Sunday 31 January 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Best Tankers of the Leningrad Direction

The operation to break the Leningrad blockade wasn't only the first major Soviet offensive of 1944, but also the first major use of armour by Leningrad and Volkov Fronts since 1941.

One of the more notable episodes of the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Operation was the action of the tankers from the 59th Army during the liberation of Novgorod. In three years of difficult and bloody fighting in the Leningrad direction, few such examples of independent and effective action by a tank unit can be found. The heroes of this story are the tankers of Colonel Kirill Osipovich Urvanov's 16th Tank Brigade.

From the Foothold

The last time the brigade was actively used in battle was January of 1943, in an attempt to build on the success of the first penetration of the Leningrad blockade. Now, a year later, it composed the mobile group of the 6th Infantry Corps. The brigade had 48 tanks, 32 of them T-34s and the rest light T-60s and T-70s.

Opposing them was the German 28th Jaeger division. The German command reinforced them with assault guns from a tank destroyer unit and a large amount of AT guns.

The offensive of the 59th Army started in the Novgorod direction on January 14th, 1944. The first successes were on the auxiliary direction, where the Soviet operational group crossed lake Ilmen. On the main direction, the 239t Infantry Division attacked from the Volkhov foothold and also penetrated enemy defenses after some time. On January 15th the 16th Tank Brigade reinforced with an SPG regiment followed them into the breach.

The tanks fought in difficult conditions. First, the Soviet forces did not penetrate the defenses completely. Second, forests, swamps, deep snow, and the reinforced banks of Pitba river created many problems for the attackers. The first attack revealed all these issues, but there was no choice: it was still necessary to cross the swampy shores and minefields. Thanks to timely actions of the commander and personnel, a Soviet motorized infantry battalion managed to capture a foothold on the opposite side of the river by dusk. The rest of the infantry and the tanks followed them. By the end of January 15th, German defenses were penetrated. The 16th Tank Brigade turned south to the Novgorod-Chudovo highway. In addition, the Germans were driven out of Tyutitsa.

Pummelling at Podberezye

On the next day, the 16th Tank Brigade achieved great success due to competent direction from superior officers who managed to coordinate an artillery barrage that was necessary when attacking such a large stronghold. Tankers hit the village and the Podberezye railroad station. Senior Lieutenant Gorokhov's platoon entered the village first, then the others pulled up, fully clearing it of Germans. Having captured Podberezye, the Soviet forces took one of the largest German footholds, as well as cut off several enemy garrisons positioned to the east. This was a serious hit for the Germans. The 18th Army HQ demanded that the station be held at any cost, and this was quite a shock.

The 16th brigade also distinguished itself by defeating a German column that was trying to retreat from Podberezye. On January 16th, Soviet intelligence reported that the Germans were retreating west. Tankers had to cut off the enemy's retreat, and tanks were sent to the Podberezye-Nekohovo highway. Two T-60s were the first to reach the road: tanks commanded by Senior Sergeants Pridatko and Sviridov.

They saw a column of a German tank destroyer squadron, headed by an assault gun. The tankers opened fire. The Germans fired back and hit Sviridov's tank. The tank burned. With the last of his strength, the driver turned the tank perpendicular to the road, blocking the column.

Pridatko's crew managed to knock out several cars when the German assault gun rammed his tank. The light vehicles was crushed by the enemy's mass. By then, other tanks reached the battlefield, and a two hour battle ensued. When the Germans were finally defeated, 200 dead Germans, 45 cars, 10 guns, 8 motorcycles, and 3 radio stations littered the road. In addition, several dozen Germans were taken prisoner. Seems that most of the 28th Jaeger Division's AT guns were destroyed in this battle. German sources write that the 478th Tank Destroyer Battalion was lost here.

The front lines turned into several strongholds that the enemy still held onto. The Germans in Novgorod were in a serious danger of being encircled.

Novgorod is Ours!

The penetration of German defenses and battles over their strongholds came at a cost. In total. the 16th Tank Brigade lost 6 T-34 tanks and 4 light tanks. The fighting was far from over.

The tankers did not rest on their laurels. On January 17th, they moved further south along with the 65th Order of the Red Banner Infantry Division and another veteran of the swamps and forests, the 29th Tank Brigade. Tanks tore southwards across forest roads and swamps, threatening to cut off the main road west from Novgorod. They captured one important location, Vyazhishe village, reaching yet another railroad.

It became clear that significant effort was required to keep moving forward. Brigade commander Colonel Urvanov was selected as the head of the advance guard. While soldiers were clearing the road, he decided to send an SPG regiment and motorized infantry battalion to capture the railroad and hold it until the tanks can get out of the swamps.

By the end of January 17th, the armoured advance guard of the Soviet offensive was several kilometers away from the Novgorod-Luga highway. The motorized infantry battalion of the 16th Tank Brigade was ahead of the rest. If was the first to reach the railroad near the Nashi passing loop. Here, our tankers met their old friends from Sinyavino in the winter of 1943: elements of the 3rd Grenadier Regiment of the 21st Infantry Division and SS cavalry. Until the arrival of the main forces, the advance guard repelled up to eight attacks without retreating one step. Several days later, sad scraps of a single battalion from the 21st Division managed to make it through the encirclement.

The Germans knew that Novgorod could not be held. The breakthrough began on the morning of January 20th. The Germans took heavy losses in the fighting around the city.

When tanks joined up with their motorized infantry, another push south followed. Soon those who spent days marching through swamps and crushing German garrisons were shaking the hands of their comrades who liberated Novgorod the Great.

This part of the operation concluded fortunately for the 16th Brigade. Total losses were 11 tanks, 54 dead, 148 injured and three MIA. Considering the conditions of the operation, these losses were acceptable.

Original article available here.

Saturday 30 January 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Liberation of Novgorod

Early 1944 was a difficult time for forces of Army Group North. They were in well prepared defensive positions and they avoided difficult crises that befell the central and southern German groups. However, other defeats had a negative impact on Georg von Küchler's forces. He lost several of his units, including mode tank and mechanized ones. German high command also had no reserves in case the situation at Novgorod and Leningrad turned sour.

Meanwhile, the Red Army was preparing future offensives, the famous Stalin's Ten Blows, the series of attacks that defeated 140 divisions (half of which were destroyed completely) and chased the Germans out of the USSR. The first of them was the Leningrad-Novgorod operation, carried out in the middle of January, 1944.

Target: Novgorod

Stavka of the High Command tasked Army General K.A. Meretskov's Volkov Front with the task of defeating the German Novgorod group. To do this, he had about 260,000 men, over 3600 guns, and about 400 tanks and SPGs. Most of these forces were a part of the 59th Army, which was to deliver the main blow. In its sector, the Soviet forces surpassed the Germans 3.3 times in infantry, 3.5 times in artillery, and 11 times in armour.

The offensive towards Novgorod was scheduled for the morning of January 14th. For the first time in history, Soviet command included the actions of partisans in its plans. About 40,000 men were supposed to destroy railroads and bridges, damage wires and telegraph poles, create chaos in German communications.

Meretskov picked a direction north of Novgorod for his 59th Army, a foothold on the western shore of the Volkhov river. After an artillery barrage, specially formed infantry assault groups reinforced with tanks would attack here. A group composed of a reinforced infantry brigade and motorized sled units would deliver an auxiliary attack. This group would stealthily cross the ice of lake Ilmen south of Novgorod, distract a part of German forces, and finally join up with the rest of the Front west of the city.

German intelligence supplied von Küchler with enough information for him to foresee a Soviet attack. However, the Germans did not properly predict the scale of the attack, expecting to be able to contain it. On the other hand, von Küchler was careful enough to have prepared a plan of retreat just in case in December of 1943. He was sceptical about being able to keep the attackers at existing positions and proposed falling back to defensive line "Panther", but Hitler demanded that he hold on. The Germans at Leningrad were forced to wait and see what would happen.

