork, then a layer of armour 10 mm thick. The front armour is 60 mm thick." The tank would be propelled by a diesel engine that powered a DC generator. The maximum speed would be 25 kph.

The tank's crew would be composed of 30 tankers. The driver was lucky, as the engineer gave him a separate compartment in the front of the tank. The other 29 crew members would have to fit in somewhere, specifically where, the engineer did not know.

Death Harvester

Was I.M. Pletnev a specialist? Probably not, but his desire to help his motherland was sincere. He wrote: "The fascist beast has yet to choke on fire, I propose... turning a tank into an armoured death harbester."

Pletnev's design was reminiscent of a bridgelayer, except the top of the beam had tank turrets. The beams would freely rotate 360 degrees along the hull of the tank, like wings. On the sketches, these wings look like a butterfly knife.

During a match, these wings would be folded on the tank's rear deck. In battle, the tank would spread its deadly wings and sweep away the enemy with a storm of fire. The tank would still be able to fire in a 360 degree arc with folded wings due to a special arrangement of the turrets.

Several modifications of the "Death Harvester" were drawn by the designer. Perhaps, Pletnev thought about his design some more and decided to simplify it. The next design was called "tank with armoured shields". Now there were two vertical axles on the back of the tank, connected by cables to a third, behind the turret. Two giant armoured slabs hung off the cables, forming a V shape. The design looked like a snow plow. The armour had slits in it for tank riders to fire through.

Another modernization of the design by the author was the most exotic. Instead of putting gun platforms or infantry shields, Pletnec proposed two carriers similar to construction cranes that carried machineguns nests. "When tanks enter battle, two turrets will deploy on the side of the tank and will fire to the side and downwards at enemy tanks and trenches." The author also imagined that the machinegunners could throw grenades down at the enemy and insisted on connecting them to the tank commander via telephone.

The description of every "Death Harvester" was accompanied by coloured sketches. No technical data was given in the proposal. Perhaps the author did not understand them, or perhaps he was just thinking out loud. The reaction of GABTU specialists to this proposal is unknown, but easy to guess.

There are several ways to step over the borders of what is possible. They are not all realistic, but if there is no imagination, then there will be no true breakthroughs. That is all that can be said in defense of the above vehicles.

Many questions can be asked regarding a technical project. How to fit ammunition for all guns? How to deal with low maneuverability? Marshal Timoshenko did not ask these questions, but as a People's Commissar first scolded his department of inventions for unsatisfactory work.

Half a year before the end of the war, Buchinskiy wrote another letter, requesting an official response to his designs and asking to remain in the RKKA. What happened next is not known.

Original article available here.


This is what the IS-7 (Object 260) looked like in 1946.

Three blueprints of various versions of the tank.

Friday 23 October 2015

Boundless Optimism

"To the artillery commander of the 169th Infantry Division

When shooting at the front armour of a Tiger tank from a range of 600 meters with the AP-I shell from the 45 mm anti-tank gun, the armour is not penetrated, and the shell bursts on impact.

When using a subcaliber shell at this distance, the shell ricochets.

The shells work well against the suspension.

HQ Chief, Captain Derish"

Via altyn73.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Militia Armour

Soviet militia units had a pretty colourful arsenal, and this spread to armour as well as small arms. As a result, there wasn't really a way to reach any kind of standardization; the unit would have to beg for scraps at some warehouse or repair base and then retroactively have those vehicles assigned to themselves.

"To the People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR, comrade Stalin

By the initiative of the divisions and regional committees of the VKP(b) in Moscow, tankette units were formed in infantry divisions of the 32nd Army.
  1. 2nd Infantry Division has a tankette company of 13 T-27 tanks.
  2. 8th Infantry Division has a tankette company of 16 T-27 tanks and 2 T-37 tanks.
  3. 13th Infantry Division has a tankette company of 57 T-27 tanks, 2 T-37 tanks, and one BA-6 armoured car.
I ask, as an exception, to officially assign one tankette battalion of 30 small tanks to each infantry division in the 32nd Army according to TO&E 010/85.

Deputy Chief of GABTU, Major-General Lelyushenko
GABTU Military Commissar, Army Commissar Birykov
September 17th, 1941."

TO&E 010/85 describes an independent tank battalion consisting of three tank companies, one medium and two light, which these obsolete vehicles could not pass as, but at least they were better than nothing.

In GKO decree #686s, Stalin approved this formation.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

D-44 Ballistic Tables

The D-44 85 mm divisional gun had the same ballistics as the S-53. Despite being designed in 1944, it did not enter production until after the war, but these tables can grant us some insight into how well the T-34-85 could shoot. 

This table describes the blunt tip APBC round BR-365. The muzzle velocity of this round is 800 m/s, and its flat shot range for a 2 meter tall target is 950 meters, 1090 meters for a 2.7 m tall target and 1150 meters for a 3 m tall target. The columns of the table are as follows: distance, three settings for the sight, trajectory height, two columns for various corrections, one column with the change in impact height for one division of the sight, the angle of the gun, the angle of impact, impact velocity, time of flight, and then finally, the two columns we care about, vertical and horizontal mean dispersion. As you can see, the dispersion is only 0.2 x 0.3 meters, which is very good, but not quite as good as on the pre-war U-10 design.

Next we have the BR-367 APCBC shell. Its ballistic properties are almost identical to the BR-365, but it flies a little faster (805 m/s) and is a little more precise (dispersion of 0.2 m by 0.2 m at 1000 meters).

Here is a table for the sharp-tipped BR-365K AP round. Much like the APBC round, it has a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s, but a greater dispersion of 0.3 by 0.4 meters at 1000 meters.

Next is the BR-367P (APCR) and BR-367PZh (APCR with a metallo-ceramic driving band). These shells fly faster than the AP shell, at 1020 m/s, and thus have higher flat shot ranges: 1140 m, 1290 m, and 1350 m. The table columns are a little different, as the sight correction columns are missing. The rest of the columns are the same. These rounds are a little more accurate than the AP at 1000 meters, deviating 0.2 meters in both the horizontal and vertical on average.

This is another APCR shell, BR-365P. With a muzzle velocity of 1050 m/s, it flies a little faster than the BR-367P, but pays for that with reduced precision: a deviation of 0.4 meters by 0.5 meters at 1000 meters. It also loses speed faster than the BR-367P.

