Friday 27 May 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Last Stand

A grenade and a bottle with incendiary fluid: this was the most widespread armament of a Red Army infantryman in late 1941. It was most effective where it was used with another powerful weapon: heroism. A well trained soldier could throw a bottle 20-30 meters, a heavy grenade bundle would fly even less. The bravest men closed in to this distance or even less, often paying with their life for a disabled or burned tank. On paper, this looks like a good trade, but in real life this is a tragedy.

Soviet engineers and simple citizens worked to make the heroisms of Soviet soldiers less fatal, sending their projects of simple and effective anti-tank measures.

Military Frisbee and Rocket Propelled Grenades

Engineer A. Petrov proposed increasing the range and precision of a grenade with an unusual method: by giving it the shape of a discus. He wrote that an experimental prototype proved the viability of this idea. Even regular soldiers could throw this grenade further and better. The best results were shown by a soldier who trained as a discus thrower in his civilian life.

Petrov's discus grenade.

However, while improving two facets of the grenade, Petrov forgot a third: simplicity. Officers of the GAU were more thorough. Having studied the project, the officers concluded that: "The presented idea of a discus grenade (bluprints, sketches) developed at the Stalin factory is not of interest to us. The presence of 21 screw connections (none of which should be present), felt and canvas liners, waterproof fabric (to protect from dust), wooden cork and others make the grenade very complicated and inconvenient to use."

Another unusual method of increasing the range of a throw was presented to a puzzled military committee by engineer Bogachevskiy, a worker of the NKVD Volgostroy. Practicing in the art of throwing training grenades, he noticed that the heavier head part of the grenade flies facing forward. He had the idea of pushing it in the right direction. It seems easy: pull the pin, throw the grenade, within a second or two a small jet engine turns on and gives the grenade the necessary few dozen meters of extra range.

Bogachevskiy's rocket propelled grenade.

The designer could not implement his invention himself and sent the project to military specialists. Aside from everything else, the letter contained proposals for improving the grenade. They needed to determine the optimal hull shape, composition and amount of propellant, design the stabilizer fins, etc.

Bogachevskiy's project remained on paper, as rocket propelled grenades were tested back in 1939. The main problem was that the rocket could activate while the grenade was pointed in any direction. As soon as the engine turns on, the subsequent trajectory became random.

Blind and Destroy

Aside from grenades and bottles with flammable liquid, other more interesting weapons were designed and maybe even used. Historian M. Svirin wrote that in October of 1941, one Moscow confectionery factory issued bags of sand as anti-tank weapons. These bags were sent to the front, including to the famous Panfilov's 316th Infantry Division. Sadly, no other reference to these bags has been found since, including a description of how these bags were supposed to be used. Most likely, they were means to somehow blind the enemy tanks.

Soviet intelligence, closely tracking foreign inventions, also succeeded in this direction. In November of 1941, Brigadier Engineer Panfilov, deputy chief of the informational department of the General Staff, sent a description of an unusual anti-tank substance to GAU. According to Panfilov, this unknown substance was being tested in the Swedish army. 

Allegedly, the substance consisted of 100 parts sodium bicarbonate, 100 parts caustic sulphide, and one part hydrochloric acid. The substance created a thick paste which was then bottled and sealed. When the bottle shattered against a tank, it increased in size 500 fold and covered all observation devices.

Any person with an education in chemistry would immediately suspect a flaw with this wonder-mix. However, intelligence is intelligence and obtaining reliable information is its job. Just to be sure, testers mixed the required substance, sealed it, and broke it against a tank. A letter was then sent to the spies that read "The substance did not expand. Clarify the recipe!"

An employee of the Kazan Chemical Technology University S. Ushakov approached the issue more responsibly. He proposed a 4 gauge (about 20 mm) gun that could fire grenades at infantry and a special container of a black sticky liquid at tanks. When the container exploded, it would splatter all over the tank, blocking its observation ports. Specialists from GAU rejected the proposal.

In 1944, Professor Ushakov had a spiritual succesor. Even though his gun was not meant to blind, it is still worth mentioning. This was a mortar gun, effectively a sawed off mortar, designed by Starshina S. Goronovskiy. It was supposed to shoot stock 50 mm mortar rounds at a range of 400 meters. Almost like a bazooka, but in the form factor of a rifle. It turned out that you cannot fool physics: even with a reduced propellant charge, the recoil was still unacceptably high. In addition, even at a range of 100 meters, only one round successfully hit the target, and it hit sideways. The mortar gun was not meant to be a weapon of victory.

Mortar gun.

Original article available here.

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