Soviet disinformation led German attention away from Novgorod. Even when Küchler was told that Soviet forces are concentrating at the Volkhov foothold, he expected it to be an easily contained local offensive.

On the morning of January 14th, he realized his mistake.

Main Secondary Direction

The morning of the offensive was met with a heavy snowfall. This almost completely prevented Soviet bombers from taking any action, and complicated matters for Soviet artillery. Guns and mortars were forced to fire at general areas, and even though about 133,000 shells landed on the German lines, it was not possible to fully suppress their firing positions.

Infantry and tanks, attacking from the activated foothold, started off poorly. Many units reached the front lines late, giving the Germans a chance to organize a resistance. Reconnaissance and engineering support were also lacking. As a result, tanks got stuck in craters and in swamps. For example, out of 29 tanks that were sent to reinforce the 310th Infantry Division, only 11 reached the front lines. Individual battalions acted passively when met with German resistance and took unreasonably heavy losses. Battles in the main direction became long and arduous.

The secondary attack was much more successful. Even though the ice on lake Ilmen wasn't robust, the southern group managed to secretly cross the lake and surprise the enemy, destroying several of his strongholds and capturing a foothold 6 km wide and up to 4 km deep by the end of the first day. The Germans counterattacked several times, trying to drive the Soviets back into the lake, but they were not successful. Finally, they started to bomb and fire at the ice to at least prevent reinforcements.

Knowing about this and trying to maintain success, Meretskov gave engineers the order to build a crossing with portable bridges. In difficult conditions, working in ice cold water, engineering units managed to complete the task and allowed the southern group to be reinforced with an impressive amount of infantry and 20 armoured cars. Forces north of Novgorod also received reinforcements. Meanwhile, von Küchler started pulling out everything he could and moving it to the endangered section of the front. The Germans counterattacked, trying to prevent the south and north groups' meeting.

Through Mud and Snow

The slowly progressing offensive annoyed the Volkov Front commander. On January 17th, Meretskov chewed out the commander of the 59th Army in writing and demanded that his forces be more active.

Meanwhile, the Red Army penetrated German defenses north of Novgorod across a 20 km front. However, daily progress amounted to no more than 6 km. The fierce German resistance wasn't the only problem. Melting snow, a lack of roads, and swamps made things very difficult. Forces could often only move through one road. Tank tracks would beat it up so badly that even infantry, let alone artillery or trucks, could not use it. It was hard to deliver fuel, ammunition, supplies. Soldiers marched knee deep in mud pushing their guns and mortars, carrying crates of supplies on their backs.

Slowly but surely, the German front was collapsing. North of Novgorod, Soviet forces surrounded and fully defeated a Jaeger division, and then swept through positions of German forces protecting the Finev Lug-Novgorod railroad. Increasing the pressure on the enemy, Meretskov send the second echelon of the 59th Army and the 54th Army into battle. The latter only managed to move forward several kilometers, but its attack prevented the German 38th Army Corps from reaching the city.

By January 19th, Novgorod was surrounded by Soviet forces from the north and south. One infantry corps penetrated through west of the city. Threatened by encirclement, von Küchler asked Hitler for permission to retreat. By this time, the only road that could allow this was within the range of Soviet guns. The weather improved, and the retreating enemy could be attacked by aircraft.

Sadly, the slow pace of the offensive did not allow for encirclement of the Germans in Novgorod. Before a tight ring could be formed, the Germans blew up the bridge across the river and left the city before the Red Army reached it on January 20th and took it without a fight. Individual German units were encircled west of Novgorod and were defeated. That day, a salute in Moscow announced the liberation of the ancient city.

Original article available here.

Friday 29 January 2016

Soviet Turreted Tank Destroyers

Soviet SPG development ceased in the late 1930s, but started up again in early 1940. Initially, the focus was on bunker busters, but projects with other purposes started up in mid-1940. Among them were tank destroyers on the T-34 medium tank chassis. The main feature of these vehicles was a rotating turret.

Medium Tank Destroyer

The need for a medium tank destroyer was raised in June of 1940. During the discussion of armament of Soviet tanks and SPGs, the 85 mm mod. 1939 AA gun (52-K) was mentioned for the first time. According to calculations, an AP shell fired from such a gun would penetrate 88 mm of sloped armour at a range of one kilometer, but with the caveat that an armour piercing shell for this gun did not exist yet. 

According to a summary of experimental tank, SPG, and towed guns, the 85 mm gun was meant for the KV tank with a small turret (KV-1). This vehicle appears as #3 in the document dated June 21st, 1940. #7 is even more interesting: "85 mm gun on the T-34 chassis" (tank destroyer). This SPG would weigh 26 tons and have a maximum speed of 40 kph. Its gun would be able to rotate 360 degrees.

The 85 mm gun, indexed F-30, was developed at factory #92 under the supervision of V.G. Grabin. In September of 1940, the gun was tested in a T-28 tank, where it showed satisfactory results. However, it did not fit into the KV-1 turret, so the Kirov factory began working on an enlarged turret that was later installed on the T-220 (KV-220) tank. As for the tank destroyer, it was assigned to factory #8 in Kaliningrad (modern day Korolev). Factory #183 sent two tanks without turrets to serve as the foundation for prototypes, but work did not progress past this point.

The idea of a tank destroyer on the T-34 chassis was revisited in spring of 1941. Based on intelligence reports of new German heavy tanks, work on Soviet heavy tanks and tank destroyers resumed. On May 21st, 1941, requirements for a new tank destroyer were approved. In this case, it was not exactly a tank destroyer on the T-34 chassis, but on the chassis of the A-42, an artillery tractor based on the T-34. The gun, covered by a shield, would be placed in the rear of the tank. The design resembled the semi-armoured SdKfz 8/1 tank destroyer built on the SdKfz 8 halftrack. 

The same armament was planned for installation on the Voroshilovets heavy tractor, but the idea was rejected. The tank destroyer, indexed A-46, would be developed at factory #183, with a prototype due by October 1st, 1941. Factory #8 would develop the gun, and production would be organized at Kuybishev factory in Kolomna. 1500 such vehicles were planned for 1942. However, the project of a tank destroyer on the A-42 chassis died for a simple reason: work on the A-42 did not progress past a prototype.

Lastly, a fun fact about TDs on the T-34 chassis. On June 17th, 1941, tactical-technical requirements for the SU-34 were finalized. Its mass would be 23.5-24 tons, achieved by reducing the armour to 25-30 mm. An analogous vehicle on the T-34M (A-43) chassis was also described. Its mass would be 19-20 tons.

The requirements stated that a turret was optional, but a roof to protect the crew against strafing planes was necessary. The horizontal range must be at least 15 degrees in each direction. Due to a large amount of workload, work on these vehicles did not progress past the requirements stage.

Sverdlovsk Debut

In the fall of 1941, a large amount of organizations and design bureaus were evacuated eastward. Factory #183 ended up in Nizhniy Tagil, and Kuybishev factory ended up in Kirov to form factory #38. At first the factory assembled T-30, T-60, and T-70 tanks, but by fall of 1942, it was the leading development center for light SPGs. As for factory #8, it was evacuated to Sverdlovsk. F.F. Petrov headed its design bureau at the new location. In February of 1942, artillery production from UZTM was transferred here. In March, the design bureau presented its first design, the ZiK-1. This project was directly connected to factory #8 pre-war designs.

A thematic plan for SPGs was developed in early December of 1941. Among the planned vehicles was an 85 mm tank destroyer on the T-34 chassis, to be developed by factory #8. As factory #8 was just setting up on its new grounds, the development was transferred to UZTM. At this time, Uralmash was known as Izhor factory, as the factory with that name was also evacuated to Sverdlovsk.