Last but not least, the table for O-365K and O-367A HE rounds. This table has a lot more settings, since you care about a whole extra dimension when shooting HE. The first column is, as always, range, then three columns for sight settings with an uncapped detonator, followed by two columns of corrections for a detonator cap and a metallo-ceramic driving band. After that is trajectory height as seen above, but the rest of that page is various corrections for wind, temperature, etc. The first column on the second page is the change in distance corresponding to one one-thousandth change of sight settings, the size of a tight bracket in thousandths, the angle of the gun and angle of impact, impact velocity, time of flight, and finally the dispersion. At 1000 meters, the depth-wise dispersion is 14 meters, the height-wise dispersion is 0.2 meters, and the width-wise dispersion is 0.3 meters.

Monday 19 October 2015

Panther Hero

I didn't know it at the time of writing this article, but it turns out that the guy who captured and used the Panther received a Hero of the Soviet Union for his efforts!

"Award Order
  1. Name: Firsov, Nikolai Aleksandrovich
  2. Rank: Senior Technical Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: tank squadron commander, 198th Tank Regiment, 6th Guards Cavalry Division
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1922
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member since 1943
  7. Participation in the Civil War, subsequent combat action in defense of the USSR, Patriotic War: Stalingrad Front from August 23rd, 1942 to September 26th, 1942, Kalinin Front from August 14th, 1943 to September 5th, 1943, First Baltic Front from September 5th, 1943 to February 25th, 1944, Second Baltic Front from February 25th, 1944 to June 11th, 1944, Third Belarussian from June 11th, 1944 to present.
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: none
  9. In the Red Army since: October 1940
  10. Recruited by: Fatezh recruitment office, Kursk oblast
  11. Previous awards: Order of the Red Star (order of the 6th Guards Cavalry Division #19/N on December 9th, 1943), "Defense of Stalingrad" medal.
Brief and specific description of heroism or achievements: On June 25th, 1944, Firsov's squadron was ordered to penetrate enemy defenses in the vicinity of the Cherv. Lug village in order to provide a breakthrough for the division. While fulfilling these orders, Firsov's tanks encountered an organized defense with a large amount of enemy firepower, and a fierce battle ensued. Three anti-tank gun batteries were firing on the deployed squadron. Dense mortar fire resulted in tank riders dismounting. Leading the attack, comrade Firsov was the first to burst into the settlement, crushed three guns, forcing the rest of the gun crews to flee and making a path for cavalry that was waiting for his signal. Continuing his pursuit of the retreating enemy, comrade Firsov was cut off from the rest of his squadron near Guta village when he crossed a bridge which was then destroyed by an enemy shell. Firsov ended up in front of an enemy tank ambush, which opened fire. The commander entered into a duel with five German tanks. Skilfully maneuvering and shooting, comrade Firsov destroyed one German tank. The result of the battle with a numerically superior enemy was decided by tenacity and heroism. Retreating to cover, comrade Firsov reversed the roles: the German tanks were now attacking, and he was shooting from cover. The battle lasted for over two hours. As a result, three knocked out German tanks remained on the battlefield, the rest fled. A Panther tank was captured in this battle, and comrade Firsov's tankers quickly learned to use it and repaired it. The tank marched for over 600 km, participated in all of the regiment's battles, and dealt significant damage to the enemy. Continuing his mission, comrade Firsov's squadron assisted in rapid capture of Buda, Nereysha and Kureysha. Penetrating deep into the enemy's rear, near Aleksinichi village, he completed an encirclement of an enemy group. While defending against the breakout attempts on July 26th, 27th, and 28th in deep swampy forests comrade Firsov captured the Mikhashuvka settlement and climbed height 133.1 in the enemy rear, causing panic. The tank squadron kept moving and penetrated into the rear of two well entrenched infantry battalions near height 132.4 and Krulevo Voda forestry district. Partially destroying and scattering the enemy, comrade Firsov allowed the 25th Guards Cavalry Regiment to capture the forest and reach the region of Narny Brud. 

In all aforementioned battles, Senior Technical Lieutenant comrade Firsov completed his orders with honour, risking his life. Comrade Firsov's crew destroyed 1 Panther tank, 4 PzIV tanks, 17 cannons, 27 mortars, 32 cars, 180 enemy soldiers and officers.

For courage, heroism, and personal initiative in battle, comrade Firsov is worthy of the highest government award, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-50

Sunday 18 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Panther Defeat at Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse

Operation Overlord began on June 6th, 1944. American, British, and Canadian forces landed on five beaches on the shores of Normandy, opening the Western Front in Europe. In order to successfully develop this offensive, the Allies had to capture the city of Caen. This was the key to south-eastern France.

The attempt to take Caen from the march failed. The Germans threw considerable forces into the defense of the city, stopping the Canadian and British advance. To make matters worse, the Germans were gathering additional forces for a counteroffensive against the landed Allies. On June 7th-9th, the Germans delivered a series of local counterattacks to strengthen their position before the offensive. The fiercest battles here were fought by the Canadians near Rots, Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse, and Norrey-en-Bessin.

A hurried strike

The 12th SS Tank Division was armed with Panther tanks, among others, and was a force to be reckoned with. The first three companies of Panthers (about 40 tanks) arrived on the front on June 8th and attacked immediately in an attempt to capture Rots. Canadian infantry did not resist for long and retreated to Bretteville where they could rely on prepared defenses.

When German forces neared Bretteville, they came under fire from AT guns, tanks, and grenade launchers. As a result, several tanks were knocked out and burned. Canadian Joe Lapointe entered a duel with a Panther, and knocked it out with three shots from his PIAT. This was one of the most successful attacks on a Panther with this type of weapon. German infantry was similarly unsuccessful, and retreated. The Panthers followed.

Failing to take Bretteville and Norrey at night, the Germans decided to repeat their attacks during the day. However, they were unable to create a truly powerful force, since the 12th SS was attacking in pieces. Not only did this reduce its offensive capabilities, but prevented the establishment of proper cooperation between tanks and infantry.

