Saturday 16 April 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Antitank Exotics

During WWI, no participating country quite figured out tanks. However, in the two post-war decades, military thinkers managed to develop many theories and tactics, but some doubt remained. Germany's success in Poland and France finally confirmed their usefulness beyond all doubt. As the popularity of tanks increased, so did the interest in anti-tank measures: guns, rifles, grenades, or more exotic methods.

Trap for a Tracked Beast

Soviet military inventor Bogdanenko proposed trapping tanks with tank traps that were very similar to a hunter's trap. The author's intent was to place the tanks in a checkerboard pattern in areas where the tanks might appear. When the tank drove up on the trap, it would clamp shut. Subsequent movement would tear or jam the track.

The military considered this idea worthy of attention. In the first half of 1941, at the GABTU research proving grounds, two types of traps were tested: with one and two joints. It seems that the very sight of the device caused some doubts among the testers, so it was decided to try them out on the lightest vehicles: T-40, T-26, and BT-7.

The trap with one joint was so small that it had to be placed directly in front of the track to test. The first victim was the 5.5 ton T-40. The trap snapped shut on the track and followed it until the first road wheel, which bent the trap. The rest of the road wheels rolled over it unharmed. The rear armour plate was the final obstacle. The trap, still clinging onto the track, smashed against it and fell apart.

The two-jointed brother of the device performed similarly and also failed to do any damage to the suspension.

Next, the 8 ton T-26 drove up to the stone road where the trials took place. The first trap was simply knocked over without even closing. The testers wrote down the same old phrase: "no damage to the tank's suspension". The result with the BT-7 tank (13 tons) was the same.

The wider two-jointed trap was fixed so it was hard to knock over. Even then, the lower front plate tilted the trap before it closed. After two identical results, the testers closed the trap manually on the track. The result was the same as with the T-40: the tank's road wheels smashed the trap open without any damage.

Since each trap took up 15-16 kg of good quality steel and that hiding such a huge device would be much more difficult than hiding a mine. The fate of such a dubious device was predictable.

Logs, Rails, and Blankets

While the USSR tried to mechanize the process of jamming up tracks, other countries just sent soldiers with crowbars. For example, Finnish soldier Toivo Ahtimo who fought in the Winter War recalls: "The techniques of fighting tanks that we were taught during peacetime were not very useful. The manuals said that you could stop a tank by shoving a log or crowbar in the suspension!"

Ahtimo witnessed an attempt to bring theory into practice. A soldier named Loimu tried to stop a Soviet tank with a crowbar. With a fearsome screech, the crowbar rotated around the track and fell out, causing no damage. Next Loimu tried a thick log. The log "turned into a heap of toothpicks that was enough to supply a company, and the tank kept driving along until it was blown up with a bundle of grenades."

Italian manuals proposed a similar tactic. The inventors of the tank, the British, approached the issue more thoughtfully.

In 1940, the British army hurriedly evacuated from Dunkirk, abandoning their vehicles. The British lost 840 anti-tank guns. Only 147 guns remained on the home islands, and so few shells remained that it was forbidden to train with them. Meanwhile, the Battle of Britain raged overhead and German tank landings were awaited any day, the same tanks that just defeated the best British and French divisions. Weapons were found for the regular army, but arming the militia was more complicated.

In August of 1940, Military Manual #42 "Tank: Search and Destroy" was published. Among other things, it recommended how to correctly assemble a tank hunter team.

According to the manual, the team consisted of 4 men, armed with a rail (it was unclear where this rail would come from), a blanket, a bucket of gasoline, and a box of matches. The team would lie in wait on a street where tanks were expected. Two team members were supposed to take the rail, one end of which was wrapped with the blanket, and ram it into the track to jam the drive wheel. The third member would douse the blanket in gasoline, and the fourth would throw a lit match.

In case there weren't any rails available, the alternative was this: "The soldier awaits on the second floor of a house with a hammer in one hand and a grenade in the other. When an enemy tank appears below, the soldier will jump out and hammer at the hatch. When the commander peeks out to see what could possibly be hammering, the soldier will hit him with the hammer, throw the grenade in the hatch, and slam it shut."

One can imagine the relief of the Home Guard when they didn't have to apply these instructions or similar ones in battle. It turned out that the most reliable anti-tank measures for England in 1940 were the heroism of its sailors and pilots.

Original article available here.

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