On January 3rd, 1942, a technical meeting was held at Izhor factory to investigate plans to install the 85 mm AA gun on the T-34 chassis. F.F. Petrov was the supervisor of this project. According to requirements, the tank destroyer had to have 360 degree horizontal range, and vertical range from -8 to +30 degrees. The ammunition capacity had to be 30-40 shells. One of the requirements was that the T-34 chassis remain unchanged.

The designers proposed two options. One contained many changes to the gun, using components from the M-30 122 mm howitzer and 85 mm U-10 divisional gun. The second was equipped with an 85 mm mod. 1939 AA gun with minimal changes, but with a much bigger turret. In both cases, the gun crew was increased to 3 men. The commission decided that both projects satisfy the requirements. The UZTM design bureau considered it most reasonable to put the engine in the front of the hull, but since it was forbidden to make any changes to the chassis, the proposed variants were considered acceptable. The commission proposed that one of each variant should be built.

On January 14th, 1942, project documents for both designs were sent to the Main Artillery Directorate (GAU). The version with a more involved conversion of the gun was indexed U-20, the version with less changes of the AA gun was indexed U-20-II. Both projects were slightly altered after approval by the commission in early January.

The first variant had higher priority according to UZTM, and combined all experience of Sverdlovsk engineers from the start of the war. Instead of the AA gun, the U-10 divisional gun, designed at UZTM in October of 1941, was used. Initiated by UZTM, this project consisted of a barrel from the 52-K AA gun on an M-30 howitzer mount. The appearance of the U-10 was very logical: the M-30 was produced at UZTM and AA gun production also started up there. A small batch of these guns was built at the end of 1941, but the process did not continue. Despite such a finale, the U-10 could have been a decent artillery system. It was much more suitable for the new tank destroyer than the AA gun. The divisional gun was much smaller, and thus required a smaller turret.

A new turret was installed on the T-34, keeping the same 1420 mm turret ring. The turret, called a platform in the technical description, had room for three. It had an open top and partially open rear. The total mass of the turret was 3800 kg. The curved front was 45 mm thick, sides were 20 mm thick and rear 12 mm thick. The U-10 gun, muzzle brake removed, had a vertical range from -5 to +27 degrees.

Due to the large gun, the rear of the turret had an opening for the breech to enter during recoil. Due to this, loading the gun was not a simple task. The loader had to grab a shell, enter the turret bustle, and load it. The ammunition was stored in the front of the turret, which allowed for a decent rate of fire. Most of the ammunition, 56 shells in total, was held in the hull, where it was harder for the loader to operate. This is where the assistant loader came in handy.

The second variant, indexed U-20-II, was developed with the idea of using as many existing components and assemblies as possible. The overhang of the barrel was also reduced as much as possible, resulting in an odd design. The 52-K gun was installed with almost no changed, barring the removal of a muzzle brake. As a result, the turret bay was almost two meters long.

In order to compensate for the weight, the front plate was 75 mm thick and sides were 40 mm thick. This design desperately needed its assistant loader, as one a gymnast could load the gun alone. To simplify loading, the ready rack was located inside the turret, same as with the U-20.

Strange Ending

The GAU Artillery Committee held off, returning to these designs only in April of 1942. The idea of a turreted SPG was deemed correct, but the condition of the loaders was harshly and justly criticized. The idea of using the U-10 was also criticized, as it would complicate production. The U-20-II was deemed preferable, even though its loaders would have to be acrobats.

Anyway, both U-20 projects were deemed unsatisfactory by the Artillery Committee. This conclusion raises many questions. It would appear that the artillerymen did not know what they wanted. The conclusions had contradictory points. ArtKom itself created the requirements, then called the projects that satisfied them incorrect. This story is far from unique. For example, in the case of the U-19, the client was also horrified with what was shown to him.

Thankfully, just as the 85 mm tank destroyer idea died, another medium SPG was approved. It consisted of a captured StuG with a 122 mm M-30 howitzer installed. This vehicle, indexed 122-SG (later SG-122) was the first mass produced Soviet medium SPG. The concept of a front casemate later became a staple of Soviet wartime medium and heavy SPG designs.

Finally, let me mention one more curious fact. Just as the ArtKom buried the Soviet turreted SPG, the T35 GMC arrived at the Aberdeen proving grounds. Its development began in November of 1941. The concept of the T35 was similar to that of the U-20: a new turret with a converted 76 mm AA gun was installed on the chassis of an M4 medium tank. The improved T35 turned into the M10 GMC, the most numerous American tank destroyer of the war.

The M10 GMC ended up in the Soviet Union in the fall of 1943, where it was given a positive evaluation. However, tankers were evaluating it, since all self propelled artillery was transferred under GBTU's control since the start of 1943. Who knows what the fate of the U-20 would have been if it was initially ordered by the GBTU.

Thursday 28 January 2016

SU-76I in Combat

Interestingly enough, the SU-76I, designed as a stopgap measure during the most difficult time for Soviet tank production, continued fighting until at least 1944. The 7th Mechanized Corps lists 13 "SU-76 on T-3 chassis" (compared to only 11 SU-76 on T-70 chassis) among its vehicles (CAMD RF 3436-1-57). However, the comments on its performance weren't exactly great:

"By the start of the operation, all vehicles were ready for battle and moved out to initial positions, except SU-76 SPGs on the T-3 chassis, which did not reach the battlefield and got stuck on insignificant inclines.
The battle completely confirmed the low battlefield value of the SU-76 on the T-3 chassis: bad maneuverability, low off-road performance."

A rare photo of a SU-76I in the wild.

Via altyn73.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Tank Destroyer Dead Ends

The United States built almost 19,000 tank destroyers during WWII. There was a great variety of them: tracked, half-tracked, and wheeled vehicles. The only class of vehicle that the Americans never turned into tank destroyers were heavy tanks. The American concept of a tank destroyer, a tank with lighter armour but a more powerful gun in an open turret, bred many other solutions that were later rejected. Let us recall some of these dead ends.

First Try

It is often thought that the Americans began work on tank destroyers after WWII began, but engineers started thinking about destroying enemy tanks in the mid 1930s. At the time, typical armament for American tanks was a pair of machineguns, one rifle caliber, and one large caliber (12.7 mm).

It was proposed to either use the short barrelled 37 mm infantry gun or an experimental 37 mm tank gun converted from the Browning semiautomatic AA gun equipped with a 5 round magazine. This gun was trialled on the T1 family of light tanks, but nothing came of it. As for the 37 mm infantry gun M1916, its armour piercing effect was even lower than that of the Browning M2HB that was installed in the light M2 and M1 Combat Car series tanks. Not surprisingly, the machinegun was preferred.

The American military realized that the AT capabilities of the heavy machinegun were limited. As soon as production of light tanks began, design of tank destroyers on their chassis started. The M2A1, America's first mass production light tank of the 1930s, served as a lab rat. Unlike the double turreted M2A2 and M2A3, their predecessor had one two-man turret with enough space to install a cannon.

Work on a tank destroyer on the M2A1 chassis was initiated by the Infantry Department on October 9th, 1936. The tank destroyer, classified as a tank support vehicle, received a 47 mm semi-automatic Browning cannon. This was effectively the same 37 mm semi-automatic cannon, but with a larger caliber. It was first trialled on the T2 Medium Tank. Like its smaller version, it was loaded with 5-round magazines.

The tank destroyer was built in July of 1937 in Fort Benning, Georgia. "Built" is a strong word, as it was more of a conversion. The stock turret was altered significantly, receiving a number of new components made from mild steel. The turret lost its roof and the two machineguns were replaced with the cannon, covered by a massive mantlet. Otherwise, the tank was identical to the M2A1 Light Tank.