On June 9th, at noon, 1st and 3rd Panther companies (about 25 tanks) began an offensive at Norrey. Another company covered their attacks by shooting from standstill. German infantry did not support this attack, likely because they were pinned down by Allied artillery fire. Tanks had to manage with 20-30 soldiers.

Panthers rushed towards Norrey at maximum speed. Tanks from the first company made a short stop and fired upon the church steeple to knock out potential artillery observers. After that, the company moved forward once more. Before the Germans even reached the village, they came under fire from AT guns. A short battle ensued. Even though the Germans destroyed a handful of Canadian guns without any losses, the commander decided to not tempt fate and retreat. This was the only action taken by 1st company on June 9th.

Nightmare at Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse

3rd company has a darker fate in store for them. The company was commanded by Captain Ludeman, hurriedly appointed to replace the prior commander, who was wounded in battle. Little is known about this man, not even his first name.

12 tanks from the company advanced rapidly along the railroad. Ludeman ordered them to reduce speed and turn left towards Norrey. He assumed that this would turn the Panthers' front armour against Canadian AT guns. He thought wrong. In a few seconds, the Panthers were indeed fired upon, but from the right, not from the front. In only a few minutes, five tanks were destroyed and two more knocked out.

Everything happened so quickly that German tankers did not have time to find out who was shooting at them. Panthers caught fire, their crews tried to escape as quickly as possible. Everyone who was in that battle recalls it with horror.

A tank commanded by a man called Hermani (no rank or name was recorded) was hit in the right side of the turret. The shell flew under the loader's seat and ignited. Hermani was an experienced tanker and did not lock his hatch. Thanks to this, he was the first to exit his tank. The gunner had to move through the flame, and he suffered severe burns. On the edge of the hatch, the gunner tore off his intercom cable and jumped down, right on the radio operator. The radio operator screamed, thinking that a tank has crushed him.

Another Panther's commander peeked out of his turret to take a better look and was killed by a direct hit from a shell. Another tank suffered significant damage to its tracks and wheels, but rentained the ability to move and limped away. Some of the disabled Panthers had their turrets torn off by exploding ammunition.

The remainder of 3rd company retreated, not having seen their enemy. Many tankers were shocked by what they saw and experienced. Ludeman had a nervous breakdown and he was sent to a hospital, where he took several days to recover. One German officer that observed the slaughter of his Panthers recalled "I wanted to cry from the fury and sorrow."

Anti-tank Fireflies

Who destroyed those Panthers? These were Sherman tanks from a reserve unit, coming to reinforce the Canadian 1st Hussars Tank Regiment. Out of the nine tanks, several were Firefly modifications, equipped with 17-pounder 76.2 mm guns, capable of penetrating any German tank.

When the Germans went in to attack Norrey, the Shermans were located next to Bretteville. The Panthers from the 3rd company showed their sides perfectly to the Canadian tanks. The range was a mere 900 meters, so the first shells found their targets.

Lieutenant Henry's tank excelled in this battle. His gunner knocked out five Panthers with five hits. Another two Fireflies scored one kill each. All Shermans fired on the Panthers, so several were hit more than once. Regular Shermans fired HE, capable of confusing the enemy and buttoning them down, making it difficult to find targets. This is why the Germans were unable to discover their attacker.

Canadian Shermans were in the right place, in the right time. Even though the German attack was unexpected, the Canadians organized quickly and were performed admirably, with no losses on their side. The Germans once again were shown that hurried organization and rash action causes failure. This was the first victory of Canadian Shermans over German Panthers.

Original article available here.

Saturday 17 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Soviet Tanks in Typhoon's Way

When the topic of Soviet tankers and the Battle for Moscow is raised, one immediately thinks of Katukov and his 4th brigade. In the shadow of this great commander lie a great many units and formations, fighting to stop the Wehrmacht mere kilometers from Moscow and then push them back westward. This is a story of one of those brigades.

It happened in October of 1941, when Typhoon (the German offensive towards Moscow) was raging in full force. The enemy penetrated the front in the central direction and encircled several armies of the Reserve and Western Fronts near Vyazma. By the middle of October, a part of those forces managed to break out and retreat to the Mozhaisk defensive line. New forces were needed in order to hold the front here, new forces that the Red Army was desperately lacking. In order to win time for moving up reserves and shoring up defenses, six newly formed tank brigades were thrown into battle near Mozhaisk and Maloyaroslavets, including the 22nd brigade.

Tankers help out Panfilov's men

Like many other units of the time, the 22nd Tank Brigade was rushed to formation from October 2nd to October 11th. The day after, the brigade was sent to the front, subordinate to the 5th Army.

The rush in formation did not have a positive effect on the unit's equipment. According to the standards, the brigade was to have 7 heavy KV tanks, 33 T-34s, and 32 "small" tanks: T-30s or T-40s. In reality, there were no KV tanks, and 7 T-34s were issued instead. 12 of the light vehicles were BT tanks from tank schools, whose parts were almost completely worn out. No armoured cars for reconnaissance and control companies were issued at all. However, the brigade did get 8 rare ZiS-30 tank destroyers, consisting of a 57 mm gun on an armoured Komsomolets chassis.

The majority of the brigade's soldiers were recently conscripted. The difficult situation did not allow them to properly prepare. They would have to learn to fight in battle.

The front lines changed rapidly. As a result, the 22nd brigade was pulled apart. On October 13th, Captain Kozhanov's group (14 tanks and a motorized infantry company) was sent to Borovsk. Engaging the enemy, the group managed to disperse German infantry and knock out 7 tanks at the cost of 4 of their own. The offensive towards Borovsk was stopped for now. However, the group did not return to the brigade, remaining to fight in that sector.

Soon the brigade received new orders and set out to help the 16th Army at Volokolamsk. Covering 200 km in two marches, the brigade reached the Konyashevo-Chertanovo region. Here, it joined the ranks of Panfilov's 316th Infantry Division.

The tankers' arrival was very well timed, as the German 2nd Tank Division delivered a powerful attack towards Knyazhevo on that day. By the evening, they surrounded a whole battalion of Soviet forces. Panfilov decided to counterattack with tanks of the 22nd brigade. At 18:00, 10 T-34s and 9 T-30s attacked the enemy that was fighting the encircled battalion. The Germans, not expecting to see tanks, retreated, and the battalion was saved. For decisive and successful action, Major-General Panfilov declared his personal gratitude to the 22nd brigade.

Battle at Mozhaisk

The tankers barely had time to catch their breath after Knyazhevo when they received new orders from the commander of the Western Front. On October 18th, the brigade once more undertook a long march to Pushkino, where they were finally supposed to reach the 5th Army.  The 80 kilometer off-road march left its mark: several BT tanks and 3 tank destroyers fell behind for repairs.

The commander of the 5th Army committed a common mistake for the initial period of the war, sending the brigade to battle straight from the march, without waiting for it to completely congregate or perform reconnaissance. The consequences of using small groups of tanks in this manner are predictably grim.

One of these groups, consisting of an infantry company and AT riflemen, was supposed to take up defensive positions at a crossroads 5 kilometers south of Mozhaisk. The commander of the 5th Army told them that the 17th Infantry Regiment was already holding positions there. Soldiers from the 22nd brigade confidently marched without reconnaissance, certain that they were walking towards their allies. However, once they arrived, it turned out that there were no Soviet forces there, but instead a large amount of Germans. A night battle ensued, and the group was surrounded, taking heavy losses.

The tanks of the brigade were also split up. 7 tanks were sent to defend Mozhaisk. By the time they reached the city, it turned out that it was already occupied by Germans. Two tanks were sent to perform reconnaissance, but were destroyed.

13 more tanks were given to the 20th Tank Brigade and fought for five days against a numerically superior German force at the Moscow-Mozhaisk highway. Here, our tankers knocked out six German tanks and killed over a hundred soldiers and officers. Lieutenant Sorokopudov excelled, destroyed three German tanks, as well as Lieutenant Aladinskiy, destroying two tanks, a gun, and about 25 soldiers.

On October 22nd, 1941, a new order was issued by the commander of the 5th Army. The 22nd brigade along with the 50th Infantry Division was supposed to take and hold the Dorohovo settlement, located on the Moscow-Mozhaisk highway, along the primary German axis of attack.

Turning point for the 22nd brigade

By October 23rd, the brigade was in rough shape. Only 20 tanks remained functional, and the motorized infantry battalion nearly ceased to exist: almost all of it was encircled at Mozhaisk, breaking out in small groups. The tankers' support consisted of an AA squadron, who placed their machineguns and 37 mm cannons in ambush around Dorohovo.

In the early morning, the German 10th Tank Division delivered a powerful attack from the west along the highway. Under the enemy advance, the riflemen of the 50th Infantry Divison routed, refusing to support tank counterattacks that the 22nd brigade attempted to carry out. The defense of the settlement was down to the tankers and AA gunners. Their situation became even more difficult when German infantry approached from the south.

The defense of the settlement lasted from 7 am to 6 pm. Tankers and AA gunners managed to knock out 6 German tanks, several trucks, two 37 mm guns, and about a hundred soldiers and officers. The AA squadron reported shooting down two planes.

By the evening, the situation looked grim. Soviet forces in the village (especially the AA gunners) suffered serious losses and were under threat of encirclement. Thankfully, an order was received from their superiors allowing retreat.

During October 24th-25th, Soviet forces performed a fighting retreat. Tanks from the 22nd brigade staged ambushes with two or three tanks and performed reconnaissance raids. Sadly, the 50th Infantry Division wavered once more, leaving our tankers without cover. Another problem came from mines, which sappers from the 5th Army generously spread in the depth of Soviet defenses. Nobody was left to guard these minefields, nor was there a diagram composed. A report from the 22nd brigade reads: "...3 transport trucks and 1 tank destroyer blew up on our own mines. 2 killed, 3 injured. These losses are the result of criminal negligence of the engineering service of the 5th Army."

Pulling up their forces, the Red Army attempted to knock the enemy out of Dorohovo, Trufanovka, and Boltino on October 26th. This time, a lot more attention was paid to the cooperation of infantry and tanks. Infantry followed tanks into battle, cementing their success. This cooperation yielded results. After three days of fighting, the Germans were thrown back about 8 kilometers. 6 tanks from the 22nd brigade were knocked out, but all were salvageable. The Germans lost one medium tank, 12 AT guns, about 200 soldiers and officers, 3 aircraft. Our forces captured 6 cars, 2 AT guns, 100 rifles, and other trophies. After this battle, the 22nd brigade got 3 days of rest before the next battle.

Original article available here.

Friday 16 October 2015

Wooden Mount

The German use of dug in tanks and tank turrets in defensive urban combat is pretty well known, but this is a rarity indeed: a 37 mm tank gun on a wooden mount.

The caption reads: "German 37 mm tank gun. The gun is installed on a wooden mount and was used to fire from house windows and from concealed positions durin street fighting for the Torun fortress."

Thursday 15 October 2015

Experimental Guns

"Decree of the State Committee of Defense #4851ss
December 27th, 1943
Moscow, Kremlin

On the design, production, and trials of experimental guns for tanks and SPGs.