Trials began to evaluate the worth of the vehicle as a tank destroyer. Sadly, the results were unsatisfactory. The penetration of the 47 mm gun was barely above 30 mm at 728 meters. This was enough for now, but the military understood very well that it wouldn't be for long.

At the same time, work was underway on the 37 mm M3 gun, which surpassed the 47 mm gun in penetration. The idea of a tank support vehicle was abandoned, but the idea of using an open turret on a tank chassis was still attractive to the military.


The American military returned to the idea of a tank destroyer in late 1941. Work started in several directions, both on the chassis and on guns. The 37 mm M3 gun turned out sufficiently powerful and worked well against enemy tanks. It was decided to mount this gun on light wheeled and tracked tank destroyers.

Additionally, the US had many 75 mm M1897 field guns, a version of the French Canon de 75 mle 1897. Even though this gun was old, it was capable of fighting tanks.

Finally, the M3 76 mm AA gun was explored as an anti-tank method. The M5 AT gun was built based on this gun's excellent ballistics. It eventually migrated to tanks and to light and medium tank destroyers, but none of this happened immediately.

Initially, the 7 ton Cletrac tractor, indexed M2 High Speed Tractor in February of 1941, was selected as the base for the 76 mm tank destroyer. Work on the tank destroyer began in December of 1940, and in November of 1941, the T1 Gun Motor Carriage was ready for trials. The result was a very agile vehicle that could reach a speed of 60 kph.

The military was satisfied, and it was standardized as the M5 Gun Motor Carriage in January of 1942. Mass production was planned, but never happened for several reasons. The process of improving the M5 GMC to match requirements dragged on. While this happened, the T35 GMC entered trials, created on the chassis of the M4 medium tank. The M5 GMC had only one advantage over this vehicle: speed. At the same time, the M5's armour was only a gun shield, the horizontal traverse was very limited, and the ammunition capacity low. As a result, work on the M5 GMC was not continued past a prototype.

Even before the T1 GMC made it to trials, work began on a 76 mm tank destroyer on the Light Tank M3 chassis. Initiated in September of 1941, the M20 Gun Motor Carriage project envisioned a light tank destroyer with a low silhouette. The use of an already established light tank as a base meant shortening the road to production.

As the Light Tank M3 was equipped with a large radial Continental W-670 engine, it was replaced with a car engine. A pair of V8 Cadillac 42-series engines was used. Due to this solution, the M20 was lower than its donor chassis. The project as short lived, however, as discussion at a conference dedicated to self propelled artillery in October of 1941 decided that the M3 chassis was ill suited for the 76 mm gun. The project was closed, but the M3 chassis would soon be in demand again.

In December of 1941, the Bureau of Ordnance proposed a sketch of a converted M4 turret on the M3 light tank chassis. According to the results of the conference, the 75 mm M1897 gun was the maximum that the M3 chassis could handle. The project, indexed T29 Gun Motor Carriage, was closed in April 1942 due to low interest, but already in May, work on a new tank destroyer with a 76 mm gun on the M3 chassis began.

The first variant, indexed T50 Motor Gun Carriage, was an evolution of the T29 GMC. A turret very similar to that of the M4 was installed on a modified M3 chassis. Aside from thinner armour, the new turret had no roof or rear. Theoretically, after installation of the 76 mm gun, there would be enough room for a gunner/commander and loader. The second variant, dated late June 1942, used the same gun, but with traverse limited to 15 degrees in each direction horizontally. The result was very similar to the T1 GMC. Even though this design lacked a gun shield, it would certainly have been installed if such a vehicle was built.

These projects were rejected. Both T50 GMCs had a very high center of gravity. The military also remarked that the 76 mm gun is too big and powerful for the small chassis. The second variant also offered poor mobility of fire, which was already one of the reasons for closing the T1/M5 GCM project.

In July of 1942, Buick produced a prototype of the 57 mm T49 GMC tank destroyer. This vehicle had nothing in common with the M3 Light Tank, and further development led to the creation of the T70 GMC, better known as the M18 GMC, or "Hellcat". Compared to the T49, which the military liked very much, the T50 seemed miserly and without a future.

Third Time's the Charm

Bad luck with the T29 and T50 didn't spell the end for attempts to make a tank destroyer out of the M3. Work continued, but the chassis changed. In September of 1942, the American Car & Foundry Co. began building a new tank indexed Light Tank M3A3. The chassis remained the same, but the turret and hull were altered. The M3A3 was the basis of the next design. The Bureau of Ordnance first started talking about this new design on August 13th, 1942, when a draft of a 76 mm tank destroyer with a rear mounted gun was sent in. This layout was used based on results of T1 GMC trials. The proposal was approved, and, on September 16th, 1942, the Bureau of Ordnance began a project of a new tank destroyer. On the third try, attempts to make a tank destroyer on the M3 light tank platform finally reached the practical stage.

Two parallel projects were launched to test two different power plant method. The T56 and T57 GMC only differed in engines: the T56 received a 288 hp Continental W-670 12-series, a turbocharged version of the stock M3A3 engine, and the T57 received a 400 hp Continental R-975-C1 engine, used on the M4 medium tank. Due to the more powerful engine, air filters were moved outside of the hull.

The vehicles designed by the American Car & Foundry Co. were significantly different from most American SPGs on a tank chassis. Only the M12 was similar, and that was designed for indirect fire, whereas the target for T56/T57 was enemy tanks.

The chassis and front of the M3A3 were unchanged. The engine compartment was moved from the rear of the hull to the middle, forming space in the rear for the gun mount, ammunition, and crew. At first, no gun shield was installed. A special ramp was deployed behind the vehicle for the crew to work on. In other words, it was less a highly mobile tank destroyer and more of a motorized anti-tank gun.

The T56 was ready first, and shipped to the Aberdeen proving grounds in November of 1942. The trials began with some confusion. The problem was that the 40 round ammunition rack completely covered access to the engine from the rear. Access from the top was no easier, as the whole gun had to be removed. Service of the vehicle using the crew's own resources was problematic.

The placement of the engine compartment in the center of the vehicle made the driver's compartment very crowded. The driver and his assistant had to sit in a very cramped space, and they still had it better than the rest of the crew, as the T56 and T57 had no seats for them at all.

Mobility trials over 190 km showed a maximum speed of 62.5 kph. On the other hand, the vehicle was overloaded in the rear. Firing trials showed that the Bureau of Ordnance was right to insist that the M3 was too small for such a gun. Every shot threw the T56 back 35 cm.

A gun shield was installed on the T56 during trials, as well as optics, since the T56 came from the factory with no sights installed. Due to the design of the gun, it had to be aimed by two crewmen.

The T57 GMC arrived at Aberdeen on December 8th, 1942. The gun mount was altered according to experience from T56 trials. The T57 GMC drove 1419 km between December 17th, 1942 and April 13th, 1943. Thanks to a more powerful engine, it achieved the speed of 80 kph on a highway and 48 kph off-road. That was the only advantage of this tank destroyer, as most problems with the T56 didn't go anywhere.

On January 7th, 1943, the Bureau of Ordnance gave an order for 6 prototypes of the 76 mm T70 GCM, an evolution of the T49 design. The first T70 was finished right as the T57's trials concluded, and there wasn't much to show off against this new competitor. With the same top speed and armament, the T70 had a proper turret. It is not surprising that the program to develop a tank destroyer on the M3 chassis was closed.