The State Committee of Defense decrees that:
  1. On the 85 mm tank gun: GAU chief comrade Yakovlev and Armoured Forces commander comrade Fedorenko must perform trials of the 85 mm S-53 and S-50 guns installed in T-34 tanks (S-53 in a T-34 with a stock 1420 mm turret ring, S-50 in a tank with a widened turret ring) and the 85 mm LB-1 gun designed by factory #92 in a T-34 with a widened turret ring before December 30th, 1943.
    Report to GOKO on results by January 2nd, 1944.
  2. On the 100 mm tank gun (comrade Grabin):
    1. NKV (comrade Ustinov) and TsAKB (comrade Grabin) must provide the S-34 100 mm tank gun for trials by January 1st, 1944.
      GAU chief (comrade Yakovlev) and Armoured Forces commander (comrade Fedorenko) must perform trials by January 5th, 1944.
      Report to GOKO on results by January 7th, 1944.
    2. NKV (comrade Ustinov) and factory #92 director comrade Yelyan must produce two S-34 100 mm guns according to blueprints from TsAKB, one for the IS tank and one for an SPG on the T-34 chassis to factory #100 by January 25th, 1944.
    3. NKTP (comrade Malyshev) and factory directors of Kirov factory (comrade Zaltsmann), factory #100 (comrade Kotin) and Uralmash (comrade Muzrukov) must design and produce an IS tank and an SPG on the T-34 chassis with 100 mm guns.
      Perform factory trials of the IS tank and SPG with 100 mm guns by February 20th and provide the tank and SPG for proving grounds trials by February 25th.
    4. GAU (comrade Yakovlev) and the Armoured Forces commander (comrade Fedorenko), in cooperation with NKTP and NKV, must, within five days, perform trials of the IS tank and SPG with 100 mm guns and deliver a conclusion to GOKO by March 5th, 1944.
    5. TsAKB (comrade Grabin) must include the possibility to install an 85 mm barrel into the S-34 mount to achieve a muzzle velocity of 1000-1100 m/s and begin the production of this gun with the aim of producing an experimental prototype for government trials by April 1st, 1944.
    6. People's Commissariat of Ammunition (comrade Vannikov) must produce ammunition (casing, propellant, AP and HE shells) for the 85 mm TsAKB gun with a muzzle velocity of 1000-1100 m/s and provide 1000 proof rounds as well as 250 each HE and AP rounds.
  3. On the 130 mm tank gun (comrade Grabin):
    1. NKV (comrade Ustinov) and TsAKB (comrade Grabin) must design by January 5th 1944 and produce by March 1st 1944 an experimental prototype of a 130 mm gun, with the ballistics of the 130 mm B-13 naval gun, to be used in an SPG on the IS chassis.
    2. Director of factory 232, comrade Zakharyin, must produce a barrel with breech and other components, as well as cast and forged components, and deliver them to TsAKB by the aforementioned date.
    3. NKV (comrade Ustinov) and TsAKB (comrade Grabin) must send one 130 mm SPG gun to factory #100 by March 10th, 1944.
    4. NKTP (comrade Malyshev) and directors of factory #100 and Kirov factory must design an SPG on the IS tank chassis to use a 130 mm gun.
      Begin factory trials of the 130 mm SPG by April 1st, 1944, and provide it for proving grounds trials by April 5th, 1944.
    5. GAU (comrade Yakovlev) and the Armoured Forces commander (comrade Fedorenko), in cooperation with the NKTP and NKV, must complete proving grounds trials in five days' time and report to GOKO with their conclusions by April 10th.
    6. People's Commissar of Ammunition (comrade Vannikov) must produce 500 each of HE shells for the 130 mm SPG, AP and HE shells for the 122 mm gun with a muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s, and deliver them by March 20th, 1944 for trials.
  4. On the increased muzzle velocity of the 122 mm tank gun:
    1. NKV (comrade Ustinov), TsAKB (comrade Grabin), OKB-172 (comrade Ivanov) and factory #172 director (comrade Bykhosvkiy) must design and produce two prototypes of a 122 mm gun with a muzzle velocity of at least 1000 m/s using a 25 kilogram shell (one designed by TsAKB and one by OKB-172) to be used in an IS SPG.
      Submit finished prototypes to factory #100 for installation in vehicles by March 10th, 1944.
    2. NKTP (comrade Malyshev), Kirov factory director (comrade Zaltsmann) and factory #100 director (comrade Kotin), in cooperation with TsAKB and OKB-172, must design IS SPGs with TsAKB and OKB-172 122 mm guns.
      Finished SPGs must be submitted for proving grounds trials by April 1st, 1944.
    3. GAU (comrade Yakovlev) and the Armoured Forces commander (comrade Fedorenko), in cooperation with the NKTP and NKV, must complete proving grounds trials of the SPGs within 10 days and submit their conclusions to GOKO by April 15th, 1944.
Chair of the Committee of Defense, I. Stalin."

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Il-2 Penetration

The Il-2 Sturmovik ground attacker airplane carried a large number of weapons for dealing with armoured targets. Here is the tactical data on some of them.

"82 mm armour piercing rocket round (RBS-82) designed by NII-3 with an LF warhead designed by NII-24 and an AV-96 detonator designed by TsKB-47:
  • Dimensions: 1035 mm in length, 82 mm caliber
  • Mass: total mass 14.9 kg, explosive mass 0.450 kg
  • Rocket charge: two pellets of N3-70/10-275 mm powder with three ingiters using rifle gunpowder.
  • Detonator: tail, AV-96, with a two bearing safety, 0.04-0.06 seconds of delay, mass: 0.350 kg, length: 80 mm
  • Capable of penetrating 50 mm of armour from a range of 800-900 meters while diving at an angle of 70-85 degrees.
  • The rocket propellant grants additional 350 m/s of speed.
  • The RBS-82 can be installed on stock RO-82 launchers.
1000 kg aircraft armour piercing bomb (BRAB-1000) designed by GSKB-47
  • Length (without fuse): 2807 mm
  • Stabilizer wingspan: 492 mm
  • External diameter at the foundation of the curved taper: 356 mm
  • Distance of the center of mass from the head cut of the bomb: 1121 mm
  • Mass, fully armed: 1000 kg
  • Explosive: TNT
  • Explosive mass: 130.8 kg
  • Detonator: two AV-87 tail fuses
  • Penetration from 4000 meter height without damaging the hull: 7" of surface-hardened armour at K=2300
  • Time to fall from a height of 2000 meters: 20.4 seconds"
I don't know why the penetration of the BRAB-1000 is in inches, but later on in the document it's stated again in millimeters (180 mm). 

Via gistory.

Tuesday 13 October 2015


There are those who claim that the USSR was a wondrous paradise where money was no object, and resources were unlimited. I already published a number of documents detailing exactly how important money was when dealing between commissariats and factories, but it was also considered very important when dealing with individuals as well.

"Decree of the State Committee of Defense #575ss
August 24th, 1941

On the salary of soldiers of destroyer battalions

The State Committee of Defense decrees that:
  1. Include members of the Podolsk, Serpukhov, Noginsk, Elektrostal, Krasnopakhorsk, Maliy-Yaroslavl, Mozhaisk, Volokolamsk, Istra, Klin, Dmitrov, Shelkovo, Kolomenskoye, Kashirskoye, Stupino, Lotoshino, Uvarov, and Shakhtersk regional destroyer battalions of the Moscow oblast in coverage of decree #76ss issued on July 9th, 1941, paying each soldier 8 rubles per day for food.
  2. The salary of the 6000 members of destroyer battalions of the Leningrad oblast front line will be paid from the NKVD budget, issuing each soldier 8 rubles per day for food.
    Members of destroyer battalions who used to work at establishments that were evacuated retain their previous monthly salary. Members who earned less than 300 rubles per month will be paid 300 rubles, as well as students and farmers.
  3. The People's Commissar of Finance will assign the additional budget to the NKVD to maintain the destroyer battalions.
Chair of the Committee of Defense, I. Stalin."