Original article by Yuri Pasholok.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Rear Destroyer

"Award Order
  1. Name: Frolikov, Dimitriy Georgievich
  2. Rank: Junior Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: tank platoon commander, 3rd Tank Battalion, 4th Guards Tank Brigade
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1918
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member since 1942
  7. Participation in the civil war, subsequent action in defense of the USSR, Patriotic War: fought the White Finns in 1939-1940, in the Patriotic War since 1941.
  8. Wounds and concussions in the Patriotic War: two light, two heavy wounds
  9. In the Red Army since: March 1938
  10. Recruited by: Kolomensk recruitment office, Moscow oblast
  11. Prior awards: "For Courage" medal, June 22nd, 1942
Brief and specific description of combat heroism or achievements: June 26th, 1944. Jr. Lieutenant Frolikov's platoon captured the crossing of the Moscow-Minsk and Orsha-Smolyany highways, where they destroyed an enemy column of 150 cars escorted by 6 tanks from an ambush. 2 PzIII tanks were knocked out, and up to 100 soldiers and officers were killed.

On June 27th, 1944, his platoon captured a crossing at Dymovo village and, from an ambush, destroyed an enemy column of 170 cars, 2 PzIII tanks, 2 SPGs, and killed up to 100 soldiers and officers.

On June 27th, 1944, the platoon also captured a river crossing near Ostrov, cutting off the retreat of an enemy group. An enemy column of up to 100 cars was destroyed, as well as two SPGs, and one PzIII and one SPG were destroyed by ramming. 2 guns were captured, and up to 100 enemy soldiers and officers were killed.

Comrade Frolikov's crew personally destroyed: 2 PzIII tanks, 3 75 mm SPGs, 2 guns were crushed with tracks, and up to a company of soldiers and officers. An artillery battery, 2 functional PzIII tanks, and one Tiger tank were captured.

Comrade Frolikov is a member of the VKP(b) and is committed to the cause of Lenin-Stalin, yearns to destroy the enemy, and is tactically skilled.

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

CAMD RF 33-793756-50

Monday 25 January 2016

Plans for 1941

Item % ready as of July 1st, 1941
ZiS-36 trials -
Research into means for tanks to cross anti-tank obstacles -
Trials of the KIM-10 low powered car -
Composition of instructions for 45 mm gun repairs 3
Trials of smoke launchers for the T-34 and KV -
Trials of a smoke device for the T-28 10
Technical requirements and manual for field repair and service of the T-40 40
Technical requirements and manual for field repair and service of the KV 30
Technical requirements and manual for field repair and service of the T-34 30
Garage equipment -
Type K1-2 hand pumps 100
Fiber and black tin containers for lubricants and aircraft oil 55
Racks for automotive and tank equipment and ammunition on wheeled vehicles -
X-Ray quality control for welding seams -
Trials of imported fire-resistant and oil-resistant paints 100
Investigation of design and materials used in domestic and foreign fighting vehicle engines -
Trials of GAZ-AA ball bearings with rolled babbit liners -
Electrical filter system design 6
Design of stealth headlights for tanks and armoured cars 30

Item Scheduled start date Scheduled end date Cost in 1941 in thousands of roubles
Heavily armoured tank May 1941 August 1941 122
Towed APC June 1941 August 1941 17
Chemical trailer July 1941 September 1941 21
Single motorcycle with 350 cubic cm engine July 1941 September 1941 9
Motorcycle with sidecar with 1200 cubic cm engine August 1941 October 1941 8
Infantry support tank with F-32 gun and coaxial DS machinegun July 1941 October 1941 59
Motorcycle with sidecar with 750 cubic cm engine July 1941 October 1941 8
T-40, T-34, and KV tank field repair and maintenance manual January 1941 November 1941 225
Technical requirements for medium repair of T-34, KV, T-40, and BA-11 January 1941 November 1941 120
Trials of foreign vehicle engines January 1941 October 1941 35
Analysis of tank building (part 2) January 1941 May 1941 10

Definitely some interesting things here, like smoke launchers and Notek-like headlights for Soviet tanks, as well as two very vague tank prototypes, but the most interesting thing is the poor readiness of documentation for new tanks. The fancy new T-34 and KV only have their repair and maintenance instructions 30% complete by the start of the war, and even the T-40 amphibious tank has its (presumably much simpler) instructions 40% complete, with all of those due for completion in November of 1941. The situation at the repair depots isn't much better either, with instructions for medium repairs also not scheduled for completion until November, and not for lack of funding. It's no wonder that new Soviet tanks showed poor reliability in the early days of the war.

Via vif2ne.

Sunday 24 January 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Japanese Tank Tactics

Active formation of tank units started alongside of combat. The first regulations and field manual were formed in 1931, due to the formation of the Kwantung Army and beginning of exercises. The Gunchzin tank brigade was the main experimental tank unit of the time, dictating tactical and technical requirements.

In the 1930s, tanks and armoured cars were treated as a means of short range reconnaissance and infantry support. Large armoured units were not formed; tanks were assigned to infantry divisions.

Nevertheless, even in the early 1930s, many had the opinion that tank units were needed, at least in Manchuria, to rival Japan's main enemy: the Red Army. This was never achieved in practice, and throughout the Sino-Japanese war, tank companies, or even individual tanks, were assigned to infantry units.

Three conflicts influenced Japanese tank theories: the Italian campaign in Ethiopia (1935-1936), the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and the Khalkin-Gol conflict in 1939. By 1940, the Japanese considered tanks not only a means of infantry and cavalry support, but a means of penetrating deep into enemy defenses. A new combat manual was written, acknowledging that tanks may perform their own combat tasks. The unit structure was redesigned. Instead of a mixed tank brigade, the Kwantung Army received two tank groups, each of which consisted of three tank regiments. Some infantry divisions received mechanized units.

By the time full-fledged fighting began in the Pacific, the Japanese army had 18 tank regiments, each of which included four tank companies. Tank companies were also assigned to infantry divisions, typically 9 Type 95 Ha-Go. The 1st and 4th special amphibious groups of the Imperial Navy received analogous companies. Independent tank companies were also included in the High Command Reserve.

Tank units were transferred to armies during preparations for an offensive. Two regiments fought with the 14th Army in the Philippines, three with the 15th Army in Thailand and Burma, and with the 25th Army for Malaysia.

In 1942, based on German experience in Africa and Europe, Japan started growing their tank units. Medium tanks were going to be the main strike force. In March of 1942, a decision was made to create tank groups, which were practically tank divisions. Each division would contain two tank brigades, an infantry and an artillery regiment, an engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion, and a quartermaster and supply battalion. Each division also had a communications company. Chi-Ha and Type 89 tanks were tasked with supporting infantry. Shinhoto Chi-Ha tanks were tasked with fighting enemy tanks.

In 1943, tank regiments were reformed. Some of them received an extra company, some were reduced in size. In any case, the Japanese were fighting in very specific conditions, which disallowed widespread use of tanks or armoured cars.

When defending, the Japanese used tanks for counterattacks and ambushes. Engaging enemy tanks was only allowed in an emergency situation. By the end of the war, the Japanese high command changed their mind, and tanks were seen as an effective ground anti-tank measure.

After 1941, soldiers of armoured units were prepared to fight in jungles, heat, mountains, without any kind of road infrastructure. Use of tanks in amphibious landings was practiced. Joint force exercises with small groups were held. Against a poorly armed enemy, these tactics were very effective. However, against the US or the USSR, they did not work as well, mainly due to the superior technology of these nations and a large amount of guns that could counter the poorly armoured Japanese vehicles.

Original article available here.

Saturday 23 January 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Japanese Tank Building

In the middle of the 19th century, Japan began the Meiji Restoration. After a few decades, the backwards island nation became a sovereign empire with a powerful army and navy. Japan also maintained very aggressive external policies. Defeating China in 1895 and the Russian Empire in 1905, the Land of the Rising Sun obtained dominance over the Far East.