RGASPI 644-2-15

Monday 12 October 2015

IS-4 Beginning

"To comrade Stalin, I.V.

On the topic of a new heavy tank designed by Kirov factory

We report that Kirov factory designed a new heavy tank, which differs from existing tanks in the following ways:
  1. Improved armour, specifically:
    1. The front of the new tank is rolled steel.
    2. The UFP is 120 mm thick, at an angle of 61 degrees.
    3. The LFP is 160 mm thick, at an angle of 29 degrees, compared to 120/100/60 on the existing IS.
    4. The side of the tank is 160 mm thick, compared to the 90 mm thick side of the IS.
    5. The new tank has a 160 mm thick cast turret, compared to the 100 mm thick cast turret of the IS.
  2. The tank has a more powerful 800-850 hp engine (an experimental design, has not yet passed trials).
  3. New planetary or semi-planetary transmission that will make controlling the tank easier.
  4. New cooling system design with two fans instead of one.
The estimated weight of the tank is 55-56 tons.

Considering that the proposed design is of interest to further development of tank production, we ask you to permit us to build two experimental prototypes of the heavy tank and perform factory trials upon completion, as well as build one hull to submit for ballistics trials.

In order for the work on the new tank to not interfere with production and improvement of existing IS tanks and SPGs, we ask for permission to form a special group of designers and technologists that will work on the tank, from the staff of the main design and technology bureau. The main objective of the Kirov factory will remain the improvement of quality and design of the IS tanks and SPGs.

We ask you to approve this project.

L. Beriya
V. Malyshev
Y. Fedorenko


Tactical-technical characteristics of the Kirov factory heavy tank:
  1. Tank type: tracked
  2. Mass: 55-56 tons
  3. Crew: 4
  4. Dimensions:
    1. Hull length: 6520 mm
    2. Length with gun forward: 9700 mm
    3. Length with gun back: 8400 mm
    4. Width: 3220 mm
    5. Height: 2445 mm
    6. Clearance: 450 mm
  5. Armour:
    1. UFP: 120 mm at 61 degrees
    2. LFP: 160 mm at 29 degrees
    3. Lower side: 160 mm
    4. Upper side: 160 mm at 22 degrees
    5. Upper rear: 120 mm at 38 degrees
    6. Middle rear: 120 mm at 32 degrees
    7. Lower rear: 120 mm at 39 degrees
    8. Cast turret: 160 degrees
  6. Armament: 
    1. 122 mm gun
    2. 7.62 mm DT machinegun
    3. 12.7 mm DShK machinegun
    4. 50 mm breech-loaded mortar
  7. Armament angles:
    1. Gun and machiengun:
      1. Horizontal: 360 degrees
      2. Vertical: +20 to -4 degrees
    2. DShK machinegun:
      1. Horziontal: 360 degrees
      2. Vertical: AA
  8. Ammunition load:
    1. 30 cannon shells
    2. 1500 DT rounds
    3. 500 DShK rounds
    4. 1000 PPSh rounds
    5. 25 hand grenades
    6. 30 mortar rounds
  9. Driving characteristics:
    1. Maximum speed: 40 kph
    2. Ground pressure: 0.86 kg/cm^2
  10. Engine power: 800-850 hp
  11. Hp/ton: 14.3-15.2"

Sunday 11 October 2015

World of Tanks Armoured Fantasy: BT with Rockets

In the 1930s and 1940s, military engineers were faced with a difficult task: how to give a light tank some heavy firepower? The BT-5 became the subject of these experiments.

For its time, the tank was well armoured and armed, but completely ordinary. In 1933, the chief of the Directorate of Mechanization and Motorization of the Red Army, I.A. Khalepskiy, ordered his engineers to turn this rank and file tank into an all-destroying armoured weapon. The goal was to "create a tank that carries 250 kg torpedoes, capable of destroying targets in the enemy rear."

150 kg from the sky

Tank torpedoes designed for the BT consisted of an aerodynamic hull with four stabilizing fins, filled with 130 kg of TNT. A light tank with a few of these rounds obtained colossal firepower. 250-TT torpedoes were primarily meant for destroying enemy fortifications, pillboxes, railroad structures, etc. Additionally, the BT could destroy enemy vehicles.

Engineers immediately raised several issues. For instance, if you mount a 400 kg weight on each side of the turret of a BT-5, can it still rotate? Will the launchers be sturdy enough? Finally, what will be the range or precision of the rocket? None of these questions could be answered with theoretical calculations, trials were necessary.

To start, engineers tested the hulls of the torpedoes in 1934-1935. 95 gunpowder charges were placed in the chamber and ignited. The hull held. It was time to try shooting from a mount. These trials were carried out at a proving grounds at Norislk.

The trials were carried out with six torpedoes, two were inert and filled with wet sand instead of explosives, the other four contained TNT. Trials showed that "the flight of all six bombs was correct and stable, the range when launched at an angle of 50 degrees is 1400-1500 meters." The four craters from the exploding torpedoes were measured to determine their power. The craters were 10 meters across and 4 meters deep on average.

Not good enough

It was time to shoot from the tank. On July 19th, 1936, a BT-5 with rockets mounted on the side arrived at the proving grounds at Podsolnechnaya station. The radiators on the rear of the tank were protected with special covers so they were not damaged by the exhaust.

The elevation was set manually, with a variation of 10 degrees. The first shot was fired with closed hatches, the second with opened hatches, to test the effect of the rocket exhaust on the crew.

The torpedoes flew correctly and were stable, with a difference in range of 100 meters, depending on the angle of elevation. The exhaust was deflected from the tank with no damage. The BT-5 turret could spin freely even with the torpedoes mounted. However, all was not as good as it seemed.