When tanks appeared in 1916, they piqued the interest of Japanese military minds. Colonel Hoshino wrote: "No country can consider itself protected if it does not have powerful artillery, modern tanks, and aircraft." Soon, a special committee of the Imperial High Command was established, tasked with creating an armoured force in Japan. In 1921-1927, Japan actively acquired foreign vehicles. These were British Vickers MkC, MkA Whippet, French Renault FT, and others.

In 1930, Japan purchased French Renault NC27 tanks. They were used by the Japanese army under the index NC27 Otsu until 1940. The Japanese version differed from the French in its improved armour and armament. Some of these vehicles also used domestic diesel engines, although it is not known how many tanks were equipped with them.

In the middle of the 1920s, Japan  took designing its own tanks seriously. The Osaka Arsenal became an important center for tank designers. A large series of private and government owned factories were converted to produce tanks. Among them, Mitsubishi was the largest, also producing automobiles and armoured cars.

The first Japanese tank was indexed #1 Chi-I. The Osaka Arsenal developed it in 1927. The tank had two turrets, armed with either a 57 or a 70 mm gun, and two machine guns. Due to its weak engine, the tank performed poorly, and had a very low off-road speed. It did not make it to mass production.

The light Type 87 tank was developed in parallel with the Chi-I. It also did not reach mass production; the military considered its armament too weak and armour too thin. However, one cannot say that the engineers wasted their time: using experience from the Type 87 and the British Vickers MkC, the Japanese created their first mass produced tank: the Type 89. The production of these tanks ended in 1937.

In the summer of 1935, Mitsubishi completed the prototype of one of the most famous Japanese light tanks: the Type 95 Ha-Go. It weighed 7.4 tons, had a front transmission with a rear engine, and armour between 10 and 12 mm thick. The one man turret was shifted to the left of the center axis. It held a 37 mm gun and a 6.5 mm machine gun in a bay on the rear right. Another machine gun of the same caliber was placed in the front of the tank. The tank was equipped with a 120 hp diesel engine and could reach 30 kph off-road. The engine was chosen due to its fuel efficiency when compared to a gasoline engine. The tank used a suspension developed by the Japanese engineer Tomio Hara. After experience on the harsh landscape of Manchuria, a reinforced suspension with an extra road wheel was built, which resulted in higher pressure dissipation and softened blows when moving on bumpy terrain. Japanese tankers liked the Ha-Go due to its simplicity and reliability. One the other hand, it had many drawbacks: a lack of modern communications, no coaxial machinegun, a large amount of hatches and removable armour plates that reduced the robustness of the armour. Nevertheless, out of all the Japanese tanks of the time, the Ha-Go was the only one to remain in production until 1945.

In the second half of the 1930s, the Tokyo Gasu Denki company presented the military with a prototype of the small Type 97 Te-Ke tank, developed on the base of the British MkVI tankette. The tank weighed 4.7 tons and was armed with a 37 mm gun, or a 7.7 mm machine gun. Due to its small size and decent speed (42 kph), the tank could act in a reconnaissance role. The Te-Ke was adopted by the army in 1937. Aside from reconnaissance, it was also used for transport of heavy infantry guns and as a forward observer vehicle. The tank fought in China, Burma, and the Philippines. In 1944, these vehicles were used as a part of the raid on the Kwajalein Atoll.

The Hino Jidosha Kosho company created an interesting project in 1938, a speedy light Type 98 Ke-Ni tank. Due to its powerful diesel engine, it could reach a speed of 50 kph. Changes to the vehicle's suspension reduced the vehicle's oscillations at high speed. Ke-Ni had a new turret, housing two crew members. This was supposed to increase the effectiveness of armament. The turret had a 37 mm cannon and a 7.7 mm machinegun to the right. A Type 98B variant existed, with a star-shaped engine and a Christie suspension, but it was not mass produced. The Ke-Ni was produced in small numbers in 1942-1943, 20-100 tanks, depending on the source.

In 1936, the Japanese military revised their requirements for medium tanks. Engineers were expected to create more maneuverable and more protected vehicles, armed with more powerful guns. The engineers of the Technical Department of the Imperial Army designed the 9.8 ton Chi-Ni tank to match these requirements, and Mitsubishi designed the 15 ton Chi-Ha.

The medium Chi-Ni tank was equipped with a 135 hp engine, allowing it to reach a speed of 30 kph. It had a tail on the rear to aid it in crossing trenches, pits, and escarpments. Sloped armour plates improved the vehicle's protection. The crew consisted of three men. The military first favoured this tank, but when the war with China started, it was obvious that its low mass and low cost lost out to the Chi-Ha's thick armour.

The Chi-Ha was adopted in 1937, and mass production began in 1939, when the war in China was already finished. The vehicle could reach a speed of 40 kph, was armed with a Type 9757 mm gun and two 7.7 mm machineguns. The thickness of the front armour reached 25 mm. The tank was assembled by riveting armour plates together. The conical turret was shifted to the right of the tank's axis. In 1940, after the Battle of Khalkin-Gol, the Shinhoto Chi-Ha modification was produced. It had a new turret, with a 47 mm L/48 gun. A shell from this gun penetrated 50 mm of armour at 500 meters. The Chi-Ha was widely used: in China, Singapore, Malaysia, Guadalcanal. 1200 vehicles were built between 1938 and 1942.

Japan was a late player in the tank game, compared to the Western nations, but by the start of WWII, its engineers had about 20 independent tank projects under their belts. It is not possible to cover them all in this article, but it is clear that the Land of the Rising Sun advanced quickly, creating its own school of armoured warfare.

In the second article, we will talk of wartime Japanese tank projects, and briefly discuss the structure of the Japanese armoured forces and its tactics.

Japanese tanks 1939-1945

In 1940, a thorough modernization of the Chi-Ha medium tank took place, and the engineers ended up with a brand new vehicle: the Type 1 Chi-He. One of the most important differences between the Chi-He and its predecessor lay in the hull: it was the first Japanese tank whose armour was welded, not riveted. This positively influenced the vehicle's survivability in combat. Furthermore, the thickness of armour increased, reaching 50 mm in the front and 20 on the sides. The tank got a new three man turret, adding a new crewman, a loader. This eased the job of the tank commander. The Chi-He was equipped with the Type 1 47 mm gun, developed by equipping the anti-tank gun with a better recoil mechanism and trigger. This gun's shell penetrated 68 mm of armour at 500 meters. The same gun was installed on the Shinhoto Chi-Ha. The thicker armour led to the Chi-He's mass increasing by 1.5 tons over the Chi-Ha. The new 240 hp Mitsubishi engine not only compensated for the increase, but let the Chi-He accelerate to 44 kph. The new tank was produced by the Mitsubishi company and the Sagami arsenal starting in 1941. The production of the Chi-Ha did not cease. 601 Chi-He tanks were built before 1945. Individual vehicles remained in use by the Japanese army until the 1960s.

Japanese engineers modernized several medium tanks in 1938 through 1944, but these modernizations mostly ended with only several prototypes. For example, the Type 2 Ke-To was built out of the light Ke-Ni tank, but only a couple were produced. A light Ke-Ri tank with a 57 mm gun in a new turret was built from the Ha-Go, but in a small series. There were others, but the limited scope of this article does not allow for their mention.

In 1944, work on a new light tank was completed: the Type 5 Ke-Ho. It was similar to the Chi-He in layout and armament, but only had a two-man turret and a 150 hp diesel engine. The suspension consisted of six doubled road wheels on each side. The Ke-Ho had 25 mm of armour in the front, and 12 on the sides and rear. The tank successfully passed trials, but did not have time to enter production before Japan's surrender.

In 1943, the Osaka arsenal developed a new 75 mm gun, the Type 3, equipped with a muzzle brake. The gun could penetrate 90 mm of armour at 100 meters, and 65 at 1000 meters. A new medium tank carried this gun: the Chi-Nu, accepted by the army in 1943. Its design was a repeat of the Chi-He, but it weighed 18.8 tons, and could accelerate to 39 kph. Only 60 tanks of this type were built before the war. All of them were stationed on the Home Islands, and did not see combat. Compared to other Japanese vehicles of the time, the Chi-Nu had the most powerful armament.

Another vehicle that did not make it into production in time was the Type 4 Chi-To medium tank. Compared to the Chi-Nu, it had thicker armour (75 mm in the front and 35 on the sides), and had a long 75 mm gun, developed from an AA gun, The tank also carried two Type 97 7.7 mm machineguns. Compared to earlier tanks, the Chi-To was very heavy, 35 tons. Using a 400 hp engine, it could reach a speed of 45 kph. A redesigned suspension and wide tracks gave the tank good off-road performance. Five were built before 1944.

Two medium Chi-Ri tanks were built using the Chi-To design. This vehicle had two guns. One was a 75 mm gun, the same as the one in the Chi-To turret. The second was a 37 mm gun from the Ke-To, placed in the hull. The second prototype had the 37 mm cannon replaced with a machinegun. The tank's hull was welded, the side armour plates were slightly sloped. There is a theory that the tank's designers were inspired by the German Panther. The tank was equipped with a Kawasaki diesel engine, a licensed clone of a BMW model. Compared to the Chi-To, the tank had thicker armour: the sides grew to 50 mm. The maximum speed of this vehicle was 45 kph.

Japanese tanks after WWII

After its surrender in 1945, Japan dropped out of the tank design game. However, the escalating Cold War led to the Americans arming Japan in the 1950s with limited amounts of armoured vehicles. 250 M4A3E8 tanks were shipped since 1950, and 375 M24 Chaffee tanks arrived in 1952.

In 1954, the Japanese Self-Defense Force ordered the development of a new tank. Requirements were formulated based on the potential theatre of operations: the tank must be compact and light enough to be delivered to battle in a special truck. A 90 mm gun was to be used.

Several projects were developed to match these requirements. The first was the STA-1. This vehicle was equipped with a Mitsubishi DL10T water-cooled diesel engine, later replaced with a Mitsubishi 12HM-21WT engine, which had less problems with overheating. The gun had a caliber of 90 mm, as ordered. The tank was only 2.2 meters tall. The vehicle was not mass produced. One of its drawbacks was that the loading process was inconvenient.

In parallel with the STA-1 prototype, the STA-2 was developed. It also was not mass produced, but the STA-3 and STA-4 were built out of the first and second prototype. They were very similar to their predecessors, but the STA-3 had a semi-automatic loading system, which increased the rate of fire.

Three years of work on the STA-3 and STA-4 ended with the production of the Type 61 MBT in 1961. It weighed 35 tons and had a 90 mm rifled cannon with a muzzle velocity of 910 m/s. The secondary armament consisted of two Browning machineguns: a .30 cal and a .50 cal. The front armour was 55 mm thick, the turret was 114 mm thick. The tank had a top speed of 45 kph. 560 Type 61 tanks were built between 1961 and 1975.

In 1964, the STB project began. The new vehicle had to weigh 38 tons and accelerate to at least 50 kph. The main gun would be the British Royal Ordnance L7.

In 1968, work on the STB-1 prototype started. In one year, the tank began trials, which lasted until 1970. In Ocrober of 1970, the tank was first shown in a parade of Japan's Self Defense Force. However, it did not see mass production, due to design flaws. Work on the STB project continued until 1973, when STB-6 entered service as the Type 74. However, that tank falls outside of the scope of this article.

Let us make some conclusions. Japan's tank building school was self-made, and developed quickly. From the 1930s to the end of WWII, Japan developed dozens of unique projects, most of which existed not only on paper, but in metal, even if only one or two were built. Engineers had to consider the hot climate, mountains, jungles. Japanese tanks were only inferior to those of Japan's strongest enemies: the USSR, the US, and Great Britain. Several vehicles developed towards the end of WWII could mean trouble for Shermans, Pershings, and T-34s. However, Japan lacked the industrial base to build them. When, after a forced decade-long hiatus, Japan returned to the world of tank building, the vehicles it produced were no worse than those of foreign competitors.

Original article available here: part 1 and part 2.

Friday 22 January 2016

Object 705

The IS-7 wasn't the only Soviet post-war super-tank. The Chelyabinsk Kirov Factory worked on Object 705, with similar characteristics, but a rear turret.

Object 705 turret and 122 mm BL-13 gun

Object 705 profile area calculations

Armour layout of the Object 705.

Aside from the original 65 ton design, ChKZ also had a 100 ton Object 705A in store, but we all know what happened to Soviet heavy tanks over 50 tons.

Via Yuri Pasholok.

Thursday 21 January 2016

IS-2 Hero

"Award Order
  1. Name: Fedotov, Mikhail Alekseevich
  2. Rank: Guards Starshina
  3. Position, unit: IS tank commander, 86th Independent Guards Novozybkov Order of the REd Banner Heavy Tank Regiment
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1916
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: none
  7. Participation in the civil war, subsequent combat actions in defense of the USSR, Patriotic War: South-Western Front from February 3rd, 1942 to July 22nd, 1943, 2nd Belorussian Front since November 30th, 1944
  8. Wounds and concussions in the Patriotic War: heavily wounded on July 22nd, 1943, lightly wounded on February 14th, 1945, lightly wounded on March 27th, 1945.
  9. In the Red Army since: 1937
  10. Recruited by: Kaban recruitment office, Buryat-Mongolian ASSR
  11. Prior awards: "For Battle Merit" medal
Brief and specific description of combat heroism or achievements: In battle for the Emaus settlement on March 27th, 1945, comrade Fedotov was left alone when three enemy heavy Ferdinand SPGs surrounded Fedotov's tank and tried to destroy it. The situation was grim. There was only one solution: to fall back, but this would also mean that our infantry would fall back, and Fedotov decided to stand to the death. Launching a smoke grenade, the brave commander changed positions and knocked out a Ferdinand with two shots. When a second SPG approached to recover the wounded, Fedotov also knocked it out.

Wounded and left with only a loader, he continued the battle, destroying an APC. When shells ran out, he burst into an enemy mortar battery and crushed it with his tracks, killing the crew with grenades. The path for infantry was clear.

During battles in 1945, the heroic tanker destroyed 6 German tanks and SPGs, 11 guns, 2 mortar batteries, 3 APCs and about 100 Germans.

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

CAMD RF 33-793756-50

Since it was very common for any German tank destroyer to be called "Ferdinand", it is most likely that these "heavy SPGs" were actually Jagdpanthers.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Third Reich Serving the Fourth Republic

After the end of WWII, French tank design was significantly influenced by their German colleagues. Their achievements are very well reflected in the design of the French AMX M4 heavy tank, the predecessor to the AMX 50. Even though the tank never reached production, it left its mark on tank building history. Here's how it all began.

Despite the occupation of France, French tank designers did not stop for even a minute. Work continued in strictest secrecy on both new tanks and modernizations of existing ones. Most progress came from Ateliers de construction de Rueil (ARL) from Rueil-Malmaison, west of Paris. In addition to an array of pre-war tanks, they also designed the SARL (Somua-ARL) 42 tank in 1942. In November of 1944, ARL began designing a heavy tank with experience of the SARL 42 and B1 ter tanks in mind. The designs of German tanks, especially the Tiger II, was also kept in mind. The first ARL 44 prototype was built in 1946.

The French military knew that this vehicle was only a temporary measure. Rapid developments in the field of armoured warfare rendered the ARL 44 obsolete even during its design phase. The suspension and design of the hull were more suitable for the early 1930s, maybe even mid 1920s. Neither 120 mm of front armour nor the Maybach HL.230 engine could bridge the gap. The military decided to keep the project open, but a competition for a new 50-ton medium tank began on July 31st, 1945. ARL did not participate, as work on the ARL 44 was in progress.