In order to zero in the torpedoes and create ballistics tables, many test shots were needed. Reloading the launchers was a risky task for the crew, who would have to exit the tank in the middle of the battle. A munitions carrier was supposed to partially resolve this problem.

Trials continued until November of 1936. Based on these trials, the commission composed a final list of drawbacks of the torpedo tank. The drawbacks were as follows:

  1. Large and bulky launcher.
  2. Decrease of the tank's combat performance.
  3. Small amount of torpedoes carried on board.
  4. Impossible to reload without leaving the tank.
  5. Torpedoes are not protected from machinegun fire.
  6. The projectile's range is short.
  7. The initial velocity is low.
Work on the project ceased, documentation was classified, and sent to the archives. The torpedo BT never saw combat. However, six years later, an artillery instruction from Miassa proposed a more serious armament for the tank.

A humble artilleryman's rocket tank

A report from the Ural-based instructor A.P. Konstantinov arrived at the HR department of Guards mortar units in November of 1942. The inventor wrote that he developed a miniaturized M-8 launcher for the BT tank. In simpler terms, he decided to cross the BT and the Katyusha.

The design was initially targeting the T-34 chassis and was sent to the Kirov factory in Chelyabinsk, but the specialists there commented on a series of drawbacks and recommended that it should be adapted for the BT-7. Konstantinov did not know if these tanks were still in production, but he was too shy to write to GABTU, as he did not know anyone there. The report only arrived after it went through the hands of the rocket artillery branch.

The report contained sketches and a description of the launcher. Konstantinov proposed equipping all remaining BT-7s in the army, turning them into special purpose tanks. A company of these vehicles would be assigned to every tank brigade, with the following goals: "The tanks remain at our first line of defense as heavy and medium tanks attack. As the heavy tanks advance, the enemy will reveal his AT guns. Special purpose tanks will be used to suppress them, destroy the retreating enemy, and liquidate enemy counterattacks."

Konstantinov's BT-7 modernization consisted of 24 rails for 82 mm rockets, two sets of 12. During marches, the rails would be covered with armoured shields. This increased the silhouette of the tank, but also allowed it to carry infantry. The BT-7 is small, and can't carry many troops by itself.

In battle, the launchers would be moved left and right, to the sides of the tank. Aiming horizontally was done by turning the hull, controlled by the commander with his periscope. Elevation was set using a mechanism installed in the turret. 

Konstantinov completed his letter with an intriguing comment: "An M-8 round on a tank, with a range of 1000 meters can be as effective as a 122 mm HE grenade, for reasons that I will describe in following messages." However, no further letters arrives.

Did A.P. Konstantinov's project have potential? Doubtful. A year before his report, in the fall of 1941, specialists already tried to install an M-8 launcher, not on a BT-7, but on the T-40 amphibious tank. Trials showed unacceptable dispersion when firing at medium elevation angles. The T-40 rocket artillery project was shut down.

The idea of equipping a light vehicle with powerful armament was logical, but difficult to implement. However, the lack of rockets did not prevent BT tanks from fighting throughout the war and finishing it along many other vehicles that are much more widely associated with victory.

Original article available here

Saturday 10 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: a 122 mm Argument

The use of IS-2 tanks is one of the most interesting topics in the history of the Great Patriotic War, but it is still not explored very thoroughly.

The IS-2 was the most numerous heavy tank of WWII, and a revolution in both Soviet and worldwide tank building. A real "universal soldier", capable of completing a wide range of objectives, proving itself both in the open field and in the city, lasting for half a century in various armies.

On October 31st, this tank will turn 72 years old.

A hero's portrait

In the spring of 1942, GABTU launched a program to develop a 30 ton heavy tank. Chelyabinsk engineers were tasked with this job. The vehicle was named KV-13, but the index IS-1 almost immediately came into use. Despite the designation, this design had very little to do with the KV-1.

During trials in the fall of 1942, the KV-13 showed an excellent speed of 56 kph, but also revealed many design defects. The process of correction began, as a result of which the mass was increased to 38 tons and the crew grew to 4. By the spring of next year, the IS-1 (Iosif Stalin) index was officially attached to the tank.

The IS-1 was designed to carry a 85 mm gun, but few tanks were produced with one. At the same time as the IS-1 entered development, engineers led by artillery designer F.F. Petrov explored another topic, which proved pivotal in the tank's fate. Their task was a 122 mm tank gun. A design was ready in the summer of 1943, a prototype was completed by the fall, and then gunnery and mobility trials were held. The first 35 IS-2 tanks with a 122 mm left assembly lines in December of 1943. In total, 3385 of these tanks were built during the war, with some design changes.

The majority of IS-2 tanks were sent to Guards Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiments. In total, 25 units in the Red Army used these tanks.

Against Tigers of all breeds

The purpose of the new Soviet tank had much in common with that of the German Tiger. IS-2 regiments often served as reinforcements of other tank units. Despite some opinions, IS-2s fought Tigers fairly often, usually with a very poor result for the latter. While there was no direct order preventing German tankers from engaging the IS-2, documents starting from the second half of 1944 and until the end of the war frequently mentioned that the enemy strived to avoid contact with Soviet heavy tanks.

The Lvov-Sandomierz operation is characteristic of the use of the IS-2 in battle. From July 16th to July 19th, the 29th regiment destroyed 23 Tigers and Panthers, at the cost of three burned up tanks and eight more that were recovered, five of which were repaired. During the course of the entire operation, the 29th regiment destroyed 38 German tanks and SPGs, losing 4 IS-2 tanks permanently and needing major repairs for 5.

The 71st Guards Heavy Tank Regiment also worked well in that operation. Things started out poorly: the regiment was ambushed, three tanks were lost and three more knocked out, the regimental commander was fatally wounded. In return, the Guardsmen destroyed a Tiger, a Ferdinand, and knocked out two Panthers. After the battle, 18 nonpenetrating hits from 75 mm shells were counted on the armour of one of the tanks.

The regiment encountered another ambush at Mageruv, but this time it was the Germans who had bad luck. The regiment bypassed the ambush without losing a single tank, and Guards Lieutenant B. Slunyaev's single remaining tank destroyed a Ferdinand, two AT guns, and as many APCs. Then the regiment crossed the San river and reached the pre-war borders of the Soviet Union.