According to archive data, the following companies participated: Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée (FCM), Ateliers de construction d'Issy-les-Moulineaux (AMX), Lorriane, Somua, and... Renault. The last entrant is the most curious, especially since AMX was essentially the tank branch of Renault, nationalized in 1936. Aside from the fact that Renault participated in this contest, no information survives to this day; work did not even reach the project stage. FCM was also unlucky, and its 50 ton tank remained on paper. After more than 5 years of work, Lorraine and Somua produced prototypes of their projects (Lorraine 40t and Somua SM). Work got as far as designing and producing prototypes of SPGs on the Lorraine 40t chassis.

AMX was the luckiest. This company from suburban Paris worked on its 50 ton tank for almost 15 years, the project was changed several times, and SPGs were designed and built on its chassis. The tank never made it to mass production, but deserves a spot in history.

Draft of the Char A.M.X.45, drawing 0-1033 dated August 1st, 1945. Judging by the date, the work started even before the tender for the ARL 44's successor was officially announced. 

The characteristics of the AMX tank were similar to those of the ARL 44. The vehicle, indexed Char A.M.X. 45, was also referred to as NOM 141 (project 141). It was supposed to have 120 mm of front armour (50 mm LFP), 50-60 mm thick sides, 110 mm of front turret armour, and 30 mm thick turret sides. Like the ARL 44, the cast turret designed by DEFA (Direction des Études et Fabrications d’Armement, later reformed to GIAT, renamed Nexter in 1989) would house a 90 mm 65 caliber long Schneider gun with a coaxial 7.5 mm MAC Mle. 1931 machinegun. Another machinegun was placed in a ball mount in the front of the hull. The 47 ton tank would be put in motion by a German Maybach HL.230 engine. The tank looked like a Tiger II from the outside, but the French refused to place the transmission in the front. The transmission and drive wheels were in the rear from the very beginning of the project.

Design for installing the Swiss Saurer MP.65 engine into the Char A.M.X.45, dated August 28th, 1945. The engine, just like the tank, existed only on paper.

The first draft of the AMX 45 project is dated August 1945. By the end of the month, the project was radically altered for the first time. The new characteristics drove up the mass by 3 tons, to a total of 50 tons. The Maybach HL.230 was no longer satisfactory, as 700 hp was considered too little for such a heavy vehicle. High effective horsepower was considered very important, based on experience from WWII. Starting with blueprint 01041 dated August 28th, 1945, the tank obtained a 1000 hp MP.65 Sauer engine. The AMX 45 index disappeared, replaced by a new one: Char Moyen 50t M4 (50 ton medium tank M4). The name "AMX M4" stuck for five years, during which the project changed almost completely.

The AMX M4 turret. Compare it with the Tiger II's turret to see what engineers from DEFA were inspired by. Note that the turret ring diameter of the French tank was greater, which impacted a number of characteristics, such as crew comfort.

The Swiss engine didn't last long. It was not available in metal, and the engine is no less an important component of the tank than its gun. Not surprisingly, the Germans replaced the Swiss in this regard. Maybach ended up under French influence after the war, and mutually beneficial cooperation followed. Also, many German engineers, including Porsche, ended up involved with French tank design, willingly or otherwise.

If ARL 44 was the combination of existing components, the AMX M4 was a combination of all German late-war ideas. The E-50 and E-75 that are so beloved by fans of alternate history left their mark here. Recall that the E-50 was meant to have a rear transmission, and the Maybach HL.234, proposed as the power plant for the E-50 and E-75, evolved into the new AMX M4 engine. The HL.295, blueprints for which are dated September 1945, was an enlarged HL.234, giving 1000 hp at 2800 RPM. This was not just a proposal, it was really built in metal. Maybach engines also powered the Lorraine 40t and Somua SM tanks. As for the AMX M4, the HL.295 first appeared in its design towards the end of November of 1945.

The AMX M4 as of November of 1945. Note the changes in the hull and the appearance of the Maybach HL.295 engine.

By then, the AMX M4 began another metamorphosis. The turret was unchanged, but the hull and its interior changed drastically. The front plate was thinned out to 90 mm, the sides to 40 mm, but the slope of the UFP was increased from 42 to 55 degrees. The hull became more reminiscent of the Tiger II, but with the turret further forward. This introduced many problems with the hatches for the driver and hull gunner. It was decided to make them smaller and put them in the corners of the roof. The driver received an observation device similar to the one on the Panther Ausf. D and Ausf. A.

The AMX M4 kept changing in the winter of 1945-1946. One of the changes moved the crew around in the turret. Initially, the commander's cupola, essentially a copy from the pre-war AMX Tracteur C, was to the right of the tank. In December of 1945, it, like the Tiger II cupola, was moved to the left, increasing the resemblance of the two tanks.

A project for a bogey suspension, December 1945. This was the wrong way to go for simplification, note the complexity of the skirts and bogey mountings.

The changes to the hull, or rather the suspension, were more interesting. Designers realized that torsion bars are a very non-French solution, real French tanks use bogeys. They were presented as an alternative to the torsion bars. Not one, but two alternate designs were made.

The first variant was a re-imagining of the work of Surin, used on CKD tanks. While Surin used large wheels, the wheels here were much smaller than the ones in the torsion bar variant. Leaf springs were used, a bold move considering the mass of the tank. Since there were seven wheels per side, the front wheel received its own spring. Return rollers had to be added, four per side. The idler was also changed, and its tightening mechanism was very reminiscent of the good old Char B.

An AMR-35 type suspension design. This design was better than leaf springs, but still lost to the torsion bars. The project did not advance past designs on paper.

The other bogey design used the same idler. This variant had five return rollers, and the first and last were smaller than the rest. The number of road wheels grew to eight, so no individual suspensions were needed. Clearly there were some engineers that worked on tanks in the 1930s, as the suspension was taken straight from the Renault R35 and other light tanks of that era. Paired springs were used instead of rubber elastic elements; this design was a lot more progressive.

The final variant of the AMX M4, December 27th, 1945. This is what the tank would look like if it was ever built in metal.

Both bogey designs were rejected. Yes, torsion bars have their difficulties, and yes, Kniepkamp's suspension has its problems, but compared to what AMX engineers came up with, it was the height of perfection. Not only was the bogey suspension inappropriate for such a heavy tank, it turned out much more complicated. It is hard to imagine what kind of curses French tankers would utter if they encountered this design in production. The alternative idea failed.

Crew positions and ammunition storage in the AMX M4. The French should have stopped here, as this was a modern tank for its time.

By early 1946, the new Char M4 was finalized. It was an interesting fighting vehicle, similar to the Centurion Mk.3 in characteristics. This tank, officially designated as medium, weighed 50.8 tons, but managed to surpass the French design only in the thickness of turret and side armour. The Centurion had less effective hp/ton, and was more than half a meter longer. The guns of the two tanks were similar. The American M46 Patton also had similar characteristics. With an 810 hp engine at 44 tons, it came close to the French tank in mobility. Aside from the sides, the armour of the two tanks was similar. The American tank was taller than its competitors, and also longer than the French tank. The product of Ateliers de construction d'Issy-les-Moulineaux was a rather ordinary tank, very much in line with the international idea of a medium tank at the time.

The armour layout of the AMX M4. The weak side armour is not a mistake, but a result of studying the experience of WWII. Most hits came at the front of the tank. The hull armour is the same thickness and at the same angle as the IS-2. Perhaps the French knew something...

A year later, the M4 was once again radically redesigned, but more about that next time.

Read the next article in the series.
Original article by Yuri Pasholok.