Already in Poland, the regiment encountered King Tigers, the latest German heavy tank. Many know the battle where Lieutenant Oskin destroyed three of these tanks, but Oskin was supported by fire from everyone around him. The IS-2 tanks fought with King Tigers one on one. Near Ogledow, IS-2 tanks from the 71st regiment won the battle with a score of 6:0.

Red Army Draught Horse

Aside from breakthrough regiments, some IS-2 tanks were sent to Guards tank brigades. Unlike regiments, these units were heterogeneous. For instance, the 57th Guards Tank Brigade received 10 IS-2 tanks in addition to its T-34s.

The tactics in battle were similar to the use of breakthrough regiments. IS-2 tanks followed T-34-85s, clearing the way for its medium comrades, destroying enemy tanks and SPGs from long distances.

Over nine days, the 57th Guards Tank Brigade destroyed 19 tanks and 12 SPGs, losing four IS-2s irreparably. A heavy tank commanded by Junior Lieutenant Neelov dealt with three German tanks, two SPGs, seven guns, and about a hundred soldiers in the span of one battle. 16 hits were counted on its armour after battle, none penetrated.

In the city, IS-2s fought in assault groups. Their powerful cannon was a great way to destroy German fortifications and emplacements in houses.

Regardless of the part of the front or terrain, IS-2 tanks were always in the hottest spot on the battlefield. Sadly, there is not a single book focused on their use in battle. Starting from the spring of 1944, it's hard to find even one large engagement that did not hear the blast of 122 mm guns.

Original article available here.

Friday 9 October 2015

Seasonal Brew

"January 18th, 1944
To the commander of the 25th Infantry Corps, Major-General Barinov

I report that the division received 800 bottles of #1 incendiary fluid. 

This fluid is the summer type, and as trials performed by the chief of the chemical department and a commission led by the chief of the chemical department of the 25th Corps showed, does not ignite in these temperatures. 

Summer incendiary fluid is an unreliable measure against enemy tanks in current temperatures.

I ask for your cooperation in obtaining winter incendiary fluid bottles, as well as sending the summer incendiary bottles to the warehouse as excess baggage.

Commander of the 273rd Bezhetsk Infantry Division, Colonel Lototskiy"

Via altyn73.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Tiger II Reload Problems

The myth that the IS-2 had to have its gun in a very specific position before it could be loaded is a common one, and I handle it here. However, it has come to my attention that there is another tank that indeed had problems with loading if the gun was not level: the Tiger II.

WO291/1003 Motion studies of German Tanks

Loading in general is described as "very slow and fatiguing" for the following reasons:

Perhaps they should have used two-piece ammunition.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Weakest Link

"To comrade Stalin

I ask for your help with the following issue:

The People's Commissariat of Ammunition, without my consent, changed the design and technical requirements for the link to the 20 mm ShVAK gun, as a result of which 20 mm guns now jam due to a fault in the link.

In addition, without knowledge of the NKV or myself, the People's Commissariat of Ammunition changed the production technology and design of the 20 mm AP-I shell.

These changes are technologically incorrect as firstly they decrease the robustness of the complete shell, and secondly they make precise quality control impossible. The weakening of the shell and absence of quality control leads to accidents during shooting, as a result of which the 20 mm gun will break down.

As I could not convince the NKV or NKA to stop ruining ammunition for 20 mm ShVAK guns, I ask you to order the NKA to do the following:
  1. Produce a quality link for the ShVAK gun in strict accordance with technical requirements by which the link was previously made at factory #2.
  2. Have all changes to the design of 20 mm ShVAK rounds be approved by OKB-15.
Engineer Shpitalniy.
September 4th, 1941"

Shpitalniy brought the letter to Stalin himself, spending an hour and 45 minutes in his office according to the sign-in book. On the same day, a decree was issued on this subject.

"Decree of the State Committee of Defense #627ss
Moscow, Kremlin
September 4th, 1941

In order to cease nonsystematic and unapproved changes to the designs of ammunition and armament, the GKO decrees that:
  1. Technological and design changes to mass produced ammunition and armament are forbidden without the approval of the NKV and the designer.
  2. The People's Commissariats and directors of factories that produce armament or ammunition must be made aware of this decree immediately.
Chair of the State Committee of Defense, I Stalin."

At first, there was a third point to the decree regarding the 20 mm belt links specifically, but it was crossed out. 

Via gistory.

Katyusha Brigade

The following is an excerpt from a document for senior Red Army commanders, designed to help them plan operations.

"Composition and armament of  a Guards M-31 Mortar Brigade

Fire squadrons: 4
Supply squadron: 1

Squadron composition:
  • Batteries: 3 (1 platoon, each with 12 launchers)
  • Total in squadron: 36 launchers
Brigade composition:
  • 144 M-31 launchers
  • 1062 people
  • 140 cars
Capability of the brigade:
  • Brigade salvo: 1152 rockets in 5-7 minutes
  • Salvo coverage: 1200x1000 meters
  • Reload time: 2 hours
  • Fortification time: 10-12 hours
  • Ammunition capacity: one salvo (carried with launchers)
  • Range: 4400 meters (4000 meters with improved precision rounds)
  • Safe distance for infantry from exploding rounds: 400 meters
The Guards Mortar Brigade is applied in one piece in the direction of the main offensive in order to destroy the front line of enemy defenses.

The brigade column length during march is up to 8 kilometers.

Composition and armament of a Guards M-13 Mortar Regiment
  • Fire squadrons: 3, 2 batteries each (1 platoon each, 4 launchers per platoon)
  • Total launchers per squadron: 8
  • Total launchers per regiment: 24
  • People: 672
  • Cars: 132
Capability of the regiment:
  • Regimental salvo: 384
  • Salvo coverage: 800x700 meters
  • Reload time: 6-10 minutes
  • Fortification time: 10 hours
  • Ammunition capacity: 4 salvos (total 1536 shells) carried with launchers
  • Range: 8470 meters (8000 meters with improved precision round)
  • Safe distance for infantry from exploding rounds: 300 meters
The Guards Mortar Regiment is applied in one piece in the direction of the main offensive in order to destroy field fortifications and enemy manpower both on the front lines and in depth of enemy defenses.

The regiment column length during march is up to 6 kilometers."